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‘Can’t buy me legitimacy’: the elusive stability of Mideast rentier regimes

Original Article

Abstract

This paper qualitatively revisits the thesis that rentier regimes can draw on their non-tax revenues to buy political legitimacy and stability. Exploring the material/moral interplay in Mideast rentier politics, I show why and how rents may provide for provisional, but not sustainable, stability for authoritarian rentier regimes. I propose distinguishing between negative and positive political legitimacy, the former being about ‘what is legitimate’ (liberty vs security), and the latter about ‘who is the legitimator’ (divine/hereditary right vs popular sovereignty). Sustainable stability is predicated on having both legitimacies. Rentier regimes, however, often draw exclusively on negative political legitimacy. These regimes can use rents to buy time — through coercion and expediency — contriving an imagery of a lusty Leviathan. But due to the diversity of rents and the temporal shifts in their revenues, this social contract is materially contingent and morally frail — rendering authoritarian rentier regimes, not least in the Middle East, more mortal than they, and many observers, are ready to admit.

Keywords

authoritarian stability Middle East political legitimacy rentier state theory 

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LISD, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science, Tel-Aviv UniversityTel-AvivIsrael

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