Front Page Titles (by Subject) Rights, Liberty, and Priorities - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1981, vol. 4, No. 3
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Rights, Liberty, and Priorities - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1981, vol. 4, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Rights, Liberty, and Priorities
“Peace and Critical Knowledge as Human Rights.” Political Theory 8(August 1980):293–318.
The Liberal-Democratic and the Marxist-socialist traditions in political thought concur in ranking human liberty or freedom as the ultimate ideal. Prof. Bay contends, however, that “human rights” is a more useful abstraction than “freedom” for guiding our priorities among various political aims and strategies. It is more feasible, he asserts, to construct an authoritative, universal hierarchy among human rights than among freedoms. He also holds that a metapolitical theory based on rights, rather than on goals or duties, is best suited to the Kantian humanist principle that each human being is an end in him- or herself.
Bay discusses the question of whether we can rationally select priorities among basic rights. He believes that basic rights must be defined and justified by categories of basic human needs as opposed to mere wants or interests. Human need refers to any and all requirements for a person's survival, health, and essential freedoms for individual growth and self-expression.
As a humanist, Bay holds that, in principle, whenever we can be sure that some people are in dire need, these needs must take precedence over other persons' wants or interests. Comparing political systems, so-called democracies tend to pay attention to wants and to ignore many needs. So-called socialist countries limit debates concerning wants, but they commendably stress universal health and education needs.
In Bay's hierarchy, survival needs come first, followed by the need for protection of health, followed in turn by the freedom needs, including the needs for social solidarity, free choice, and self-development. Beyond these fundamentals, however, there is no easy answer to the problem of devising law and policy principles which respond to human needs priorities and still take proper account of want-claims as well. This is especially true, since our knowledge of the range of human needs remains relatively limited.
Bay does argue, however, that, for practical policy purposes, the first universal human right must be the right to peace. Compared to “freedom from war,” a human right to peace is a much more fruitful formulation, since it protects not only against the horrors of modern technological warfare but also against mass destruction of human lives and health by such negligence-caused disruption as a nuclear core meltdown. Peace, if properly understood, focuses public policy on the protection of everyone's life and limb.
While the right to peace assures the freedom from want and fear, the right to “critical political knowledge,” once established, will enable every individual to claim and advance the whole range of justifiable freedoms. The acquisition of critical political knowledge is a dialectical process which Paulo Freire has described in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Conventional schooling emphasizes the harnessing of young minds as a vital resource for society as it is. Not surprisingly, establishment schools, fearful of social change, usually neglect the dialectical acts. Through dialectic, students would be free to take part in discussions of political issues and be exposed to a broad range of relevant facts and opinions. Such an education would provide young people with an access to a critical perspective of their social environment.
More widespread in liberal democracies than in socialist societies, critical political knowledge can exercise considerable restraint on abuses of power. The questioning and dissent concerning America's involvement in the Vietnam war represents just one example of this salutary process. From the example of the Vietnam war protests, one can see the crucial importance of political knowledge in securing the primary right of social and international peace. As J.B. Priestly has succinctly stated: “You may believe, as I do, that if the citizens of the Great Powers were more sharply militant, less like sheep, then States would soon be less like wolves.”