Category Archives: Politics

Negative and Positive Rights

Good afternoon! I came across one of your posts and thought you would be the perfect help. I come to ask for some insight on the basics of what positive and negative freedoms/liberties/rights are and which amendments/articles in the Bill of Rights and UDHR represent the positives and negatives. Thank you for even reading this and thank you in advance if you can help me out!

Right, a number of terms have been thrown out in general so we need to make sure we dealing with each of them correctly.

The positive and negative most simply breaks down into a “to …” and a “from …”. So a positive freedom is one where you have a freedom to (be able to do X) and a negative freedom is one where you have a freedom from (the state or others doing Y that would affect you). This can be further understood as a positive creating an obligation of action in some regard, and a negative creating an obligation of inaction in some regard.

Then there are three further things thrown out: rights, freedoms, and liberties. Before going further it’s necessary to point out that I’m speaking to these ideas in respect to how I understand them to have developed within ‘Western’ political philosophical discourse. It must be recognised that while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights universalises this mode of thinking in many ways, it does so at the same time as also universalising an approach which has developed from African and Asian political cultures, which can be seen through the inclusion of the concept of an inherent human dignity from the very outset. My knowledge on this aspect if the UDHR is much weaker so I’m not claiming to speak to that.

Rights discourse developed from the idea of natural rights, exemplified in Locke’s Two Treatises on Civil Government and were codified in the US Declaration of Independence and the amendments in the constitution which constitute the Bill of Rights, and similarly in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. They’d seen earlier stages of recognition such as in the Magna Carta, but it wasn’t until the late 18th century that they really took root as something people fought and died for across Europe and the Americas. Initially rights were recognised as something endowed by God or a Creator. They are inherent to all human beings (initially just men …) and it is treated as such that each person is retains their rights regardless of whether or not they know of them, they have been breached, they live in a state which does not recognise them, and so on. While rights discourse has largely been secularised (the necessity of a God or omnipotent being has declined) the same recognition of function (that rights are inherent and inalienable) remains. Nominally, rights are those which have been codified in constitutions, legal documents, international conventions however the language within which they exist is phrased in such a way to recognise that if those documents did not exist the rights would continue to do so.

Freedom is the ability to make choices and exert agency based upon one’s own choices without coercion. Liberty is the recognition that this happens within the confines of a political/social grouping, such as a state with its judicial system, where your actions affect others. I don’t know a great deal about positive and negative liberties, but positive and negative rights I have a much better grip on, so I’ll go into more depth on those.

Negative rights therefore compel the state to not do something to you, without compelling you or the state towards a specific action. Freedom of speech, conscience, or religion is a perfect example. You do not have to say something, think something, or believe something. But if you choose to do so the state is compelled not to intervene. Amendment 1 of the Bill of Rights states “Congress shall make no law respecting …”.

I would’ve said the other rights in the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) are phrased as negative rights, with the exceptions of 6 and 7 – the right by which the state is compelled to provide a speedy trial, and a trial by jury. They give you the right to something which must be provided for you.

With regards to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a similar approach can be applied looking at each article to assess the framing used as to whether or not they’d apply as negative or positive. So Articles 4 and 5, freedom from slavery and torture, are clearly negative rights. Article 25 is clearly a positive right:

“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”

However, in 1993 the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was passed which states that “All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” This recognises that you cannot have one human right without the other. You can’t pick and choose which rights are applicable: if you prefer only the negative rights, they cannot be fully appreciated, enjoyed, or exercised without also involving the positive rights.

There are also arguments that the separation of negative and positive rights is a false separation that exists only within the framing of the document as opposed to something inherent to the nature of the right itself, which is an approach that I prefer. You cannot have freedom from censorship without the freedom to say what you want. It is the unsaid that at the same time must also be true.

That’s without getting into why I reject human rights as natural or universal. I think they’re a tool within the current society, but not something that exist as an abstract.

Hope that helps?



A Typology of Violence, from Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research6(3), 167–191.

I was looking for this image to insert into my research slides and found it on Tumblr of all places. (Didn’t want to take a screenshot of the PDF I have… Even though it’d turn out like this? Anyway.) This is probably one of my favorite ideas in social justice/peace and conflict and reading this paper for the first time was one of the rare occasions where I was really excited about theory.

You should definitely check out Achille Mbembe’s article Necropolitics. I’m not on my laptop at the moment so I can’t check out the details but he brings in Foucault and Bataille in regards to violence and it’s really good. Very different style to Galtung’s but you’re missing out if you don’t read it.

Liam Burns (NUS UK President):

One thing we’ve got to understand and get better at is our campaigning techniques. Don’t get me wrong, I do not deride what Quebec students managed to pull off, I’m not saying that the actions in Chile weren’t powerful and inspirational but they are in very, very different political and economic climates. … We are not going to deride those tactics but we need to have 21st-century campaigning when dealing with 21st-century problems …

Patrick Kingsley:

The Chilean movement only became so radical through a similarly lengthy debate, she says. “2011 was the product of 10 years of debate,” adds Paul Floor Pilquil, Vallejo’s colleague at the University of Chile student union (Fech). A decade ago, he says, Chile’s main student bodies were as bogged down in the smaller issues as they are now in Britain. “But then we started to connect all the specific problems.”

Liam Burns essentially says that Chilean students only saw success because they’re living in some backwards state. Leaders of the Chilean student movement say we’re basically playing catch up with how the NUS is attempting to deal with the issues students in the UK are facing.
I know who I’d rather pay attention to (not the one from the organisation that’s leaving UK students out to dangle over access to free education but the one that’s actually forcing ministerial resignations.)
Quotes taken from: and respectively.


Where has all the shouting gone?

Emily talks politics and feminism and wonders if we’re moving backwards in terms of women’s representation.

This Dame:

Tumblr: http://siouxsieismygrandma

Something you’d like to talk about? Want to guest vlog for Those Pesky Dames? Click to find out how:

I think university has changed a lot, though it’s hard to pin down exactly the moment that happened.  This is a late night, sleep deprived ramble, largely of conjecture rather than things I have hard facts on.  So feel free to pick it apart.

1. Since Labour came to power the provision of apprenticeships that train people on the job has significantly reduced.  People are pushed into universities as the way to gain vocational training.  With the introduction of fees and increasingly uncertain job markets people who are going into debt over university tend to want to get a job which they think will get them a decent job at the end of it, especially at institutions which predominately service working class or less affluent demographics, such as where I am, which has a massive business school.

Restructuring the way university is accessed, introducing a financial concern, means that courses such as women’s studies or even broader arts and humanities courses which (should) make the student develop deeper understandings of ideas such as equality drop in uptake in exchange for courses which don’t have such matters as their concerns and so their discussion becomes extracurricular.

2. With the change in the demographic which accessed university (i.e. that working class students gained more access) the socialisation as to status, position, and expectations of the main student body changed.  By which I mean where you have working class people making political demands it’s usually substantiated around pay and conditions.  Working class women’s movements made demands for pay and recognition equal to their male counterparts, access to working the same jobs rather than in women’s-only jobs, and so on.

In the 80s and prior to that, where student’s social backgrounds were generally more affluent, they came from a background which had different expectations and demands to make, and more time to spend articulating them without the need to get a part time job to make ends meet.  This point I think is a substantial factor in the general change in radicality of student politics.

3. The way in which we teach matters such as women’s struggle in schools through history lessons and sporadically citizenship in some instances are very much a “they fought for this and then they got it.” Of course it’s good that the matters are taught to an extent, but they are subject to an act of recuperation in doing so. They become a part of normalising the system rather than for providing a basis for criticising it.

“Women demanded x, y, and z. They achieved [some legal recognition of a status of equality] and so it is today.”

I don’t know if this is something that’s substantially changed over time, has only more recently been introduced into history lessons or what.  But I am fairly certain that the accessibility of documentaries, factual TV/radio shows, and so on, in regard to such matters has substantially increased and this has a similar effect of socialisation regardless if the educational conditions somebody was under.

4. There’s a hell of a lot more out there to distract us.  Fifteen different magazines to tell us how to be more like [celebrity] and then another 20 to tell us why [celebrity]’s life is much worse than you’d think.  Many more movies, and easier access to them, umpteen different TV channels, a many more clubs, computer games, and a heavy emphasis on a consumerist society which keeps on pushing outwards.  After a day of study, some extra hours of work, people don’t generally want to engage in complicated political arguments they want to relax and interact with brain mulch that takes their mind away from the drudgery of life.

Discussion on matters such as women’s struggles push the boundaries of comfort.  Why engage with ideas that say that society is fundamentally corrupt and wrong and has to change, when it’s much more convenient to just kick off your shoes, slouch in front of the TV and fall asleep listening to Andrew Marr reiterating how Europe is basically responsible for every good thing that ever happened ever in his latest documentary series?


So I may have diverged from the point, I’m not sure.  And I certainly could have been more articulate.  I should point out I’m not trying to implicate one gender over another as being implicit in the sort of general process I’m outlining but more trying to give an idea in the factors that have overall changed the nature of the discourse on university campuses.

Today is the day the people who send people to die in wars to bolster their failing economies, get to tell everyone they think wars are awful and horrid and they care very deeply about “our” soldiers who die in them.

Labour politicians who sent troops to die and kill in Iraq and Afghanistan, Conservative politicians who have sent Cameron off to support arms sales to Arab states in the midst of civil wars for the last two years. Today they get to wear a poppy, go to a church service and convince us that their conscience is clean, that there’s no blood on their hands.

Lets also take a moment to consider why it is we need charity to support the wounded servicemen and their families. The NHS is being hacked to pieces, social worker’s loads are being increased tenfold, and care homes are being closed. But at least the politicians responsible can rest assured that they’ve made a minuscule donation so that they can publicly declare their very grave concern and support for the people they’ve sent to die and be wounded in a war they have no part in.

If you think the best way to remember the war dead is by buying a paper flower then please have a pleasant day. If you think the best way to do that is to stop sending people to war and build a society which cares for everybody then we still have some ways to go.

No war but class war.

Can we talk about violence when no physical or biological object is hurt? This would be a case of what is referred to above as truncated violence, but nevertheless highly meaningful. When a person, a group, a nation is displaying the means of physical violence, whether throwing stones around or testing nuclear arms, there may not be violence in the sense that anyone is hit or hurt, but there is nevertheless the threat of physical violence and indirect threat of mental violence that may even be characterized as some type of psychological violence since it constrains human action. Indeed, this is also the intention: the famous balance of power doctrine is based on efforts to obtain precisely this effect.

Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research6(3), 167–191.


Goldsmiths University occupation of the Whitehead building.


You know we’ve been waving giant red flags for months now and most of the world seems to be ignoring the very epicness of this.

Drop your trip to London to see Les Mis and come here on a 22.

I feel that the number of red flags has significantly increased since my first 22 (in May) btw…

Quebec being fucking A.  Far more cool to wave a red flag when you’re not being paid to do it for a movie.

Goldsmiths University occupation of the Whitehead building.






philosophy-of-praxis replied to your post: philosophy-of-praxis replied to your post: If you…

Nope. Robespierre got shit done. Gandhi betrayed strikes and other liberation struggles.

Robespierre got shit done and then oppressed the French population once he got shit done, causing a reign of terror and thus the phrase reign of terror was coined.

When they turn your life into just another industrial process, you industrialise the democratic justice system.

When 72% of your victims are the working class I’d hardly call that democratic.

also it wasn’t democratic. it was Robespierre being a batshit dictator.

Does France have a monarchy though?

so it’s okay to replace one system of oppression with another?

Without Robespierre you wouldn’t have Civil Rights leaders because the idea of civil rights would never have survived the counterrevolution.  I don’t give a fuck whether or not you agree with what he did or how he did it, you wouldn’t have the chance to have this conversation about whether or not Gandhi was a good civil rights leader because the concept of civil rights wouldn’t have become a hegemonic force within liberal ideology able to solidify itself within the constitution of France and couldn’t have spread from there.

But wah wah waaah he was very nasty.  O noes. may have already read this, I was just wondering what you think.

I recall having read an article or watched a video that’s very relevant to this and posted it previously, so I’ll have a look to see if I can find it.

To be cynical none of this rhetoric really surprises me at all.  It’s very similar to the approach made by Clinton in his peace talks regarding the Israel/Palestine situation, and while compared to Bush the fact Obama references the 1967 borders is quite a significant step, it’s also a very ineffective one.

The way the state of Israel functions is to support and provide security for, without significant repercussions, the vast majority of illegal settlements.  They cut into the West Bank under the 1967 agreement, criss-cross it with road networks and misdirect water sources for their own needs.  In addition to this the way the security wall functions is to cut into the West Bank and claim open land, while leaving Palestinian villages isolated and disconnected but not incorporated into Israel.  The purpose is to create as much open land for Israel without taking on an arabic population that would threaten this concept of a “Jewish state”.

A two state solution has simply been made implausible.  There’s no possible way you can convince the illegal settlers to leave their fortified villages because to their minds it’s their land and it’s an offence for arabic people to inhabit the area.  Netanyahu knows this and has played to this: Zionist civilians take it upon themselves to build settlements, the state of Israel slaps them on the wrist and says they’ve been very naughty, and then constructs the infrastructure to defend the stolen land.

So Obama is falling back on the normalised “liberal” conversation approach to the situation in talking about the 1967 borders, despite the fact that Israel has made this impossible to create.  What’s more is the concept of a “Jewish state” is inherently racist – the analogous idea are the people running around in the UK declaring we’re on the verge of introducing Sharia Law and we need to keep Britain for the British.  As I see it the most suitable format of state that could be created would be a single, possibly federal, state with a proportionally elected government.  These new middle east peace talks will just lead to the standard song and dance which essentially gains nothing, while Israel carries on just as it ever did.



My friend Troy posted a rather thoughtful status regarding the death of Bin Laden:

Here’s an example of the response he received:

Roughly thirty comments later (from him and others), which included Jacob Leonard claiming I sympathized with bin Laden versus the troops and victims of…

“dude your retarted, it’s a war not a revenge, what do you do in a fucking war troy? you go after the bad guy and when its done you celebrate, dumb shit”, despite being the first bit has to be my favourite.

Not least because he starts out with “your retarted”, which is very much one of those point-one-finger-four-back-at-yourself situations, but because killing Osama was part of this massive war effort that’s been going on.  You know the war on terror?  The one that’s basically been ten years of bombing civilians because some people from some other country killed some (comparatively minuscule) number of people from our countries?

Well, we killed the bad guy.  The boogeyman.  The biggest, scariest person ever.  He’s in charge of such an advanced militarised terror network that they themselves wanted to give him up [clicky] months into the start of the conflict.  But now that we’ve killed almost a million innocent bystanders we’ve got him.  Off our own intuition.  We could’ve had him ten years ago, but I’d like to point out that torturing innocent people for fun in Guantanamo wouldn’t have been nearly half as outwardly justifiable if it hadn’t happened that of the hundreds, one actually knew something.  But that’s fine we still ignored it for three years [clicky] and now you can all sleep well at night, because killing one person is going to solve everything wrong with the world.

Don’t forget, this was a war: a war against innocent bystanders.  And we’ve won it now we’ve killed someone that wasn’t innocent.  Not that we were going to take them to a criminal court to prove their guilt because we figured it’d be quicker and easier to just shoot him and drop him in the ocean.

Cognitive Dissonance: Feedeth ye not the trolls, lest ye becometh a troll