The term ‘political obligation’ is not one that has much currency in contemporary political discourse, and will likely be unfamiliar even to those who are generally well-educated and politically informed. It is not a term like ‘rights’, ‘freedom’ or ‘justice’, which although also the subjects of extensive academic debate and inquiry, some of it quite technical and difficult, are omnipresent in popular political discussion. Most people have views about rights, freedom and justice, however naive and unreflective, whereas if challenged to say what they think about ‘political obligation’, without further explanation, the same people would be unlikely to have much idea what they are being asked. In fact, political obligation is something that appears scarcely to be mentioned outside books and articles on political philosophy; and even in that context the best evidence suggests that it dates from as recently as the late nineteenth century (Green, 1986). It is not, therefore, possible to begin by assuming even a rudimentary understanding of the term.
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