One might suppose that if political theorists are by now clear about anything at all, they should be clear about the problem of political obligation and the solution to it most commonly offered, the doctrine of consent. The greatest modern political theorists took up this problem and formulated this answer. The resulting theories are deeply imbedded in our American political tradition; as a consequence we are already taught a sort of rudimentary consent theory in high school. And yet I want to suggest that we are not even now clear on what “the problem of political obligation” is, what sorts of “answers” are appropriate to it, what the consent answer really says, or whether it is a satisfactory answer. This essay is designed to point up the extent of our confusion, to explore some of the ground anew as best it can, and to invite further effort by others. That such effort is worthwhile, that such political theory is still worth considering and that it can be made genuinely relevant to our world, are the assumptions on which this essay rests and the larger message it is meant to convey.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.