Power & Authority: Traditional Authority Research Paper Starter

Power & Authority: Traditional Authority

(Research Starters)

This essay will take a closer look at the issue of authority within the framework of one of Max Weber's seminal works (at least in the eyes of political scientists): “Three Types of Legitimate Rule”. Specifically, this paper will provide a comprehensive review of one of these three types of rule: traditional authority. In illustrating examples and manifestations in the modern world of traditional authority, the reader will also glean a better view of the attitudes of societies that embrace such a power structure.

Keywords Bureaucracy; Charismatic Rule; Durable Power; Legitimate Authority; Monarchy; Tradition

Power

Overview

An expert on political leaders, preeminent German sociologist Max Weber summarized the profile of a politician in one of his last essays, "Politics as a Vocation": "One can say that three pre-eminent qualities are decisive for the politician: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion" (Columbia World of Quotations, 1996).

Indeed, Weber understood that the ideal leader has a well-balanced combination of dedication to those who he or she governs, zeal for his or her public service, and an understanding of the limitations of the system he or she leads. Of course, how an individual proves an effective leader and how he or she obtains the mantle of leadership are two different questions. A person may have all of the personal and professional attributes Weber describes, but to use them effectively he or she must first rise to power.

A common misconception of leadership is that the terms "power" and "authority" are synonymous. In truth, any person can have power, whether that power comes from within or is derived from external sources. Authority, on the other hand, is given to a leader by those whom he or she leads. In essence, authority is an endorsement from the governed society.

This essay will take a closer look at the issue of authority within the framework of one of Max Weber's seminal works (at least in the eyes of political scientists): Three Types of Legitimate Rule . Specifically, this paper will provide a comprehensive review of one of these three types of rule: traditional authority. In illustrating examples and manifestations in the modern world of traditional authority, the reader will also glean a better view of the attitudes of societies that embrace such a power structure.

The Father of Sociology

Max Weber is to sociologists what George Washington is to Americans. The "father of sociology" is seen as both a pioneer and a revolutionary by adherents and detractors alike. His unabashed liberal, neo-Marxist views may not have found a favorable audience among some, but his observations of social order and bureaucracy cannot be discounted as among the most significant of contributions to the study of modern humanity.

In the blood of the iconic sociologist, however, was the lineage of a politician. His father was a member of the German bureaucracy during the late 1870s, a period during which the German and Prussian empires were being merged under then-Count Otto von Bismarck. Weber's life coincided with some of the most pivotal periods in German history. When Bismarck's German empire dominated most of Europe, his brand of control was not that of a liberal democracy, but rather one governed by a relative few whose militaristic goals relegated the plight of the working class (to whose cause the younger Weber became loyal, much to the consternation of his father) to a lower priority. After Bismarck's defeat and the dismantling of his empire under the Treaty of Versailles, Weber watched the rise of the forces that would eventually produce the Nazi regime. Having seen his country experience so much political turmoil and so many power struggles, Weber's view of national cohesion and unity became quite pessimistic (University of Regina, 1999).

The man who became disillusioned by the apparent chaos that existed in his home country's government would later pen a set of apparent guidelines for the international community to understand effective leadership. When Weber drafted Three Types of Legitimate Rule, it would turn out to be more than a simple sociological study - it would be an open call for future world leaders.

The Three Types of Legitimate Authority

According to Weber, there are three types of legitimate authority: rational-legal authority, charismatic authority, and traditional authority. The first of these forms is grounded in a legal structure. Describing it, Weber may have been drawing on his own experiences with bureaucracy, as his father was a prominent leader in the German government's bureaucracy. In this form of leadership, governance is achieved through a strict set of rules and organizational parameters. Bureaucracy is, in Weber's ideals, the outcome of this type of authority, as it is a fixed, disciplined form of leadership that is initiated through a well-defined hierarchy (Elwell, 2008).

The second form of authority Weber identified, charismatic authority, is achieved on the basis of an individual's personal appeal to the citizenry. Whereas bureaucratic rule is defined (and confined) by rules and social norms, charismatic rule centers on the individual leader who, in essence, transcends the parameters established prior to his or her ascension into authority (New Mexico State University, 2008).

This paper will next provide a more in-depth analysis of the third of Weber's tripartite of political authority - traditional rule. However, prior to this discussion, an important point should be made about the fundamental nature of Weber's theory. Although he was clearly influenced by the events of his own political environment and time period, Weber's introduced his concepts as ideal forms, not concrete realities. Of course, the notions introduced in his theories can be applied in a "real-world" sense. In the next two sections of this paper, Weber's theoretical framework will be given greater scrutiny and, later, be applied to international political examples.

Passing Along the Mantle of Leadership

It can be said that power alone does not necessarily make a leader effective. In fact, "durable power" (that is, rule that is built for a long-term tenure), is a description that can be applied to the term "authority". As Weber himself said, durable power authority is power backed by legitimacy (van Manen, 2007).

The key to leadership is, as Weber states, legitimacy. This term suggests that an individual cannot lead without the endorsement of those he or she seeks to rule. A charismatic leader might assert himself or herself into a political environment and, if attractive to those over whom he or she seeks power, receive that legitimacy. On the other hand, a bureaucratic leader might also gain the favor of the people if he or she emerges from an existing socio-political institution that governs the people.

Within traditional authority, however, legitimacy can be either extremely difficult or extremely simple to achieve, depending on the position from which the leader operates. This form of governance is derived not from individual dynamism (as in the case of charismatic rule) or the rule of law (bureaucratic authority). Rather, legitimacy is granted on the basis of custom. An example of traditional authority might be a monarchy in which power is treated as a birthright as it is passed down family lines. Forms of traditional rule are not exemplified solely by monarchies, however - in many cases, traditional rulers are religious figures, such as a priest or a sheikh, or are members of a dominant elite. In these cases, a myth, spiritual belief, or ritual may play a role in transferring and legitimizing authority.

Traditional power is an extremely long-standing form of authority. Ideally, if a government has embraced the same leader (or his or her predecessors) for many years, that leader has acquired legitimacy. Often, this traditional manner of governing means that it is relatively easy for certain individuals to assume leadership, while for others it is nearly if not entirely impossible.

Having matured in a country which, at the time, seemed constantly in the midst of a power struggle, Weber's view of...

(The entire section is 3644 words.)