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Political normativity has traditionally been anchored to the idea that moral principles represent the touchstone for evaluating and guiding political phenomena. In contrast, political realists maintain that the foundations of political normativity must be searched not in moral theory, but in the traits of politics itself.
In the last years, theorists belonging to these different camps have engaged in an intense debate. On the one hand, critics of political realism have maintained that realists’ notion of legitimacy is status quo biased and unable to offer any distinctive political normativity. On the other hand, realists have argued that their notion of legitimacy can be normative while still avoiding reliance on moral theory, by distinguishing political from moral values.
The aim of this article is to show that realism has room for offering a distinctive political normativity, one that accommodates both universalist and contextualist vocations. I propose to develop such normativity by splitting the notion of legitimacy into concept and conceptions, where the former provides us with universalist considerations while the latter guarantees the context-dependent character of normative standards.