Reading 4: Buchanan and Keohane

Buchanan Allen and Keohane, Robert O. (2006). "The legitimacy of global governance institutions." Ethics and International Affairs 20: 405-437.


"We articulate a global public standard for the normative legitimacy of global governance institutions. This standard can provide the basis for principled criticism of global governance institutions and guide reform efforts in circumstances in which people disagree deeply about the demands of global justice and the role that global governance institutions should play in meeting them." (p. 405)

The authors list three parts of their 'complex standard of legitimacy': "Minimal moral acceptability, comparative benefit, and institutional integrity are plausible presumptive substantive requirements for the legitimacy of global governance institutions." (p. 424). They also want to include some 'democratic' standards - cf. p 434.


Why this reading?

The authors - a political philosopher and an international relations scholar, respectively, draw on their vast and complementary backgrounds to address what they take to be an important task for theories of legitimacy for international governance institutions  - presumably including international courts - namely to defend "a middle ground between an increasingly discredited conception of legitimacy that conflates legitimacy with international legality understood as state consent, on the one hand, and the unrealistic view that legitimacy for these institutions requires the same democratic standards that are now applied to states, on the other." (p. 405)

Questions for discussion

  1. The authors identify several important contributions of 'global governance institutions' (pp. 406-408).  How does this account apply to international courts, and how does it compare to other accounts of their 'functions' ?

  2. The authors hold that legitimacy of these governance institutions is important. Why? Do you agree?

  3. How do they understand legitimacy to provide a 'content-independent' reason to comply (p. 411)? Do you agree?

  4. The authors provide a list of desired charactistics of a standard of legitimacy for such global governance institutions (pp. 417-18). Do you agree with them? Do they apply to international courts?

  5. Does the 'complex standard of legitimacy' live up to the list of desired characteristics? Should all of the component standards apply to international Courts?

  6. One reason why the authors hold that institutions which satisfy this complex standard has the right to rule, is that such an institution "has epistemic virtues that facilitate the development of more demanding standards and the progressive improvement of the institution itself."  What do you make of this argument?

Published Apr. 20, 2016 4:29 PM