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Pitkin, Hanna. Obligation and Consent – II
1966, The American Political Science Review 60, March: 39-52.
Added by: Carl Fox
Introduction: [The doctrine of "hypothetical consent"] teaches that your obligation depends not on any actual act of consenting, past or present, by yourself or your fellow-citizens, but on the character of the government. If it is a good, just government doing what a government should, then you must obey it; if it is a tyrannical, unjust government trying to do what no government may, then you have no such obligation. Or to put it another way, your obligation depends not on whether you have consented but on whether the government is such that you ought to consent to it, whether its actions are in accord with the authority a hypothetical group of rational men in a hypothetical state of nature would have (had) to give to any government they were founding. Having shown how this formulation emerges from Locke's and Tussman's ideas, I want now to defend it as a valid response to what troubles us about political obligation, and as a response more consonant than most with the moral realities of human decisions about obedience and resistance. At the same time the discussion should also demonstrate how many different or even conflicting things that one might want to call "consent" continue to be relevant - a fact which may help to explain the tenacity of traditional consent theory in the face of its manifest difficulties. Such a defense and demonstration, with detailed attention to such decisions, are difficult; the discussion from here on will be more speculative, and will raise more questions than it answers.

Comment: Largely superseded by later work (see, for instance, Stark's 'Hypothetical Consent and Justification'), but still an interesting exploration of hypothetical consent and legitimate authority, as well as offering further critique of actual consent theories of political obligation. Would make for good further reading or an option for anyone attracted to more of a history of philosophy approach.

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