Achim Hurrelmann, Zuzana Krell-Laluhová, Frank Nullmeier, Steffen Schneider, Achim Wiesner. Why the Democratic Nation-State Is Still Legitimate:

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1 Achim Hurrelmann, Zuzana Krell-Laluhová, Frank Nullmeier, Steffen Schneider, Achim Wiesner Why the Democratic Nation-State Is Still Legitimate: A Study of Public Discourse Paper Prepared for the 20 th IPSA World Congress, Fukuoka, 9-14 July 2006 University of Bremen Research Center Transformations of the State P.B Bremen Germany

2 ABSTRACT Globalization is widely understood to challenge the quality of democratic governance, and hence to foster the erosion or, at least, transformation of the democratic nationstate s legitimacy. Probing the crisis diagnosis, our paper develops a twofold conceptual and substantive argument. We contend, first, that the communicative dimension of legitimacy the (de)legitimation of political orders and institutions in public discourse remains largely unexplored. The paper therefore sketches the rationale and contours of a discourse analytical approach to the study of empirical legitimacy. Secondly, we present findings from a comparative project on legitimacy communication in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The empirical material suggests that there is no pervasive legitimacy crisis of the democratic nationstate. Similarly, there is little evidence for a uniform transformation of the criteria on which legitimacy is based instead, standards of democratic quality continue to play an important role. Our discourse analytical approach makes it possible to identify a set of factors that account for this stability: political objects and evaluative criteria that function as anchors of legitimacy, the short-lived nature of media interest, the number and breadth of the normative criteria that underscore legitimacy, and a series of discursive strategies that may be used to counter negative evaluations. We find that these factors are of varying importance in different nation-states, depending on their specific legitimation styles and strategies. 2

3 1 INTRODUCTION Many academic commentators have pointed out that globalization and with it, the increasing shift of political responsibilities from the national level to international or supranational regimes and organizations challenges the quality of democratic governance in industrialized nation-states (Dahl 1994; Guéhenno 1996; Offe 2000; Albrow 2003). As the interdependence of national and international political institutions grows, the capacity of national demoi to exercise full control over developments affecting their members is undermined a loss of democratic quality that is compounded by the fact that mechanisms of collective self-government remain fragmentary within international governance arrangements. This situation not only raises doubts about the normative legitimacy of western democracies, i.e. their acceptability in the light of democratic standards, but also about their empirical legitimacy, i.e. the support they enjoy in the population: A number of authors suggest quite plausibly that the nation-state s loss of autonomy leads to a mismatch between citizen expectations, presumed responsibilities of national governments, and actual government capacities a development that might foster profound disaffection with democratic regimes (Burns 1999; Alesina and Wacziarg 2000; Scharpf 2000). Against this background, it is surprising that empirical studies have thus far found little evidence for a pervasive legitimacy crisis of established democracies. To be sure, public opinion research shows a persistent decline of support for the governments of the day and important government institutions but few citizens seriously question the legitimacy of the democratic regimes themselves and their core principles (Norris 1999; Dalton 2004; Torcal and Montero 2006). Studies of political participation reveal secular trends of declining voter turnout but at the same time, there are striking examples of civic engagement, particularly in times of crisis (Putnam 2000; 2002; Norris 2002). In academic and media discourses, crisis diagnoses are commonplace but today s accounts of legitimacy problems differ from those prominent in the 1970s in at least one important respect: Alternatives to liberal democracy as a system of governance, or to the nation-state as the polity in which this system can most adequately be institutionalized, are no longer seriously considered. What accounts for this remarkable stability of the democratic nation-state s empirical legitimacy? Our paper contributes to answering this question by shedding light on the mechanisms through which legitimacy is (re)produced and transformed in public discourse. It is based on the premise that the legitimation of political institutions and principles can only be adequately understood if the two dominant strands of empirical research in the field public opinion research and studies of political participation are complemented by an approach that focuses on public communication. After all, the 1

4 norms that underpin legitimating or delegitimating opinions and beliefs, as well as legitimating or delegitimating activities, are permanently communicated and affirmed, modified, or contested in the public sphere. A study of legitimation discourses can yield insights into the construction of legitimating and delegitimating arguments, and into the ways in which these are used to undercut or underscore the acceptance of democratic institutions. After briefly outlining this novel approach to legitimation research (Section 2), we present findings from an empirical study of legitimation discourses in the mass media of four western democracies: Great Britain, the United States, Germany, and Switzerland. In a first step, we show that the short-lived nature of media interest, together with the fact that the political systems core institutions are deeply entrenched in the national political cultures, contributes to high overall stability of empirical legitimacy in the four countries (Section 3). We then go on to assess the democratic quality of legitimacy discourses. We take issue with the claim that the nation-state s continued legitimacy is due to the fact that its institutions are increasingly evaluated on the basis of not explicitly democratic criteria like effectiveness, stability, or identity. Contrary to this hypothesis, we show that positive evaluations continue to make use of democratic standards on a regular basis. However, a political system s democratic outputs most importantly, the protection of human rights seem to be a more reliable foundation of legitimacy than the democratic inputs it allows for (Section 4). Finally, we identify and discuss a number of strategies that play a role in the construction and framing of legitimacy communication, and serve to mediate or outweigh delegitimating evaluations (Section 5). We conclude that these features of legitimation discourses, taken together, make it extremely difficult to undermine the democratic nation-state s legitimacy in a comprehensive fashion, and thus go a long way in explaining its stability. 2 THE COMMUNICATIVE (RE)PRODUCTION OF LEGITIMACY: A DISCOURSE-ANALYTICAL PERSPECTIVE This paper is concerned with the democratic nation-state s empirical legitimacy, i.e. with the factual acceptance of its institutions in the population. Yet even in this empirical sense, legitimacy needs to be distinguished from other forms and motivations of compliance, such as merely habitual obedience, coercion and the fear of sanctions, or individual cost-benefit calculations. Unlike such forms of forced or instrumental compliance, it refers to a kind of acceptance that is explicitly or implicitly grounded in beliefs and claims about the normative appropriateness of a political object (Weber 1978; Pakulski 1986; Barker 2005). The core idea of our approach to empirical legitimation research is that these beliefs and claims are to a large extent the product of public discourses within a given polity, and hence that the communicative dimension should be taken into account when the democratic nation-state s legitimacy is examined. 2

5 2.1 LEGITIMACY IN POLITICAL COMMUNICATION: INTRODUCING A NEW DIMENSION OF LEGITIMACY RESEARCH At present, two perspectives dominate research on empirical legitimacy. The first focuses on legitimacy beliefs as instances of political attitudes and value orientations. A regime s legitimacy is here conceptualized as the aggregate of individual responses to pertinent questions in public opinion surveys. Put differently, legitimacy is understood as a quantitatively measurable attribute of political orders and institutions (Almond and Verba 1963; Weatherford 1992; Kaase and Newton 1995; Anderson and Guillory 1997; Nye et al. 1998; Norris 1999; Pharr and Putnam 2000; Dalton 2004). The second perspective, by contrast, concentrates on the dimension of political behavior. It argues that the factual acceptance of, or explicit support for, political orders and institutions is a dimension of political action, and that non-compliance with a regime s supposedly binding rules constitutes the ultimate or in a way, the only clear sign for a withdrawal of legitimacy. This perspective therefore focuses on various forms of conventional and non-conventional political behavior, including the act of voting, protest activities, and other forms of political participation (Klingemann and Fuchs 1995; Norris 2002; Putnam 2004). These two strands of legitimacy research have achieved great conceptual sophistication and generated an impressive array of empirical results. Both, however, also have considerable weaknesses. The use of public opinion surveys to gauge political beliefs has ontological, epistemological, and methodological implications whose appropriateness may be questioned both in general (Dryzek 1988; Dryzek and Berejikian 1993; Rosenberg 1989; Potter 2001) and in the specific context of legitimacy research (Barker 2001). Most importantly, a survey offers respondents a pre-selection of institutions to be assessed and evaluative benchmarks to be used, and hence does not shed much light on the elements and aspects of political orders that respondents would highlight themselves, without the stimuli provided by the questionnaires. Due to this reactive and context-insensitive character, the survey method is unlikely to shed much light on the actual contours and foundations of legitimacy beliefs, and on the processes in which they are (re)produced or transformed. On the other hand, observational legitimacy research concentrating on political activities, while working with natural rather than artificially generated data, is often unable to establish unambiguous linkages between political behavior and the underlying legitimacy evaluations (Sniderman 1981; Norris et al. 2006). For instance, do low electoral turnout rates indicate an erosion of legitimacy, indifference, or high levels of satisfaction? Which non-conventional political activities are a sign of active civic engagement, and which indicate hostility towards the regime and its institutions? Which forms of non-compliance are motivated by self-interest rather than by a denial of legitimacy? Moreover, the observation of political behavior alone does 3

6 not tell us very much about the specific elements of political orders that are legitimated or delegitimated, or about the sources and contours of legitimacy beliefs that drive people towards political action. Both dominant approaches to legitimacy research thus seem ill-suited to capture the emergence and (re)production of the normative criteria and standards that underlie citizens legitimacy beliefs, or their legitimating and delegitimating activities. We therefore suggest that these approaches should be complemented by a discourse analytical perspective that focuses on the ways in which legitimacy claims are developed and affirmed, interpreted and modified, contested and withdrawn in public communication. After all, conceptual schemes and worldviews, and hence the normative benchmarks used by citizens for the attribution or withdrawal of legitimacy, are socially constructed, and this social construction is essentially a communicative phenomenon. The participants of public discourse advance or object to specific criteria of legitimacy, and debate the extent to which they are met. The (re)production or transformation of legitimacy can thus be fruitfully examined within a conceptual framework and with methods gleaned from text and discourse analytical research traditions (Keller 2001; 2004; Nullmeier 2001; Schwab-Trapp 2001; Wodak and Meyer 2001; Fairclough 2003; Franzosi 2004). This perspective, then, promises to yield new insights into the nature and foundations of empirical legitimacy, and into the mechanisms and dynamics of legitimation processes. 2.2 LEGITIMACY DISCOURSES IN THE MASS MEDIA: THE GRAMMAR OF LEGITIMATION STATEMENTS The communicative dimension of legitimacy has thus far been all but ignored in empirical legitimation research. 1 Obviously, such communication takes place in a range of discursive arenas from private settings to public fora such as parliaments, courts, or academic journals. Arguably, however, the most important forum for legitimacy communication in modern democracies is the mass media. While there can be no doubt that legitimation discourses in the media differ from those in other arenas, and hence generalizations have to be made cautiously, it is plausible to suggest that the media of open societies serve as a kind of interface between various relevant discursive arenas, and 1 Some recent contributions to the field of political theory stress the importance of political conflicts about legitimacy and the need to study the legitimacy claims of different political actors (Barker 1990; 2001; Beetham 1991). However, they do not translate theoretical insights into an empirical research program, mainly drawing on anecdotal evidence instead. The dimension of political communication is also taken into account in some recent work on political contention, which examines claims reported in the media in order to survey protest events (Koopmans and Rucht 2002; Koopmans and Statham 1999); text and discourse analytical methods are used in these studies to complement observation, but the focus remains set on protest as a form of political behavior rather than on legitimacy discourses as such. The approach and preoccupations of Raufer (2005) are closest to ours, but due to his focus on a handful of speeches delivered during a single parliamentary debate in Germany and exclusive reliance on hermeneutic methods, the scope and generalizability of his empirical material is restricted, and hence cannot sustain broader inferences on the democratic nation-state s legitimacy. 4

7 that they both reflect and influence citizens perceptions of their regime and its institutions. Thus legitimacy claims in the media are likely to be prominent in other discursive arenas as well, and any important legitimacy debates should be touched upon in media reporting. This paper therefore concentrates on an analysis of legitimacy communication in the mass media of four political systems that represent different types of democracy: Great Britain, the United States, Germany, and Switzerland. This sample of countries was selected in order to assess the extent to which institutional arrangements and political cultures have an impact on the shape of legitimation discourses. The analysis of legitimacy communication in the mass media first requires some conceptual distinctions that determine which propositions should be considered relevant for the legitimation of a political system and which should not. In line with our definition of empirical legitimacy as a kind of acceptance that is grounded in beliefs about the normative appropriateness of a political object, we define legitimation statements as evaluative propositions: A statement that is advanced in media reporting or commentary is relevant for our research if it evaluates a regime, or some of its key institutions, as legitimate or illegitimate, usually drawing on specific criteria (e.g. portraying it as democratic or undemocratic, efficient or inefficient, etc.). Hence only a specific type of communicative acts and only a small part of all propositions in the media qualify as legitimation statements. This restriction, for instance, excludes descriptive or directive speech acts like the formulation of political demands (cf. Searle 1969). Of course, the significance of legitimation statements for their object s viability and citizens behavior towards it must not be overestimated. For instance, communicative delegitimation of a political system does not necessarily imply that citizens will refuse to follow this system s laws or to pay taxes. The significance of legitimation statements rather lies in the fact that positive or negative evaluations, if used in a consistent fashion in a large number of statements and over an extended period of time, may shape dominant beliefs in the population and motivate political action. It is evident that various kinds of political objects individual policies or politicians (authorities), government institutions and principles, the regime as a whole may be evaluated in this way. Arguably, however, the legitimacy of a political system is only at stake if evaluations generalize beyond individual policies or politicians, focusing on core regime institutions and principles. The purview of our study is therefore limited to the following objects of legitimation: generalized groups of actors (the political class, the party system, the system of interest groups); key government institutions (the executive, legislative and judicial branch, the electoral system, the system of territorial organization); core regime principles of industrialized democracies in general (democracy, the nation-state, constitutionalism, the welfare state, sovereignty), or of specific types of 5

8 democracy (parliamentary v. presidential, representative v. direct democracy); and finally, the political system or community as a whole. 2 An evaluation of one of these objects may either be generic, i.e. the object is evaluated as legitimate or illegitimate without further justification, or it may refer to a specific pattern of legitimation. Patterns of legitimation are the substantive criteria a speaker relies on when affirming or casting doubt on the legitimacy of an object. Since we did not want to rely too heavily on preset notions of the most likely or the most desirable foundations of legitimacy beliefs, but rather sought to identify unexpected patterns as well, we did not approach our data with a fixed number of categories. Starting with patterns that play an important role in various strands of democratic theory (e.g. popular sovereignty, accountability and responsiveness, efficiency and effectiveness), our list has been continuously expanded whenever new patterns emerged in our material; it now contains twenty-five individual patterns. A legitimation statement thus has this structure: [object X] [is (il)legitimate] [because of pattern Y]. Of course, actual statements in newspaper articles usually do not conform to this structure in a grammatical sense. The main task in identifying relevant statements and in coding our variables is therefore to translate the language used in the articles into the stylized structure on which our definition of legitimation statements is based (Table 1). 3 In addition to the object of legitimation, assessment as legitimate or illegitimate, and pattern of legitimation, we were also interested in the kinds of media debates i.e. the specific events and policy controversies in whose context such evaluations occurred. In our study of Great Britain, the United States, Germany, and Switzerland, this coding procedure was applied to two sets of data. First, we assembled a text corpus of all articles containing at least one legitimation statement that were published throughout the year 2004 in two high-quality newspapers per country. 4 This text corpus provides an overview of the general contours of mass media legitimation discourses and enables us to track short-term developments and fluctuations. The data for 2004 are supplemented by three case studies per country that trace the development of legitimacy-related com The distinction between various objects of legitimation was first proposed by Easton (1965). Norris (1999) and Dalton (2004) work with a hierarchy of objects similar to the one proposed here. Obviously, the selection and coding tasks entailed a considerable amount of interpretation. In order to ensure reliability, both tasks were not delegated to non-expert coders but rather performed jointly by the authors. The text corpus was drawn from the following newspapers: The Guardian and The Times (United Kingdom); New York Times and Washington Post (United States); Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany); Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Tagesanzeiger (Switzerland). We concentrated on high-quality newspapers since these can be expected to contain particularly diverse and elaborate legitimation arguments; furthermore, high-quality papers are particularly relevant since they fulfil an inter-media agenda-setter function, i.e. the issues they identify as relevant are often taken up by other media (Wilke 1998). The articles selected for our study could be news reports, commentaries, or features from any section of the papers. The statements reflect propositional content advanced by the authors themselves or by some person quoted in the articles. Texts were retrieved from an electronic media database in a two-step procedure, using automated search routines for the preselection of texts, and a close reading of paragraphs containing search words for the final selection. 6

9 Table 1 Examples of Legitimation Statements Example 1: The Liberal Democrat leader [Paddy Ashdown] told a rally in Eastborne that the system was now so out of date, inefficient and secretive that it no longer served the citizen. He said: Next Tuesday you could elect the best politicians in the world. You could elect 650 saints; but it wouldn t make any difference if our system of government no longer works (Times, 3 April 1992) Translation: The political system [object of legitimation] is illegitimate [evaluation] because it is too traditional [pattern of legitimation 1], non-efficient [pattern of legitimation 2], and non-transparent [pattern of legitimation 3]. Example 2: The people and their representatives have been sent to the sidelines by the courts, and that s not right (Washington Post, 6 February 2004). Translation: The judicial branch [object of legitimation] is illegitimate [evaluation] because it undermines popular sovereignty [pattern of legitimation]. Example 3: We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people, the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of liberties of the world (Washington Post, 9 May 2004). Translation: The political community [object of legitimation] is legitimate [evaluation] because it is supported by religious authority [pattern of legitimation 1] and stands for the protection of human rights [pattern of legitimation 2]. munication in specific issue areas over a longer period of time. For this purpose, we selected debates from three policy sectors that we expected to be characterized by particularly intense legitimacy debates: institutional reforms, social policy, and foreign policy. In each case, we identified the specific controversies and the two points in time since 1990 that produced the most intense policy debates (see Appendix). Zeroing in on particularly contentious issues and the time windows in which debates climaxed, the case studies allow for an in-depth study of the mechanisms at work in the respective legitimation discourses, and of their change over time in the fifteen years that are often portrayed as having witnessed a new quality of globalization processes. 3 HOW STABLE IS THE NATION-STATE S LEGITIMACY? The following sections present findings from our empirical study on the (re)production and transformation of the democratic nation-state s legitimacy. The alleged globalization-induced legitimacy crisis of the nation-state should not only be visible in public opinion surveys or studies of political behavior, but also in mass media legitimacy communication: We should thus observe a preponderance of evaluations that delegitimate the nation-state s core institutions, and a gradual increase of this trend over time. The empirical data should, however, be interpreted carefully: Some delegitimating communication is not necessarily problematic; it may in fact be taken as indicative of a healthy democracy if the quality of political institutions is controversially discussed 7

10 (Barker 2005). In such discussions, both positive and negative arguments are to be expected. Furthermore, given the negative bias often attributed to media reporting, we should not even be surprised if negative statements were somewhat more common than positive ones. However, if the overwhelming majority of statements about a political system (or one of its institutions) is delegitimating, this should signal a problem. The definition of a precise threshold beyond which this is the case is of course difficult a problem that also exists in the interpretation of survey results and observational data. In the subsequent analysis, our interpretations rely on a rather intuitive measure: We speak of high levels of delegitimation if more than 60% of all statements on a political system (or a specific object of legitimation) are negative, of medium levels of delegitimation if the share of negative statements lies between 40% and 60%, and of low levels of delegitimation if less than 40% of the statements are negative. On the basis of these thresholds, we may diagnose an erosion of legitimacy if delegitimation levels for a political system and its core institutions are consistently high, and if this negative tendency is growing more pronounced over time. 3.1 IS THE NATION-STATE S LEGITIMACY ERODING? A first look at our data reveals mixed evidence as to whether this is the case. For the year 2004, most evaluations in our text corpus are indeed delegitimating: Almost 57 percent of the statements (2,221 out of 3,924) give a negative assessment of the object of legitimation to which they refer, questioning or denying its legitimacy. However, on the basis of the thresholds defined above, this dominance of delegitimating evaluations does not represent a seriously high level of delegitimation. Moreover, we observe marked differences both between the four countries and between individual objects of legitimation within them (Table 2). First, delegitimating statements dominate the national discourse much more clearly in the United Kingdom where it seems adequate to speak of high delegitimation levels than in Germany and Switzerland; in the United States, positive assessments even outweigh negative ones. This finding suggests that even if international trends like globalization have an impact on legitimation discourses, their influence is clearly mediated by national factors. Secondly, institutions and principles are evaluated quite differently in the four countries: A look at the five objects that are referred to most often in each case shows no general delegitimation trend affecting all political institutions and principles. Rather, in each case, some objects are evaluated positively at a rate clearly above average for instance, the political community in the UK, the constitution in the US and Germany, and direct democracy in Switzerland. Conversely, objects like the political class in the UK, the electoral system in the US, federalism in Germany, and the welfare state in Switzerland turn out to be focal points 8

11 Table 2 Most Frequent Objects of Legitimation (2004, rounded figures) UK (n=679) US (n=1239) Object Statements Delegitimation...of which Legitimation Object Statements Delegitimation...of which Political system Political system Political community Democracy Political class Political community Democracy Constitution Constitution Electoral system Total (all statements) Total (all statements) Legitimation GER (n=1212) CH (n=776) Object Statements Delegitimation...of which Legitimation Object Statements Delegitimation...of which Political system Political system Political community Direct democracy Constitution Political community Federalism Federalism Welfare state Welfare state Total (all statements) Total (all statements) Legitimation for delegitimation. This variation in the overall thrust of evaluations nurtures skepticism with regard to undifferentiated crisis diagnoses: While some institutions in some political systems undeniably have legitimacy problems, there is no unequivocal evidence for a legitimacy crisis of the democratic nation-state as a whole. Moreover, we have to keep in mind that the data for 2004 represent no more than a snapshot view of one particular year. The tendencies observed in 2004 do not necessarily point to secular developments within national legitimation discourses, but might as well represent short-term effects of the specific political events that shaped that year s media reporting. To be sure, legitimation statements are defined here as a specific kind of proposition, namely one that evaluates a political system s institutions and principles rather than specific events, policies, or actors. But in spite of their generalized character, such evaluations regularly originate in the context of everyday political debates or processes. One might thus expect that media debates turn to negative evaluations of a political system s legitimacy, and hence begin to foster delegitimation processes, at the very moment when participants realize that their political grievances cannot simply be 9

12 Table 3 Issue Contexts of Legitimation Statements (2004, rounded figures) Issue Statements UK (n=679) US (n=1239) GER (n=1212) CH (n=776)...of which...of which...of which...of which Statementmentments State- State- Deleg Legiti Deleg Legiti Deleg Legiti itimatio n matio n matio matio iti- matio iti- matio n n n n Deleg itimatio n Institutional processes Social+economic policy Culture+education Homeland security Foreign policy Other issues Total (all statements) blamed on individual policies or authorities, but rather indicate fundamental weaknesses of the regime (see Example 1 in Table 1 for an explicit statement of this kind of argument). In this fashion, debates about policies, actors, or routine procedures may fuel legitimacy communication, moving the legitimacy of specific institutions and principles of government into the limelight. That the policy or politics contexts from which legitimacy debates emerge are by no means irrelevant is shown in Table 3. It demonstrates that these contexts not only differ with respect to the likelihood with which they generate legitimation statements, but also produce varying shares of legitimating and delegitimating evaluations. In all four countries, the highest number of legitimation statements is not embedded in debates about a specific policy field, but originates from media reports that focus on routine institutional procedures elections, government reshuffles, opening sessions of parliaments, presidential addresses, etc. or discuss issues of institutional reform. Remarkably, statements from this group are delegitimating at a rate above the average in each country. Where legitimation statements originate from more substantively policy-oriented debates, this mainly happens in the fields of social and economic policy, homeland security and migration, and foreign policy. Again, statements from these policy fields display clear legitimating or delegitimating tendencies: Legitimation statements published in the context of debates on social and economic issues are delegitimating to a very large extent; statements from debates on homeland security are predominantly legitimating; statements from foreign policy debates also tend to result in positive evaluations with the sole exception of Great Britain, where criticism of the country s role in the Iraq War was very prominent in Similar tendencies can also be discerned in the case studies of legitimation debates in selected policy fields (see Appendix). In three of the four countries, the case of insti- Legiti matio n 10

13 tutional reform stands out as the one in which the intensity of legitimation debates i.e. the share of articles containing legitimation statements within the relevant media debates is highest. 5 Some of the debates on institutional reform also produced a fairly high share of delegitimating statements. In Germany, dissatisfaction with attempts at institutional reform even grew over time, and the failure to reform the country s federal system in 2003/2004 led to the regime and its elites being increasingly portrayed as incapable of overcoming political stalemate. By contrast, Great Britain and Switzerland provide examples for the diffusion of legitimation problems through successful institutional reform: In Britain, the reforms enacted after the Labour Party s rise to power in 1997 cooled down debates on the deficits of the Westminster system; in Switzerland, the reform of direct democracy in 2003 a reduced version of a larger reform attempt that had failed in 1999 after lengthy deliberations virtually ended debates on this issue. Finally, in the United States, deficits in the country s electoral system occasionally generated short phases of intensive and at times very critical legitimacy debates, but these never captured the public interest for a prolonged period of time. Also in line with the data from 2004, the case studies on social policy demonstrate that legitimacy assessments made in this context turn out to be negative at an exceptionally high rate. Moreover, the debates in two countries reform of the health care system in Great Britain and pension reform in Switzerland became increasingly critical of the respective political systems as time passed. In the other two cases reform of the health care system in the United States and pension reform in Germany the share of negative assessments proved stable. What all four countries have in common, however, is that legitimacy debates against the backdrop of social policy were not particularly intense: Only a small fraction of all articles on health or pension reform touched upon issues of legitimacy. Finally, the case of foreign policy shows a predominance of legitimating tendencies. Debates on the European Union our focus in Great Britain and Switzerland mainly resulted in positive assessments of the national political systems, often supported by comparisons with the allegedly less legitimate system of the EU (a point that will be discussed further in Section 4). Evidence for the debates on the Iraq Wars of 1990/91 and 2003, which we examined in the United States and Germany, is mixed: Whereas in the United States the legitimating tendency is the strongest of all cases, the arguments proffered by the German governments of Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder for not joining the respective war coalitions (rather than these decisions themselves) produced a considerable amount of negative evaluations. 5 We gauge the intensity of legitimation debates by calculating the share of articles containing legitimation statements, with the total number of articles on the respective policies in the denominator. We established thresholds for low, medium, and high intensity by computing the average intensity for all case studies, setting cut-off points at half a standard deviation below and above this average. According to this measure, we speak of low intensity if less than 10% of articles on the respective policy contain legitimation statements, of medium intensity if the value lies between 10% and 25%, and of high intensity if it lies above 25%. 11

14 We may therefore conclude that legitimacy debates are not uniform across and within countries, but rather polity-, object-, and issue-dependent. These findings corroborate a more sanguine view than that advanced by the hypothesis of a pervasive erosion of legitimacy: Only some institutions seem to face serious legitimacy problems, only some policy debates are prone to trigger higher shares of delegitimating evaluations, and there is little evidence for a general delegitimation trend. A second, closer look at our material provides hints as to why this might be the case. 3.2 MECHANISMS OF STABILIZATION: ANCHOR INSTITUTIONS AND LEGITIMATION ATTENTION CYCLES In a first step, it makes sense to return to our data on objects of legitimation. On closer inspection, they show that the varying percentages of positive and negative evaluations of specific objects in the individual countries are by no means random. Rather, objects whose evaluations have an overwhelmingly positive thrust are in each case institutions and principles that tend to be considered particularly important for the respective nation s type of democratic regime and political culture: the constitution in the United States and Germany, and direct democracy in Switzerland (see Table 2). Only in Great Britain, this effect is absent; here the political community is the only important object that is evaluated positively against the general trend, while democracy or parliamentary government two principles that most political scientists would identify as cornerstones of the British regime and political culture are treated in the same critical way as most other objects. Perhaps this finding explains why legitimation discourses in Great Britain as so overwhelmingly negative: In all other countries, institutions and principles that are of special importance for the regime and political culture tend to enjoy high legitimacy, and thus function as anchors that prevent an all-out erosion of regime support. Given their embeddedness in the political culture, it is not surprising that these anchor institutions are located at the level of core regime principles, while specific government institutions or groups of political actors are evaluated much more negatively. As Table 4 shows, core regime principles democracy, the nation-state, constitutionalism, the welfare state, and sovereignty, or aspects of each nation s specific form of democratic governance (parliamentary v. presidential, representative v. direct) are the category of objects that enjoys the highest legitimacy. Again, this effect is weakest albeit not completely absent in Great Britain. Compared to these core regime principles, government institutions (the executive, legislative and judicial branch, the electoral system, the system of territorial organization), and especially groups of political actors (the political class, the party system, the system of interest groups), are delegitimated in a much higher number of statements, while evaluations of the regime or political community as a whole which include statements in which the object of legitimation is 12

15 Table 4 Aggregate Objects of Legitimation (2004, rounded figures) Group of objects Statements UK (n=679) US (n=1239) GER (n=1212) CH (n=776)...of which...of which...of which...of which Statementmentments State- State- Deleg Legiti Deleg Legiti Deleg Legiti itimatio n matio n matio matio iti- matio iti- matio n n n n Delegitimatio n Pol. system/community Regime principles Government institutions Groups of actors Total (all statements) not specified beyond giving the nation s proper name ( Britain, the American people, Legiti matio n etc.) tend to mirror the overall distribution of legitimating and delegitimating statements quite closely. The upshot of this hierarchy of objects is that even in cases in which the assessments of politics is generalized beyond individual policies or politicians i.e., even if a genuine legitimacy evaluation is made, many of the most critical evaluations are still directed at peripheral or unspecific objects of legitimation. These serve as a kind of cushion absorbing a fair amount of criticism in the mass media and preventing it from hurting core regime principles. Furthermore, we have to keep in mind that many assessments of politics never even reach this level, or if they do, they quickly shift back to mere evaluations of policies or authorities. This short-lived character of many legitimation debates is indicated by Figure 1, which shows the ebb and flow of legitimation debates arising from different issues in These fluctuations indicate that media debates on specific policies or events have the potential to generate legitimacy debates for a certain period of time, but these debates typically subside relatively soon, either because the media completely turn away from the issue or because they cease to engage questions of legitimacy and shift back to policy or politics debates. Borrowing from Anthony Downs (1972), we may thus speak of legitimation attention cycles: Media attention on legitimacy issues is volatile and difficult to sustain over longer periods of time. Another important point illustrated by our material for 2004 is that legitimation attention cycles are primarily national in character: The issues from which legitimacy debates arise are events like 13

16 Figure 1 Legitimation Attention Cycles (2004) Great Britain institutions social+economic policy United States 60 culture+education homeland security+immigration foreign policy others 100 Number of statements Number of statements Month Month Germany Switzerland Number of statements Number of statements Month Month

17 national elections, scandals, or policy controversies, 6 but rarely transnational factors, and there were no events that generated common patterns across two or more of the countries. The importance of such legitimation attention cycles for the reproduction of the democratic nation-state s empirical legitimacy should not be underestimated. The mere fact that the underlying issues of legitimacy debates often shift quickly suggests that it is generally difficult to sustain public interest in a political system s specific legitimacy deficits over longer periods of time. Put differently, the short-lived nature of media interest makes it unlikely that legitimacy debates originating from specific policies or events stay on media agendas long enough to have a lasting impact on people s legitimacy beliefs and evaluations. Together with the fact that core regime principles tend to be deeply entrenched in national political cultures, this volatility of legitimacy discourses may shield the democratic nation-state from many potentially serious threats to its legitimacy. 4 HOW DEMOCRATIC IS THE NATION-STATE S LEGITIMACY? Another factor that is sometimes cited in the theoretical literature as a potential explanation for the nation-state s continued legitimacy, in spite of pervasive globalization processes, is a transformation in the normative foundations of legitimacy evaluations. According to this argument, legitimacy in the western world, whether related to the nation-state or to international governance arrangements, is undergoing a shift from an input to an output orientation, resulting in the increasing prominence of criteria like efficiency, effectiveness, or identity, as opposed to traditional democratic benchmarks such as popular sovereignty, participation, or accountability. If this was correct, there would be no full-fledged erosion of support for national and international governance arrangements, but a change in the criteria on which this support is based: As democratic criteria are presumably more difficult to meet in a globalized world, non-democratic standards of legitimacy would become more important (Scharpf 1999; Beck 2002; Mair 2005). This section examines whether there is any evidence for this kind of development, which against the normative background of democratic theory may be interpreted as a second kind of legitimacy crisis. After all, an increased prominence of nondemocratic arguments, though leaving the nation-state s legitimacy formally intact, 6 For example, in Great Britain, the peak in the institutions curve in March coincides with debates on constitutional reform (creation of a Supreme Court); in the United States, the high numbers for institutions in the summer and fall can be attributed to debates originating from the presidential election, while the peak in the foreign policy curve in May is due to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal; in Switzerland, the spring peak of the social and economic policy curve, and in the institutions curve as well, relates to the debates surrounding a failed referendum on pension reform (generating criticism of stalemate in the Swiss political system); in Germany, the peak in the social and economic policy curve in August mirrors protests against the Hartz IV labor market reforms, while the peaks in the institutions curve relate to the election of a new president in May, somewhat unfocused discussions about political reforms in July, and the attempted reform of the federal system in October and December. 15

18 would deprive it of its grounding in traditional benchmarks of democratic quality. Hence we would witness a transformation rather than an erosion of legitimacy. Our discourse analytical approach is uniquely suited to test this hypothesis, since it allows for an identification of patterns of legitimation, i.e. of the normative criteria used in legitimacy debates. As explained above, we attempted to name all criteria used in a sizable number of arguments, continuously expanding a list that now contains twenty-five patterns. This multiplicity of patterns is in itself remarkable: It indicates that there is a wide range of arguments, drawn from various sources, that underpin legitimacy beliefs and are used to justify positive or negative evaluations. To assess the normative quality of the patterns, we classify them in two dimensions. First, we distinguish between the input and the output side of political decision-making. A pattern of legitimation is called inputoriented if it refers to the process of decision-making, in particular to the actors involved and the procedures followed. A pattern is output-oriented if it refers to the results of the process, their quality and consequences. However, contrary to what is often assumed, the distinction between input and output criteria does not necessarily coincide with that between democratic and non-democratic arguments: There may be non-democratic inputs into political processes (e.g. participation not by the people, but by experts or religious authorities), as well as outputs that are indispensable to secure the quality of democratic procedures (e.g. guarantees of individual liberty, or of the cognitive and material preconditions of citizenship). 7 In our typology, the distinction between democratic and non-democratic criteria is therefore conceptualized as a second, crosscutting dimension (see Table 5). We ground this distinction in an undemanding definition of democracy, as proffered by Schmitter and Karl (1996): a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by the citizens, acting indirectly through the competition and cooperation of their elected representatives. Patterns of legitimation pertaining to decision-making processes or political outputs that are essential to the implementation of such a system are classified as democratic; patterns that are non-essential though not necessarily antithetical to democracy are classified as non-democratic Our definitions thus differ from those used by Scharpf (1999). In his conception, the relevant standard for assessing input legitimacy is the degree to which decisions are made in a way that is responsive to the manifest preferences of the governed ( government by the people ), while output legitimacy depends on a polity s capacity to solve common problems ( government for the people ). These definitions confound the distinction between political inputs and outputs with considerations based on the democratic quality of the processes in question. On the basis of these definitions, patterns of democratic input are those that refer to the decision-making rules that guarantee self-governance of the citizens and respect for these rules, and to the procedural conditions that assure the enlightened understanding (Dahl 1989: 111-2) required if citizens are to make adequate use of them. Patterns of democratic output are characterized by references to political results that prevent the development of power structures that systematically generate asymmetries of life chances [...] which limit and erode the possibilities of political participation (Held 1995: 171). Patterns of non-democratic input and of non-democratic output refer to characteristics or results of decision-making processes that may be valued in both democratic and 16

19 Table 5 Patterns of Legitimation Democratic Non-democratic Input characteristics of political processes Output characteristics of political results Popular sovereignty all power resides in the citizens Accountability rulers can be controlled and removed Participation citizens can actively contribute to decisions Legality domestic legal rules are respected International legality international legal rules are respected Transparency political processes are public and accessible Credibility political processes conform to stated objectives, no hidden agenda Deliberation political processes are based on a rational exchange of arguments Protection of human rights individual and political rights are guaranteed Democratic empowerment material and cognitive conditions of meaningful participation are guaranteed Contribution to public good political results serve the population as a whole Sustainability political results are not irrevocable Charismatic leadership strong personal leadership Expertocratic leadership leadership by experts Religious authority political processes follow religious principles Tradition political processes follow traditional rules and customs Moderation political style is conciliatory and non-aggressive Effectiveness solution to common problems Efficiency political results are cost-effective, not wasteful Distributive justice equal distribution of resources and burdens Contribution to stability enhancement of political stability Contribution to integration political results reflect or enhance the polity s cohesion and sense of identity Contribution to morality political results conform with moral standards Contribution to sovereignty enhancement of a polity s autonomy, capacity, power, or interest Good international standing enhancement of a polity s status in the international sphere 4.1 IS THE NATION-STATE S LEGITIMACY LOSING ITS DEMOCRATIC QUALITIES? On the basis of these definitions, we can assess to what extent legitimation discourses in our four countries are characterized by the use of non-democratic or output-oriented arguments, and whether there is any evidence pointing towards the increasing use of such legitimation criteria over time. Again, it makes sense to begin the analysis with a look at the data for As with objects of legitimation, a list of the patterns of legitimation used most frequently in that year reveals substantial differences, but also some striking similarities between the four countries (Table 6). First, two democratic criteria popular sovereignty and the protection of human rights turn out to be the only patterns that belong to the most frequently used ones in each case. Otherwise, we observe considerable variation: The patterns of credibility and accountability are unusually non-democratic systems of government, but that are not essential for procedures of democratic decision-making or for the prevention of power asymmetries that might undermine them. 17

20 Table 6 Most Frequent Patterns of Legitimation (2004, rounded figures) UK (n=679) US (n=1239) Pattern Statements Delegitimation...of which Legitimation Pattern Statements Delegitimation...of which Human rights Human rights Credibility Popular sovereignty Popular sovereignty Morality Accountability Legality Effectiveness International standing Total (all statements) Total (all statements) Legitimation GER (n=1212) CH (n=776) Pattern Statements Delegitimation...of which Legitimation Pattern Statements Delegitimation...of which Effectiveness Effectiveness Human rights Popular sovereignty Popular sovereignty Accountability Credibility Human rights Legality Moderation Legitimation Stability Total (all statements) Total (all statements) prominent in Great Britain; morality, legality, and international standing in the United States; effectiveness, credibility, and legality in Germany; effectiveness, accountability, moderation, and stability in Switzerland. A closer look at the contexts in which these patterns were used reveals that the frequency distributions in part originate from specific policy debates of 2004 (e.g. debates on the British government s alleged lies in the Iraq War, which raised issues of credibility, or on failed reform initiatives in Germany and Switzerland, which highlighted problems of effectiveness). However, they also reflect institutional characteristics and differences in the political culture of the four nations: Arguably, credibility and accountability are particularly important in British politics, as the Westminster system s lack of formalized checks and balances implies that informal conventions of good conduct and the possibility to remove political leaders constitute the main safeguards against an elective dictatorship. By contrast, and unsurprisingly, the pattern of legality plays a more prominent role in the United States and Germany, where constitutional checks and balances are stronger. In a similar fashion, the prominence of effectiveness in German and Swiss legitimacy communication may be attrib- 18

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