There is a difference between a legal right and a legislative privilege, and it isn’t just that the former is more difficult to dislodge. I’ve already written about why I think rights are important beyond the technical protections they do and do not provide. There is considerable expressive power in being seen as a rights-holder. A person who is protected from unequal treatment merely because they currently hold the favor of the sovereign and her sword exists on a qualitatively different plane from the person whose protection stems from the fact that society — as per the strong moral norms expressed through the language of rights — considers such discrimination to be a grave normative wrong.
The fact that rights often are a formalist facade does not, to my mind, mean they always are, or that they are meaningless. I think that possessing rights is a powerful social signal of full inclusion into the community. A protection by right is one that is normalized, a protection by special legislation is exceptional. I would much prefer to be in a position where I am protected because it is seen as wrong to hurt me, than to be protected simply because those who wish to hurt me are (currently) in no position to do so. The cynics would tell you that the former case does not exist. I refuse to believe that is true.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
An interesting snippet
For those of us interested in political rights and institutions, anyway. David Schraub discusses Jews' security in the U.S. over at Alas, A Blog.