One of the obvious things you will be hearing soon in college is a wonderful quote, “All legitimate governments possess a monopoly on the use of force.” Sounds ideal, no? It’s a paraphrase of Max Weber.* Actually Max Weber is rather more sophisticated and clever, but I’m discussing how the political class treats it.
According to Weber, the state is that entity which “upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.”
If one is designing a society from scratch, as do freshmen, this seems like an axiom of social engineering. If one observes the processes of history it is a nightmare. No surprise; most history will give you nightmares if taken too seriously.
The first surprise is that this makes all revolutions illegitimate. Stalin is the legitimate government, and any resistance to him is illegitimate. Even if he did kill 3.9e7 people. Pretty much all decent governments have a revolution or violent reform movement. Shall we delegitimize them just because the people were desperate? By all accounts France’s Ancien Regime was legitimate. And the people had no legitimate use of force. Twenty years later how did Napolean, the new government, achieve legitimacy?
The other problem is examining which governments are legitimate by Weber’s criterion.
America circa 1876 is illegitimate because all the citizens have access to the means of violence. Victorian Britain, dominating the globe, would be illegitimate. Britain circa 2013 where a citizen cannot defend against robbers upon pain of imprisonment is legitimate. In spite of rapidly increasing crime and danger and a rapidly declining standard of living.
Germany circa 1938 is very legitimate. The government came in by elections. All means of violence was in government hands. AND they had passed harmonizing laws. Sheer heaven. On a smaller scale Chicago and DC must be more legitimate than Vermont. Dangerous and expensive, but more legitimate. LA is more legitimate than Chico, CA.
But the idea sounded great.
* A problem of life in America is deciding what to call people. You have the choice of calling everyone by their right names and being seldom understood. Or you can call people as they are commonly called and be considered ignorant. The right way to pronounce his name is Vay ber. Most people I talk to call him Wee ber. Toss a coin.