Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a democratic system? Government by the people! Not like in those bad old days when we were ruled by kings! Bullshit, bullshit and bullshit.
All government is a racket. From time to time a new set of rulers emerges after a process designed to confer the appearance of legitimacy on one section of the dominant class. The details of that process vary from time to time and from place to place. The parameters of the ruling class are likewise variable – sometimes they’re defined by money, sometimes by education, sometimes by the number of inbred ancestors. The one constant is that people enamoured of their own system tend to be scornful of all others.
Western “democracy” operates by insisting that you choose between nntwo contenders about whom you know nothing except what hired liars have been paid to tell you. It’s a slightly less honest version of the old Soviet system: you’re presented with a list of candidates and told “You can choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Aren’t you lucky!” (The US variant seems to involve two millionaires competing to establish their bona fides as just plain folks and paying hucksters millions of dollars to convince you that they’ve succeeded). In each case you are told that the system has legitimacy because your act of free choice is the heart of it.
Systems of hereditary monarchy can get tricky. Does descent in the male line of a previous king’s third son outrank descent in the female line of his second son? This is important because legitimacy depends on the correct interpretation of those rules.
On the other hand the Chinese know perfectly well that legitimacy depends on the mandate of heaven. This is a great system if you want to become emperor because all you need to do is succeed. “Obviously the mandate of heaven had been withdrawn from him. I cut off his head, didn’t I?”.
Now take the Dalai Lama (Please!!! 🙂 ). Apart from illustrating the eternal truth that any cause espoused by pop singers and film stars is probably bullshit the DL exemplifies an interestingly bizarre method of choosing a ruler. The thud of a Dalai Lama dropping off the twig signals the beginning of a wide ranging search for his newest incarnation. Naturally this isn’t just pure guesswork. There’s a magic lake in Tibet that gives the searchers clues about where to look. Palden Lhamo, the Lady of the Lake (cf. Tennyson, Monty Python etc) keeps up a steady stream of directions: “You’re getting warmer …. now a bit colder …. freezing ” – that sort of thing. And the end result of this arcane process? You guessed it: legitimacy. It’s going to be interesting when the present DL croaks, since the Chinese government has already announced that they and only they will
choose identify his successor. What they really should do is to produce a world-wide reality TV show “The Hunt for the Dalai Lama”. Perhaps Donald Trump will agree to be the host.
No government has any real legitimacy except that which flows from its ability and willingness to guarantee benefits for the general population. “Benefits” is a broad term: it encompasses national defence, protection of the weak against the powerful, weather forecasts, roads, utilities, medical treatment, courts, traffic lights, prisons, disaster relief, national parks, statistical reports, immigration control, rules for aviation, suburban sporting facilities, professional licensing, diplomacy and drains.
Most of these benefits need not be provided directly by the government, although some of them should be. I would be very worried, for instance, about the future of any society in which the government allowed genuine armed forces or police to be replaced by private companies. I’m perfectly well aware of the ritual incantation “Government services are necessarily inefficient!” but I counter it with the equally valid mantra “Services underpinned by the profit motive are probably corrupt”. In any event the government’s job is to ensure that the services are available one way or another.
It follows that any political movement in the name of “independence” or “liberation” or “self determination” is just as much a racket as a “kingdom” or an “empire”. A new government resulting from an election may be better or worse than its predecessor – the difference is just a toss of the coin. Exactly the same is true of a new government after a palace coup or an assassination or a change of dynasty. If we like it we say it’s legitimate; if we don’t we take to the streets howling ineffectual slogans “Not in my name!”, “Not my Prime Minister!”, “Impeach Trump!”.