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Political LegitimacyNOMOS LXI$
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Jack Knight and Melissa Schwartzberg

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781479888696

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479888696.001.0001

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Legitimacy as a Right To Err

Legitimacy as a Right To Err

(p.174) 6 Legitimacy as a Right To Err
Political Legitimacy

Daniel Viehoff

NYU Press

This chapter proposes that legitimacy (on at least one understanding of the protean term) is centrally a right to err: a right to make mistakes that set back interests of others that are ordinarily protected by rights. Legitimacy so understood is importantly distinct from authority, the normative power to impose binding (or enforceable) rules at will. Specifically, legitimate institutions have a distinctive liberty right to set back others’ interests that other agents normally lack. Their subjects in turn lack certain permissions to avoid, or redirect, the costs of the institutions’ mistakes in ways that would otherwise be permissible. Legitimate institutions have this liberty right because, and insofar as, they act for their subjects (in a specific sense) and do so only for the subjects’ sake. As a matter of fairness, (some of) the costs of the institutions’ actions are borne by the subjects for whom they are undertaken. In turn, where an institution fails to act for its subjects in the relevant way, it (and its officials) may have to bear the costs of its errors, which the subject is morally permitted to redirect by acts of resistance.

Keywords:   legitimacy, authority, right to err, resistance

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