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Political Legitimacy, the Egalitarian Challenge, and Democracy

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This article argues against the claim that democracy is a necessary condition of political legitimacy. Instead, I propose a weaker set of conditions. First, I explain the case for the necessity of democracy. This is that only democracy can address the ‘egalitarian challenge’, i.e. ‘if we are all equal, why should only some of us wield political power?’. I show that if democracy really is a necessary condition of political legitimacy, then (what I label) the problems of domestic justice and of international legitimacy become intractable. I then argue that the egalitarian challenge is addressed where the requirements of (1) horizontal equality, (2) acceptable vertical inequality, and (3) publicity, are met and where (4) citizens have some institutionalized opportunity for a voice in decisions. I show that these conditions can be realized in non‐democratic form and conclude by explaining how the four conditions can be employed to make the problems of domestic justice and of international legitimacy more tractable. Overall, my ambitions are limited. I do not offer an all‐things‐considered case against democracy but I do show that (some) forms of non‐democratic government are permissible.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK.

Publication date: 2012-05-01

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