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Legitimacy of Political Authority - Essay Example

One of the key problems involved in the debate on the justification of political authority is the balance between limitations imposed by any political authority and individual freedom. On the one hand, freedom is exceptionally important to the life of a person in many senses. On the other hand, an individual can not be allowed to act solely at his or her will: there must be certain rules for behavior. Establishing this balance between individual freedom and interests of the community is the key task of any state and government which acts as a stabilizer. In case this balance is in place, the highest level of individual freedom is achieved while the risk of falling into total anarchy is avoided (Popper, 1985).
According to Thomas Hobbes, in prehistoric uncivilized times before any sort of government emerged, there was constant war with “every man, against every man” (Hobbes, 1668, p.12). Consequently, Hobbesian justification of authority logically followed from the total brutality of human beings in their natural state characterized by intolerance: submission to authority was the only way to eliminate the brutality and intolerance of the State of Nature (Hobbes, 1668).
By contrast, John Locke believed that the original state of man was not as hostile as Hobbes thought. In Locke’s opinion happiness, reason and tolerance were the core characteristics of the natural man, and all humans, in their original state, were equal and absolutely free to pursue things, considered as indisputable rights., namely "life, health, liberty and possessions" (Locke, 1990, par. 6). However, Locke's State of Nature is not chaotic with every individual pursuing its own egoistic goals. Despite absence of any authority or government with the power to punish the subjects for wrong actions, Locke believed that the State of Nature was effectively regulated by morality. Since all human beings in the pre-political state were equal, the philosopher assumed that they were equally capable of understanding and obeying the god-given natural law, the cornerstone of morality. Therefore, for Locke the only acceptable and necessary condition for justification of political authority is consent of the subjects, which means a political authority can be justified only if it acts with the consent of the subjects (Locke, 1990).
A number of other arguments have been presented in favor of this view. Locke's idea is that each person has an equal natural right to be free; this in its turn implies that noone may be subordinated to anyone else's orders or commands by nature because such subordination would inevitably violate the equal freedom of the person subordinated to other person's commands: "Each man, on a nature is free, and nothing can put him in submission of any terrestrial authority, except of his own consent" (Locke, 1990, p.8). From this perspective political authority can hardly be justified: since it issues commands and requires the subjects to obey these commands, political authority clearly involve subordinating one person to the commands of others, which violates that person's right to freedom.
The Natural State described by Rousseau bears certain resemblance to Locke's ideas though there are many opposing points too. For example, Rousseau's theory of popular sovereignty identifies the concept of 'general will', ...Show more
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The following essay concerns the matter of legitimacy of political authority. According to the text, legitimacy of authority is one of the fundamental questions in political philosophy. There are multiple issues involved in this major problem including the meaning of political authority…
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