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Political legitimacy has long been recognized in the social sciences as an integral component of governance. It encourages obedience without the threat of force, thus lowering governing costs and improving the efficacy of policies. This chapter begins by overviewing the extensive literature on political legitimacy, classifying studies by whether they are based on the beliefs (regarding the legitimacy of the authority) or effectiveness (good governance is legitimate governance). Among the studies focusing on beliefs, most take legitimacy as an exogenous element of political authority. We develop a conceptual framework to study how beliefs regarding political legitimacy form endogenously and impact political power, institutions, and policies. We conclude with numerous examples from historical political economy that reveal the usefulness of this framework.


ESI Working Paper 22-08

This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Historical Political Economy due for publication in 2022. The final published version may differ.



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