Amanda Greene is a political philosopher working at Stanford. She is very interested in the question of political legitimacy whether it be the legitimacy of a nation, a state, a province, an international organization. In fact she believes that "disputes about political legitimacy actually underlie the deepest political problems of our time." From her website, the following introduction:
Welcome. I'm a philosophy Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University. My research focuses on political philosophy, ethics, and ancient philosophy.
Before graduate school I worked as a strategy consultant in the private and non-profit sectors in the United States, India, and Australia.
In 2014-2015, I will be the Law and Philosophy Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. In the autumn of 2015, I will join the philosophy department at University College London.
As a philosopher, I became unsatisfied with the following prominent answers: A political order is legitimate because it is democratic, because it respects freedom and equality, because it leads to the best welfare outcomes, because it arises from a hypothetical social contract, etc. None of these seemed like the right kind of answer to the difficult problem of why some people have significant power to direct and limit the actions of others in the name of the common good. Instead, I develop a new account of political legitimacy based on quality consent. It combines a concern for quality governance outcomes with an emphasis on the free consent of individual subjects. (From Stanford philosopher examines the legitimacy of political power, by Veronica Marian, Stanford Report, July 28, 2014)
Disputes about political legitimacy actually underlie the deepest political problems of our time. Domestically, we can see that debates about health care, surveillance and mass incarceration all rely on implicit presumptions about the rightful exercise of state power. Movements such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street claim to fight against injustice, but they also challenge the fundamental legitimacy of the current political order in the United States.
Internationally, the debates about intervention and human rights, for example, in Syria, must wrestle head-on with unresolved problems about when the sovereign status of a state can be overridden for moral reasons. Regional organizations such as the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations continue to hear the legitimacy of their economic decisions challenged by member states. Around the world, all political leaders claim to rule with legitimacy. Often those claims are challenged, but without a clear idea of what counts as legitimate and what counts as illegitimate. Certain parties could afford to be clearer about this, including policymakers, investors, aid agencies, etc. Companies seeking to do business in a country, diplomats seeking to negotiate an armistice and policymakers seeking to negotiate global standards for trade need to know what standards a state must meet in order to be legitimate. (Ibid)
I have been closely examining the political thought of Plato at the end of his life, when he seems to have shifted away from his argument in the Republic that only those who truly possess knowledge are fit to rule. I have come to think that in his final and unfinished treatise, the Laws, Plato elevates a new dimension to establishing a good political order: respecting the freedom of individual subjects. (Ibid)
I focus on the question of what makes political power legitimate, across a wide range of contexts. I am concerned with the power exercised by various entities, such as national governments, local governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations. I am less interested in why certain laws are constitutional – though this is important – than in whether the entire political order is morally legitimate in the first place. (Ibid)
What is especially interesting in Greene's work is her insightful discernment of the multiple claims to political legitimacy simply assumed and appropriated by various "groups" once termed special interest groups, like the Tea Party, or "Wall Street" or the "moral majority" (names like Falwell and Dobson come to mind), "while they simultaneously challenge the fundamental legitimacy of the United S tates political order."
What is interesting also, is that the various media outlets, reporters and pundits, merely report on the statements, activities especially fund-raising and the political positions of these "groups" without challenging their legitimacy. One of the most obvious implications of this dynamic is a fragmentation of what defines the "public good" the "body politic" and the common good". In fact, it could be argued that the fragmentation is so complete as to render those concepts nearly irrelevant in the public debate. And, into a vacuum, abhorred by nature, rush the deep pockets of rich men, women and estates, including corporations, seeking to claim the agenda, and the power to implement (impose, enable, force) that agenda, over the will of the "common good".
And while political "action committees" like the Tea Party, or Wall Street, or "the Christian Right" are deeply and profoundly engaged in achieving their political ideological agenda, for their own purposes, (while also likely holding to the view that their goals are "good for the country") they are not generally engaged in overtly violent methods to achieve their political goals.
On the other hand, in many countries, increasing numbers of terrorist groups are injecting violence and chaos into what were previously legitimate "states" and in the ensuing acts of their pre-designed and highly scripted drama (many would term it a tragedy) they are seeking to assume the mantle of legitimacy, (ISIS, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al Shabab along with others jump to the front of our mind) without accomplishing anything more than devastation, destruction, death and dismemberment on their fascistic march to power. Non-state actors, including the "separatists" who have invaded Crimea, and the Eastern Ukraine as puppets of Putin, seek to supplant what previously were generally regarded as legitimate state actors, not all of which were favourably aligned with those countries considering themselves to occupy leadership in the world community of nations.
International organizations too, NATO, the IMF, World Bank, United Nations, International Criminal Court....these depend on a degree of accepted legitimacy in each of their 'interventions' in their respective domains. And more recently, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have joined to create a parallel (competing) bank, and Monetary Fund, of some $50 and $150 billion respectively.
Relative claims to legitimacy will become a potential point of friction should countries make application to both the established institutions and those newly-formed, given the contingencies required for co-operation by each respective institution. Over-riding these issues of potential competition is a question of the innate legitimacy of all international organizations, dependent as they are on the surrender of some aspects of national jurisdiction for the larger "common good" simply in order for these institutions to continue to exist. For example, the United States has never signed on to the International Criminal Court, fearing the incursion of the court's mandate on her personnel serving in regions outside the borders of the United States, and losing "control" of the legal proceedings that any actions of those people might incur.
Political legitimacy is also at the heart of the chaos surrounding the formal and independent investigation of the downing of the MH17 Airbus over Ukraine. Who is in charge of the crash site? The Russian-backed terrorist thugs, the Ukrainian government, the international police forces from Australia and Holland both of which countries bore the burden of most casualties in the tragedy or perhaps even the Kremlin? Clearly, the official observers/investigators have been prevented from carrying out their task of cataloguing the crash site, removing the remains and beginning the investigation of the evidence that might point to the cause. It is the sheer force of arms and rhetorical threats and counter-threats that form the basis of the Putin position that calls for an independent investigation, after much of the evidence has been removed surreptitiously by his thug-puppets.
Political legitimacy, too, is at the heart of the public debate over the Affordable Care Act. Is the government legitimately providing a framework for the people of the United States to acquire health care insurance, especially those people who previously were denied by a pre-existing condition, or were unable to gain access because the cost of premiums were too high? Did the president act within the legitimate limits of presidential power when he delayed the imposition of the mandate to co-operate with the terms of the act on small business? What legitimate claim to the exclusive provision of health care insurance is attached to the large corporate insurance companies? Is that claim merely based on history and tradition, or because it incarnates the capitalist economic system, does that criterion give the whole field to their unrestricted profit-seeking?
What legitimacy does Hamas really have to subvert the provision of concrete and other materials slated for construction of public facilities for the people of Gaza into the construction of tunnels providing surreptitious access into the state of Israel for the purpose of killing Jews and destabilizing the state of Israel?
What legitimacy does the new president of Egypt, General Sisi, have in seeking a cease-fire with the leaders of Hamas, given his government's declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization?
What degree of legitimacy do the people of Gaza and the West Bank grant to Secretary of State John Kerry, in his pursuit of a halt to the violence being inflicted by both the Israeli military and Hamas militants on the people of Gaza and Israel respectively? (We would likely believe very little!)
Legitimacy is the defining quality or principle that contains within its offering from one party to another, a belief and a trust that the one receiving will conduct himself/themselves in a manner that the one offering confidently predicts will be generally acceptable and consistent with the goals of the majority of those offering legitimacy. Unless and until that reciprocity is sustained, the one(s) in power no longer warrant their continuing holding of that power.
As this principle is more well known and recognized as the legitimate fulcrum around which all power relationships operate, those holding positions of power and influence will necessarily become more acquainted with and more favourably disposed to the notion that their positions and their influence truly do depend on the compliance and the consent of those for whom they assume leadership and influence.
There can be no doubt that Ms Greene's work will attract the attention, critical reviews and instructional implementation that it deserves, as she continues her professional career, honing her insights, applying those insights and disseminating those insights among her growing numbers of students.
Chester Barnard, in his early work on leadership, wrote in The Functions of the Executive (1938), that that consent of the governed is the sine qua non of all leadership roles and functions.
Barnard emphasizes that formal organizations are “organic and evolving social
systems” (1945: 178), and that management’s main challenge is achieving cooperation
among the groups and individuals within this social system, in the interests of achieving
organizational goals. The magnitude of the cooperative challenge is such that “successful
cooperation in or by formal organizations is the abnormal, not the normal condition.
What are observed from day to day are the successful survivors among innumerable
failures … Failure to cooperate, failure of cooperation, failure of organization, disorganization,
disintegration, destruction of organization – and reorganization – are characteristic
facts of human history” (1938:5). Barnard also recognized the link between authority
and legitimacy. (From
Chester Barnard and the Systems Approach to Nurturing
Andrea Gabor Joseph T. Mahoney, 2010, Illinois Business, working paper