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Salvation by Legitimation in the United Nations

20 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2017 Last revised: 14 Oct 2017

Jodok Troy

University of Innsbruck - Department of Political Science; The Europe Center (2016-2018), Stanford University

Date Written: October 12, 2017


How legitimacy, the main purpose of the United Nations, is given meaning is not only a matter of secularist legalism or power politics. Rather, the substantial and procedural concepts of legitimacy put forward by the United Nations also utilize a theological language and a quasi-religious symbolism. I argue that exploring the substantive normative conceptions of this-world events and experiences, how they are given meaning, and how they should be treated functionally helps to understand the UN’s conceptualization of legitimacy. This is especially because those concepts and symbols ponder between normative and descriptive aspirations of legitimacy. The article locates the functional concepts of legitimacy as they are nested in the “secular church” UN. This illustrates how a perspective that takes into account the constitutional entanglement of the religious and the political spheres provide additional explanations of its function of providing legitimacy. I do so by having a closer look at the Secretary-General as the link between the abstract principles of legitimacy and their verbalization. The remainder of the article exploits the confusion between legitimacy, legality, morality, and authority in the case of pursuing international justice beyond the organization’s original purpose. In broader terms, such a perspective illustrates how international political theory can gain a comprehensive understanding of the meaning and interpretation of the United Nations, its Charter, and its involvement in current international normative trends.

Keywords: United Nations, legitimacy, ethics, religion, international organizations

Suggested Citation

Troy, Jodok, Salvation by Legitimation in the United Nations (October 12, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Jodok Troy (Contact Author)

University of Innsbruck - Department of Political Science ( email )

Universitätsstraße 15
Innsbruck, Innsbruck 6020
+43(0)512.507.2849 (Fax)


The Europe Center (2016-2018), Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States


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