Review of David Bilchitz, 'Poverty and Fundamental Rights' (2007)
118 Philosophical Review 253-55 (2009)
4 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2015
Date Written: 2009
This essay reviews David Bilchitz's "Poverty and Fundamental Rights" (Oxford U. Press, 2007). Bilchitz's book divides into two parts. In the first, Bilchitz constructs a theory of basic rights, including socioeconomic rights. In the second, he examines how basic socioeconomic rights have been enforced by the South African Constitutional Court.
A great strength of Bilchitz's book is that it aims to show the practical differences that a more philosophically adequate theory might have produced. The theory Bilchitz defends -- particularly in its distinction between conditional and unconditional rights -- is both theoretically satisfying and closely tailored to the South African context in which Bilchitz seeks to intervene. Likely it could be illuminating also with respect to other recent constitutions (both Eastern European and South American) that include express guarantees for socioeconomic rights.
Less clear are the implications for nations, such as the United States, in which no such constitutional rights are either textually guaranteed or likely to be judicially implied. Still, as Bilchitz suggests, the "minimum core" approach he defends can operate as a critical moral (if not legal) standard against which American performance can be measured.
As Bilchitz notes, his theory of rights would, if fully developed, extend to three other areas. The first concerns the responsibility wealthier nation-states have to persons in poorer nation-states. The second concerns the role that collective groupings beyond the nation-state might play in a globalized system. Finally because Bilchitz develops his theory from a consideration of sentient beings, not just human beings, he suggests that the theory would have implications for non-human animals as well.
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