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How Are Natural Rights Related to Just Laws?

All laws curtail freedom in some way. The important question to ask is whether or not there is a justification for such restrictions. Professor Hadley Arkes explains that everyone intuitively accepts that there are certain circumstances that warrant restrictions on liberty. The burden lies with the government to explain why or when such restrictions are necessary. https://youtube.com/watch?v=Ed8IDC0QoqQ


Ask people about natural rights, people gravitate to that usual triad: life, liberty, property. Any law in restricting freedom will restrict liberty. Even the traffic light, the traffic laws will retard my liberty to move. And, of course, any legitimate form of taxation will be a claim on my means or my property. The question in all these cases, as we look more closely, is whether liberties being restricted, are lives taken, are property taken with or without justification? I'm suddenly removed by the fire department from my apartment in Washington while they're fighting a fire. My liberty has certainly been compromised, but they don't take my rights to have been denied, let alone my natural rights, because there's been an evident justification: the concern to protect my life and the lives of others. I see a youngster on Connecticut Avenue about to go into the subway with his bicycle. And I said, "Can you really do that?" And he said, "Yes, but not during rush hour," that is he understands that it'd be thoroughly unreasonable for him to take that bike into the subway filled with people trying to come home from work. He understands it's a restriction, but he doesn't think his rights have been violated. There's nothing esoteric here. These are judgements that ordinary folk make every day of their lives. There's nothing inscrutable about them and yet that becomes the ground of the judgment. So, you might say it this way, it's like the old argument about the Bill of Rights where Theodore Cedric would say, "Why do you think you have to specify in a Republic? Of course, you have a presumptive freedom to assemble and to speak. Why didn't you specify my right to walk down the street, my right to get up in the morning?" We might as aptly say this, that we say that those beings we call moral agents, those beings who can reflect about their own interests, their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others, that they have a presumptive claim to all dimensions of their freedom. And the burden lies with the government in bringing forth the grounds of restriction that would be justified.

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