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Political Legitimacy Matrix Essay

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Updated: Jul 15th, 2021

Thinker Major Event or Period of Thought Source of Political Legitimacy The rationale for Obedience to Government
St. Paul Birth of the Christian Church God God granted power to the authorities; thus the people should obey them.
John Locke The Enlightenment Natural law, its rights, and duties Particular moral truths can be applied to all people, regardless of their location.
Thomas Jefferson American Revolution Individuals A government should function in a way where the majority of people can make crucial decisions.
Allen E. Buchanan (2002) The rise of ethical views Moral rights One can have legitimate power only if such right is morally justified.

Over the years, the views of people on political power and its justification transformed. Thus, St. Paul, Locke, Jefferson, and Buchanan offer different explanations for the source and nature of such influence. Various political, social, and cultural events affected their perception of political legitimacy. This paper aims to summarize the opinion of St. Pule, Locke, Jefferson, and Buchanan and provide an explanation for the evolution of legitimate power perception.

St. Paul’s view on government and power was primarily affected by the Cristian religion. His perspective can be summarized by the quote “let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (“Romans 13:1-5”, n.d., para. 1). Religion was among the primary forces that guided lives of people, which provided a basis for St. Paul’s opinion. The divine origins of authority imply that power comes directly from God. Due to the fact that his influence cannot be questioned in accordance with Christian religious beliefs, a ruler of a particular territory is believed to have ultimate authority. Such an approach is dictated by the establishment of Christian Church which occurred in the time when St. Paul formed his perception of political legitimacy.

John Locke believed that natural laws should guide the process of obtaining and obeying legitimate power. In his opinion, each individual is governed by moral standards, regardless of his or her political views. Locke (2016) states that people are “constantly exposed to the invasion of others … and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe” (p. 130).

Thus, although humans naturally aim to have freedom, its uncertainty results in fear, to create a system in which people are mutually united. Additionally, common consent, which is the result of such cooperation, guides actions of people. The era of Enlightenment in which science and reason were guiding the philosophers (Lockard, 2011). Therefore, in Locke’s opinion people give up their natural freedom and obey the laws created by society to preserve their property and obtain safety for themselves.

Jefferson’s views are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and were affected by the American Revolution. According to Lockard (2011), the Declaration states “all men are created equal” (p. 489), which is the primary objective for the individualistic perspective of political power. It should be noted that the declaration was affected by the works of European Enlightenment philosophers, more specifically by John Locke. Thus, Locke and Jefferson have similar approaches to justifying legitimate power. Jefferson declared that the US was an example for the world due to its democratic and individualistic approaches to governance (Lockard, 2011).

The basis for Jefferson’s justification of the government is that the majority should be able to make essential decisions that affect a country’s life. The opposed two other views on governing, the right of one person to make vital decisions, which can be seen in monarchies, and minorities making critical choices.

The next concept offers a moral view of power and authority. Buchanan (2002) states that “an entity has political legitimacy if and only if it is morally justified in wielding political power” (p. 694). Such an approach to legitimacy implies that a particular standard of justice is met by the authority that has power. Buchanan (2002) states that other criteria, such as state consent or state conception are insufficient because the domains can compromise fundamental human rights.

To avoid this occurrence, an international standard is required, which would guarantee minimal justice. However, the author has a particular viewpoint in regards to the legitimacy of power on the international level. According to Buchanan (2002), states should not be equal within the international relations field. The author presents a more modern view of political legitimacy, which was affected by historical events.

Overall, St. Paul, Locke, Jefferson, and Buchanan offer different perspectives on the origins of legitimate power. St. Paul justifies governance by explaining it through religion because in his view God grant power to individuals. Thus, a countries authorities should be obeyed because both the citizens and the authorities follow the principals that God established. Locke and Jefferson offer a more individualistic approach to legitimate power.

Locke focuses on explaining the natural laws that guide people and affect their decision to obey the rules created by a particular society. Jefferson focuses on individualism through democracy, in which the majority of citizens can affect the choices of the government. Buchanan examines the aspect by introducing the concept of moral justification.

References

Buchanan, A. (2002). Political legitimacy and democracy. Ethics, 112(4), 689-719.

Lockard, C. A. (2011). World. Boston, MA: Cengage.

Locke, J. (2016). Second treatise of government. Los Angeles, CA: Enhanced Media.

Romans 13:1-5. (n.d.). Web.

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