Critical Theory Round Table Abstract 2014

Tyranny, Illegitimacy, and Global Government

In this paper, I argue against claims that a world government is likely to be very bad, unjust, or tyrannical. These claims, at bottom, amount to the claim that a global government will be illegitimate. There are three senses in which we may claim a government as illegitimate: first, it is not rights respecting, second, it is dominative, and third, there is a lack of popular sovereignty. In this paper, I argue that the standard objection to global government—that it is likely to be, or is necessarily going to be, ‘very bad’—is in need of more specificity. I articulate that specificity through contemporary theory on political legitimacy. Once the claim that a global government is likely to be tyrannical is put into terms of political legitimacy, it is clear that the argument concerning the necessary illegitimacy of global government can be addressed more pointedly.

In the first section of this paper, I survey the literature concerning global government and tyranny. In this section I develop a rough characterization of what is meant by tyranny, and then argue that in contemporary philosophical language, a more fitting term is illegitimacy. Perhaps we are worried about tyranny, but we are worried precisely because of the illegitimizing effects tyranny has on government institutions and law. In the second section of this paper, I argue that there are three main senses in which we can understand the claim that a global government will be illegitimate: it may lack respect for rights (specifically exit-options), it may lack popular sovereignty (by virtue of a lack of global demos), and it may be dominative (in the sense that Bohmann describes “democratic domination,” or a world order that undermines local and municipal achievements of democratic justice, while at the same time, providing gains for global democratic justice). However, while these conditions may present themselves in a global government, it is not the case that they necessarily will manifest. There is nothing about the concept of global government that would contain one of these conditions. Because of that, I argue that we ought to dismiss the claim that a global government would become a tyrannical monster, in favor of determining what institutions and procedures would be necessary to achieve legitimate government on a global scale.

In the final section of this paper, I note that by illegitimacy, one may also mean not sufficiently just, or simply unjust—as described by Buchanan, and Hampton. This last sense in which one may mean that a government is illegitimate is of the most interest. This is because there is nothing necessary about a global government being unjust—the justice or injustice of a state is a matter of building appropriate institutions and procedures. On this reading, then, we may have reason to worry that global government would be illegitimate, but this merely provides us with good reason to develop institutions, procedures, and distributions such that the world is sufficiently just.

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