legitimacy, legitimation
Legitimation refers to the process by which power is not only institutionalized but more importantly is given moral grounding. Legitimacy (or authority) is what is accorded to such a stable distribution of power when it is considered valid.
Max Weber , whose work is central to understanding the complexity of the relationship between power and legitimacy, distinguished ‘factual power’ and the ‘authoritarian power of command’ as two ideal types . The former refers to the subordination exacted on the basis of interests , where control over goods and services in the market involves the actor submitting freely to that power. As for the latter, in due course naked factual power needs to justify itself, and through the process of legitimation evokes the sense of duty to obey, regardless of personal motives and interests.
Legitimacy may be claimed by those with power on the basis of either traditional, charismatic, or rational-legal grounds. Likewise, legitimacy-and therefore authority-may be accorded to a distribution of power on the basis of tradition, on affectual or emotional grounds usually associated with revelation (charisma), on the basis of value-rational faith or belief in an absolute, or finally on grounds of belief in the legality of the order. The content of the justification for continued domination-its legitimation-constitutes the basis for the differences in such empirical structures of domination as bureaucracies.
Weber distinguishes the legitimacy of an order from its ‘validity’. An order becomes more valid as the probability increases that action will be guided by the belief in the existence of a legitimate order. An order is more or less valid, rather than more or less legitimate.
In Weber's writings, it is possible to identify factual power as being concomitant with the market and therefore with class , legitimate power with a status order and therefore with status groups. All orders are a mixture of the two, although it is clear that commercial classes, property classes, and social classes are associated with a diachronic movement towards the eventual legitimation of class power buttressed by the status order. The emergence of action guided by custom, habit, convention, legal enactment, and finally religious encoding indicates the stages in the legitimating process of the power of the rulers, and leads eventually to the stable distribution of power. However, when ‘the myth of positive privilege’ is no longer accepted unquestionably by the masses and the ‘class situation’ becomes visible as the determinant of an individual's fate, then legitimacy rooted in the status order and its accompanying ideological legitimation can be said to have broken down, and with it that status order itself. Weber does not provide specific accounts of what the factors are which precipitate the legitimation crisis, although the section on the conditions for the formation of communal class action in his famous essay on ‘Class, Status and Party’ provides some insight into such a scenario.
It is possible to see the ideology of citizenship as a modern example of a legitimating principle, where the incorporation through the extension of formal civil, political, and social rights provides a status order for the market-generated inequalities of late capitalism . However, the pressure to provide substantial content to formal rights (actual equality before the law, actual right to property, equal access to the freedom of speech, and the means to participate through social welfare provision within such a society) may all undermine the legitimating role of citizenship.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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