Sunday, August 30, 2009

Position Paper #7 Max Weber


The Importance of Legitimate Domination in Sociological History

Max Weber, one of the great sociologists is very much concerned with legitimate domination in other word, power or authority. I am quite interested in his argues about societies. It has easily been noticed that there have always been existing powers, or authorities which control and hold societies. Even in primitive societies in which any civilization had occurred, there were certain forms of authority and power.

Weber defines domination in his book “Economy and Society (1978)” as “The probability that certain specific commands will be obeyed by a given group of persons” It means that if the authority of certain society commands something, members of that society should obey it. This definition of domination convinces us to believe great effect of domination or authority on societies.

Base on this fact, I strongly insist that it is really important for us to look into and precisely analyze the authorities that are holding their societies in order to understand things about societies. Therefore, I quite admire that Weber points out the importance of domination in field of sociology and History.

Weber prefers Taxonomic scheme of Darwinian Science in analyzing History. So he has categorized the pure types of domination into three: Rational, Traditional and Charismatic according to the kind of claim to legitimacy typically made by each. (Weber, 1978)

First, Rational ground, according to Weber, it rests on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands (Legal Authority). In case of legal authority, obedience is owed to the legally established impersonal order. It extends to the persons exercising the authority of office under it by virtue of the formal legality of their command only within the scope of authority of the office. (Weber, 1978)

Second, Traditional ground, it rests on an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial tractions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them. (Traditional authority) In the case of traditional authority, obedience is owed to person of the chief who occupies the traditionally sanctified position of authority and who is bound by tradition. But here the obligation of obedience is a matter of personal loyalty within area of accustomed obligation. (Weber, 1978)

Third and last, Charismatic grounds rest on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him. (Charismatic authority) In case of charismatic authority, it is the charismatically qualified leader as such who is obeyed by virtue of personal trust in his revelation, his heroism or his exemplary qualities so far as they fall within the scope of the individual’s belief in his charisma. (Weber, 1978)

I believe that Weber’s categorization of the types of legitimate domination and analysis on each type is valid and historically proven. There are a lot of examples in History that show the existence and characteristics of those three types of authority.

The examples of legal authority may be found in every institution and organization which is bureaucratic in a single, hierarchical, pyramid structure: Modern Catholic Church, British Parliament, Political parties, and Corporations. The cases of traditional authority are usually found in every period and every society which respects its traditions and in which the traditions take and perform important roles: Feudal period, and Patrimonial society. And there were some charismatic leaders who led people and societies with charisma like Napoleon, Achilles and Dalai Lama.

However, I would like to point out that most of legitimate dominations that have been shown in History were not pure but mixed with one another. The three types of domination always exist and interact together in society. The law, the legal authority is greatly influenced by traditional custom, culture and values. Differences in laws of each countries and nation prove this fact. And at the same time, the people in the society seek for charismatic leader who may lead them with charisma. Therefore, I would say that the societies are dominated and led by the mix of three types of legitimate domination which interact and give influence to each other.


Charismatic Authority


A spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large number of people” (Webster’s Dictionary)

For me, the charismatic authority is quite interesting and fascinating topic. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel insists that “Great men”, world historical individuals make a profound difference in the course of History. I believe that Charismatic leaders are those individuals.

Everyone was and is a part of History but not the one who makes and leads History. The majority of people remain just as the subject of History. The number of objects of History is always few. But those individuals have always been great impact on human society and History.

I believe that Charismatic leaders usually appear during the time of crisis of certain group of society. They are revolutionary and they break frames of society which are out-dated and sometimes spoilt but holding society. So Weber says that Charismatic authority opposes legal and traditional authority. Great changes in society and History were always made by charismatic authority not legal and traditional authority because charismatic authority is not afraid of big changes while legal and traditional authority is.

I do not say that charismatic authorities or leaders are the best. Legal authority and traditional authority take the role of supporting society and giving basis to it. Without them the society would no longer stand stable. But in terms of necessary changes that should take place, charismatic authority is really needed. They can surely bring changes that the world needs and seeks and this is one of the factors which develops and progresses the world.

Due to revolutionary characteristic of charismatic authority, it seems that it opposes the legal and traditional authority. Weber actually believes in it. However, I would rather say that those three types of domination interact with one another and they need each other. I believe that the great changes brought by charismatic authority will be again legal authorities and certain traditions of society. And they will be again replaced by changes brought by charismatic authority. History develops and progresses as it go through this pattern.

But I would again like to emphasize that it is charismatic authority that moves and leads History. Human society and History go forward through this power. Charismatic leader are the motive power of History. They are not many in History but just few. But all of them have made great impact and changes which should have been. The world needs charismatic leaders, the great men.


Weber, Max (1978). Economy and society (G. Roth and C. Wittich). Berkeley: University
of California. (Originally published in 1922).

Hegel, G.W.F. (2001). The philosophy of history (J. Sibree, Trans.). Kitchener, Ontario:
Batoche Books.

Charisma. Webster’s Dictionary

1 comment:

  1. You provide a balanced and objective perspective about charisma. As a student of the discipline, I've often tried to uncover the reasons individuals are sour on charisma and its impact. More specifically, why some pundits and organizational leaders don't regard charisma as a viable leadership model? I understand that some historic figures have tainted the model, but haven't every leadership model, in some form, been tainted by an individual? I've come to the conclusion that many opponents of charisma find it unfavorable, not so much for its traits, but the exclusivity of its characteristics. One comes to despise what he can never have nor ever become. If leadership is about influencing and persuading in conjunction with empowering, what better model than the charismatic one? Eminent sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) is credited with secularizing "charisma," which was thought to be a purely religious concept. Weber postulated that charisma was the most challenging leadership model, largely because it relied on sheer force of personality. Its power derived from the personal ambition, vision and high energy of the individual. Canvassing the world stage, we rarely see effective leadership at its core and even more rarely see charismatic leadership in its pristine form. Yes, we are apt to apply a subjective label on an individual who interests us, but charisma has specific traits that supersede a smile, eye contact and the gift of oratory. In fact, it's a combination of personality, proclivity and socialization. The charismatic leader causes schisms inherent within his/her personality as well as followers. It's a reality that he/she has to live with division as part of the DNA. Such a level of scrutiny and factionalism has to cause discontent. It's often this discontent that pundits comment most about. The passion behind the concept pushes people off the fence of indecision and neutrality. You either love the charismatic or despise him. In the end, whether you hate or love the concept behind charisma, it is a growing reality in a media-centric world. In fact, charisma is in-step with the aspirations of the populous. So much so that those lacking charisma are at a severe disadvantage.

    Edward Brown
    Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute