Use examples to briefly explain the types of authority that Max Weber identified. Discuss the extent to which a particular leader may enjoy (assert) all these types of authority.

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Max Weber divides authority into three types, legalistic/bureaucratic, charismatic, and traditional. These types attempt to answer the question of what makes authority legitimate or why people agree to follow or obey a certain leader. In other words, this categorization attempts to explain how leaders justify their positions of power.

The earliest type of leadership was traditional. It looks back to antiquity or "the way things have always been done." Hereditary monarchies or the system by which the Roman Catholic Church appoints popes and cardinals are examples of traditional authority. Similarly, in Tibetan Buddhism, there are a complex set of criteria by which children are determined to be incarnations of previous lamas and thus catapulted into positions of authority in their religion. Contra the earlier response, there are significant legal and bureaucratic elements to this, as succession or selection of the next ruler is in fact determined by an elaborate set of laws. In some ways the Church of England owes its existence to the succession crisis due to the necessity of Henry having a legitimate male heir. The law that only a legitimate heir rather than one of Henry's numerous illegitimate children could inherit, like the law that a US president must be a natural-born citizen, is part of a legal system. Constitutional monarchy is an excellent example of a certain stage in the evolution from purely traditional to purely legalistic authority. Current examples of constitutional monarchies include Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, Sweden, and Denmark.

The next type of authority is bureaucratic/legalistic. In this, the legitimacy of leadership rests entirely in the position and not in the individual who holds it. A military officer, a corporate manager, or an elected official would be an example of this. The authority of the office is the same no matter who holds it. It is a form of authority that is entirely impersonal. Although people may use charisma to campaign for positions in a legalistic system, that is quite different from having charismatic authority, as the authority itself rests not in the charisma (a Greek term meaning "gift of grace" or undeserved gift) but in position or office.

Finally, charismatic authority rests in the individual. A classic example of this in religion was St. Paul, who, despite never having met Jesus, claimed the gift of being able to interpret Jesus's intentions even more clearly than Jesus's own brother James due to his gifts. In early Christian communities, as Paul discusses, certain gifts, such as the ability to preach well or speak in tongues, led people to become leaders. Dictators, tyrants, and demagogues are examples of charismatic leaders whose authority is grounded in their own ability to sway or persuade a populace. Many religious movements start with charismatic leadership (Buddha, Joseph Smith, Jesus, Mohammed). The problem with charismatic leadership is that since it rests in a person rather than an institution, it has no obvious form of succession or way of figuring out who becomes leader when the charismatic figure retires, dies, or falls out of favor. Thus, although charismatic figures can serve as disruptors (e.g., leaders of revolutionary movements such as Lenin, Fidel Castro, Mao, etc.), their movements die out quite quickly unless they institute a legalistic or traditional form of succession.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Max Weber argues that there are three types of authority.  These are legal, traditional, and charismatic.  I would argue that a leader can claim legal and charismatic authority or traditional and charismatic, but that a leader cannot really have both traditional and legal authority.

Legal authority is based on impersonal laws. This is the sort of authority that we have in modern societies.  The president has power not because of his birth or because God gave him the right to govern, but because he was elected according to a set of laws. Those laws would equally have given the right to govern to anyone else who managed to defeat him in an election.

Traditional authority is based on the fact that things have always been done in a given way.  People who have traditional authority typically have it because they have inherited it.  There are few instances of this in modern society, but we could say that Kim Jong Un in North Korea holds power largely because his father and grandfather did before him. Outside of government, we could say that the Pope has this kind of authority.

Finally, charismatic authority is based on the particular attributes of the leader.  A charismatic leader has the right to rule because he or she is particularly endowed with some important quality.  Leaders of this sort exist mostly in organizations rather than in countries today. A person might claim authority to lead a megachurch, for example, because he or she is believed to be particularly holy or because he or she is particularly great at communicating their message.

Either legal or traditional authority can be asserted along with charismatic authority.  Kim Jong Un can try to portray himself as someone with mystical qualities that make him a great leader.  American presidents are often elected in part because people think they have superior qualities (and Donald Trump is essentially running his campaign on this idea). These leaders get part of their authority from each of these sources.

However, a leader cannot really have traditional and legal authority at the same time.  These types of authority are incompatible as a person who rules by right of birth clearly did not get their mandate through impersonal laws.