Essay on the Changing Content of Various Rights

Things that appear fundamental to one may appear unnecessary to another. Our standards of values change and so do our methods of realization. Take, for example, the right to property.

Our interpretation of this right is exactly not the same as was put upon it in the nineteenth century. Even in countries like Britain and the United States all political parties would uphold the right of the individual to possess property, but on conditions which differ considerably today from those that were considered normal, even a couple of generations ago.

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The right of social welfare has modified our conception of the existing rights and some of them may be actually incompatible with them.

If we compare the broad-based rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Rights with those of earlier declarations that have been mentioned earlier, it shall be clear that there are a number of rights which, today, are held to be natural, but were not thought near about two centuries ago. In the eighteenth century rights were thought of in almost exclusively political terms.

The battle of economic equality had hardly begun. But most of the recent Constitutions, which became operative after the middle of the present century, have given due importance to the social and economic rights, as well as their political implications. As rights are of a changing content they cannot be catalogued tightly.

The concept of natural rights, which are held fundamental for the life of man, has always been and must remain subjective. Rights are ‘self evident’ only, says Dorothy Pickles, “in their own time and place and, even then, only if expressed in vague and general terms that, in practice, mean different things to different men.”

We cannot, therefore, have a rigid system of rights. Our theory of rights should be consistent with and in conformity to our individual, group and social needs. Any theory of rights which touches only one aspect of the problem is sure to create friction.

The old theory of Individualism is a political anachronism now, as it touches the individual alone. The good of man is not an isolated object to be realized. It embraces the interests of the individual, interests of the group to which he belongs, the interests of the community which embraces all those groups and the humanity at large.

The system of rights, as such, must be considered as a whole. Moreover, Political Science deals with operative ideals. These ideals are to be worked by man for the social good. Social good can best be secured if there is proper adjustment between the ideals of man and his institutions.

In case of disequilibrium, there can be no moral development of man or realisation of his ideals. Rights, we may, then, conclude, are of a changing nature and they change in their content according to the needs of the individual and society.

As for the present time, it is obvious that human reason has now become aware not only of the rights of man as a human being and a civic person, but also of his rights as a social person engaged in the process of production and consumption, and especially his rights as a working person knitted in close ties with the humanity at large.


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