A state crisis occurs when there has been a standing suspicion that the state is ineffective or unjust; such concrete events as a fiscal crisis or military reversal are then taken as the definitive proof of this suspicion. It is thus the shift in elite or popular attitudes toward the state, not a particular event, that marks the crisis of state authority.
Much of the political science literature describes such a shift in attitudes as a crisis of “legitimacy” (Zimmerman 1979, 1983). I prefer to avoid this term; it does not capture my meaning—in part because legitimacy has legalistic connotations that suggest a “legitimate” government is duly constituted whereas an “illegitimate” government is illegally constituted. These considerations are often irrelevant. Moreover, “legitimacy” is inadequate because this term generally focuses attention only on matters of justice and ignores state effectiveness. Political allegiance depends on the extent to which elite and popular groups view the state as just and effective in performing the duties of governance. Even legally constituted governments can become perceived as ineffective or unjust, while even illegally formed governments (such as those produced by revolutions or coups) can be perceived as effective and just in their actions. Moreover, even an unjust state may be perceived as so effective that it maintains the allegiance of key groups; and even a just state may be perceived as so ineffective that it loses that allegiance. In sum, a state crisis exists when politically significant numbers of elites, or popular groups, or both, no longer maintain allegiance to the existing state (as it operates as a set of institutions, not just its incumbents), regardless of how the state was formed and regardless of whether this shift in allegiance is due to the state acting unjustly or merely ineffectively, or to changes in the economy or international environment of which the state is victim.
A state crisis usually indicates a situation of imbalance—in the eyes of influential elites and of large numbers of ordinary people, the state is either failing to perform the expected tasks of governance, demanding too many resources for that task, or both.
Referens: Goldstone, Jack A. 1991. Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. Berkeley: University of California Press, s. 9.