Legitimation has been a major concept for the comparative study of democracies, both in terms of (normative) democratic theory and empirical analyses. However its role for non-democracies, including autocracies and so-called 'hybrid regimes' that combine institutional elements of democracy with governing patterns of autocracy, remains controversial. How can the legitimation efforts of non-democracies be compared across differing contexts in a theoretically informed manner? How do hybrid regimes justify their entitlement to rule? Is legitimation necessary for non-democratic resilience? Despite the recent resurgence of scholarship on autocracy many questions remain unanswered about the role of legitimation in contemporary non-democracies and its relationship with neighbouring concepts like ideology, loyalty, censorship, and consent. Efforts to reincorporate legitimation into explanations of contemporary non-democratic rule are nascent but promising, and this workshop advances scholarship by considering papers that focus on concept formation, theory building, and empirical evidence across different subtypes of non-democratic regimes. Attention is given to establishing conditions under which different legitimation claims and practices bolster or undermine non-democratic rule.
Legitimation aims to secure active consent, compliance with the regime's rules, passive obedience, or toleration and resignation within the population. There are at least two major challenges to incorporating legitimation into the study of non-democratic regimes. First is the objection that legitimation is mere 'window dressing.' On this account, there is nothing substantive in the legitimation efforts of autocracies because they are epiphenomenal to the violence, coercion, or co-optation the regime is able to deploy. Second, even if it is agreed that legitimation is important to the maintenance of non-democratic rule, it is often argued that the conceptual and methodological difficulties associated with analysing it are insurmountable. These are important challenges to meet because understanding how, why, and with what effect non-democratic regimes aim to secure legitimation can illuminate numerous aspects of autocratic rule.