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Justification of Political Authority - Essay Example

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Justification of Political Authority

However, some thinkers do not perceive the attitude of subjects toward such authority as the decisive factor. Thus, Thomas Hobbes and John Austin argue that political authority in the de facto sense simply amounts to the capacity of an individual or community to maintain public order as well as secure the obedience of most people by issuing commands backed by sanctions. Consequently, the legitimacy of authority as perceived by subjects is not important and any entity that is de facto performs the function of authority is always justified (Hobbes 1668).
Another essential aspect of the authority debate is its distinction from political power. In politics it is a common practice to use the terms power and authority interchangeably though the meaning of these terms is different. The difference lies mainly in the fact that 'authority' involves a claim of justification and legitimate right to exercise power over the subjects while 'power' implies a mere ability to achieve certain goals and does not necessarily involve a claim of justification and/or legitimacy (Arendt, 1968).
Thus, political power relates to the state's ability to get citizens to act in a certain manner even despite their reluctance. Furthermore, political power does not require a positive attitude from the subjects and does not depend on its actual success at securing public order. Threats and offers are the key elements of political power: "Evidently, for the state to have de facto authority or legitimate authority requires that the state have the power to compel those subjects who do not wish to go along. This is necessary for the state's ability to maintain public order and to assure those who do see it as an authority that it will be able to do what it is supposed to do" (Zalta, 2004). Therefore, the term 'authority' in the meaning of political authority is more applicable for the purposes of this paper.
There are a number of different discourses on the nature, legitimacy and justification of political authority. Normally, three fundamental types of conceptions about legitimacy of political authority: political authority as justified coercion, political authority as the capacity to impose duties, and political authority as the right to rule (Zalta, 2004).
The first conception relies on the moral aspect in justifying a political authority which coerces the subjects. The essence of this conception is that a political authority might have the justifiable moral right to coerce its subjects. For example, a group of people may be morally justified in engaging in just a few actions of coercing others. Or a group may be morally justified in engaging in coercion more generally as in the case of a morally justified military occupation.
This notion of authority does not necessarily involve duties on the part of the coerced people: on the contrary, avoiding or escaping coercion may be justified. One example of such situation could the situation of a military occupation of a state justified under the pretext of using such occupation as a tool to prevent a third power from engaging in morally unjustified aggression. Although this conception relies on moral justification of coercion used by political authority, the authority in this case is not able to either issue commands or make laws: it is justified on ...Show more


Justification of political authority is one of the fundamental questions in political philosophy. There are multiple issues and controversies involved in this major problem including the meaning of political authority, the distinction between political authority and political power, moral and legal aspects of political authority, and many others…
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Justification of Political Authority essay example
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