Political ObligationA book by one of the most eminent political theorists John Horton, “Political Obligation” seeks to define the political obligation theory with the help of author’s several notions. First published in 1992, the book has a revised, updated, and extended second edition, which provides valuable work to understand the problems of political obligation and pursued voluntarist, teleological, deontological theories for the purpose of characterizing the concept of political obligation. Horton also writes about the anarchism theory with the types of individualist, communal, and philosophical perspectives which are a real challenge to political obligation. In addition, he supplements associative political obligation with pluralist theories. It is worth mentioning that in his book Horton refers to prominent political theorists such as John Rawls, Margaret Gilbert, Massimo Renzo, Glen Newey and Ryan Windeknecht.

Firstly, the author tries to explain the existed problems of political obligation because of the possible complexity of this issue and claims that people who can be considered well-educated and politically informed, will possibly be misled because the meaning of political obligation is different from a term like ‘rights’, ‘freedom’ or ‘justice’ (Horton, p.1). He mentions that the group of questions and issues with which is concerned lie at the heart of political life and have done so, with greater or lesser persistence and hesitancy, for as long as people have reflected on their relationship to the political community that claims them as members (Horton, p.1). And the author adds: “There is a relationship between people and their political community with which political obligation is mainly concerned”. After, John Horton seeks to investigate whether there is one or many problems about political obligation. However, he finds that there is actually not any problem related to the political obligation because the way of thinking, political circumstances, assumptions were different in Socrates’s in the 4th-century-BC Athens, or Hobbes’s, Locke’s in seventeenth-century England (Horton, p.5). So, according to the author, all the problems about the political obligation were generated by various philosophers’ way of thinking. Additionally, in the first chapter, he mentions three questions considered philosophical discussion of political obligation. 

In the next chapter, John Horton tries to offer an overview for voluntarist theories and to analyze the concept of it. The author starts his idea about voluntarist theory with the sentence that voluntarist actions clarify or give a justification for political obligation with regard to some freely selected act, obligation or commitment which spiritually undertakes an individual to his or her polity (Horton, p. 19). He provides an example from Pateman (1985) that political obligation can only be existed if people have freely chosen membership of their polity; however, the majority of the people do not obligate because of not choosing freely. 

In the second chapter, the author uses examples from Hobbes’s and Locke’s social contract and thoughts on political obligation. He argues that one of the most significant feature of Locke’s point of view about political obligation, reversely to Hobbes’s, is quite unclear because Locke did not explain how and by whom should be judged for a right of resistance to a tyrannical and oppressive government (Horton, p. 23). 

After demonstrating the opinions and the facts about a broad category of accounts on political obligation- voluntarism, the author tries to discuss “teleological theories” which is verged to political obligation from the various points. According to him, these theories are inclined to elucidate political obligation by contemplating the future rather than past, and by observing the possible consequences or the aim of the obligation, rather than to some obligation-creating voluntary act (Horton, p. 51). In this chapter, John Horton emphasizes the concept of utilitarianism and common good and its possible relationship with political obligation. He starts with defining utilitarianism and its structure and forms. Utilitarianism, he writes, is a moral theory which is the easiest and uncomplicated model and condemns the rightness of acts, practices and institutions, exclusively, their inclination to maximize usefulness or luckiness (Horton, p. 54). In another way, it can be explained that when people are obligated to obey the rules, they achieve to get the happiness, but also they should do because they know what will happen if they do not obey. Moreover, the author touches upon the second kind of teleological accounts of political obligation which is ‘common good’ theories. He argues that political obligation procreates from the common good and it can be the part of either certain community or all people. So, the common good provides the basis of the obligations of members to their polity (Horton, p. 69).

As the author fails to obtain different features of political obligation with the help of voluntarist and teleological theories, he approaches to talk about deontological theories. He argues that the main idea of informing deontological theories is that political obligation must be vindicated with regard to an account of our duties, which are to be explained neither as the result of our voluntary commitment, nor simply with regard to the promotion of some useful or valuable end (Horton, p. 79). According to deontological theories, several actions which are morally right or wrong, are independent from whether they maximize utility, publicize the common good or donate to the attainment of any other end. Additionally, the author touches upon fairness, natural duty theories and Samaritanism for the analysis of the concept. The fairness theory which was firstly formulated by H. L. A. Hart (1967) is related to social contract tradition and the author argues that political obligation implicates, as a matter of fact, mutual relationship, but distributes with any residual voluntarist component of such theories (Horton, p. 87).

After discussing a number of theories of political obligation, the author mentions anarchism which is considered by him as a theory or doctrine that discards the possibility of any logical general theory of political obligation (Horton, p. 106). It would be better to add that anarchism should not be understood as an alternative theory of political obligation, but as rejecting all of these theories, such as voluntarist, teleological, deontological, etc. To add that, anarchism is totally against the state, so it is also against political obligation. The author argues that anarchism is divided to the types of communal and philosophical anarchism. John Horton defines communal anarchism as the rejection of the state and other forms of politically centralized or professionalized control of community which has a relationship with socialist theory (Horton, p. 117). After he gives a part from A. J. Simmons notes and mention that philosophical theorists attempt to justify political obligation that actually there is no any obligation. At last, John Horton claims that all versions and forms of anarchism are a challenge to political obligation (Horton, p. 133).

After discussing three theories of political obligation and anarchism, the author starts with defending associative account of political obligation and provides the ideas of the likes of Gans, Wolff, Klosko, on pluralist theories, especially, Gilbert’s plural subject theory for strengthening its claims. He further mentions the conceptual arguments and claims that the failure of traditional theories does not mean that political obligation is unjustified (Horton, p. 139). 

To sum up, John Horton pursued voluntarist, teleological, deontological theories for the purpose of characterizing the concept of political obligation, but actually, he fails to obtain different features of political obligation as other philosophers criticized his work for being inadequate in showing the concepts of political obligation. Moreover, the author mentions anarchism which is against of political obligation and at last, associative theory is indicated for generating moral account for political obligation. As a valuable read, “Political Obligation” supplies a number of arguments and ideas for deeper understanding of political obligation.


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