Aid and legitimacy III. (Obedience)

Legitimacy can be understood as a ‘state of appropriateness’ ascribed to an entity (actor, system, structure, process, action) stemming from its integration with institutionalized norms, values and beliefs. ‘Collective support’ and obedience are considered to be important elements of legitimacy: they refer to people’s beliefs about political authority and their own obligations. This descriptive (empirical) approach reflects Max Weber’s understanding of legitimacy: ‘the basis of every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons exercising authority are lent prestige’.[1] Legitimacy is widely understood as popular acceptance, obedience and recognition of the authority of a regime, whereby authority has political power through consent and not through overt coercion.[2] Regime authority always depends on the combination of legitimacy and organized coercion. In Weber’s account it is the state which as a community ‘successfully claims authority’on the legitimate use of physical force. The monopoly of violence is ensured via the process of legitimization by means of which the citizens accept that only the state can apply force, which made Rustow define political stability as the function of legitimacy of institutions and personal legitimacy of rulers.[3] When legitimacy vanishes entirely, the regime loses the means of coercion,[4] which leads to destabilization. Social conflicts – uprisings, (attempted) revolutions and civil wars alike – can be explained by weakened legitimacy. A political system will be destabilized, when ‘discontented social groups come to feel that it is acceptable to engage in disobedience and violence’[5] against the regime perceived to be illegitimate. The question is, how various social groups – broadly understood: political parties, military establishment(s), civil society organizations, etc – are influenced (and financed) by foreign powers.

Sources and further reading: [1] Weber, M. (1964) The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Edited by Talcott Parsons. New York: Free Press, p382; [2] Weber, The Theory of Social, 124. In Weber’s account, the ‘ability’ ensuring legitimacy can be of three types: traditional, charismatic and rational-legal, all of which has distinct sources of authority; [3] Dankwart Rustow, A World of Nations: Problems of Political Modernization. (Washington: Brookings, 1967): 27 and 157; cited by G. Hossein Razi, ‘Legitimacy, Religion and Nationalism in the Middle East’, The American Political Science Review 84, no. 1 (1990): 69-91; [4] Sedgwick, M. (2010) Measuring Egyptian Regime Legitimacy. Middle East Critique 19 (3): 251-267.; [5] Cited by Theda Scocpol, States and Social Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979): 25.


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