In 1651, political philosopher Thomas Hobbes published "Leviathan," a book developing social contract theory, a concept that the behavior of people in a society is bound by unspoken agreement. Social contracts rely on political obligation, a moral responsibility to obey a government's laws and participate in mandatory activities. In a democracy such as the United States, political obligations govern the behavior of elected officials and create civic responsibilities for the country's citizens. (Ref. 1)

Obeying Laws

The most important part of political obligation is the moral duty to obey laws established by the government. Political obligation makes no distinction between violent crimes such as murder and smaller infractions such as jaywalking. The rational purpose of obeying the law depends on the type of law in question. Some laws, such as those regulating theft or murder, protect individuals from harm or loss of property. Others, such as legislation criminalizing indecency, exist to establish clear standards of behavior by regulating subjective issues. According to social contract theory, if people chose to stop adhering to this political obligation, all human society would end. (Ref. 1)

Paying Taxes

As part of political obligation, a country's citizens are expected to pay taxes to their government. Like all political obligations, the payment of taxes is considered a moral duty with practical purpose. Taxes support a government's infrastructure and allow it to provide services and maintain a military. The moral arguments for the obligation to pay taxes include fairness to the others in society who also pay, contribution to the common good and the personal consumption of the services that taxes provide. Because taxes are legally required by the government, social contract theory also states that paying taxes carries the same moral responsibility as obeying any other law. (Ref. 2; Ref. 3)

Voting and Civic Duty

Although democracies do not legally require citizens to vote, voting is another kind of political obligation that falls under the category of civic duty. Voting is an important obligation because active voter participation is crucial to the success of a democracy. When citizens vote, they elect representatives who can potentially wage war, raise taxes or create laws on their behalf. Because of the significant impact that votes can have, voters must not only participate, but also be informed about the issues that they are voting on in order to meet their political obligation. (Ref. 7, pages 1-4; Ref. 8, pages 1-3)

Obligations of Elected Officials

In addition to the obligations of ordinary citizens, elected officials are required to adhere to political obligations governing their behavior in office. Elected officials must represent the best interests of the people who elect them and, when possible, legislate according to their wishes. Politicians and government employees also have a political obligation to respond to crises and developing political issues in responsible and productive ways. Failure to do so can result in disaster. An example of this occurred in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when a series of governmental failures resulted in inadequate resources to accommodate displaced citizens and substantially delayed government intervention. (Ref. 5; Ref. 6 Section 3 - Political responsibility and democratic leadership)