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Max Weber on Authority

Max Weber’s conception of authority is a demonstration of his concept of Ideal type in action. According to Weber, both power and authority are social in character and come into play where relations are there. He links the concept of power and authority by using different Ideal Types. Max Weber defined power as the chance of a man or a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action, even against the resistance of those who are participating in the communal action.

Authority according to Weber is a form of legitimate power –power that is considered legitimate in society. Weber identifies three sources of legitimacy- tradition, rationality and affective or charisma and on the basis of these, he developed three pure types or Ideal Types of authority.

Max Weber also develops concept of authority as an Ideal Type. According to him, coercion differentiates power from authority. Power has an element of coercion in it. Power is the capability of individuals to influence others irrespective of their will.

According to Weber there are three elements of authority or three Ideal Types of authority based upon his conception of various types of social action.

Traditional authority- It is that type of authority that stems out from traditional social action- authority based on beliefs, customs and values. A leader comes to power because his family or clan has always provided the group’s leadership. Weber has used ideal type methodology to analyze historically, the different forms of traditional authority differentiated between two very early forms of traditional authority. Weber says structures of traditional authority in any form as barriers to the development of rationality. Weber argued that the structures and practices of traditional authority constitute a barrier to the rise of rational economic structures in particular to capitalism.

Charismatic authority- this is the result of personal qualities of the person who exercises it .It corresponds to affective social action. To Weber, charisma was a revolutionary force. The rise of a charismatic leader may well pose a threat to the system and lead to a dramatic change in a system. This type of authority becomes more pronounced in times of crisis and turmoil when other types of authority seem to be failing and new forms of authority are needed. According to Weber, a charismatic system is inherently fragile. It survives only as long as the charismatic leader lives or the crisis lasts. This type of authority is also not as effective as legal-rational authority as organization is not done on rational criterion and members are not technically trained. An organization based on charismatic authority has no formal rules, no established administrative organs and no precedents to guide new judgments.

Legal rational authority- this authority is based on Zweckrational social action or total rational action. Legal –rational authority can take a variety of structural forms, but the form that most interested Weber was bureaucracy that he considered the purest type of exercise of legal authority. Weber wrote about this category as it leads to the most efficient system.

Actual authority may be a combination of above Ideal Types of authority. In the real world there is constant tension and sometimes conflict among the three bases. The charismatic leader is a constant threat to the other forms of authority. Further a particular type of authority may change over time and transform into another type. Weber refers routinisation of charisma and traditionalisation of rationality as examples of such transformations.