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The Grounds of Political Legitimacy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 July 2020

FABIENNE PETER*
Affiliation:
UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK

Abstract

The debate over rival conceptions of political legitimacy tends to focus on first-order considerations—for example, on the relative importance of procedural and substantive values. In this essay, I argue that there is an important, but often overlooked, distinction among rival conceptions of political legitimacy that originates at the meta-normative level. This distinction, which cuts across the distinctions drawn at the first-order level, concerns the source of the normativity of political legitimacy, or, as I refer to it here, the grounds of political legitimacy. If we focus on the grounds of political legitimacy, there are three main conceptions of political legitimacy: will-based, belief-based, and fact-based conceptions. I present an objection to each of those main conceptions and defend a hybrid account of the grounds of political legitimacy.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © American Philosophical Association 2020

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Footnotes

I benefited greatly from comments I received on earlier versions of this essay. I particularly thank Elizabeth Edenberg and Michael Hannon for their extensive written comments. I also got very helpful feedback from participants at the Association for Social and Political Philosophy annual conference in Rome, the Nuffield Political Theory workshop at the University of Oxford, the Georgetown political epistemology workshop, a workshop on legitimacy and stability at the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre of the University of Leeds, and the Contemporary Political Theory seminar at the University of Cambridge, and I thank the organizers of these events for inviting me. I am particularly grateful to Duncan Bell, Emanuela Ceva, David Estlund, John Dunn, Alex Guerrero, Duncan Ivison, Christian List, Philip Pettit, Regina Rini, Zofia Stemplowska, Anthony Taylor, Laura Valentini, and Leif Wenar.

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