What gives someone the right to rule over a nation? 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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First, we must distinguish between “right” and “power.”  Mere force cannot give someone the right to rule a country.  It can give them the power to do so, but not the right.  Therefore, what we are really talking about here is legitimacy.  We are asking what gives a government a legitimate reight to rule.

One answer to this is given by Max Weber.  He proposed that there were three sources of legitimacy.  They were:

  • Charisma.  This is where people give a leader the right to rule based on the idea that he or she has some sort of power that common people lack.  They give this person the right to rule because they trust him or her.
  • Tradition.  Here, the government is given the right to rule because that system has been around a long time.
  • Rational/legal.  Here, the source of legitimacy is the consent of the people.  They have agreed to be ruled by a given government, typically because they believe that it will uphold the rule of law.

There can be mixes of these three in any given system, but these are the general sources of the right to rule.

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