Political Legitimacy: Old and New - a Conceptual Itinerary 1968-2018

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Lena LINDGREN, Lund University, Sweden
Following the conceptual itinerary of legitimacy as it has developed over the last 50 years means being close to important changes both in society generally and in the social sciences. The classical term of legitimacy, denoting a more or less precise criterion for political authority, has been transformed to a broader all-inclusive concept – still normative, but arguably less constructive in terms of analytic social theory. The increasing use of legitimacy as a code-word in political rhetoric and the possible consequences of this for New theorizing in relation to the concept will be discussed in my presentation. A statement from President George W Bush in the UN General Assembly prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq illustrates a politically militant rhetoric: “[A] regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.” President Bush later declared that the invasion was not legal, yet he assured the public that there was no doubt regarding its legitimacy. This raises the persisting question of the relation between legality and legitimacy in analysing a democratic system. It will be argued in my paper that making legitimacy the most important factor to be considered will promote moralism rather than realism in political and social analysis. Continuing in this vein, a typology of how people react to claims of legitimacy is suggested. This includes ‘active acceptance’ (politically supportive action, manifesting conformative actions, moral condemnation of those violating the norms of the system, etc.); ‘passive acceptance’ (no political action being taken, neutrality regarding violations, etc.); ‘non-acceptance’ (political attacks, open violation of various principles, taking actions in support of alternative systems, etc.). Such a typology represents another dimension of the relation between rulers and the people they rule over than the Weberian classification into traditional, legal-rational and charismatic legitimacy.