Chiming Zhong – The Task of Theories of Rights and Marx’s Theory

PTRG: 8 Nov 2017

This paper looks to establish a dialogue between Karl Marx’s historical understanding of rights and conceptual analyses of rights of the sort practised by, among others, HLA Hart.

As a first step in doing this Chiming sets out the advantages of the conceptual approach. Here he gives particular attention to the merits of Hart’s method of specifying the conditions under which a legal concept, such as ‘right’, can be said to be true. From here Chiming proceeds to argue that important aspects of Hart’s method are absent from the conceptual analyses of rights offered by both Neil McCormick and Matthew Kramer. The final step in Chiming’s argument is to show that underlying Marx’s perceived rejection of rights is a rich understanding of the historical and regulatory function they play in particular social conditions. In showing this, Chiming identifies some of the shared methodological assumptions of Hart and Marx. However while stressing their mutual concern for identifying the conditions in which rights hold, Chiming acknowledges the important methodological difference between focusing on conceptual conditions and focusing on concrete conditions.

Our discussion considered what is distinctive about Marx’s critique of rights and this led to debate about the ontology of rights more broadly. This incorporated points about the possible merits of adopting a Hohfeldian conception of rights in place of the largely Hartian model employed in this paper.

Written by Andrew Drever