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Keith Hyams

This chapter discusses the justifications for political obligation. The most important historical justification for political obligation is what is often called consent theory or contract theory. Consent theorists claim that we should obey the law because we have consented to do so. Meanwhile, the theorist H. L. A. Hart argues that if we accept a benefit, then it is only fair that we should reciprocate and give something back; if we enjoy the protection of police and armies, if we use roads, hospitals, schools, and other government-run services, then we should reciprocate by obeying the law. Other theorists argue that political obligation is something that we are bound by simply for being a member of a political community. If we cannot justify an obligation to obey the law, then we may have to adopt some form of philosophical anarchism — the view that we have no obligation to obey the law.


Robert Garner, Peter Ferdinand, and Stephanie Lawson

Combining theory, comparative politics, and international relations, Introduction to Politics provides an introduction to the subject. It covers both comparative politics and international relations, and contextualises this material with a wide range of international examples. The text takes a balanced approached to the subject, serving as a strong foundation for further study. The material is explored in an accessible way for introductory study, but takes an analytical approach which encourages more critical study and debate. Topics range from political power and authority to democracy, political obligation, freedom, justice, political parties, institutions and states, and global political economy


This text explores the main questions of political philosophy and looks at some of the most influential answers, from the ancient Greeks to the present day. Each chapter takes on a particular question or controversy. The natural starting-point is political power, the right to command. The first chapter considers the question of what would happen in a ‘state of nature’ without government, while the second tackles the problem of political obligation. The third chapter is concerned with democracy, asking whether a state should be democratic, for example, or whether there is any rationale for preferring rule by the people to rule by an expert. The next two chapters deal with liberty and property. The text concludes by focusing on questions that have drawn greater attention in more recent decades, such as issues of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, immigration, global justice, and justice to future generations.


Katrin A. Flikschuh

This chapter examines the political ideas of Immanuel Kant. Kant is widely regarded as a precursor to current political liberalism. There are many aspects of Kant's political philosophy, including his property argument, that remain poorly understood and unjustly neglected. Many other aspects, including his cosmopolitanism, reveal Kant as perhaps one of the most systematic and consistent political thinkers. Underlying all these aspects of his political philosophy is an abiding commitment to his epistemological method of transcendental idealism. After providing a short biography of Kant, this chapter considers his epistemology as well as the relationship between virtue and justice in his practical philosophy. It also explores a number of themes in Kant's political thinking, including the idea of external freedom, the nature of political obligation, the vindication of property rights, the denial of a right to revolution, and the cosmopolitan scope of Kantian justice.


This chapter examines consent theory and utilitarian theory, along with some other approaches to the moral defence of the state. Before deciding how best to justify the state, the chapter explains what a state is. It considers different types of state, from liberal democracies to dictatorships, benign or tyrannical, based on military rule, a monarchical family line, or party membership. Some states promote the free market, while others attempt collective forms of production and distribution. The chapter proceeds by discussing the goal of justifying the state: to show that there are universal political obligations. It then explores a number of defences of political obligation based on social contract, utilitarianism, and the principle of fairness.


David Boucher

This chapter examines Edmund Burke's political thought. It first provides a short biography of Burke before discussing the three main interpretations of him: first, as a utilitarian; second, in relation to natural law; and the third, which attempts to bring together the two antithetical interpretations. It argues that even though Burke has elements of utilitarianism in his thought, and although he subscribes to natural law and universal principles, both somehow have to coincide in the traditions and institutional practices of a community. On the question of political obligation, although he uses the language of contract, it is clear that Burke does not subscribe to its central tenets. The chapter proceeds by exploring Burke's views on sovereignty, constitutionalism, colonialism, and slavery.


This chapter examines the claim that democracy is the ideal form of political obligation. It first traces the historical evolution of the term ‘democracy’ before discussing the debate between advocates of the protective theory and the participatory theory of democracy, asking whether it is possible to reconcile elitism with democracy and whether participatory democracy is politically realistic. The chapter proceeds to explain why democracy is viewed as the major grounding for political obligation, with emphasis on the problem of majority rule and what to do with the minority consequences of majoritarianism. It documents the contemporary malaise experienced by democracy and seeks to explain its perceived weaknesses as a form of rule. Finally, the chapter describes the new directions that democratic theory has taken in recent years, focusing on four theories: associative democracy, cosmopolitan democracy, deliberative democracy, and ecological democracy.