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Terror finally taken over by sheer joy

Elation coursed through the Libyan street yesterday like a tsunami.

Assia Bashir Amry, daughter of an exiled Libyan freedom fighter, caught the mood in her tweets.

"I just saw Gaddafi's body video," she wrote. "My heart won't stop racing. I can't believe this day has come. My whole life I've waited."

For us, the footage of Muammar Gaddafi's body being dragged off a truck by a crowd of screaming men, who then hauled it about and kicked it like a football, was deeply disturbing. But who are we to judge?

We never lived under the man's all-powerful terror.

His was like the violent death of every tyrant and the joy at the news of it was in direct proportion to the sense of injustice shared by his subjects.

Despite ruling Libya for more than 40 years, Colonel Gaddafi had failed to lay in a stock of that precious commodity -- legitimacy.

He had intelligence and resourcefulness and he did everything he could think of to manufacture legitimacy. But in the end, like every tyrant, he had to fall back on naked terror. And that only works for a time. What is legitimacy and how is it obtained?

We get an inkling of what's involved in the way the monarchs of the Arab world, from Jordan to Morocco, have survived the buffeting of the Arab Spring more surely than the jumped-up lieutenants and colonels.

The heart of legitimacy, according to Max Weber, the German sociologist, is that if you issue a command, it is probable it will be obeyed. From fear, perhaps, but for other reasons, too.

If you live in a monarchy and the king succeeds in projecting an image of paternalistic goodwill, that mystique may give you the 'affect' you need.

If you lived in Russia or East Germany before 1989, or North Korea even today, the relentless dinning of Marxist-Leninist propaganda, insisting that the rule of the party was leading the way to happiness, might do the trick.

Personal interest coincides with the urgings of state propaganda to persuade the mass of people that the ruler has the right to rule. Then, fear of the likely consequences of defiance clinches it.