Essay: ‘What makes a political system legitimate? Why do we owe our allegiance to a political system?’The aim of this essay is to discuss the legitimacy of the political system and the responsibilities of the voters and candidates. All these aspects would be discusses from the current point of view, but also from ancient times – presenting the ideas and thoughts of two great philosophers – Machiavelli and Plato. Furthermore, we shall discuss even the case of power legitimacy in the ex-communist blocks in Eastern Europe and elaborate on the citizen’s opinion towards their expectations and the real results of the political regime they supported in the past.
IntroductionThe political system in one country is elected once at four or five years, depending on the system, according to the free will of the ordinary voters. The large category of voters can be divided into different groups of interest: for example exporters, budgetary clerks or person employed in the agricultural field which vote one candidate for the promises it makes to the electorate. It is the responsibility of the political person to harmonically organize the country strategy in such a manner not to favour one group of interest or another, but to promote social and economic efficiency for increasing the welfare of the entire population.The ability of the individual to freely and openly select the most appropriate representative candidate according to their preferences, needs and desires is possible only in democratic countries. This basic democratic right cannot be exercised by ordinary people in totalitarian regimes, such as communist ones.
In these particular countries, the election process is very predictable – the candidate is selected at a central level, and the desire of the ordinary individual comes second. Fraud and corruption help totalitarian regimes promote the desired candidate without the support of the population.The legitimacy of the election process is explained by the difference between the electoral promises of the candidate and its actual deeds once it is chosen for a political position. Sometimes candidates earn the trust of their voters by engaging in multilateral bindings which, as times go by, it may prove to be difficult to keep. This situation comes up when the individual incentives of the candidate are situated above the interest of the population. Personal material gains and hierarchical promotions are regarded as being more important than the common interest of a country’s citizens, which comes into contradiction with the democratic principles.In the next three paragraph, will discuss the legitimacy of the ruling entities from different periods- Ancient Greeks, 15th century Renancestit period in Florence Italy and a more recent time span – the social, political situation of the ex-communist states from Eastern and Central Europe.
The common goal of this approach is to present ideas on political legitimacy of the system is to present different influences, as well as some opposite points of view regarding this topic.Plato is one of the most important philosophic figures in the field, having his works organized under the form of dialogues. Being the best student of another great philosopher – Socrates, Plato presents in his entire written masterpiece his ideas and thoughts on social, economic and political aspects of the society it leaves in, having an outstanding influence on the ruling regime of that time in Ancient Athens. The aristocratic background of the philosopher helped him to acquire a great deal of knowledge and practical ideas, which later on were integrated in his works.This essay will make references to his philosophic literary work entitled ‘La Republica’, which aims to describe the author’s opinion on the ideal society. Strangely enough, Plato favoured the organization of the Spartan society, with which the Greeks were in constant wars, instead of the domestic one. He had anti-democratic roots and ideas, which later on dominated its entire philosophical proceedings.
‘La Republica’ presents, as it was mentioned above, the doctrine of a good society and a good life, stressing the fact that individuals are different, each presenting his unique abilities. Plato argues that a highly-controlled society, similar to the Spartan organization, would be more efficient and will contribute to an increased welfare for the entire population. First of all, the most striking feature of Planton’s ideal society is the social division of labour – the elite, or the ruling individuals, is selected based on the acquired knowledge.
The next layer of the society is composed of the assistants, who help the elite to put into practice their principles and ideas, while the single purpose of the ordinary people is to obey the central orders and directions established at a central level and conduct unimportant activities, such as trade and farming. If the society were not organized strictly in this particular way, it would have been confronted with chaos and rebellion, as the members of the society would be unfamiliar with their pre-designated social status, and would not know their role within the organization diagram.Secondly, the elite should acquire knowledge on both sides: intellectual and physical, so as those elite persons obtain ‘a reinforced sense of their superiority’ and an obligation to possess a leading role in the society. Thirdly, philosophy is combined with exact sciences, like mathematics and geometry. Geometry is the art by which gifted individuals have the ability to perceive ideal aspects of the society and life they take part in. Philosophy is regarded as a method to engage into constructive dialogue, by which knowledge is accumulated and shared to other persons.In respect to the political side of the ‘La Republica’ philosophic paper, the elites should only be in charge with the ruling of one society or a state, based on their multilateral knowledge and experience. This superior layer of the society is the only one capable of understanding and applying the truth, and conducting the proceedings of the society towards development.
The average individual do not have the capacity of understanding truth, they are capable only of passing personal opinions and interpretations, based on the secondary knowledge of ordinary things. The pre-selection for the next generation of rulers or political representatives (including the children or successors of ordinary people) is to be performed on objective criterions – based on the accumulated knowledge. The legitimacy of the ruling entities depends on the ability to convince the other parties, supporting elite or ordinary citizens of their capacity to lead the country to prosperity and a better life. Plato’s ideas have a clear correspondent in our daily life, with an quick example from the Supreme Court, which is an superior judicial body which interprets the legal provisions of different legal provisions and disputes. The norms of the Constitution are debated in this institution, in order that the truth and legality be applied in every case.
The Plato’s idea that only the elite are capable to interpret and apply the truth is clearly indicated in this short example.Machiavelli was an Italian Renanscentist philosopher, who lived in Florence and who received here a humanist education. At an early age he advances into a diplomatic career, being appointed Second Chancellor of the Republic of Florence and having the opportunity to travel into France and throughout Italy, thing that permitted him to acquire a great deal of knowledge. When the Republican authorities, where Machiavelli had an important influence and political position, was replaced in authority by the De Medici family, the author was sent into exile, tortured for his political aspirations and ideas.
He further on was allowed to retreat into a quiet surrounding, permitting him to start writing his ideas. ‘The prince’, one of the most important work of Machiavelli, is the attempt of the author to reconcile with the De Medici regime, and regain his social status. In ‘The Prince’ Machiavelli analyzes the dimensions of the political power, and its main conclusions resume to the fact that the use of power is rightful only if it exercised by a ruler whose personal and moral character was solid enough and appreciated by their subordinates. Long ruling periods and the right to pass the ruling capacity to a successor must be performed according to conventional standards of ‘ethical goodness’, so that the obligation of the subordinates to obey the elite be in force.Politicians should hide their dark side in order to maintain their social and political position, should stress the abilities and skills that the common belief of people desire. The capacity of a political leader to keep his social status in the future or the right to pass this right to its successor depends on its capacity to meet the expectations of ordinary people. In case of disobedience, a political leader may recur to its dark qualities so that the peace and prosperity of the country be preserved.
For example, the American presidential administration, might have promised prosperity and peace for the natural persons that voted for the Republican Party and Bush candidate. However, the prosperity of the masses is conditioned by the profitability of the American corporations, State organizations and bodies (for example, the Military State Department). The American authorities wanted to obtain both desiderates for which it had been elected, namely peace and prosperity, and this is the reasons which stand behind all the American presidential actions.
The war in Iraq could be explained by two reasons: diminishing oil prices and promoting world peace. Let us take both reasoning at a time: American corporations, but not only those, are very sensible to oil prices fluctuations as these economic processes affect their revenues, and eventually profits. The Iraq bombings have permitted the American oil exploration companies to better access the oil reserves in the Persian Gulf, and therefore bring stability to the American companies and economy. And when economy is doing well, so are the American people. Also the U.S military department, which accounts a great share of the budgetary spending in this country, therefore employing a numerous staff and having an important impact on the development of the country as whole (for example a very important Research and Development actor) would have benefits from the military operations in Iraq.
Machiavelli discusses the antagonist terms: liberality or meanness, which could be translated in current words as freedom of choice and authority. These two terms are discussed from the point of view of a prince, the nowadays equivalent of a politician, who has under his responsibility the fates of the people in one country or region. In exchange of the votes, the politic leader has the obligation to observe the needs and desires of the ordinary people or voters and do his best in achieving those desiderate.
These social goals, taking different forms (low unemployment, prosperity for the masses, peace) can be achieved by two main means, according to the author: liberality and meanness. The politicians may adopt a liberal approach in ruling the country, inducing important budgetary spending, thus increasing the tax to population. This, however, will lead to popular dissatisfaction and eventually to a loss of political support of the voters that initially voted for him. The power transition in favour of another candidate, who usually promises another approach, is inevitable so in this way a political turmoil can appear in one country.
The opposition of a liberal candidate may be a conservator person, who restrain the budgetary spending and keep the taxes at a sufficiently low level. He would have the vote of the public, due to the fact that prosperity is achieved by lower taxes and thus higher revenues which permit more important spending and enhanced living standards. Machiavelli argued that the conservator candidate would possess more chances of being approved by the voters for the above mentioned reasons, which would underpass the arguments of the liberal candidate. On the other hand, the current situation in our times is somewhat different as economies need budgetary spending for infrastructure investments and other budgetary expenditures which promote further economic development and increased efficiency.The legitimacy of the Political systems in Central and Eastern Europe.
After the post-war period, the countries in this region felt under the responsibility and administration, direct or indirect, by the Soviet Union. Communist indoctrination did function at an adequate level when the target population was, in its majority, an agrarian one, being influenced by the promises of a charismatic personality, which had drawn up a balanced way of life, equal between all citizens of one country. This promises seemed very encouraging especially in the countries devasted by the World War, and the only hope of a better life came from Russia.Fatos Tarifa, the current Albanian ambassador to the United States and the author of The Quest for Legitimacy and the Withering Away of Utopia, presents the issue of political legitimacy from the authority imposition point of view under the case of Central and Eastern states. It is the opinion of an official from an ex-communist state, that a political system is said to be legitimate once it can efficiently exercise its authority. Some aspects are taken into consideration when evaluating the legitimacy of a political system: whether the regimes were established following a national revolution or by the imposition of the Soviet Union, if the political system was set-up by democratic means or by coercion and force. Firstly, the communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe entered in the post-war period engaged popular governments that included communists in key ministerial positions.
Indoctrination, coercion for maintaining power and the utopian faith of building a more egalitarian, just, and prosperous society were the reasons behind the acceptance of the future totalitarian regime..The legitimacy crisis indulged by the communist power in force, destroying the intellectual elites, which realized the negative impact of the communist regimes on their country, not making a prosperous country, as the totalitarian regime had promised, and egalitarian society led to diminishing trust and obeisance towards the communist party and their symbols. In discussing legitimate authority of government’s capacity to maintain the confidence in the system of power, Arendt states that ‘no revolution ever succeeded, few revolutions ever started, so long as the authority of the body politic was indeed intact’. Kolakowski, who argues that the two main causes of the crisis for state socialism deal with »the mind« (i.e.
, ideology) and »the body« (i.e., the economy). Economic expectations did not meet the expectations of the population. Close relationship between the economy and the politics: the voters were attracted by promising important economic developments so to catch from behind the most developed capitalist countries and improve the living conditions. According to Tarifa, when the communist regime failed to meet those promises the entire political system collapsed.
The legitimacy of the political party could not be removed by democratic elections, but by the force of the masses, under the form of revolution.Conclusion This essay indicates three important sources of discussion for the legitimacy of the political system. In what regards the first two, Plato and Machiavelli, both had common points which can be applied in our day to day situation regarding the society we leave in, and in the current international developments. Also both papers state the huge responsibility politicians are endowed with, so as to observe the wants and needs of the population and act on its behalf.
The situation in Central and Eastern Europe aims to describe the legitimacy of the communist party, as it was perceived by the population of those countries, devastated after the war. Although the goals were admirable (increased welfare), the methods they used – force and coercion had led to opposite results. Bibliography:1) Conces, Rory J. (2002).
The Quest for Legitimacy and the Withering Away of Utopia. International Third World Studies Journal and Review.2) Kimball, Roger (2005).
Leszek Kolakowski & The Anatomy of Totalitarianism. The New Criterion, Volume 23.3) Kohn, Jerome. (2001). Totalitarianism: The Inversion of Politics.
Hannah Arendt Papers Plato, “Hippias Maior”, in : Literary works II, Second edition 1976; ‘The banquet’ Niccolò Machiavelli, Opere, ed. by Sergio Bertelli and Franco Gaeta (Feltrinelli, 1960- ) ) Totalitarianism: The Inversion of Politics by Jerome Kohn, Director, Hannah Arendt Center, New School University Leszek Kolakowski & the anatomy of totalitarianism by Roger Kimball