Citizenship and Property Rights: A New Look at Social Contract Theory

Journal of Politics 68 (3):544-555 (2006)
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Social contract thought has always contained multiple and mutually conflicting lines of argument; the minimalist contractarianism so influential today represents the weaker of two main constellations of claims. I make the case for a Kantian contract theory that emphasizes the bedrock principle of consent of the governed instead of the mere heuristic device of the exit from the state of nature. Such a shift in emphasis resolves two classic difficulties: tradi- tional contract theory’s ahistorical presumption of a pre-political settlement, and its impossibly high demands on citizens seeking to practice self-rule. Kant’s solutions to these problems of property rights and citizenship are found in his political works, rather than the ethical works through which Kant’s political theory is usually interpreted.
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