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date: 26 February 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the philosophical problem of the ‘origin of civil government’ in eighteenth-century Britain. It suggests that the problem was concerned not with one, but several questions: political obligation and legitimacy, liberty and authority, civil and regular government. It identifies three main contexts in which this idea played an important role: The post-1688 Settlement and its justification; the natural jurisprudence tradition and the question of consent; and the Scottish debate on the ‘natural history’ of regular and civilized government. Central to each of these debates was the relationship between consent and subordination as balancing mechanisms that enabled political society to emerge and political order to be maintained. By the last third of the century, the terms of the political discourse started changing, and the problem of the ‘origin of civil government’ was supplanted by other languages in which to formulate the problems of political obligation, legitimacy, and order.

Keywords: political obligation, legitimacy, liberty, authority, subordination, contract, consent, utility, regular government, civil society

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