Against Obligation

Against Obligation: The Multiple Sources of Authority in a Liberal Democracy

ABNER S. GREENE
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jbwg7
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  • Book Info
    Against Obligation
    Book Description:

    Greene argues that citizens are not morally obligated to obey the law and that officials need not follow prior or higher authority when reading the Constitution. The sources of authority in a liberal democracy are multiple—the law must compete with other norms. Constitutional meaning is not locked in, historically or by the Supreme Court.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06517-8
    Subjects: Law, Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-34)

    Do you have a moral duty to obey the law? You might think the answer depends on the content of the law, or the circumstances. Murder, rape, robbery—those acts are immoral as well as illegal. But do you have a moral duty to obey a law that prohibits you from helping a suffering, dying relative end her life in peace? And although we might believe there’s a moral duty to obey laws against using controlled substances, might we have a different view if the use is part of an age-old religious ritual, engaged in solely by consenting adults, harming...

  4. 1 AGAINST POLITICAL OBLIGATION
    (pp. 35-113)

    The most familiar arguments undergirding political obligation are agent-centered, i.e., are based in knowing, voluntary undertakings of individual persons. There are several versions, beginning with the core theory of consent and moving outward to theories of fair play and participation. Consent-based theories require that one knows one is consenting to the authority of another; fair play and participation theories do not have this requirement, but still require that the undertakings in question—receiving benefits in a cooperative scheme or engaging in political participation (or having the opportunity to so engage)—be knowing and voluntary. There are problems with each of...

  5. 2 ACCOMMODATING OUR PLURAL OBLIGATIONS
    (pp. 114-160)

    We are left with a dilemma. If one accepts the foregoing arguments, not only do we not have a moral duty to obey the law, but also the state lacks a legitimate basis for demanding general legal compliance. Political obligation and its correlate, political legitimacy, lack sufficient grounding for the generality a satisfactory solution demands. Perhaps, though, we can turn from ways of connecting us to the state and toward ways of disconnecting us from it. Perhaps, that is, we should examine exit options, through state-provided exemptions. (Properly understood, these are representations of exit, rather than actual exit, which would...

  6. 3 AGAINST INTERPRETIVE OBLIGATION TO THE PAST
    (pp. 161-209)

    Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is often talked about in terms of “fidelity.”¹ Being a faithful constitutional interpreter is thought to require following not only the text and structure of the document, but also the understanding of that document by its creators, i.e., by its framers and ratifiers (“original understanding [or intent]”) and/or by the ordinary person alive when the text was created (“original meaning”).² And although it is justified differently, adherence to judicial precedent is also thought to constitute an aspect of faithful constitutional interpretation. Looking to the past—original understanding or meaning and precedent—is just one aspect...

  7. 4 AGAINST INTERPRETIVE OBLIGATION TO THE SUPREME COURT
    (pp. 210-251)

    As with any court, the U.S. Supreme Court’s judgments are properly binding on the parties to a case.¹ But are the constitutional interpretations the Court offers in rendering such judgments binding on others? More specifically, do other government officials—federal and state executives, legislators, and judges—have a duty to follow the Court’s views on constitutional meaning? The question is hard because it pits two intuitions about obligation against each other: only parties to a case, or those who have had a chance to participate, may properly be bound by what the court says and does in that case; and...

  8. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 252-254)

    Obligations are all around us. Many are uncontroversial. When we make a promise or a contract, we incur an obligation. We have many obligations, of the natural sort, to our family, friends, and colleagues, and sometimes even to strangers. But as citizens, and as interpreters of law, we should be wary of too quickly believing we owe obligations to the state, or to purportedly authoritative interpreters. Sovereignty in a liberal democracy starts and ends with us, the citizens; to preserve such sovereignty, we should see sources of claimed obligation—the law, regarding primary conduct rules; and prior and higher sources...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 255-302)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 303-322)
  11. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 323-326)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 327-333)