What is Legitimacy? Does it Matter? What happens when the concept of legitimacy is applied to political realities such as the European Union and the Lisbon Treaty?
Sociology Sociology of Law Lund, Sweden
There seems to be general agreement regarding the relevance and usefulness of the concept of legitimacy in contemporary social theory. My paper calls this view into question, however, and argues for a renewed awareness of the inherent difference between normative and descriptive concepts and for the importance of keeping them separate. The point of departure here is current research on the alleged legitimacy crisis in the European Union. Most studies in the field illustrate what has been called "The normative turn in EU Studies".
The two rather common diagnoses of a lack of popular support for the European Union and diminishing electoral participation in it are discussed. Should we call this a "democratic deficit" or a "crisis of legitimacy" or both "The most commonly held view seems to be that the democratic deficit is the major cause of the legitimacy crisis.
The second part of the paper suggests the "process of legitimation" to be a viable non-normative theoretical approach. Whereas legitimacy, according to a standard definition, refers to the rightfulness of a political order, the term of "legitimation process" does not have any evaluative connotations. The by now classical work in this vein is Niklas Luhmann´s Legitimation durch Verfahren (1969). Today´s followers of this tradition are reviewed. It is asked why this analytical approach seems to have been less prominent than those more normatively oriented are. Scholars from quite different disciplines have analysed the democratic-constitutional "legitimacy crisis", globally as well as from a European perspective - almost all of them from a normative point of view and some with a political agenda. In the final section of the paper a brief assessment of Jürgen Habermas´ contributions here - ranging from Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus (1973) to Ach, Europa (2008) - in forming our thinking about legitimacy is ventured.