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July 06, 2020

Being obliged is different from having an obligation

A country is sustained by the obedience of its countrymen. Variegated considerations prompt them to be obedient to their state. It may be the “quality of law”, the “justice” that the state stands for, or the “habit”, which makes them obedient to their state. Nevertheless, these considerations may fall under three categories. First, the citizens render obedience to their state because they assume that it is in their interest to obey it. In other words, they hold that being obedient to the state would benefit them dramatically. Secondly, they obey merely just “out of fear”. They are afraid they will be punished should they fail to obey.
In the third place, they are obedient because they consider their country “legitimate”. A state is considered legitimate if people think that it belongs to them and that it serves them. Nonetheless, they can stop obeying when they are of the opinion that their country has lost its legitimacy.
In this regard, it is worth noting that citizenship is not a one way street. Apart from rights, it entails a number of obligations or duties. Every political society has the task of constantly perpetuating itself. It has to secure itself from its enemies and has to ensure that there is replacement of its deceased members. Citizenship has been developed to fulfill this task. It is appropriate here to point out that an obligation is a requirement or duty to act in a particular way. H.L.A. Hart (1961) is liked to be quoted when it comes to distinguishing between “being obliged” and “having an obligation”.
According to Hart, “being obliged” to do something implies an element of coercion, whereas “having an obligation” to do something suggests simply a moral duty. This difference is obvious in legal and moral obligations. Legal obligations are enforceable through the courts of law with a system of penalties to back it up. Moral obligations are fulfilled not because it is sensible to do so but rather that such conduct is considered rightful or morally correct. Obviously, legal obligations are fulfilled simply out of fear for punishment. Moral obligations can be likened to making a promise, the keeping of which is not compulsory. But men of principle keep promises regardless of the consequences. They keep their words simply because they are under a moral obligation.


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