Political Obligation and Military Service in Three Countries

George Klosko, Michael Keren, Stacy Nyikos

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Although questions of political obligation have been much discussed by scholars, little attention has been paid to moral reasons advanced by actual states to justify the compliance of their subjects. We examine the ‘self-image of the state’ through Supreme Court decisions in the USA, Germany, and Israel. Because moral reasons are expressed especially clearly in cases regarding obligations to provide military service, we focus on these. In spite of their important constitutional and judicial differences, the three states support military obligations along similar lines, though with some differences. In all three countries, appeal is made to obligations of reciprocity. Individuals must serve in order to provide the important benefit of defense. This ‘service conception’ of political obligation accords norms of fairness or equality a central role, in order to justify the service of particular individuals. Reasons for less emphasis on fairness in Israeli cases are examined, while we claim that the overall similarities of the three countries provide some measure of indirect support to a theory of political obligation based on the principle of fairness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-62
Number of pages26
JournalPolitics, Philosophy and Economics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • fairness
  • liberalism
  • military service
  • political obligation
  • principle of fairness
  • state


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