Basic Political Terms Every Citizen Must Know (II)
Avoiding bad rulers
This is the second part of a series of basic political terms that every citizen should know. Citizenship is a right but also a duty that is exercised with co-responsibility; and it is a duty to inform and be informed in order to avoid bad governments that affect the stability of the country, slow down the progress and the quality of life of the people.
The “–cracies”: Plutocracy- Gerontocracy- Theocracy- Aristocracy- Democracy
Let's start with a bit of etymology. In politics there are many keywords that come from the Greek languaje. A very important one is the suffix "-cracy" which means power (kratos) in Greek. Combined with several Greek prefixes are concepts that continue to be fully valid until today. There are many “–cracies” so I will mention just a few.
Plutocracy: Pluto (ploutos) means rich. So it's the government of the rich. Currently, due to democracy, they have retreated to the rear, ruling in the shadows. It can be said that plutocrats are the power behind power.
Gerontocracy: Gerontos means old. It is the government of the oldest people. Weber points out that gerontocracy is related to patriarchy. Although such a government occurs in more tribal societies, current governments are not far from gerontocracy. The presidents of Italy usually come to power at an advanced age.
Theocracy: Theos means God; A theocracy is the government of God which is represented as a religious elite in the land that governs the country according to the sacred texts. It is common in Islamic countries. The Vatican and Iran are theocratic governments. Theocratic governments are usually also gerontocratic.
Aristocracy: Aristos means excellent, therefore an aristocracy comes to be the government of the best people, that is, the most prepared people.
Democracy: Demo means people, so democracy is the power of the people. The best definition was given by Lincoln who said that democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Of course the best option is democracy (even if it is not perfect), and citizens must choose a leader with strength and cunning (the combination of the lion and the fox that Machiavelli pointed out); the first is obtained in youth but the second is obtained over the years.
Power has several meanings, but we are really interested in social power, the power that links one person to the other. This power has to do with domination and necessarily requires the existence of A (who commands) and B (who obeys).
Then power can be defined as A's ability to make B do something that B would not otherwise do (Stephen Luke's concept).
On the other hand, authority is a source of power, or a type of power. The authority is impersonal, it does not depend on the person in himself but on the structure of the organization. A person who get in a pyramidal organization obeys his superior without having to know who he is. The authority usually has a charge, a uniform, is usually legitimate (and therefore accepted by the population).
Erich Fromm affirms that authority is not inherent to the person; therefore it is impersonal. One respects someone because he has an authority (he is the holder of an authority) as a teacher or a boss would be. But that person is not always a teacher or boss, when the teacher meets the apprentice in other environments they are probably in an equal condition. Although there are authorities who never rest, for example, parenthood.
A person can have power without having authority; it may even be otherwise. A subordinate who exercises power over authority. Imagine the case of a plutocrat who is not president but influences the president. He is not authority but he has power.
A person can have power without authority but a person can also have the rare case of having authority without power or limited power (for example: puppet presidents). These cases refer to flimsy rulers as it has happened in some reigns and in some presidencies. Leonidas Trujillo was the true power behind Balaguer; the Somoza family also had several puppet presidents to pretend that there was democracy in Nicaragua.
These terms are often confused. But Norberto Bobbio makes an unmistakable difference. If a government is legal, it is because it acts according to the laws and is not arbitrary. If a government is legitimate, it is because it is legally founded.
A government may be legally founded (legitimate) but acts arbitrarily (illegally); just as there may be a government that is not legally founded, that is de facto (illegitimate) but that does not act in an arbitrary (legal) manner.
In more clear terms, a tyrant (one who transgresses the laws) can have legitimacy but lacks legality.
In short, to ensure political stability, the ideal is that there is a correlation between legality and legitimacy, but a ruler or an institution can be legal but not legitimate, and you can have legality but without legality.
But legitimacy can also be understood from a conception that in my opinion is more appropriate. A government has legitimacy when the population obeys it without resorting to violence. The population recognizes that this government is the one that commands.
Thus, Weber has said that legality is nowadays the most common form of legitimacy. That is to say that popular support is not given to the stronger, richer, more charismatic, traditional government, but it is legitimate because it is within the framework of laws and rationality.
To simplify all this, let's think about a gang ruling a community. This gang:
has power: because many people obey it without being the authority.
has no authority because you do not have competences established in a legal framework
is not legal because it is acting outside the law
is legitimate because the population obeys it and many people (because of their traditions, values and beliefs) consider it to be the true authority.
This last point is significant because legitimacy can have norms and values of the ruler with which the community agrees. Such norms and values can be traditional (a family dynasty for example) or, in the best case - as in democracies -, previously established based on law and rationality.
¿Left and right?
Unlike what is believed, nowadays governments are mixed, that is, they are not entirely from the left, nor entirely from the right. In the next article I will show that these concepts are not enough to understand reality.