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The Problem of Authority: Revisiting the Service Conception

By Joseph Raz. Full text here.

Why ought we subject our will to authority? How is a person with authority justified in demanding that we subject our will? What does it mean to be a legitimate authority? This is the problem of authority that Professor Raz addressed many years ago under the title of the service conception of authority. The service conception not only addressed these issues but also attempted to subsume under it all other problems of authority.

However, the account Professor Raz offered was not met without criticism. Critique ranged from total rejection of the theory to moderate tinkering of some of the theory’s precepts. The most common moderate criticism argues that legitimate authority, at any rate legitimate political authority, presupposes a special connection between rulers and those they rule, a special bond that is overlooked by the service conception.

In this Article, Professor Raz revisits his service conception of authority. After providing background methodological points and restating the service conception in brief, this Article elaborates the service conception and its implications. Next, Raz addresses the moderate critics’ argument that the service conception misses the special link between the government and the governed. Raz considers the possibility that such a link is forged by consent or perhaps is constituted by one’s identification with, or membership of, his or her community, political or otherwise.