Review of Nigel Biggar, What’s Wrong with Rights, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020
Review of Nigel Biggar, What’s Wrong with Rights? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 10 (2021): 1-6
7 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2021 Last revised: 15 Aug 2022
Date Written: 2021
Human rights and their history are highly contested topics these days in religious and secular circles alike. This review essay takes up the critical analysis of rights offered by leading Christian theologian and ethicist Nigel Biggar. His book provides a careful mapping of rights skepticism from Edmund Burke until today. Following these skeptics, Biggar questions the pre-modern Christian contributions to rights developments; laments the modern dominance of rights talk in political and religious circles; and blisters various human rights instruments, tribunals, cases, judges, and lawyers. This review essay argues that Biggar rather badly misjudges the roots, routes, and roles of rights developments and declarations in the West. He exaggerates the separation of objective and subjective rights. He ignores the many forms and forums of actual rights in legal practice historically and today. He deprecates the sacrifices of human rights advocates over the centuries, and the vital protections that a rights regime offers today for many people around the world. And Biggar’s peculiar faith in a positivist legislative theory of rights ignores the roles of nature, custom, and plain political prudence in grounding and protecting the rights and liberties of all from the tyranny of legislative majorities.
Keywords: Law, Religion, Law and Religion, Nigel Biggar, Human Rights, Edmund Burke, declarations of rights, subjective rights, natural rights, history of rights
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