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Law, Loyalty and Citizenship


The question whether to obey the law is not fundamentally different from the question whether to follow morality, or for that matter, the dictates of prudence. Morality, law, and prudence face the same normative challenge: they must confront and prevail over people’s occurrent psychological impulses. These three branches of ethics differ only in the level of abstraction at which they address or rather constitute us: respectively, as human beings, members of the human race; as citizens, members of a particular political community; and as unique individuals. Our autonomy consists in subjecting impulse to norm in these various capacities. What does distinguish law in this regard is therefore not its normative appeal, but the fact that this appeal comes armed with coercion, thus distancing us from our role as citizens and fracturing the autonomy that following the law could otherwise display.

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