Hitchens prefers what he calls conservative rights. These are clearly defined legal rights which limit the power of what the state can do, as opposed to the "grandiose blether about rights" coming from the left, which leads the state to interfere in people's lives:
That is why left-wing rights increase the power of the state. Conservative rights, as expressed in the hard, cool, terse, language of the 1689 Bill of Rights ... concentrate on saying quite clearly what government cannot do. And in the space that is left, when the ruler is restrained by such things, free men can live, write, speak and think.
I don't think this goes far enough. If you really want to defend freedom, you have to take the contest to a deeper level.
What really counts are not the legal forms but the understanding of who man is and what his freedom is for.
For instance, the Lockean liberals, who Peter Hitchens seems to endorse, did not have a neutral view of the nature of man and what men might legitimately do in society. They had an excessively pessimistic view of men as being asocial, self-interested creatures who only pretended to act socially in order to impose their own partisan interests on others. Therefore, men were to be restricted to private pursuits, with the ideal activity being participation in the market.
The Lockeans left a lot out of man. They wanted us to be free as atomised, abstracted individuals, lacking natural ties to our community and oriented instead to a pursuit of private self-interest.
Think too of the modern liberals. They define man in terms of autonomy: we are human to the extent that we can self-determine our own lives and being.
This view of what man is has inevitable consequences. It is an autonomous self that is to be made free - one "liberated" from unchosen, inherited aspects of life such as manhood and womanhood, traditional forms of the family, ethnicity and objective forms of morality.
The realm of freedom then becomes those aspects of life that can be chosen at an individual level: career, entertainment, travel, shopping and so on. Society becomes good at developing these aspects of life; others are neglected or deemed illegitimate and repressed.
The rule is this: the concept of what man is will lead on to a view of what freedom is for. This is the deeper, driving force behind whether we have a true conservative liberty or not.
The conservative position should be this: we cannot be free as radically autonomous, self-created individuals. If we are to be free, it will be as men and women, as husbands and wives, as fathers and mothers and as members of distinct human communities and traditions.
One final, important point. If we do not do battle on these grounds, then it is likely that an older concept of rights, one focused on limiting state power, will give way to state interference and coercion.
Why? If it is accepted as true that we become human through the power to self-create our own autonomous lives, then it will be thought terribly unjust for there to be any inequalities in this power of autonomy. It would mean accepting that some people were more human than others - a serious breach in human equality.
For instance, if careers help our autonomy by making us financially independent, then how can we justify men spending more time in careers than women. If the liberal view of personhood is true, then this would mean that women were being relegated to a less human status than men.
This will seem so immoral and so unjust to liberals, that it's unlikely that the state would not interfere coercively to achieve "gender equity".
At the very least, we have to make sure that a new generation of conservatives is brought up to reject not only the particular forms of coercion enacted by the liberal state, but also the underlying principles justifying them.