What is power rule, authority and legitimacy

Power and rule according to Max Weber


1. Introduction and question

2. Concept of power according to Weber
2.1 definition
2.1.1 Legitimate Power
2.1.2 Illegitimate Power
2.2 Concepts of power
2.2.1 personal power
2.2.2 political power
2.2.3 military power
2.3 Power and dependence

3. Concept of power according to Weber
3.1 definition
3.2 Forms of domination
3.2.1 legal rule
3.2.2 traditional rule
3.2.3 Charismatic rule

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction and question

As posthumous, the views of the trained lawyer Max Weber1about the terms power and rule were published, no one suspected how self-evident these definitions are still accepted as generally valid today, more than 80 years after his death. It should be examined, however, whether Weber's theories about concepts of power and rule are still applicable to current structures today, or whether examples of his forms of power and rule can be found.

2. Concept of power according to Weber

2.1 Definition of power

When one speaks of power, one does not mean just any thing, but a network of relationships between two or more people, groups or the like.2.

So everyone has power who has the opportunity to enforce a will or an interest within a social relationship. It does not matter how great this possibility is and whether you encounter resistance.

This very general definition is further differentiated below.

2.1.1 Legitimate power

On the one hand, a distinction is made between legitimate and illegitimate power. Legitimate power is equivalent to domination because it is based on a system of command (by definition, this is the will to be enforced) and acceptance or obedience (i.e. the will is obeyed).3This power is recognized within a social relationship.

2.1.2 Illegitimate power

One speaks of illegitimate power when this power is not recognized within a social relationship. The will is then enforced through violence and / or influence.4

2.2 Concepts of power

To further differentiate power, this abstract term is now divided into three further categories, which are intended to clarify the various aspects of power.

2.2.1 Personal power

When someone has personal power over someone, it means that they are more likely to have their say than the other way around. This advantage is based, for example, on a knowledge advantage (expertise) with which one can argue more sustainably and influence the other.5

2.2.2 Political power

Political power is more versatile. On the one hand, if you have an advantage in terms of raw materials or resources over a disadvantaged person and can make demands on the basis of this. On the other hand, if you are in a higher position in a company or similar, you can exert pressure on lower employees. Political power often has something to do with blackmail. Political power also means having the power to make decisions in certain situations.

2.2.3 Military power

Even with military power, the one who has the better weapons at his disposal and thus "physical violence" has an advantage.6and can apply pressure. Here it becomes particularly clear that power is often not very different from violence, be it physical or psychological.

2.3 Power and dependence

A power system between a superior and an inferior is also related to dependency. As soon as someone is dependent on someone in any way, that person has power over them.

“In addition, the extent and range of power seem to generally not only depend on the permitted or actually available means of power on the one hand, but also on the degree of dependence, on the available alternatives or on the possibilities for limiting power (e.g. Morality, law or countervailing power) on the other hand. "7

This can also be demonstrated with the above-mentioned concepts of power. In terms of political power, for example, a country may be dependent on getting food in the event of a famine. The country that can deliver this thus has political power, because it can now make demands of its own. The greater the ratio of dependency, the greater the power. If the degree of dependency falls, so does power.

3. Concept of power according to Weber

3.1 Weber definition

According to Max Weber, rule means that one has the opportunity to express a will (command) that is also obeyed. So rule is a "system of command and obedience"8.

The relationship between rule and power is as follows: Power that is "legitimized, [...] permanently recognized and institutionalized"9, is called domination. Max Weber has specialized in three basic types of rule, which, however, are only to be understood as models.

3.2 Forms of domination

3.2.1 Legal rule

Legal rule is legitimized by a statute, order or law. Its purest form is the bureaucracy, the “ruler” is the respective superior. This type of rule can be found, for example, in an authority in which officials are in a hierarchical relationship to one another. The legitimation of the superiors should generally be the competence of the respective person, but he too must adhere to the existing rules, or he may only issue orders within the framework of these rules.

3.2.2 Traditional rule

The traditional rule is based on the belief in authority ("holiness"10) that exist in an existing order. Possible examples here are a village elder, a priest or a patriarch. In the example of the village elder in an African village, he is the one in command that the other villagers obey as subjects. The village elder does not come to legitimized and accepted power, i.e. rule, through tradition, but not through competence. It is similar with class structures, e.g. in the nobility, where titles and thus privileges are inherited.

3.2.3 Charismatic rule

Charismatic rule can be achieved by a person who is characterized by special characteristics and is therefore recognized as a “ruler”. Conceivable qualities are e.g. heroic, holy, exemplary or stirring11. Possible charismatic rulers are e.g. war heroes (heroic), prophets (holy) or demagogues (rousing). Examples are De Gaulle ("war hero") or Hitler (demagogue) (although Hitler's rule can hardly be described as legitimized).

This form of rule is legitimized only by the trust of those who obey in the abilities of the ruler. Legitimacy is lost if the charisma wanes.12

One problem with this rule is the regulation of a succession, as there is seldom a person who can also win people's trust through their charisma.

4. Conclusion

The theories, definitions and models on power and rule by Max Weber are over 80 years old. It is therefore all the more surprising when you check them for their topicality and find that they are still applicable to the present day. The various concepts of power have become even more diverse and differentiated, especially at the political and military level. More topical than ever is the relationship between power and dependence, a fact that is nowadays exploited by powerful people, institutions and even states to make a profit. Power quickly turns into violence here, often in the form of blackmail.

Current examples can also be given of the given types of rule.

Any authority is a form of legal rule, and a traditional form of rule occurs especially in many non-urbanized areas, be it as a village elder of a tribe or as a nobleman who has inherited his title.

Much more common, however, is the form of charismatic rule, which can be applied to almost all areas. At the moment when someone can impress and convince through his appearance or experience and thus participate in a rule, this is based on his charisma. This can happen in a small group, but also in a party or even in a state. The best example here would be the career of Adolf Hitler.

With these examples from today's society it can be illustrated that Weber's theses seem timeless, at least up to the present time, after all they have survived for over 80 years and seem to be universally valid for a longer period of time.

5. Bibliography

Bango, Jenö: Sociology for Social Professions. Basic terms and principles. Stuttgart. 1994

Eitzinger, Isabel: Internet: http://www.club-der-toten-soziologen.de. 3.1.2001.

Krauss, Winfried: Internet: http://home.t-online.de/home/Winfried.Krauss/maxweber.htm. 3.1.2001.

Mogge-Grotjahn, Hildgard: Sociology. An introduction to social professions. Freiburg in Breisgau. 1996.

Schäfers, Bernhard (Ed.): Basic concepts of sociology. 6th edition. Opladen. 2000.


1Note: Max Weber was born on April 21, 1864 in Erfurt and is today considered to be the founder of German sociology. He initially studied law in Heidelberg and Berlin, and published publications on economic policy and social science. In 1909 he is a co-founder of the German Society for Sociology. He publicly criticizes German war policy in World War I because he fears that Germany will lose power. In 1919 Weber traveled with the German delegation to the peace negotiations in Versailles, which he soon left again because he disapproved of the attitude of the victors, who were less interested in peace than in exploitation. But with his views he shows foresight by indirectly predicting Hitler's later seizure of power and the battle of strength between Russia and the USA. Max Weber died of pneumonia on June 14, 1920 in Munich.

2see Mogge-Grotjahn, Hildgard: Sociology. An introduction to social professions. Freiburg in Breisgau. 1996. p. 81.

3Cf. Bango, Jenö: Sociology for social professions. Basic terms and principles. Stuttgart. 1994, p. 77.

4See Bango, 1994, p. 77.

5See Mogge-Grotjahn, 1996, p. 81.

6Mogge-Grotjahn, 1996, p. 82.

7Gukenbiehl, Hermann L .: rule. In: Schäfers, Bernhard (Ed.): Basic concepts of sociology. 6th edition. Opladen. 2000, p. 128.

8Bango, 1994, p. 77.

9Mogge-Grotjahn, 1996, p. 82.

10Gukenbiehl, 2000. p. 128.

11See Mogge-Grotjahn, 1996, p. 82.

12See Internet: http://home.t-online.de/home/Winfried.Krauss/maxweber.htm; and http: //www.club-der-toten- soziologen.de; from 3.1.2001.