This chapter reconstructs legitimacy as a fundamental concept in international legal thought. In our discussion, we identify four different ‘academic–political’ projects in which legitimacy fulfils a certain function: Thomas M. Franck’s attempt to combine a liberal sensitivity with the empirical rigor of American process approaches; Alan Buchanan’s project to ground legitimacy in liberal global governance institutions; the idea, in the aftermath of NATO’s Kosovo campaign, that interventions can be illegal but nevertheless legitimate; and finally Jutta Brunnée and Stephen M. Toope’s interactional account of international law and the idea of a genuine legal strand of legitimacy. We turn then to the productive or performative dimension of the concept, that is, from what ‘is’ legitimate towards what legitimacy ‘does’ as a concept in international legal thought. Legitimacy becomes then a reflexive concept through which lawyers are able to observe themselves in their context, evaluate their practices and reflect upon their discipline.
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