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    A contestatory theory of political obligations

    Montgomery, Steven Derek (2022) A contestatory theory of political obligations. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    There is an orthodox approach towards questions of political obligation. This neatly divides all the philosophical terrain into two opposing views. On one side, the standard theory of political obligation to the state, on the other a sceptical view which is often described as philosophical anarchism. In this thesis I argue that this is a false distinction. I examine three important features of the major political principles thought to ground such obligations: their lack of specificity, the multiplicity of relevant political entities, and the intersecting claims of different political principles. Combining these with the defeasibility claimed by all models of political obligation, reveals that all the standard theories are in fact a form of plural multiple-principle theory. Further, sceptical approaches are also the same kind of multiple-principle theory of obligation. This false distinction has led us away from the radical potential of a theory of political obligation to illuminate the lived political experience of citizens. This dissertation develops a unified and contestatory theory of political obligations. This is a theory which is maximally plural, and also simultaneously a theory of political obedience and civil disobedience. It addresses the complexity of real world (i.e., non-ideal) duties and dilemmas of people confronted with the demands of the state. It maps out the political moral landscape for citizens. It engages with a range of partial political duties which are often in conflict. I consider the three most plausible kinds of political principles: natural duty, association and fair play. By taking a synoptic view of their normative impact, I show that while each may fail under the orthodox approach, they all still succeed, in interesting ways, to ground a range of partial and potentially contestatory duties for citizens. These obligations may support each other, and they may conflict. As circumstances change, the same set of political principles may recommend obedience to the law and other demands of the state, or actions orthogonal to such, or constitute a permission to disobey, or even make disobedience one’s political obligation. I explore two important implications of this theory. The first concerns philosophical anarchism. Here I demonstrate that models of philosophical anarchism and other sceptical models do not in fact constitute a substantively distinct alternative view but instead depict a theory of political obligation. Their position is not theoretically distinct and, in many respects advocates of either position have been talking past each other. The second concerns civil disobedience. The contestatory theory incorporates different political principles which may conflict with each other. In many circumstances, civil disobedience may represent the best way of responding to the normative demands of political life. To better accommodate this, I develop a new model of civil disobedience which is expansive and free of many of the fractures and constraints which characterise much of the post-Rawlsian philosophical theorising on civil disobedience. Although theoretically freestanding, it is designed to be complementary with the normative implications of the contestatory theory. The conception of civil disobedience I develop here is specifically designed to function as a moral and political shield for citizens against the overwhelming power of the state.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2022 15:49
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 15:48


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