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Reviews of Biggar’s What’s wrong with rights? (Updated 15 June 2021)

Sunday, 6 December 2020 - 12:45pm

In What’s wrong with rights? (OUP, 2020) Nigel Biggar addresses questions about the legitimacy of ‘rights’-talk in its various forms—natural, moral, legal, universal, and absolute. He concludes that such talk obscures the importance of fostering civic virtue, corrodes military effectiveness, subverts the democratic legitimacy of law, proliferates publicly onerous rights, and undermines its own authority and credibility (see the complete description here). In response, Biggar urges the rejection of ‘right-fundamentalism’ and the promotion of public ethical discourse that is not shy of speaking about the duties and virtues of legal rights-holders.  

This page will track the engagement with Biggar’s book through reviews and comments published in magazines, news media, and other sources available to the public. 


14 November 2020, The Daily Telegraph: “If rights go wrong...” by Simon Heffer (web site

25 November 2020, New Statesman: “The myth of natural morality” by John Gray (web site

  • Richard Harris (House of Lords) offered a response to John Gray's review in the New Statesman here.

1 December 2020, Literary Review: “When virtue is not enough” by Michael Ignatieff (web site

19 December 2020, The Times: "What's wrong with rights? ... your human rights simply don't exist" by Jonathan Sumption (web site)

Canopy Forum Thematic Series on What's Wrong with Rights?:

Canopy Forum gathered several prominent rights scholars to engage Biggar’s thesis and arguments, offering responses that traverse religious, political, legal, and philosophical perspectives. The following lists the respective contributors to and titles of the essays in the thematic series:

  • 20 January 2021, "Nigel Biggar, What's Wrong with Rights?" by David Little 
  • 21 January 2021, "Radicalizing Biggar’s What’s Wrong with Rights?" by Joel Harrison 
  • 22 January 2021, "Biggar and the Kind of Human Dignity that Remains" by Jennifer Herdt 
  • 2 February 2021, "Is Nigel’s Biggar’s What’s Wrong with Rights? sufficiently realistic?" by Hans-Martien ten Napel 
  • 9 February 2021, "Nigel Biggar, What's Wrong with Rights?" by Mark Hill QC 
  • 24 February 2021, “On the Division of Rights” by John Milbank
  • 11 June 2021, "From Bentham to Biggar: Skepticism about Rights Skepticism" by John Witte, Jr

The responses can be found at the Canopy Forum web site along with Nigel Biggar's replies to the scholars here.

31 March 2021, The Christian Century: "How fighting for human rights can lead to idolatry" by Paul Marshall (web site)

23 April 2021, The Times Literary Supplement: "Is nothing sacred and inviolable? A challenge to sloppy thinking about rights" by Craig Purshouse (web site)

  • TLS Letter to the Editor (07 May 2021, p.6): A response to Craig Purshouse's review by John Strain.

6 May 2021, The Common Good Project: "What is the Common Good? A Conversation with Nigel Biggar" convened by Ryan Meade and Chris Conway (YouTube)

31 May 2021, The American Conservative: "How 'rights talk' became fake" by Brad Littlejohn (web site)

5 June 2021, The American Conservative: "Rights gone wrong" by John Grove (web site)