Politics in Minutes (2016)

Authority and legitimacy; power and accountability

The majority of political thinkers (with the notable exception of anarchists, see here) have acknowledged the necessity of some form of government. But a government can only rule effectively if its power is recognized and respected by the citizens. A government must have authority, but this alone does not make it a legitimate government – tyrannical dictators, for example, impose rule by force. In contrast, an elected government given a mandate by the electorate has effectively been granted the power to rule.

What’s more, if there are regular elections, or some other means of removing a government or its members from office, there is a system of accountability. The great majority of political systems worldwide are based on these principles of authority, legitimacy and accountability. The differences between them are a matter of degree – the amount of power granted by the people to their government, how much their authority is open to abuse, and how easily they can be removed.