Law and Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 669–694 | Cite as

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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baron, Marcia (1987). “Kantian Ethics and Supererogation”. Journal of Philosophy 84, pp.237-262, 1987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barry, Brian (1995). Justice as Impartiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  3. Benhabib, Seyla, ‘Toward a Deliberative Model of Democratic Legitimacy’, in Seyla Benhabib (ed.), Democracy and Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996; first published 1986).Google Scholar
  4. Bohman, James (1996). Public Deliberation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, Joshua (1989). “Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy”. In The Good Polity: Normative Analysis of the State. Eds. Alan Hamlin and Philip Pettit. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.Google Scholar
  6. Cohen, Joshua (1996). “Procedure and Substance in Democratic Theory”. In Democracy and Difference. Ed. Seyla Benhabib. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  7. Cohen, G. A. (1997). “Where the Action Is: On the Site of Distributive Justice”. Philosophy & Public Affairs 26, pp.3-30, 1997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dworkin, Ronald (2000). Sovereign Virtue. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000.Google Scholar
  9. Estlund, David M. (2008). Democratic Authority. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  10. Finnis, John (1980). Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  11. Finnis, John (1984). “The Authority of Law in the Predicament of Contemporary Social Theory”. Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy 1, pp.115-137, 1984.Google Scholar
  12. Finnis, John (1989). “Law as Co-ordination”. Ratio Juris 2, pp.97-104, 1989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Freeman, Samuel (2000). “Deliberative Democracy: A Sympathetic Comment”. Philosophy & Public Affairs 29, pp.371-418, 2000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fried, Charles (2006). Modern Liberty. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.Google Scholar
  15. Gans, Chaim (1981). “The Normativity of Law and Its Coordinative Function”. Israel Law Review 16, pp.333-349, 1981.Google Scholar
  16. Green, Leslie (1983). “Law, Co-ordination, and the Common Good”. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 3, pp.299-324, 1983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gutmann, Amy and Dennis Thompson (1996). Democracy and Disagreement. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  18. Habermas, Jürgen, Between Facts and Norms. Trans. William Rehg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996; first published 1992).Google Scholar
  19. Hart, H. L. A. (1955). “Are There Any Natural Rights?”. Philosophical Review 64, pp.175-191, 1955.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hart, H. L. A. (1958). “Legal and Moral Obligation”. In Essays in Moral Philosophy. Ed. A. I. Melden. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1958.Google Scholar
  21. Hart, H. L. A. (1961). The Concept of Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.Google Scholar
  22. Hill, Thomas E., Jr. (1971). “Kant on Imperfect Duty and Supererogation”. Kant-Studien 72, pp.55-76, 1971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan. Public domain material found at (1651).
  24. Kant, Immanuel, The Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. and Ed. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996; first published 1797).Google Scholar
  25. Kant, Immanuel, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. and Ed. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997; first published 1785).Google Scholar
  26. Laden, Anthony Simon (2001). Reasonably Radical. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  27. Larmore, Charles (1987). Patterns of Moral Complexity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.Google Scholar
  28. Larmore, Charles (2008). The Autonomy of Morality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  29. Lewis, David (1969). Convention: A Philosophical Study. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1969.Google Scholar
  30. Locke, John, Second Treatise of Government. Public domain material found at (1690).
  31. Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty. Public domain material found at (1859).
  32. Murphy, Liam (2000). Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.Google Scholar
  33. Nagel, Thomas (1991). Equality and Partiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.Google Scholar
  34. O’Neill, Onora (1996). Towards Justice and Virtue. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pettit, Philip (1997). Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  36. Plato, Crito. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Public domain material found at (c.360 BCE).
  37. Rawls, John (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971.Google Scholar
  38. Rawls, John, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996; first published 1993).Google Scholar
  39. Rawls, John, ‘Legal Obligation and the Duty of Fair Play’, in Samuel Freeman (ed.), Collected Papers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999; first published 1964).Google Scholar
  40. Rawls, John, in Erin Kelly (ed.), Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  41. Raz, Joseph (1984). “The Obligation to Obey: Revision and Tradition”. Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy 1, pp.139-155, 1984.Google Scholar
  42. Raz, Joseph (1986). The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.Google Scholar
  43. Rehg, William, Insight and Solidarity (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004; first published 1994).Google Scholar
  44. Richardson, Henry (2002). Democratic Autonomy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.Google Scholar
  45. Ripstein, Arthur (2004). “Authority and Coercion”. Philosophy & Public Affairs 32, pp.2-35, 2004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Discourse on Inequality. Trans. G. D. H. Cole. Public domain material found at (1754).
  47. Shiffrin, Seana (1991). “Moral Autonomy and Agent-Centred Options”. Analysis 51, pp.244-254, 1991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Shue, Henry (1983). “The Burdens of Justice”. Journal of Philosophy 80, pp.600-608, 1983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Shue, Henry (1988). “Mediating Duties”. Ethics 98, pp.687-704, 1988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Simmons, A. John (1979). Moral Principles and Political Obligations. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  51. Simmons, A. John (1999). “Justification and Legitimacy”. Ethics 109, pp.739-771, 1999.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Singer, Peter (1972). “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”. Philosophy & Public Affairs 1, pp.29-43, 1972.Google Scholar
  53. Waldron, Jeremy (1993). Liberal Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.Google Scholar
  54. Waldron, Jeremy (1999). The Dignity of Legislation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wolff, Robert Paul (1970). In Defense of Anarchism. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Personalised recommendations