All forms of government operate as a form of authority in which an individual or group of individuals wield power over the majority. In order for any government to perform effectively, then, those in power must convince everyone else that they deserve the authority they have. This is called in political science and sociology, legitimation of authority. All forms of government base their political theory on this fundamental question: who deserves to have authority and why? Such legitimations of authority can assert a radically practical justification, such as the use of military force (as in Melian Debate in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War ), but more often involve abstract and religious ideas, such as Ma'at in ancient Egypt or the Mandate of Heaven in China.

     Whenever this justification for authority is not accepted by society or by some powerful group in society, there occurs a crisis of legitimation. There are only two alternatives: a change in the form of government, sometimes through revolution, to reflect a different legitimation of authority, or a modification of the current legitimation in an effort to retain unchanged the same structure of governmental authority. The American Revolution is an example of the former; the Republican congressional victories this year is an example of the latter. The Western experience from the Middle Ages onwards has been fraught with such crises. Since foundational Christianity overwhelmingly focusses on the individual to the near complete exclusion of the social and political worlds, much of the history of Christian Europe can be read as one long series of crises of legitimation which steadily dismantled the institution of the monarchy and produced the modern democratic state, where a crisis of legitimation is still acutely happening.

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