Journal of Political Philosophy 19 (2):248-259 (2011)

Daniel Viehoff
New York University
Why should one person obey another? Why (to ask the question from the first-person perspective) ought I to submit to another and follow her judgment rather than my own? In modern political thought, which denies that some are born rulers and others are born to be ruled, the most prominent answer has been: “Because I have consented to her authority.” By making authority conditional on the subjects’ consent, political philosophers have sought to reconcile authority’s hierarchical structure with the equal moral standing of governor and governed. Yet such consent accounts of authority have long been deemed problematic on a number of grounds, not the least of which is that few citizens have given their consent to the state under whose laws they live. So unless we are willing to deny the state’s authority over those who have not consented, or revert to the pre-modern assumption of a natural political hierarchy, we must find another way of reconciling authority with our standing as free and equal moral agents. In recent political and legal philosophy, the most influential solution to this problem has been Joseph Raz’s service conception of authority, according to which legitimate authority, while it does not require the consent of the governed, must exist for their sake, or serve them. The normal way to justify someone’s authority, on the service conception, is to show that, by treating her directives as binding, the subjects are likely better to conform to reasons that apply to them anyway. The service conception has, however, recently been criticized (by, among others, Thomas Christiano, Scott Hershovitz, and Jeremy Waldron) for being insufficiently attuned to the significance that procedural, and in particular democratic, features of political and legal institutions have for the justification of their authority. If these ‘democratic critics’ are right, then two commitments that many in the liberal-democratic tradition may find independently attractive turn out to be in tension: the liberal idea that authority is normally legitimate only insofar as it serves its subjects, and the democratic idea that legitimate authority can (and regularly does) rest on fair procedures. In this article I argue that the critics’ arguments rest on a misunderstanding of the service conception; yet their worries point the way to an under-appreciated and interesting view of democracy as an authoritative arbitration procedure. After introducing the service conception’s view of justified authority, I briefly distinguish a broad and a narrow interpretation of it, and suggest that we should embrace the latter to make sense of the idea that political authority serves its subjects (Section I). Next I turn to the objection raised by the democratic critics: the service conception, they say, cannot make room for the intrinsic fairness of democratic procedures because it is preoccupied with the quality of outcomes (Section II). But, I argue, the objection rests on an illicit identification of two different kinds of outcomes: the outcome of the decision-making procedure on the one hand, the outcome or result of treating that first outcome as authoritative on the other. Distinguishing between these is crucial for an adequate understanding of democracy’s authority. While the service conception is indeed organized around the latter, this does not commit it to an exclusive concern with the former; yet it is a singular commitment to the former that is problematic from a democratic point of view (Section III). To bring home this point, I sketch a model of authority as arbitration that is frequently overlooked in recent discussions of authority even though it is centrally concerned with procedural (and ultimately democratic) values and fits squarely into the service conception of authority (Section IV).
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9760.2010.00375.x
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References found in this work BETA

The Morality of Freedom.Joseph Raz - 1986 - Oxford University Press.
Practical Philosophy.Immanuel Kant - 1996 - Cambridge University Press.
On Liberty and Other Essays.John Stuart Mill (ed.) - 2008 - Oxford University Press.
Law and Disagreement.Jeremy Waldron - 1998 - Oxford University Press.

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