Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism

By Richard Johnson Dagger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Political Obligation

Republicanism and liberalism share a fundamental commitment to the rule of law. This shared commitment may complicate the lives of those who want to provide a clear distinction between the two theories, but it makes matters easier for anyone who wants to show that republicanism and liberalism are compatible with each other. For the republican, the rule of law is typically regarded as an essential means of securing people from dependence on the arbitrary will of others. "A government of laws, not of men," was the slogan because dependence on the law was thought to be a form of independence -- especially when one could take part in law-making. For the liberal, the rule of law is typically regarded as an essential means of giving people a secure set of expectations so that they may pursue their private projects. That is why John Locke's cure for the "Inconveniencies" of the state of nature was a known and settled authority to make, enforce, and interpret laws.

For the republican liberal, then, the importance of the rule of law is a settled matter. Any well-ordered republican-liberal society will be one in which the rule of law is in force and the citizens will acknowledge a general obligation to obey the law. The republican side of republican liberalism will stress that mere obedience is not always enough to make one a good citizen, but obedience is, ceteris paribus, a requirement of citizenship. From the liberal side, however, questions about the nature and foundation of this obligation -- and about the relationship between the rule of law and personal autonomy -- are sure to arise. How can the individual be autonomous when he or she is subject to laws that may be in conflict with his or her beliefs, convictions, and desires? Can an autonomous person undertake a general obligation to obey the laws of a polity without thereby surrendering his or her autonomy? What is the source of this obligation?

In recent years, in fact, several political philosophers have concluded that there is no hope of providing a satisfactory account of political obligation. According to these philosophers, the typical citizen of any political society -- even the best, the most just of such societies -- has no general or prima

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