Justice - What Is the Right Thing To Do?

Episode 4. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson penned these immemorial words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed."

What you may or may not know is that Jefferson's inspiration for these ideas came from the British philosopher John Locke (one of his three intellectual heroes, along with Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton).

Locke argued that individuals have certain rights so fundamental, like property, that no government can ever take them away. This is why libertarians tend to like Locke. In fact, however, as much as we tend to intuitively like this idea, and use it to justify free license in our conduct, the unalienability of these rights presents some rather paradoxical consequences as they relate to what individuals are entitled to do, even with respect to their own rights. But what happens to these natural rights when we consent to enter civil society and be bound by a system of laws?

If we all have unalienable rights, like life, liberty and property, that no government may ever take away, how can a government justly enforce tax or conscription laws? In other words, how can fundamental and unalienable individual rights be reconciled with the enforcement of majority rule in a democracy? Stick around and find out :)


Episode list: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
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