Political Obligation

George Klosko

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Political Obligation

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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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By political obligation, theorists generally mean a moral requirement to obey the law of one's state or one's country. In the liberal tradition, liberty is a central value, and so the fact that some individuals should obey others must be explained. The liberal—or “modern”—view of political obligation is classically expressed in John Locke's Second Treatise of Government. According to Locke, political obligation must stem from an individual's own consent, and so must be self-assumed, based on a specific action or performance by each individual himself. Thomas Hobbes presented a fully modern theory of political obligation. With Hobbes, the burden of argument shifts. Whereas, in the late medieval period, the default position favored obedience, Hobbes's starting point is individual freedom. Locke's view of tacit consent was classically criticized by David Hume, who believes that his account has the considerable advantage of doing without the fictions of an original state of nature, individual consent, and social contract. Contemporary debates about political obligation have been heavily influenced by the popularity of so-called philosophical anarchism.

Keywords: John Locke; liberty; political obligation; consent; obedience; Thomas Hobbes; David Hume; social contract; philosophical anarchism; law

Article.  6209 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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