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Legitimacy


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Quote 164,291

"Hegemony- refers to the ability of a dominant class to exercise power by winning consent of those it subjugates, as an alternative to coercion."

OR

"The ascendency or domination of one element of a system over others- idea being common sense of the age."

   --  Andrew Heywood

manufactured consent 

"False Consciousness: A marxist term denoting the delusion and mystification that prevents subordinate classes from recognising the fact of their own exploitation"

   --  Andrew Heywood

What is legitimacy?


Legitimacy is the popular acceptance of Authority. It is considered a basic condition for governing.

History of legitimacy

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 
modern state.

If legitimacy is lost

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.

Methods

The state can be legitimised by tradition, religion, military force, or popular consent.

Tradition

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.

Religion

Countries such as Iran operate a Theocracy, where the Ayatollah has the final say.

Military force

Countries like Burma and North Korea rely on a strong military force to maintain power

Popular consent

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. 

How the state is contested

External

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

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.

Passage from friends essay

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. 

Links

Subpages (1): Controlling electors
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