Friday, September 25, 2009

Political & Legal Obligation: An Introduction — Part 2


‘I am not an anarchist because I believe political states provide vitally important benefits that are not to be secured in their absence, and they supply these benefits without requiring their subjects to make unreasonable sacrifices. This defense of statism openly depends upon the truth of three claims: (1) political states supply crucial benefits, (2) these benefits would be unavailable in the absence of political states, and (3) states can render their services without imposing unreasonable costs upon those they coerce.’—Christopher Heath Wellman

‘Put plainly, for the vast majority of us, life without political order would be a horribly perilous environment.’—Christopher Heath Wellman

‘I say that the benefits of citizenship are greater than the costs because what each of us gains from everyone else’s compliance with the state’s law is much more valuable than what we lose by having to obey these laws ourselves.’—Christopher Heath Wellman

‘I want to insist that a state is justified in nonconsensually coercing me (even if I am not benefited and/or would genuinely prefer to take my chances in the state of nature) because the state’s uniform coercion over all those within its territorial borders is the only way for it to rescue any of us from the perils of the state of nature. My account of political legitimacy is nonpaternalistic, then, because it insists that my state justifiably coerce me only because this coercion is a necessary and not unreasonably burdensome means of securing crucial benefits for others.’—Christopher Heath Wellman

‘[There are] certain roles which groups necessarily have to play in coordinating behavior. First, where coordination does not emerge naturally, coordination schemes can function as coordination schemes at all only if they are embraced by the group whose behavior is to be coordinated by them. This, in turn, means that someone must intentionally have engineered the coordination scheme, and everyone must act intentionally in compliance with it. That is to say, coordination requires everyone to “track” everyone else’s behavior. [….] Second, even where there is no need to organize a coordination scheme formally, the group as a whole still has a residual supervisory function. This entails, in the first instance, a responsibility to undertake regular monitoring. It entails, in the second place, a responsibility to be prepared to organize a more formal coordination scheme should the less formal ones fail to perform satisfactorily. Thus, groups must be at least ultimately responsible for coordination. The reason is the same as the reason why I must be responsible for rescuing the drowning swimmer—no one else can, or will. Coordination is, by its nature, our collective enterprise. No other agent, individual or group, can do it for us. [….] If individuals are rightly to be excused from achieving the good through their own isolated actions, pleading “It’s not my job,” then the collectivity must be empowered and enjoined to do whatever is necessary to eliminate those barriers that block morally efficacious individual behavior. The collectivity must be empowered to make it someone’s job, if anyone is allowed to plead, “It’s not my job.” [….] Where there is some collective agency in existence…there is no problem in ascribing group responsibilities…directly to it. The state is preeminent among such organized collectivities. Our paradigm of moral agency is essentially individualistic, to be sure. The natural person is our model. Only those things that are possessed of clear values, goals and ends, and capable of deliberation upon and intentional implementation of action plans in pursuit of them—can count as agents at all, for moral purposes. It is only to them that moral injunctions can be addressed. The limits of their capacity for effective action mark the limits of our moralizing. But artificially created agencies are agents, too. Most especially, the state is a moral agent, in all the respects that morally matter. It, like the natural individual, is capable of embodying values, goals and ends; it, too, is capable (through its legislative and executive organs) of deliberative action in pursuit of them. The state is possessed of an internal decision mechanism (a constitution, and the processes that it prescribes) that mimics perfectly, for these purposes, that which is taken as the defining feature of moral agency in the natural individual. [….] [It is the state that] must be ultimately responsible, because the state is the preeminent organization among them in any given territory. Other organizations exist by leave of—and at least in one (legalistic) sense, only under a charter from—the state. [….] Where shared, collective responsibilities are concerned, it is—by definition—everyone’s business what everyone else does. And this tautology is far from an empty one. It is everyone’s business, first and most simply, because it is a responsibility that everyone shares with everyone else. It is everyone’s business, second and more importantly, because, for anyone else’s contribution to be efficacious, each agent must usually play his part under the scheme that has been collectively instituted for discharging that share responsibility. [….] The failure of any one party to abide by the coordination scheme will typically undermine, to some greater or lesser extent, the success of the scheme as a whole, thereby preventing other moral agents from successfully discharging their assigned duties. It is for this reason that we may rightly force people to do their duties to schemes for discharging collective responsibilities—even if we may not so enforce isolated, individual responsibilities.’—Robert E. Goodin

‘To the extent that the avoidance of injustice is a moral imperative, the establishment of coordinating institutions is a moral imperative.’—Jeremy Waldron

‘…[G]oods provided by cooperation can be termed “excludable” or “nonexcludable.” Excludable goods can provided to some members of a given community while being denied to specified others. [….] Nonexcludable goods, in contrast, cannot be denied to specified others. Frequently, if provided at all, they must be provided to all members of some community. Familiar examples of nonexcludable goods are the rule of law, relief from various forms of pollution and other environmental hazards, and national defense. These goods and others like them that also depend on the cooperation of large numbers of people are often referred to as public goods. The two main features of public goods are (a) that they are nonexcludable and (b) that they depend upon the cooperation of numbers of people. [….] Because of the benefits provided by [schemes providing nonexcludable goods], individuals are no longer able to decide whether or not to receive them. Accordingly, the contractarian implications of the receipt of such benefits are blurred.’—George Klosko

‘The principle of fairness is able to generate obligations to contribute to nonexcludable schemes if certain conditions are met. The main conditions are that the goods in question must large be (i) worth the recipients’ effort in providing them and (ii) “presumptively beneficial.” [….] [B]y “presumptively beneficial” goods I mean something similar to Rawls’s primary goods, “things that every man is presumed to want.” [….] Because obligations to support cooperative schemes are grounded upon a broad principle of the fair distribution of burdens and benefits, they hold only as long as the costs and benefits of the scheme in question are fairly distributed. We can say that a scheme in which this condition is met passes the “fair distribution” test and so is “fair.” Because of the complexity of the distribution of benefits and burdens in actual schemes, however, it may be difficult to say whether any given scheme passes this test. Similarly, it may be difficult to say at exactly what point the pattern of distribution in a given scheme moves from being fair to being unfair. But it is clear that at the point at which a given scheme begins to fail the test, individuals’ obligation to it are dissolved.’—George Klosko

‘It is not merely that political coercion is a possible solution to the harmful circumstances of the state of nature; it is the only viable solution because only coordination will solve the problems, and there is no way to ensure sufficient coordination without coercion. [….] The point…is that the perils that prevail in the absence of political society are distinct insofar as they create what is fundamentally a coordination problem: There is no way other than general compliance with a single authoritative set of rules to secure peace and protect basic moral rights.’—Christopher Heath Wellman

‘…[W]e all have a defeasible moral duty to follow a just law validly enacted by a legitimate regime.’—Christopher Heath Wellman

‘Socrates’ duty not to try to destroy the Laws is explained…by appeal to the moral quality of the Law or the impartial moral values that this legal obedience will bring about or advance—values such as happiness [eudaimonia] or justice. Our general duties to advance or respect such values by…upholding the institutions that embody and promote them, are what explain the wrongness of Socrates’ proposed escape on all three readings of the opening “destruction argument.” The theories that in this way ground our duty to obey the law in one (or more) of the general moral duties that we have as persons and moral equals are…[called] Natural Duty theories.’—Christopher Heath Wellman

The Natural Duty argument:
Premise 1: Government (political society, law) is necessary for human beings. Among other things, this premise assumes the hypothetical ‘state of nature’ is synonymous with coordination and assurance problems and thus without coercive law and government the human condition would be aptly characterized, in Hobbes’ words, as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’
Premise 2: All persons have a natural moral duty to (one or more):
(a) maximize goodness in the world (e.g., eudaimonia, perfection…)
(b) perform necessary tasks to which they are well suited and support and obey those who perform necessary tasks
(c) respect and defer to those who do necessary tasks by occupying positions of authority
(d) do and promote justice
(e) assist those in peril
Conclusion 1: Therefore all persons have a natural moral duty to:
(a) leave the state of nature and join together with others to create government and law where none exist; and
(b) support and comply with stable and existing governments and law within their jurisdiction (provided they are reasonably just)
Conclusion 2: All persons have a moral duty to obey domestic law. (Christopher Heath Wellman)

Philosophical anarchism denies ‘that legitimate states are possible and actual. “There are,” as John Simmons tersely puts it, “no morally legitimate states.” The position is called philosophical anarchism to distinguish it from the more notorious political anarchism popularly associated with bombs and beards, Sacco and Vanzetti. Philosophical anarchists are not committed to bringing down the existing political order and even concede that “government may be necessary and that certain governments ought to be supported.” But their support rests on general moral reasons that deny the state any right to rule or any presumption that there is moral reason to act as its laws require.’—William A. Edmundson

‘Where what morality requires and what the law requires converge, the philosophical anarchist’s practical recommendation will coincide with that of the state.’—William A. Edmundson

Please Note: References and Further Reading will be appended to the third and final part of this series.

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