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The Review of Politics


Hugo Grotius is often seen as reducing justice to the systematic protection of individual rights. However, this reading struggles to account for the surprisingly robust place he accords to punishment. An offender cannot plausibly claim punishment as a right, and the right to punish gives little direction about how best to carry out punishment. These difficulties point toward Grotius's little-noticed bifurcation of justice into “expletive” and “attributive” categories. While expletive (or “strict”) justice provides a grounding for the right to punish, its subsequent exercise must be governed by attributive justice. This higher justice considers persons and situations; requires imagination and prudential judgment; looks to the future; aims for the common good; acknowledges the importance of virtue; and never claims perfect solutions. Thus, Grotius's supposedly modern understanding of natural rights is best understood within an account of his specifically political thought—one that acknowledges an overarching framework of classical natural Right.




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