Journal of the Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences

Document Type



Recent attempts by political philosophers to determine if terrorism can be morally justified have analyzed terrorist groups from a just-war perspective; however, many times, these philosophers have subordinated the principle of legitimate authority to the other just-war principles or have neglected legitimate authority outright. Thus, the issue of who decides when, under what circumstances, and how to make war has been relegated to a secondary interest behind the issue of how war is made. This article fills the resulting hole in contemporary just-war literature by reevaluating the principle of legitimate authority. A proper, up-to-date definition of legitimate authority is here established which includes the right of non-state political communities to have agents with legitimate authority and the necessity for those agents to have consent. Although this updated definition opens up the possibility for terrorist groups to be considered legitimate authorities, it also places new restrictions on those groups because neither authority that is not exercised over a political community nor authority exercised without the consent of that community is to be considered legitimate—such authority is illegitimate. Illegitimate authorities are morally unjustified both in their existence and their actions; their wars are unjust.