The Three Types of Legitimate Rule
This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (February 2013)
"The Three Types of Legitimate Rule" (Die drei reinen Typen der legitimen Herrschaft) is an essay written by Max Weber, a German economist and sociologist, explaining his tripartite classification of authority. Originally published in the journal Preussische Jahrbücher 187, 1-2, 1922, an English translation, translated by Hans Gerth, was published in the journal Berkeley Publications in Society and Institutions 4(1): 1-11, 1958. Weber also refers to the three types of legitimate rule in his famous essay "Politics as a Vocation."
The translation of the German word Herrschaft is at the heart of understanding Weber's point about political legitimacy. The translation Rule was employed in the 1958 essay translation by the key early Weber translator Hans Gerth, and is in the title of the essay as translated here. Other translators of Weber including Alexander M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, translated Herrschaft as authority. Weber translators Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters discuss the difficulties in translating Herrschaft as well, typically using "dominion" and "domination" in addition to the original German Herrschaft
According to Weber, beliefs in the legitimacy of a political system go beyond philosophy and they directly contribute to the state system stability and authority. All rulers have an explanation for their superiority, an explanation that is commonly accepted but during a crisis can be questioned. Weber sees only three categories of legitimation strategies (which he calls "pure types") used to justify the right of rulers to rule:
- Legal authority is based on a system of rules that is applied administratively and judicially in accordance with known principles. The persons who administer those rules are appointed or elected by legal procedures. Superiors are also subject to rules that limit their powers, separate their private lives from official duties and require written documentation.
- Traditional authority is based on a system in which authority is legitimate because it "has always existed". People in power usually enjoy it because they have inherited it. Officials consist either of personal retainers (in a patrimonial regime) or of personal loyal allies, such as vassals or tributary lords (in a feudal regime). Their prerogatives are usually similar to those of the ruler above them, just reduced in scale, and they too are often selected based on inheritance.
- Charismatic authority is based on the charisma of the leader, who shows that he possesses the right to lead by virtue of magical powers, prophecies, heroism, etc. His followers respect his right to lead because of his unique qualities (his charisma), not because of any tradition or legal rules. Officials consist of those who have shown personal devotion to the ruler, and of those who possess their own charisma.
The types of authority change over time, when the ruled are no longer satisfied with the system. For example, after the death of a charismatic leader his followers, if they lack the charisma of their predecessor, will try to institute a system based on tradition or law. On the other hand, these systems can be challenged by the appearance of a new charismatic leader, especially during economic or military crises.
These 'pure types' are almost always found in combination with other 'pure types' — for example, familial charisma (important in kingship and the Indian caste system) is a combination of charismatic and traditional elements, while institutional charisma (existing in all church organizations, but absent from a priesthood that fails to develop such an organization) is a mixture of charismatic and legal elements.
- Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, Palgrave Books 2015, pp. 137-138
- Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, Palgrave Books 2015, pp. 11-12.
- Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.294
- Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.295
- Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.297