Authority in governance

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Unless a government rules by force, those governed need to belief it has legitimate 'authority to govern, by one of three basic sources of legitimacy:

  • Democracy or accepted monarchy
  • Systematic ideology or theology
  • Charisma and general ideas

When legitimacy is lacking, there is a tendency toward insurgency. A government may be able to use a security state to control the populace.

Henry Kissinger associated these with three negotiating styles in diplomacy:

  • Bureaucratic-pragmatic, the classic Western lawyer negotiator, which he disparages as a negotiating style in diplomacy, [1] Kissinger preferred the style of realism
  • Bureaucratic-ideological, characterized by the Soviet system, especially when a strong ideologist, such as Mikhail Suslov, was prominent in the Politburo.
  • Ideological-charismatic, for which Kissinger used developing country examples such as Sukarno of Indonesia.

The great dictators

Real-world leaders, of course, do not neatly fall into one category. The great dictators of the Second World War, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, had highly personal styles. Stalin used the Organs of State Security, a deliberately divided bureaucracy, and, to an extent, Marxist-Leninist ideology. While both killed millions, Stalin was unique in directing the Great Terror against his own leadership, where Hitler only used the much smaller Night of the Long Knives and the purge following the 20th of July Plot.

Stalin, by 1933, had removed serious opposition. Factions all declared their loyalty, and "it was a fight for influence over Stalin," waiting for him to declare himself for some group/s position.[2] At this point Stalin used the technique, as did Hitler, of seting groups against another, so he could be the supreme arbiter. .[3]

Hitler also used security mechanisms, but was principally dependent on personality and charisma, as well as, like Stalin, deliberately creating overlapping bureaucracies so only he was in final control. The distinction between charismatic and ideological leadership of totalitarian regimes began roughly the in the mid-1970s, and later writers, such as Alan Bullock, continue to explore it; there has been a resurgence of interest in historical writing about Hitler, sometimes in comparison with other dictators such as Joseph Stalin.[4]

Joseph Nyomarkay observed that while a charismatic leader need not have a strict ideology, but usually needs to be able to invoke a higher power or greater ideal. "The charismatic leader is the agent not of his disciples, but of a higher power idea...the people provide the source of his political power but not of his legitimacy; charismatic authority does not recognize the concept of popular sovereignty. "The "higher idea" need not be a complex ideology. In the Nazi case, there was a broad concept of Weltanschauung and the Fuehrerprinzip (leader-principle). [5] Rather than having a set of rules such as Marxism, there were broad themes such as pan-German nationalism, antisemitism and Lebensraum. Stalin would invoke the theme of "mother Russia." Hitler, not ideology, was the sole arbiter of Weltanschauung.

Sukarno, a more recent recent charismatic, avoided taking a position between the Communist and non-Communist factions, but when a Communist coup was attempted, it failed in part becaause he would not legitimize it. [6]


Theocracy, possibly combined with charisma, is key to many Islamist states. There is a broad tradition of Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh. There are variants, such as acceptance of the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, and an extremely complex balance of security and belief in Iran.

Legitimacy may be challenged, as in Iraq, by Islamic sectarian conflict. Even within a branch of Islam such as Shi'a, there are differing views of having an Islamic civil government bound by Islamic law, and Ruhollah Khomeini's idea of wilayat al-faqih, the "authority of the jurisprudent" that makes clerics the final authority.

Communism has been called a secular religion.


  1. Gregory D. Cleva (1989), Kissinger and the American approach to foreign policy, Bucknell University Press, pp. 95-96
  2. Boris Nicolaevsky, Power and the Soviet Elite, Praeger, 1965, p. 55, quoted by Nyomarkay, p. 147
  3. Wolfgang Leonhard, The Kremlin since Stalin, Praeger, 1962, p. 35, quoted by Nyomarkay, p. 148
  4. Alan Bullock (1992), Hitler & Stalin: Parallel Lives, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0-394-586-1-9
  5. Joseph Nyomarkay (1967), Charisma and Factionalism in the Nazi Party, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 16-18
  6. Nyomarkay, p. 146