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 divinity. The Persian emperor Shapur I claimed on his coins to be “Divine Shapur King of Iran whose seed is from gods.” Julius Caesar had himself declared a god, …

More In: how governments gain and lose legitimacy

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 …

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 …

For China’s One-Party Rulers, Legitimacy Flows from Prosperity and Competence

The West Still Underestimates Beijing’s Ancient Social Contract with “Heaven”

It is widely assumed in the West that legitimacy of a government comes from universal suffrage and multiparty competitive elections. Yet this assumption raises two issues: First, historically it is …

Are Americans Fully Committed to Democracy?

The Best Form of Government Is Only as Strong as the People and Patterns of Behavior That Defend It

Among the many different forms of government, democracies are unique in the extent to which their stability depends on legitimacy—a belief on the part of the public that the system …

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 …