Ideas

The 2000 CBC Massey Lectures, "The Rights Revolution"

Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, rights have become the dominant language of the public good around the globe. In Canada, rights have become the trump card in every argument from family life to Parliament Hill. But the notorious fights for aboriginal rights and for the linguistic heritage of French-speaking Canadians have steered Canada...
Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, rights have become the dominant language of the public good around the globe.

In Canada, rights have become the trump card in every argument from family life to Parliament Hill. But the notorious fights for aboriginal rights and for the linguistic heritage of French-speaking Canadians have steered Canada into a full-blown rights revolution.

This revolution is not only deeply controversial here, but is being watched around the world. Are group rights — to land and language — jeopardizing individual rights? Has the Charter of Rights empowered ordinary Canadians or just enriched constitutional lawyers? When everyone asserts their rights, what happens to responsibilities?

Michael Ignatieff confronts these questions head-on in The Rights Revolution, defending the supposed individualism of rights language against all comers.

"The political and social history of Western society since the French Revolution is the story of the struggle of all human groups to gain inclusion. It is only within the lifetime of all of us here that this vast historical process, begun in the European wars of religion in the 16th century, has been brought to a successful conclusion in the rights revolution of the last 40 years.

All of this is so much part of our lived history that we barely notice its enormous historical significance. We are living in the first human society actually attempting to create a political community on the assumption that everyone — literally everyone — has the right to belong. We are all embarked on the same perilous adventure, whether we can live with our differences or die because of them."  
Michael Ignatieff

The Rights Revolution is published by House of Anansi.

Listen

The 2000 CBC Massey Lectures by Michael Ignatieff | 52:23

Listen to other Massey Lectures

now