Oct 11, 2020 in Political

Political Legitimacy

Introduction

Politics is an important art in each and every society. In fact, everything in life is based on politics. The art of politics is central to everything that happens in society. In any social arrangement, all the building blocks that make it complete revolve around this art (Coicaud and Curtis 33). On the other hand, legitimacy is a question of whether the political class in a particular society is acceptable or not. Political legitimacy thus revolves around the basis of the establishment of a government and whether the society is in agreement and feels bound by the government in place. This paper will look at the views on political legitimacy as argued by Locke and Hobbes and will critically evaluate them.

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Lockes Views on Political Legitimacy

Locke attempted to explain the aspect of legitimacy of a government by assessing the originality of this ruling. In the modern world, human beings have natural rights to the environment surrounding them (Joevenel 49). One is free to do anything, but has to do what is morally right in the eyes of the natural world. However, every individual in the nation agrees to transfer his/her natural rights onto the government. The government thus ensures the establishment and adherence to rules and regulations. When people convey power to the government, they consequently commit to abide to the rules enforced by the state. The government thus has the mandate to exercise authority over people. The establishment of such a government is based on either an explicit or implicit agreement of the people. The guiding principle of such a government is a sacred constitution. However, the legitimacy of such state is subject to how it exercises the transferred rights. Additionally, this legitimacy is also based on how such government has come to existence. For a government to maintain constant legitimacy, it must operate within the agreed powers. An act of overstepping the mandate given by the people renders a government illegitimate. The sovereignty still belongs to the people, and they can decide to terminate the government at any time they wish. The government should, therefore, operate within the limits set by the people.

Hobbes Views on Political Legitimacy

Hobbes, a philosopher of the early times, used the analogy of natural rights to demonstrate the argument of the establishment and legitimacy of the political class. The natural rights allow every person to possess anything that is in the natural environment. As humankind, we are part of the natural environment, and it is not a sin for one to take what is in that environment. However, people come together and transfer their individual rights to each other in a barter trade mechanism. For instance, individuals own private property without interference from others. A government under this system relies on constitutionalism where people agree to be represented by a ruling class. The establishment of this government occurs when people democratically choose their representatives in the government. For the ruling class to be legitimate, it must protect the citizens it represents. Failure to defend the rights of individual citizens makes the government illegitimate. The illegitimacy of a government renders it unconstitutional and useless. The citizens are entitled to changing such state and replacing it with the one that will protect them (Williams 102). As a result, people will seek a more accountable government. This approach supports the idea of springing revolutions and rebellion against incompetent governmental regimes.

Contrasting Lockes and Hobbes Views

The two theories are very similar, but they have a few differences. Both Locke and Hobbes agree that the individuals have natural rights in the environment they are operating. Thus, the originality of legitimacy is based on the natural rights. However, the main difference is that Hobbes theory argues that individuals have the rights to act as they wish. The implication is that based on the natural rights, everyone possesses the right to own anything that is in the environment. On the other hand, Lockes theory recognizes the fact that there is a moral obligation not to cause harm to another person. Locke asserts the importance of admitting the fact that people do not live on an island, and thus they should respect the rights of others. Lockes theory about legitimacy of the government is based on the standard of how the government exercises the sovereign power bestowed upon it. The focus is on the extent to which the government uses authority and whether it misuses it or not. In contrast, Hobbes theory mainly focuses on the fact that the government is responsible for protecting it citizens. Thus, a legitimate government must be built on total accountability for its actions. The two theories, however, agree on the principle of sovereignty belonging to the people. In essence, a legitimate government in both scenarios is a representative of the peoples will. The people are in control of the government through the elected representatives. Both theories emphasize the need for a government to be based on democracy and continuous adherence to the concept of legitimacy.

A Response to the Political Legitimacy

The two theories above are perfect reflections of the current definition of democracy. The articles serve as a good founding ground for the modern democracy. A contemporary form of ruling is a refined collection of the previous theories. Currently democratically mature states base their political regimes on the sovereignty of its citizens (Wilson, Cheek, and Wilson 53). As Locke puts it, power belongs to the people and thus must be exercised as per their will. The sovereign power, as Locke asserts, is never transferred permanently to the ruling class since the citizens have the powers to take it back. This argument is a perfect replica of how political eras come and go. In the current world, people exercise their democratic rights by electing a legitimate government to represent them. The authority transferred to the ruling body is necessary for the system to govern properly. The government serves to create law and order in the society by making people abide by the rule of law. Governments are elected to serve for a particular period, and at the end of the tenure the owners of the sovereign powers decide whether to re-elect the previous government or not. The re-election or change altogether depends on the question of whether the government has made good use of the sovereign power bestowed by the citizens. In the argument of Hobbes, it is indeed true that the sovereign authority conferred on the political class must be used for their benefit. The state should use all the mechanisms to safeguard the interests of its citizens. The political class should be cognizant of the fact that it controls the systems of a state on behalf of the people. The government should act as a good steward of the authority provided by the citizens. The argument of Hobbes about the justification of revolutions and rebellion is only partly prudent. For sure, the government should protect the rights of individual citizens; however, there should be a clear framework established for this reason. As long as the establishment of a government is conducted in a legitimate manner, there should be an apparent constitutional provision of removing it if it fails. Revolutions and rebellion in the current century should be the tools of the last resort. However, the accountability of any government is paramount for it to satisfy the owners of that government, who are the citizens.

The two theories discussed above are also a good illustration of why most governments in the present world have three separate arms. They include judiciary, legislative and executive branches (Joevenel 49). The three mechanisms work separately based on the principle of sovereignty of the citizens of a particular state or nation. The legislature as a representative of the people makes laws that govern the populace. These laws are binding to all the citizens, since when they exercise their democratic right of electing their representatives. Therefore, they transfer their power to make laws to the legislature. The executive branch is the central government, which exercises the authority on behalf of the people, and undertakes the executive acts as a steward of the power of the citizenry. The judiciary mechanism, on the other hand, is meant to ensure that the set laws are observed and those who break them face the stipulated consequences. Lockes theory looks more appealing and applicable for the creation of a legitimate political dominion. The emphasis on sovereignty and its ownership by the citizens make it more relevant. Sovereignty is the major pillar of establishing a democratic and legitimate political class. Sovereignty includes all other responsibilities that a government should carry out.

Conclusion

The question of political legitimacy is crucial for the creation of a stable nation. In order to have a conducive and harmonious society, both the government and the people need to play their roles. The people ought to adhere to the rules and regulation set by their representatives. The government should also exercise the authority transferred to it within the required limits. In addition to exercising this jurisdiction, the state should also protect its citizens and be ready to be held accountable for it actions. A summary of all the above theories demonstrates that only a legitimate government that is recognized and fully supported by the citizens can lead a stable nation.
 
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