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Legitimacy, Sovereignty and the Public Sphere

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Legitimacy (Legitimacy, Sovereignty and the Public Sphere)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-02-29

Recent trends of globalisation and democratic development have accentuated the problems of participation in and inclusivity of the public sphere in democratic polities. On the one hand, we face the alienation of large sections of population from a genuine involvement in democratic politics. On the other hand, we can observe how globalisation brings together different peoples, cultures, religions, and highlights the question of openness to and acceptance of differences. At the same time, these trends might have added more urgency to these problems with the public sphere, but they have not created them. In fact, the whole history of the public sphere is often portrayed as that of decline. For example, it has been criticised for being too passive and uncritical to balance the state, or for lacking inclusivity to legitimise the state. The research proposes a fresh look at the concept of the public sphere by returning to its conceptual conditions of possibility. Its main motivation is to ask whether there exists something in the manner we conceptualize the public sphere that keeps undermining its cognitive value. The rationale of this approach is based on the view that we see the world through the lenses of concepts, and by re-interpreting them and their interrelations we might change the way we behave towards the world. In this particular case, the proposed changes in conceptual understanding should be conducive to a more inclusive public sphere with more active and responsive participation in it.

In addressing the questions of participation in and the inclusivity of the public sphere, the research inquired into the possibility that these problems are rooted, at least partially, in the inadequate conceptual separation of state and society. The hypothesis of the research was that even if Immanuel Kant (if not Jean-Jacques Rousseau) initiated the conceptual separation between the two, necessitating thereby their mediation, state and society, nevertheless, remained latently linked by something that was left theoretically unaccounted for and that constantly undermines the need for the mediation (the public sphere). The central claim of the research project was that the idea of legitimacy must be addressed, if this conceptual separation is to be brought to its conclusion. This requires a concept of legitimacy that, on the one hand, establishes a relation between state and society, but on the other hand, also maintains the separation. Developing such a concept of legitimacy and outlining its effects on various other theoretical concepts, like the public sphere, democracy, and sovereignty, was the task of this research project.
The research project addressed the issues of inclusivity of and participation in the public sphere. The question of inclusivity was addressed in engagement with the theory of hegemony of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. The theory of hegemony has developed its own post-structurally motivated logic of inclusion/exclusion, which is an influential description of political dynamics, but it denies any possibility to contain a normative injunction for inclusion in its theoretical framework. The research showed how and in what sense the normative dimension appears in the theory of hegemony as well as in deconstruction. By submitting the theory of hegemony to a deconstructive reading, the research exposed its internal aporia, which rather than terminates hegemony, opens it to a normative demand of being open to the other as other.

The second question of the research concerning the issue of participation in the public sphere was first taken up in engagement with Jacques Derrida’s writings on law and signature. The analysis revealed that, on the one hand, Derrida situates legitimacy under the same category of terms as laws, rules, prescriptions, and so forth, that are deconstructible, but on the other hand, he shows that the structure of the ‘legitimating’ signature (e.g. under the declaration that founds the state) is problematic and undecidable. The research aimed at showing that legitimacy, rather than being deconstructible, deconstructs itself (and) any self-founding of law and power. By re-reading Derrida’s ‘Declarations of Independence’ through the lenses of his later texts on sovereignty and (counter)signature, I demonstrated a need for a critique of the evaluative concept of legitimacy, which, in turn, clears the path to the understanding of legitimacy as resigning.

In the final phase, the research project brought together the deconstructed concept of legitimacy and the idea of the public sphere. The concept of the public sphere becomes theoretically necessary with the conceptual separation between state and the people. The research project followed the hypothesis that the (value of) participation in the public sphere is structurally undermined by the incomplete conceptual separation of state and society. The research concluded that the traditional concept of legitimacy functions as an untheorized link between state and society, which creates a hierarchical relationship between the two by giving priority to the state over against society, or the people. The research proposed the deconstructed concept of legitimacy as a way to conceive legitimacy that relates the two sides, i.e. state and the people, without the reduction of their conceptual differentiation. It was further argued that such legitimacy is the very condition of possibility for a more inclusive and participatory public sphere.
This study of legitimacy and the public sphere contributes new, beyond state-of-the-art ideas to the existing research in respective areas of political philosophy and theory. Above all, the research project proposed a novel (deconstructed) ‘concept’ of legitimacy, resigning, that establishes a new paradigm of thinking about legitimacy and by extension, about all political realm. In doing this, an important re-interpretation was developed regarding Jacques Derrida’s analysis of democratic founding acts. The research also brought the concept of legitimacy to bear upon the issues of participation and inclusivity in the public sphere, which has not been done before in such a manner. In this regard, it was argued that the deconstructed ‘concept’ of legitimacy has the potential to make the public sphere more inclusive, reflective, and participatory. The latter claim also relates to a broader discussion on the ethics of deconstruction as was discussed in the engagement with Ernesto Laclau’s and Chantal Mouffe’s theory of hegemony. The research on the theory of hegemony showed how a normative demand of opening to the other can be incorporated into the hegemonic logic, which, on the one hand, breaks a theoretical impasse in post-Marxist hegemonic thought, and, on the other hand, provides a new awareness about the means of critiquing power relations that exclude certain groups and demands from the public sphere. The wider impact of the research was to accommodate a change in the way people situate themselves in the world by challenging and redefining the existing relationships between concepts such as sovereignty, legitimacy, the public sphere and democracy. In the long run, this change in the attitude should bring about a more inclusive public sphere with a more reflective participation in it.