NP Adams (University of Virginia)

State legitimacy, law, and the political subject

17 January 2022 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 GMT

Theories of state legitimacy require a deontic characterization of both the state and the state’s subject. Classically this characterization is that a legitimate state has the moral right to rule and state subjects correlatively possess a general duty to obey the law. Partly in response to skepticism about such a duty, philosophers have increasingly turned to revised characterizations. These revisionist accounts, however, still focus on the political subject as an exclusively legal subject. In this paper, I argue that this reduction of the political subject to the legal subject is untenable. A successful theory of state legitimacy must characterize our relations to the state in a way that recognizes our necessarily extralegal relation to the state and to the legal regime, including in our collective constituent power. Further, such a theory should take itself seriously as an ideology: as both appealing to and constructing political subjects’ identity. This expands the question of deontic status beyond Hohfeldian incidents to what kind of person our states require us to be.