Outline of Weber’s Theory of Authority
The influential sociologist Max Weber proposed a theory of authority that included three types. He pioneered a path towards understanding how authority is legitimated as a belief system. His essay “The three types of legitimate rule”, translated in English and published posthumously in 1958, is the clearest explanation of his theory.
Spencer interpreted Weber’s theory to say that legitimate order and authority stems from “different aspects of a single phenomenon - the forms that underlie all instances of ordered human interaction”. There are two fundamental components of order, norms and authority. Spencer explained that “authority and norms represent polar principles of social organization: In the one case organization rests upon orientation to a rule or a principle; in the other instance it is based upon compliance to commands” (Spencer 1970, 124).
Weber’s three types of authority are traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational authority. Coser points out that Weber wrote about “pure” types of authority, and that “he was aware that in empirical reality mixtures will be found in the legitimation of authority” (Coser 1971, 227). As such, many examples of the following authority types may overlap.
Traditional authority is legitimated by the sanctity of tradition. 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. In fact, Weber states: “The creation of new law opposite traditional norms is deemed impossible in principle.” Traditional authority is typically embodied in feudalism or patrimonialism. In a purely patriarchal structure, “the servants are completely and personally dependent upon the lord”, while in an estate system (i.e. feudalism), “the servants are not personal servants of the lord but independent men” (Weber 1958, 4). But, in...