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Political Obligation

  1. David McCabe

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee637

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

McCabe, D. 2013. Political Obligation. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


To have a political obligation is to have a duty to one's political community (perhaps to follow its laws, to defend it, to ensure its thriving, and so on) simply by virtue of one's membership in it. The central questions in the debates over political obligation are whether there are any such requirements and what grounds might justify them. Many approach this general issue through the question whether one has a duty to obey the law simply because the state has commanded it, a natural approach if one views political obligation as the flip side of state authority and holds that a state has authority if and only if its commands give rise to obligations (perhaps defeasible) that citizens act in certain ways. But as Knowles (2010) has argued, the idea of political obligation has greater extension than the question of the duty to obey law and touches on issues broader than that of political authority (see Authority). For example, if one's country is invaded one may have an obligation to enlist in its armed services even if no law compels one to do so. Indeed, membership in a political community may impose on one a duty to oppose certain decisions and policies of one's government. So even if questions about the duty to obey law are the most common and important way whereby citizens confront the issue of political obligation, we misunderstand the latter if we see it as just another way of asking about the former.


  • citizenship;
  • duty and obligation;
  • ethics;
  • freedom;
  • government, politics, and law;
  • legal and political;
  • politics;
  • state