Bringing Legitimacy Back in to Neo-Weberian State Theory and International Relations

Author/s (editor/s):

Leonard Seabrooke

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 2002/6 (PDF, 3.61MB)

Leonard Seabrooke, ‘Bringing Legitimacy Back in to Neo-Weberian State Theory and International Relations’, IR Working Paper 2002/6, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, September 2002.

Within international relations one seldom finds discussion of how legitimacy affects ‘state capacity’—a state’s capacity to enact and adapt to domestic and international change. This is especially surprising for neo-Weberian approaches that have viewed state capacity as a major concern for over two decades. And although legitimacy was a key ingredient to Max Weber’s approach to the state, the concept is eschewed or ignored in the three discernible neo-Weberian approaches to state capacity. The first two of these approaches, ‘isolated autonomy’ and ‘embedded autonomy’, produce functionalist view of a state which responds to an anarchical international system. The third, ‘social embeddedness’, conceives of the state–society complex as a contested rather than functional space but does not produce a substantive conception of legitimacy. I argue that a reinvigorated conception of legitimacy provides us with a substantive neo-Weberian ‘historicist’ approach that provides a deeper understanding of how both norms and material interests shape the state. This approach is applied to a brief case study of financial reform in the United States and Japan to illustrate that bringing legitimacy back in provides a better means of understanding state capacity.

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