The Shades of Political Responsibility

Sven Gerst, King’s College London
Daniel Hammer, Goethe-University Frankfurt




Contemporary debates about political responsibility have taken different shapes. One part of the debate focuses on the remedial responsibilities of citizens to repair the harms of their state’s wrongdoings (see Stilz 2011, Pasternak 2011/2013, Jubb 2014, Collins 2015). Here, citizens acquire associative obligations to collectively rectify the effects of the injustices that their respective governments have imposed on others. Such accounts of political responsibility are often grounded in our intuitions about moral responsibility and are thus backward-looking in their nature. Another part of the debate focuses on citizens’ obligations for political change—mainly in the context of John Rawls’ natural duties of justice. For example, Iris Marion Young sketches the forward-looking responsibilities of citizens to change and rearrange institutional structures in order to alleviate structural injustices (Young 2011). More precisely, she claims that citizens acquire obligations to
foster just institutions because they are ‘socially-connected’ to structural injustices when carrying out their personal projects. Yet, Young does not blame citizens for being connected to injustices;instead she emphasizes the focus on our forward-looking normative assessment of political responsibility as mitigating injustices. Therefore, members of anti-sweatshop movements might be able to discharge their political responsibility to improve global workplace standards—despite neither bearing causal nor moral responsibility working conditions of sweatshop labor (Young 2004). Her radical proposal has sparked an ongoing debate on the justifiability and the normative
implications of purely forward-looking political responsibility on the conception of democratic citizenship, especially in the context of global justice (see Nussbaum 2009, Payson 2012/2015,Barry and Ferracioli 2013, Neuhäuser 2014, McKeown forthcoming).
So far, these two debates on political responsibility have been taken place in isolation; yet
many of the motivating concerns of both discussions are not only deeply related and relevant to each other; they overlap significantly—such as the epistemic requirements citizens ought to fulfill.
This workshop therefore aims at providing a platform for discussing the various aspects of political responsibility by bringing both sides together. In particular, we are interested in (but not limited to) exploring: (a) the nature of political responsibility (individual/collective/institutional etc.) and the grounds for individual responsibility in democratic settings; (b) the interplay between different types of responsibility in grounding citizen responsibility, especially whether a thick notion of political responsibility including stringent backward and forward-looking duties is possible; (c) the varying conditions (personal resources and circumstances, power/class, etc.) for citizens responsibility (i.e. to examine whether these conditions influence the strength of different types of obligations); (d) the epistemic duties for citizens (i.e. what citizens ought to know in regard to their political responsibility) and their effects on the different types obligations; (e) structural (economic and political) injustices from the lens of different types of responsibility; (f) the strength (and demandingness) of citizen responsibility and the implications of failing to discharge those duties. Due to the normative and institutional complexity of the issue, we believe that only a joint (and interdisciplinary) investigation of the topic will provide the grounds that are necessary to understand the duties of citizens in modern democratic societies.