The Fictitious Liberal Divide
Economic Rights Are Not Basic
The main question dividing classical and high liberals is about how economic rights rank compared to other rights and public goals. That is, the question is about what can or cannot outweigh such rights. High liberals argue that economic rights can be outweighed by any legitimate state interest, such that they are prima facie rights. Neoclassical liberals, conversely, have recently sought to elevate economic rights to basic rights, which could then only be outweighed by other basic rights. This paper shows where the real debate should be for classical liberals, challenging Samuel Freeman’s widely held distinction between classical and high liberalism. Economic rights are prima facie for all liberals in that they can be outweighed by, say, considerations of utility or social justice. Although neoclassical liberals are correct to say that such rights are much more important than high liberals normally recognize, it does not follow that economic rights are basic.