Essay on Oeconomy
Part II, Chapter 3: The Legitimacy of Oeconomy
Pierre Calame, 2009
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This short sentence is the alter-globalization movement‘s historic achievement. It stops in its tracks what Philippe de Woot, referring to the modern corporation, has called the ―unbound Prometheus‖: the unbridled expansion of commerce at the expense of all other kinds of relationship, society‘s gradual dissolution into a purely instrumental construct, and the eradication of politics and the sacred. The slogan clearly leaves no doubt as to the questions that underpin it. What makes system of production and exchange legitimate? On this basis, why is the current system illegitimate? And what are the social consequences of trying to develop an illegitimate system?
To answer these questions, we must first clarify the difference between legality and legitimacy, terms that are often conflated. ―Legality‖ refers to the elaboration of rules that are consistent with existing laws and to the fact that individuals and organizations, particularly those in power, obey them. ―Legality‖ thus relates to concrete fact. ―Legitimacy,‖ however, is an ideal.
It expresses society‘s aspiration to be well-governed and to undergo constraint only to the extent that it serves the collective interest: it is acceptable that authority constrain me, as long as I feel that it does so in my (or society‘s) interest.