Legitimacy is the life of democracy. But it does not mean that all should invariably believe in identical set of values or creed. Democracy does not believe in ostracising the people having opinion different from prevalent ideas or beliefs.
The modern trend, instead of concentrating on consensus, in all matters, stands for consensus on procedure. It believes in the existence of a commonly acceptable procedure and maintaining its purity so that all members of the system may cherish their own goals and values and realise them, and also reach an acceptable settlement of their disputes. From that point of view, legitimacy can be treated as the basic fundamental structure of culture or value-consensus of the social system.
Democratic ideas and legitimacy also cannot be considered as identical. So is the case with legality and legitimacy. As they operate within the boundaries of legitimacy, non-democratic structures like bureaucracy, army, police, and organisations of heavy industry and other concerns, are allowed to exist and managed by rules in a democracy. Heads of state and other top officers are allowed to have privileges, immunities and other amenities during crises, and for special occasions. Similarly, even limited use of violence, here and there, is also permitted.
Certainly, the basis of the modern state is neither Platonic Justice or Reason nor Rousseau’s General Will, which can at the most be regarded as ideational notions. It is not possible for big nation-states to have uniformity of faith in all intellectual, cultural and political matters. Such uniformity is considered even not desirable. Existence of differing opinions is often regarded as an indicator of legitimacy and necessary for the health of democracy.
The task of democracy is rather to bring about harmony and cooperation amidst various diversities. Legitimacy is concerned with the consent and consensus about the procedure by which people and parties concerned get what, when, where and how of the cake, and by remaining close to it feel a sense of satisfaction. Adoption of procedural consensus, which is often available in the main parts of democratic constitutions, is more important than who rules and what and how much. This procedural consensus indicates ‘value of values’ or ‘basic living culture’ of a democratic polity.
Such procedural consensus enables legitimacy to maintain proper relations between freedom and restrictions. The latter are obviously placed on the former to enjoy greater freedom for people at large. Such legitimacy is often reflected by the existence of free and regular elections, consent, representativeness, adult franchise, civic liberties and others.