Fight for your rights!

Photo by That’s Her Business via Unsplash. Edited by Opulens.

RIGHTS. The 2020s could be a decade when new systems and functions concerning rights are developed. But the future development can be both light and dark, depending on which ideas win more support and acceptance in public debates. Keeping in mind the 2010s nationalist and populist development where human rights are despised, at the same time as there is a lack of new ideas about rights catalogs for a post-industrial societal development.

Brexit and rights 

In connection with the Brexit debate, the academic David Miller asked why many left-wing Britons took a stand for EU membership based on communication about labor union organization, working conditions, and social rights. After all, rights as civic ones are a historical product of formations of nations and nation-states as the UK.

Miller’s point about rights being interpreted from a state-centric perspective is also about the idea of ​​”liberal nationalism”, which can also be likened to nationalist social democracy – high taxes and a demand-based welfare state, as well as restrictive immigration and demands for cultural uniformity. In addition, the liberal-nationalist view is that citizenship and rights should only be national because the nation-state is regarded as the only possible form of social and institutional organization.

The argument in the style of Brexit being bad for social rights and the working class in Britain has been part of the pro-Remain left-wing referendum campaign. Furthermore, millions of anti-Brexit and pro-EU Britons realized that they risked losing their civil rights as EU citizens regarding turnout, mobility, and health care. In turn, pro-Brexit leftists have argued the opposite, namely that Brexit would be good for British civil rights, partly because the European Union is still equal to neoliberalism and undermining national democracy.


European Union and rights 

But regarding Brexit and the view of rights, it is important to understand the following, as the historian Yuval Harari argues. According to Harari, Brexit was not a political battle between people who were for or against rights. Rather, it was a political struggle between those who wanted rights in a universal and cosmopolitan sense against those who wanted the rights to stay at the border and primarily be for “our own“.

Much of the EU’s ‘social dimension’ of rights and conditions can and should be criticized for improving and further evolving over time. At the same time, it is also important to understand that the EU is the only example in the world of how concrete civil rights have been shaped at the supranational level and could thus include and unite more people than ever before in history.

This partly explains the establishment of European citizenship in the 1990s and 2000s as a kind of political target for both left-wing and right-wing populists and nationalists in the Union. For those who in an authoritarian way believe that man must be subordinated to the nation and mentally limited to “the national”, ideas about rights and the individual’s private sphere at the supranational level can feel very irritating and negative.

The “civil rights vs human rights” false narrative

Rights discussions in the 2010s also show that nationalism cannot be divided into good and evil because different ideas tend to merge. For example, when the Sweden Democrats in 2017 handed out their “freedom prize” to the Czech Republic’s former prime minister and now right-wing extremist Vaclav Klaus, the motivation was that Klaus had argued that human rights have become a threat to civic rights and national sovereignty. However, such ideas and reasoning are not limited to right-wing extremist actors, as the debate on rights from a nationalist and authoritarian point of view has occurred among other debaters, including on the left.

For example, the historian and debater Lars Traedgaordh, known for the texts concerning Swedish identification and social trust, argued in the 2010s that civil (welfare) rights should outweigh human rights regarding Sweden’s function as a state. Above all, it is about the view of humanitarian immigration and resources concerning the welfare state, where Traedgaodh believes that Sweden has a greater responsibility for its own citizens than for non-citizens. In addition, Traedgaordh has reasoned in the style that the focus on multiculturalism, pluralism, and universality should be reduced in favor of culture in the “national” sense.

A rights debate for 21st century

In this way, based on the 2010 rights debates, one can conclude that the political battle that Harari believes is generally not about for or against rights but is about which people should have rights and how the rights should be managed institutionally. Those who want a cosmopolitan world and are driven by universal values and rights need to explain how democracy, welfare, and the rule of law can really function globally. And those who want rights based on nationalist and discriminatory reasoning need to explain why the public as the state should treat people in an arbitrary, repressive, and exclusive way.

There are several reasons why more people as in the Swedish debate should look ahead and write about modern ideas about rights. The modern state needs to be precisely universalist and cosmopolitan to be able to deal with global problems and challenges and contribute to human security and the development of the climate and the planet. Today, more and more people are joining decentralized and often global communities such as networks and associations with their own constitutions, democratic processes, and economic ecosystems. Animals also need to have their rights more protected in line with climate change. There are also transhumanist and futuristic ideas about rights for robots, AI, and cyborgs in the post-industrial as well as “post-human” societal visions of the future.

Such a development may sound comical and strange, but it is important to remember that one of the most important functions of rights is to ensure peaceful interpersonal relationships. The future development may mean that relationships between people and with other beings become increasingly complex and interconnected over time through various interactions and processes concerning the handling of the climate issue. In such a world, a universalist and complex view of rights is needed for humanity as a whole to keep the ability to solve common challenges.

Vladan Lausevic


Vladan Lausevic är stockholmare och aktiv som skribent, liberal debattör och aktivist med intresse för såväl mjuka som hårda politiska frågor. I bagaget har en examen i historia och Europastudier. Vladans motto: “Jag har ingen identitet, jag har bara identiteter”.

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