Tying legitimacy to political power: Graded legitimacy standards for international institutions

Article by Antoinette Scherz, published in European Journal of Political Theory.


International institutions have become increasingly important not only in the relations between states, but also for individuals. When are these institutions legitimate? The legitimacy standards for international institutions are predominantly either minimal or democratic and cannot capture the large variety of international institutions. This article develops an autonomy-based conception of legitimacy based on the justification of political power that is applicable to both international and domestic institutions. Political power as rule-setting is a particular normative threat to the personal and political autonomy of its subjects. The more political power an institution exercises, the more demanding the legitimacy standards it needs to fulfil in order to be legitimate. The article argues that an increase in the four dimensions of political power (scope, domain sensitivity, applicability and impact) raises the legitimacy burden for the institution. Finally, graded legitimacy standards are proposed. These are sensitive to the differences between international institutions in respect of their levels of political power, i.e. level of competences. In contrast to minimal or democratic legitimacy standards, the article suggests that different standards of accountability, participation and human rights have to be fulfilled according to the institution’s level of political power.

The full article is available here.

Tags: Legitimacy, accountability, Human Rights
Published Mar. 26, 2019 1:01 PM - Last modified Oct. 9, 2019 10:31 AM