Law's moral legitimacy and the significance of participation
Soyemi, Eniola Anuoluwapo
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Legal positivism posits that the observation of how officials and citizens treat the legal system’s rules combine to constitute law’s existence. This is not an understanding verified by cases such as Nigeria’s legal system. Using historical evidence from the UK National Archives, and examples of recent court cases, I attempt to show that although such legal systems do, in fact, exist, they defy positivism’s conceptualization. They suggest that while the legal legitimacy of law is one thing, it does not account for obedience; and neither is the social fact of obedience necessary in defining legal validity. This thesis aims to suggest that far from being an outlying case, Nigeria provides interesting philosophical illumination about what positivism does not explain about legal systems in general—namely, what determines obedience. This thesis uses the political philosophies of Aristotle and Rousseau to construct a philosophical understanding of the basis for obedience to law. It suggests that it is by participation in the function of a legal system, that law is shown to a given population to have a specific purpose that is tied to the moral nature of the state. This thesis asserts that participation serves to illuminate law’s moral legitimacy as an especial type of legitimacy that is, in a sense, prior to its legal legitimacy and as what explains obedience separately from law’s legal validity, which simply explains its plain existence. This thesis further uses a field experiment centred on a transportation system in Lagos, Nigeria to test, empirically, the hypotheses generated by its theoretical investigations that: 1: the greater a people’s direct participation in creating their laws, the greater they perceive of the law’s moral legitimacy. and 2: The greater the people’s belief in the law’s moral legitimacy, the greater their free obedience to the law. The results suggest that the manner in which citizens are allowed to participate on the formulation and enactment of rules affects the extent to which they go on to obey those rules. These results, further, give empirical grounds for the thesis’ theoretical combination of an Aristotelian understanding of law’s authority with a reformulation of Rousseau’s argument that participation is necessary for, and derived from, freedom.