Reciprocity and the Rule of Law

The Freedom Center and Spring 2022 FC Talks series presents Alex Motchoulski (University of Arizona).

Fair play theories of political obligation aim to ground the duty to obey the law in a duty to repay debts of reciprocity that one owes to others who comply with the law. A challenge to these theories is that persons generally have discretion with respect to how to discharge a debt of reciprocity. If I buy you a drink, you might repay me by buying me a drink in return– but you could also buy me lunch, make me a gift, drive me to the airport, and so on. In the context of political obligation, this means that individuals could repay their debts of reciprocity in ways other than complying with the law, which undermines the ground for political obligation. This paper replies to this challenge. I argue that the principle of reciprocity shares a common ground with a principle of public equality, and that the latter ultimately requires the rule of law. The demands of the rule of law allow us to answer the objection from discretionary reciprocity. If individuals choose how to reciprocate, they may also choose whether and when the law applies to them. The rule of law cannot be sustained under such conditions. Hence, the demands of the rule of law set constraints on how individuals can reciprocate the benefits of others’ compliance with the law such that they may only comply in turn.  

Event Contacts
Kaveh Pourvand