Political obligation

Theory of the moral requirement to obey law.

A moral or normative obligation exists, or can be created, to obey the law or lawfully established authorities. The basis of this obligation is a matter for wide dispute, and ranges from the free consent of the governed to divine law.

Source:
David Miller et al., eds, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought (Oxford, 1987)

History

The idea of political obligation was renewed by Thomas Hill Green around the late 1800s. Green discussed the idea as “obedience to the law.”[2] A more detailed look at the term can be traced to Socrates and Plato. Dudley Knowles considered the topic in his book Political Obligation: A Critical Introduction.

Socrates

The earliest understanding of political obligation can be traced back to the teachings of Socrates. One account recalls his imprisonment and death sentence for “corrupting the morals of the youth”.[3] Instead of escaping, he chose to stay and accept his punishment, as he found it morally wrong to evade his punishment. In Crito, Socrates describes the struggle man has with the rule of law and the connection it has with political obligation.[4]

Divinity and morality

One claim is that the obligations of an individual to society is divinely ordained. Christianity has been a catalyst in this thinking.[citation needed] This requires acceptance of the existence of the divine and the linkage between the divine and the political realms are clear.

Social contract

Hobbes believed that society needed authority in order to thrive. More specifically, he saw it as a fight among humans to wield power. Hobbes accepted the idea of political obligation, stating that government and laws were needed to thrive as a society. Hobbes and Locke agreed on the idea of individual freedom. They both saw that this freedom was limited and accompanied by an obligation to obey the law.

One thought on “Political obligation

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