A Better Framework for Legitimacy: Learning from the Christian Reformed Tradition
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In recent years, political legitimacy as a concept distinct from full justice has received much attention. Yet in addition to querying the specific conditions legitimacy requires, there is a more general question: What is legitimacy even about? How ought we identify and conceptualize these conditions? According to the regnant justificatory liberal (JL) approach, legitimate legal coercion is based on reasons all reasonable persons can accept and JL is explicated in terms of a hypothetical procedure. Alas, Part I explains why JL is inadequate. First, I argue that it de-legitimizes all coercion. Second, it undercuts the proposition that there are certain basic rights which must be protected for legitimacy. Third, I suggest that JL structurally involves paternalism. Where should theorists turn? My perhaps surprising proposal is that they turn to the Christian Reformed (CR) tradition of social thought. As I take it, this tradition is composed of such figures as Augustine and Calvin, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd, and, more recently, Francis Schaeffer. It has long theorized such issues as church-state separation and permissible coercion, and is replete with conceptual resources. Thus, Part II reconstructs an alternative legitimacy framework out of these resources. The central CR insight is this: legitimacy is a function of preventing basic wrongs. Legal coercion is only necessary "by reason of sin". I develop this insight in terms of three ideas. First, those wrongs which must prevented as conditions of legitimacy are objective wrongs, obtaining universally regardless of consent. Second, they presuppose some view of basic teleology. A teleological view is needed to elaborate contentful basic rights non-arbitrarily, but only a basic teleological view insofar as legitimacy is distinct from full justice. Third, I suggest these wrongs are fruitfully understood as constituting an exogenous standard, one that is neither the product of actual nor hypothetical self-legislation. Part III brings JL and CR legitimacy into dialogue. Understanding legitimacy in terms of objective, teleological, and exogenous wrongs, respectively, helps us avoid each of the unacceptable consequences of JL covered in Part I. Legitimacy is better conceptualized in CR terms; preventing such wrongs is what legitimacy is about.