Sociology/Max Weber – Authority (1)



Weber’s sociological interest in the structures of authority was motivated, at least in part, by his political interests. Weber was no political radical; in fact, he was often called the “bourgeois Marx” to reflect the similarities in the intellectual interests of Marx and Weber as well as their very different political orientations.

Although Weber was almost as critical of modern capitalism as Marx was, he did not advocate revolution. He wanted to change society gradually, not overthrow it. He had little faith in the ability of the masses to create a “better” society.

Weber was critical of authoritarian political leaders like Bismarck. Nevertheless, for Weber the hope—if indeed he had any hope—lay with the great political leaders rather than with the masses or the bureaucrats. Along with his faith in political leaders went his unswerving nationalism. He placed the nation above all else.

Weber preferred democracy as a political form not because he believed in the masses but because it offered maximum dynamism and the best milieu to generate political leaders.

Weber began his analysis of authority structures in a way that was consistent with his assumptions about the nature of action. He defined domination as the “probability that certain specific commands (or all commands) will be obeyed by a given group of persons”. Domination can have a variety of bases, legitimate as well as illegitimate, but what mainly interested Weber were the legitimate forms of domination, or what he called authority.

What concerned Weber, and what played a central role in much of his sociology, were the three bases on which authority is made legitimate to followers—rational/legal, traditional, and charismatic

Authority legitimized on rational grounds rests “on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands”. Authority legitimized on traditional grounds is based on “an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them”. Finally, authority legitimized by charisma rests on the devotion of followers to the exceptional sanctity, exemplary character, heroism, or special powers (for example, the ability to work miracles) of leaders, as well as on the normative order sanctioned by them.

All these modes of legitimizing authority clearly imply individual actors, thought processes (beliefs), and actions. But from this point, Weber, in his thinking about authority, did move quite far from an individual action base, as we will see when we discuss the authority structures erected on the basis of these types of legitimacy.


It is a system of domination driven by rules and laws. The universal laws that govern the system of legal authority are competition, strict discipline, impersonal character, defined hierarchy etc. according to weber the purest type of exercise of legal authority is Bureaucracy.



  • Value time
  • Goal orientation
  • Rule bound behaviour
  • Decision making without prejudice and emotions
  • Long working hours


  • Associated with position and not person
  • Clearly defined hierarchy
  • Unequal distribution of power
  • Authority defined by rules and laws
  • No discretionary power but bureaucratic immunity
  • Complete knowledge about “file”.


  • Fixed tenure of service
  • Fixed salary
  • Promotions on basis of efficiency
  • Diversified positions
  • No absolute authority
  • Occupational mobility.


  • Most efficient system of administration
  • Deliberated justice
  • Decisions universally applicable
  • Mistakes by bureaucracy easily rectified
  • Subjected to collective well being.

To Be Continued !