Second generation rights

The second generation of economic, social, and cultural rights finds its origins primarily in the socialist tradition that was foreshadowed among the Saint-Simonians of early 19th-century France and variously promoted by the revolutionary struggles and welfare movements that have taken place since. In large part, the second generation is a response to the abuses and misuses of capitalist development and its underlying, essentially uncritical conception of individual liberty that tolerated, even legitimated, the exploitation of working classes and colonial peoples. Historically, it is counterpoint to the first generation of civil and political rights. Consequently the second generation conceives human rights in positive ("rights to") rather than negative ("freedoms from") terms, requiring more the intervention than the abstention of the state for the purpose to assure equitable participation in the production and distribution of the values involved. Illustrative are the claimed rights set forth in articles 22-27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the right to social security; the right to work and to protection against unemployment; the right to rest and leisure, including periodic holidays with pay; the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of self and family; the right to education; and the right to the protection of one's scientific, literary, and artistic production.

But in the same way that all the rights embraced by the first generation of civil and political rights cannot properly be designated "negative rights," so all the rights embraced by the second generation of economic, social, and cultural rights cannot properly be labeled "positive rights." The right to free choice of employment, the right to form and to join trade unions, and the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, for example, do not inherently require affirmative state action to ensure their enjoyment. Nevertheless, most of the second generation rights do necessitate state intervention in the allocation of resources because they subsume demands more for material than for intangible values according to some criterion of distributive justice. Second generation rights are, fundamentally, claims to social equality. Partly because of the comparatively late arrival of socialist-communist and compatible "Third World" influence in the normative domain of international affairs, however, the internationalization of these rights has been relatively slow in coming; and with free-market capitalism in ascendancy under the banner of "globalization" at the turn of the 21st century, it is not likely that they will come of age any time soon. On the other hand, as the negative consequences of unregulated capitalism, national and transnational, become more and more felt over time and are not deflected by explanations based on gender and race, it is probable that the struggle for second generation rights will grow and mature. Already in the evolving European Union, this is evident.

Encyclopedia Britannica