Department of Philosophy
Reasonable Agonism: Discontent and Legitimacy in Liberal Democracies
My project develops a theory of how political institutions are able to secure legitimacy amid the conditions of pluralism or multiculturalism. Legitimacy is one of the theoretical foundations of liberal democratic institutions and depends on the responsiveness of institutions to citizens’ beliefs and needs. Widespread discontentment with these institutions would seem to impugn their legitimacy. Moreover, if these institutions inherently prevent or limit the articulation of the reasons for discontent, then they would also seem unable to avoid the charge of illegitimacy. This problem has become increasingly urgent insofar as numerous contemporary liberal democracies are facing threats from internal differences and dissension, such as nationalist and populist movements. In light of these problems, I will propose an alternative conception of liberal democratic institutions, and the corresponding concept of “reasonableness,” that allows these institutions to accommodate discontent and thereby better secure their own legitimacy.