The Iron Law of Rights: Citizenship and Individual Empowerment in Modern Sweden

Lars Trägårdh and Lars Svedberg

in Social Policy and Citizenship

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199754045
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979455 | DOI:

Series: International Policy Exchange Series

The Iron Law of Rights: Citizenship and Individual Empowerment in Modern Sweden

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The empirical aim of the chapter concerns the relationship between individual and state in Sweden as it is expressed in social policy, i.e. the domain where social citizenship and social rights find concrete expression. Focus is on few policy areas that illuminate fundamental questions of power in the relations between state and individual: children’s rights, the rights of the disabled, compulsive care of substance abusers and HIV positive individuals, and healthcare in general. At the theoretical level the chapter engages Marshall’s observations concerning citizenship and rights, as well as Isaiah Berlin’s classic distinction between positive and negative liberty. It concludes by posing an “iron law of rights” according to which the advancement of collective social rights necessarily entails a corresponding loss of individual legal rights.

Keywords: social rights; individual rights; civil rights; children’s rights; disability rights; compulsive care; rights in healthcare; empowerment; positive freedom; negative freedom

Chapter.  16189 words. 

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