Great changes in the character and interrelations of western political societies were in progress during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Early modern philosophers either directly witnessed these changes or were able to reflect upon them from no great distance, as crucial elements of their recent political history. Unsurprisingly, then, early modern political philosophy was in important respects preoccupied with the theoretical underpinnings of the emerging political order, with its new institutions and new expectations of citizens and public officials. The theories advanced by political philosophers of the period in turn played their own modest roles in influencing the development of the modern political institutions with which we are familiar today. Their questions and problems were thus importantly related to our own, which allows early modern political philosophy to speak to many of us in a way that is perhaps not fully possible for the political philosophies of earlier periods.
I will stress here two great “divides” or transitions within the period that can help us to understand some of the most salient features of early modern political philosophy. The first of these divides is the theoretical divide between what we can call “political naturalism” and “political antinaturalism.” The second is the historical transition (mirrored by a corresponding transition in political theories) from political societies that existed as complex, hierarchical structures of overlapping religious and contractual relationships (such as those that characterized empire and the feudal order) to political societies that began to take the form of modern, sovereign, territorial states.
Even if the considerations offered in the preceding chapter conclusively defeat political anarchism, they are not by themselves sufficient to refute philosophical anarchism because they do not explain why one has a duty to obey the law. A citizen's political responsibilities have yet to be established because the focus to this point has been exclusively upon the permissibility of a state's coercing its constituents, not the political duties of those coerced. I am hopeful that we can develop an adequate account of our duty to obey the law, however, by building upon the defense of statism offered earlier. In particular, I think that just as samaritanism is crucial to justifying the state's coercion, it is the key to explaining our political duties.
Samaritan Duties and Fairness
The first thing to notice is that the peril of others can explain not only why one may permissibly be coerced, it can also explain why one is obligated to assist those who are imperiled. (Indeed, if anything, it is more common and less controversial to posit samaritan duties than to defend the existence of a samaritan right to coerce.) Thus, just as I invoked samaritanism to explain why Beth may permissibly commandeer Cathy's car if it is the only way to get Amy to the hospital in time to save her life, samaritanism can help explain why Beth has a duty to take Amy to the hospital and/or why Cathy has a duty to loan her car to the cause.
Given my specification that we have a moral duty to obey only the just laws of a legitimate regime, it is natural to explore what types of laws are in fact just. This matter is especially pressing for those who draw on samaritanism because a critic might worry that samaritan considerations are too restricted to justify most of the functions that modern bureaucratic states legitimately perform. In particular, samaritanism appears incapable of justifying all those functions that either require extremely costly sacrifices or do not rescue anyone from peril. To show how an advocate of samaritanism might respond to this challenge, this chapter focuses on two types of laws: those that require citizens to vote and those that draft citizens into compulsory military service. In the end, I conclude that an approach based on samaritanism has more resources to explain governmental functions than might initially be apparent, but that we should nonetheless be open to the possibility that many of the practices of existing states, even liberal democratic ones, are entirely unjustified.
Even if samaritan considerations cannot justify many of the functions that modern bureaucratic states regularly assign themselves, there are two reasons not to dismiss the approach on these grounds. First, as I mentioned in the previous chapter, there is no reason why defenders of the samaritan approach cannot appeal to other considerations that justify various additional obligations.
In the discussion that follows, I will defend a division of the available theories of the duty to obey the law into three groups or “families.” This division will allow me (in this section) to discuss the merits and difficulties of two of these families briefly and in very general terms, largely summarizing arguments that I have made before. In particular, I will distinguish (what I call) Associative, Transactional, and Natural Duty theories of a duty to obey. Associative accounts ground our duty to obey in our nonvoluntary occupation of certain duty-laden social roles, while Transactional accounts ground our duty (or obligation) to obey in our morally significant interactions with our states or fellow citizens. I will attempt (in this chapter) to explain and deal with these first two families of theories by revealing what I take to be the fatal defects that infect all possible members of the families, saving my more detailed discussion and criticism for the last family. Chapter 7 will then be devoted to a much more careful examination of the third – and currently the most popular – of these families of theories. Natural Duty theories of the duty to obey the law are those that ground our duty to obey not in who we are (as in Associative accounts) or in what we've done or enjoyed (as in Transactional accounts), but rather either (a) in the moral importance of advancing some impartial moral good or (b) in some moral duty thought to be owed by all persons to all others as moral equals, regardless of roles, relationships, or transactions.
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