28 / CHRONICLESnOPINIONSnUncivil Rights by William A. Donohuen’It is better that some should be unhappy, than thatnnone should be happy, which would be the case in angeneral state of equality.”n—Samuel JohnsonnAlan R. White: Rights; ClarendonnPress/Oxford University Press; NewnYork; $19.95.nNicholas Capaldi: Out of Order;nPrometheus Books; Buffalo, NY;n$17.95.nMichael Novak: Freedom WithoutnJustice; Harper & Row; SannFrancisco.nRichard A. Posner: The FederalnCourts; Harvard University Press;nCambridge, MA.nThe best way to corrupt a value is tonmaximize it. That is one of thenfundamental lessons of liberalism innthe postwar period. Take rights. Pushnone person’s rights too far and thenresult is the emasculation of someonenelse’s rights. Elevate rights to the statusnof an absolute and the result is thendestruction of other values. Expandnthe definition of rights to include allndesirable ends and the result is a diminutionnof interest in those rights thatnreally matter. Extend the idea of rightsnto every conceivable animate and inanimatensubject and the result is andepreciation of human rights. Innshort, attempts to maximize rights insurentheir minimization.nIn the midst of the contemporarynconfusion over the meaning of rightsncomes the volume entitled Rights bynphilosopher Alan R. White. He laysnbare the similarities and dissimilarihesnWilliam A. Donohue is author ofnThe Politics of the American CivilnLiberties Union (Transaction Books).nbetween rights and such notions asnduty, obligation, ought, liberty,npower, privilege, and claim. By doingnso, he provides a welcome antidote tonthe muddled thinking on this subjectnthat has prevailed on both sides of thenAtlantic for the past 20 years. We havenbecome so accustomed to thinkingnabout rights as if they were a game.none in which the rules and participantsnare exchanged in tag-team fashion,nthat any disciplined approach seemsnantiquated. White succeeds becausenhe imposes order on an area wherenthere is little and clarity of visionnwhere there is less still.nA favorite stratagem of new rightsncrusaders has been to declare some­nnnthing a good (money, equality of status,netc.) and then deduce a right to it.nIt is as though a desire for somethingnby itself confers a right to it. But “in nonsense,” White argues, “does the factnthat something is good for someonenprovide a ground which is logicallyneither necessary or sufficient for hisnpossession of a right to it.” In fact,n”there is nothing whose very naturenconceptually gives rise to a right.”nWhat one has a right to can be nonmore, or less, than what one is entitlednto.nIt is the left that has played fast andnloose with the idea of rights and hasngiven the discussion its present elasticity.nNowhere is this more evident thannin the debate over equality. By foreverntrying to maximize equality, the leftnhas twisted and trivialized the idea ofnrights, without seriously affecting thenlevel of inequality. In the vocabularynof the left, equal protection before thenlaws has come to mean social andneconomic equality. Mention the termnequal opportunity to a leftist, and allnhe hears is equality. On the othernhand, mention equal opportunity to anconservative, and all he can hear isnopportunity.nConsider the last example. The ideanof equality favored by the left—equalnoutcomes—requires a policy whichnrestricts the rights of others. They seeknto help the dispossessed by dispossessingnothers. Helping the poor meansnhurting the nonpoor, either throughntaxation or quotas. On the other hand,nconservatives seek to help the dispossessednby empowering them to possessnwhat they are capable of possessing.nHelping the poor means the creationnof new wealth, new markets, and newnopportunities. It is a forward-lookingnvision, one that contrasts sharply withnthe zero-sum mentality of their opponents.nIn a real sense, conservativesnare right to describe themselves as thentrue progressives.n”Doctrinaire liberalism,” writesnNicholas Capaldi, “is the most perva-n