This paper offers a conceptual framework to assist the practitioner in determining what types of government are more likely to be stable for a given population. It introduces the idea of the Locus of Legitimacy as an additional macro-level consideration in judging political stability. Locus of Legitimacy is where a population, or segment of a population, believes that legitimacy originates from. It differs from the popular concept of legitimacy in that the legitimacy is normally view as attached to a particular political regime; Karzai’s government is (or is not) viewed as legitimate by the population. Locus of legitimacy is attached to whether the population believes that a type of government, democracy, monarchy, theocracy, is viewed as the legitimate form of government by the people. Where the people do not view the locus of legitimacy, or form of government, to be appropriate there is more likely to be unstable.
Locus of legitimacy stems from people’s values. In particular, it stems from whether people value individualism or collectivism. People who value individualism will feel that the state gains its right to rule by the consent of the individual members of the society. Their locus of legitimacy will be the individual. Where people value the collective identity (the clan, the ethnic group, the religious or national identity) as the source of authority they will see the collective as the locus of legitimacy. To make this idea clearer this paper will start with the concept of locus of legitimacy using historical and modern examples. It will then present additional evidence for the distinctions. It will show how they originate in national-level cultural values and look at what other factors may contribute to locus of legitimacy such as the population’s income level. Finally I will look at situations where incongruence between the locus of legitimacy and the government system will cause instability and why attempting to implement individualist style rights and standards can lead to the collapse of governments where the population believes in a communal locus of legitimacy.