How Governments Gain and Lose Legitimacy How Governments Gain and Lose Legitimacy
*Illustration by Kim Ryu. Design by Louise Bova.

Are Americans Fully Committed to Democracy?


Roger II being crowned by Christ. Byzantine mosaic, La Martorana Church from the Norman period, Palermo, Sicily, Italy.

Jealous Gods, Angry Mobs, and the Struggle for Lasting Legitimacy

Even with Authority from the Almighty Above, Rulers Need Consensus from the People Below

Even if political power sometimes comes from the barrel of a gun, any government is more effective if it enjoys popular acceptance. Today, governments usually claim a popular mandate from an election, even if that election is fraudulent. In the past, however, elections played little role in bestowing legitimacy.

In the ancient world, rulers usually staked their legitimacy by proclaiming their …


Women march on the first full day of Donald Trump's presidency, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press.

Reports of U.S. Democracy's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Recent Protests Show That Americans Want More Government, Just Not This Government

Does Trump’s election and its aftermath mean that the U.S. government is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy? In order to address that question, we need to understand how citizens determine whether a government is legitimate or not. What qualities do citizens use to assess the trustworthiness of their governments? Zócalo Public Square asked these questions of political scientist Margaret Levi, who has investigated the conditions under which people come to believe their governments are legitimate and the consequences of those beliefs for compliance, consent, and the rule of law in North America and other parts …


War College students march during the Victory Day celebrations in Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 2011. As some democracies struggle to preserve their legitimacy, or give way to authoritarian regimes, institutions like the military could benefit by gaining power. Photo by Associated Press.

Why Authoritarianism May Be on the Rise

To Endure, Western Democracies Need to Root Themselves in a Vision of the Common Good

Why is democracy in trouble? Long before democracy’s global slump became conventional wisdom, Yascha Mounk was warning that support for democracy was on the decline in the world’s most advanced societies. …


A Uniformed Secret Service officer patrols during blizzard conditions in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 2016. Photo by Gerald Herbert/Associated Press.

Why Donald Trump Will Hate the Presidency

The Tycoon in the White House Doesn’t Understand the Difference Between Strength and Power

Donald Trump entered politics as a self-proclaimed “strong leader.” He castigated his supposedly tepid predecessor for lacking necessary strength. Trump, by contrast, …


The 2016 ‘Touch the Budget’ event held to encourage community input and involvement in Decatur, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Meredith Roark.

Liberal Democracy Is Too Limited in the Era of the On-Demand Economy

Any Successful Government Must Consider Not Only What Citizens Want, but What They Can Contribute

In the 20th century, the legitimacy of governments was based almost solely on the rule of law and the right to vote.

In the democratic upheaval of the 21st century, citizens still want the protection of laws and the ability to choose representatives, but those powers may no longer be enough to make government legitimate in the eyes of the people. In the future, governments …