The Problem of Political Authority
by Michael Huemer

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

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Analytical Contents vi
Preface xxvii
PART I   The Illusion of Authority
1   The Problem of Political Authority 3
2   The Traditional Social Contract Theory 20
3   The Hypothetical Social Contract Theory 36
4   The Authority of Democracy 59
5   Consequentialism and Fairness 81
6   The Psychology of Authority 101
7   What If There Is No Authority? 137
PART II   Society without Authority
8   Evaluating Social Theories 183
9   The Logic of Predation 198
10   Individual Security in a Stateless Society 230
11   Criminal Justice and Dispute Resolution 265
12   War and Societal Defense 288
13   From Democracy to Anarchy 321
References 339
Index 357


A foundational assumption of political philosophy is that some governments possess a moral property known as political authority. Theories of authority are meant to explain, first, why individuals are ethically obligated to obey the law under normal circumstances, and second, why agents of the state are normally ethically entitled to coerce individuals to obey.

In the first part of the book, I consider several philosophical accounts that have been offered for why some states possess this peculiar moral status. I argue that none of these accounts succeed, and thus that no person or group genuinely possesses political authority. I go on to consider the psychology of authority, arguing that a series of non-rational factors explain traditional beliefs and attitudes about authority. Finally, I consider the implications for individual and governmental behavior of relinquishing the belief in authority.

In the second part of the book, I confront a central assumption of most theories of authority: that a central authority structure is essential to any livable society. Against this assumption, I argue that a livable society could exist with no recognized central authority.

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