, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 369–394 | Cite as

The Dangerous Life: Natural Justice and the Rightful Subversion of the State

  • Paul R DeHart


Is there a basis in natural justice for sometimes disobeying the edicts of the state. Antigone provides an occasion for considering this question. Ancient skeptics maintained that there is no such thing as natural justice, because laws and morals vary across cultures. Or, if there is natural justice, it is nothing other than the claim that the strong should rule the weak. Or even if there is a natural justice that is more than the rule that the strong should rule the weak, that this justice never motivates anyone to act, because individuals are motivated only by justice. The strongest objection to natural justice comes from Creon: allowing individuals to follow the claims of natural justice subverts the state's authority. Ancient defenders of natural justice replied to each of these objections. While laws and moral vary, there is also great consensus in moral convictions across cultures, and that consensus requires some explanation. Furthermore, strength fails to confer an obligation to obey so that natural justice cannot teach merely that the strong should rule the weak. Moreover, individuals are clearly motivated by more than just pleasure. Given human behavior, the only reason anyone would assume individuals are only motivated by pleasure is because one assumes this to be the case a priori rather than as a result of an evaluation of the evidence. Yet ancient defenders of natural justice never replied that the doctrine of natural justice was anything less than subversive. This is for good reason, for it is more dangerous to allow the state to have an unfettered claim upon our obedience than to allow individuals to challenge the authority of the state based on the dictates of conscience.


natural justice law Antigone state 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul R DeHart
    • 1
  1. 1.Lee University

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