Legitimacy is Not Authority
The two leading traditions of theorizing about democratic legitimacy are liberalism and deliberative democracy. Liberals typically claim that legitimacy consists in the consent of the governed, while deliberative democrats typically claim that legitimacy consists in the soundness of political procedures. Despite this difference, both traditions see the need for legitimacy as arising from the coercive enforcement of law and regard legitimacy as necessary for law to have normative authority. While I endorse the broad aims of these two traditions, I believe they both misunderstand the nature of legitimacy. In this essay I argue that the legitimacy of a law is neither necessary nor sufficient for its normative authority, and I argue further that the need for legitimacy in law arises regardless of whether the law is coercively enforced. I thus articulate a new understanding of the legitimacy and authority of law.