Volume 48, Issue 1, January 2022
Realistic and Pragmatic Approaches to Democratic Legitimacy
Political Realism and Epistemic Constraints
This article argues that Bernard Williams’ Critical Theory Principle (CTP) is in tension with his realist commitments, i.e., deriving political norms from practices that are inherent to political life. The Williamsian theory of legitimate state power is based on the central importance of the distinction between political rule and domination. Further, Williams supplements the normative force of his theory with the CTP, i.e., the principle that acceptance of a justification regarding power relations ought not to be created by the very same coercive power. I contend that the CTP is an epistemic criterion of reflective (un)acceptability which is not strictly connected to the question of whether people are dominated or not. I show that there are cases of non-domination that fail the epistemic requirements of the CTP.