Getting Back to Naturenby Kenneth Craycraftn”Human rights are Hctions—but fictions with highly specific properties.”n— Alasdair MaclntyrenRights Talk: The Impoverishmentnof PoHtical Discoursenby Mary Ann GlendonnNew York: Free Press;n218 pp., $22.95nIn 1960 John Courtney Murray, S.J.,nwarned of the possibility that Americanwas slipping into a new barbarism. Innhis best known work, We Hold ThesenTruths, Father Murray said that barbarismn”threatens when men cease to talkntogether according to reasonable laws.”nArgument ceases to be civilnwhen it is dominated by passionnand prejudice; when itsnvocabulary becomes solipsist,npremised on the theory that myninsight is mine alone and cannotnbe shared; .-. . When things likenthis happen, men cannot benlocked together in argument.nConversation becomes merelynquarrelsome or querulous.nCivility dies with the death ofndialogue.nIn short, said Murray, “Barbarismnthreatens when men cease to live togethernaccording to reason, embodiednin law and custom.”nThirty years later, Mary AnnnGlendon fears that Father Murray’snconcern may have become reality. Shenclaims in this book that contemporaryn”rights talk” is both the cause and resultnof a political society that has becomen”merely quarrelsome and querulous.”nGlendon, a professor of law at HarvardnUniversity, argues persuasively that thenhyper-individualistic idiom of rights languagenin America (unique, she thinks,namong liberal democracies) has led usnto the point where little authentic discoursentakes place in American politicalnKenneth Craycraft is finishing anPh.D. in theology at Boston Collegenand is a research associate for thenAmerican Enterprise Institute innWashington, D.C.n32/CHRONICLESnculture.nOr should one say “American legalnculture,” since a large part of thenproblem is our obsession with absolutendemands for our “rights,” which hasnled to a highly legalistic onentation.nShe cites the ” ‘legalization’ of popularnculture” as both “cause and consequencenof our tendency to look to lawnas an expression and carrier of the fewnvalues that are widely shared in ournsociety: liberty, equality, and the idealnof justice under law.” By reducingnpolitical discourse to mere legalisms,nwe have forgotten how to have trulynpolitical conversations, rooted in traditionalnforms of authority such as fami­nnnly, church, and community.nProfessor Glendon demonstratesnthat-several significant problems follownfrom the legalishc temptation. First, bynreducing political discourse to a discussionnof mere legal protection of ournrights, “legality . . . has become thentouchstone for legitimacy” in socialndebates. Despite the vacuous rhetoricnabout not legislating morality (“A moment’snreflection suffices to remind usnof how much of American criminalnlaw . . . [is] a repository of moralnnorms”), Americans have come to feelnthat legal permission is moral sanction.nWhen traditional forms of legitimatenmoral guidance and proscription arendone away with, only the legislativencode remains to define what is legitimate,nand thus “moral.” “As socialnnorms become weaker,” Glendon asserts,n”a kind of moral vacuum arises”nand “law has a tendency to move intonthis vacuum.” Our statutes and (morenimportantly) our great judicial opinionsnhave caused Americans to “regard certainntypes of law as carrying a moralncharge.” Americans regard legality asnthe minimum moral requirement, withnany stronger sanction being a matter ofnindividual choice.nThis phenomenon is not limited tonpositive legislation. Glendon arguesnthat emphases and silences in legislationnand case law also suggest moralnlegitimacy. “The silence of law cannbegin to speak,” says Glendon. Thensilence she is most worried about is thatnof any language of “responsibility,” ornpositive obligation to act in Americannlaw. Ours is a system built upon then”right to be let alone,” and littie else.nSince Americans so persistently look tonlaw as moral sanction, Glendon isnconvinced that an infusion of the languagenof duty into both law and judicialnopinion would efl^ectively improventhe way we treat one another in thenreal world. Instead, our laws assumenand encourage the “lone rights-bearer”nunencumbered by any positive moralnobligation, but with many positive legaln