Salvation by Legitimation in the United Nations

22 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2017 Last revised: 26 Mar 2018

Jodok Troy

University of Innsbruck; Stanford University

Date Written: October 12, 2017


How the United Nations conceptualize legitimacy is not just a matter of legalism or power politics. The substantial and procedural concepts of legitimacy put forward by the UN also utilize quasi-religious language and symbolism. I argue that by exploring the normative conceptions of this-world events, how they are given meaning, and how they are treated functionally within the UN framework, we may better understand the UN’s conceptualization of legitimacy. This trajectory is interesting to reveal because its concepts and symbols are developed in the space between normative and descriptive aspirations of legitimacy. The article locates where the concepts of legitimacy are nested in the “secular church” UN. It illustrates how a perspective that accounts for the constitutional entanglement of the religious and the political spheres can explain the way it enables legitimacy for international actors within the UN framework. To illustrate the epistemic, normative, and political relevance of my argument, I examine the Secretary-General as the link between abstract principles of legitimacy and their verbalization. The article also seeks to sort out the confusion between legitimacy, legality, morality, and authority in pursuing international justice beyond the organization’s original purpose. Such a perspective helps us gain a comprehensive understanding of the UN, 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: or

Jodok Troy (Contact Author)

University of Innsbruck ( email )

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


Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States


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