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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Republicanism, Popular Resistance and the Idea of Rights

Political Theory
Guy Aitchison
University College Dublin
Guy Aitchison
University College Dublin

This paper critically engages with republican - or ‘neo-republican’ - understandings of the concept of rights. Republicans have been sceptical about moral - and specifically natural rights - that exist independently of membership of a particular political community. They have emphasised the need for the institutional protection of rights and for legitimate and effective procedures to defend and enforce them. This emphasis on institutionalisation has been taken by some to mean that rights themselves are the product of institutions and depend on the state for their existence. In this paper, I examine some of the problems with this position. I highlight an early radical strand of natural rights thinking articulated by the 17th century English Levellers. While there are problems with the classical notion of natural rights, their thinking points to the value of rights as a vocabulary of social criticism tied to the people as a source of moral claims and collective resistance. I go onto examine what it might mean to say an agent has a right that exists independently of the laws and customs of a given society, challenging some interpretations in the republican literature. I argue that republicans ought to be committed to at least one moral - or natural - right: a right to resistance, grounded in a fundamental right to non-domination.

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