Max Weber distinguished three ideal types of legitimate political leadership, domination and authority. He wrote about these three types of domination in both his essay The Three Types of Legitimate Rule which was published in his masterwork Economy and Society (see Weber 1922/1978:215-216), and in his classic speech "Politics as a Vocation" (see Weber 1919/2015:137-138).
These three types are ideal types and rarely appear in their pure form.
According to Weber, authority is power accepted as legitimate by those subjected to it. These three forms of authority are said to appear in an "hierarchical development order". States progress from charismatic authority, to traditional authority, and finally reach the state of rational-legal authority which is characteristic of a modern liberal democracy.
Main article: Charismatic domination
Charismatic authority grows out of the personal charm or the strength of an individual personality. It was described by Weber in a lecture as "the authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma)"; he distinguished it from the other forms of authority by stating "Men do not obey him [the charismatic ruler] by virtue of tradition or statute, but because they believe in him." Thus the actual power or capabilities of the leader are irrelevant, as long as the followers believe that such power exists. Thus, according to Weber, it is particularly difficult for charismatic leaders to maintain their authority because the followers must continue to legitimize the authority of the leader.
Charismatic domination is different from legal-rational and traditional power insofar as it does not develop from established tradition but rather from the belief the followers have in the leader.
According to Weber, once the leader loses his charisma or dies, systems based on charismatic authority tend to transform into traditional or legal-rational systems.
Main article: Traditional domination
In traditional authority, the legitimacy of the authority comes from tradition or custom; Weber described it as "the authority of the eternal yesterday" and identified it as the source of authority for monarchies. In this type of domination, the traditional rights of a powerful individual or group are accepted by the subordinate, or at least not challenged. The dominant individual could be a clan leader, eldest, the head of a family, a patriarchal figure or dominant elite. Historically this has been the most common type of government.
According to Weber, inequalities are created and preserved by traditional authority. Should this authority not be challenged, the dominant leader or group will stay in power. For Weber, traditional power blocked the development of rational-legal authority.
Main article: Legal domination
Legal authority, also known as rational-legal authority, is where an individual or institution exerts power by virtue of the legal office that they hold. It is the authority that demands obedience to the office rather than the officeholder; once they leave office, their rational-legal authority is lost. Weber identified "rationally-created rules" as the central feature of this form of authority. Modern democracies contain many examples of legal-rational regimes. There are different ways in which legal authority can develop. Many societies have developed a system of laws and regulations and there exist many different principles of legality. With the development of a legal-rational system, the political system is likely to be rationalized similarly. Constitutions, written documents, established offices and regular elections are often associated with modern legal-rational political systems. These in the past have tended to develop in opposition to earlier traditional systems such as monarchies, where the set of rules are not well developed. As these systems develop in a rational manner, authority takes on a legal-rational form. Those who govern have the legitimate legal right to do so and those subordinated accept the legality of the rulers.
Albeit rational-legal authority may be challenged by those subordinated, it is unlikely to result in a quick change in the nature of the system. Such power struggles, according to Weber, are mostly political struggles and may be based on nationalism or ethnicity.
|Type of ruler||Charismatic leader||Dominant personality||Functional superiors or bureaucratic officials|
|Position determined by||Having a dynamic personality||Established tradition or routine||Legally established authority|
|Ruled using||Extraordinary qualities and exceptional powers||Acquired or inherited (hereditary) qualities||Virtue of rationally established norms, decrees, and other rules and regulations|
|Legitimized||Victories and success to community||Established tradition or routine||General belief in the formal correctness of these rules and those who enact them are considered a legitimized authority|
|Loyalty||Interpersonal & personal allegiance and devotion||Based on traditional allegiances||To authority / rules|
|Cohesion||Emotionally unstable and volatile||Feeling of common purpose||Abiding by rules (see Merton's theory of deviance)|
|Leadership||Rulers and followers (disciples)||Established forms of social conduct||Rules, not rulers|