Both liberal theorists and their critics have been unable to reconcile successfully respect for individual freedom and autonomy with a system of legitimate political authority. Liberal theory fails because its system of rights and representative institutions is particularistic, favoring the interests of restricted individuals and groups. Nonliberal theory threatens individuals' freedom by having political authority exercised in the name of a dubious, real will. Present liberal and nonliberal theory continues to reflect these problems.
This article is an effort to present a view of political authority that respects individual freedom and is legitimate, supporting the interests of all citizens. The failure of liberal and nonliberal theory to achieve this reconciliation is believed to result from their excessively ambiguous, incomplete views of central issues—freedom, authority, and normative reasoning—and a related tendency to examine these problems in isolation. The analysis presented here proposes a more complete view of their meaning and integrates this understanding into a conception of legitimate political authority. The conclusion seriously challenges the view of political legitimacy presented by liberal theory and suggests that a different set of problems must be addressed if political authority is to be legitimate and support individuals' freedom.