Fairness and Self-Defense: A Multiple Principle Theory of State Legitimacy
In this paper I will try to sketch a new theory of state legitimacy, that is, of what justifies states in coercing their citizens. This question is usually discussed together with the question of whether citizens are obligated to obey or support their states (the question of political obligation), but it is important to realize that the two problems are distinct, even if clearly related. Both questions address the anarchical challenge, but while the former addresses the anarchical claim that states are not justified in coercing (at least some) individuals living within their territory, the latter addresses the claim that (at least some of) these individuals do not have a duty to obey the state. It would be a mistake to consider state legitimacy and the duty to obey the state as logical correlates. In Hohfeldian terms, a state’s right to coerce its citizens correlates to citizens’ lack of a right not to be coerced by it, not to citizens’ moral duty to obey it. Therefore we should not assume that to find a justification for state coercion is tantamount to finding a justification for citizens having a duty to obey the state. My theory claims that it is possible to meet the first anarchical challenge (the state is justified in coercing all citizens), but not the second (not every citizens has a duty to obey the state). My discussion is in four sections. In the first section I present the problem of state legitimacy and I survey the traditional solutions offered in response to it, pointing out the difficulties they face. In section II I consider in more detail one of these solutions (the fair play theory), and I argue that this theory is able to account for states’ justification in coercing most individuals living within their territory. In section III I argue that the principle defended in section II can be supplemented by a different principle (the principle of self-defense), which is able to account for states being justified in coercing those individuals whose coercion cannot be justified by the fair-play principle. In section IV I say something about the structure of this multiple principle theory of state legitimacy.