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Political Justice and Political Rights

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  • 0:03 Justice Defined
  • 2:54 Rights Defined
  • 4:44 Human Rights Defined
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Some of the greatest questions in political thought revolve around the nebulous concepts of justice and rights. In this lesson, we'll be exploring these complex concepts. You'll also have a chance to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz.

Justice Defined

We all want a just society. However, what constitutes justice and a just society has been a topic of debate since at least the times of the ancient Greek philosophers. Justice is a rather abstract concept, and after literally millennia of philosophical debate, there is yet to be a consensus about justice. In the most general sense, justice is fairness and rightness. But fairness and rightness are themselves very abstract, and people cannot agree what is 'fair' and what is 'right.' Instead of trying to come up with an all-encompassing definition of justice, we'll take a categorical approach:

1. Distributive justice is concerned about the fairness or rightness of the distribution of resources in society. Distributive justice is an important concept in politics, since politics is often considered the art and process of determining who gets what, how they get it and when they get it. For example, revenue generated from income taxes fund federal programs ranging from defense contracts to companies to welfare benefits for the poor.

2. Retributive justice_ concerns itself with punishment. It seeks to penalize those that violate its laws in a manner that is fair in light of the crime committed. Not all punishments are necessarily just. For example, nearly all citizens in the United States would find the death penalty inappropriate for shoplifting.

3. Corrective justice concerns correcting the damage done to an individual whose rights have been violated. For example, you have a right to be free from intentional injury and damage to your property caused by another. If someone intentionally burns down your house, corrective justice dictates that the culprit should not only be punished by the state but should also compensate you for the loss of your property.

4. Procedural justice is not about a just result, but rather a just, or due, process. It involves fair legal procedures and fair trials.

You can generally categorize distributive justice, retributive justice and corrective justice as subcategories of substantive justice, which is concerned with a just society or just outcome. It's outcome or ends-orientated. Procedural justice, on the other hand, is concerned about just process, or the means by which societal, especially governmental, action is taken.

Rights Defined

The Declaration of Independence asserts, '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.' Importantly, the Declaration also states that government is created to secure these rights. That's all well and good, but what exactly is a right? We can say that a right, in its simplest terms, is a privilege or entitlement to act, abstain from acting or to be free from someone or thing from affecting you without your consent. Let's look at some examples.

In the United States, you have a right to private property, which means that you can buy, sell, transfer, possess, use and enjoy property and not have other people or the government, with limited exceptions, interfere with it. You also have the right to be free from the government intruding into your private life. For example, the government does not have the right to stop you without some legal justification and usually cannot search your home without a warrant. In fact, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution outline express rights of individual citizens.

Since a major role of government is to protect the rights of its citizens, the political rights of the citizens are very important. Political rights are rights of citizens of a state to interact with their government and participate in the political process. Some of these important political rights in the United States include the right to vote, freedom of speech and association and the right to petition the government.

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