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Why Even Morally Perfect People Would Need Government*

  • Gregory S. Kavka (a1)

Why do we need government? A common view is that government is necessary to constrain people's conduct toward one another, because people are not sufficiently virtuous to exercise the requisite degree of control on their own. This view was expressed perspicuously, and artfully, by liberal thinker James Madison, in The Federalist, number 51, where he wrote: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Madison's idea is shared by writers ranging across the political spectrum. It finds clear expression in the Marxist view that the state will gradually wither away after a communist revolution, as unalienated “communist man” emerges. And it is implied by the libertarian view that government's only legitimate function is to control the unfortunate and immoral tendency of some individuals to violate the moral rights of others.

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R. M. Hare , Moral Thinking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 44.

Jean Hampton , “Should Political Philosophy Be Done without Metaphysics?Ethics, vol. 99, no. 4 (071989), pp. 800804.

Robert Axelrod , “An Evolutionary Approach to Norms,” American Political Science Review, vol. 80, no. 4 (121986), pp. 10951111.

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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