Is the legitimacy of states really always contested?

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This essay is aimed evaluating the claim that the legitimacy of states is always contested.

This essay is aimed evaluating the claim that the legitimacy of states is always contested.

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  • 1. THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_  PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved     Is  the  legitimacy  of  states  always  contested?     This  essay  intends  to  address  the  claim  that  the  legitimacy  of  states  is  continuously  disputed.   The  first  section  focuses  on  the  ways  in  which  states  claim  its  right  to  rule  by  looking  at  the   relations   between   institutions   acting   on   its   behalf   and   its   people.   The   following   session   explores   democracy   as   a   complementary   argument   which   opposes   the   examined   claim   centred  in  the  idea  that  these  relations  and  processes  are  accepted.  It  then  looks  at  the  issues   of   the   split   of   Northern   Ireland   and   the   role   of   United   Nation’s   Security   Council   in   the   international   arena   as   examples   of   circumstances   in   which   the   states   have   its   legitimacy   challenged.   Finally   it   reaches   a   conclusion   which   weights-­‐up   the   claim   by   looking   at   the   evidence  both  for  and  against  it.   For  the  social  scientists  Georgina  Blakeley  and  Michael  Saward  ‘the  state  is:  an  idea  based  on   shared   expectations   about   the   ordering   of   social   life;   a   set   of   organisations;   and   a   set   of   practices’   (Blakeley   and   Saward,   2009,   p.   355).   Another   definition   comes   from   the   German   sociologist  Max  Weber  who  identified  the  state  as  ‘an  organisation  that  successfully  claims  a   monopoly  of  the  legitimate  use  of  force  in  a  given  territory  (Blakeley  and  Saward,  2009,  p.   361).   These   definitions   suggest   that   a   state   is   an   abstract   concept   with   different   parts   assembled   for   the   purpose   of   ordering   life   in   society.   A   visible   form   in   which   the   state   is   perceived  is  through  political  order  where  the  absence  of  conflict  and  disorder  is  linked  to  the   services   provided   by   its   institutions   that   regulate   social   life   (Blakeley   and   Saward,   2009,   p.   352).  In  ‘Encounters  with  the  state’  the  significance  and  presence  of  political  order  is  explored   in  ‘Jill’s  story’  which  present  a  narrative  of  an  everyday  life  experience  where  order  is  been   produced  and  reinforced  (Blakeley  and  Saward,  2009,  p.  351).  The  speech  of  a  politician  on   the  radio,  the  payment  of  a  federal  tax,  a  visit  to  the  post  office  and  the  encounter  with  a   police  car  in  the  street  are  examples  of  ordinary  experiences  that  like  in  Jill’s  story  of  fiction   helps   illustrating   the   argument   that   the   state’s   authority   is   recognized   rather   than   always   contested.   In   addition,   it   can   be   argued   that   legitimacy   which   refers   to   the   state’s   right   to   rule  (Blakeley  and  Saward,  2009,  p.  366)  is  achieved  in  this  constant  process  of  acceptance  of   its  institutions,  its  organizations,  bureaucratic  procedures  and  democracy  as  it  is  explored  in   the  next  session.   In   ‘Citizens   and   the   state’   (2009,   track   2)   Saward   argues   that   political   order   is   about   allocating   power   between   state   and   citizens   and   that   this   is   possible   when   a   democratic   order   is   established.     Democracy   is   defined   according   to   minimalists   as   processes   where   citizens   have   granted   the   right   to   exercise   its   power   when   for   example   nominating   its   representatives   in   the   elections,   and   according   to   maximalists,   through   more   sophisticated   forms  of  exercising  this  power  such  as  effective  participation  on  the  government’s  decisions   1    
  • 2. THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_  PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved   or  even  through  more  direct  involvements  (Blakeley  and  Saward,  2009,  p.  369).  It  can  then  be   argued   that   the   legitimacy   of   a   state   is   thoroughly   related   and   subjected   to   democratic   order.  It  is  important  to  consider  that  even  in  states  where  the  democracy  is  well  developed,   divergent   ways   of   experiencing   and   understanding   democracy   suggests   that   a   continued   process  of  repairing  and  making  democracy  is  needed  so  for  the  state  to  maintain  a  balanced   sense  of  legitimacy  within  its  people.  In  addition,  according  to  Rodney  Barker,  2001  (cited  in   Blakeley   and   Saward,   2009,   p.   371)   ‘what   characterises   government   generally   is   not   the   possession  of  a  quality  defined  as  legitimacy,  but  the  claiming,  the  activity  of  legitimation’.   This  also  suggests  that  the  state  is  in  a  continuous  process,  a  constant  search  for  legitimacy   not  only  using  political  but  physical  force  as  suggested  in  Weber’s  definition  of  state.     The  monopoly  of  force  mentioned  by  Weber  relates  to  a  violent  way  in  which  the  state  may   claim  legitimacy  if  necessary  in  its  territory  and  among  its  citizens.  For  Weber  the  use  of  force   is   the   core   characteristic   of   a   state’s   power.   On   the   contrary,   the   political   theorist   John   Hoffman  argues  that:  (…)  ‘a  state  that  really  did  have  a  monopoly  of  legitimate  force  would   have  no  reason  to  exist.  Think  of  a  state  in  which  everyone  acted  peacefully  and  regarded  all   laws   as   legitimate.   It   would   be   wholly   redundant!’   (Hoffman,   2007,   cited   in   Blakeley   and   Saward,   2009,   p.   373).   For   Hoffman   this   legitimacy   achieved   through   the   use   of   force   as   suggested  by  Weber  can  be  challenged  by  opposing  groups  such  as  criminals,  terrorists  and   other   state’s   opponents.   The   split   of   Northern   Ireland   which   is   explored   in   the   following   session   is   one   example   of   the   legitimacy   of   states   being   contested   and   will   help   looking   in   more  detail  at  Hoffman’s  theory.   Following   the   War   of   Independence   with   Britain,   in   1920   the   Government   of   Ireland   act   detached   the   country   leading   to   the   creation   in   the   following   year   of   two   distinct   nations,   politically  and  religiously  divided.  The  greatest  portion  of  the  land  remained  in  the  hands  of   what  today  is  the  independent  Irish  Republic  with  a  population  predominantly  of  Catholics.     Unified   with   Britain,   Northern   Ireland   was   established   with   the   majority   of   its   population   being  Protestants  and  politically  regarded  as  Unionists  with  a  radical  form  named  Loyalists.   Although   considered   minority,   the   Catholic   Nationalists   groups   and   its   radical   form,   the   Republicans  according  to  the  2001  census  represented  44%  of  Northern  Ireland’s  population   and   different   than   the   Protestant   Unionists   self-­‐identified   as   British,   they   defined   themselves   as   Irish   (Blakeley   and   Saward,   2009,   p.   374).   This   clear   influence   of   Britain   over   a   territory   that   in   theory   was   out   of   its   boundaries   suggests   one   way   in   which   the   legitimacy   of   a   state,   in  this  case  Ireland  can  be  contested.  Focusing  on  the  internal  issue  of  the  divided  Northern   Ireland,  the  non-­‐recognition  of  its  legitimacy  gained  form  over  the  decades  through  conflicts   led  by  a  constantly  vulnerable  political  order  and  through  ways  in  which  groups  contrary  to   the  regime  in  place  expressed  their  disagreement.     The   Protestant   Unionists   had   a   traditional   form   of   expressing   support   to   the   state   and   demarcate   territory   by   painting   messages   in   murals   throughout   Northern   Ireland.   On   the   other  hand  the  Catholic  Nationalists  started  using  mural  paintings  in  the  beginning  of  1980   to  oppose  the  state.  At  the  heart  of  their  ideology  there  was  a  sense  of  exclusion  with  roots   2    
  • 3. THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_  PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved   on   the   unequal   treatment   offered   by   the   Protestant   regime   in   the   political,   economic   and   social  spheres  (Tonge,  2001,  cited  in  Blakeley  and  Saward,  2009,  p.  377).  But  the  Nationalists   way  of  contesting  the  legitimacy  of  the  state  was  not  restricted  to  the  messages  in  the  walls.   From   the   1960s   a   series   of   civil   rights   marches   started   a   long   period   of   conflicts   between   Nationalists  and  Unionists  who  were  supported  by  the  British  military  forces.  The  use  of  force   by   the   British   culminated   in   the   assassination   of   fourteen   civilians   who   were   marching   against   the   inequalities   on   30   January   1972.   This   event   became   known   as   the   Bloody   Sunday   and  marked  a  starting  period  of  profound  changes  in  Northern  Ireland.  Immediate  changes  in   the  political  sphere  occurred  and  the  state’s  claim  to  its  monopoly  of  legitimate  force  started   to  be  contested  not  only  by  the  armed  groups  of  the  Nationalists  lead  by  the  Irish  Republican   Army   (IRA)   but   also   by   the   various   Unionist   paramilitary   groups.   Northern   Ireland   represents   a   solid   example   of   how   the   legitimacy   of   the   state   is   challenged   within   a   given   territory.   Looking  in  a  broader  perspective  in  the  international  arena  it  is  also  possible  to  identify  ways   in  which  the  state  legitimacy  is  challenged.     Formed   after   the   Second   World   War,   the   United   Nations   (UN)   represents   nowadays   the   inclusion   of   all   the   states   of   the   world   in   an   organisation   that   aims   to   set   international   order   relying  on  the  principle  of  jurisdiction  that  is  ‘literally,  the  wording  of  laws,  or  who  or  what   has  the  power  to  make  law  and  decide  what  is  right’  (Bromley  et  al.,  2009,  p.  43).  Using  the   principle  of  universal  jurisdiction,  the  UN  Security  Council  reacted,  in  2008,  to  the  increased   activity   of   pirates   in   the   coast   of   Somalia.   Considered   a   busy   area   with   traffic   of   vessels   from   all  over  the  world,  the  region  started  to  get  noticed  due  to  the  worsening  reports  of  armed   robbery   in   the   sea.   As   the   state   of   Somalia   wasn’t   able   to   prevent   such   attacks   that   were   victimising   institutions   and   citizens   from   other   states,   the   UN   Security   Council   launched   in   2008   the   Resolution   1851   that   called   states   to   react   and   fight   the   piracy   on   the   coast   of   Somalia.   This   was   the   response   to   the   unstable   state   of   Somalia   that   had   its   legitimacy   contested  through  the  use  of  force  available  at  the  UN’s  organisation.     In  conclusion,  although  there  is  evidence  that  the  legitimacy  of  states  is  sometimes  contested   there   is   also   evidence   that   is   not   always   the   case.   This   essay   has   showed   that   the   state   is   present  in  our  everyday  lives  and  is  represented  by  several  institutions  and  practices  such  as   the   democratic   process   that   are   accepted   as   legitimate.   Different   accounts   from   social   scientists   were   assessed   revealing   the   use   of   force   and   territorial   aspects   involved   in   the   process   of   claiming   legitimacy.   Examples   of   the   legitimacy   of   state   being   contested   were   given  by  the  cases  of  Northern  Ireland  in  which  a  lack  of  democracy  and  political  order  was   producing  inequalities  and  the  UN’s  reaction  to  the  unstable  and  incapable  state  of  Somalia.             3    
  • 4. THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_  PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved     4    
  • 5. THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_  PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved   References     Blakeley,   G.   and   Saward,   M.   (2009)   ‘Political   ordering’   in   Bromley,   S.,   Clarke,   J.,   Hinchliffe,   S.   and  Taylor,  S.  (eds)  Exploring  Social  Lives,  Milton  Keynes,  The  Open  University.   ‘Citizens  and  the  state’  (2009)  Exploring  Social  Lives  [Audio  CD  3],  Milton  Keynes,  The  Open   University.   Bromley,   S.,   Jeffries,   E.,   Meegan,   J.   and   Staples,   M.   (2009)   DD101   Introducing   the   social   sciences,  ‘Learning  Companion  3’,  Milton  Keynes,  The  Open  University.                         5