1st Edition

Is Political Authority an Illusion? A Debate

By Michael Huemer, Daniel Layman Copyright 2022
    218 Pages
    by Routledge

    218 Pages
    by Routledge

    What gives some people the right to issue commands to everyone else and force everyone else to obey them? And why should people obey the commands of those with political power? These two key questions are the heart of the issue of political authority, and, in this volume, two philosophers debate the answers.

    Michael Huemer argues that political authority is an illusion and that no one is entitled to rule over anyone. He discusses and rebuts the major theories supporting political authority’s rightfulness: implicit social contract theory, hypothetical contract theories, democratic theories of authority, and utilitarian theories. Daniel Layman argues that democratic governments have authority because they are needed to protect our rights and because they are accountable to the people. Each author writes two replies directly addressing the arguments and ideas of the other.

    Key Features

    • Covers a key foundational problem of political philosophy: the authority of government.
    • Debate format ensures a full hearing of both sides.
    • A Glossary includes key concepts in political philosophy related to the issue of authority.
    • Annotated Further Reading sections point students to additional resources.
    • Clear, concrete examples and arguments help students clearly see both sides of the argument.
    • A Foreword by Matt Zwolinski describes a broader context for political authority and then traces the key points and turns in the authors’ debate.

    Foreword: Do Governments Have Political Authority?
    Matt Zwolinski

    Opening Statements

    1. The Illusion of Authority
    Michael Huemer

    2. Rights, Respect, and Equality: The Basis of Authority
    Daniel Layman

    First Round of Replies

    3. A Reply to Layman: On Legitimacy and Disobedience
    Michael Huemer

    4. A Reply to Huemer: Accountability, Methodology, and Respect
    Daniel Layman

    Second Round of Replies

    5. A Second Reply to Layman on Authority
    Michael Huemer

    6. A Second Reply to Huemer on Authority
    Daniel Layman

    Further Readings


    Michael Huemer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. He is the author of more than 70 academic articles in ethics, epistemology, political philosophy, and metaphysics, as well as seven amazing books that you should immediately buy, including The Problem of Political Authority (2013), Dialogues on Ethical Vegetarianism (2019), and Justice Before the Law (2021).

    Daniel Layman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Davidson College, USA and specializes in political theory and the history of political thought. He is the author of numerous articles in leading journals and the book, Locke Among the Radicals: Liberty and Property in the Nineteenth Century (2020). 

    Matt Zwolinski is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy at the University of San Diego, USA. 

    "This is an outstanding book that I look forward to using in teaching. It is ideally suited to a political philosophy or philosophy of law class. The writing is very accessible and the arguments sharply focussed. As in any good debate, one finds oneself changing one's mind, after reading each chapter! The authors do an excellent job, and I recommend this book enthusiastically."
    John Martin Fischer, University of California, Riverside