A System of Rights

Rex Martin

in A System of Rights

Published in print May 1997 | ISBN: 9780198292937
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599811 | DOI:
 A System of Rights

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We return in this chapter, to the issue of the justification of political authority; it is argued here that the notion of political authority is internally justified in a given political system if the main elements in that notion —that is, the title to issue rules, a reasonable presumption of compliance, and the government's rightful monopoly in the use of coercive force – are actually ingredient in the theoretic structure of the system under review. Thus, it is the coherence of the background theory (the coherence of a democratic system of rights), in which each of the authority elements can be shown to have a necessary place that justifies authority in that particular political system.

In developing this line of argument, we come to see that the priority rule (from Ch. 7) has to be modified. We do so by introducing the notion of basic rights: such rights are those civil rights (e.g. freedom of political speech or liberty of conscience) that have passed the double test of being enacted by legislative majorities and of being affirmed and, then, supported over the years by checking devices (such as judicial review). They are rights that have survived the scrutiny of time and experience and public discussion; they have been winnowed by the self‐correcting character of the democratic process, and now continue to enjoy a very high level of social consensus support. Basic rights, as understood here, are the rights that have the top priority in a democratic system of rights.

Keywords: basic rights; civil rights; coherence; democracy; justification; political authority; priority rule; self‐correction; social consensus; system of rights

Chapter.  10219 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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