In a world that has been defined by war, a world that is acquainted with the beastly nature of man, a world which believes in the struggle and pursuit for either power or material need, why is political legitimacy important?
In a world where nothing is legitimate aside from those things that you’ve called your own; it doesn’t matter how you got it, what matters is that you got it. In a world that is torn by the selfishness and corruption of men, why is political legitimacy important?
The world believes the human inclination to anarchy, laws, and regulations are formulated to order society. We accept that man has the right to do whatever he deems right to prevail against odd, what is legal and illegal is both subjective although a legal provision which everyone should tolerate is provided. Yet, we recognize the individuality of man, why then is political legitimacy important?
The questions asked above may not directly relate to the subject matter of legitimacy and hence, democracy. However, as the state and the government are the centre of the affairs of the citizen it controls, political legitimacy or governance in whatever system effects and influences everyone. By this, politics is reflected in every aspect of a man’s life. Why then is political legitimacy important, what does political legitimacy mean?
What is Political Legitimacy?
In Political Sciences, political legitimacy means the popular acknowledgement of a government, its political supremacy, period or authority as well as its system of administration. It is the approval by a vast number of people on what political system and administration a society will be governed with. It can be described as the contemporary awareness of the legal and rational status of orientated people on the concept, their responsibility, and importance in the affairs of the system of governance in which their society operates.
Hence, it should be properly described as a quality of political institutions that are committed to the decisions on laws, formulation of policies, and the election of candidates into political offices by the people within a nation. It is the justification of an authority’s right to rule, right command, and enforce power with coercion or with diplomacy. It also involves the authorization of an authority to enforce policies which could either be for the good or the bane of the people.
To consider the existence and application of political legitimacy in any society, the political value the society holds must first be regarded. Political legitimacy is common in democratic societies and some parts of the constitutional monarchical systems of governments. While it is hard to find true political legitimacy in tyrannical systems of government and states, it is harder to find the officials who become officials—through appointment or force—doing the wills of the people. This is because the government isn’t accountable to the people and the people can neither censor them nor question them.
In the absence of political legitimacy in an independent society, such a society remains subservient to the state which hasn’t or has deemed it fit to grant political liberty or limit political liberty respectively. Political legitimacy is a function of a free society.
Why political legitimacy is important
Political legitimacy permits the recognition of a system of government and its administration by the majority. It is the endorsement of a system of government by the people of the society without the use of threat or force or any means of coercion. It allows citizens to choose through elections. After this, established regulations of such a government must be strictly adhered to by the people.
John Locke had provided a need for the idea of legitimacy when he stated that man is equal and free and should not be subject to any other law but the natural law. The implication of this is that man is free and is the same. Kings or commoners. However, the concept of social contract permits the transfer of government and its recognition into a civil authority. This civil authority establishes a government which protects the natural law.
The social contract here signifies the people are the ones creating the law through their representatives who now hold political power in civil offices. This natural law is hence protected by the minority as the majority had legitimatized the administration of the authority.
Following the creation of the political authority, the need to justify their power and define it comes into action. In this sense, many justify that political authority also involves coercion. At this, coercion is seen as an illegal use and abuse of power. While others justify that coercion would only be used as secondary, they justify that it is to reinforce a motion for political order which the presence of political legitimacy justifies.
By this, coercion can only be used when the society isn’t contained by the norm and custom on which it has been set. Also, political laws are made over time by the civil authority through the use of convention.
The role of public decision and approval. In the UK for example, the Brexit decision to exit the European Union was made by the people. Public opinion. A referendum was made in which over 50% supported the exit of the UK from the European Union. This indicates the importance of political legitimacy as it shields government officials from the arbitrary use of power.
Political legitimacy is also founded based on assessing political officers as well as checking them. However, it also presents the public with the importance of supporting such a system of government and governance.
By this, these political systems are to become more resilient to overcome intervals of crisis. Also, authorities would enjoy an essential condition required to develop and enforce policies in a productive manner. This means that the rulers must be permitted to make verdicts and devote resources to it without a necessarily impulse to obtain authorization from their people. Also, without exercising coercion for every decision.
Political legitimacy, therefore, grants an authority the right to govern. Without the assent of the people, the authority has no right to govern. Authority in this context means a body of officials that could be addressed as the representative of the state, who are given the mandate to rule by the majority. A holder of a government position can only be acknowledged and recognized if the legitimacy to hold such office had been given.
Further, political legitimacy recognizes the role of the people in decision-making and the duly execution of decisions made. It also embodies values that are formed based on consent to laws and norms. It provides that people support their government.
In summation, political legitimacy holds the belief of a political entity’s right to govern only through the acceptance and recognition of the people. This policy recognizes the people, the people also recognize it, and the justification of whatever method such governance exploits is granted.
Political Legitimacy from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Political Legitimacy and Democracy by Jorge Aragon from the Encyclopedia or Campaigns, Elections, and Electoral Behavior, SAGE Publications
Political Legitimacy and Values by Lieut. Col. Stan Wiechnik from https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/political-legitimacy-and-values