A growing number of political and legal theorists deny that there is a widespread duty to obey the law. This has lent a sense of urgency to recent disagreements about whether a state's legitimacy depends upon its ‘subjects’’ having a duty to obey the law. On one side of the disagreement, John Simmons, Robert Paul Wolff, David Copp, Hannah Pitkin, Leslie Green, George Klosko, and Joseph Raz hold that a state could only be legitimate if the vast majority of its subjects have a duty to obey the law. On the other side, M.B.E. Smith, Jeffrey Reiman, Kent Greenawalt, Christopher Morris, Rolf Sartorius, Jeremy Waldron, Christopher Wellman, William Edmundson and Allen Buchanan claim that a state could be legitimate even if its subjects lacked a duty to obey the law.
This disagreement contains two separate disputes. One is a linguistic dispute about the meaning of ‘legitimacy,’ or about what it means to call something a ‘legitimate state.’ The other is a Substantive dispute about whether the various aspects of legitimacy are linked together. Since discussing the linguistic dispute will help us examine the Substantive dispute, let us consider it first.