Other scholars of legitimacy have advocated conceptualising legitimacy, not in terms of sources but in terms of its dimensions. According to Beetham (1991), the three categories of legitimacy outlined by Weber are, in fact, all different types of beliefs and form a component of legitimacy rather than representing a type of legitimacy. For Beetham, legitimacy embodies three distinct elements or levels which are qualitatively different from one another. The first level of legitimate power is its conformity to established rules; the second is that the rules can be justified by reference to beliefs shared by both dominant and subordinate groups and the third is evidence of consent by the subordinate to the particular power relation. Beetham’s concept allows for an appreciation of the symbiotic nature of legitimacy, in that the conferee and referee influence and shape each other. Weber thought that legal-rational legitimacy was the most progressive and that, eventually, all states would move towards relying principally on rational-legal means to exert authority. Beetham’s conceptualisation of legitimacy is less teleological and so is likely to reduce the likelihood that normative biases will be built into this typology. Beetham’s inclusion of evidence of consent as a core component of legitimacy demands that legitimacy be assessed through both perceptions and actions.
|Criteria of legitimacy||Form of non-legitimate power|
|(i)||Conformity to rules (legal validity)||Illegitimacy (breach of rules)|
|(ii)||Justifiability of rules in terms of shared beliefs||Legitimacy deficit (discrepancy between rules and supporting beliefs, absence of shared beliefs)|
|(iii)||Legitimation through expressed consent||De-legitimation (withdrawal of consent)|
Robert Lamb’s (2014) conceptualisation of legitimacy is somewhere between Weber and Beetham. He takes a panoptical view of legitimacy by conceiving of it as multidimensional, multilevel and bilateral. The multidimensionality of legitimacy is distilled into five features, which can be used to assess legitimacy:
- predictable (a necessary but not sufficient condition that includes transparency and credibility);
- justifiable (judgements about important values: what is right, good, proper, admirable);
- equitable (ideas about fairness, that is, inequalities are justified);
- accessible (having a say in processes for making decisions that affect one’s life, a weak version of consent);
- respectful (treatment consistent with human dignity and pride).
Lamb proposes that the more a conferee conforms to these features, the more likely it is to be considered worthy of support. Lamb’s conceptualisation suggests that it is not so much the source of legitimacy which matters but rather the features which the authority displays. Lamb’s idea of legitimacy is of a two-way process. Just as referees judge whether a conferee is legitimate, a conferee also judges whether a referee is worthy of inclusion. Thus, to measure legitimacy, a conferee must be assessed on the degree to which it considers its referee as worthy of citizenship.
- Beetham, D. (1991). The legitimation of power. Palgrave Macmillan: New York.
- Lamb, R. (2014). Rethinking legitimacy and illegitimacy. Washington, DC: Centre for Strategic and International Studies. See document online