Democracy and Political Obligation Essay

4061 Words17 Pages
The public life of political servants is characterized by other duties and obligations than private life. Conflicts can even arise between a person's public and private duties. The central point of this paper is to examine whether this difference of duties can be regarded as an effect of different forms of obligation. Can we speak of a particular form of political obligation in the same way in which Kant distinguishes between ethical and legal obligation, the former pertaining to intentions and the latter to external aspects of the action? Could political obligation be distinguished from both of them, for example by its relation towards ends? The first section develops the thesis that if there is such a thing as political necessity, it…show more content…
The distinguishing characteristic of legal duties and corresponding rights is that they can be enforced by an appeal to the law. For the sake of certainty and to avoid arbitrariness, the legal system strives to formulate duties as unambiguously, completely and consistently as possible, and to determine the rules for their enforcement precisely. Thus, the question of what a legal obligation is and how the subjects under obligation must behave is virtually answered by the legal system itself. How to fulfill a moral duty, on the other hand, is considered a matter of ethical obligation and left to the conscience of private persons. Immanuel Kant thought that the domain of duties could be adequately divided into duties that can be the object of legal obligation, on the one hand, and duties that only can be the object of ethical obligation, on the other. The latter pertains to intentions; the former, to external aspects of the action. I think, however, that there are good reasons for also distinguishing a domain of political obligation that is not reducible to either legal or ethical obligation. Political obligation must be distinguished from both of the former categories because it allows, in exceptional circumstances, illegal means in order to safeguard political ends. This political violence cannot simply be legitimized by the principle that urgent need goes before the law, but must be based on a more positive principle.
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