The Irrelevance of Legitimacy
Forthcoming in Political Studies, 2015.
35 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2012 Last revised: 8 Dec 2014
Date Written: September 17, 2014
Both popular and academic explanations of the stability, performance, and breakdown of political order make heavy use of the concept of legitimacy. But prevalent understandings of the idea of legitimacy, while perhaps useful and appropriate ways of making sense of the political world in ordinary public discourse, cannot play the more rigorous explanatory roles with which they are tasked in the social sciences. To the extent that the concept of legitimacy appears to have some explanatory value, this is only because explanations of social and political order that appeal to legitimacy in fact conceal widely different (and often inconsistent) accounts of the mechanisms involved in the production of obedience to authority and submission to norms. I suggest in this paper that explanatory social science would be better off abandoning the coarse concept of legitimacy for more precise accounts of the operation of these mechanisms in particular contexts.
Keywords: legitimacy, Max Weber, social explanation, norms, David Beetham
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation