Need for Legitimacy

  • Quest for legitimacy

One thing I have observed early on in my childhood is that even the most unruly lads in the neighborhood would come and greet my parents on Diwali and other festivals. They would not show the same respect when they were beating a shopkeeper on the street for not paying weekly dues though.

Why is that so? Everyone including the outlaws strive for legitimacy. Legitimacy is a basic human need. This is what drives Robin Hoods of the world to help the poor. This is what makes military dictators say they are doing what they are doing to help the people, to root out corruption and whatever local flavor works in a given situation. Take, for example, the case of Pakistan, where half of their independent existence has been under military rule and every dictator had his own benevolent reasons to do what he did. Each one could have ruled without seeking any legitimacy but some changed the constitution, some forced courts to approve their take-over of power in the name of “doctrine of necessity” and some held mock referendums to show they have people’s mandate.

You look around and everywhere you will see people act out of their self-interest and associate it with a greater cause to seek legitimacy. Even the most self-serving acts can be defended by associating them with a greater cause and seek legitimacy. If a person sues a big venture capitalist firm by using the legal system as a proxy to settle her score, she would still associate it with gender equality and other similar causes to seek legitimacy. Some socialist can argue that the rich have devised terms like “trickle down effect” to provide legitimacy to their amassing of wealth. Legitimacy is what causes religious leaders to associate their self-serving acts with protecting the faith. Need for legitimacy is what causes terrorist masterminds to associate holy war with self-serving acts of killing innocent people and still expect to meet virgins in the heaven.