Phases of Legitimation in Soviet-type Societies

  • Agnes Heller
Part of the St Antony’s/Macmillan Series book series


If a social order survives for sixty years it is appropriate to raise the question of its legitimacy. We can regard it as highly unlikely that a system of authority which conceives of itself and is conceived of by others as an identity, as a continuum of the same coherent whole, would have avoided collapse for over half a century had it been sustained by nothing but various types of interest, including fear. According to one of Max Weber’s formulations, a social order is legitimated if at least one part of the population acknowledges it as exemplary and binding while the other part does not confront the existing social order with the image of an alternative one seen as equally binding.1 The relative number of those legitimating a system may be irrelevant if the non-legitimating masses are merely dissatisfied. This is most markedly the case in various kinds of non-democratic systems where dissatisfaction cannot be expressed, at least not continuously, and the absence of legitimation remains hidden except for outbursts of anger that the ruling élite can easily cope with.


Social Order Party Member Charismatic Leader Traditional Legitimation Substantive Rationality 
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  1. 1.
    Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Tübingen, 1972) pp. 16–17. In the German original the terms ‘exemplary’ and ‘binding’ are respectively vorbildlich and verbindlich.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    V. I. Lenin, ‘The Deception of the People’ (speech of 19 May 1919) cited in Robert Conquest, The Great Terror (London—Melbourne, 1968 ) p. 6.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Raphael R. Abramovitch, The Soviet Revolution (London, 1962) p. 288, cited Conquest, p. 129.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See George Konrád and Ivan Szelényi, The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, translated by Andrew Arato and Richard E. Allen (New York—London, 1979) and T. H. Rigby, ‘A Conceptual Approach to Authority, Power and Policy in the USSR’, in Rigby, Brown and Reddaway, op. cit.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Cited from the Enciclopedia Italiana by Robert C. Tucker, The Soviet Political Mind. Studies in Stalinism and Post-Stalin Change (London, 1963 ) p. 4.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© T. H. Rigby and Ferenc Fehér 1982

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  • Agnes Heller

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