WP134: Sources of state legitimacy in contemporary South Africa: A theory of political goods

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Working papers
2011
134
Carter, Danielle

A key question confronting states that have recently transitioned from authoritarian rule is how to legitimate institutions of the state. No longer charged with serving the narrow interests of a strong and powerful minority, state institutions are often faced with the challenge of transforming in a way that allows them to garner the trust and willing obedience of the majority. The question of the sources of state legitimacy is particularly pertinent in emerging democracies where trust in institutions is often shallow and the authority of the state remains contested. For new democratic states that do manage to secure support, the question then becomes: what are the determinants of this support? Are they instrumental or affective? Are citizens more likely to accept and obey the decisions of the police, courts and tax agency when they are more satisfied with the provision of political and economic goods? And with respect to political goods, is it autocratic memory or democratic reality that best characterizes the relationship between the provision of these goods and perceptions of a legitimate state?

In essence, how are states able to translate legitimacy deficits from an authoritarian past into legitimacy dividends in the democratic present? In this paper I argue for the supremacy of political goods, suggesting that those who rate the state positively in providing personal security, political rights and a rule of law, to be more likely to see the state as legitimate. I test these propositions in the context of South Africa, a state that was viewed as illegitimate by the majority of individuals until very recently. Using 2008 Afrobarometer data, I find strong support for my contention that the provision of political goods is a key determinant of legitimacy attitudes.