Blog 2: Weber on Domination (Authority) and Legitimacy

In The Types of Legitimate Domination (1925), Max Weber addresses how domination (authority) is the “probability that certain specific commands (or all commands) will be obeyed by a given group of persons” that “requires a staff, that is, a special group that can normally be trusted to execute the general policy as well as the specific commands” (204). He continues on to describe three pure types of legitimate domination that demonstrate their own form of authority: rational-legal authority, traditional authority, and charismatic authority. Rational-legal authority is where “obedience is owed to the legally established impersonal order [that] extends to the persons exercising the authority of office under it by virtue of the formal legality of their commands and only within the scope of authority of the office,” whereas in traditional authority, obedience is seen as a “matter of personal loyalty within the area of accustomed obligations [that] is owed to the person of the chief who occupies the traditionally sanctioned position of authority and who is (within its sphere) bound by tradition” (204-205). Charismatic authority differs from these two because while “the charismatically qualified leader is obeyed by virtue of personal trust in his revelation, his heroism or his exemplary qualities so far as they fall within the scope of the individual’s belief in his charisma” (205), it does have its personal setbacks. If the charismatic leader’s “prophecies are proved wrong, enemies are not defeated, [or] miraculous deeds begin to ‘dry up,’ then his legitimacy will be called into question” and “the movement he inspired will collapse along with his rule, unless designs for a successor are developed.” For instance, in the film The Hunger Games (2012), it is evident that the antagonist, President Snow, displays a mix of rational-legal, traditional, and charismatic authority under his dictatorial rule.

            Under rational-legal authority, President Snow is obeyed as a superior of his impersonal order, who rules the nation of Panem under a single-party dictatorship (called the Capitol) that is structured under a consistent system of abstract rules. Panem is also divided into twelve districts that either live in great prosperity or suffer from extreme cases of poverty and famine, and due to the aggressive ways of the depicted totalitarian society, some of the female citizens have learned to acquire certain qualities that make them stand out more than the male citizens in preparation for the upcoming Games. The traditional aspect of President Snow’s authority is how, under his discretion, the twelve districts are forced to take part in an annual morbid competition of survival called the Hunger Games, which have been held for the past 74 years and effectively exhibit the oppressive power of the Capitol. The competition is structured as one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each of the twelve districts as tributes, prepare for a week, and are then sent into an outdoor arena to fight to their death; the event is nationally televised as mandatory viewing for all citizens. Under his charismatic authority, President Snow constitutes his “mission” in teaching the districts the consequences of attempting to rebel against his structured order, which has proved effective since no one has revolted in outrage against the cruelty being placed against their children because it is likely that do not want to be obliterated like the citizens of District 13. However, his charisma may begin to fade away as seen in how former Games tribute Katniss Everdeen inspires the beginning of an uprising after winning the competition at the end of the film that will be further escalated in the upcoming sequel Catching Fire (2013).

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One response to “Blog 2: Weber on Domination (Authority) and Legitimacy

  1. I haven’t seen ‘Hunger Games’ myself, but this sounds like a fitting example of the way that in the real world authority often rests on a combination of principles — tradition, rationality/legality, and/or charisma. Excellent presentation of Weber’s theory of domination.

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