It’s a commonplace that citizens in Western democracies are disaffected with their political leaders and traditional democratic institutions. But in Democratic Legitimacy, Pierre Rosanvallon, one of today’s leading political thinkers, argues that this crisis of confidence is partly a crisis of understanding. He makes the case that the sources of democratic legitimacy have shifted and multiplied over the past thirty years and that we need to comprehend and make better use of these new sources of legitimacy in order to strengthen our political self-belief and commitment to democracy.
Drawing on examples from France and the United States, Rosanvallon notes that there has been a major expansion of independent commissions, NGOs, regulatory authorities, and watchdogs in recent decades. At the same time, constitutional courts have become more willing and able to challenge legislatures. These institutional developments, which serve the democratic values of impartiality and reflexivity, have been accompanied by a new attentiveness to what Rosanvallon calls the value of proximity, as governing structures have sought to find new spaces for minorities, the particular, and the local. To improve our democracies, we need to use these new sources of legitimacy more effectively and we need to incorporate them into our accounts of democratic government.
An original contribution to the vigorous international debate about democratic authority and legitimacy, this promises to be one of Rosanvallon’s most important books.
Pierre Rosanvallon is professor at the Collège de France and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. His many books include Counter- Democracy, The Demands of Liberty, Democracy Past and Future, and The New Social Question (Princeton).
"This book is an illuminating analysis of the transformed problem of political legitimacy that exists in contemporary democracy. It should be read by anyone seriously interested in thinking through the dangers posed by the climate of political distrust that has become normal in democratic regimes. . . . Rosanvallon here undertakes a comprehensive, in-depth investigation of the problem of legitimacy. He provides a new framework and new vocabulary for analyzing the problem and hence proposing a way forward."—Choice
"[T]his excellent book should stimulate the reflection of those who seek to better understand the evolution of democracy and its justifications. . . . Rosanvallon's quest for the sources of democratic legitimacy in an uncertain age opens up a fascinating dialogue between the past and present, highlighting how three key countries have struggled with concerns for liberty and the democratic idea."—Survival
"[T]he book's main attraction: sharp, self-contained historical accounts of specific issues and ideas, where Rosanvallon's thinking is clearly at its best."—Paulina Ochoa Espejo, European Political Science
"An original contribution to the vigorous international debate about democratic authority and legitimacy, this promises to be one of Rosanvallon's most important books."—World Book Industry
"A historian and foremost theorist of democracy, Pierre Rosanvallon has produced another very insightful book, this time on the great variety of sources of democratic legitimation, and their evolving importance in contemporary society. This work casts fresh light on today's liberal democracies, and opens new potential avenues for their renewal. For those concerned about where our politics are heading, this book provides a penetrating historical analysis to make sense of it all, and perhaps also some new reasons to hope."—Charles Taylor, author of Multiculturalism and A Secular Age
"It is a cause for celebration when one of our most eminent theorists of democracy chooses to illuminate deep and stressful issues with rigor and originality. Probing tensions inherent in the distinction between majorities who decide and a more abstract people said to be sovereign, Pierre Rosanvallon identifies the inescapable contradictions inherent in different bases and forms of legitimacy, brilliantly showing why and how modern democracy is charged, fluid, and unsettled."—Ira Katznelson, coauthor of Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns
"This is a major work that deserves to have a large impact on current political theory, and its investigation of historical episodes of democratic legitimation make it of obvious interest to U.S. and European historians as well."—Samuel Moyn, Columbia University
"This is an important and unique work in the theory and history of democratic legitimacy. It is contextually situated but offers general propositions about the conditions, meaning, and institutional forms for democratic legitimacy in the twenty-first century."—Jean L. Cohen, Columbia University