Popular Legitimacy and the Exercise of Legal Authority: Motivating Compliance, Cooperation and Engagement
Forthcoming in Psychology, Public Policy and Law
28 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Last revised: 12 May 2014
Date Written: September 1, 2013
The traditional goal of legal authorities has been to obtain widespread public compliance with the law. Empirical research findings have shown that legitimacy – typically operationalized as the perceived obligation to obey and trust and confidence in the relevant institutions – plays an important role in achieving such compliance. But over time the goals of legal authorities have broadened in two ways. First, they increasingly include the desire to motivate willing cooperation, with legal authorities and members of the public working together to produce social order. Second, conceptions of the goals of the legal system have broadened to include the importance of promoting public engagement in communities in efforts to build social, political and economic vitality. Drawing on these broader goals – and building upon recent conceptual advances in the meaning of legitimacy – we report findings from a major new national survey of US citizens. We examine the role that legitimacy plays in achieving each of these goals of law and in defining the policies and practices of the police and courts which influence legitimacy. Importantly, we also consider whether a focus on achieving this broader set of goals leads to a need to reexamine the traditional theoretical conception of legitimacy. Our findings support the utility of a multidimensional conception of legitimacy that differentiates between consent to authority and normative justifiability of power.
Keywords: legitimacy, compliance, cooperation, community engagement
JEL Classification: K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation