Seminar: A Morally-Neutral Account of Political Legitimacy – Cindy Phillips (Maryland)

Abstract: Philosophers generally identify political legitimacy with possessing a certain kind of moral authority in the legal realm. More specifically, states are typically regarded as legitimate if they possess the moral right to rule, the right to command and be obeyed, the right to have control over a territory, and the right to use coercion to ensure compliance. This view stems from the assumption that a state must be morally entitled to impose moral obligations on its subjects or to authorize the use of coercion.

The majority of this paper is dedicated towards offering a morally neutral account of political legitimacy. More specifically, I offer an account of political legitimacy in which none of the necessary or sufficient conditions for a state to be legitimate are moral conditions. I also argue that even if a state is legitimate, it is still an open question whether there is a moral obligation to obey its commands. This latter claim coupled with the claim that states need not possess a moral entitlement in order to permissibly authorize the use of coercion – which I’ve defended elsewhere – are sufficient to undermine the main motivations for thinking that political legitimacy ought to be identified with possessing a certain kind of moral authority.

Discussant: Paul Burgess