'Accountability' as 'Legitimacy': Global Governance, Global Civil Society and the United Nations

51 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2011 Last revised: 31 Jul 2013

See all articles by Kenneth Anderson

Kenneth Anderson

American University - Washington College of Law

Date Written: April 15, 2011


This essay is a contribution to a symposium on international NGO accountability. It distinguishes between "internal" accountability for NGOs (fiduciary standards, fiscal and internal governance controls, etc.) and "external" accountability (the legitimacy with which they act in the international world, and the legitimacy which they confer upon others, and why). The essay focuses upon the latter, external accountability, and argues that the transformation of international NGOs into "global civil society" signaled an ideological move with regards to legitimacy in the global community, one which asserted claims of "representativeness" and not merely interest or expertise. The essay criticizes this legitimacy move, suggesting that it arises from mutual interests on the part of international NGOs and public international organizations such as the UN to confer legitimacy upon each other in the interest of promoting a mutually congenial form of global governance. The essay offers this account and critique in the context of a quasi-historical examination of the rise of the human rights movement as the "apex" values of the international system, with a special "legitimacy" place in that system accorded to international human rights NGOs. The essay concludes by noting that this "auto-legitimation" between international NGOs and international organizations does not lead to greater external accountability, particularly in an increasingly multipolar world.

Keywords: International organizations, global civil society, non-governmental organizations, NGOs, accountability, human rights, global governance, legitimacy,

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Kenneth, 'Accountability' as 'Legitimacy': Global Governance, Global Civil Society and the United Nations (April 15, 2011). Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Vol. 36, No. 3, 2011; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2011-28. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1886470

Kenneth Anderson (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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