The problem of Political Obligation is one of the most important issues of Political philosophy. It is primarily concerned with the question; How far, when and why an individual is obliged to obey the laws and commands of the Political authority. This may be also accompanied by such duties of the citizen as –

  1. Payment of taxes
  2. Political participation & Voting
  3. Military duty etc.

Which are necessary for the maintenance of Political institutions. The question of Political Obligation is very complex and it is difficult to find any definite answer to it. Different theories have been expressed in this regard which try to answer this complicated issue.

Theories of Unlimited Obligation

The Doctrine of Force This theory holds that since individual is too weak to challenge the authority of the State, his Political Obligation is unlimited. It acknowledges the superior strength of the state. The state is so powerful that the individual has no option but to obey its laws and commands. This theory is not based on any moral ground. It does not allow the individual to inquire whether a law is right or wrong. It does not believe in the willing obedience of the people.

 Divine Right Theory

Since God’s will is binding on all mortals, this theory upholds an unlimited Political Obligation.

  1. The authority of the sovereign is derived from God, hence obedience to the state is as imperative as obedience to God.
  2. This theory also denies any right to the individual to exercise his judgment.
  • It establishes Political Obligation on religious rather than on moral grounds.

Conservative ViewConservative thinkers uphold obedience to the State for practical reasons.

  • State after all is the supreme authority.
  • Advantages of obeying State are more than disobeying to.

Theories of Limited Obligation

Principle of consentAccording to this view ‘man is born free’; and thus individual’s consent can be the only proper source of Political Obligation.

Man can be expected to obey a ruler only with his consent.

The theory of social contract – represents the best formulation of this view print

Modern political thinkers also advocate this view.

Idealist ViewThe Idealist view originally believed in unconditional obligation, but later modified to admit a note of caution.

It believes that State is a ‘march of God on earth’.

State is an ideal institution and can thus command obedience from the people.

State is an institution working for the promotion of common good and thus its obedience will lead to the welfare of the people only.

Contract Theory

According to Contract Theory the State is a product of Contract and therefore  Obligation to the State depends on the terms and conditions of the Contract.

  1. The State came into existence as a result of the Contract entered between the rulers and the ruled.
  2. As the State is a product of mutual agreement, obedience to it depends on the terms of the Contract.
  3. People should obey the State only when the State functions according to the agreement entered upon.

Theories against Political Obligation 

Marxist viewAccording to Marxist view, State is the organized power of the dominant class. Thus in a class divided society individuals have no Political Obligation towards the State.

  1. The purpose of the state is not the general welfare but helping the capitalist class to increase their wealth.
  2. In a class divided society, State is not the protector of the general masses and when classless society is achieved after the revolution; the State will automatically wither away.

Anarchist viewAnarchist view upholds the concept of negative Political Obligation.

It advocates abolition of all organized authority as well as the state.

It argues that all governmental authority is illegitimate because the State is indeed a coercive institution.

Gandhain view

Mahatma Gandhi advocated severe limits on Political Obligation.

  1. Gandhi’s concept of civil disobedience implies deliberately disobeying an unjust authority and breaking an unjust law.
  2. The act of civil disobedience should be performed non violently and penalities entailed by this act should be willingly accepted.
  3. The true object of ‘civil disobedience’ is the ‘change of heart’ of the authorities concerned.

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