Democratic Legitimacy

Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity

Pierre Rosanvallon
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Democratic Legitimacy
    Book Description:

    It's a commonplace that citizens in Western democracies are disaffected with their political leaders and traditional democratic institutions. But inDemocratic Legitimacy, Pierre Rosanvallon, one of today's leading political thinkers, argues that this crisis of confidence is partly a crisis of understanding. He makes the case that the sources of democratic legitimacy have shifted and multiplied over the past thirty years and that we need to comprehend and make better use of these new sources of legitimacy in order to strengthen our political self-belief and commitment to democracy.

    Drawing on examples from France and the United States, Rosanvallon notes that there has been a major expansion of independent commissions, NGOs, regulatory authorities, and watchdogs in recent decades. At the same time, constitutional courts have become more willing and able to challenge legislatures. These institutional developments, which serve the democratic values of impartiality and reflexivity, have been accompanied by a new attentiveness to what Rosanvallon calls the value of proximity, as governing structures have sought to find new spaces for minorities, the particular, and the local. To improve our democracies, we need to use these new sources of legitimacy more effectively and we need to incorporate them into our accounts of democratic government.

    An original contribution to the vigorous international debate about democratic authority and legitimacy, this promises to be one of Rosanvallon's most important books.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3874-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION The Decentering of Democracies
    (pp. 1-14)

    For us, the primary characteristic of a democratic regime is the anointment by the people of those who govern. The idea that the people are the sole legitimate source of power has come to be taken for granted. No one would dream of contesting or even questioning it. “Sovereignty cannot be divided,” as a great French republican of the nineteenth century put it. “One must choose between the elective principle and the hereditary principle. Authority must be legitimated either by the freely expressed will of all or by the supposed will of God. The people or the Pope! Choose.”¹ To...

  4. Part One: Dual Legitimacy
    • CHAPTER ONE The Legitimacy of Establishment
      (pp. 17-32)

      Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s contention that “the voice of the greater number always obliges the rest” is a commonplace of today’s electoral politics, yet the assertion masks a crucial assumption: the idea that political legitimacy is not fully achieved until a regime enjoys the unanimous support of its citizens. Only then can a government count itself as securely established on its social foundations. Since democracy implies that each individual is the bearer of fundamental rights, the consent of all is the only incontestable guarantee of respect for each. This “individualistic” understanding of the requirement of unanimity is the fundamental justification of the...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Legitimacy of Identification with Generality
      (pp. 33-59)

      The idea of endowing the government bureaucracy with a certain autonomy was first formulated around the turn of the twentieth century. Merely to think in such terms marked a major break with all previous understandings of democratic politics. Historically, democracy rested on the idea that all the institutions of government were strictly responsible to the sovereign people, who alone determined the public interest. The government chosen by the people at the polls was supposed to implement the decisions of the voters, and the bureaucracy was merely an arm of the elected government. In this context, the phrasebureaucratic powerhad...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Great Transformation
      (pp. 60-72)

      The dual legitimacy on which democratic institutions depended collapsed in the 1980s. The collapse revealed itself in numerous ways, and its symptoms have drawn abundant commentary. Some pointed to citizens’ loss of confidence in their leaders, others to a decline in the state’s ability to act effectively. Observations such as these are merely descriptive, however. They describe effects without explaining their causes and thus cry out for explanation.

      Two major changes deserve mention. First, we no longer relate to history in the same way as before. As the prospect of revolution has faded, more and more people perceive the future...

  5. Part Two: The Legitimacy of Impartiality
    • CHAPTER FOUR Independent Authorities: History and Problems
      (pp. 75-86)

      In most democratic countries, the pace of creation of independent bodies charged with regulatory and oversight functions that had previously been entrusted to “ordinary” bureaucratic departments increased in the last two decades of the twentieth century. In the United Kingdom these new institutions are called “nondepartmental public bodies” or “quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organizations” (quangos). In the United States, they are “independent regulatory agencies.” In France, they are “independent administrative authorities.”

      Although quite diverse in character, all of these organizations share a certain hybrid quality: they have an executive dimension even though they also exercise normative and judicial functions. The traditional concept...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Democracy of Impartiality
      (pp. 87-103)

      How can we characterize the legitimacy of independent authorities aspolitical forms, abstracting from the specific nature of each such authority and the specific issues they are intended to treat?¹ These authorities are created by law and consequently enjoy what might be called a derivative legitimacy. But that legitimacy does not flow directly from the citizens of the state, because these are not elective bodies. Nevertheless, a different type of relation exists between them, having to do with the importance and quality of the services they render. Hence one can speak of alegitimacy of efficacy, acknowledged by citizens as...

    • CHAPTER SIX Is Impartiality Politics?
      (pp. 104-120)

      Does the shift from positive to negative generality reflect a decline in the democratic-republican ideal (presumably still tied to the idea of general will) and a greater role for law (which is supposed to reflect the new social importance of the individual)? It is often in these terms that the question is posed and the battle joined. A closer look is therefore in order.

      First, democratic impartiality means more than just constitutionalism, even if it shares with constitutional thinking the idea that it is wrong to set a single social authority above all the institutions of government, law, and knowledge....

  6. Part Three: Reflexive Legitimacy
    • CHAPTER SEVEN Reflexive Democracy
      (pp. 123-136)

      Electoral-representative democracy is based on the axiom that the general will is fully and directly expressed through the electoral process. The ballot is supposed to express the will of the voters, the voters are supposed to be the sole “subject” of politics, and the moment of the vote is supposed to determine the temporality of the political process. This conception of democracy rests on three basic assumptions: the voters’ choice is equated with the general will; the voters are equated with the people; and all subsequent political and legislative activity is assumed to flow continuously from the moment of the...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Institutions of Reflexivity
      (pp. 137-153)

      In the nineteenth century the conquest of universal suffrage and the development of electoral-representative institutions were the key developments in the history of democracy. Parliaments, as protectors of liberty and voices for a variety of interests and opinions, symbolized the rupture with absolutism and the advent of popular sovereignty. To be sure, they soon came in for vigorous criticism themselves. They were accused of failing in their mission: their representation of society was highly imperfect, and political parties had taken them over. Yet these criticisms were intended merely to reform or rebalance them, to bring them closer to their original...

    • CHAPTER NINE On the Importance of Not Being Elected
      (pp. 154-168)

      Government by judges: the phrase was coined by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina in 1914. Whether in this form or in the slightly modified “government by judiciary,” it has been in constant use for nearly a century by Americans fearful that the fundamental principles of democracy might by perverted by one form or another of judicial power. The formula was imported into Europe in 1921 in the title of a French book,Le Gouvernement des juges.¹ It obtained a new lease on life in the 1980s, as the judicial powers and role of constitutional courts...

  7. Part Four: The Legitimacy of Proximity
    • CHAPTER TEN Attention to Particularity
      (pp. 171-186)

      The legitimacy of impartiality and the legitimacy of reflexivity have been linked to the development of new democratic institutions, as we have seen. But citizens are also increasingly conscious of the way in which they are governed. They want to be listened to and reckoned with. They want their views to be taken into account. They expect the government to be attentive to their problems and to show genuine concern with their everyday experiences. Everyone wants his or her particular situation to be taken into account, and no one wants to be subject to inflexible rules. Around the world, survey...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Politics of Presence
      (pp. 187-202)

      The election of a representative rests on a double logic of distinction and identification. Voters want the person for whom they vote to have the ability to govern. When their choice is guided by recognition of the candidate’s leadership skills and technical competence, it is the logic of distinction that governs. The election is seen as a means of “choosing the best,” and voters implicitly concede that the candidates possess abilities that they do not. But voters also expect their representatives to be close to them, to be familiar with their problems and concerns, and to share their worries and...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Interactive Democracy
      (pp. 203-218)

      Proximity implies accessibility, openness, and receptiveness to others. It assumes an absence of hierarchy, an ease of communication, and a certain immediacy of interpersonal relations. It also implies an absence of formalism. A government is said to be close to its citizens if it does not stand on ceremony, if it is prepared to step down from its pedestal to confront criticism directly and engage in debate or seek outside opinions—in other words, if it recognizes that formal institutions are not enough and that it must seek to establish more flexible and direct relations with the people. Since the...

  8. CONCLUSION The Democracy of Appropriation
    (pp. 219-226)

    The emerging figures of legitimacy described in the foregoing chapters are part of a vast “decentering” of democratic systems. No one believes any longer that democracy can be reduced to a system of competitive elections culminating in majority rule. This is an important development. For two centuries the history of democracy was a history of polarization. It was as if the general will existed as a genuine force only when enshrined in a central government by way of an election. This notion was intimately associated with the conditions under which mankind had gained its freedom from the old ruling powers....

  9. Index
    (pp. 227-235)