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: legitimacy

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 …

If You Want to Rule Brazil, Draw Power from the Streets

In a Country with Too Few Democratic Tools, Mass Protests Can Make or Break a Government

Last August, Brazil’s leftist President Dilma Rousseff was forced to step down from office after the nation’s senate voted to impeach her. But Rousseff’s true downfall came months earlier, when …