ICS Occasional Papers

Traditional Cultural Ideas and Symbols, and Possibilities of Discursive Legitimacy in Contemporary China

This paper probes the limits of the Weberian approach to understanding political legitimacy in non-electoral and non-democratic political systems by taking up the case of China. It identifies that the Weberian approach to political legitimacy has two limitations at a theoretical level. One, the concept of legitimacy itself is problematic in the context of non-western, non-electoral political systems from a comparative perspective. It ignores the interactions between the ruling elites and the ruled in a discursive context as consequential for shaping the dynamics of legitimacy in a non-electoral and authoritarian political system. As a result, it negates the agency of the ruled. Secondly, the Weberian understanding of political legitimacy does not allow a possibility for multiple ways of organizing power in society. The utility of the Weberian approach is over-emphasized to understand the processes and nature of the political transition to an electoral democratic political system.

This paper proposes a different conceptual framework for understanding political legitimacy from a constructivist perspective. It contends that the constructivist perspective acknowledges the possibility of multiples ways of organizing social and political order and dynamic interactions between the ruled and the ruling in a discursive manner to theorize political legitimacy. Political legitimacy is not only shaped by the interactions between the ruling and the ruled but also by the existing social and cultural norms and morals. Social norms and morals inform how people conceive and view power and authority. Therefore, cultural symbols, ideas, beliefs, and practices shape the nature of political legitimacy irrespective of the type of political system.


Devendra Kumar

Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, Telangana (India)

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