Natural rights and political legitimacy

Social Philosophy and Policy 22 (1):314-329 (2005)
Abstract
If we have a natural right to liberty, it is hard to see how a state could be legitimate without first obtaining the (genuine) consent of the governed. I consider the threat natural rights pose to state legitimacy. I distinguish minimal from full legitimacy and explore different understandings of the nature of our natural rights. Even though I conclude that natural rights do threaten the full legitimacy of states, I suggest that understanding our natural right to liberty to be grounded in our interests in a certain way might not commit us to requiring consent for minimal legitimacy. Thus, even if natural rights effectively block the full legitimacy of states - on the assumption that rarely, if ever, the requisite consent will be forthcoming - they may allow minimal state legitimacy. Footnotesa I am grateful to my fellow contributors to this volume and to other readers for helpful questions and comments on an earlier version of this essay and in particular to Fred Miller, David Schmidtz, and John Simmons for written comments. Ellen Paul's detailed comments have helped me, as always, to correct many confusions and errors, and Harry Dolan's excellent editing has discovered others that I have endeavored to address.
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