The Problem of Political Authority

An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey


Modern states commonly deploy coercion in a wide array of circumstances in which the resort to force would clearly be wrong for any private agent. What entitles the state to behave in this manner? And why should citizens obey its commands? This book examines theories of political authority, from the social contract theory, to theories of democratic authorization, to fairness- and consequence-based theories. Ultimately, no theory of authority succeeds, and thus no government has the kind of authority often ascribed to governments.

The author goes on to discuss how voluntary and competitive institutions could provide the central goods for the sake of which the state is often deemed necessary, including law, protection from private criminals, and national security. An orderly and liveable society thus does not require acquiescence in the illusion of political authority.
  • Palgrave Macmillan; October 2012
  • ISBN 9781137281661
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: The Problem of Political Authority
  • Author: Michael Huemer
  • Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan

In The Press

'Huemer has produced not just a brilliant work of political philosophy, but a gripping page-turner. With an engaging style and sharp wit, Huemer demolishes two entrenched dogmas: that we have a duty to obey the law, and the state has the right to force us to obey. Huemer's conclusions may be controversial, but he makes them seem like commonsense.'
- Jason Brennan, Georgetown University, USA

'Michael Huemer is my favorite philosopher. The Problem of Political Authority is his best book yet. Using moral premises you probably already accept, and clear but subtle arguments, Huemer leads you step-by-step to a radical yet compelling conclusion: government as we know it is an unnecessary evil. If you're tired of political books that merely preach to the choir, prepare to be amazed.'
- Bryan Caplan, George Mason University, USA

About The Author

MICHAEL HUEMER is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, where he has worked since 1998. He is the author of Skepticism and the Veil of Perception and Ethical Intuitionism, as well as more than 40 articles in ethics, epistemology, political philosophy, and metaphysics.