This helps explain why many successful revolutionaries make execrable founders and statesmen. After promising the world to win the sympathies of the people, the victor must deliver. Few do. George Washingtons — soldier-statesmen whose gifts span wartime and peacetime pursuits — are rare in history. Few would portray insurgent chieftains like Ho Chi Minh (and his successors) or Mao Zedong as praiseworthy state-builders. Lomperis and Wylie open a window into conflicts that rage where politics intersects with warfare, linear with nonlinear endeavors. Check 'em out.
It always seems easier to tear something down than to build it.
By James R. Holmes
January 28, 2013
Vietnam is important enough to U.S. diplomatic and military history to warrant a second post. Boiled down to its essence, insurgency and counterinsurgency is a contest for political legitimacy — a bareknuckles struggle for the acquiescence, the affections, and ultimately the allegiance of the populace. Popular approval cements the winner's rule.
Scholar Timothy Lomperis posits a three-layered model of legitimacy. A regime earns "interest"-level legitimacy by hoisting an umbrella under which people can fulfill their everyday needs. This is a transaction. The government supplies the basics — security, infrastructure, what have you — and the people assent to its rule. If the government stops holding up its end of the bargain, the people may stop holding up theirs. They may withdraw their support. And if the insurgent offers a better alternative, many will take the deal. Interest-based legitimacy is necessary but far from sufficient to perpetuate a regime for the long run.
The next level up is "opportunity." The regime that commands opportunity-based legitimacy makes stakeholders out of passive supporters. It makes land available to a broad swathe of the populace, opens civil-service jobs to all qualified comers, you name it. The regime entrenches itself through giving a critical mass of the people a stake in its success. If it falls, the fortunes of the people collapse with it.
Atop Lomperis's hierarchy perches "belief"-level legitimacy. The people affirm that such a regime rules by right, not just by delivering the goods. Belief-level legitimacy manifests itself in tokens such as the divine right of kings, the Mandate of Heaven, or the American Declaration of Independence.
Convictions reinforce interest and opportunity, helping sustain the regime for the long haul. But legitimacy takes upkeep. The danger for rulers who enjoy belief-level legitimacy is apathy toward workaday functions — hey, if you rule by divine sanction, why bother with the peasants? — combined with some event that shatters the belief. Such a regime can lose its popular standing almost instantly.
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