Abstract: Notions of public interests or common goods present a major reference point for the legitimation of global governance and global governors, yet they are rarely subject to closer analysis. After highlighting how a connection to public interests plays a shared pivotal role in legitimating public and private global governance actors alike, this article suggests an expanded understanding of public interests as consisting of a substantive element, an individual interest-based element, and a procedural element. This allows us to study how public interests are framed, affected, disputed, and shaped in global governance, and how global governors are (de)legitimized with certain notions of public interests. It sheds light on how individual interests form public interests (without reducing the former to the latter or vice versa), how apparently neutral, technocratic, or expert-driven ideas of public interests are a matter of (global) politics, and how all the elements of public interests are imbued with power inequalities. The expanded concept of public interests is based on an integration of the governance literature on input, throughput, and output legitimacy with moralist, empiricist, and procedural models from political philosophy. Ultimately, in explicating the often implicit yet formative notion of public interests in global governance, this article argues that the legitimation of global governors does not only depend on whether or not they cater to public interests. Rather, the question is how they frame and affect the substantive, individual interest-based, and procedural elements of public interests, thereby constructing publics in global politics.
Keywords: global governance; international organizations; legitimacy; private authority; public authority; public interest