Christopher “Kit” Heath Wellman (born February 22, 1967) is an American philosopher. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is also dean of academic planning for Arts & Sciences. He is best known for his distinctive views on core questions in political theory, including political legitimacy, secession, the duty to obey the law, immigration, and the permissibility of punishment.
In his 1996 article, “Liberalism, Samaritanism, and Political Legitimacy,” Wellman introduced his “samaritan” account of political legitimacy. According to Wellman, political states can be legitimate when:
- they are necessary to secure vitally important benefits that would not be available in their absence
- they supply these benefits without imposing unreasonable costs upon those they coerce.
On this view, just as Alice may permissibly commandeer Carolyn’s car (without Carolyn’s permission) if this is the only way Alice can get Beth to the hospital in time to save Beth’s life, a state may permissibly coerce its constituents (without their consent) if this is the only way to rescue everyone in the state’s territorial jurisdiction from the perils of the state of nature. Wellman’s view thus combines a common descriptive claim (that political states are necessary to save us all from the perils of the state of nature) with the distinctive moral premise of samaritanism (the idea that we have a duty to rescue those who are sufficiently imperiled when we can do so at no unreasonable cost to ourselves).
In his 2005 book, A Theory of Secession: The Case for Political Self-Determination, Wellman argues that separatist groups can have a right to secede even if they seek to break off from legitimate states who have never treated the separatists unjustly. On his view, any group has a moral right to secede as long as its political divorce will leave it and the remainder state in position to perform requisite functions. Wellman shows that legitimate states can be valued while permitting theirldivision.
Once political states are recognized as valuable because of their functions, the territorial boundaries of existing states might permissibly be redrawn as long as neither the process not the result of this reconfiguration interrupts the delivery of the crucial functions. This analysis does not constrain the motivations for secession, e.g., the right to self-determination.
Wellman later advanced a samaritan account of the “duty to obey the law”. He does not assert that each resident must obey the law simply to allow the state to perform its necessary functions, because empirically states continue to function in the absence of uniform compliance. (Smith’s nonpayment of taxes, for instance, has no discernible effect upon the state’s capacity.) In light of this, in his 2001 article, “Toward a Liberal Theory of Political Obligation,” Wellman suggests that the nonconsequential premise of fairness must be invoked to explain an individual’s duty to obey the law. On his view, each person is obligated to obey the just laws of a legitimate state because to allow some to violate the law while sufficiently many do not is unfair.