Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The fourth face of legitimacy: Constituent power and the constitutional legitimacy of international institutions

  • John G. Oates (a1)

Scholars of international organisation commonly differentiate among three dimensions when studying the legitimacy of international institutions: input, throughput, and output legitimacy. I argue that the study of global governance needs to consider a fourth ‘face’ of legitimacy: constitutional legitimacy. This dimension addresses the normative and practical questions related to the constitutive justification for an institutional order – such as in whose name it is founded, whose interests it should serve, and how authority should be distributed within that institutional order. These questions are distinct from the procedural features of institutions emphasised by other dimensions and concern the constituent power that should ground the authority of governance institutions. In this article, I develop this fourth dimension of legitimacy, explore its varied expressions in world politics, and show how it has implications for the constitutional structure of global governance arrangements. I argue that different representations of constituent power shape the legitimacy of different authority relations within international institutions and illustrate these claims with an analysis of the politics of legitimacy in three cases: the ongoing effort to reform the UN Security Council, the negotiations over the founding of the International Criminal Court, and the debates over the Responsibility to Protect at the UN.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence to: John G. Oates, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University, 11200 SW 8th Street, SIPA 404, Miami, FL, 33199, US. Author’s email:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Vivien A. Schmidt , ‘Democracy and legitimacy in the European Union revisited: Input, output and “throughput”’, Political Studies, 61:1 (2013), p. 2

J. H. H. Weiler , ‘In the face of crisis: Input legitimacy, output legitimacy and the political messianism of European integration’, Journal of European Integration, 34:7 (2012), pp. 826827

Allen Buchanan and Robert O. Keohane , ‘The legitimacy of global governance institutions’, Ethics & International Affairs, 20:4 (2006), p. 405

Jens Steffek , ‘The legitimation of international governance: a discourse approach’, European Journal of International Relations, 9:2 (2003), p. 253

Ian Hurd , ‘Legitimacy and authority in international politics’, International Organization, 53:2 (1999), pp. 379408

Stacie E. Goddard , Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy: Jerusalem and Northern Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Ian Hurd , ‘The strategic use of liberal internationalism: Libya and the UN sanctions, 1992–2003’, International Organization, 59:3 (2005), pp. 495526

Ian Clark , Legitimacy in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

Andrew Hurrell , On Global Order: Power, Values, and the Constitution of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Martin Binder and Monika Heupel , ‘The legitimacy of the UN Security Council: Evidence from recent General Assembly Debates’, International Studies Quarterly, 59:2 (2015), pp. 238250

Lisa Maria Dellmuth and Jonas Tallberg , ‘The social legitimacy of international organisations: Interest representation, institutional performance, and confidence extrapolation in the United Nations’, Review of International Studies, 41:3 (2015), pp. 451475

Tamar Gutner and Alexander Thompson , ‘The politics of IO performance: a framework’, The Review of International Organizations, 5:3 (2010), pp. 227248

Jens Steffek , ‘The output legitimacy of international organizations and the global public interest’, International Theory, 7:2 (2015), pp. 263293

Mark C. Suchman , ‘Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches’, Academy of Management Review, 20:3 (1995), pp. 571610

Richard Bellamy and Dario Castiglione , ‘Legitimizing the Euro-“polity” and its “regime”: the normative turn in EU studies’, European Journal of Political Theory, 2:1 (2003), pp. 734

Peter Digeser , ‘The fourth face of power’, Journal of Politics, 54:4 (1992), pp. 9771007

Robert A Dahl , ‘Can international organizations be democratic? A skeptic’s view’, in Ian Shapiro and Hacker-Cordón (eds), Democracy’s Edges (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Sofia Nasström , ‘The legitimacy of the people’, Political Theory, 35:5 (2007), p. 625

Marc G. Doucet , ‘The democratic paradox and cosmopolitan democracy’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 34:1 (2005), pp. 137155

Sofia Nasström , ‘What globalization overshadows’, Political Theory, 31:6 (2003), pp. 808834

Bernard Yack , ‘Popular sovereignty and nationalism’, Political Theory, 29:4 (2001), pp. 517536

Hans Agné , ‘Why democracy must be global: Self-founding and democratic intervention’, International Theory, 2:3 (2010), pp. 381409

Bonnie Honig , ‘Between decision and deliberation: Political paradox in democratic theory’, American Political Science Review, 101:1 (2007)

Andreas Kalyvas , ‘Popular sovereignty, democracy, and the constituent power’, Constellations, 12:2 (2005), pp. 223244

Martin Loughlin , ‘The concept of constituent power’, European Journal of Political Theory, 13:2 (2014), pp. 218237

Markus Patberg , ‘Constituent power beyond the state: an emerging debate in International Political Theory’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 42:1 (2013), pp. 224238

Istvan Hont , ‘The permanent crisis of a divided mankind: “Contemporary crisis of the nation state” in historical perspective’, Political Studies, 42 (1994), pp. 166231

Jennifer Mitzen , Power in Concert (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Emanuel Adler and Michael Barnett , Security Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Alexander Wendt , ‘Collective identity formation and the international state’, The American Political Science Review, 88:2 (1994), pp. 384396

Ronald R. Krebs and Patrick Thaddeus Jackson , ‘Twisting tongues and twisting arms: the power of political rhetoric’, European Journal of International Relations, 13:1 (2007), pp. 3566

Stein Sundstøl Eriksen and Ole Jacob Sending , ‘There is no global public: the idea of the public and the legitimation of governance’, International Theory, 5:2 (2013), pp. 213237

Anne Peters , ‘Humanity as the A and Ω of Sovereignty’, European Journal of International Law, 20:3 (2009), pp. 513544

Ruti G. Teitel , Humanity’s Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)

Karen Litfin , ‘Towards an integral perspective on world politics: Secularism, sovereignty and the challenge of global ecology’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 32:1 (2003), pp. 2956

Calvin C. Jillson and Cecil L. Eubanks , ‘The political structure of constitution making: the federal convention of 1787’, American Journal of Political Science, 28:3 (1984), pp. 435458

Berthold Rittberger , ‘Which institutions for post-war Europe? Explaining the institutional design of Europe’s first community’, Journal of European Public Policy, 8:5 (2001), pp. 673708

Bruce Russett , ‘Ten balances for weighing UN reform proposals’, Political Science Quarterly, 111:2 (1996), pp. 264265

Christopher Keith Hall , ‘The first two sessions of the UN Preparatory Committee on the establishment of an International Criminal Court’, The American Journal of International Law, 91:1 (1997), p. 178

Michael J. Struett , The Politics of Constructing the International Criminal Court: NGOs, Discourse, and Agency (1st edn, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

David Wippman , ‘The International Criminal Court’, in Christian Reus-Smit (ed.), The Politics of International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 151188

David J. Scheffer , ‘The United States and the International Criminal Court’, The American Journal of International Law, 93:1 (1999), pp. 1920

Benjamin N. Schiff , Building the International Criminal Court (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 6885

Adam Branch , ‘Uganda’s civil war and the politics of ICC intervention’, Ethics & International Affairs, 21:2 (2007), pp. 179198

Alex J. Bellamy , Global Politics and the Responsibility to Protect: From Words to Deeds (London: Routledge, 2010)

Jutta Brunnée and Stephen J. Toope , ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the use of force: Building legality?’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 2:3 (2010), pp. 191212

Andrew Hurrell , ‘Legitimacy and the use of force: Can the circle be squared?’, Review of International Studies, 31:S1 (2005), pp. 1532

Justin Morris , ‘Libya and Syria: R2P and the spectre of the swinging pendulum’, International Affairs, 89:5 (2013), pp. 12651283

Janice Bially Mattern and Ayse Zarakol , ‘Hierarchies in world politics’, International Organization, 70:3 (2016), pp. 623654

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 17
Total number of PDF views: 315 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 823 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 8th December 2016 - 23rd August 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.