Why and under what conditions do a challenger’s legitimation strategies shape decisions for institutional reform? I argue that legitimation strategies are critical in defining how institutional defenders evaluate the costs and benefits of institutional reform, and thus in shaping their reaction to a challenger’s demands. Legitimation strategies do so through principled persuasion, where defenders come to believe that accepting a challenger’s demands will have both material and symbolic benefits, and rhetorical coercion, where defenders accept change out of fear that they will bear costs by undercutting their own legitimacy. Not all challengers effectively legitimate their demands, however. A challenger’s capacity to affect change depends on its position within institutions, which gives it the authority to effectively deploy rhetoric. I demonstrate this argument with a brief case of Japan’s challenge to the unequal treaty system in the late 19th century.
- Rather than pursuing institutional change through the use of force, challengers can use rhetoric to argue for significant change.
- Challengers can change institutions either by persuading defenders of the justness of their claims, or using coercive rhetoric that imposes costs on institutional defenders.
- If institutional challengers are going to persuade or coerce, they must first gain the authority to appeal to an institution’s principles.
- Policy makers who focus on the constraining effect of institutions miss how China’s membership in institutions has allowed it to appeal to liberal norms and principles to argue for institutional change.