Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

The new edition of this classic text provides a comprehensive introduction to the concept of legitimacy as applied to political systems. Now addressing the issue of legitimacy beyond the state, the book also includes a new introduction and two major additional chapters which update the argument in the light of developments and debates.

Table of Contents

The Criteria for Legitimacy

Frontmatter

1. Towards a Social-Scientific Concept of Legitimacy

Abstract
The exercise of power by one person over others, or by one group over another, is a basic and recurrent feature of all societies. Those who are subordinate experience it as constraining, often humiliating and sometimes life-threatening; and many would escape it if they could. Those who hold power, or seek to do so, are themselves frequently at odds with one another over the scope of their power and the control over their subordinates, with potentially damaging consequences. Power, in other words, is a highly problematical, as well as recurrent feature of human societies. And because it is so problematical, societies will seek to subject it to justifiable rules, and the powerful themselves will seek to secure consent to their power from at least the most important among their subordinates. Where power is acquired and exercised according to justifiable rules, and with evidence of consent, we call it rightful or legitimate.
David Beetham

2. Power and Its Need of Legitimation

Abstract
In the first chapter I wrote about ‘power’ as if it were self-evident what it meant. But what is power, and why does it stand in need of legitimation? To answer these questions it will be necessary to make a clear separation between the concept of power and that of legitimacy. In practice such a separation will be artificial, since the interplay between power, rules and legitimating norms and actions typically constitutes a complex interrelationship, in which each element is affected by the others. Yet it is only by distinguishing them conceptually that we can come to understand the connection between them. Where the first chapter approached the subject of power through an analysis of legitimacy, the present one will provide an approach to legitimacy through the analysis of power. In doing so I shall aim to identify precisely what it is about power that calls for legitimation, which in turn explains the underlying structure of legitimacy that I outlined in the previous chapter.
David Beetham

3. The Normative Structure of Legitimacy

Abstract
This chapter has a number of purposes which it will be as well to distinguish at the outset. Most basic is to elaborate the threefold structure of legitimacy as rule-derived validity, the justifiability of power rules, and expressed consent; and to consider some problems relating to them that I have not so far addressed. Within this structure, secondly, I propose to explore some of the main differences between legitimating principles, beliefs and forms of consent that characterise different historical epochs and types of legitimate power relations. If my treatment here appears overly schematic, it is because this is the only way to achieve a manageable grasp of such a diverse range of material. My final purpose will be to exemplify at appropriate points what I have called the self-fulfilling character of legitimate power: the way in which systems of power themselves structure many of the beliefs, interests and conditions of consent that provide for their legitimation; and to identify the kinds of circumstance in which this self-reinforcing cycle tends to break down. Since this last theme forms the subject of Chapter 4, my treatment of it here will not be systematic.
David Beetham

4. The Social Construction of Legitimacy

Abstract
Let me begin by recalling that the social scientist’s primary interest or purpose in the analysis of legitimacy is an explanatory one. In the first instance this purpose is, through understanding the distinctive rules, the justificatory principles and beliefs, and the conventions about consent that underpin a given system of power, to explain the behaviour of people within it, and the kinds of relationship that it involves. Such an understanding also provides the basis for a judgement about the degree of legitimacy of a particular authority figure, power relationship or system of power as a whole, when measured against its own criteria; this judgement will help identify its potential points of vulnerability, and explain any erosion of its ability to secure cooperation from the subordinate when under pressure. In making such a judgement the social scientist is not imposing extraneous or a historical criteria, but employing those internal to the society or system of power itself, against which it requires to be judged; he or she is, as it were, reproducing the reasoning of people within that society, and reconstructing the logic of their own judgements. However, in doing so, the social scientist is also guided by a general understanding of what legitimacy involves, as in the threefold structure I have outlined, which provides an exploratory or heuristic framework for identifying the kinds of consideration that are relevant. Such a framework is made possible by the existence of recurrent features of power in all societies, and a common structure of moral argument that is universal however diverse or historically variable its actual content. It is only because of these recurrent features and common structure that it is possible for a person from one culture to understand to any degree what is going on within a very different one.
David Beetham

Legitimacy in the Contemporary State

Frontmatter

5. Dimensions of State Legitimacy

Abstract
In view of the argument advanced in the first part of the book about how rules of power come to be socially reproduced in a way that reinforces their legitimacy, it is remarkable how comparatively insecure is the legitimacy of many states in the contemporary world. Legitimacy, it seems, is as much the exception as the rule for contemporary states. Many are subject to military dictatorship, originating in a breach of the constitutional rules whose lawlessness is extended into the subsequent practice of government. In others the political order finds only weak support in popular beliefs and values, or there is widespread disagreement about fundamental aspects of it. In yet others there is only limited legitimation through consent. Those who live in countries whose political legitimacy is secure are likely to take it for granted. On a global scale, however, what is striking is the difficulty that contemporary states experience in achieving such a legitimacy, and their rulers in governing in a manner that maintains it.
David Beetham

6. Crisis Tendencies of Political Systems

Abstract
In the light of the previous chapter’s discussion, a political system can be defined as a set of constitutional rules whose purpose is not only to effect a particular arrangement of state power, but also to secure legitimacy for that arrangement, and hence for those who exercise power under it, in respect of the different criteria outlined: the maintenance of legality; the derivation from a recognised source of authority; the satisfaction of a general interest in regard to the acknowledged ends of government; the demonstration of consent. Where the previous chapter considered each of these criteria separately, the present chapter will explore their mutual relationship within different types of political system.
David Beetham

7. Modes of Non-legitimate Power

Abstract
The previous two chapters have discussed the legitimation problems of the contemporary state in general, and of particular types of political system. The final topic to consider is the actual process of breakdown of political order, and the way in which legitimacy deficits develop into delegitimation and then illegality. In the first section of this chapter I shall distinguish the different modes of non-legitimate power at a conceptual level, and show how they are systematically related to one another as a dynamic or sequential process. The second and third sections will then analyse two different types of such a process: those leading to revolution and coup d’état respectively; and will consider the prospects for the successful relegitimation of revolutionary and military regimes in turn. In a concluding section I shall draw together the different elements in an explanation for the repeated breakdown of legitimacy experienced by states in the contemporary world.
David Beetham

8. Legitimacy in Political Science and Political Philosophy

Abstract
It remains in a brief concluding chapter to draw out the implications of my account of legitimacy for the relationship between political science and political philosophy. In the first chapter I referred to the extraordinary disjunction between the two within Anglo-American departments of politics in their respective treatments of legitimacy, and in the different types of literature that students are expected to read for each. Such a disjunction is symptomatic of a more general separation between the two, that has its intellectual rationale in the distinction between facts and values, and in the different purposes of explanatory and normative theorising respectively. It is a separation that has been progressively reinforced through the twentieth century by the demands of the academic division of labour.
David Beetham

Legitimacy in the Twenty-First Century

Frontmatter

9. Legitimacy within the State

Abstract
Since this book was first published, the academic study of legitimacy has developed enormously. In political science there has been a big growth in research on the comparative legitimacy of states, both in particular regions and across the world, and in the development of empirical indicators for assessing this. Within states research on legitimacy has burgeoned in the field of criminal justice, and the study of compliance with the authority of the police, courts and prisons. Beyond the state a huge interest has developed in the basis of legitimacy of international institutions, whether inter-governmental organisations, NGOs, financial institutions or regional bodies such as the European Union. All of these developments are reviewed and assessed in this new part of the book.
David Beetham

10. Legitimacy beyond the State

Abstract
As already noted, there has been a huge expansion of research into legitimacy at the international level since the first edition of the book, which raises some intriguing new questions. Research into inter-governmental organisations and international NGOs (nongovernmental organisations, perhaps more properly termed ‘civil society organisations’) poses the question of the role of legitimacy in authority systems which possess only limited powers of enforcement, as well as how their legitimacy should be analysed and who the different audiences for their legitimacy claims may be. The legitimacy of the European Union has regularly been contested, and its basis has been a source of puzzlement for academics and practitioners alike. And the legitimacy crisis of the international financial sector has shown what happens when a crisis is not followed by proportionate acts of retribution and delegitimation, but becomes displaced onto a different set of authorities, in this case democratically elected governments. These issues and examples are considered in turn.
David Beetham
Additional information