Blog #4: Is Weber’s notion of authority relevant today?

Sociologist Max Weber in his “Types of Legitimate Domination”, created a typology for us Sociologists to understand the power of authority and its effect on individuals. Weber believed that authority played a large rule in society and how it inherently effects the way us individuals act. Authority according to Weber can be categorized in three forms: Rational-legal, Traditional, and Charismatic. These three different types of authority can be achieved in separate ways, and require different types of political actors to be involved. Rational-legal is achieved mainly through legal means, which allows its authority to be legitimate. Traditional is achieved through means of tradition, commonality, and history. People legitimize this type of authority because “its always been this way”. Charismatic is vastly different than either of the previous two. Its authority it legitimized mainly through a charismatic leader that is able to capitalize on his state’s dire condition, and is able to disseminate his views on consolidating that state through verbal means, and acts that accepted by the masses.

Now the question is are these types of authority still relevant today? In my opinion they very much are. Rational-legal can be seen here in the United States. The way we legitimize our political actors and their policies are through legal means that have been implemented by federal, state, and local laws. These laws are based on the constitution which wanted to achieve a “government with the consent of the governed”. Barack Obama and our government have rational-legal authority on us U.S. citizens because they were elected through legal means, and can be removed through those legal means as well.

Traditional authority can be seen outside of the United States. In countries like Jordan, they have a constitutional Monarchy that exerts their power on the acting government. This monarchy has achieved their legitimacy through traditional means, since their power is possessed through “divine right”. Although this type of traditional authority is seen as “out-dated” it still exists, and people in those nations exude confidence in their decisions and political agendas.

Charismatic leaders exist as well. The most prevalent one that comes to mind is Hugo Chavez. During Venezuela’s economic and political instability in the late 1990’s, he was able to capitalize on his country’s dire state and had a successful coupe d’etat. Ever since then he has been able to stay in power and win incumbent presidential elections. Although he is portrayed as an antagonist in terms of foreign relations with the United States, he has been able to gather support within his country in order to successfully rule it for over a decade.

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One response to “Blog #4: Is Weber’s notion of authority relevant today?

  1. Good work selecting real-world examples which capture the 3 types of legitimate authority. These are the usual examples Western social scientists point to. It’s worth noting how culture plays into these categorizations, how we tend to exaggerate the ‘legal’ and ‘rational’ aspects of Western organizations and institutions and downplay their presence outside the West, focusing in on ‘tradition,’ which we *assume* envelops everything, at least in the absence of an (irrational) charismatic leader.

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