Allegiance and the Place of Civil Disobedience

Rex Martin

in A System of Rights

Published in print May 1997 | ISBN: 9780198292937
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599811 | DOI:
 Allegiance and the Place of Civil Disobedience

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This chapter is concerned with political obligation, i.e. with one's obligation to obey the laws of one's own country. Here, it is suggested that such an obligation (or one's ‘allegiance,’ as I prefer to call it) varies from system to system; it is one thing in Plato's republic but something quite different in a democratic system of rights. We are concerned, then, with the allegiance of a typical citizen, when acting in character, within a given system of political principles and institutions.

It is argued that citizens have an obligation, a system‐specific duty, in a democratic system of rights to conform to the civil rights laws there. This institutional duty is then extended to take in one's duties towards some non‐rights laws (e.g. tax laws), but it never embraces literally all laws in that society. In the course of the analysis, the views of both John Simmons and John Rawls are criticized.

Democratic institutions provide an example of an inherently imperfect procedure for making civil rights laws; the connection between such institutions and such laws represents at best only a probabilistic tendency. In the end, then, we find that citizens have no duty to conform to all non‐defective rights laws simply in so far as they are enacted laws; The typical citizen can be civilly disobedient with respect to some civil rights laws (subject to certain constraints, e.g. nonviolence) while still satisfying fully the conditions of allegiance in a democratic system of rights.

Keywords: allegiance; civil disobedience; democracy; political obligation; probability; John Rawls; John Simmons; system of rights

Chapter.  16950 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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