Legitimate Authority Without Political Obligation
William A. Edmundson
Georgia State University College of Law
Law and Philosophy, Vol. 17, pp. 43-60, 1998
It is commonly supposed that citizens of a reasonably just state have a prima facie duty to obey its laws. In recent years, however, a number of influential political philosophers have concluded that there is no such duty. But how can the state be a legitimate authority if there is no general duty to obey its laws? This article is an attempt to explain how we can make sense of the idea of legitimate political authority without positing the existence of a general duty to obey the law. The explanation makes use of a distinction between laws of general application, on one hand, and on the other the particularized, directed efforts by state officials to channel and resolve disputes (including those arising from violations of the law). A state's legitimate authority entails a general duty to cooperate in the latter type of effort, rather than upon a dubious general duty to obey the law.
Keywords: legitimacy, authority, duty to obey
JEL Classification: K00
Date posted: June 18, 2008