Natural law, consent, and political obligation

Social Philosophy and Policy 18 (1):70-92 (2001)
There is a story about the connection between the rise of consent theories of political obligation and the fall of natural law theories of political obligation that is popular among political philosophers but nevertheless false. The story is, to put it crudely, that the rise of consent theory in the modern period coincided with, and came as a result of, the fall of the natural law theory that dominated during the medieval period. Neat though it is, the story errs doubly, for it supposes both that consent did not play a key role in natural law theories of political authority offered in the medieval period (a supposition falsified by close inspection of the view of Aquinas, perhaps the paradigmatic natural law theorist) and that natural law theory did not play a key role in the consent theories of political authority offered in the modern period (a supposition falsified by close inspection of the views of Hobbes and Locke, perhaps the paradigmatic consent theorists).Footnotes* I owe thanks to Pat Káin, Paul Weithman, Bob Roberts, and Henry Richardson for instructive criticisms. John Hare was particularly helpful both in criticism and in conversation. I was supported by a fellowship from the Erasmus Institute while this essay was drafted
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DOI 10.1017/S0265052501181033
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