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Political legitimation in times of transformation


The climate crisis is beginning to put political systems under increasing pressure to initiate, facilitate and manage a comprehensive transformation of society toward a post-fossil and ‘sustainable’ social order. This challenge of transformation is likely to shake up existing and long established patterns of economic and social reproduction and to question some of the central pillars of the modern capitalist order like the reliance on economic expansion, the central coordinating function of the market or the material and social welfare functions of the state. Arguably, the stable functioning and empirical legitimacy of modern mass democracies has so far depended to a significant degree on a fossil-based political-economic structure that is now generally acknowledged to be unsustainable. From this, crucial questions arise as to the political feasibility of a purposive and comprehensive societal transformation:

What is the basis of its political and practical legitimation? What is the relation of normative and explanatory/descriptive accounts of political legitimacy under conditions of transformational pressure? For example, could the normative demand to enact radical economic changes to save the planet’s biosphere undermine the empirical legitimacy and stability of contemporary political systems? What are the mechanisms that stabilize and legitimize modern democracies and what would happen to those mechanisms under conditions of purposive societal transformation? How important are economic growth and the existence of an anonymous market mechanism as stabilizing functions for rendering empirical ‘legitimacy’ to modern democracies? To what extent are modern (capitalist) democracies ‘locked into’ a system of stabilizing/legitimating mechanisms (economic growth, externalization of negative effects, objectivation of social reality through market mechanisms, etc.) that may themselves be at the root of the system’s unsustainability? Can some normative and/or state-theoretical conditions of political legitimacy be identified that would further the chances of a successful transformation and hence point a way towards breaking the ‘deadlock’? Finally, are existing conceptions of political legitimacy still adequate for the problem of a purposive societal transformation? Do we need new theoretical approaches in order fully to understand the challenges ahead?

Overall, these questions all reflect an overarching concern with the concept of political legitimation in relation to the challenges of an impending transformation that may ultimately mark the end of the historical epoch of fossil-fueled secular statehood. This workshop aims to address these (and related) questions from various angles of political theory. In particular, it aims to

  • Compare and contrast normativeexplanatory and descriptive accounts of political legitimation under conditions of transformational pressure;
  • Explore and chart the common ground, but also the incompatibilities between these different understandings;
  • Identify the most important tensions transformative politics must navigate in terms of their political legitimacy broadly understood; and as a result
  • Contribute to a multi-dimensional understanding of the political legitimacy of a purposive societal transformation and its limits.

To propose a paper, please submit an abstract no longer than 300 words, including information about your current affiliation and academic role to no later than July 10,  2020.