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Rational-legal authority (also known as rational authority, legal authority, rational domination, legal domination, or bureaucratic authority) is a form of leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to legal rationality, legal legitimacy and bureaucracy. The majority of the modern states of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are rational-legal authorities, according to those who use this form of classification.

Scholars such as Max Weber and Charles Perrow characterized the rational-legal bureaucracy as the most efficient form of administration.[1][2]

Rational-legal authority

In sociology, the concept of rational-legal domination comes from Max Weber's tripartite classification of authority (one of several classifications of government used by sociologists); the other two forms being traditional authority and charismatic authority. All of those three domination types represent an example of his ideal type concept. Weber noted that in history those ideal types of domination are always found in combinations.

In traditional authority, the legitimacy of the authority comes from tradition. Charismatic authority is legitimized by the personality and leadership qualities of the ruling individual. Finally, rational-legal authority derives its powers from the system of bureaucracy and legality.

Legal rationality and legitimate authority

Under rational-legal authority, legitimacy is seen as coming from a legal order and the laws that have been enacted in it (see also natural law and legal positivism).

Weber defined legal order as a system where the rules are enacted and obeyed as legitimate because they are in line with other laws on how they can be enacted and how they should be obeyed. Further, they are enforced by a government that monopolizes their enactment and the legitimate use of physical force.

If society, as a whole, approves the exercise of the power in a certain way, then the power is considered "legitimate authority".

Max Weber's theory: type of authority

Max Weber broke down legitimate authority into three different types of societies: Traditional Authority, Rational-legal Authority, and Charismatic Authority. Each of these authorities have their own unique complex societies that have evolved from simple definitions.

1.Traditional authority: traditional grounds

2. Rational-legal authority: rational grounds

3. Charismatic authority: charismatic grounds

Emergence of the modern state

Weber wrote that the modern state based on rational-legal authority emerged from the patrimonial and feudal struggle for power (see traditional authority) uniquely in the Occidental civilization. The prerequisites for the modern Western state are:

Weber argued that some of those attributes have existed in various time or places, but together they existed only in Occidental civilization. The conditions that favoured this were

Weber's belief that rational-legal authority did not exist in Imperial China has been heavily criticized, and does not have many supporters in the early 21st century.

Modern state

According to Max Weber, a modern state exists where a political community has:

An important attribute of Weber's definition of a modern state was that it is a bureaucracy.

The vast majority of the modern states from the 20th century onward fall under the rational-legal authority category.

Rational-legal leaders

The majority of modern bureaucratic officials and political leaders represent this type of authority.



Weber provided ten necessities addressing: "how individual officials are appointed and work". The administrative staff are under the supreme authority for legal authority in a bureaucratic administrative style.

  1. They are personally free and subject to authority only with respect to their impersonal official obligation.
  2. They are organized in a clearly defined hierarchy of offices.
  3. Each office has a clearly defined sphere of competence in the legal sense.
  4. The office is filled by a free contractual relationship or free selection.
  5. Candidates are selected on the basis of technical qualification.
  6. They are remunerated by fixed salaries in money for the most part, with a right to pensions.
  7. The office is treated as the sole, or at least primary, occupation of incumbent.
  8. It constitutes a career. Promotions are dependent on the judgement of superiors.
  9. The official works entirely separated from ownership of the means of administration and without appropriation of his/her position.
  10. He is subject to strict and systematic discipline and control in the conduct of the office.

See also


  1. ^ Gerth, H. H.; Mills, C. Wright (2014-05-01). Bureaucracy. pp. 208–256. doi:10.4324/9780203759240-13. ISBN 9780203759240. Retrieved 2020-09-05. ((cite book)): |website= ignored (help)
  2. ^ Perrow, Charles. Complex Organizations.

Further reading