Neither Liberal Nor Libertarian: A Natural Law Approach to Social Justice and Economic Rights

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation develops a natural law account of social justice and economic rights. In doing so it presents a more compelling and coherent account of the issues than those of the leading Right-leaning and Left-leaning scholarly positions.

But the dissertation focuses primarily on theories from the Right that tend to deny, downplay, or reduce the scope of social justice. After an introduction that discusses recent work (on the Right) by John Tomasi and (on the Left) by Martha Nussbaum, I examine in three chapters the thought of Robert Nozick, F.A. Hayek, and Michael Zuckert — contemporary Kantians, Utilitarians, and Lockeans who are the strongest advocates of their respective positions, positions that map on to contemporary partisan positions, and thus are neither strawmen nor irrelevant. In these chapters I decipher what is true in the accounts of social justice and economic rights that they offer — as well as highlight what a natural law account could offer by way of correction.

The dissertation continues with a chapter that develops a theory of natural law, applies that theory to property and economic relations, and discusses the role of the state. Here I explain how the rightly appealing aspects of the libertarian state can be accounted for — without the parallel weaknesses — and how the natural law approach can add additional strengths usually associated with the Left, but without their characteristic weaknesses. The dissertation concludes by presenting six institutions of social justice and applying this theory to three test cases: heath, education and welfare. The result is an account of property rights and duties.

The dissertation has three main goals: First, to show what is true about prominent conceptions of social justice and economic rights on the Right, and also what is false. Second, to develop a natural law account of social justice and economic rights. While much attention from contemporary natural law thinkers has been given to jurisprudence, bioethics, marriage, and the ethics of war, relatively little attention has been given to economic issues, a lacuna that needs to be filled. Third, to contribute to contemporary discourse a better framework for thinking about, and a better language for talking about, social justice and economic rights.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-11122014-104031

Author Ryan T. Anderson
Advisor Michael Zuckert
Contributor Patrick Deneen, Committee Member
Contributor Phillip Munoz, Committee Member
Contributor Michael Zuckert, Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Political Science
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2014-10-30

Submission Date 2014-11-12
  • United States of America

  • Conservatism

  • Social Justice

  • Economic Rights

  • Libertarianism

  • Liberalism

  • Natural Law

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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