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Thought about a "Right to Violence," the subject of this symposium, is difficult. Once one has adjusted to the paradoxical conjunction of the terms "right" and "violence," and recognized that people may have rights to commit violent acts in some circumstances, one must face the disturbing fact that feelings about violence are highly colored by peculiar psychological dispositions and political ideologies. Especially in respect to violence that is committed in defiance of law, the search for fair bases of moral judgment proves elusive.

The main theme of this essay is that the law itself can provide illuminating points of reference for moral evaluation of illegal violence. The heart of this theme is that the ordinary rules governing use of physical force on behalf of oneself and others reflect a range of implicit moral judgments concerning the kinds of rights or interests that warrant protection by violent acts and the circumstances in which such acts are appropriate. These judgments may be employed to evaluate the much less common and more controversial claims that illegal force is justified. Before actually carrying out this exercise, I need to describe its dimensions and limits more carefully, as well as to consider what it may hope to accomplish and to answer possible criticisms that it is radically misconceived. That effort follows some preliminary clarifications about the senses of "violence" and "right" that are employed here.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Law


Copyright © 1983 Kent Greenawalt.