Thinking about rights

One of the aims of Lacuna is to spark debate about the meaning of human rights. In our opening edition, Kimberley Brownlee asked us to think about what a ‘right to protest’ might mean. Now, in our Philosophy Corner she turns her attention to human sociality, asking ‘Does being social … give us distinctively social claims on each other? Do we have social rights? If so, what are they?’

With an aging population and growing concern about the impact of isolation and loneliness on people’s well-being, it’s an apt time to consider whether human rights ideas have a role to play in response. Brownlee wonders if as a society we should be obliged to provide minimally adequate contact, a right against social deprivation. And if we should, what might this mean for those we choose to isolate on health grounds or because of their own criminal behaviour?

Such questions give us good reason to look again at the current lists of human rights as adequate when faced with new social problems.

With so many politicians and newspapers seemingly antagonistic to human rights as an idea, it might appear dangerous to promote new rights or more radical developments of old ones. But Brownlee’s article is a plea to look beneath our traditional interpretation of what human rights should mean and what they might do. Staying rooted to notions that no longer reflect accurately the problems and needs of people would perhaps be a greater threat.

Photo by Stefano Mortellaro

Andrew Williams

Andrew Williams is Lacuna's Editor in Chief. He teaches law and creative writing at the University of Warwick and is the author of 'A Very British Killing: the Death of Baha Mousa' that won the George Orwell Prize for Political Writing in 2013. The book tells the story of a murder in Basra in 2003, for which no one has yet been brought to justice.

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