How Is Government “Special?”

Philosophy professor Mark LeBar asks some thought-provoking questions: How is government special? Why can government morally obligate people to do things, when ordinary people can’t? Why does the government claim to have not only power, but authority? Why do we consider some government authority more legitimate than others?

Two common arguments are that legitimate government authority is derived through democracy, or through the consent of the governed. But LeBar argues that both of these positions are problematic, and explains why.

In conclusion, LeBar notes that we have to ask these questions, because in asking ourselves how we think government is or isn’t morally special, we can gain insight into what the limits of government authority should be.


  1. Matt Wavle

    This is a long video.  In the title it’s almost making the statement that Government IS special.  There is NO tacit consent to being governed without a viable alternative.  I like the example of the kidnapped sailor who is asked if he will either vow obedience to the captain or "walk back" to land… A coerced confession holds no value, likewise a coerced tacit consent is no real consent at all.  And since groups hold no more rights than that of the individuals that make up that group, a majority has no right to rule over a minority any more than a minority, like a monarchy, would have the right to rule over the masses. 

  2. Matt Wavle

    Government is "Special" in the way that it should be riding on the "special" short bus.

  3. GreedyCapitalistPig

    The moral obligation comes from agreement; verbal or written. Government’s claim to authority is the implied consent or agreement of the governed by using governments products, resources and services. Can this be correct?

  4. GreedyCapitalistPig

    Consent can be inferred by silence or inaction.

  5. GreedyCapitalistPig

    The authority to state "love it or leave it" is legitimate. Just because barriers to leave are high is no excuse that staying is tacit consent. Sweat shop workers certainly consent to their wages and working conditions because the alternative cost is so high. There is some inconsistency here.

  6. Chocolate Thunder

    No. If government makes it impossible to compete with it in providing essential services such as roads, first class mail, passenger rail, etc. then the decision to use them can hardly be classified as a fully voluntary choice.

  7. Chocolate Thunder

    I disagree. It reminds me of antiquated rape statutes that state that if the victim isn’t fighting back hard enough, then consent is implied.

  8. Chocolate Thunder

    "The authority to state "love it or leave it" is legitimate."

    This depends on what you mean by "authority." If you mean someone can simply say the words, then you are correct. If you mean that one can demand that another love the nation-state or must leave it, your claim requires further proof. What gives one the right to demand such a thing and enact such a penalty if the demand is not met?

    "Just because barriers to leave are high is no excuse that staying is tacit consent."

    What if the place one is leaving is like North Korea, where one risks execution if found trying to leave? Is staying tacit consent?

  9. Joshua Ammons

    The types of moral obligations one has to their employer is different than the obligation to the government. I think this is the fundamental reason for your perception of inconsistency. Employers do not have the moral right to use coercion against their employees.   

  10. Daniel Pealer

    the thing is that the relationship between the sweatshop worker and their employer is fundamentally voluntary and non-coercive. the relationship between a citizen and the government is fundamentally non-voluntary and coercive.

  11. thomas6698

    I may need time to ponder on this.

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