The Nature of Limited Government

33 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2012  

Leslie Green

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law; Queen's University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 11, 2012


This paper explores moral limits on state action: their sources, character, and stringency. It explains what is special about the liberal tradition: there must be a protected sphere of action, and governments must respect legality. It argues, against Patrick Devlin, that the possible absence of absolute moral reasons against intrusion in a sphere is consistent with justified absolute positive limits on government intrusion. It argues, against John Finnis, that the fact that some associations (e.g. churches or marriages or universities) intrinsically valuable ‘common goods’ does not entitle them to immunity from government regulation. It concludes by suggesting why certain ‘natural law’ moralities have been considered unreasonably intrusive, for they neglect the significance of moral fallibility for limited government.

Keywords: legitimacy, limited government, liberalism, natural law, authority, common good, fallibility, fallibilism, John Stuart Mill, Patrick Devlin, John Finnis

Suggested Citation

Green, Leslie, The Nature of Limited Government (June 11, 2012). Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 43/2012 . Available at SSRN: or

Leslie Green (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

Balliol College
Oxford, UK, OX1 3BJ
United Kingdom

Queen's University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Kingston, Canada, Ontario K7L3N6

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