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Legitimacy is the popular acceptance of Authority. It is considered a basic condition for governing.
Legitimacy of the state has been contested as long as we have had leaders. Kings and queens spent
great effort to prove and maintain their appearance of legitimacy. Things have not changed for the
Legitimacy needs to be proven domestically and internationally. A loss of legitimacy internationally
can lead to invasion and loss of influence on foreign countries.
A loss of legitimacy domestically can lead to a coup or a revolution. This can lead to unstable
regimes or anarchy. An illegitimate government may lose control, of the police, army, or suffer civil
disobedience as has happened in India and The USA.
The state can be legitimised by tradition, religion, military force, or popular consent.
Kings, Queens and emperors have often relied on traditions to determine who the rightful ruler of
the state should be, the first male son usually would take the mantle of leader of the state.
Countries such as Iran operate a Theocracy, where the Ayatollah has the final say.
Countries like Burma and North Korea rely on a strong military force to maintain power
In most western countries Democracies of one form or another are in operation. They have many
different methods of voting in a Government. No system is perfect and each calls in to account the
legitimacy of the governing party. For example two of the most popular forms of electoral systems
are the “first past the post method” and “proportional reperensentation”
The first past the post method elects candidates based on whom gets the most votes per
constituency. The legitimacy of this system occurs as its possible for a candidate to be elected
without having majority of the votes. Also even if they have a majority of the votes, they will not
necessarily have the support of those who do not vote. A lot of votes in this system are wasted.
The proportion representation method ensures that no votes are wasted as positions of power are
allocated on the basis of the percentage of votes. However this system has the downside it quite
often leads to coalitions and a minor party can exert undue influence. It also has the downside that
you don’t actually get to choose who your representative is, they tend to be on a list.
The state can be contested externally and internally. Externally it has the threat of invasion,
Economic influence or cultural influences. Religion is an example of this, non theocratic states are
always afraid of secular influences as it undermines their ability to rule. While secular states can be
under attack from religious fundamentalists.
Internal pressures can come from a variety of sources, the most severe being a civil war as is
occurring in Syria, or a military coup that has plagued many nations in Africa and countries such as
Turkey and Pakistan. In democracy, it can come from poor management of Governments leading to
a rising in the anarchist movement, or from ideologies such as communism, an fascism, leading to a
revolution in the way the government is chosen.
Timothy Mitchell’s concept of ‘The State Effect’ suggests that through the mediocre tasks that the
public complete every day, the state is legitimised. People interact with the state every day in many
different ways that they do not connect with the state. Taking the kids to the park – the council
provide the parks, funded by Council Tax which is paid by each member of the state. The roads and
pavements that are walked on are looked after by money from the state. They are managed by institutions of the state. There are ‘State Actors’, people that work for the state, who are
responsible for providing services, for example, Police, Social Services, Civil Servants and Council
workers. Through these individuals or organisation the state becomes accepted by the public and is
therefore legitimate. The use of symbolic state symbols, such as, the road signs, flags, political
parties, national anthem and Citizenship Ceremonies help to build a strong association with country
and state. All of these things create a permanent idea of the state and provides structure,
familiarity and order to social life.