Morality, Politics, and Law

Kendall Hunt Publishing (2010)
Abstract
It is argued (a) that laws are assurances of protections of rights and (b) that governments are protectors of rights. Lest those assurances be empty and thus not really be assurances at all, laws must be enforced and governments must therefore have the power to coerce. For this reason, the government of a given region tends to have, as Max Weber put it, a "monopoly on power" in that region. And because governments are power-monopolizers, it is tempting to think that the concepts of government and law are to be understood in terms of the concept of power. In actuality, the first two concepts are to be understood primarily in terms of the concept of morality--of rights-protection, to be specific--and only secondarily in terms of the concept of power. Contentions (a) and (b) appear to be inconsistent with obvious facts (e.g. the fact that Pol Pot's regime violated the rights of those over whom it had power). But (a) and (b) are compatible with those facts. This is a consequence of two principles. First, moral requirements have a "dimension of weight," as Dworkin put it, meaning that one moral imperative can be outweighed, without being obliterated, by another moral imperative. Second, sentential operators can have different degrees of scope. "It is hereby assured that" is such an operator. Linguistic surface structure may obfuscate the degree of scope that it has in a given sentence. That fact compatibilizes our analysis with the fact that there are evil laws and evil governments.
Keywords law  legal positivism  legal realism
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