Do democratic societies have a right to do wrong?

Esben Overland, Christian Barry

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Do members of democratic societies have a moral right that others not actively prevent them from engaging in wrongdoing? Many political theorists think that they do. 'It is a feature of democratic government,' Michael Walzer writes, 'that the people have a right to act wrongly'in much the same way that they have a right to act stupidly.'1 Of course, advocates of a democratic right to do wrong may believe that the scope of this right is limited. A majority in a democratic society, for example, may not have a moral right against being prevented from enslaving or arbitrarily disenfranchizing a minority, or if it were to launch a wrongful aggressive war against another society.2 But many join Walzer in asserting that it would be wrong in principle to intervene to prevent some wrongs that democratic societies would inflict. This thesis, which we will call the democratic right to do wrong thesis (DRTDWT), can be formulated as follows:DRTDWTFor democratic societies A and agents B, there is a class of wrongful policies and institutions X, such that if A chooses to implement members of this class pursuant to democratic procedures, B has a duty not to actively intervene to prevent the implementation of X.3Our goal in this essay is to show that the DRTDWT should be rejected.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)111-131
    Number of pages21
    JournalJournal of Social Philosophy
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011

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