Ilaria Cozzaglio, Amanda R. Greene | European Journal of Philosophy
Political realists seek to provide an alternative to accounts of political legitimacy that are based on moral standards. In this endeavor, they face the challenge of how to interpret the maxim that power cannot be self‐legitimating. In this paper, we argue that work by Bernard Williams sheds light on the possible answers to this challenge. While Williams aligns himself with the realist tradition, his account of legitimacy contains an implicit critique of political realism. This is evident, we show, in his rejections of the views of Thomas Hobbes and Max Weber. Williams is not satisfied with Hobbes because he conflates legitimacy and political order, eliminating space for criticizing power. Weber’s view, however, offers a non‐moralist standard of legitimacy that has critical purchase. This critical purchase emerges from the demands made on rulers to uphold the values that underlie their legitimation, combined with the ethic of responsibility. The resulting grounds for criticism are thus consistent with the maxim that power cannot be self‐legitimating—the very maxim that Williams puts at the heart of his realism. By showing that Williams’s partial rejection of Hobbes and Weber cannot be sustained only on realist grounds, our analysis clarifies the limits of political realism.