Just for Will: Defining Legitimacy

I'm sure you've all seen Crispin Sartwell's challenge by now. DR even has it's own post on it, chock full of comments. Over at fly bottle, Will Wilkinson has even commented on it, writing, among other things:

I may agree with Sartwell about legitimacy, depending on what he means by it.

Well, the marketing ploy worked. I bought the book and it arrived today, just in time for me to bring it on the plane to DC for the KSFP (for any fellow... uh... fellows reading, I'm the skinny guy with the big ears, say hi). I probably won't be reading it until I'm on the plane tomorrow, but I flipped through and managed to come across something just for Will- Crispin's definition of legitimacy:

I regard the assertion that the state is legitimate as equivalent to the claim that we have at least a conditional duty to obey the laws and other requirements imposed by the state, and to obey the officials of the state operating in their official capacities.

pg. 37

I've managed to hold back my comments this long, so I'll wait until I read the book before I make a substantive post about it. In any case, for everyone else out there debating the topic, maybe this little definition will fan the flames. If we are lucky, Will will* confirm or deny his agreement with Crispin now that he knows what Crispin means, with explanation.

* redundant words twice in one post... I'm not much of a wordsmith, am I?

edit: fixed a typo - 'anarchy' is now 'legitimacy' in the sentence just before the second quote

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Congrats on the KSFP! I'm an

Congrats on the KSFP! I'm an '05 alum. Which organization are you interning for? (If you don't feel comfortable sharing publicly on the blog, feel free to ignore this question.) If I end up moving to D.C. this summer, maybe I'll drop by one of the famous Oakwood parties and meet you.

As for the content of your post, although the duty to obey is an important question in political theory, I think it's important to keep it separate from the question of whether the social contract argument for the state's existence are valid, which is what I usually mean by legitimacy.

One can at the same time believe that in this second sense, the state is illegitimate and all social contract foundations ultimately fail, while also believing that in the first sense, the state is legitimate and we have a prima facie duty to obey the law. This seems to be the position Randy Barnett takes in Restoring The Lost Constitution.


I'm interning at the Show-Me Institute in St. Louis, so I'll only be in DC for the first and last weeks of the fellowship. Oakfield Parties? Do tell...

One of the reasons I refrained from commenting was the ambiguous language, including the word 'legitimacy.' I almost posted a critique of the challenge because of the ambiguity.

On a side note (this is only here because I just thought of it), It strikes me as odd that there is no practical way for DR members to communicate privately unless they already happen to have each others' email addy's or some other relevant info. Perhaps a PM system is needed? Just a suggestion.


...practical way for DR members to communicate privately...

I also think this would be a nice feature, when you're looking for new stuff to implement.

Oakwood, also known as

Oakwood, also known as Kochwood, for obvious reasons. It's where all the KSFP interns who stay in DC the full summer live.

The requirement to follow the rules

The whole "state-in-society" literature might speak to how the informal (and formal) rules that appropriately govern the way we interact in "civil society" spills over to the way we act with regard to state institutions and its agents.

I believe it was Brink Lindsey in a discussion on Blogginheads talking about the habits of children of the successful upper middle class. They not only interacted well with others in "civil society" - their forms and papers and dull, drawn out conversation when you'd rather be listening to the ipod - but were less hostile to the arbitrary conditions and red tape imposed by the state. Essentially, the complicated, messy world of the extended order, state or otherwise.

So it would seem that the person who respectfully abides by the rules in somebody's home also tends to respect the rules of traffic - say, sitting at a long red light at 2:30 in the morning.

Not too many would act on the distinction Sartwell makes. Probably including the brainy intellectual libertarian think tanker, whose well groomed social mores prevent him or her from actually defying the TSA agent and signalling to even the nice folks in the "non-political" world that they are uncooperative.