The problem of political legitimacy : a comparative analysis of the theories of John Rawls and Seyla Benhabib

Kruger, Petrus Jacobus (2016-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The purpose of this thesis is twofold: In the first place, I aim to define the main features of the problem of political legitimacy – understood as the normative justification of a governing regime – together with the criteria which a convincing theory of political legitimacy must fulfil. In the second place, I evaluate two influential theories of political legitimacy in light of these criteria: John Rawls’s liberal principle of legitimacy and Seyla Benhabib’s theory of deliberative democracy. My conclusion is that the latter provides us with a better standard for evaluating and justifying political rule than the liberal model developed by Rawls. In order to reach this conclusion, I begin by interrogating the concept of political legitimacy generally. I argue for a normative rather than a purely descriptive understanding of political legitimacy, give a brief overview of the historical development of the question of legitimacy and then turn my attention to the current state of the debate about the normative justification of political authority. From the preceding investigation, I extrapolate five criteria that a convincing account of political legitimacy must fulfil. Such an account must: 1) provide a coherent method for evaluating – as opposed to merely describing citizens’ beliefs about – any particular government; 2) address the problem of plurality; 3) provide normative grounds for the authority of a governing regime; 4) account of the relationship between such authority and citizens’ duties/obligations; and lastly 5) incorporate the pursuit of stability. With these five criteria in hand, I move on to the evaluation of Rawls’s and Benhabib’s theories of political legitimacy. Chapter Two is devoted to Rawls’s position. After explaining the main tenets of this position, I evaluate his theory in light of the five specified criteria, and conclude that his account of political legitimacy ultimately fails to account for genuine plurality in so far as he seeks to limit political conflict to a very small and tightly defined public sphere. Chapter Three is devoted to Benhabib’s theory of deliberative democracy, and follows much the same structure as the previous chapter. I first set out the main tenets of Benhabib’s theory, and then evaluate this theory in light of the specified criteria. I conclude that the theory of deliberative democracy provides us with a more convincing theory of political legitimacy than the liberal model espoused by Rawls, for three reasons: 1) contrary to Rawls’s attempt to minimize, contain and ultimately remove fundamental disagreement within our political lives, Benhabib takes the deep and dividing disagreements among citizens seriously, and develops a theory of political legitimacy that is able to incorporate these disagreements within a more expansive public sphere; 2) as a direct result of the previous feature, the theory of deliberative democracy is better able to account for the relationship between political authority and citizens’ duties and obligations, and hence 3) resolves the problem of stability in a way that Rawls’s liberal model of political legitimacy is unable to do.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die tesis het twee doelwitte: Eerstens wil ek die hoofeienskappe van die probleem van politieke legitimiteit – bedoel as 'n normatiewe regverdiging van 'n regerende regime – definieer, asook die kriteria wat 'n oortuigende teorie van politieke legitimiteit moet vervul. Tweedens evalueer ek twee invloedryke teoretici van politieke legitimiteit aan die hand van hierdie kriteria: John Rawls se liberale prinsiep van legitimiteit en Seyla Benhabib se onderhandelde demokrasie. My gevolgtrekking is dat laasgenoemde 'n beter standaard vir die evaluering en regverdiging van politieke regering verskaf as Rawls se liberale model. Om tot hierdie gevolgtrekking te kom, begin ek deur die konsep van politieke legitimiteit in die algemeen te bespreek. Ek stel die argument vir 'n normatiewe eerder as 'n suiwer beskrywende begrip van die konsep, dan verskaf ek 'n kort oorsig van die historiese ontwikkeling van die vraag van politieke legitimiteit en daarna fokus ek op die huidige stand van die debat oor die normatiewe regverdiging van politieke outoriteit. Afgelei uit die voorafgaande ontleding ontwikkel ek vyf kriteria wat 'n oortuigende weergawe van politieke legitimiteit moet vervul. So 'n weergawe moet: 1) 'n koherente metode vir die evaluering – teenoor blote beskrywing – van burgers se sienings oor 'n spesifieke staat verskaf; 2) die probleem van pluralisme aanspreek; 3) normatiewe gronde vir die outoriteit van 'n regerende regime verskaf; 4) rekenskap gee van die verhouding tussen so 'n outoriteit en die burgers se pligte/verpligtinge; en laastens 5) die strewe na stabiliteit inkorporeer. Met hierdie vyf kriteria in gedagte, beweeg ek na die evaluering van beide Raws en Benhabib se teorië oor politieke legitimiteit. Hoofstuk Twee handel oor Rawls. Nadat ek die hoofeienskappe van sy posisie verduidelik, evalueer ek sy teorie aan die hand van die vyf kriteria en kom tot die gevolgtrekking dat hy nie daarin slaag om werklike pluralisme ernstig op te neem nie, omdat hy politieke konflik tot 'n baie beperkte en eng-gedefinieerde openbare sfeer beperk. Hoofstuk Drie handel oor Benhabib se teorie van onderhandelde demokrasie en volg dieselfde struktuur as Hoofstuk Twee. Ek begin deur eerstens die hoofeienskappe van die teorie te verduidelik en daarna wend ek my tot die evaluering van die teorie aan die hand van die vyf kriteria. Ek kom tot die gevolgtrekking dat onderhandelde demokrasie 'n meer oortuigende teorie van politieke legitimiteit is as die liberale posisie, om drie redes: 1) teenoor Rawls se poging om fundamentele meningsverskille te minimaliseer en uiteindelik uit ons politieke lewens te verwyder, neem Benhabib fundamentele meningsverskille ernstig op en ontwikkel 'n teorie van politieke legitimiteit wat die meningsverskille in 'n groter openbare sfeer kan inkorporeer; 2) as 'n direkte gevolg van die vorige punt is onderhandelde demokrasie beter in staat om rekenskap te gee van die verhouding tussen politieke outoriteit en burgers se pligte en verpligtinge en kan daarom 3) die probleem van stabiliteit oplos op 'n wyse wat Rawls se model van politieke legitimiteit nie in staat is om te doen nie.

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