ISSJ - N° 196 - Legitimation and Delegitimation

International Social Science Journal - Issue 196

June 2009

Editorial adviser: Mattei Dogan

Legitimacy is one of the central concepts in political science. This issue revisits legitimacy by critical reflection on the famous typology proposed by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), who distinguished between “traditional”, “rational-legal” and “charismatic” legitimacy.

There has long been theoretical criticism of the basis of Weber’s distinction: the authors in this issue argue, furthermore, that the three-part distinction now lacks relevant empirical content. It is necessary, therefore, to find new angles on what makes regimes or states stable or unstable.

Using a wide range of empirical cases, including the European Union, Latin America, Italy, perceptions of political leadership and the role of the media, the authors stress the importance of understanding the diversity of processes of delegitimation. There is no single dynamic that leads regimes, states or leaders to lose legitimacy. Indeed, even in specific cases, it is often very difficult to grasp exactly what caused a system to tip over into a new configuration. Very often, legitimacy is not so much the framework of causal analysis of political change as the retrospective language that serves to tell the story of a crisis that has already occurred. It is precisely the narrative dimension of legitimacy that makes it such a powerful factor in very diverse political debates.

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