Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The enigmatic M-1 of the lively IO/PSYOPS blog Swedish Meatballs Confidential graced the comment section of the previous post and posed an excellent question:

"Q: Can there per definition exist legitimate* 4GW entities? If so, could you please, at your convenience,name any number of them."

I can attest, from some years of studying diplomatic history, that "Legitimacy" in international relations is a lot like obscenity - hard to define but everybody knows it when they see it. The problem is that scholars, diplomats, jurists and intellectuals tend to see legitimacy most clearly when it happens to accord with their own interests.

For example, Neo-Realist IR theorists, Islamists, Marxist-Leninists, Burkean Conservatives, Lockean classical liberals and Liberal Internationalists will all construct arguments that appeal to the legitimacy, or argue the lack thereof, in certain regimes or institutions. Their premises differ as to the origin of legitimacy but the concept itself is regarded as sound across a wide political spectrum - excepting perhaps the fringe of Gramiscian -postmodernist-deconstructionistic radicals, whose tireless efforts to de-legitimize and dismiss nearly everything in the Western intellectual tradition only emphasizes the importance they really attach to legitimacy (At this point, I'd like to invite Dr. Daniel Nexon of The Duck of Minerva to add anything on academic perceptions of legitimacy, disagree with me or generally put in his well-informed two cents).

That being said, as average people are not afflicted with the abstruse theories of intellectuals, I think the Lockean concept of "consent of the governed" is most useful here in addressing M-1's question. Most people stuck in a conflict zone are going to be pragmatists, interested in the restoration of peace on the best terms possible for themselves. It is for their affinity that the 4GW game is played.

Consent does not require democratic elections. Elections make popular consent visible, quantified and, where society operates under the rule of law, elections are a regular, contractual, but temporary grant of authority from the people to their government. Authority can also be granted implicitly by consensual, popular, deference as with homage given to Shiite maarjas, the King of Thailand, the Pope, the Emperor of Japan and the Supreme Court of the United States, whose powerful judicial role is formidibly augmented by the widespread acceptance of it's moral authority as the legitimate arbiter of the meaning of the Constitution.

4GW entities, like states, can acquire ( and lose) moral authority and thus, political legitimacy, through their actions. We may not find this to be logical or objectively factual when Hezbollah or al Qaida are measured against a theoretical ideal. That however, is irrelevant to most the audience in the conflict zone. What matters is what you are measuring the 4GW entity against in the real world. A corrupt, incompetent, oligarchy? A vibrant, prosperous, liberal democracy? A constitutional monarchy backed by long tradition? A Communist regime? A hated dictator ? A foreign army? What ?

Much like time, legitimacy is entirely relative. The people might yearn for steak but if one side is providing nothing but crumbs and the other promises chicken - and can come across with a drumstick now and again - the side with the chicken wins.


Soob weighs in as well with an appropriately timed taxonomy.

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As so often the case, the question is as interesting as the possible answers. What does it mean for a 4GW entity to have legitimacy? Legitimacy is a characteristic of governments. Do the Boy Scouts of America have legitimacy? The Republican Party? How about Hamas in Palestine?

Also, in political science legitimacy is too abstract for practical use. Regimes are judged by how many attributes of government they have. To quote myself:

Having a bureaucracy, capital, constitution, and seat at the UN does not make a government. Governments have specific characteristics. The more of these they possess, the stronger and more durable they are. The most important attributes:

• Control of armed forces, or even monopoly of armed force in its borders.
• The ability to levy and collect taxes.
• An administrative mechanism to execute its policies.
• Territory in which it is the dominant political entity.
• Control of borders.
• Legitimacy (not love) in the eyes of its people.


A 4GW entity might have most of these, but then it is a government.

Perhaps the question might be rephrased: how does a government function when many of its people give their allegiance to a 4GW entity? That’s an old question in western history, as for a millennium states wrestled with region for their citizens minds and souls.

What's old is new again!

" Legitimacy is a characteristic of governments"

But exclusively ? I do not think so.

De facto considerations matter - namely controlling the territory to which you lay claim.

This however is not enough. The Taliban at their peak ruled 90-95 % of Afghanistan but were recognized by only three other states and they alienated even the Pushtun tribes by the time we invaded. Legitimacy is a transient quality that must be constantly refreshed.

"That’s an old question in western history, as for a millennium states wrestled with region for their citizens minds and souls.
What's old is new again!"

Agreed! Looking at Europe on the eve of the Thirty Year's War would be instructive for statesmen today.
"Legitimacy is a transient quality "

A nice summary of van Creveld's Decline of the State theory.

I have a brief article on this coming (2 or 3 in the pipeline). As Marx said, Good Ideas are Theft.

So I'll use it!
Sounds good to me.

" I have had two original ideas in my life"

- Albert Einstein
"Agreed! Looking at Europe on the eve of the Thirty Year's War would be instructive for statesmen today."

I recall that Lind recommended a book on the Thirty Years War (by the author of The Guns of August)
Holy smokes and Holy cow, that ZenPundit Count can give a thoughtful and well-considered response! (not to mention all the appending commentary found both here and distributed beyond the moats of this pensive Chateau.)

Sorry I couldn't thank you all yesterday when the illuminating responses came flooding in. I was too busy reading (still am)and mulling over the many appetizers tabled - as I still am. As well, I was accessing all of this from a mobile browser not exactly conducive to typing - as I am now.


I will be back shortly to pick up on some of the finer points put forward by yourself and your colleagues.

Again wise Count, I appreciate it all.
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