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Unit 7 Civics Connection: Modern Liberalism, Limited Government, and Rights

65 min
  • Students will analyze the rise of modern liberalism
  • Students will compare the philosophies of modern liberalism and the Founding with regards to the role of government

If this is the first time students have considered constitutional principles, have them begin by focusing on limited government and natural/inalienable rights.

Have students define the terms “limited government,” “inalienable/natural rights,” “positive rights,” “classical liberalism,” and “modern liberalism” in their own words to the best of their ability. Allow them to use Handout A if necessary, depending on their familiarity with constitutional principles. A full list of principles and virtues is provided in Handout D.

Lead a classroom discussion about student answers and, if necessary, clarify the difference between natural rights and positive rights. All people possess natural rights from birth, and they can only be abridged through due process of law. For example, a person’s right to liberty may be taken away if they commit a serious crime and are convicted in a fair trial. Positive rights are entitlements granted to citizens by the government. This right requires that the government provide something to a citizen. Positive rights can also be easier to take away. For example, if health care is provided by government, a person’s right to health care can be taken away if a new political party takes control of the government and passes budget cuts. Because positive rights require the government acting in a “positive” manner by granting things to citizens, enforcing such rights requires a larger and more active government. Natural rights, on the other hand, require the government to prevent itself and others from infringing on a citizen’s ability to act. Ensure students are defining these terms on their handout for reference throughout the lesson.

Have students read Handout B: Natural Rights and Positive Rights in History. Assign the readings as best fits your classroom situation (small groups or individually). Students should complete the graphic organizer in Handout C: Natural Rights and Positive Rights in History Graphic Organizer by selecting passage(s) from each text that support whether natural or positive rights are being discussed.

Depending on the method you used to have students do the initial reading and analysis, conduct a discussion that allows students to consider all the documents and share their responses.

Have students write a response that answers the lesson’s Guiding Question: To what extent did modern liberalism adhere to the principle of a limited government protecting natural/inalienable rights?