University of Leicester
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Democratic Legitimacy and the Populist Radical Right: Rethinking public justification and political rights under nonideal conditions

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posted on 2017-10-27, 14:23 authored by Andrew Reid
This thesis sets out the political rights that citizens are entitled to if they are to participate in a process of public justification, and proposes a framework for when these might legitimately be infringed upon. This framework is then applied to a series of controversial cases involving non-violent far-right parties in Europe between 1993 and 2007. The early chapters of the thesis set out a Rawlsian ideal of public justification and defends this against the criticisms of contemporary theorists who offer alternative versions of public reason. I argue that laws must be justified using reasons that are accessible and, at some level, acceptable to all, and that a form of deliberative democracy is constitutive of public justification. Deliberative democracy requires that citizens have adequate status in political discussions. There is therefore an overarching requirement of the state to ensure that citizens are able to participate in politics as equals from which specific political rights can be derived. These include not only the ‘negative’ freedoms of expression and association, but ‘positive’ entitlements such as support for political parties and campaign groups. Whilst under ideal conditions citizens are able to exercise all of their political rights simultaneously, under nonideal conditions some citizens behave in a way that prevents others from effectively exercising these rights. Dilemmas arise when such behaviour cannot be prevented without the state impinging upon some people’s political rights itself. The thesis advocates a methodological approach to the application of ideal theory that characterises these dilemmas as choices between sub-optimal outcomes. In such cases there are strong pro tanto reasons for both state interference and non-interference in political rights that must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Later chapters apply this approach to the real-world example involving far-right parties.



Brace, Laura; Cooke, Stephen

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of Politics and International Relations

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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