Rights vs. Duties

Our age of rights, lacking a public language of duties, is a historical outlier. The consequences are significant. Human rights themselves wither when their advocates fail to cross the border into the language of duty; insofar as compliance with norms on paper is sought, the bearers of duties have to be identified and compelled to assume their burden. But duties may have an even larger role to play than simply completing the circuit of rights fulfillment. Though we face environmental catastrophe and the inequities of neoliberalism, few think to pick up the traces of Mazzini’s and Gandhi’s cosmopolitan responsibility, which might help to confront these global-scale menaces. ...

The anxious sense that to legitimate talk of duty is to flirt with disaster—that, all things considered, it is best to stick exclusively to the vindication of hard-won rights—is understandable but indefensible. Above all, it is critical to ensure that the human rights revolution does not turn out to be a permanent fellow-traveler of a much larger libertarian revolution: disquietingly, the two share the same fifty-year lifespan.
— Samuel Moyn