No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Legitimation Through Procedures

The liberal approach to law, state, and society is a transformation from traditional European hierarchical legal systems to flexible procedures that legitimize binding decisions. This shift offers greater flexibility, adaptability and potential for structural change within our society.

Moving away from hierarchical orders, the liberal model integrates legal decisions into societal structures through procedures and contracts. In the contemporary context, legitimacy stems from participation in legally ordered procedures rather than immutable truths. Procedural legitimacy is a systemic achievement, in which societal issues are addressed as interconnected rather than isolated causes. Functional analysis helps identify and modify the conditions of problem-solving structures; this offers insights into the evolution of societal systems.

While the classical model emphasizes truth and justice through procedural rules, the liberal approach prioritizes procedural legitimacy over the mere discovery of truth. It acknowledges that while procedures can promote decision-making and communication, they don't guarantee absolute truth. Instead, they provide a framework for legitimacy and stability: “Freedom in a frame”.

A sociological perspective examines the behavior of participants in legally regulated processes, contrasting it with norms. This approach aligns expectations about legal regulations with sociological insights, shifting focus from correctness to legitimacy. Key procedures in the political system include elections, legislative processes, and judicial procedures. These processes ensure decision-making legitimacy and prevent disruptions in truth-finding. Truth in legal contexts reduces complexity and enables communication. But relying solely on truth is insufficient. A theory of procedures must consider both truth and power dynamics, with legitimacy involving additional grounds within legal procedures.

Legitimacy has evolved from moral-based to procedural-based, recognizing that complex societies require procedural fairness over specific moral or consensual grounds. Acceptance of decisions should be generalized, relying on motiveless, personality-independent acceptance. Legitimacy depends on a learning process where individuals adjust expectations and behavior based on decisions. Political-administrative systems play a crucial role in guiding this process, ensuring that the acceptance of decisions becomes routine and self-evident.

So, the liberal approach reshapes our understanding of legitimacy through procedures and systemic achievements. This supports stability and promotes meaningful structural change in our complex society.


Luhmann, N. (1969), Legitimation durch Verfahren, Neuwied: Luchterhand.