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  • Reply to Jiwei Ci
  • Ben Cross (bio)

I am very grateful to Jiwei Ci for his thoughtful and considerate response to my article. I think my understanding of Weber, legitimacy, political realism, and Ci's own work has benefited greatly as a result.

I. What's the Problem with Performance Legitimacy?

Ci and I both accept that legitimacy is best understood in terms of Weber's "descriptively de jure legitimacy." Put simply, we both think that a state is legitimate if and only if a large enough number of its constituents think it is legitimate. According to this view, therefore, a source of legitimacy is any type of belief—or narrative, as many political realists tend to prefer—that constituents take to give them sufficient reason for regarding the state as legitimate.

On the surface, understanding legitimacy in this way seems open to the possibility of a very wide variety of sources of legitimacy. All that matters is whether the source of legitimacy can persuade people to regard the state as legitimate. Weber's study of legitimacy focuses on three particular sources: [End Page 165] legal, traditional, and charismatic. However, as Ci (2024, pp. 149–150) rightly points out, Weber can allow for other sources of legitimacy as well, provided that they have the requisite persuasive power.1

The question that Ci and I are interested in here is whether the state's good performance can be a viable source of legitimacy. In my view, it might be possible for a government to secure its legitimacy in this fashion if two conditions are met:

  1. (1). the state can reliably maintain good performance—or at least can reliably convince its constituents that it maintains good performance.

  2. (2). the state has a sufficiently large constituency of people who possess a shared interest that is served by good performance.

I previously expressed doubts about whether the second condition can be reliably met (Cross 2024, pp. 139–143). Hence, I am somewhat skeptical about the possibility of performance legitimacy, but this skepticism does not stem from a categorical distinction between performance and legitimacy. Nor does this skepticism stem from doubts about the ability of any state to maintain good performance. Rather, it stems from doubts about whether the existence of a shared interest is a reliable basis for identifying the constituency of legitimacy.

Ci, on the other hand, does think that good performance and legitimacy are categorically distinct, albeit interrelated. He holds that good performance can enhance an existing source of legitimacy. He also holds that it can offer some compensation for the absence of an existing source of legitimacy. However, he denies that good performance can ever count as a source of legitimacy in its own right. Furthermore, Ci's arguments for this claim, as I understand them, are not reducible to the further claim that it is unlikely that any state can reliably sustain the kind of unwaveringly good performance that reliably serves the shared interests of its constituency. That is, although he appears highly skeptical of the state's capacity to satisfy (1) and (2), this skepticism is not, strictly speaking, essential to his arguments.

Our main disagreement, then, concerns the correct basis for skepticism about performance legitimacy. Although I think it would be fair to say that Ci's skepticism is stronger and more general than my own, this appears to stem from our different reasons for this skepticism. In what follows, I will try to briefly summarize Ci's objections to performance legitimacy and the extent of my disagreements with them.

II. The Genealogical Argument

I previously suggested that Ci's distinction between performance-enhancing legitimacy and performance that ameliorates a lack of legitimacy may be a distinction without a difference (Cross 2024, pp. 132–135). What reason do rulers have to prefer the former to the latter? [End Page 166]

Ci's response helpfully clarifies what he takes to be at stake in this distinction. Legitimacy, he argues, is meant to provide a justification specifically for the state's monopoly of violence. As Ci rightly notes, I did not address the significance of this point. I did not distinguish between a justification for the state's monopoly of...