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A Study On The Political Obligation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1049 words Published: 16th May 2017

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The following research paper deals with the concept of political obligation along with various theories of political obligation and a critical analysis of the same. Towards the beginning the paper explains the meaning of the political obligation with examples and towards the end it explains the various theories of political obligation and a critical analysis of each of them.

To begin with one must know what the word political obligation means. To a lay man the word means “To have a political obligation is to have a moral duty to obey the laws of one’s country or state.”1 In context of the subject politics, the word Political obligation is defined as “When the authorising rule is a law, and the association a state, we call this political obligation.”2 Political obligations have been in complete argument by the various political thinkers. The various questions such as the ‘The number of people that can acquire political obligation?’ and ‘Is it merely being the member of the state or something more than that?’ are the various questions that many thinkers have tried to answer but no one has been able to answer the question that could form a general consent.

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“Political obligation is concerned with the clash between the individual’s claim to self-governance and the right of the state to claim obedience.” This was the statement given by one of the modern political thinkers Dudley Knowles. The statement does not bring out all the characteristics of political obligation but to some extent has been able to bring out some of them.

Before moving on further to the theories of political obligation one must know all the characteristics of political obligation. To start with one must clearly understand that political science is not a branch that only stick to the topic which are political in nature but to all those that help in general good.

Another characteristic that needs to be highlighted is that all political obligations involve the issue of legitimacy. It helps to ensure people that the existing institution that command ‘obedience’ and ‘obligation’ in the state are legitimate. To prove this one can take the example that the people should have faith in the institution that are maintaining the obligation work for the development of the state and serves for the best interest of the society.

The third characteristic which is also one of the key characteristics of political obligation is that it is not only concerned with obedience of authority but is also concerned with resisting and opposing authority in special circumstances.

This can be very well explained in the following lines, “There are good grounds for accepting authority in general, but, there may be good grounds too for rejecting it in particular cases; if authority derives from a constitution, there would generally be good grounds for rejecting any exercise of it which was unconstitutional. Again, if its legitimacy depends on the way it is used, an invasion of a sphere where political authority is inappropriate might be grounds for disobedience or, in extreme cases, for resistance.”3

From the above we can make an important note that political obligation holds an important place in state and that one needs to understand political obligation so as to understand the state better.

Now as we have come across the characteristics of political obligation we must now move to another important aspect that is the theories that have evolved over a period of time. There have been many theories that have been developed over a period of time that have been developed by the various philosophical thinkers. They can also be classified under various categories that have been mentioned. To begin with there are various theories which support unlimited obligation to the state followed by the theories that support limited obligation and at last the theories that do not favour obligation i.e. they are against the political obligation.

  • Refer book Social Principles and the Democratic State pg.308 by Benn & Peters.
  • The theories that justifies unlimited political obligation are 1.) The force theory or the doctrine of Force Majuere 2.) The divine theory 3.) The conservative theory.

    The force theory or the doctrine of Force Majuere states that the individual obeys the state because of the invincible and the absolute power that the state posses. The individual other than abiding to the state has no other option. According to the theory the political obligation is born out of the fear, force and compulsion. The state according to the theory cannot be challenged or resisted and therefore has put forward the concept of unlimited obligation.

    “The theory cannot have a view that is based on fear and force and not on the consent and will of the people or the individual and therefore it cannot be regarded as an appropriate approach to the concept of the political obligation.”4

    The theory had not been widely accepted due to the following reasons. 1) It not based on any moral ground and only believes in the fact that might is right. 2) It does not give individual the right to inquire whether the law is right or not. 3) This theory does not secure the will of the political obedience of the individual. 4) Also, that it does not permit the individual to resist against any wrong decision or judgement.

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    The next is the divine theory that states that political obligation is based in the principle of “faith”. As the theory explains the role of the god in the creation of the state, it suggests that “the true source of the authority is independent of human choice and custom”5 and the individual is obliged to obey the sovereign as the divine authority.

    The theory started losing its significance in the modern world and even King James I of England proved that even the rulers could be unjust, if the individual were not subjected to right to resist or rebel.

    The theory also started to lose significance due to the growth of democracy and also due to the separation of the church from the state.


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