The Origins of Temporal Legitimacy: Normative Political Theory and Time

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Historical analyses of the relations between political theory and time often hinge on two claims. The first is that political theorists have until recently put less emphasis on the future than the past when debating political legitimacy and obligation. The second is that the history of political theory draws a fundamental distinction between theories that invoke time to legitimate political structures and theories that reject temporal considerations in favor of timeless principles. This chapter disputes these two claims by maintaining that competing languages of legitimacy harbor different and interrelated conceptions of temporality. A survey of time conceptions in the history of political philosophy shows that normative political theory is inherently multitemporal, involving double regard for the past and the future. And, since even tenseless principles of legitimacy often depend on temporally related forms of formulation and application, considerations about time seem inescapable in normative political theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Time and Politics
EditorsKlaus H. Goetz
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780190862084
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • Time
  • Political theory
  • Political obligation
  • Duration
  • Presentism
  • Timeless principles
  • Political legitimacy
  • Consent theories


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