Gradualism and Insularity: the “maturity” of traditional legitimacy in the UK

Political authority, in a way, is the power a governing power has over a state(the nation-state idea of a state); legitimacy is the possibility of defense of such powers and, in short, the power of not being overrun by coups or revolutions. In that context, Britain holds several factors, such as the monarchy and the strong Westminster system, which work as a source of political legitimacy and authority; these institutions, through British characteristics such as gradualism and insularity, have slowly changed over time due to challenges set by changing global conditions.

Even before the Normans invaded England, Britain always was a kingdom. And like other European nations at the time, it showed a strong centralized kingdom under a monarch. This system, however, was soon under criticism and disapproval by the British people; like other European peoples, they were ready to accept another dynasty or a new kingdom. Of course, at least initially Britain’s political environment was similar to that of Europe; however, as Britain’s political history became influenced by its geographic insularity and gradualism, it became more “peaceful”, or traditionalist, in its transition of powers. Especially during the Glorious Revolution, the strong Parliament is seen bringing another monarch when the original King James was overthrown, in an effort to establish traditional legitimacy in its government. Thus it is now possible to explore the idea of traditional legitimacy: one that is established through a long history of institutional governance and authority of the said institution.

It is possible to explore British political history within the theme of traditional legitimacy. Monarchy, the classic example of traditional authority, is empowered and defined by its long history and. This traditionalist approach to governance has been acknowledged and upheld by other institutions within the government as a connecting factor between all parts of government, something that keeps everyone together through its existence. This acknowledgement was most clearly shown at the beginning of the Glorious Revolution, where Parliament reestablished a monarchy, specifically that of the William of Orange, and continued the system of governance of monarchy — even when the power of the king was largely gone by this time.

This devolution of power from the monarch to his Parliament represents another aspect of the transition of political legitimacy within Britain: the change from traditional legitimacy to rational-legal legitimacy. As much as the Glorious Revolution is a statement of recognition of how powerful traditional legitimacy is within British society at the time, it also represents the beginning of the decline of that authority. It is from this incident that parliament began to gain legitimate control over governance of the growing British Empire and led it during its ascension of power during the 18th century and its glory during the 19th century. Especially after the Scientific Revolution and recognition of the power of an individual, the shift of power from the monarchy to the parliamentary democracy became concrete.

It has been over three centuries since the birth of true parliamentary democracy in Britain through the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Even with the exclusion of the Magna Carta in the function, the development of British political authority still is a gradual transition of power from Monarch to Parliament. Perhaps, along with the recent processes of regional devolution of powers to “kingdoms” such as Northern Ireland and Scotland, the transition of power is a democratization of power in the United Kingdom from theocratic, traditional authority to legal-rational authority. Hopefully other nations would also be able to adopt the policy of gradualism and peaceful democratization that Britain has demonstrated during its centuries-long history.