In this TMA I will examine and assess how political order is made mainly through the state. In order to create, maintain and repair political order, the state needs authority from its citizens to do so and this authority needs to be legitimate. ‘Legitimacy refers to a belief in the states rightness, its right to rule or the idea that its authority is proper. ’ I will then explain how today, legitimacy is closely linked to democracy and it is through free and fair elections that the state receives legitimacy.
The degree to which individuals legitimise the state is varied and individuals or groups of people can also engage critically with the state. Creating political order is largely the role of the state. The state orders our lives in many ways and we encounter and experience the state on a daily basis in many areas of our lives. For example, we may need to pay a visit to the Doctor, pay our taxes, avoid speed cameras, go to school or we may encounter the police, the postman, an ambulance etc.
As the examples show, the state orders our lives through a range of practises, institutions such as schools, nurseries, agents such as the police and postman and also through procedures. ‘The state (as defined by Max Weber) is an organisation that successfully claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of force in a given territory. ’- the state‘s authority may be backed by violence if necessary. ‘Territory is clearly central to Webers definition – the state claims to be dominant within a defined territory or within a country’s borders.
This theory shows a relationship between the state, its territory and its people yet this relationship is not symmetrical. A possible weakness in this theory is that ‘territory’ is not a pre-given as ‘the borders of a state do not necessarily coincide with the borders of a nation, as in the case of the United Kingdom Of Great Britain and Northern Ireland where one state houses three nations – England Scotland and Wales. A good point on the theory is that Weber sees ‘force’ as the key characteristic of defining the state as he argues that states do so many things there is no point defining the state by what is does but rather by how it does things – if necessary force may be used. Weber also argues that the state ‘claims’ a monopoly of legitimate force – the state is in a process of constantly claiming legitimacy.
The political theorist John Hoffman however contradicts Weber’s definition and argues that ‘the state is an institution which claims something it cannot possibly have… a state claims a monopoly of legitimate force, but ironically it is only because ‘competitors’ contest the state’s claim to have a monopoly of legitimate force that the state exist at all. ’ For example criminals or terrorists contest the states claim of legitimate force. A critical issue in the making of institutional political order is legitimacy. In this aspect the state depends on its citizens for its existence.
In order for states to govern over people, they need authority from the people to do so. ‘Political authority is organised territorially across the whole state, and it’s compulsory in that its authority in the end will be backed by violence if necessary. That kind of authority requires a certain degree of legitimacy that other institutions perhaps don’t have or don’t claim…’ Authority however is not a given or automatic, it needs to be created and earned. Authority needs to be legitimate and is extremely important as it ‘enables organisations and actors to shape or direct aspects of social life..
The state is in a process of constantly claiming legitimacy – ‘Legitimacy needs to be renewed, repaired or restored regularly. ’ ‘Legitimacy refers to a belief in the states rightness, its right to rule or the idea that its authority is proper. A state that is (believed to be or accepted as) legitimate is more likely to succeed in its constant tasks of political ordering than a state that is perceived as illegitimate. One way citizens can legitimise their relationship with the state is through ‘citizenship ceremonies’ however most citizens do not attend such ceremonies. Many of the everyday practises and discourses of the state, its discourses, its symbols and the ways in which state actors and institutions represent themselves to the people, are involved in the process of legitimation; that is to say, the states claim of legitimacy from its citizens. ’ So through peoples everyday practises and activities like paying taxes or taking the car for an MOT individuals are involved in the making and remaking of the state. This is another way through which people legitimise the state.
However, ‘one of the main ways individuals express their acceptance or rejection of the state is through the ballot box. ’ Elections ‘provide a means for people to question and reflect on this or that government policy, the adequacy of this or that government agency, or the talents and policies of this or that party, candidate or official. ’ ‘Today we would see free and fair democratic elections as the main, if not the only, reasonable indicator of whether people have given ‘express consent’ to those who hold state-derived power over them. Its possible to see that state legitimacy is closely linked to democracy. This is because through democracy the state claims legitimacy to rule over people in a certain territory. Democracy is a form of political order few dare to oppose (Sen) even if they do not agree with what democracy is. Sen’s theory that democracy is ‘virtually the only game in town’ and is ‘considered right unless their claim is somehow precisely negated. ’ is a strong argument, as today democracy is generally accepted as being right and so few would oppose it.
Democracy is something that is always under construction and a state can always become more or less democratic. ‘Democracy can be defined minimally, in terms of procedures such as competitive elections, and maximally, in terms of ideas of participation, deliberation and the direct involvement of citizens in government. ’ – Maximalist approaches require forms of citizen participation beyond voting such as ‘…special forums for deliberation or elements of direct democracy such as policy referendums, and so on.
The degree to which people legitimise the state is varied and ‘individuals, and the communities they live in and belong to, experience the state differently depending on a range of variables, which could include not only territorial location but also nationality, age, gender, class, race, disability, religion and sexual orientation. ’ An example of this is the historical case in Northern Ireland. ‘At the heart of Ireland is a divided population, that experiences the state in quite different ways. The majority of Northern Ireland regarded themselves as British and wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and the minority regarded themselves as Irish and Catholics. The nationalists and Republicans did not feel the state belonged to them and saw nothing legitimate of the states claim to a monopoly of force in Northern Ireland. The Nationalists and Republicans felt discriminated against politically economically, and socially, which brought on civil rights marches to end this. They wanted police reform and a fairer voting system.
There are many perspectives and viewpoints in which individuals or groups of people can engage critically with the state. ‘A number of critical perspectives have grown and declined over the years and decades. Many of these are reformist – advocating relatively minor changes to state structures or practises – and others are radical demands for fundamental change. ’ ‘Many of these critiques have, to some extent, been taken on by state actors and institutions, for instance in policies on equal pay for women and environmental protection.
An example of this would be anarchists who are opposed to the state as a matter of principle. ‘The state for them is purely an oppressive, exploitative entity’as J. P Proudhon the classical anarchist writer and political activist argues; ‘To be governed is to be kept in sight, inspected spied upon, directed, law-drive, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled…commanded by creatures who have neither the right, not the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so…’ Anarchists argue that we can have political order in the sense of avoiding basic social chaos. ’ They believe that order does not have to always involve institutions and people telling others what to do. They argue that ‘individuals can more or less spontaneously regulate their own behaviour, and that collective rules can arise from the people themselves rather than being devised or imposed by a single sovereign entity, or state. ’ To conclude; I have examined and assessed how political is made and repaired.
I brought examples to show that it is mainly the role of the state to create institutional political order. I explained the state through Weber’s definition as ‘an organisation that successfully claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of force in a given territory. ’ However I then brought a competing claim from John Hoffman who argues that ‘…it is only because ‘competitors’ contest the state’s claim to have a monopoly of legitimate force that the state exist at all. ’
I then explained that the state needs legitimacy from its people in order to govern them, and showed the connection between legitimacy and democracy. I brought a few examples to show ways the state receives legitimacy and concluded that the main way of receiving legitimacy is through free and fair elections. However the states legitimacy is not accepted by all and I brought the example of Northern Ireland and Anarchists to show how its possible to engage critically with the state.