Alien rule and its discontents

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


It is commonplace to explain nationalist movements by adverting to the demand for national self-determination. Indeed, nationalism is frequently defined in precisely these terms. Discontent with alien rule-the obverse of national self-determination-is often assumed to be pervasive, if not universal, thus accounting for the absence of an international market in governance services. There is no shortage of explanations of the antipathy to alien rule and a great deal of corroborative evidence. Many believe that people seem to prefer to be badly ruled by their own kind than better ruled by aliens. Yet if this is true, then identity trumps competence in the assessment of rule, implying that we are all liable to suffer from suboptimal governance. In contrast, this article argues that the evidence for the pervasiveness of antipathy to alien rule is overdrawn. To that end, it distinguishes between two different types of alien rule, elected and imposed; provides a brief portrait of each; and suggests that when aliens are confronted with incentives to rule fairly and efficiently, they can gain legitimacy even when they have been imposed. This conclusion has implications for the prospects of an international market in governance services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-310
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Legitimacy
  • Markets
  • Nationalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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