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Tripartite classification of authority

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Max Weber distinguished three ideal types of political leadership, domination and authority: charismatic domination (familial and religious), traditional domination (patriarchs, patrimonalism, feudalism) and legal domination (modern law and state, bureaucracy). He also notes that legal domination is the most advanced, and that societies evolve from having mostly traditional and charismatic authorities to mostly rational and legal ones, due to the fact that the instability of charismatic authority inevitably forces it to "routinize" into a more structured form of authority. Likewise he notes that in a pure type of traditional rule, sufficient resistance to a master can lead to a "traditional revolution". Thus he alludes to an inevitable move towards a rational-legal structure of authority, utilizing a bureaucratic structure. This ties to his broader concept of rationalization by suggesting the inevitability of a move in this direction. Thus this theory can be sometimes viewed as part of the social evolutionism theory.

In traditional authority, the legitimacy of the authority comes from tradition, in charismatic authority from the personality and leadership qualities of the individual (charisma), and in legal (or rational-legal) authority from powers that are bureaucratically and legally attached to certain positions. A classic example of these three types may be found in religion: priests (traditional), Jesus (charismatic), and the Roman Catholic Church (legal-rational). Weber also conceived of these three types within his three primary modes of conflict: traditional authority within status groups, charismatic authority within class, and legal-rational authority within party organizations.

In his view every historical relation between rulers and ruled contained elements that can be analyzed on the basis of the above distinction.


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