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Legitimacy ( Latin legitimus 'legal' ) denotes the worthiness of recognition or legality of persons, institutions, regulations etc. A situation that has legitimacy is legitimate . The opposite terms are illegitimacy and illegitimate . Doubting or denying legality is also known as delegitimization .


The term is used in sociology , political science , history , law, and philosophy .

  • Legitimacy refers to the recognition and legality of a state , its system of rule or individual administrative acts through compliance with certain principles and values, in contrast to formal legality ( legality ).
  • In constitutional law , a legitimate government is constitutional , a legitimate ruler according to the succession to power, i.e. legally entitled to govern in both cases, in contrast to the usurper who has gained power or remains in power through a coup or other constitutional breach.
  • The principle of legitimacy (in the form of kingship " by the grace of God ") was made a policy principle by Metternich at the Vienna Congress (see also: Legitimists ). Its opposite was popular sovereignty , according to which the choice of ruler is left to the free self-determination of the people .
  • The legitimacy of a child , especially in European cultures, is based on family law when it comes from legal marriage .

Legitimacy of social orders and norms

In Roman law, legitimacy denoted what was in order, e.g. B. Succession . In the Middle Ages, the term was interpreted in terms of divine right , but Wilhelm von Ockham emphasized in this context the intervening human actions (choice, consensus), which represent the precursors of modern procedures in the sense of Niklas Luhmann .

In modern times, the idea arose that social norms (for example in the sense of the required behavioral conformity to positive laws or authoritative norms) should not only be justified by tradition or usefulness, but also justified. The distinction between external legality and morally justifiable human actions was first put by Kant in the pair of terms “legality” versus “morality”. For Hegel , this contrast leads to a problematic submission of legality (the “right of the world”) to individual morality if the free will equipped with the “right of subjectivity” follows his convictions and collides with the already existing social order, even if he is of the opinion that he is bringing about the “general good” (which, according to Kant, can only be determined by pure reason). While Hegel tries to overcome the contradiction in the term “morality”, Johann Gottlieb Fichte brusquely opposes natural law and morality and emphasizes the coercive nature of law.

In the 19th century, legitimacy became the catchphrase of liberal efforts towards the rule of law, which demanded a legal basis for state intervention and sufficient evidence as a prerequisite for prosecution charges. In the 20th century the opposition between legality and legitimacy was emphasized again. Carl Schmitt criticized the belief in legality, which blindly justifies the status quo. The positive law becomes a manipulable formal instrument of state bureaucracy.

Today there are numerous attempts to establish the legitimacy of a social order or of domination, e.g. B. through their inner correspondence with over-positive reference systems such as natural law, through socially integrative preservation of a certain normative identity of society, through agreement based on rational argumentation or discursive evidence of truth or practical verification. Radical skepticism rejects any form of legitimation of social norms as an arbitrary determination.

Theories on the legitimacy of state and rule

Franz Oppenheimer

In Franz Oppenheimer's understanding , a sociological understanding of legitimacy does not have to be based on ideals or formal legal aspects, but on reality. Citizens accept state rule through active consent or passive resignation . This acceptance is understood as legitimation (justification). It is only because most people support the political system in this way that it becomes stable and can maintain its power . If this acceptance decreases, the stability of rule will also be weak. Sociological legitimation and ruling power therefore go hand in hand.

The sociological legitimacy of state authority can therefore only be derived from the real power of a state. It is not tied to formal legal but to factual state authority. It experiences its legitimation from within itself, i. H. through the power to (re) define law and order in order to determine one's own formal legal legality and legitimation. For Oppenheimer, as for Karl Marx , the state is "in its origin entirely and in its essence at its first stages of existence almost entirely a social institution that was imposed by a victorious group of people on a defeated group of people with the sole purpose of dominating the first over the last to regulate and secure against internal uprisings and external attacks. And the rulers had no other end purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. "

Max Weber

Max Weber defined three types of legitimate rule in the context of his sociology of rule . He differentiates between charismatic , traditional and rational rule.

According to him, the basis of validity of all legitimate rule is the legitimacy of the rulers and the belief in legitimacy of the ruled. In the case of charismatic rule , the ground of validity is the fascination with a ruler and the belief in his (often religious) vocation (e.g. by God's grace or a mandate from heaven ); in the case of traditional rule, the ground of validity is the conviction based on tradition of the legitimacy of a traditional one Regimes, in the case of rational rule it is legality perceived as legitimate, i. H. the "docility to formally correct and in the usual form of statutes".

Niklas Luhmann

For Niklas Luhmann , the willingness to accept state or administrative decisions arises not from normative ideas about their legitimacy, but from the belief in the validity of procedures with regard to decisions that are still undefined in terms of content and through participation in these procedures.

Legitimacy of non-governmental institutions

Non-governmental institutions (even if they are often protected by the state) such as marriage, family, church, public holidays, the scientific system, etc. secure general social recognition (sometimes in multiple forms), i. H. they legitimize themselves (or their decisions) through

  • Law (e.g. family law, canon law, association law, etc.)
  • Social, scientific or administrative procedures (see legitimation through procedures )
  • Tradition , in extreme cases inheritance (e.g. from nobility titles )
  • Rituals , i.e. stagings that make something extraordinary tangible that goes beyond everyday life.

Legitimation of social inequality

Socially unequal distribution of income, status and power (e.g. through unequal access to education or a job) is generally legitimized in modern societies through the achievement principle and is considered an indicator of merit earned through individual achievements ( meritocracy ).

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: legitimate  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Kant: Metaphysics of Morals. Introduction III. Academy edition vol. 6, p. 219.
  2. Gianfranco Casuso: The question of the legitimacy of social orders. In: Andreas Arndt u. a .: Hegel yearbook 2017 , volume 1, De Gruyter, 2018. Online
  3. Legality, Legitimacy , in: Hist. WB Philos. 5, p. 162.
  4. Carl Schmitt: The intellectual-historical situation of today's parliamentarism. Berlin 1923. 10th edition Berlin 2017.
  5. Hans Blumenberg: Legitimacy of the Modern Era. Frankfurt 1974.
  6. Jürgen Habermas: Legitimacy Problems in Late Capitalism. Frankfurt 1973.
  7. ^ Franz Oppenheimer , Der Staat , 3rd ed. 1929, p. 16.
  8. Also called "numinous legitimation" by Dolf Sternberger (1967).
  9. Max Weber: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft , 5th ed. 1976 (study edition), pp. 19 f., 122 ff.
  10. ^ Niklas Luhmann: Legal Sociology. 2, 1972, p. 259 ff.
  11. ^ Niklas Luhmann: Legitimation through procedure . 6th edition, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2001. ISBN 3-518-28043-0 .
  12. R. Becker, A. Hadjar: Meritokratie: For the social legitimation of unequal educational, employment and income opportunities in modern societies. In: R. Becker (Hrsg.): Textbook of the sociology of education. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2009, pp. 35–59.