The Tyranny of Rights

The Tyranny of Rights  by Brewster Kneen


In this provocative book, Brewster Kneen asks why the demand for rights – human rights, intellectual property rights, the right to save seed, the right to food – has become such a dominant strategy of movements for social and economic justice. As he discusses this question, he uncovers ways in which concept and language of rights imposes the individualistic and legalistic approach on other civilizations and ways of thinking.

Brewster points out that a demand for a right is made to an authority which is deemed to have the ability (though not necessarily the intention) to grant the right. This automatically puts those claiming a right in a position of subservience to that authority. Such a situation is particularly poignant for those, like Indigenous peoples, for whom ‘rights’ are secondary to responsibilities and relationships, but who nevertheless find themselves using the rights language as the only way to communicate with an imperial or colonial legal system.

He also notes that while this legal system may indeed grant a right – as in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights – that does not mean that the right will actually be fulfilled. The right to food, he says, is an empty bowl, which if it is filled, may be found to contain the products of an industrial system which provide no nourishment.

In referring to this as a tyranny, Brewster intends to spark dialogue and debate about the concept of ‘rights’ and the best ways to achieve genuine justice and equity among people and the Creation we inhabit.

This book was written to spark a dialogue. You are invited to enter your comments, just log in (below)


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You can also download a copy here: pdf