Tag Archives: malcom gladwell

The Quest for Legitimacy


I’ve been reading the book David and Goliath by author Malcom Gladwell which looks into the stories of underdogs that unexpectedly win out over overwhelming odds.

In the middle of the book, however, I suddenly came upon a fantastic quote about authority and what elements go into making authority legitimate. Whatever your feelings on Gladwell, this quote seems so well to highlight what is wrong with the authoritarian structures in fundamentalism that I think it’s worth pondering:

“…legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice–that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.”

― Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath

In a place where people have no voice, where the “unwritten” and arbitrary nature of the rules can be expanded to include any behavior, and where the authority often gives a pass to the “good eggs” while dealing harshly with those perceived as “rebellious” is it any wonder that many people eventually come to realize that the authority of such places is illegitimate?

It’s more incredible to me that some people still think that there is legitimacy to this kind of capricious and autocratic method of ruling.