Justification and legitimacy

In political theory, justification and legitimacy take on two very specific meanings, which repeatedly get confused and muddled. Justification is the beginning, the very concept of why a state exists, or should be allowed to exists. Legitimacy is the question of who should run the state. By raising the question of justification an underlying assumption is made that the very existence of a state is of an optional character.

In western thought, this reaches its apogee in the form of libertarianism and anarchism, the end point of liberalism, an outshoot of the entire political philosophy of the western world post enlightenment which presupposes the inherent goodness of the human. The path has been one of initially demanding checks and balance within a state to ensure it is impeded in its ability to interfere with the inherently good “people”, to finally demanding the very removal of the state.

The roots of this entire tradition are traceable back to Locke and Hobbes. These two political theorists as I have previously pointed out are of central importance in the all important question of state justification.

The question of state justification is begun with the concept of “ the state of nature”, in which man’s state is theorised in a pre-political existence. Why did man go from being free and unbound, to being chained to a political organisation? The problem with this theoretical beginning is that it is complete nonsense – it does not correspond to reality, at all. For this type of thinking to get going, it really needed the philosophical foundation of Descartes as his re-orientation of philosophy to start from the Cartesian mind which rejects all context and tradition.

As I have pointed out in a previous post, HBD makes it clear that the civilisation process is a long and arduous one, in which the people that enter it become different to the ones that eventual inhabit it (and they do not stop changing.) If we accept this as the case, then the entire state of nature basis is completely wrong. Man does not have the option of being either in a state of nature or in a political state. This makes Hobbes break from Aristotle’s concept of the political man tragic. Man is a social animal, and the creation of states is inherent in his make up, or rather, man is a social animal, and various complex social structures are inherent to various types of men. A group of clannish people spontaneously form differing societies to non-clannish people.

The fact that Darwin’s theory of evolution in fact utterly undermines all the post-Cartesian philosophies’, yet has not been recognised is a historical crime.

To bring the western conception of state justification based on protections of rights into stark relief, it is quite interesting to compare it with the Chinese Confucian thinking around state justification, which is a lot more coherent by virtue of the question appearing to be simply non-existent. Confucian concepts appear to rest on the idea of restoring and maintaining systems of governance from antiquity. At no point is a theoretical idea of man being “pre-political” even entertained. The state of nature does not exist, and the question does not seem translatable.

This, leads me to the following conclusions regarding the questions of the justification and legitimacy of states in the traditional western school of thought, the Formalist concept and the Confucian concept respectively.

The western concept of the justification of the state is that it is the result of a pact – the social contract. This implicitly asserts that there is a choice over the existence of the state. As a result, the sovereignty and power of the state rests with the people for whom the state exists. The underlying idea is that they ultimately have the bargaining power as they exist, but the state is optional. Following on from this logic of justification is the idea that once the state is in place the form of government is a matter of their consent. The consent must be sought, and the most apt means to do so is to directly consult them via electoral democracy.

The formalist concept of the justification of the state, is, as I have previously speculated, based on a reversal of this western concept. The state is acknowledge to exist and is formalised in all its aspects. Formalism for one appears to indicate that the state is a functioning organisation without the populace, and in effect separates the populace and the state cleanly. A formalist state could therefore be created in the middle of nowhere and then attract the people who populate it. Legitimacy (in relation to the people) in this scenario is not really a question in that the people have no say beyond exit. The exit concept, and failure of the enterprise supposedly act as feedbacks, and provide clear incentives for the creation of a functioning and thriving space.

Confucianism concepts of state justification as I have stated above appear to be non-existent as the question that the state is not a natural part of human nature does not seem to be a question. This has some connection to the formalist conception of the state, but differs in that it directly places the government as an extension of mans nature. Legitimacy is not in the hands of the people, whose place within this society is dictated by a system of ethics. Failure of the government/ sovereign to manage correctly results in the revocation of the mandate of heaven and the failure of the state.

I have my reservations on the validity and viability of a formalist state, as again the issue of man not being pre-political is an issue, as is the makeup of those arriving. We are not Cartesian minds that can disconnect and operate as atomic individuals, any claim to contrary only has to look at the horrifying mess that is modernity. Any comparable examples of this kind of state such as the colonial states fails to take into account that the inhabitants were usually of the same origin, and took their culture with them. The mythos of the American dream should be discounted as a supporting case, given the utter disaster of that experiment.

In fact, the underpinning of the idea of patchwork upon close inspection appears almost post-modern in the way in which it both rejects modernity only to assert modernity’s “truth” of rejection of man as existing within a tradition, being shaped by that tradition and being inseparable from it without serious problems.