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John Rawls wrote that people can voluntarily acquire political obligations to institutions only on the condition that those institutions are at least reasonably just. When an institution is seriously unjust, by contrast, attempts to create political obligation are “void ab initio.” However, Rawls's own explanation for this thought was deeply problematic, as are the standard alternatives. In this paper, I offer an argument for why Rawls's intuition was right and trace its implications for theories of authority and political obligation. These, I claim, are more radical than is often thought.


This article was originally published in Legal Theory, volume 27, number 3, in 2021 following peer review.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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