Why bother about politics?

Jon Elster

  • Political Obligation in its Historical Context by John Dunn
    Cambridge, 355 pp, £14.50, October 1980, ISBN 0 521 22890 5

How did the notion arise that political obligation is something more than the unconditional duty of subjects to obey their ruler? And what, in a given situation, are the historically-shaped constraints that set limits to the rational political duty of citizens? Or, in other terms, what are the arguments – historical and contemporary – for seeing political obligation as going beyond blind obedience and yet falling short of the ideal moral imperatives? These are the questions which occupy John Dunn in the essays that make up this book and which give it a coherence greater than that usually achieved in such collections. They range from reflections on and exercises in the history of ideas, through detailed case-studies of African and Asian political systems, to philosophical inquiries into the nature of political theory and political practice.

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