where do rights come from – Charles Tilly

Rights and its emergence through European Lens

rights of charles tilly

 Rights are an important component of democracy. In making of rights checking of arbitrary rules, the establishment of just, rational political rules and impact of the “underlying population” is crucial. To attend the question where rights do comes from? We can locate it in European political history. Rights involve the growth of immunity of certain groups and persons from the power of the ruler, along with the conception of contract as a mutual engagement freely undertaken by free persons derived from a combination of military and legal customs precedent with the conception of the right of resistance to unjust authority. Rights and its relational resistance and struggle have specific histories in different European regions.

There are series of events responsible for the attainment of rights by a citizen in Europe. The struggle for rights at a national scale is an important cause of entitlement which enforces the delivery of goods, services, or protection by specific other. If one party is effectively able to insist that another deliver good, services or protection and there is the third party that will reinforce their delivery.

These entitlements are citizenship rights when the object of the claim is state or its representatives who have simple membership in a broad category of person subjects to the state’s jurisdiction. These rights came into existence after general population bargained with state authorities for many centuries. It started by means of war, then coerce claims that would facilitate their interest outside of war. It led to the enlargement of claims and rights demanded by the citizens.

Merging of two separate streams, work on state transformation and work on the collective action can explain the origin of rights. It involves rights of citizen and groups of citizens with respect to states and the rights of state official with respect to the citizens. In relation to the collection, there is a twofold model of struggle:

1) struggle over demand made by the state on their subjects, by subjects on states, or by subjects on each other.

2) Struggle by a specific group of the subject to enter polity.

The rights of citizenship was a result of the bargain first in defense against presumptuous state demands for the means of war than in the pursuit of a much wider range of collective action and state intervention.

Citizenship rights  have more than one category for eligibility. Citizenship belongs to everyone who qualifies as a full-fledged member of given state, membership in the category meets the requirement to capacitate a person for enforceable claims. One of the most important lines is a separation between non-citizen and native-born and naturalized citizen. Now, European citizen typically have right to vote in national and local elections, to participate in a wide range of collective action outside of the election, to acquire a considerable number of governmental benefits and services, to move freely within from the frontiers of the state, and to acquire protection of their state when they travel or live outside their frontiers. Degradation is the only process which can lead to loss of these rights which involves criminal sentence or commitment to a psychiatric hospital.

rights by charles tilly

T.H Marshall gave three elements of citizenship: Civil, Political, and Social. Civil rights constitute elements protecting individual freedom, political rights, those elements guaranteeing participation in the exercise of political power and social rights providing access to material and cultural satisfaction. However, the labor fought capital and the state for its social rights. It is important to see that struggle for right created a platform for the struggle for another right. Citizenship rights in Europe at this point of time involve “ïpso facto” right to education, housing, healthcare, income and political participation although the enforceability of their claims remains constrained and debated.

Citizenship rights are now creating a whole set of question in a European state. As the citizenship rights have devolved what will be the eligibility criteria for facilities, rights as a whole rather than in any particular state? To what extent they will become compatible and transferable among states? What about refugees from other parts of the world? Who will pay for the benefits of the migrants? This question was raised in earlier times in Latin America and Eastern Europe. European state started building large scale armies from their own population funded by regular taxation and state-funded debt. After seventeenth and eighteenth centuries citizens started to bargain for their rights and obligations of citizenships. Earlier rulers were only answerable to the member of their ruling class, but not to the ordinary people.

There was an attempt to stand their armies by discarding the mercenary and militant forces as they were unreliable, unanswerable, and highly demanding in warfare. It created a shift from indirect rule to direct rule. Earlier European rulers ruled indirectly with the help of agents and representatives who acted for state and ensures the resources. But they had held over a large measure of autonomy within their own cautious zones.

A state like France relied upon the hereditary governor, provincial estates, and privileged municipalities until the 1620s. They had the power to create hurdle in crown demand and induce extensive resistance against royal policies. The direct rule which was costly, risky and time-consuming often ended up in rebellion. The war usually ended up creating greater penalties than the profits. The state opted for small, very efficient armed forces but they were prone to lose against a state having large, inefficient army. The creation of large armed forces needed supplies, food, uniforms, weapons, transport, and wages. They have to take an able-bodied man from the household for war and these men use to return in disabled condition or maybe not return at all. So there was resistance towards this effort. They tried to have the consent of people by bargaining in various ways: by sending troops to recruit troops and collect taxes, by conferring quotes for troops and taxes with the head of the region and local communities, by corroborating the rights of existing assemblies to legislate benefaction to the military budget.

Today, we live in economically unequal, but the politically equal world. However, the noble and clergy did have right of direct access to the sovereign long before middle class or even worker and peasants. The gradual enlightenment rather than continuous struggle is a problematic concept. So the unequal incidence happened everywhere before enlightenment happened. The ruler uses to grant rights to only a small no of the population who were able to help in providing military essential resources and repressing other such as women and male servants. In regions where landlords were able to guarantee a supply of troops and taxes to the state, nobilities, and gentries amplified. The distinction between classes did get increased and citizenship in relation to nation-state was lethargic. The position of village heads did get enforced due to the need of a state for resources.

Sweden became military efficient in 1708 by recruiting peasants after depending on mercenaries for thirty years. Dutch republic maintained substantial armies in 1700. Holland maintains armed forces but it was controlled by mercantile municipalities which involve bargaining among cities. These armed forces were subjected to withdrawal. Prussia and Russia rebuilt indirect rule as they were dependent on the landlords for troops who actually hold a great amount of power as they can block an excessive demand from the state. In Sweden, peasants obtained direct political representation on a national scale and did have their own formally constituted estates. But in Holland and other Dutch state peasant didn’t have any access to the nation-state.

With the French revolution, there was a model of mass national armies, direct rule, and extensive citizen rights. There was a fiscal limitation in continuation of indirect rule. But enough effort was not done by regional representative assemblies. To establish armed military force there was a bargain with a major population which led to confirmation of enforceable claims such as the right to elected representation. Citizenship was related directly to the payments of taxes. The first constitution in 1790 created distinction between active citizens who paid three or more days wages in taxes and had the right to vote and passive citizens who paid fewer taxes or none at all and could not vote. There was a secondary distinction of second-degree active citizens who paid ten day or more wages, can vote but serve as electors and hold office. They dominated the third estate of 1789. Before the election of 1792, it was declared all males over 25 expect servants can vote. On June 23, 1793, the slavery was declared illegal and they did get right to manhood suffrage, to rebellion, to education, to public welfare, to property, and to subsistence. The states like Russia and Britain in 1815 didn’t granted any citizenship.

The bourgeois led an expedition for civil and political rights by utilizing state need for resources. They pushed for freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and related liberties. They promoted accumulation of poorer and less powerful people of their commercial world. So these peasants bargained more autonomously with the state. But the British reform act of 1832 confuses the organized worker. Only after 1867 worker turned up to vote in national elections. The European bourgeois did appreciate the distinction between them and peasants but at the same time wanted peasant to vote against their enemies. It created the environment of enlargement of civil rights and state more vulnerable to workers, shopkeepers, and peasants as demanded social rights.

The females were given rights in the 20th century. European State became welfare state as they were committing to providing services and guaranteeing income to citizens. All these efforts led to the establishment of the legitimate state. And as stated “a legitimate state is one whose domestic demands are supported by the rulers of most other states.

The attainment of rights throughout European state involves struggle, self-interest, and bargain. 


Tilly, Charles. 1999, ‘Where Do Rights Come From ?” in Theda Skocpol (Ed) Democracy, Revolution and History, Cornell University Press, pp 55-72

by Parul Muwal, Graduate in Journalism                                                                                     

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