I'm disappointed to report that I've heard nothing back from Ian Mayes, the readers' editor of the Guardian. I have to assume that Professor Ronald Dworkin is unhappy about my complaint. Fair enough, though I'm not impressed by his lack of willingness to either correct me or correct himself; that doesn't seem scholarly to me. But I also suspect there's resistance within the Guardian itself to having the eminent professor eat his words. I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't a couple of his ex-Oxford students among the paper's senior staff - perhaps they interpret my complaint as an attack on Dworkin's philosophy and reputation and, by extension, on their own beliefs about the world, so that it becomes an attack on them as well. On that, they may have me bang to rights. Here again are the offending sentences:
Simon Jenkins, in the Sunday Times, recently declared his enthusiasm for the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham who said that all that matters is the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and that the whole idea of human rights is therefore "nonsense upon stilts". But Europe, led by Britain, rejected Bentham's utilitarianism after the second world war when it established the European human rights convention.
It was the first sentence I complained about (see previous posts). But the second one wasn't much better. For instance, did Britain reject utilitarianisn after WW2? No, I'd say, on the contrary; the NHS and welfare state owe some of their DNA to Bentham. And consider David Cameron's recent speech on increasing society's happiness-quotient by replacing GDP with GWB (general well-being). Or Polly Toynbee's article today on the LSE academic Richard Layard, whom she calls "a great man and a serious economic thinker", about the politics of happiness. (It's amazing that Bentham isn't mentioned once in it, nor in Cameron's happiness-speech.) Back to Dworkin's second sentence. He's implying that, as Britain rejected utilitarianism long ago, Bentham's critique of rights isn't worth considering. He's saying, in effect, move along, folks, nothing to see here.
Some years ago I bought a secondhand copy of Dworkin's Taking Rights Seriously. (I'm not a student of legal philosophy but it had good reviews on the back and I have a critical interest in Americanist ideology.) It seemed to me that, in order to take rights seriously, one must first examine their foundations, to find out how sound they are. To do that, one has to take seriously critiques of inalienable rights, including Bentham's. And, to me, Dworkin failed to do that. So I didn't take his book seriously.
And I've since discovered that other, better qualified than I, people have noticed that Dworkin does not fairly present the views of his philosphical opponents. For example, Brian Leiter, of the Leiter Reports group blog, has written critically of Dworkin for some years [here]. He writes of "the exasperation so many of us feel at [Dworkin's] inability to engage honestly with his opponents."
What Professor Dworkin didn't understand when he agreed to write for the Guardian was that the paper's editorial policy demanded a higher standard of accuracy than he was used to in the academic world.