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Political Science in Europe

Kant on Political Obligation in Crisis Situations

Political Theory
Normative Theory
Sofie Moeller
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Sofie Moeller
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt

The question of the foundation and limits of political obligation is much debated in contemporary political theory. Political obligation is understood not merely as a duty to obey the law, but as a wider reaching duty to promote and further a political community. While many contemporary political theorists take a Kantian approach to its foundation, they reject Kant’s absolute account of political obligation; unlike Kant, contemporary accounts allow the suspension of obligation in situations of crisis. Some scholars have argued that a Kantian conception of political obligation can be amended with an account of the limits of this obligation (Stilz 2009). Against this view, others have argued that the problem of determining the boundaries of political obligation in a Kantian conception is a fatal flow which gives us reason to abandon the Kantian approach altogether (Simmons 2013). However, while scholars agree that an account of the foundation of political obligation should include the possibility to suspend this obligation in crisis situations, this suspension is conceived as an exception rather than an integrated property of obligation. But if we conceive of political obligation as an exception, then no clear rules for this exception are provided and the evaluation of when to suspend political obligation is left to the judgment of the individual citizen.
In place of this ad hoc approach, in this paper I revist Kant’s account of political obligation to provide a contemporary Kantian account of its suspension in situations of crisis which includes parameters for the limits of political obligation. The aim is to provide a Kantian account which assigns limits to political obligation which are inherent to the account rather than arbitrarily imposed.
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