This Independent Study begins with a description of various contemporary events enacted by agents of the United State government. These events cast doubts on whether the United States can be called a legitimate political state, defined as a state with normative political authority. The question is raised: when is political authority morally justified? The differences between normative and de facto political authority are explained. The main body of the Independent Study is divided into three chapters. The first chapter, "Conceptions of Political Authority," analyzes normative political authority as conceptualized by six philosophers: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Henry David Thoreau, John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and A. John Simmons. Specific attention is given to each philosopher's conceptions of what kinds of state possess political authority and how such states could come to be, as well as moral justification for their conception of political authority. The second chapter, "Comparisons of Different Conceptions of Political Authority," compares the conceptions described in the first chapter. Facets of each are compared to find which best demonstrates a solid moral ground in its conception of political authority. The third chapter, "Contemporary Events in Light of Rawls’ Conception," uses the conception of political authority chosen in the second chapter as a lens through which to analyze contemporary events. Various events are judged as being enacted or not in accordance with the chosen conception of political authority.


Wells, Mark



Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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