6.3.5 Legitimacy of the Political System

Government acceptability depends upon the legitimacy of the political system, which gives politicians the accepted right to govern

A political system is a framework of rules and practices for appointing politicians and empowering them to make decisions which significantly affect people’s lives.  A legitimate political system is one which the population sees as having the right to exercise power and enforce obedience.

The following sub-sections examine different aspects of the legitimacy of the political system:

●  Governments have a need for it, to maintain stability across the whole population as circumstances change (  Opposition groups can seize on a lack of legitimacy to justify destabilising or overthrowing a government.

●  It is important to identify criteria for assessing political legitimacy, to provide clarity when commenting on government acceptability (  Ideology, culture, and practical arrangements are all important

●  The David Beetham model of legitimacy is a useful tool for clarifying whether a political system is acceptable (  It has three levels of analysis: the system of rules, shared beliefs, and evidence of the population’s consent.

●  People must have ways of showing consent to political governance if everyone is to be confident that the system is fully legitimate (  Voting in a democracy is useful, but other conditions must also be met.

Legitimacy of the political system is essential for acceptable governance, but it can be undermined by untrustworthy politicians (6.3.3) or failures of leadership (6.3.4) as discussed earlier.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/635.htm.