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  • The political obligation is often inferred as the commitment or duty to act in a particular way.

  • As per, H.L.A Hart there are two kinds of obligation- ‘being obliged’ to do something, which includes an element of coercion, and ‘having an obligation’ to do something, which implies only a moral duty.

  • Thus, political obligation is one of the most contested issues of political theory and philosophy.

  • In a nutshell, political philosophy mainly resided on the logic of the grounds and limits of political obligation.


  • Obligation and duty have a lot in common.

  • To be obligated means to have a responsibility; to fulfil a responsibility means to fulfil an obligation.

  • In this context, a duty is the conception of a behaviour as the subject of legal obligation.

  • The main difference between an obligation and a duty would be that duty arises from moral and legal needs, while an obligation is something that arises from a set of norms that focuses on maintaining order.

  • When we say that someone is performing their responsibility, we often mean that they are obligated to do something.

  • A moral commitment may clash with a legal obligation; and political legitimation may clash with a religious one.


  • It is important to remember that obligation is an obligation. It doesn’t matter if it is political or moral.

  • Attending to one’s obligation is a sort of performance.

1. The Doctrine of Force Majuere

  • Force Majuere is a French word meaning superior strength.

  • This view of political obligation identifies the state is so powerful that the individual has no option but to abide by its laws, dictates and commands, without any choice of not to follow them.

  • In this sense, political obligation is based on the fear of punishment or coercion for disobedience to the political authority.

  • The theory has been criticized on the grounds that it is not based on any moral foundations.

  • It does not allow the individual to inquire fairness of the law.

  • There is no scope for a resistance against any law or command which could be wrong in public judgment.

  • With these characteristics, it could hardly be treated as a proper theory of political obligation.

2. Divine Rights Theory

  • The source of power withheld by the sovereign is directly derived from the god, hence obedience to the state is as imperative as obedience to God.

  • In the recent times, this theory was upheld in pre-communist Tibet and some tribal kingdoms.

  • The foundations of this theory is religious instead of it being rational.

  • The king can be a tyrant or a benevolent, obedience to him is a must

  • Disobedience is a direct confrontation with god.

  • The theory denies the right to resist against the state or the authority by the people, hence it is anti-thetically to a democracy.

3. Prescriptive Theory

  • As per this theory, political authority and its respect are based on the principle of “customary rights”.

  • Authority is legitimate, if it is endorsed by customs or tradition.

  • This conservative theory of political obligation finds its existence in the writings of Hegel, who believed that ideas of morality evolve concretely in the customs and institutions of the state.

  • An eminent scholar of this school of thought is, the English Parliamentarian Edmund Burke, he states that it is unwise for a person to totally disregard custom and tradition.\

  • His means that the proponents of this school of thought even urge to accept the traditional practise of racism, that is the indigenous population of African and Latin American countries must accept racial discrimination legislation as “valid”, because they are based on best available evidence.

  • However, this is far from the reality, people only observe their traditions, in so far as they have their utility and do away with them when they become redundant or useless.


1. Principle of Consent

  • Some theories advocate man to be master of his will, hence any sort of obligation can only be inflicted upon him by his consent.

  • Individual's consent is the proper source of political obligation.

  • Substantiating Hobbes and Locke who claimed that in the state of nature there were certain inconveniences being faced by man due to the absence of the existence of clear laws and authority.

  • Thereby, the theory of ‘Social Contract” substantiates the fact that the authority was given as well as created through a consent.

  • The chief exponents of the theory of the social contract are: Thomas Hobbes,, John Locke , and Jean Jaquez Rousseau (1712-78).

  • These thinkers have claimed a 'state of nature'.

  • The social contract is responsible for transition from a state of nature to a civil society.

  • The terms of the contract define the ground and limits of political obligation.

  • In this light Locke's formulation of the social contract may be considered sound in this light.

2. Idealist Theory

  • An idealistic view of political authority may involve a serious deviation from a realistic position.

  • The Idealists believe that the man’s innate natural rationality is the source of political obligation.

  • Man is seen as a ‘political and rational creature’ and the state as a ‘self - sufficient community’ that encompasses the entire society.

  • According to Hegel, the state as 'the incarnation of divine reason' and the 'march of God on earth'.

  • Hegel has carried on the legacy developed by Plato and Aristotle whereby they had agreed that the state and the people who make it up “form an organic totality”.

  • Furthermore, the concept of political obligation encompasses not just the man’s obedience to the state, but is also inherently connected with his right to resist an abusive political authority.


1. Marxist View

  • Marxism postulates state does not represent the organized power of the community, rather it represents the organized power of the dominant class- particularly the class owning the major means of production.

  • Its sole purpose is the welfare of the bourgeoisie class.

  • In such a class divided society the individuals can not have any obligation towards the state.

  • At best, an individual can have any or some obligation towards its society, provided it is a classless and stateless society.

  • Under the capitalist system, where those having the means of production and exploiters of the working class are in power, the worker has obligation 'against the state'.

  • People who are encouraged to disobey the bourgeoisie state are instructed not to disobey the state at all after the establishment of a new social system.

  • Marxian thought has also been criticized on the ground that a change accompanied by chaos and confusion is most likely to be exploited by anti-social elements.

2. Anarchist View

  • The anarchist view argue for a stateless society, simply put a society without any government.

  • Anarchism is usually placed on the extreme-left of the political spectrum.

  • Anarchists like P.J. Proudhon and Peter Kropotkin stated, the state is a coercive entity and hence all governmental authority is illegitimate and hence its presence is suited only to a corrupt and unmerited society.

  • The individual is only obligated to uphold justice, thus he is obliged to resist the state and devote himself to build a new institution where all members of society will cooperate with each other.

3. Gandhian Perspective

  • The tacit use of principle of civil disobedience indicating the recognition of severe limits of political obligation by Gandhi.

  • Civil disobedience implies deliberately disobeying an unjust authority and breaking an unjust law.

  • Civil disobedience may be resorted to as a protesting a government policy which is unjust or to raise the government’s attention to a need for political reform.

  • Originally, the word was coined by American writer Henry David Thoreau, who attempted to explain the reason for his refusal to pay taxes to the state for several years for which he was also imprisoned through an essay in 1848.

  • Mahatma Gandhi collaborated the principle of civil disobedience with the principle of nonviolent struggle and satyagraha throughout the freedom struggle.

  • Gandhi was of the belief by any form of resistance against injustice must be non-violent, hence the act of civil disobedience should also be performed non-violently and in full public view; and penalties caused by such an act should be accepted willingly.

  • Civil disobedience is a weapon only against a tyrannical regime, autocratic, unjust government or a foreign rule.


  • An external domain of standards and regulations is created by political obligation.

  • It is governed by laws, customs and by-laws.

  • The term “political obligation” refers to a set of legal responsibilities that citizens must fulfil.

  • It does include the duty of the citizens to obey the laws of the state, but it also incorporates in its sphere a wider obligation, i.e., duty to protect the country, or to fight against injustice.

  • Political responsibility is a form of obligation that aims to develop a political system that is free of all types of injustices and promotes the general good.

  • Political justice does not totally fall under the purview of either the law or ethics.

  • Its domain that exists somewhere between ethics and law.

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