Legitimacy in International Law and International Relations

27 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 26 Jan 2012

See all articles by Daniel Bodansky

Daniel Bodansky

Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Date Written: 2011


Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of interest, both among international lawyers and international relations scholars, in the legitimacy of international institutions. The issue of international legitimacy raises many important questions. Conceptually, what do we mean by “legitimacy” and what is its relation to other concepts such as legality, authority, obedience, power, self-interest, morality and justice? Normatively, what standards should we use to assess the legitimacy of international institutions? Descriptively, what standards do different actors (government officials, international bureaucrats, civil society groups, and business) actually use in assessing the legitimacy of international institutions? Finally, causally, what factors explain the creation of institutions with normative legitimacy, wha factors explain why institutions are accepted as legitimate, and how much practical difference do beliefs about legitimacy make -- for example, for the effectiveness and stability of an institution?

This paper surveys the international law and international relations literatures on these issues. Despite many areas of convergence between the IL and IR literatures on legitimacy, there are also important differences. International relations scholars focus on the legitimacy of international institutions rather than of international law. Although many international lawyers share this institutional orientation, some have attempted to develop a more specific theory of legal legitimacy, based on internal qualities of the legal system (for example, whether rules are clear, prospective, and public, and whether they were adopted in conformity with the legal system’s secondary rules about norm creation), rather than on the political process by which the rules were produced or their substantive outcomes. This concern with what Lon Fuller called "the internal morality of the law," has no counterpart among political scientists, who have shown little interest in the legitimacy of international law as such.

Keywords: International law, iinernational relations theory, legitimacy, international governance

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Bodansky, Daniel, Legitimacy in International Law and International Relations (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1900289

Daniel Bodansky (Contact Author)

Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )

111 E Taylor St
Phoenix, AZ 85004
United States

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