Aid and legitimacy V. (authoritarian systems)

Why do we obey if the state is far from being democratic or respecting our political, economic, human rights? As noted by Schlumberger (2010) and Sedgwick (2010) people tend to obey, even if the ‘normative’ qualities (listed in the previous post) are completely or partially missing. Indeed, the widely discussed normative approach excludes the non-democratic political systems by assuming that non-democratic regimes are inherently without legitimacy and as such they depend on repression to a large extent. [1] Recalling the descriptive – empirically supported – understanding of legitimacy, even authoritarian regimes can enjoy certain level of collective support. It must be kept in mind, however, that neither performance (providing public goods and services, good governance), nor popularity equals to legitimacy. [2] While legitimacy in general is viewed as a source of stability in social systems, political legitimacy is considered a basic condition for governing, without which a government would suffer collapse. In political systems where this is not the case, unpopular regimes survive because they are considered legitimate by a small, influential elite or by external powers. Indeed, regime stability is a ‘function of the ongoing ability of the actors within the system to mobilize resources to perpetuate a legitimate system.’[3] This ‘ability’ has been supported by foreign – military and development alike – aid in the Middle East for decades.

Sources and further reading: [1] Sedgwick, M. (2010) Measuring Egyptian Regime Legitimacy. Middle East Critique 19 (3): 251-267, p252; Schlumberger, O. (2010) Opening Old Bottles in Search of New Wine: On Nondemocratic Legitimacy in the Middle East, Middle East Critique 19 (3) 233-250; p233; [2] A government can be unpopular, yet, legitimate if the ways of exercising power is considered valid. Wheatheford ,‘Mapping the Ties’, 261.; [3] Blackwell Encyclopedia: Legitimacy.

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