1st Edition

Legitimizing Authority American Government and the Promise of Equality

By Boris Vormann, Christian Lammert Copyright 2024

    Legitimizing Authority places the American state apparatus back in the foreground to rethink the development of the country’s government in the context of its unfulfilled promise of equality.

    The book argues that the tensions between calls for equality and the simultaneous tolerance of inequality have accompanied the rise of modern mass society and, with it, of liberal democracy. Vormann and Lammert emphasize that government has played and continues to play a decisive role in calibrating the relationship between the interior and the exterior of the nation, moving between an extractive state, a taxation state, and a welfare state over time in order to expand social access and political participation inside the national community – while tolerating conditions that continue to belie the historical promise of equality. The authors draw on a range of literatures that transcend disciplinary boundaries to reveal how exploitative practices have been accepted. They conclude that the democratic crises of the present must be comprehended through understanding how legitimation was always maintained by a state apparatus active at multiple scales and in multiple policy fields.

    This interdisciplinary book is addressed to a broad audience across disciplines, including political science, political economy, political history, comparative politics, international politics, international relations, American Political Development (APD), and cultural studies.

    1. Crises of Democracy, More Globally Considered

    2. Modern Sources of Legitimacy

    3. Universalisms of an Elite Nation-Building Project

    4. Mass Democracy and the Fordist Compromise

    5. Maintaining the Promise in the Era of Globalization

    6. Rethinking Equality for Today


    Boris Vormann is a Professor of Politics and Director of the Politics Section at Bard College Berlin. His recent books include The Emergence of Illiberalism (2021, coedited with Michael Weinman) and Democracy in Crisis: The Neoliberal Roots of Popular Unrest (with Christian Lammert, 2019). His current project examines the role of the state in building the logistical infrastructures of expanding global trade networks.

    Christian Lammert is a Professor of Political Science with a focus on Political Systems in North America, John F. Kennedy Institute, FU Berlin. He has published widely on inequality, healthcare policy, and comparative welfare state research. A handbook on American politics (Handbuch Politik USA, coedited with Markus B. Siewert and Boris Vormann) is forthcoming in its third edition. 

    Susan H. Gillespie is an international educator and professional translator from German to English. She is the Bard College Fellow in Translation and Translatability and Founding Director of the Institute for International Liberal Education at Bard. Her published translations include philosophy, musicology, fiction, politics, and poetry. She is a member of the Board of Advisors and former Vice Chairman of Words Without Borders, and Second Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of Bard College Berlin.

    "There is no democracy without equality. But is equality at home sustainable without inequalities abroad (or vice versa)? Probing anew the critical importance of equality for legitimating democratic systems, Vormann and Lammert's provocative analysis sheds fresh light on the urgent questions and global challenges facing democracies today. A ‘must-read’ for those who wish to understand the wellsprings of democratic legitimacy and the prospects of a liberal future."

    Ewa Atanassow, author of Tocqueville’s Dilemmas and Ours: Sovereignty, Nationalism, Globalization

    "In their brilliant analysis, Christian Lammert and Boris Vormann reveal inequality to be the root cause for the crisis of legitimacy in liberal democracies across the globe.  With a focus on the history and current state of democracy in the United States of America, the authors persuasively show that equality has been an unkept promise all along. The book provides a sharp analysis and productively discusses possible avenues for repair and redistribution in order to move past the current crisis."

    Heike Paul, winner of the 2018 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize and author of The Myths that Made America

    "Legitimizing Authority grapples with one of the fundamental contradictions of US state development: That democracy was able to retain legitimacy for many years even though the state consistently failed to implement equality for all. This Janus-faced nature of US political development may already be familiar to readers of American legal and political history; Vormann and Lammert’s contribution consists in their magisterial synthesis of political science theories and critique of methodological nationalist approaches to explaining democratic development."

    Anna Skarpelis, Inaugural Richard Lachmann Chair of Sociology, CUNY Queens College, USA

    “Vormann and Lammert take on a tall and timelier-than-ever order to address challenges of legitimacy, democracy, and equality. The US represents their main case, but for reasons of far-reaching trajectory. It serves as a particularly revealing case about tensions and contradictions between the promise of equality and practices of exploitation, and their interlinkage with the state and political development. The analysis, moreover, is embedded in a rich comparative perspective that draws on an impressive variety of theories and research strands. Finally, it poses difficult questions that societies the world over face in trying to fulfill the promise of equality – by democratic means no less – in a world of growing inequality and looming environmental crisis. This is a fascinating study that will appeal to a large diversity of disciplines and readerships.”

    Jared Sonnicksen, author of Tensions of American Federal Democracy: Fragmentation of the State