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Political Science Assignment 2

Course :- political science (Hons.)

Semester 2

Issue of Political Obligation and
Civil Disobedience

Name:- Komal Priya

Roll no. 18/428
Political obligation
1. Tracing history of political obligation
 Early History
 Divine Theory
 Social Contract Theory
 Political obligation as Rational Exercise
2. Contemporary Theory of political obligation
a. Transactional Account
 Fairness
 Gratitude
 Consent
b. Natural Duty
 Utilitarian
 Rights protecting Institution
c. Associative Theory

Civil Disobedience
1. Historical Evolution
2. Justification of civil disobedience
3. Civil disobedience-:Gandhi , Thoreau,Rawls
4. Assessment
Political obligation is the central or fundamental
issue of political philosophy. By political obligation,
theorists generally mean a moral requirement to
obey the law of one’s state or one’s country.
Traditionally, this has been viewed as a requirement
to obey the law because it is the law—that is, because
of the authority of the legislator, as opposed to the
content of particular laws.
According to John 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.

Tracing the history of political obligation

 Early History
Amongst the ancient Greeks, there were no rights
people were only supposed to do their duty as it was
believed that if every one will do their part
everything will fall into place. The subject of
political obligation received little attention. The
person was viewed as a part of society, which was
conceptually prior to him, and on which he
depended to achieve the moral and intellectual
development central to the good life. Against this
backdrop, at least on a theoretical level, the need to
obey the law was accepted almost without question.
The main exceptions centre on Socrates’ trial and
imprisonment, as recounted by Plato, especially
Socrates’ purported dialogue with the Laws of
Athens in the Crito. Having been condemned to
death and facing imminent execution, Socrates
inquires into the rights and wrongs of escaping from
prison. He puts into the Law’s mouth a series of
arguments for obedience, based on claims that to
disobey would harm the state and, strikingly, an
argument for agreement. Because Socrates has
stayed in Athens for so long when he had
opportunities to go elsewhere, he has agreed to obey
the laws .

 Divine Theory

During the medieval ages, the belief that society and

it’s rules are divinely ordained was so strong as to
keep many from considering the possibility that
disobeying those rules might ever be justified. They
believed that state is the march of God on earth .
And king has divine right to rule and ruled have
moral obligation to obey the rule. . The basic
important position was obtained by Church . People
believed that they are obliged to God.

 Social contract Theory

People came together , leaving “state of nature “ to

construct state . Thomas Hobbes, John Locke
and Rousseau used it as a theory of political
For Hobbes , social contract theory established the
authority of anyone who was able to wield and hold
power . This form of social contract Hobbes called “
sovereignty by institution “ Because the people have
given their consent , they , therefore , have an
obligation to obey the sovereign, whether
sovereignty be instituted or acquired.
Locke said, the free and equal individuals in the
state of nature established government as a way of
overcoming “ inconveniences “ of that state .

Political obligation as a Rational Exercise

The liberal idealist like T.H. Green and Bernard
Bosanquet trace the source of political obligation
Innate rationality of man . They regard man as a
political and rational creature and the state as a self
sufficient community . There is no antithesis
between individual and state. Right from Plato and
Aristotle to Greens nd Bosanquet , it is argued that
the individual can seek his best possible
development in the society alone .
For Rousseau , the state represents the totality of
the wills and personality of each member are made
to transcend themselves.
Hegel identified the liberity of the individual with
the perfect obedience to the state .
Green said, that the laws and political institutions
are constituent elements of conventional morality,
the external embodiment of the moral idea . Hence ,
only those actions should be made obligatory vwhich
are made to serve certain moral ends .

Contemporary Theory of Political Obligation

 Transactional Account

Transactional accounts suggest that political

obligation is acquired through some morally
significant transaction between the citizen and his
state.” Three such theories can be distinguished.

(i) . Fairness

A political community is a cooperative scheme that

is geared towards the production of benefits for its
members: security, transport, clean water, and so
forth. The venture is fruitful in producing these
benefits because those participating observe certain
restrictions and pay their taxes. The demands of
fairness thus yield political obligation. From this
Nozick draws the conclusion that one does not
acquire an obligation to cooperate with a scheme
simply by benefiting from its labours . Fairness
theory purports to show that virtually all individuals
have in fact incurred political obligations without
performing any consensual act .
(ii ) . Gratitude

According to this account, a citizen owes a debt of

gratitude to the government for the benefits that it
provides. This debt is owed regardless of whether
these benefits are accepted or merely received, and
the debt is repaid through obedience to law.

There are a number of obvious difficulties with this

account. First, only a benefactor who makes a special
effort or sacrifice is owed a debt of gratitude . But
public benefits are taxpayer-funded and members of
government are paid handsomely for their work. As
such, no sacrifice by the government is present. Also
gratitude is not owed for benefaction that is
motivated self interest. Second, even the concession
that citizens owe a debt of gratitude to their
government cannot salvage this account, for
the content of this debt remains an open question. In
other words, it is not clear that the debt must be
repaid through obedience, rather than in some other
way. Interjecting that this is what governments ask
for in return is unsatisfactory since, as Simmons
points out, “benefactors are not specially entitled to
themselves specify what shall constitute a fitting
return for their benefaction”

(iii) Consent
On this theory, a citizen that freely consents to his
government’s authority binds himself to obedience.
Though few deny this, the difficulty with consent
theory is identifying an action in the personal history
of most individuals that might count as a valid token
of consent.
Residence in a government’s territory was said to
express “tacit” consent by Locke and Rousseau
First, if occupying territory expresses consent to the
authority of its government, it is safe to say that the
greater bulk of citizens in any country are not aware
of it. Second, the only way to withhold consent on
this view is to emigrate, which is impossible for some
and possible but extremely costly for others.
A popular alternative token of consent is that of
democratic participation or voting. Weak and strong
formulations of democratic consent theory can be
Weak version says that , since we have voted for the
candidate then it’s our obligation to consent to his
The strong version states that by participating in a
democratic election fully aware that the purpose of
the procedure is to invest authority in the candidate
that wins the most votes, one consents to the
procedure as a way of determining who will wield
political power and therefore agrees to be bound by
its outcome whichever way it goes. Under this
alternative, a democratically elected government is
owed obedience by every citizen that partook in the
election by which it was empowered.
But every democratic country contains citizens that
are, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to vote.
This leaves a large portion of any democratic
populace unbound by the duty to obey the law, even
on the stronger formulation of democratic consent

 Natural Duty

According to natural duty theories, political

obligation is grounded not in a morally significant
transaction that takes place between citizens and
polity, but either 1) in the importance of advancing
some impartial moral good, such as utility or justice;
or 2) in a moral duty owed by all persons to all
others regardless of their transactional history.
(i ) . Utilitarian
Utilitarian account of political obligation is forward
rather than backward looking, deriving political
obligation from the future goods to be produced by
obedience, rather than from what citizens have done
in the past or what has been done for them.
Utilitarianism posits that actions that maximize
utility are morally required. Utility is maximized by
acts that produce more (or at least as much)
happiness and well-being than any alternative
course of action that is open to the agent. The duty to
obey the law is derived from this: since obedience
produces more happiness than disobedience, so one
must obey.

( ii ) . Rights protecting institution

Political obligation might alternatively be derived from the
natural duties that human rights impose on us. The theory
developed by Allen Buchanan in “Political Legitimacy and
Democracy” will serve as an example. To show adequate
respect for human rights, it is not enough to refrain from
violating them. We must also do what we can to ensure that
they are not violated by others, at least when we can do so
without sustaining too high a personal cost. This is not a
duty that we possess by virtue of having committed
ourselves to protecting others. We have it “naturally,”
regardless of what we have done in the past or what has
been done for us.
Obedience helps to ensure that the state functions
effectively. If the state does a credible job of protecting the
human rights of its citizens, obedience helps to ensure that
the human rights of one’s compatriots are protected. To
refuse to obey constitutes a refusal to do what one can to
protect human rights, which is a transgression of one’s
natural duty. Thus, political obligation is among the moral
requirements that the human rights of others naturally
impose on us.

 Associative Theory

According to associative accounts, a citizen is duty-

bound to obey the law simply by virtue of his or her
membership in a political community. In many cases,
we are willing to concede that the non-voluntary
occupation of a social role comes with moral duties
attached. The duties of neighbours, friends, and
family are all cases in point. Likewise, political
associations are “pregnant of obligation,” such that
occupying the role of a “citizen” within such an
association comes with its own set of duties, including
a duty to obey the law. We simply misunderstand
what it means to be a member of a political society if
we think that political obligation needs any further
justification . Leslie Green aptly describes
associative political obligations as “parthenogenetic:”
“having a virgin birth, [political] obligation has no
father among familiar moral principles such as
consent, utility, fairness, and so on” .


Along with political obligation i.e. the duty of the

individual to obey the law of the state , throughout the
long history of human civilization there has been
conflict between individual freedom and political
authority of the state. There can be situation or
circumstances when it becomes bthe duty if the
individual not to obey.

Civil disobedience, also called passive

resistance, refusal to obey the demands or
commands of a government or occupying power,
without resorting to violence or active measures of
opposition; its usual purpose is to
force concessions from the government or occupying

 Historical Evolution of Civil Disobedience

The modern concept of civil disobedience has its

origin in the writing of social contract theories of
Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. In fact it was a
part of their social contract . They stated that
when the terms of the contract are violated,
individual have not only the right but the
responsibility to revolt and establish a new

Again the utilitarian like Bentham also

advocated that conscientious citizens have to
enter into measures of resistance bas matter of
duty as well as interest.

The idealist school was less inclined towards civil

disobedience , but idealistic liberals like T.H.
Green write that ,' the function of the
government is to bring in those conditions of
freedom which are conditions of the moral life, if
it ceases to serve this function b, it losses it’s claim
on our obedience.’
Perhaps its most influential exposition can be
found in Henry Thoreau's On the Duty of Civil
Disobedience(1849), in which he claims that the
individual, who grants the state its power in the
first place, must follow the dictates of conscience
in opposing unjust laws.

The method of civil disobedience has been used in

history many a time to force a reassessment of

society's moral parameters. For example the

suffragette movement in America , the resistance to
British rule in India , US civil rights movement led
by Martin Luther King Jr. ,the resistance of apartheid
in South Africa, student sit-ins against the
Vietnam war.

 Justification of Civil Disobedience

Ko Ko

The concept of civil disobedience is grounded in

justice and common good and it’s end must be a
limited one .
Some philosophers argue that we have a right to civil
disobedience as part of our democratic rights. For example,
Ronald Dworkin argues that whenever the law wrongly
violates one’s rights, then one has a right to civil
disobedience. This right, he argues, is entailed by our other
rights, the ones the law has violated. The conditions Rawls
lists – conscientious, public, non-violent, addressing the
sense of justice – could count as a description of the type of
illegal action we have the right to do when we consider the
law unjust. On the other hand, any action which does not
have these features will not count as civil Disobedience,
and we will not have the right to do it.
There were times in history when breaking the law was
justified: Great leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther
King, broke the law and changed the world for the better.

Grounds on which civil disobedience can be

justified :

 It makes governments more accountable

 Sometimes it’s the only tool in the box
 Sometimes it’s the only way to publicise an issue
 Sometimes the law is wrong.
 Understand laws before you obey them
 If the normal appeals to the political majority have already been made in good
faith and have failed. Civil disobedience is the last resort
Civil Disobedience – Gandhi, Thoreau,
Luther and Rawls

The concept of civil disobedience has evolved over a long

period of time. In the Indian concept of dharma (duty). In
these traditions, should the higher law and the laws of the
state come into conflict, the individual had the obligation
to disobey the laws of the state. In the Middle Ages, St.
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) defended the natural-law
view that unjust laws did not bind the citizen in
conscience. John Locke (1632–1704) taught that the
government derived its authority from the people, and it’s
purpose is to protect people's right, if it fails to do so it
should be overthrow by the people.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) broadened the scope of
civil disobedience and internationalized its practice. He
made civil disobedience the primary moral force behind
his leadership of the Indian nationalist movement. He
called his concept of civil disobedience as the doctrine of
satyagraha or true force. He introduced six elements
into the theory and practice of civil disobedience:
 First, its moral basis was grounded in truth, a basis
much deeper than that provided by the theory of

 Second, civil disobedience presupposed the obligation

to obey the state: only those had the right to practice
civil disobedience who knew "obedience" to the laws
of the state.
 Third, commitment to nonviolence was an essential
component of civil disobedience.
 Fourth, the practice of civil disobedience required a
minimum degree of moral fitness, to be acquired by
the exercise of such virtues as truthfulness,
nonviolence, temperance, courage, fearlessness, and
freedom from greed.
 Fifth, a practitioner of civil disobedience had to accept
the punishment consequent to the disobedience
voluntarily, and without complaint.
 Finally, engagement in civil disobedience had to be
complemented by engagement in organized social

The writer who made the theory famous, put it into
practice, and gave the practice the name "civil
disobedience" was Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862).
Two principles underlie Thoreau's conception of civil
disobedience. The first is that the authority of the
government depends on the consent of the governed. The
second is that justice is superior to the laws enacted by the
government, and the individual has the right to judge
whether a given law reflects or flouts justice. In the latter
case the individual has the duty to disobey the law and
accept the consequences of the disobedience non-violently.
In Thoreau's case, he judged that the laws upholding
slavery and supporting the Mexican War (1846–1848)
were unjust. He chose to spend a night in jail rather than
submit to the unjust laws.


According to Rawls , “ Civil Disobedience is a public , non

violent , conscientious yet political act contrary to law ,
usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in
the law or polices of the government.” In a democratic
regime , civil disobedience is understood as a political
action which addresses the sense of justice of the majority
in order to urge reconsideration of the measures protested
and to warn that in the firm opinion of the dissenters the
conditions of social cooperation are not being honoured .


These debates raise complicated moral issues which we

cannot resolve here. From a political point of view, they
are a reminder of the point of law and the state – to
provide a way that we can live together peacefully even
though we disagree about what is right and wrong.
According to Hobbes and Locke, the most important value
that the state protects is security. Therefore, to violate this
value by using violence when one disagrees with the law is
to challenge the very foundations of the state . Even if we
have objection with state or any of it’s law we must follow
a proper code of conduct to raise our demand because with
violence one can achieve nothing .