Blog #3: Weber and authority

Weber believed that authority played a large role in society and that it greatly influenced the way individuals acted. He categorized authority into three different types: rational/legal, traditional, and charismatic.

A rational/legal authority rests on a belief in the legality of enacted rules. Obedience is not given to a specific individual leader, but a set of uniform principles. A traditional authority rests on the established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions. The ability and right to rule is passed down, often through heredity. It does not change overtime, does not facilitate social change, tends to be irrational and inconsistent, and perpetuates the status quo. A charismatic authority rests on the devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person. It is found in a leader whose mission and vision inspire others. I believe these three types of authority can be found in modern societies across the world, proving Weber’s theory relevant even in current times.

A rational/legal authority is present in the United States government. The majority of  bureaucratic officials and political leaders are great examples of this type of authority. For example, President Barack Obama. He was elected through legal means, and was appointed on the basis of conduct and his technical qualifications. He is required to abide by the constitution, and be impartial.

Traditional authorities exist mostly outside of the United States. Most of the representatives of any dynasty ruling for more than one generation (kings, emperors, sultans, etc.) would fall into this category. Often the male head of a common family would be considered a traditional leader. For example, Kim Jong-il succeeded his father, and was the supreme leader of North Korea from 1994 to 2011.

Charismatic authority exists as well. A great example is President George W. Bush. Although he had little military experience, he was able to project a sense of urgency to much of the American populace about the need to attack Iraq. His demeanor and the continual media attention to his threats towards Iraq were likely the only messages most Americans received. According to many polls, a good number of Americans were willing to simply trust Bush in whatever he did on the matter. Other (more negative) examples of charismatic leaders are Charles Manson, and Jim Jones.

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3 responses to “Blog #3: Weber and authority

  1. I actually did not consider the traditional authority as meaning being ruled by Kings and Queens, and Sultans, and different types of rulers. That is a different way of thinking about traditional authority, and reading this it made sense to me. I thought of traditional authority and authority run by more religious aspects like the church and different religious authorities. Religion is such an important aspect of our lives and our society as a whole. But I liked the way you thought of traditional authority.

  2. I definitely couldn’t agree more with you . Definitely today much of our society is shaped I can say more or less by these 3 authorities. I feel without them our society would not be the same Without it. It definitely has molded us into more then just “one man ” standing up for what he believes in, but more as a community as a whole taking place and standing up for what we believe in. I definitely feel weber had his views on point when figuring out how society is molded by these authorities. I definitely agree that authorities that take place in our society are what can affect a persons individualism

  3. Excellent work, S. Your comparison of types of authority using a range of contemporary examples is well done. When it comes to traditional authority, you don’t necessarily have to look outside the US to find it. Think of the recent efforts by lawmakers at the state and local to roll back women’s reproductive rights or to ban the teaching of evolution or to deny the science on climate change. One of the main critiques of classical sociology is actually this tendency to locate “tradition” outside the West and to exaggerate the “rationality” of the Western world. Postcolonial theory, in particular, emphasizes this criticism.

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