I am a defender of the principle of limited government. The term, however, is not synonymous of just. Now, that the power of government is “limited” means that it is not regal or plenary. Plenary jurisdiction gives the state a kind of general authority that is not prevented even by law.

Although a government can be limited and unjust, a characteristic of limited government is consistent with justice as it calls for a regula that prevents the whim of men to impose itself or the appetites of the masses to trample on individual rights. In other words, limited government can better contain the passions of men by emphasizing on the dictates of reason. The law is such dictate.

Here is where believers in natural law find a congruence with respect for human law. They believe not that natural law must whimsically substitute human law but that it ought to inform it; as natural law is the dictate of reason about reality itself while human law is the dictate of reason limiting the whims of men in society.  The natural law, as can be easily discerned, is deeper than human law and human law-givers have a responsibility to listen to its injunctions; they are not exempt from the constraints of natural law based on having a mandate from the people.

The founders recognized such inalienable rights and saw them as a law informing the constitutional foundations of the nation. Our practice of law was from the beginning built on a prior law discoverable by reason. That is why limited government cannot be simply reduced to a government that allows the uncoerced activity of citizens with the only boundary being the harm principle.  Yes, with many defenders of freedom, I believe that the primary role of government is to protect our freedom but that freedom is recognizable only by the boundaries that define its limits. Lawmakers do well in understanding the limits of human action in natural law and, even more, to discover what are the human goods necessary for social cooperation. In essence, the common good is an instrumental purpose of government. That is, the reasons for action in society demand the discovery of a certain intelligible benefit.

Here is where we can see a chasm with certain the liberal positions defining the role of the state as neutral between diverse understandings of the good life.  If that is the case, where resides the constraint that majorities have to impose a will, however ill-informed it is? If it is the non-harm principle, what are the contours of harm? How can we know without a guide what causes harm? How can the state fulfill its purpose of advancing the common good if it is neutral or non-cognitivist about the human goods (and ills) important in social cooperation?

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