The Three Types of Legitimate Rule  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Three Types of Legitimate Rule (Die drei reinen Typen der legitimen Herrschaft) is an essay written by Max Weber, a German economist and sociologist. Originally published in the journal Preussische Jahrb├╝cher 187, 1-2, 1922, an English translation, translated by Hans Gerth, was published in the journal Berkeley Publications in Society and Institutions 4(1): 1-11, 1958. Weber's ideas about legitimate rule also appear in his Basic Concepts in Sociology and The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. The word Rule was employed in the 1958 essay translation by translator Hans Gerth, a native speaking German who lived in Germany until he was 30 (fleeing just prior to WWII) and is a direct translation of Herrschaft from the original essay title; whereas, the English translators of the book The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Alexander M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, substituted the word rule for authority.

According to Weber, beliefs in a legitimacy of a political system go beyond philosophy and they directly contribute to the state system stability and authority. All rulers have an explanation for their superiority, an explanation that is commonly accepted during a crisis can be questioned. Weber sees only three categories of legitimation strategies (which he calls "pure types") used to justify the right of rulers to rule:

  • Legal authority is based on a system of rules that is applied administratively and judicially in accordance with known principles. The persons who administer those rules are appointed or elected by legal procedures. Superiors are also subject to rules that limit their powers, separate their private lives from official duties and require written documentation.
  • Traditional authority is based on a system in which authority is legitimate because it "has always existed". People in power usually enjoy it because they have inherited it. Officials consist either of personal retainers (in a patrimonial regime) or of personal loyal allies, such as vassals or tributary lords (in a feudal regime). Their prerogatives are usually similar to those of the ruler above them, just reduced in scale, and they too are often selected based on inheritance.
  • Charismatic authority is based on the charisma of the leader, who shows that he possesses the right to lead by virtue of magical powers, prophecies, heroism, etc. His followers respect his right to lead because of his unique qualities (his charisma), not because of any tradition or legal rules. Officials consist of those who have shown personal devotion to the ruler, and of those who possess their own charisma.

The types of authority change over time, when the ruled are no longer satisfied with the system.<ref name=rb297>Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.297</ref> For example, after the death of a charismatic leader his followers, if they lack the charisma of their predecessor, will try to institute a system based on tradition or law. On the other hand, these systems can be challenged by the appearance of a new charismatic leader, especially during economic or military crises.

These 'pure types' are almost always found in combination with other 'pure types' — for example, familial charisma (important in kingship and the Indian caste system) is a combination of charismatic and traditional elements, while institutional charisma (existing in all church organizations, but absent from a priesthood that fails to develop such an organization) is a mixture of charismatic and legal elements.

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