3 Important Sources of Legitimacy of a Political System

Ideology describes the aims for which the political power is being used or should be used. In every political system some general ideologies and several particular ideological principles are used by different groups.

The political system, the authority holders, the groups, in particular the group in power and the group in opposition, use ideologies to maintain and strengthen their legitimacies.

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The ideology or ideological principles which are used by the regime is called legitimating ideology or principles. Several parties in India use the ideology of secularism for securing support for their policies and leaders.

Several ideological principles or an ideology is used by the authority holders and their regime to increase the legitimacy of their policies, decisions and actions.

The opponents of the regime and its authority-holders also use the same or a different ideology to secure legitimacy for their opposition to the system as well as for their actions.

Ideologies of Democratic Socialism, Liberalism and Secularism are used by the Indian regime and by almost all political groups in India to maintain or secure legitimacy.

Ideology is used by the leaders to secure support for their policies, for controlling the behaviour of their supporters, and for criticising the policies and actions of the opponents.

However, success in the use of ideology for securing legitimacy depends upon the ability of the leaders to make an effective use of the set of principles for justifying their policies and actions.

The structure of a regime, the constitutional system, and its norms also depend upon ideology for maintaining and increasing its legitimacy.

The capacity of an Ideology to secure legitimacy depends upon two factors:

(i) The relationship of ideology to the performance.

(ii) Its appeal on broader psychological grounds.

The first factor means the way and extent to which the people accept that their ideologically inspired expectations are being fulfilled by the political system, and the authority holders. The more the popular acceptance, the more is the legitimacy.

If the people feel that their expectations are not being fulfilled, the level of legitimacy is low. The second factor relates to the success of ideology in capturing the imagination of most of the members and in fostering a faith in the ability and qualities of the authority-holders and the regime.

Further, the role of ideology as a source of legitimacy depends upon both, its capacity to enable its adherents to express their needs and wants and its effectiveness as an instrument of control for moving the people into action.

2. Structural Sources of Legitimacy:

The degree to which the authority-holders exercise their roles successfully and efficiently as members of various governmental structures also acts as a source of legitimacy.

The degrees of legitimacy attached to different authorities vary with:

(i) The extent to which they are perceived to occupy valid roles in the political structure.

(ii) The belief that they have been selected in accordance with the norms of the regime, and

(iii) The belief that they wield their power in the manner prescribed by these norms and by the regime goals.

If they are seen to meet the norms of law and procedure their legitimacy gets confirmed.

Every political system has roles through which authority is exercised. When a person takes up the performance of a role through the established process, his legitimacy gets accepted by the people. The due performance of role in a just and right manner acts as a source of increase in the legitimacy of authority-holder.

Thus, when an individual comes to occupy a role in a legitimate structure, his legitimacy gets confirmed. It is called structural legitimacy. When an individual gets legitimacy after he comes to occupy a role in a structure we call it legitimacy resting upon structural basis.

By exercising his role in accordance with the set norms and rules of the structure, the individual enhances his legitimacy as well as the legitimacy of the structure of which he is a part. When a person becomes a member of the legislature or gets elected to the office of its chairman, his power/authority gets some legitimacy.

3. Personality as a Source of Legitimacy:

The personality of the authority-holder is always an input of legitimacy. When the personality of the person holding an office enjoys respect and moral approval, the legitimacy of the role he performs gets confirmed and increased.

The personal charisma of the authority holder and the recognition of his qualities by the people is always a source of legitimacy for the role he performs as well as for the structure whose part he is.

Personal legitimacy is a strong source of legitimacy. When the people love, support, and respect the person holding authority, even some violations of the norms and procedures are well tolerated by the people and the legitimacy of the system remains intact.

It was Nehru’s charisma that helped the people to overcome their frustration with the regime resulting from its failure to meet the Chinese aggression of 1962.

Not only personal charisma but also the quality of leadership exhibited in discharging the functions of the role or handling a crisis also acts as a big source of legitimacy.

Lal Bahadur Shastri lacked the charisma that Jawaharlal Nehru had, but his role as the Prime Minister of India during 1965-war with Pakistan greatly increased his and his regime’s legitimacy.

For the masses, personalities of the top leaders, particularly personality of the topmost leader is the most determining factor of the legitimacy of the political system and the group in power. The masses cannot understand and appreciate fully the qualities of ideologies or ideological principles.

Their knowledge of the political structures and functions is also limited. But the vision of a charismatic person exercising power over them always attracts them. Hence, personality as the source of legitimacy sometimes overshadows the other two sources.