The Age of Selfies: Civil Discourse About Rights

Our most contentious controversies today are moral. We disagree not only about questions of efficiency and democracy but also about what is right to do and who we are becoming as a people. We have not yet understood the implications of this shift in public reasoning, from discourse about political ideals to debates about moral imperatives. Nor are we all equipped for it. Our educational programs are still organized around obsolete principles of political neutrality. The culture encourages us to bend moral claims in service to self-authorship. Different groups look to different sources of moral truth. And different generations use the same language to refer to different moral ideas.

To recover civil discourse, we need to recover a correct understanding of rights. To mediate our disagreements effectively, rights must be morally justified, they must correlate with duties, they must not be inconsistent with truth, and they should not try to do more work than they are able. When properly framed, rights prevent us from wronging each other and leave ample room for institutional pluralism and reasonable disagreement.


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