Res Publica

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 225–240 | Cite as

The Limits of Razian Authority



It is common to encounter the criticism that Joseph Raz’s service conception of authority is flawed because it appears to justify too much. This essay examines the extent to which the service conception accommodates this critique. Two variants of this critical strategy are considered. The first, exemplified by Kenneth Einar Himma, alleges that the service conception fails to conceptualize substantive limits on the legitimate exercise of authority. This variant fails; Raz has elucidated substantive limits on jurisdiction within the service conception of authority, albeit reluctantly and equivocally. The second, exemplified by Scott Hershovitz, alleges that the service conception fails to conceptualize procedural limits on the legitimate exercise of authority. He objects that the normal justification thesis fails to deny legitimacy to rational and expert dictators. This argument is more potent, but its force is concealed when it is aimed at the normal justification thesis rather than the quite separate jurisdictional limits of Raz’s theory. Clarifying those jurisdictional aspects of the service conception shows why the first argument fails and exposes the real strength of the second. Both variants have important consequences for our understanding of the service conception.


Authority Legitimacy Joseph Raz Democracy 



I am grateful to Mike Wilkinson and two anonymous referees for their helpful advice. I also received useful feedback after presenting earlier versions of this paper at the Jurisprudence Discussion Group at the University of Oxford and the UK IVR Conference.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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