The Need for Political Legitimacy

Governments have a need for political legitimacy, to maintain stability across the whole population as circumstances change

Even if people don’t approve of a government, it is important that they accept its right to govern.  That is necessary for a government to be effective in practice, to be able to exert power in all the dimensions of governance (6.1.3).

Social stability depends on legitimacy, as David Beetham pointed out on page 33 of his book, The Legitimation of Power:

 “Enhanced order, stability, effectiveness – these are the typical advantages that accrue to a legitimate system of power as a result of the obligations upon subordinates that derive from its legitimacy.  ‘Order’ depends upon people obeying rather than disobeying.  ‘Stability’ is not mere longevity, but a system’s ability to withstand shock and failure because a solid level of support from its subordinates can be guaranteed.  ‘Effectiveness’ includes the ability of the powerful to achieve their goals because of the quality of performance they can secure from those subordinate to them.”

Disaffected groups can use a lack of legitimacy to justify protest, violence, terrorism or revolution.  If governments fail to comply with the need for political legitimacy they can be overthrown, as in Algeria in March 2019.  A BBC report, Algeria’s President Bouteflika is going – but that’s not enough for protesters, noted that “It seems that the government had underestimated how unpopular it had become after years of corrupt and repressive rule”.



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/edition04/6351.htm.