Disciplines: Philosophy, Political Science

The view that systems of government either are or ought to be justified, and not simply based on coercion.

There are two versions of the theory of legitimacy, one deriving from political philosophy, the other from history and political science.

The first seeks for principles which would oblige people to obey government, and then uses those principles to assess existing regimes as worthy or otherwise of being obeyed.

The second treats a belief in the legitimacy of regimes as a common feature of government, however distasteful any particular regime may be to the observer. It then examines legitimacy as an historical phenomenon rather than engaging in moral appraisal.

The two approaches are often thought to be incompatible, but are in fact complementary.

Also see: political obligation

Rodney Barker, Political Legitimacy and the State (Oxford, 1990)


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