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Democracy And Political Obligation Essay

4040 words - 16 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 must be some kind of moral obligation. The second section focuses on the question of whether political obligation can be conceived of as different from legal and ethical obligation, the only two forms of moral obligation that Kant distinguishes. The last section is about a differentiated conception of political obligation and virtue, in democracies, for political leaders, for citizens, and for public servants.

All modern societies in some way accept the distinction between legal and ethical obligation. The former constitutes an exterior sphere of norms and rules, including duties which citizens can be compelled to perform by the threat of punishment or other legal consequences, the latter concerns the interior sphere of a person's conscience and private intentions. Making this distinction can be seen as the explicit acknowledgement of what Agnes Heller has called 'the first structural change in morals': the evolution of a separate subjective sphere of morality within the public ethical life. (1) Legal and moral law oblige in different ways and also contain different duties. In modern society, legal duties usually take the form of commands and rules. 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...

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