John Milbank, Director of the Centre of Theology and PhilosophyJohn Milbank, in his recent essay “Against Human Rights” (PDF), contends that Christian thought demands a notion and practice of justice as objective “right order,” and resolutely does not provide the theological basis for a doctrine of human rights qua the subjectively grounded rights of the claimant, as Nicholas Wolterstorff argues in Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton UP, 2009). A political order grounded solely in subjective rights is, for Milbank, anathema to Christian justice:

[…] this notion of human rights clearly provides us with no practical ethical guidance. In reality it leads to a state of anarchy which is only ended by an authoritarian power which will arbitrarily promote one set of rights over another—liberal capitalist states the right of property; State socialist authorities the rights to food, health, work and culture. The former will be at the expense of majority economic well-being; the latter at the expense of people’s rights of free association and free choosing of roles and an order of existential priorities.

Of course, Milbank is well aware that Christian thinking on questions of justice and right is hardly monolithic. Thus, his aim is not to disinter an exclusive, albeit forgotten, truth, but to revive the quest of “the Dominican Middle Ages of just partition related to hierarchy of virtuous usage […] for an alternative modernity,” against the “nominalist and voluntarist excess” of Ockham in which he situates the theological basis of that modernity which is woefully our own.

Read “Against Human Rights” in its entirety here, and see The Immanent Frame’s discussion of Wolterstorff’s Justice here.