Inalienable Rights: A Litmus Test for Liberal Theories of Justice

31 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2009 Last revised: 15 Apr 2009

Date Written: January 31, 2009


Liberal-contractarian philosophies of justice see the unjust systems of slavery and autocracy in the past as being based on coercion - whereas the social order in the modern democratic market societies is based on consent and contract. However, the 'best' case for slavery and autocracy in the past was based on consent-based contractarian arguments. Hence our first task is to recover those 'forgotten' apologia for slavery and autocracy. To counter those consent-based arguments, the historical anti-slavery and democratic movements developed a theory of inalienable rights. Our second task is to recover that theory and to consider several other applications of the theory. Finally the liberal theories of justice expounded by John Rawls and by Robert Nozick are examined from this perspective.

Keywords: inalienable rights, Rawls, Nozick, liberal theories of justice

JEL Classification: K1, P1

Suggested Citation

Ellerman, David, Inalienable Rights: A Litmus Test for Liberal Theories of Justice (January 31, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

David Ellerman (Contact Author)

University of Ljubljana ( email )

School of Social Science
Ljubljana, CA


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