Democratic legitimacy and economic liberty

Social Philosophy and Policy 29 (1):50-80 (2012)
Abstract
Libertarians and classical liberals typically defend private economic liberty as a requirement of self-ownership or on the basis of consequentialist arguments of various sorts. By contrast, this paper defends private economic liberty as a requirement of democratic legitimacy. In recent decades, many philosophers have converged upon a certain view about political justification. If a set of social institutions is to be just and legitimate, those institutions must be acceptable in principle to the citizens who are to lead their lives within them. This deliberative or democratic approach to justification is traditionally associated with thinkers on the left who are skeptical of the importance of private economic liberty. This article shows how the protection of private economic liberty is a requirement of citizens' developing and exercising the moral powers they have as democratic citizens. Democratic legitimacy does not require the affirmation of absolute economic liberty rights as sometimes defended by libertarians. But democratic legitimacy does require that a wide range of private economic liberties be meriting constitutional protection on a par with the civil and political liberties of democratic citizens. This opens the way for a wider defense of classical liberalism based upon the idea of democratic legitimacy
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