Citizens with Benefits
My aim in this paper is to develop a new model of the obligation to do your part in contributing to the provision of what are frequently described as “public goods.” I will situate my account in a broadly Kantian account of the state as a public rightful condition, which enjoys powers that no private person could enjoy, in the service of its distinctively public mandate. The exercise of those powers imposes special duties on the state, which require it to provide distinctively public goods. As an artificial person the state can only act through natural persons; doing your part enables the state to achieve its distinctively public purposes.
Can states permissibly enforce mandatory participation in the provision of public goods? Usual justifications of state action here appeal to the fact that such goods are very good for people. Ripstein argues that states can compel provision of public goods but that the best explanation of this is grounded not in the costs and benefits of the provision to the compelled parties but in the parties’ moral status as independent agents. I argue that Ripstein’s alternative account poses more problems than it solves. Our best hope in grounding mandatory cooperation is to do so with reference to the duties that we have to serve people’s interests, including interests in autonomy, welfare and being respected on account of one’s moral status.
Arthur Ripstein is University Professor in the Faculty of Law and Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Kant and the Law of War (Oxford 2021), Rules for Wrongdoers (Oxford 2021), Private Wrongs (Harvard 2016), Force and Freedom: Kant’s Legal and Political Philosophy (Harvard 2009) and Equality, Responsibility and the Law (Cambridge 1999). He is co-editor of Waheed Hussein’s posthumous book, Living with the Invisible Hand, (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2022). He was awarded the Killam prize in humanities by the Canada Council in 2021.
His popular work has appeared on Ideas on CBC Radio One.
Zofia Stemplowska is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Oxford and Asa Briggs Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford. Her research interests include domestic, global and historical justice. She is the co-editor (with Carl Knight) of Responsibility and Distributive Justice, Oxford University Press (2011).