The Political Legitimacy of Legislative Organs in the States

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There is widespread debate with regard to the justification of the State and the part individual actors play within the system. Although sovereign States hold the most legitimate power, such power is not always used to adequately provide security and justice to its citizens. Justification of the State must be assessed carefully, on a State-by-State basis. While institutions such as the EU or ASEAN have human rights standards and rule of law agreements, many individual States do not adhere to such standards and exercise abusive power, claiming political legitimacy outside of any cooperative institution. On the international scale, States are powerful policy influencers, but individual actors are proving their relevance throughout history. The quest for justice and security historically leads to violent conflict in weak States through mass mobilization and the rise of ethnic nationalism, exposing the State’s limitation. The importance of individual actors amidst such turmoil can be seen through Socrates and Jesus and how they respected State sovereignty while walking in justice and filling in the moral gaps left by State entities.

States gain their political authority by having territorial boundaries, a stable population, and by being recognized diplomatically by other States. The State has access to tangible power sources such as industry, infrastructure, and military power. Beyond those tangible sources of power, there are the intangible sources, arguably just as important, if not more so, than the tangible ones. These intangible power sources involve the State’s ability to exercise soft power based on “the ability to attract others because of the legitimacy of the state’s values or its policies.” States can mold policy decisions and international relations by leveraging tangible and intangible power sources. The justification of the State is displayed through its ability to effectively implement sanctions, conduct diplomacy, and negotiate uses of force, and as realists would argue, such negotiations are only effective if there is military force to back them up. Based on realist claims, the State holds far more political legitimacy than smaller government units who lack military power. Contrarily, the EU and ASEAN advocate more liberal approaches through cooperation, and the power held by these institutions is distributed throughout the States involved. The institutions themselves are not sovereign, only the States within them, leaving the greater political legitimacy to the State. Furthermore, the smaller political units within a State ultimately answer to State governance as exemplified through federal laws versus state laws within the United States, “states” in this case referring to the concept derived from the 13 colonies.

From the realist perspective, State sovereignty provides the legitimate power to control economic and national security policies within its own territory, the focus being primarily on military strength. The State gains much of its political authority through the acquisition of commodities such as petroleum from places like Iran, commodities the individual actor would not be able to acquire alone. Realism also identifies the importance of a State’s ideology, recognizing that power does not necessarily equate to better justice and security. North Korea, for example, is a communist State that imprisons and starves the masses. From the EU’s perspective, North Korea is failing to administer justice and security through widespread human rights violations. However, based on the Westphalian concept of territorial sovereignty, the EU does not have legitimate authority to intervene in North Korea’s sovereign affairs; although, that line is arguably beginning to blur as history progresses. In organizations such as the EU or ASEAN, power is distributed and decisions must be checked and agreed upon. The EU has standards that must be adhered to with regard to human rights, rule of law, and peace. However, they are cooperative organizations, not individual powers. Furthermore, the effects of State abuse may be more noticeable but not necessarily more likely than that of a smaller entity. The State often delegates some of its power to smaller units such as a police force. The police force is responsible for carrying out justice and security on the State’s behalf within its community. If the police force abuses its power by arresting people who have not committed crimes, this would certainly affect the direct community, but the State’s decision to go to war would have a much more widespread impact on the State than the police abuse occurring within a small community.

What makes a State an important actor on the world scale is its direct ability to influence events and shape policies. Each State has its own power potential, which is essentially a summation of all its resources and geographical assets. Ultimately, the way this power potential is used within a State is influenced by the individuals within it. Liberals believe that even individuals outside of the government are capable of making a substantial difference, primarily within democratic States. Individuals can influence policy decisions and events within democratic States because they are offered freedom of speech and liberties that individuals within communist States lack. The State’s power is justified in democratic States with less of a moral dilemma than in States led by an abusive dictator. In a democratic State, the common citizen can utilize media sources, lobbyist groups, and can directly contact elected officials to provide input on policy decisions. Representative policymakers are responsible for making decisions that reflect their constituents’ desires. Viewing the United States through a constructivist lens, the national security policies and diplomatic decisions will vary depending on the President’s belief system, but only in emergency situations will this individual belief system hold significant power. In dictatorial States, political leaders hold vast power because they face very few restrictions and can implement their belief systems with no public opinion or lobbyists to check their power. However, even in an oppressive communist regime, the ordinary citizen’s ability to influence the State can be seen through events such as the mass exodus from East Germany that led to the Berlin wall being built. The power of the individual is not confined to only recognized political leaders.

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Even States known for their rule of law and strict national security policies often fail to provide all-encompassing justice and safety for their citizens. Transnational crime, environmental pollution, new technology, and disease requires the State to sacrifice some of its sovereignty in exchange for help from other organizations, particularly NGOs and IGOs. Occasionally, the State even turns to individual actors outside of the political realm to negotiate with other countries to settle disputes, a strategy known as two-track diplomacy. While States are able to use compellence and deterrence strategies, individual actors who are separated from such threats are sometimes needed to build trusting and cooperative relationships. Where the State power ends, individual actors are needed to fill the gap. This is where the realist view of the State starts to break down, and the liberal approach, viewing politics as more pluralist and open to the influence of societal groups and cooperative organizations, becomes relevant.

Depending on State stability, nationalist ideology can lead to greater State stability or rapid State degradation. A common identity, history, language, and lifestyle is a binding factor that gives purpose to the masses. Nationalism on a State platform can be powerful against outside adversaries, but nationalism growing within factions of a State is a recipe for turmoil. Nationalism does seem to be a political ideology that incites more violence than others; however, it is also an ideology that leads to effective and powerful military operations. The Israeli and Palestinian conflict is an example of the prolonged wars nationalism is prone to create. Nationalism, often displayed in a poor light, can also be viewed as a powerful result of a State’s strong intangible power. In Israel’s case, there is such a strong support for the government and public leadership, that citizens of the State are prepared and willing to sacrifice their lives for Israel. Intrastate violence often depends on State fragility, the lack of the State to provide a legitimate authority or have all-encompassing control over violence within its territory. Ethnonational movements and violence between nation-states is seen throughout history, often arising because of the charismatic leadership of an individual. In former Yugoslavia, the Serb Bosnian masses were rallied into violence against Muslims in an attempt to purify, establish, and legitimize their own State. Many States within the developing world fail to provide their citizens with protection against violence and eventually face the consequences when ethnic nationalist groups rally into power as exemplified in the Bosnian War or the Rwandan genocide. In situations such as these, the intervention of larger political units such as the United Nations are often required, exposing the limitations of a weak State.

The challenge for individuals arises when the State’s decisions do not align with individual moral beliefs. There is a certain allegiance one must have to one’s nation, but there is also a moral and practical line that must be acknowledged. Socrates believed that individuals may justify disobedience when the State is not meeting moral standards. The problem with this is that “moral standards” are very subjective in today’s era, leaving disobedience to the State as an option for arguably any policy decision. Socrates supported his claim by saying that the individual acting in disobedience must be willing to defend his or her actions in a court of law. Socrates’ argument acknowledges only two options for the individual. A citizen can either “obey or attempt to persuade the state of the wrongness of its law.” An individual cannot simply act in dissidence and offer no just reasoning. Therefore, the citizen is allegiant to the State while remaining true to his or her own core beliefs.

A similar stream of thought can be seen through a Calvinist understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Individual citizens must act in accordance with the government so long as that government is doing what God ordained it to do, promote peace and “curb the excesses of evil.” While recognizing State sovereignty, Jesus built His following by example, an intangible power source. The government is ordained by God, and individuals must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. In light of Christ’s teachings, individuals are called upon to take action when the government fails to provide justice and safety to its citizens. In Gary Haugen’s interview with Nicky Gumble, the power of the individual is evidently seen. Gary Haugen established International Justice Mission because he observed gender violence, police abuse, land theft, and slavery, issues that were not being addressed by the governments in those States. Just as Moses was called upon by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, so Christians are called upon within their States to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [their] God.” States are sovereign within a broken system, but God holds perfect sovereignty over it all.

In comparison to smaller or larger governmental units, States hold the most political legitimacy and are held responsible for providing justice and security to its citizens. A State’s power is largely related to its power potential and ability to acquire resources unattainable by mere individuals; however, individuals have proven throughout history that they are capable of influencing policy through means such as mass movements and information dissemination. International relations theories, historical understandings, and past experiences will influence what individual leaders deem to be importance centers of focus for the State, which will determine how they initiate justice and security for their citizens. As seen through the examples of Socrates and Jesus, when the State falls short and fails to provide security and justice, Christians are called to step in and lift up the oppressed.

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