What's the Problem with Political Authority?
A Pragmatist Account
by Luke Maring
The dialectic between statists and philosophical anarchists is familiar. Statists
try to establish political authority by citing some sort of consent (express,
tacit, hypothetical, or normative), fair play, associative obligations, or even
gratitude; philosophical anarchists point out weaknesses in statists' arguments.
This paper tries to get "underneath" the familiar dialectic: Why is establishing
political authority a distinctive problem in the first place?
Different theorists conceive of political authority differently, but § 1 captures the
dominant conceptions: political authority is fundamentally about using speech to
give citizens moral reasons (or pro tanto duties). However, as § 2 argues, the use
of speech to give moral reasons (or pro tanto duties) is routine among ordinary
folk. The standard definition should thus leave us puzzled about why establishing
a government's reason-giving powers is not the very same problem as establishing
the reason-giving powers of ordinary people. Worse, while the literature contains
several strategies for supplementing the standard definition of political authority,
these strategies cannot solve our problem. Section 3 shows that none of the current
strategies succesfully distinguish governmental from quotidian reason-giving.