Front Page Titles (by Subject) Dworkin on Rights - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Dworkin on Rights - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
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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Dworkin on Rights
“Professor Dworkin's Theory and Rights.” Political Studies (UK), 26 (1978): 123–137.
Ronald Dworkin makes rights the heart of his legal and political theories. His concept elevates individual political rights over collective social goals.
However, Dworkin fails to identify the definitive characteristics of rights. He is correct in saying that rights ought to be respected, that they belong to “rightholders,” and that the right-holders' objects may be thought of as morally good. But these three properties of rights are radically incomplete.
Dworkin's views on the foundations of political theory have changed greatly over the years. In Taking Rights Seriously (1972) he regarded fundamental rights as generally superior to collective goals, and as requiring very weighty considerations to override them. In his later writings, Dworkin dismisses any possible conflict between collective welfare (understood as a function of the personal preferences of individuals only) and rights. The legitimacy of collective welfare as a political goal derives from the ambiguous right to be treated as an equal, which in Dworkin's view is the fundamental right.
What is the right to be treated as an equal? It is not, claims Dworkin, a right to have an equal share of all resources or benefits. Dworkin's right to be treated with equal concern and respect does not identify him as an egalitarian ideologist. This right to equal treatment implies that government ought to strive to satisfy every personal preference and that government must never act on controversial ideals.
Dworkin fails to make a persuasive case for his view on the foundations of political theory. His vagueness on the right to concern and respect does not permit us to judge whether it encompasses all the values that should inform political action.
In his legal philosophy, Dworkin is the most powerful theorist of law yet to emerge from the United States. Dworkin's seminal article on “Hard Cases” expounds his theory of law and examines three theses: (1) The Natural Law Thesis: what law is depends logically on what is moral. (2) The Conservative Thesis: all judicial decisions should be justified by the political theory which best justified by the political theory which best justifies all valid and binding decisions. (3) The Rights Thesis: judicial decisions are and should be based on existing legal rights only.
Dworkin's Rights Thesis is the only one of these three which he identifies under his own name. Despite appearances, it does not exclude a judge's reliance on social and economic considerations, since these are themselves defined as rights. Further, the economic and social considerations by which Dworkin expands the notion of rights are all legal rights. Dworkin's Natural Law Thesis allows morally binding considerations to be legally binding. The Rights Thesis (given Dworkin's definition of rights) is, in fact, devoid of content.
Although Dworkin's major theses fail, Raz stresses that we can learn much from Dworkin's legal philosophy.