Legitimate versus legal

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dvoriner

Member
Czech Republic, Czech
Hi! I am reading a book by Fareed Zakaria called The Future of Freedom. He uses the word legitimate many times in the book but it makes me feel that does not want the reader confuse it with the word legal.

To give a little example, "Democracy might be a legal but not legitimate political system in a certain country."

hope that poor example helps somehow... What is the difference?

thank you
 
  • George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    If you look at the definitions of these two words you will get confused. They seem to mean the same thing but they are expressed slightly differently. But there are some very minor difference to be seen...

    Let's look at your example "Democracy might be a legal but not (a) legitimate political system in a certain country."

    My interpretation is that your sentence may be grammatically good but it does not make sense. If democracy is legal it is by defintion legitimate because it is legal.

    GF..

    Anyone else???
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    In your context, the word "legitimate" means (from Dictionary.com):

    "in accordance with established rules, principles, or standards"

    In other words, in a country where democracy is not something historically in accord with the established principles or standards, democracy may be enacted "legally" but because the people don't understand or agree with the tenets of democracy, it likely won't be considered "legitimate" by those people.
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    In your context, the word "legitimate" means (from Dictionary.com):

    "in accordance with established rules, principles, or standards"

    In other words, in a country where democracy is not something historically in accord with the established principles or standards, democracy may be enacted "legally" but because the people don't understand or agree with the tenets of democracy, it likely won't be considered "legitimate" by those people.
    What you've said makes sense to me, Dimcl. However, my first thoughts on reading the original quote were that the author was thinking of countries where democracy was legally and ostensibly the political system, but where democracy in fact did not function and therefore the governments weren't legitimate. Not to offend anyone, but this is, for example, how many commentators think about Russia - it claims to be a democracy but many people question the government's legitimacy because of the suppression of opposition parties, the near-monopoly the state has on the media etc. etc.
     

    dvoriner

    Member
    Czech Republic, Czech
    Actually, what both of you said makes perfect sense to me and corresponds with the context. In fact, the author mentioned Russia many times by questioning its legitimacy.

    Thank you
     
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