Chapter 07



A. Chapter Summary and Goals
B. Discussion Text

7.A. Anarchism
7.B. Sources of Political Authority
7.C. Liberalism and Communitarianism
7.D. Virtuous Leadership
7.E. Limits of Political Coercion
7.F. Civil Obedience, Disobedience, and Revolution

C. Discussion and Essay Questions
D. Topical Links, Web Links and Activities
E. Self-Test Questions and Answers
F. Suggestions for Further Reading

A. Chapter Summary and Goals

Summary: Political philosophy is the study of the nature and justification of political institutions. An initial philosophical question about governments is whether they are even necessary. Anarchism is the theory that the existence of governments is completely unjustified. If we assume that governments are justified, though, a question immediately arises about where they get their authority. Many contemporary theories of governmental authority rest on three specific theories developed in the 17th century. Pufendorf argued that God mandates as a natural law that we should be sociable, and governments are a means of maintaining sociability. Hobbes argued that to ensure peace, we devise a social contract with others and set up governments to assure that we abide by our agreements. Locke argued that governments are needed to preserve our natural rights to life, health, liberty and possessions. Once governments are instituted, we can then ask whether they should focus on the interests of citizens individually, or the collective good of the community. Liberalism is the view that governments should preserve the rights of the individual. Communitarianism is the view that governments should be directed towards the advancement of community well-being. One view of liberalism, offered by John Rawls, is that our liberties should be based on fairness, and to arrive at fair social guidelines, we negotiate from behind a veil of ignorance regarding our actual economic status. Another view of liberalism, by Robert Nozick, is that governments should be very minimal and function mainly to protect our rights. As we examine the conduct of our leaders, we may ask what kind of moral standard we can hold them to. Confucius and Plato felt that rulers should follow the highest moral norms, while Machiavelli held that a ruler may need to be deceitful in order to survive. By their very nature, governments are coercive institutions and establish laws that restrict our activities. We may ask what the limits to their coercion are. Punishment itself, Beccaria argued, is justified only as a means towards creating a better society, and not as a way of retaliating or getting revenge. Mill argued that governments can restrict our actions only to prevent us from harming others. Feinberg argued that governments can also restrict seriously offensive behavior. If a government overextends its authority, we may next ask if we can disobey the laws, or even revolt. Plato argued that we should obey laws that we object to, while King argued that in especially grievous situations we can nonviolently disobey laws as a means of protest. Locke argued that revolution is justified when governments fail to protect our fundamental rights.


  • Understand the theory of anarchism
  • Understand differing theories about the source of political authority
  • Understand the conflict between liberalism and communitarianism
  • Understand different theories surrounding virtuous leadership
  • Understand limits of political coercion
  • Understand the notions of civil obedience, disobedience, and revolution

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