The Legitimacy of Modern Democracy : A Study on the Political Thought of Max Weber, Carl Schmitt and Hans Kelsen book cover
1st Edition

The Legitimacy of Modern Democracy
A Study on the Political Thought of Max Weber, Carl Schmitt and Hans Kelsen

ISBN 9780367644536
Published June 30, 2022 by Routledge
220 Pages

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Book Description

By re-examining the political thought of Max Weber, Carl Schmitt and Hans Kelsen, this book offers a reflection on the nature of modern democracy and the question of its legitimacy. Pedro T. Magalhães shows that present-day elitist, populist and pluralist accounts of democracy owe, in diverse and often complicated ways, an intellectual debt to the interwar era, German-speaking, scholarly and political controversies on the problem(s) of modern democracy.

A discussion of Weber’s ambivalent diagnosis of modernity and his elitist views on democracy, as they were elaborated especially in the 1910s, sets the groundwork for the study. Against that backdrop, Schmitt’s interwar political thought is interpreted as a form of neo-authoritarian populism, whereas Kelsen evinces robust, though not entirely unproblematic, pluralist consequences. In the conclusion, the author draws on Claude Lefort’s concept of indeterminacy to sketch a potentially more fruitful way than can be gleaned from the interwar German discussions of conceiving the nexus between the elitist, populist and pluralist faces of modern democracy.

The Legitimacy of Modern Democracy will be of interest to political theorists, political philosophers, intellectual historians, theoretically oriented political scientists, and legal scholars working in the subfields of constitutional law and legal theory.

The Open Access version of this book, available at, has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license

Table of Contents


1. Max Weber’s Diagnosis of Modernity and the Ambivalences of Modern Democracy

2. The Neo-Authoritarian Populism of Carl Schmitt

3. Science, Relativism and Pluralism: Hans Kelsen’s Conception of Modern Democracy

Elitism, Populism and Pluralism: A Conclusion

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Pedro T. Magalhães has a PhD in Political Science awarded by NOVA University Lisbon, where he taught as a Guest Assistant Professor until 2018. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Academy of Finland funded Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives (Eurostorie), hosted by the Centre for European Studies at the University of Helsinki. His main research interests are in the fields of democratic theory, modern political ideologies and twentieth-century intellectual history.


"Pedro Magalhães offers a personal reading of the works of three trained German jurists: Max Weber, Carl Schmitt and Hans Kelsen. He regards legitimation as a key to their vision of politics. Weber as theorist of action focused on daily debates of politicians, whereas Schmitt reduced politics to dramatic decisions on enmity and exception and Kelsen justified democracy with relativism."

Kari Palonen, Professor Emeritus, University of Jyväskylä

"The debate today over how democracy might die easily breeds the equal and opposite paralyses of complacency and fright. In this excellent book, Pedro T. Magalhães returns to three pivotal thinkers in the German tradition of conceptualizing the legitimacy of democracy, and argues that their Central European experiences and theoretical enterprise are relevant still. Through his sophisticated reconstructions, he shows that the urgency of our times can prompt deliberation and insight."

Samuel Moyn, Yale University

"A fresh and tough-minded reevaluation of liberal and authoritarian approaches to the state  in Weimar political thought."

John P. McCormick, University of Chicago