Category Archives: measuring legitimacy

Is Ireland a Legitimate Country?


Lemass committed Ireland’s future to one of sovereign compromise. He had no choice.

The international system is a complex and convoluted thing, and sets the framework against which States are measured for their effectiveness, righteousness, or other measures that could serve as proxies for legitimacy: transparency, robustness, even happiness, or goodness. According to these indices, Ireland performs reasonably well – very well actually. It is the seventh most ‘unfragile’ country in the world; the eleventh most ‘good’; the 18th most transparent; and the 19th happiest. Most of these indices combine different metrics such as GDP, social metrics like unemployment, education rates, and so on, which tend to mean that Ireland – and other countries – won’t deviate too much from one ranking to the next. So Ireland performs well as a country. However, the combination of the EU Crisis, Brexit, and Trump’s America seem to represent a trifecta of bad things over which Ireland has little or no control, and could send the country hurtling down those indices. So if Ireland has so little control over these shaping factors, is Ireland in fact a legitimate country, a genuinely sovereign power?

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Nebulous Concepts: Revolution becomes Civil War

Google Trends on Syria

The Syrian Conflict became a Civil War on September 16th, according to Google. At, emm, about tea-time.

State Legitimacy is an amorphous thing.  It’s difficult to measure, difficult to assert, and relative.  Not only is the legitimacy of the state relative to other states, but it is relative across other dimensions too – relative to its citizens, or subjects, relative to its power or to the effectiveness of its power (an admittedly cyclical compare), and relative to the context of its actions.  In other words, it’s tough to pin down.  If we think of it another way, if we could measure state legitimacy, and we could similarly measure state illegitimacy, or the extent to which a state is failed, what would be the point at which we recognise one polarity from the other?

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Other Methodologies: Failed States and Brand Value

Two indices we can refer to as we calculate State Legitimacy are the Foreign Policy Failed State Index, and the Interbrand Global Brand Index.  I’ve referred already to the Foreign Policy Index here, and I thought I’d mentioned the Interbrand Index here, but I can’t quite put my finger on the link.

The failed state index can be inverted, as we said, to indicate the extent to which states have succeeded,  which is interesting.  The categories too are interesting – demographic pressures, refugees / IDPs, group grievances, human flight, uneven development, economic decline, delegitimization of the state, public services, human rights, security apparatus, factionalized elites, and external intervention.  In truth it sounds like the table of contents for a rather interesting book!  The methodology for the index, which is run in conjunction with the Fund for Peace, outlines how each metric is calculated, though it is most certainly an inexact science.

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Sentiment Analytics and Measuring Legitimacy

The Soda vs Pop debate – courtesy of

A data scientist at Twitter, Edwin Chen, has used twitter to measure the prevalence of the term ‘soda’ versus ‘pop’ or ‘coke’ across the US, and the world.  He compares his work to work done ten years previously on a survey basis, which reveals slight changes over time, but essentially concurs with Chen’s conclusions.  In order to arrive at the data set, Chen had to clean the data by removing extraneous references.  For example, references to specific drinks – like Coca Cola – were eliminated; and only those references to drinks were included.  Then he was left with a pretty accurate picture as represented by Americans who use Twitter – and let’s presume for now that that’s a statistically accurate sample.

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The Illegitimate IOC?

Wednesday’s Op-Ed by Jules Boykoff in the New York Times criticises the IOC for its elitism and arrogance.  Sidestepping the conventional criticism of corruption, Boykoff attacks governance, the preponderance of royalty on the committee, and, essentially, its condescension.  It is in effect a commercial construct that denies accountability (such as the ethics committee who report to the IOC executive, populated no doubt by – as Sir Humphrey would refer to them – sound men) and retains, as he concludes, “the arrogance and aloofness” that make it very ordinary indeed.

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Foreign Policy’s Failed State Index

Great resource from Foreign Policy on failed states, and the extent to which states are ‘failed’.  On the one hand, this is an index made up of some good and probably some less good – or at best subjective – numbers.  Therefore it’s of limited scientific value, in the sense that we could use it to make some impirical judgements.  However, it does a useful job of identifying key categories for considering whether states are failed or not.  The categories include ‘Delegitimization of the State’ which I intend to investigate further; rather than describing it as an absolute number, or value (such as legitimacy, relative legitimacy, or legitimacy perception) it describes it as a process.  Curious.

One other interesting aspect is the extent to which “State Failure” as a metric can be inverted and measured as “State Success”.  On that measure, Ireland is more successful (or “less failed”) than the UK, France or the USA.  Which is kind of fun…just don’t tell the IMF, because they think they own the place 😀

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What is “An Economy of Legitmacy”

Legitimacy is a fabled, ethereal thing. It is not exclusively democratic (monarchs enjoy legitimacy too, as to dictators), it’s not confined to the nation state (local government, NGOs, corporations, and international organisations also enjoy it), and it most certainly not constant. Legitimacy ebbs and flows, as a measure of the confidence of a people in its government, and also, increasingly, as a measure of the international community’s acceptance of a government as the legitimate representatives of a nation state. It is a relative thing – different people will see their government as more or less legitimate due to their personal beliefs and politics. Representative democracy tries to address minority opinion, but the basic liberal democratic structure suffers still from what Tocqueville calledthe tyranny of the majority‘. Different international actors will infuse a government with legitimacy in its representations on the international stage. So Russia will continue to recognise and support Assad’s Syria, while Britain expels her diplomats. Legitimacy then is currency, a ‘good’ for the personas of international relations, nations states. It should be measurable (I’m hoping to find some research showing how it can be measured, or else do the work myself), and it should be comparable. There should be investments that can be made in order to build legitimacy, such as in institutions. Wars may increase or reduce legitimacy. All of these pieces need to be modelled.

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