Can political regimes have legitimacy without democracy?

“They remain precarious, always open to challenge, and dependent on social perceptions of institutional actions and behaviour. This is a crucial point: it reflects the fact that these new forms do not fit within the usual typology, in which legitimacy as social recognition is contrasted with legitimacy as conformity to a norm. The legitimacies of impartiality, reflexivity, and proximity include both of these dimensions. They are hybrids. They share with institutions the ability to embody values and principles, but at the same time they remain inoperative unless socially recognized as such.” (Rosanvallon, 2011, p. 7)

An ideal democratic set up will allow the citizens to have a say in both domestic as well as foreign policy. Take, say, the decision to go to war. The power to arrive at this decision as well as that to ratify treaties and trans-national agreements are two crucial areas of prerogative power which need to be tamed. But in reality, the way representative democracies are structured, the executive wields all such prerogatives. For a regime to attain legitimacy in letter as well as in spirit, it should aspire to renounce some of its prerogative powers. It is yet unknown how such a modification to democratic structures will affect instances of warfare and ratification of treaties. It also remains to be seen how such reforms change the “democratic legitimacy of decisions over war and peace, and foreign policy in general? And what does the form of these reforms indicate for the government’s future intentions and conduct?” (Blick & Weir, 2009)

Political theorists have dealt with the idea of democratic systems beyond the state. They have made informed projections of democratic societies in a post-nation-state situation. Under some strong, empowered international institutions this futuristic model of democracy can be made viable. The EU is already seen by some as a test-case for this experiment. For example, some in the EU have already mooted the idea of “parliamentary approval of treaties before ratification by the executive as a means of elevating the matter to the level of public debate and enhancing deliberative democracy”. (Longo, 2004) If such proposals are accepted, it would lead to a form of Supranationalism. In this form of governance concepts such as legitimacy are also redefined. It is broadly understood that legitimacy in the prevailing nation-state context is linked to democracy. Indeed democracy is seen as the sole justification for recognizing legitimacy in a regime. In the supranational model that is being experimented in the EU, “the legitimacy discourse focuses on the institutional shortcomings and apparent democratic deficit in EU legislative decision-making. Elsewhere, the focus is on the purported ‘democratic deficit’ of international regulation.” (Longo, 2004)

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