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Realist Legitimacy and the Exclusion of Non-Citizens

Citizenship
Political Theory
Realism
Normative Theory
Ben Cross
Wuhan University
Ben Cross
Wuhan University
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Abstract

One notable characteristic of most realist theories of legitimacy, especially those taking their cue from Bernard Williams, is that legitimacy is understood as a function of the relationship between a political institution and its citizens only. The beliefs and attitudes of non-citizens towards the institution in question do not, in and of themselves, have any bearing on its legitimacy. Call this position exclusive realism. Exclusive realism can be contrasted with cosmopolitan realism, according to which the legitimacy of a political institution can be affected by the views and attitudes of at least some non-citizens. Proponents of realist legitimacy tend to assume exclusive realism, rather than argue for it. But it is arguably not obvious that they are entitled to do this. Cosmopolitan realism may have some intuitive appeal. For example, one might be inclined to think that the United States government is illegitimate in virtue of its brutalising foreign policy misadventures. My aim is to show why proponents of realist legitimacy should be exclusive realists, rather than cosmopolitan realists. Exclusive realism, I argue, fits best with a core realist concern, namely, suspicion of wishful thinking. Exclusive realism can help us avoid wishful thinking by connecting the concept of legitimacy with the prudential reasons that governments have for acting.