UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The historical constitution of the obedient subject Turan, Serbülent


What explains our current norms and practices of political obligation, and how should we account for the more problematic aspects of obedience to political authority? We can answer this question partially through an historical analysis of the processes constitutive of political obedience. This dissertation analyzes two major instances of disobedience that promised to radically revolutionize the political system: the Revolution of the Common Man (1525) and the English Civil Wars (1640s). Early modern, absolutist forms of political obedience emerged in the counter-revolutions that followed. I trace the transformation of the norms of obedience, during that period, from communal promises provided to a local lord through negotiation to individual obedience to political authorities that could be broken only through extraordinary justification. Thus, as the early modern state emerged, it brought forth a completely new form of obedience due from an individual to a state. This new form was engineered in part by political elites in response to the threats to their authority posed by the communal form of political organization, which functioned as sites of entrenched political resistance. In this relationship, the mastery of political authority over the individual is no longer contested, and, due largely to her political isolation, the individual remains socially and politically underequipped to offer resistance to political authorities, even when they turn oppressive. Many modern and even contemporary norms and practices of obedience still reflect these early modern attempts to engender individual discipline. Counterintuitively, when it comes to disobedience and resistance to political authorities, late feudal and early modern subjects of empires and lords were much less constrained, and freer, than the citizens of early-modern and even many modern states well into the twentieth century.

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