Tripartite classification of authority  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Max Weber distinguished three ideal types of legitimate political leadership, domination and authority:

  1. charismatic authority (familial and religious),
  2. traditional authority (patriarchs, patrimonalism, feudalism) and
  3. legal authority (modern law and state, bureaucracy).

These three types are ideal pure types and rarely appear in their pure form.

According to Weber, authority is power accepted as legitimate by those subjected to it. These three forms of authority are said to appear in an "hierarchical development order". States progress from charismatic authority, to traditional authority, and finally reach the state of rational-legal authority which is characteristic of a modern liberal democracy.

Comparison table

Characteristic Charismatic Traditional Legal-Rational
Type of ruler Charismatic leader Dominant personality Functional superiors or bureaucratic officials
Position determined by Having a dynamic personality Established tradition or routine Legally established authority
Ruled using Extraordinary qualities and exceptional powers Acquired or inherited (hereditary) qualities Virtue of rationally established norms, decrees, and other rules and regulations
Legitimized Victories and success to community Established tradition or routine General belief in the formal correctness of these rules and those who enact them are considered a legitimized authority
Loyalty Interpersonal & personal allegiance and devotion Based on traditional allegiances To authority / rules
Cohesion Emotionally unstable and volatile Feeling of common purpose Abiding by rules (see Merton's theory of deviance)
Leadership Rulers and followers (disciples) Established forms of social conduct Rules, not rulers

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tripartite classification of authority" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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