Most citizens of this country and of other advanced western and westernizing nations approve of human rights, some more guardedly than others; and most perceive rights to belong to the moral, political and legal fabric of modern liberal democracy. By rights, I mean rights attributable to subjects, to persons, whether individual or collective ‘persons’. To suggest that rights, freedom, and democracy go together (as does the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which has been the template for subsequent generations of declarations) is a modern truism, which, like most truisms, is largely true. Less clearly perceived, I think, is the extent to which human rights and democracy are bound up with liberal economics and free-market capitalism.
In the Journal of Religious Ethics in 2009 O’Donovan offered a critical reading of Nicholas Wolterstorff on rights
The historical problem about the origins of the language of rights derives its importance from the conceptual problem: of “two fundamentally different ways of thinking about justice,” which is basic? Is justice unitary or plural? This in turn opens up a problem about the moral status of human nature. A narrative of the origins of “rights” is an account of how and when a plural concept of justice comes to the fore, and will be based on the occurrence of definite speech-forms—the occurrence of the plural noun in the sense of “legal properties.” The history of this development is currently held to begin with the twelfth-century canonists. Later significant thresholds may be found in the fourteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth centuries. Wolterstorff’s attempt to find the implicit recognition of rights in the Scriptures depends very heavily on what he takes to be implied rather than on what is stated, and at best can establish a pre-history of rights-language.
[embeddoc url="http://enlight.lib.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-AN/an178770.pdf" download="all" viewer="google"]
Wolterstorff’s reponse to him and others appeared in the same issue[embeddoc url="http://enlight.lib.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-AN/an178777.pdf" download="all" viewer="google"]