Government and Morality

  • A. J. M. Milne


Political obligation is best understood as a general term for the obligations not only of the governed but also the government in a governed community or state. Both sets of obligations are grounded in the moral basis of government which I briefly indicated in the last chapter (see 4.1.1 above). We saw there that this basis lies in the community’s corporate power-right with the exercise of which the government is entrusted and, in relation to that trust, in three of the principles of common morality: social responsibility, honourable conduct and justice as fair treatment. We noted that as an agency within the community, the government no less than the governed is committed to the union of common morality with a particular morality which constitutes that community’s actual morality. But we also saw why these three principles of common morality are of special importance for both government and governed (see 4.1.1 above). I pointed out, however, that this was only a preliminary account of the moral basis of government and undertook to inquire further into it in the present chapter (see 4.1.1 above). As a first step in that inquiry, account must be taken of the political implications of humanist social ethics. Whether or not the members of a governed community acknowledge it, their community’s way of life together with the particular morality which sustains it and, a fortiori, its government and political institutions are morally required to satisfy the universal minimum moral standard (see 2.3.4 above).


Moral Obligation Moral Agent Personal Autonomy Voluntary Association Civil Disobedience 
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  1. 19.
    Gilbert and Sullivan, HMS Pinafore. In his Power: A New Social Analysis (Allen & Unwin, 1938), Bertrand Russell quotes these lines, but if I understand him he takes them literally as endorsing the contingency of nationality.Google Scholar
  2. 20.
    See Robert P. Wolf, In Defence of Anarchism (Haroer. 1970).Google Scholar
  3. 22.
    See William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, ed. K. Codell Carter (Clarendon Press, 1971).Google Scholar
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    See R. G. Collingwood, The New Leviathan (Clarendon Press, 1942).Google Scholar
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    According to Pierrepont Morgan as quoted by F. L. Allen: ‘The business man hates competition. It threatens him with ruin and his family with destitution. What he likes is organisation, with himself and his fellow businessmen doing the organising.’ F. L. Allen, Great Pierrepont Morgan (London: Marboro Books, 1990).Google Scholar
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    They are instances of what J. Rawls in A Theory of Justice (OUP, 1972) calls ‘imperfect procedural justice’.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© A. J. M. Milne 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. M. Milne
    • 1
  1. 1.Political Theory and InstitutionsUniversity of DurhamUK

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