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Patrimonialism is a form of governance in which all power flows directly from the leader. There is no distinction between the public and private domains: “The very essence of patrimonialism consists in the idea that "the whole government authority and the economic rights which correspond to it, tend to be treated as privately appropriated economic advantages"(Medard, 1996). These regimes are autocratic or oligarchic and exclude the lower, middle and upper classes from power. The leaders of these countries typically enjoy absolute personal power. Usually, the armies of these countries are loyal to the leader, not the nation.

Various definitions[edit]

Max Weber[edit]

Max Weber wrote of Patrimonialism as a form of traditional domination. Initially it was centered on family structures, particularly on the authority of fathers within families, in other words patriarchy. But patriarchy only describes the earlier, smaller form. For Weber, patrimonial monarchies and similar forms of government were projections of patriarchy (the rule of the father within the family) onto a broader set of social relationships.

There are two main forms of patrimonialism in Weber's analysis of traditional authority (domination). One form is characterised by a top-down structure where the emperor or sultan rules on the basis of his own legitimate authority through traditional bureaucratic officials (e.g. eunuchs). In principle the Roman Catholic Church is patrimonial in this traditional sense, with the Pope as the Patrimonial Ruler.

The other form of patrimonialism is still top down but it approaches the Ideal Type of Western European Feudalism, with a basis for legitimate authority outside of the central ruler's authority. In 12th century France or England, for example, it could have consisted of the knightly aristocracy. This feudal form of patrimonialism eventually evolved into Constitutional Monarchy. The U.S. Senate is a vestige of the House of Lords in England. The Lords were literally the peers of the realm. Weber's overarching argument was that with modernity, traditional bureaucratic patrimonial forms of government eventually gave way to modern capitalist bureaucratic rationalism as the main principle of both government and governance.

Nathan Quimpo[edit]

Nathan Quimpo[1] defines patrimonialism as "a type of rule in which the ruler does not distinguish between personal and public patrimony and treats matters and resources of state as his personal affair."[2]

Richard Pipes[edit]

Richard Pipes, a historian and Professor Emeritus of Russian history at Harvard University defines patrimonial as "a regime where the rights of sovereignty and those of ownership blend to the point of being indistinguishable, and political power is exercised in the same manner as economic power." [3]

Julia Adams[edit]

Julia Adams, a sociologist at Yale University, argues for increased application of the term.[4]

J. I. (Hans) Bakker[edit]

J. I. (Hans) Bakker, a sociologist at The University of Guelph, has applied the ideal type to the history of Indonesia in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial days.

Francis Fukuyama[edit]

Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist at Stanford, describes it as political recruitment based on the two principles of kin selection and reciprocal altruism [5].

Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez[edit]

Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez, a Colombian philosopher and former professor at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora – Brazil, considered one of the foremost academics in Latin American and Iberian Patrimonialism.[citation needed] Vélez uses the concept of Patrimonialism as established by Max Weber and later expanded by Karl Wittfogel from Columbia University, to explain the political ethos in Latin America. As a renowned specialist in political philosophy, Velez has published numerous books on the subject and is constantly invited as guest speaker in academic forums. Some of his works are: Liberalismo y conservatismo en la América Latina (Bogotá, 1978); Estado, Cultura y Sociedad en la América Latina (Bogotá, 2000); Patrimonialismo e a Realidade Latino-Americana (Rio de Janeiro, 2006); A Análise do Patrimonialismo através da Literatura Latino-Americana (Rio de Janeiro, 2008).


Richard Pipes cited the Egyptian Ptolemies and the Attalids of Pergamon as early Patrimonial monarchies, both successor states to Alexander the Great's empire.[6]

Pipes argues that the Russian Empire between the twelfth and seventeenth century, and with certain modifications until 1917,was a patrimonial system.[7]

Jean Bodin described seigneurial monarchies in the Six books of the Commonwealth 1576-86 where the monarch owns all the land. He claimed that Turkey and Muscovy were the only European examples.[8] He believed they came about through conquest and were common in Africa and Asia.

Modern and Contemporary Hungarian academics support the postulate that in the Middle Ages the Kingdom of Hungary existed as a Patrimonial Kingdom (in Hungarian Language: Patrimoniális királyság) where the King was the supreme owner of the Kingdom's lands. Indonesia, before and during the Suharto administration, is often cited as being patrimonial in its political-economy.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Political Scientist at the University of Tsukuba
  2. ^ Quimpo, p. 2
  3. ^ Richard Pipes, Russia under the Old Regime, page 22
  4. ^ Interview with Julia Adams
  5. ^ Fukuyama, Francis (2011). The Origins of Political Order. p. 439.
  6. ^ Richard Pipes, Russia under the old regime, page 23
  7. ^ Richard Pipes, Russia under the old regime, page 24
  8. ^ Richard Pipes, Russia under the old regime, page 65
  9. ^ Schwarz, Adam. 2004. A Nation in Waiting. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  10. ^ Bakker, J. I. (Hans). 1988. Patrimonialism, Involution, and the Agrarian Question in Java: A Weberian Analysis of Class Relations and Servile Labour. State and Society. London, UK: Unwin Hyman.
  • Adams, Julia. "The Rule of the Father: Patriarchy and Patrimonialism in Early Modern Europe." Working paper. Russell Sage Foundation. [1] Accessed September 6, 2007.
  • Bakker, J. I. (Hans). "Patrimonialism." Entry in The Encyclopedia of Governance [' publications]
  • Quimpo, Nathan Gilbert "Trapo Parties and Corruption" KASAMA Vol. 21 No. 1, January–February–March 2007.[2]