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Against Obligation: The Multiple Sources of Authority in a Liberal Democracy Hardcover – April 25, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


In Against Obligation, Abner Greene upends conventional wisdom about several fundamental political questions. Why and when must people obey the law? What does religious freedom require in a liberal democratic state? Must judges and citizens respect historical views about constitutional meaning? Smart, ambitious, provocative, and original—this tightly argued and broad-ranging book compels readers to reexamine basic assumptions about political obligation, constitutional democracy, and religious freedom. (Christopher Eisgruber, Princeton University)

Against Obligation is one of the finest contributions to constitutional theory in recent years. Abner Greene shows the connections between questions of political and interpretive obligation in this remarkably incisive work. His arguments against the leading justifications of political and interpretive obligation are vigorous and fair. And his arguments for the multiple sources of obligation and interpretive authority in a liberal democracy are creative, normatively attractive, and deeply grounded in a powerful account of our constitutional order. (James E. Fleming, Boston University)

About the Author

Abner S. Greene is Leonard F. Manning Professor of Law at Fordham University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674064410
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674064416
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,131,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on February 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Despite its title, this book isn't some sort of anarchist tract. Abner Greene (AG) is arguing against some very specific obligations, namely (i) an obligation always to obey the law, regardless of its content, (ii) an obligation always to respect the past in the juristic sense, including respecting the "original meaning" of the Constitution and respecting judicial precedent, and (iii) an obligation always to respect the US Supreme Court's interpretations of the Constitution. (Philosophers give the name "political obligation" to obligations like (i), and AG gives the name "interpretive obligation" to (ii) and (iii).) Even if we take these only as prima facie obligations, i.e. being subject to override in particular circumstances, AG argues that they don't exist. I've recently posted a lengthy review of this book on a law blog called Concurring Opinions, so here I'll just mention a few main points.

I thought the most successful part of the book was Chapter 4, dealing with (iii). AG lays out the circumstances in which public officials -- including the President, Congress, lower court Federal judges, and even state and local officials -- ought to feel comfortable about acting on their own interpretations of the Constitution, even if the Supreme Court has said that it means something else. Many of its arguments were new to me. Chapter 3, about why even the Supreme Court shouldn't get hung up on originalism or even on following its own precedent (issue (ii)) was also quite good for an American audience, though I don't expect a majority of the Justices will follow AG's advice anytime soon. Note that AG doesn't argue that precedent should always be ignored: rather, he argues that it should be merely one influence among others on a judicial opinion.
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Against Obligation: The Multiple Sources of Authority in a Liberal Democracy
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