The grey areas of political illegitimacy

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This article looks at the conceptual characteristics of illegitimacy with the aim to understand the nuanced nature of its consequences. With legitimacy at the heart of state-building, its absence (or loss) is likely to lead to a collapse of public institutions and the ultimate failure of the state. But this article explores whether there are more factors at play when understanding the causal relation between legitimacy and stability. It scrutinises the notion that illegitimacy can be reduced to the absence of legitimacy, before re-examining the relationship between illegitimacy and instability. To do so, the article analyses some of the variables under which legitimacy becomes absent, then studies the relation between institutional and informal legitimacy to determine the conditions for illegitimacy. It is consequently shown that illegitimacy is a more fluid concept and is, like its counterpart, a combination of institutional performance and normative perceptions among audiences. The article then presents some real-world examples to back up these arguments, where the absence of conventional legitimacy can bring about stability under particular circumstances, thus suggesting an alternative view of illegitimacy, particularly in the developing world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2413-2429
Number of pages17
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number10
Early online date13 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2022


  • Lebanon
  • state-building
  • intervention
  • legitimacy
  • nationalism
  • sectarianism and communalism

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