Fostering a Sense of Legitimacy - For Researchers

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Eamon Aloyo

Recent Research

Much interesting normative and empirical work is being done in each of these fields. Questions of particular interest and attention include:

  1. Why do some people view institutions as legitimate and others view them as illegitimate?
  2. How does legitimately relate to effectiveness of an institution?
  3. How can we improve legitimately, transparency, and accountability?
  4. How do domestic and international forms of accountability, legitimately, and transparency relate?
  5. How does globalization affect existing forms of accountability, legitimately, and transparency?

Below are some examples of recent research, and some leading organization and individuals who are working in these areas.



  • Allen Buchanan and Robert Keohane argue for a way to assess the legitimacy of global governance institutions in a 2006 article in Ethics and International Affairs. They argue that three substantive criteria generally must be met for a global governance institution to be legitimate, including (1) minimal moral acceptability, (2) comparative benefit, and (3) institutional integrity (419-24). By minimal moral acceptability they mean only a thin list of human rights, including security, liberty, and subsistence rights (420). By comparative benefit, they mean an institution is illegitimate "if there is an institutional alternative, providing significantly greater benefits, that is feasible, accessible without excessive transition costs, and meeting the minimal moral acceptability" (422). By integrity they mean that an institution must act within its stated goals to be legitimate (422). The more of these three substantive criteria, in kind as well as degree, are met, the more legitimate an institution is (424).
  • In 2011, Buchanan published a piece in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics suggesting that state legitimacy should be tied to states' international actions as well as international institutions' interactions with states.
  • Lukas Meyer edited a 2009 book on legitimacy and international law that is reviewed here. A number of different top scholars weigh in on the legitimacy of international law, global distributive justice, and military humanitarian intervention.
  • Buchanan has also contributed to the debate about democratic political legitimacy in a 2002 piece in Ethics. Buchanan argues "first that political legitimacy, rather than political authority, is the more central notion for a theory of the morality of political power. My second main conclusion will be that where democratic authorization of the exercise of political power is possible, only a democratic government can be legitimate" (p. 689).


  • Bruce Gilley examines political legitimacy in 72 countries containing 83% of the world's population in the late 1990s and early 2000s in an article in the European Journal of Political Research in 2006. He further develops his ideas in a 2009 book published by Columbia University Press.
  • Bo Rothstein argues in a 2009 article in American Behavioral Scientist that the input side of democracy is not important for legitimacy, but the output side, especially protection of human rights, is.
  • Mitchell Seligson finds that corruption does have an independent affect on legitimacy in a 2002 article in the Journal of Politics.
  • Devra C. Moehler and Staffan I. Lindberg argue that peaceful democratic turnovers have a moderating affect on voters in the Journal of Politics.
  • James Gibson, Gregory Caldiera, Vanessa Baird and assess the legitimacy of high courts across different countries in the American Political Science Review.


  • Ruth Grant and Robert Keohane wrote an influential article in the American Political Science Review in 2005 canvassing various types of accountability and abuses of power in global politics.
  • Jens Steffek and Kristina Hahn edit a collection of papers assessing the legitimacy, accountability and representation of INGOs.
  • Joy Gordon has written about the problem in a lack of accountability in global governance institutions, especially about the UNSC sanctions against Iraq, in a 2006 article and in a 2010 book.
  • Craig Borowiak discusses the different views of accountability in founders' debate about American constitution, and applies these concepts to contemporary global accountability debates in a 2007 article.
  • Jennifer Rubenstein advanced the debate about how individuals and groups can hold one another to account by proposing a "surrogate accountability" model in a 2007 article.
  • Leif Wenar wrote about accountability in international development aid in a 2006 article.
  • Michael Goodhart argues in a 2011 article in the Journal of Politics that global accountability can be seen in terms of norms and need not involve the traditional role of agents.


  • Some, such as Amitai Etzioni, argue that transparency is overrated and cannot often do what its proponents claim it can.
  • Ann Flori edited a book called The Right to Know, which analyzes what information governments should divulge.
  • A number of good empirical studies on transparency and corruption by World Bank researchers are posted here.

Leading Organizations

  • The Kimberley Process brings together governments, civil society groups, and businesses involved in the diamond trade in order to certify that diamonds have not been drivers of war. It attempts to hold states and corporations to account through a transparent process of assessment. Global Witness, a well-respected NGO, unfortunately notes that "diamonds are still fuelling violence and human rights abuses," but more needs to be done to adequately assess the Kimberley Process's effectiveness. Even though diamonds may still be fueling violence, the Kimberley process may have decreased the violence.
  • Transparency International is one of the most well-known global civil society organizations pushing for increases in transparency and tracking corruption.
  • The Global Integrity Project assesses corruption and accountability throughout the world.
  • The Accountability Project, promotes global accountability of international development.

Topics in Need of More Research

None of the topics described above has been fully settled, so research on what consitutues transparency, accountability, and legitimacy and how each of these factors affects the others is still needed. Research is also still needed on how these factors are best measured or assessed, and what their effects are (thus how important each is) are valuable. More important from a practical view, however, is what can effectively be done, how, and by whom when any one of these characteristics is found lacking. Put another way, how can citizens of a country, stakeholders affected by a policy, or clients or employees of an organization bring about effective change when an institution or regime is deemed to be lacking in transparency, accountability, or legitimacy? How can individuals and groups with entrenched interests be persuaded or, if necessary, forced to change at an acceptable cost to the beneficiaries? Are different strategies more successful in different situations? If so, what works best, when and why?