Political Obligations in Illiberal Regimes

Abstract

The paper is organized around two major, but closely interconnected goals. First, the paper’s principal aim is to offer a normative theory of political obligations that is based on certain insights of philosophical anarchism, theories of associative obligations and political realism. Second, the paper aims to offer a normative theoretical framework to examine political obligations in contemporary non-democratic contexts that does not vindicate non-democratic regimes and that does not exclude political obligations from the terrain of moral normativity. The theory of political obligations this paper proposes can be briefly summarized as follows: political obligations are duties of compliance with the political authority claims of those who exercise political power. Their primary ground is membership. The mere fact of membership has moral weight in its own right and it is also inseparably embedded into a rich context of moral reasons for action that includes general reasons; ad hoc reasons; regime-specific reasons applying to every subject; and regime-specific offices that attribute specific responsibilities to individuals and groups. This rich context of typical moral reasons plays an important role in deciding what needs to be done, all things considered, with respect to the political authority claims. This account attempts to describe compliance in terms of genuine political obligations and also claims to be a plausible and general account. It does not claim to be a theoretically coherent moral justification for political obligations, however, just a theoretically coherent account of the varied sources and limitations of political obligations.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Suppose, for example, a case when a fascist party wins the elections and it is reasonable to expect them to destroy democracy for good. What should one do in such a case?

  2. 2.

    A very similar situation occurs when, after the incumbents commit electoral fraud and people respond to it with rioting, policemen have to decide whether they should shoot at the rioters or not. In this case, the police personnel face the same dilemma as those who have to decide whether they should follow an instruction to falsify the results of the elections or disobey. On the one hand, they are expected to secure the order and be loyal to the incumbents while, on the other hand, the order they are expected to defend is supposed to be not based on electoral fraud. What should they do then, all things considered?

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Funding

Funding was provided by Centre Marc Bloch (visiting research fellowship).

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Correspondence to Zoltán Gábor Szűcs.

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Szűcs, Z.G. Political Obligations in Illiberal Regimes. Res Publica 26, 541–558 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11158-020-09477-x

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Keywords

  • Political realism
  • Political obligations
  • Value pluralism
  • Regime theory
  • Illiberal regimes
  • Bernard Williams
  • Ethics