Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Legitimacy

Legitimacy refers to that ingredient which turns mere power into authority.

I take your money, it's stealing or robbing. I take it with authority of a tax collector (appointed by an accepted legal process and acting according to the law), then it is not. I use a legal example, but legitimacy (or authority) need not necessarily be synonymous with legal.

Consider a traditional tribal society with no legal system. Such a society still has elders or leaders who exercise authority and can dole out punishment and rewards simply because it is thought to be legitimate for them to do so. They act in absence of any formal legal system. Weber famously gave his three way classification of authority -- traditional, charismatic and rational-legal. Only last is explicitly tied to a legal system. First two are not.

Finally Beetham's views on the subject are relevant. According to him, legitimate power (and therefore authority) must satisfy 3 conditions -
1. Power must be exercised according to established rules.
2. Rules must be justified in terms of shared belief of the government and governed.
3. Legitimacy must be demonstrated by the expression of consent.

The essential point here is -- for it to be legitimate, the exercise of power must be justified in terms of shared beliefs of the government and the governed. And those views may be codified either as laws of a modern society or customs of a tribal society or even dictates of a charismatic messiah.
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