Legitimacyis “the justification (or rightfulness) of a state’s authority.” For Rousseau, alongsidephilosophers Hobbes and Locke, “the legitimacy of political power is explainedby its origin in the articles of social contract.” (Roberts & Sutch, 2012,pg.122) The Social Contract itself “is the view that persons’moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreementamong them to form the society in which they live.” (Friend, n.
d.) Rousseau claimed that “man is bornfree, and he is everywhere in chains.” (Rousseau, 1761, pg.12) The idea that ‘manis born free’ refers to the State of Nature which suggests a life without orbefore government, law and enforcement. Unlike previously mentionedphilosophers Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau argues retrospectively, in other words,that the basis of a State of Nature is not the problem, the problem developed throughsociety and the state.
The idea of human development in theState of Nature is best described as the process of socialisation. Rousseauargued that “humans lived originally in small groups, and this allowed them tohelp each other. Eventually, the advantages of distributed labour becameobvious; wealth begins to grow and the desire for more grows as well.Inequality arises. With growing inequality private property becomes more andmore important, and an artificial status hierarchy gets established withinsociety.” (Jurgen Braungardt, n.d.
) This accentuates the idea of Rousseau thatthe state was not legitimate, it was in fact a con. Inequality arose as “whoeverwas the handsomest, the strongest, the most dexterous, or the most eloquent,came to be of most consideration.” (Rousseau, 1761, pg.186) Through this comesthe idea of private interest and the entry into a ‘false’ social contract that cheatedman out of the freedom he was believed to be born with. This argumenthighlights that the state was not legitimate, according to Rousseau, so inorder to do better for society was through the Social Contract and the idea ofgeneral will.
With this, the idea of individual liberty and demanding our ownprivate interests must be removed, instead to favour political equality, thatwe take an equal share and have equal say in how a society is ruled. Rousseauaccepted that state and society is inevitable and that in order for it tothrive and boast legitimacy we must focus on the enlightened interest; that ofthe common good. David Hume held a view similar toRousseau’s in the sense that “few ever give genuine and voluntary consent totheir governments” (Hume vs. The Social Contract Theory. N.
d.) and that thisconsent comes from the necessity to hold faith in the state in order for it towork, both also hold favour to the idea of the State of Nature. However, unlikeRousseau, Hume “maintained that expressions of consent are valid only if thosegiving them have a genuine option to refuse their consent.” (Green, 2015) Thisargument opposes Rousseau’s through which there appeared to be a select few individualsthat dominated the hierarchy and those beneath simply followed out of respect.Hume rejects that the government was founded by such consent and that there isa social contract, instead a state’s legitimacy comes from the utility of agovernment and its longevity with past precedence and empirical evidence tosupport its authority.
Through these arguments it is clearthat the term ‘state legitimacy’ can be defined as the acceptance of agoverning body or authority, however the problem appears to lie in how authorityis accepted by the people and how there is a fair way for individuals to giveor deny their consent.