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Authority and Democracy Moral Autonomy vs Political Authority.

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Presentation on theme: "Authority and Democracy Moral Autonomy vs Political Authority."— Presentation transcript:

1 Authority and Democracy Moral Autonomy vs Political Authority

2 State legitimacy and Political Obligation Problem of state legitimacy: do states have a right to rule over all persons within their claimed domain (generally coinciding with their territory)? If yes, what justifies this right? Problem of political obligation: do individuals have a duty to obey the law and support the political institutions of their own states? If yes, what justifies this duty?

3 Legitimacy A state has the right to rule when it has legitimate authority, i.e. when it has the exclusive right to impose “binding duties on its subjects, to have its subjects comply with these duties, and to use coercion to enforce the duties” (A. John Simmons, Justification and Legitimacy, 2001, p. 130)

4 Authority (Raz) Individuals are subject to the authority of the state when they take its laws as providing content-independent peremptory reasons for action, i.e. when they perform the acts commanded by the state for the reason that they are commanded by it. Peremptory: they “cut off deliberation, debate or argument” (Hart). The reasons provided by these commands are not to be balanced with the other reasons that agents have, but rather exclude these reasons. Content-independent: their force does not depend on the merit of what is commanded. The reasons for doing what is commanded do not bear on the content of what is commanded.

5 Autonomy vs Authority Every person has a duty to take responsibility for their actions. Taking responsibility involves attempting to determine what one ought to do. Whenever we act without assessing the merits of what we do, we fail to take responsibility for our actions, and therefore we violate our duty to act autonomously. “For the autonomous man, there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a command” (Robert P. Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism, 1999, p. 15).

6 Robert Paul Wolff (In Defense of Anarchism, 1970, p. 9) “Obedience is not a matter of doing what someone else tells you to do. It is a matter of doing what he tells you to do because he tells you to do it” [Sinking ship example]

7 Paradox of Authority Political Authority is either unjustified or redundant. Political Authority is unjustified whenever it attempts to impose new moral obligations on us. In these cases we have no moral reasons to obey. Political Authority is redundant whenever we do have moral reasons to do what we are commanded to do. For these reasons exist independently from the command issued by the authority.

8 Raz’s criticism There is no obligation to obey the law. Not even a prima facie obligation. Not even a prima facie obligation to obey the law in a good state whose laws are just. NB: “peremptory” (“exclusionary”) vs “prima facie” force of the obligation. “While it is true that legal requirements are not, in law, absolute, the law itself claims to determine their proper import, to fix the conditions in which they are overridden”.

9 Peremptoriness ≠ Absoluteness “Courts need not deny the weight of moral reasons which sometimes argue for breaking the law but which are not provided for by the law and are not allowed to count as excuses or justifications. But the courts do maintain that neither they nor the individual are entitled to break the law on such occasions. They claim that one should disregard those countervailing considerations, however weighty” (236). But why should this matter? authority the law claims ≠ authority the law possesses

10 Setting a bad example Laws often require us to act in morally sound way. In those cases we should conform and do what the law says. NB: “conforming” ≠ “complying”, “obeying” Disobedience, including disobedience to bad laws, sets a bad example. But: -many acts of disobedience will be undetected; -obedience cannot depend on a case by case assessment (not peremptory reasons).

11 Promises/consent Oaths are sometimes given under coercion (conscription) Most of us never make similar commitments

12 Estoppel If we induce others to believe that we are going to obey, failing to do so can be harmful [drive on a certain side of the road, pay our taxes]. But -Do we really induce others to obey the law? -Whether we have a duty to obey should depend on whether failing to do so would be harmful.

13 Prudential reasons to obey? We may have a prudential reason to adopt a policy of always obeying the law (when it is generally just) rather than trying to figure out on a case by case basis whether we should do so. But -Prudential reasons ≠ moral reasons -Obedience will depend (again) on a case by case assessment

14 Two types of Anarchism Political Anarchism: the traditional view that we have a moral obligation to fight against and try to eliminate the state; Philosophical Anarchism: the view that states are not morally justified in ruling, i.e. they have no authority over us. This is not to say that they are to be eliminated or that we are never required to act as they say.

15 Are states “useful bullies”? “States might be bullies, restricting our autonomy without warrant, but they may be useful bullies, and in resisting them we may both act imprudently and harm others who rely on their states” (John Simmons, Political Philosophy, 2008, p. 63).

16 Two types of Philosophical Anarchism A.J. Simmons: A Priori Philosophical Anarchism: “all possible states are by their very nature illegitimate” (even if perfectly just and voluntary!). A Posteriori Philosophical Anarchism: “all existing states are illegitimate” [or better: “none of the arguments tried so far is successful”?) Wolff presents his view as a form of a priori PA, but then grants that “contractual democracy” creates a duty to obey.


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