Definition and Nature:
The term legitimacy is derived from the Latin word legitimate meaning to declare lawful. Literally it means conforming to the law or rules, justified by law. From the standpoint of law it means rightfulness. Heywood’s definition runs as follows, “Legitimacy confers on an order or command an authoritative or binding character thus transforming power into authority” (Italics added). It is treated by many as a moral or rational principle. If the order or command of an authority is based on legitimacy then it can demand obedience. In other words, illegitimate demand cannot claim obedience.
Another definition is, “The property that a regime’s procedures for making and enforcing laws are acceptable to its subjects” (Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics). The term was first coined or used by Weber. He said that legitimacy constituted the basis of very real differences in the way in which power was exercised. In the context of sociology Weber used this term and finally it got a place in political science.
If we study the above definitions we shall get few basic features of the idea. One is, legitimacy is associated with obedience. If the command is not right or legitimate there is no guarantee of obeying it. In recent years the term is liberally used in sociology and here lies its second feature. It means a “willingness to comply with the system of rule regardless of how it is achieved. It also means belief”.
Legitimacy and Stability:
It is now clear that the legitimacy of the political system is linked with political obligation. Before showing obligation the individuals will first of all ascertain the legitimacy of the political system or authority.
These two concepts (i. e. legitimacy and obligation) are again associated with the stability of the political system. If the citizens feel that the foundation of the political system has no legitimacy they can reasonably refuse to show obedience or may withdraw the obedience which they showed earlier.
The refusal to show obligation or the withdrawal of obligation may be the source of problems and at least one such problem is instability. It is because the political system stands on the obedience of the individuals to the system. Hence the stability cannot be separated from obedience and legitimacy.
This emphasizes that obligation/ obedience is a political term though it has been used by many idealist philosophers as a moral term. Legitimacy as a political term focuses on why do people obey a particular political system and not should they obey the system? Liberal political thinkers of today pay a considerable amount of importance to both legitimacy and stability of political system. If people are dissatisfied with functioning and about other aspects they may be reluctant to show obligation which may lead to the collapse of the system.
Weberian Concept of Legitimacy:
Max Weber is perhaps the first modern thinker who seriously thought about the concept of legitimacy. Though Weber discussed it in the background of sociology the central idea remains more or less intact when it is applied in other disciplines, particularly political science. Weber’s classification of legitimacy into three—traditional, charismatic and legal-rational still holds good in some cases. In tribal societies or in societies where modern system of administration has not yet been established these three types of legitimacy are abundantly found.
Legitimacy is based on long-established customs and traditions. People obey a government or an authority because their fore-fathers obeyed or customs and traditions have taught them to obey a particular authority. Charisma of an authority or a person legitimises an authority.
The image of the political authority or leader overwhelmingly influences the people and they are spell-bound by the oratory, good figure or by any other special characteristic. If a person comes to hold power through legal or constitutional way the common men are compelled to obey him. For example, the president, prime minister etc. Along with the legality there is another element and it is rationality. Weber thinks that bureaucracy is a rational form of authority and people should obey such a rational authority.
Definition and Nature:
Max Weber simply analysed the concept of legitimacy. But the neo-Marxists departed from Weberian theory of legitimacy and focused their attention to the legitimation crisis. The champion of this new trend Jiirgentlabermas (born 1929). His Legitimation Crisis was published in 1973. Habermas and several other neo-Marxists have thoroughly studied the nature and functioning of capitalism and have concluded that “within liberal democracies there are crisis tendencies which challenge the stability of such regimes by undermining legitimacy. The core of this argument was the tension between a private enterprise or capitalist economy, on the one hand, and a democratic political system, on the other hand, in effect, the system of capitalist democracy may be inherently unstable”. (Italics added)
More than one and half centuries ago Marx thought and propagated crisis in capitalism and that according to Marx was due to the contradiction in capitalism. But the neo-Marxists (such as Habermas) thought of a new crisis and this is legitimation crisis Habermas has said that in capitalist societies there are number of crisis tendencies and these have enough potentialities to destabilise the capitalist societies. Habermas further maintains that the capitalist societies cannot survive simply on the basis of consent and legitimacy.
Causes of Legitimation Crisis:
There are several causes or aspects of legitimation crisis.
Habermas and several other neo-Marxists, after studying all the aspects of capitalist societies, have concluded that a number of factors are responsible for the legitimation crisis:
1. In order to build up a strong “structure” of legitimacy the authority of the capitalist society sanctioned a number of political, social and other rights. This considerably helped the expansion of democratic process of the political system along with it the legitimacy.
The rights and liberties of the people expanded. But this acted as a boomerang to the capitalist society. People demanded more and more rights and privileges. But it was beyond the capacity of the capitalist society to satisfy these. A discord between the state authority and the people emerged. This threatened the very foundation of legitimacy.
2. Government was incapable of meeting numerous demands of the private economic sector. In the eighties of the last century the conflict between the state authority and the supporters of the market economy became pronounced. The underlying reason was that the members of the free market economy vehemently opposed the state move to curb the profit of the free market, and the government took this step being pressurised by the people.
The latter exerted pressure on the government that the market economy was making huge profits by exploiting the common people and this must be stopped. Any dilly-dallying attitude was enough to hurt the legitimacy and in practice did that. The authority of the capitalist society was faced with a dilemma. The legitimacy was, in fact, in crisis.
3. In order to explain and support the “crisis theory some researchers have said that in the seventies of the last century the governments of many capitalist countries were “overloaded” by the increasing demands of the people. They mounted pressures upon the government for meeting more and more demands.
This was the consequence of the expansion of rights and liberties. But the tragedy was that it was beyond the capacity of government to shoulder the abnormal burden. This is called overload theory. The state authority was under excessive pressure of the overloaded demands. Any move to bypass the demand was sufficient cause to the people for reconsidering their obedience to the authority.
The state was again in a dilemma. It could not antagonize the people for fear of the withdrawal of obligation. On the other hand, physically or financially, it was not in a position to meet the increasing demands.
4. The legitimation crisis was also very profound and deep-rooted in the Third World states. There were wide gaps between the ability of the government and the expectations of the people and the gaps began to widen day after day which created critical position for the legitimacy.
Classification of Crises:
We have discussed so far the nature and definition of legitimation crisis. Habermas has, however, drawn our attention to some of the crises. He has delineated four types of crises: economic crisis, rationality crisis, legitimation crisis, and motivation crisis. David Held has briefly stated the crises in the following language, “His (Habermas, argument is that capitalist societies today are enlarged from at least one of the four possible crisis tendencies. It is a consequence of the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society (social production versus private appropriation) that, other factors being equal”, there is always a crisis. Behind every crisis there is, according to Habermas, a factor called “requisite quantity”. He says that economic crisis arises out of the fact that “requisite quantity” of consumable values is not produced.
It means that there is a gap between what the consumers want and what the structure of the economy can supply. There may be a rationality crisis. It arises out of the situation that the authority has failed to take requisite quantity of rational decisions.
This creates a disenchantment in the minds of the people about the ability of the government to take proper decisions. For the survival of the regime the government must take action motivating actions and when there is an absence of requisite quantity of the motivation, actions do not come forth and crises emerge. All these create crises for legitimacy.