Consensus, Compromise, Justice and Legitimacy

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Could the notion of compromise help us overcoming – or at least negotiating – the frequent tension, in normative political theory, between the realistic desideratum of peaceful coexistence and the idealistic desideratum of justice? That is to say, an analysis of compromise may help us moving beyond the contrast between two widespread contrasting attitudes in contemporary political philosophy: ‘fiat iustitia, pereat mundus’ on the one side, ‘salus populi suprema lex’ on the other side. More specifically, compromise may provide the backbone of a conception of legitimacy that mediates between idealistic (or moralistic) and realistic (or pragmatic) desiderata of political theory, i.e. between the aspiration to peace and the aspiration to justice. In other words, this paper considers whether an account of compromise could feature in a viable realistic conception of political legitimacy, in much the same way in which consensus features in more idealistic conceptions of legitimacy (a move that may be attributed to some realist theorists, especially Bernard Williams). My conclusions, however, are largely sceptical: I argue that grounding legitimacy in any kind of normatively salient agreement does require the trappings of idealistic political philosophy, for better or – in my view – worse.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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