Legal Rational Authority

Categories: AuthorityLeadership

Rational-legal authority (also known as rational authority, legal authority, rational domination, legal domination, or bureaucratic authority) is a form of leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to legal rationality, legal legitimacy and bureaucracy. The majority of the modern states of the twentieth century are rational-legal authorities, according to those who use this form of classification

Authority Types

Traditional authority is legitimated by the sanctity of tradition. The ability and right to rule is passed down, often through heredity.

It does not change overtime, does not facilitate social change, tends to be irrational and inconsistent, and perpetuates the status quo. In fact, Weber states: “The creation of new law opposite traditional norms is deemed impossible in principle.” Traditional authority is typically embodied in feudalism or patrimonialism. In a purely patriarchal structure, “the servants are completely and personally dependent upon the lord”, while in an estate system (i.e. feudalism), “the servants are not personal servants of the lord but independent men” (Weber 1958, 4).

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But, in both cases the system of authority does not change or evolve. Charismatic authority is found in a leader whose mission and vision inspire others.

It is based upon the perceived extraordinary characteristics of an individual. Weber saw a charismatic leader as the head of a new social movement, and one instilled with divine or supernatural powers, such as a religious prophet. Weber seemed to favor charismatic authority, and spent a good deal of time discussing it. In a study of charisma and religion, Riesebrodt argues that Weber also thought charisma played a strong - if not integral - role in traditional authority systems.

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Thus, Weber’s favor for charismatic authority was particularly strong, especially in focusing on what happened to it with the death or decliAne of a charismatic leader. Charismatic authority is “routinized” in a number of ways according to Weber: orders are traditionalized, the staff or followers change into legal or “estate-like” (traditional) staff, or the meaning of charisma itself may undergo change.

Legal-rational authority is empowered by a formalistic belief in the content of the law (legal) or natural law (rationality). Obedience is not given to a specific individual leader - whether traditional or charismatic - but a set of uniform principles. Weber thought the best example of legal-rational authority was a bureaucracy (political or economic). This form of authority is frequently found in the modern state, city governments, private and public corporations, and various voluntary associations. In fact, Weber stated that the “development of the modern state is identical indeed with that of modern officialdom and bureaucratic organizations just as the development of modern capitalism is identical with the increasing bureaucratization of economic enterprise.


Weber’s theory of authority is very rich and intricate. Weber and others have detailed many interesting relationships and processes occurring between the types. Blau’s “Critical Remarks on Weber’s Theory of Authority” explains two of these in particular, components that either strengthen or weaken an authority type in regards to another. The three authority types may be re-enforced by traits that differentiate them from other types.

Traditional authority is impersonal (unlike charisma) and non-rational (unlike legal-rational). Charismatic authority is dynamic (unlike tradition) and non-rational (again, unlike legal-rational). Finally, legal-rational authority is dynamic (unlike tradition) and impersonal (unlike charisma). Conversely, Blau means to say that traditional is un-dynamic, charisma is personal, and legal-rational is rational. The likelihood of retaining a particular type of authority may depend on the ability of that authority system to retain the traits that make it unique and reject the traits that make it more conducive to another authority type.


In charismatic authority Weber considers charisma to be a driving and creative force which surges through traditional authority and established rules. The sole basis of charismatic authority is the recognition or acceptance of the claims of the leader by the followers. While it is irrational, in that it is not calculable or systematic, it can be revolutionary, breaking traditional rule and can even challenge legal authority.

Weber notes that traditional authority is irrational. It blocks the development of rational or legal forms of authority or acts as a barrier to the development of more rational or legal forms of authority characteristic of western societies. traditional authority a means by which inequality is created and preserved. Where no challenge to the authority of the traditional leader or group is made, then the leader is likely to remain dominant.

Legal-rational authority is a particular system containing humans, like e.g. organizations, there is some authority acting as a stabilizing factor making e.g. employees follow the directions of the leaders. Authority helps to prevent anarchy, and help to define a clear hierarchy of decision-making. A clear hierarchy will potentially lead to an effective organization, consisting of strong and legitimate authority relations between leaders and followers. This authority is only granted leaders if followers find his or her authority legitimate. This illustrates the fictitious believe that leaders automatically posses authority. Instead, leaders are given authority by their followers to e.g. inspire, control and command.

If authority is to be seen legitimate, the relation between authority and followers must be balanced, so that the authority relation is accepted by the followers. Legal-Rational authority rests on the belief in the "legality" of formal rules and hierarchies, and in the right of those elevated in the hierarchy to posses authority and issue commands. This type of authority is often seen as legitimate in bureaucratic systems, which enables impersonal, specific and formal structures of modern companies. People will hence find this type of authority legitimate, if the authority is distributed to leaders based on e.g. rationality and capability.

Particular authority types can lose their power to - and thus transition into - other types by some of the following ways. Revolutionary ideals can be advocated by a charismatic leader or the rational pursuit of ends via abstract formal principles can both weaken traditional authority. Revolutionary charismatic movements can be crystallized into a traditional order or bureaucratized into a rational formal organization. Finally, the irrational forces and powers of tradition In traditional authority, the legitimacy of the authority comes from tradition. Charismatic authority is legitimized by the personality and leadership qualities of the ruling individual. Finally, rational-legal authority derives its powers from the system of bureaucracy and legality. Legal rationality and legitimacy

Under rational-legal authority, legitimacy is seen as coming from a legal order and the laws that have been enacted in it. Weber defined legal order as a system where the rules are enacted and obeyed as legitimate because they are in line with other laws on how they can be enacted and how they should be obeyed. Further, they are enforced by a government that monopolizes their enactment and the legitimate use of physical force.

The Legal Mode of Authority (Legitimate Domination)

This is Weber’s typology of the modes of legitimate domination. The actors can ascribe legitimate validity to an order in a variety of ways. The order can be recognized as legitimate, first, by virtue of tradition, valid is that which has always been. Second, the order may be treated as legitimate by virtue of affectual,especially emotional, faith; this situation occurs especially in the case of the newly revealed or the exemplary. Third, the order may be treated as legitimate by virtue of value rational faith: valid is that which has been deduced as absolutely demanded. Fourth, legitimacy can be ascribed to an order by virtue of positive enactment of recognized legality. Such legality can be recognized as legitimate either because the enactment has been agreed upon by all those who are concerned; or by virtue of imposition by a domination of human beings over human beings which is treated as legitimate and meets with acquiescence. Orders based on tradition, affect, and value rationality can be reinforced by enacted law.

Weber states from another source that what distinguishes legal rational authority, from charismatic authority and traditional authority on the one hand and leadership, persuasion and influence on the other hand, is legitimacy. Superiors feel that they have a right to issue commands; subordinates perceive an obligation to obey. Social scientist agree that authority is but one of several resources available to incumbents in formal positions For example, a Head of State is dependent upon a similar nesting of authority. His legitimacy must be acknowledged, not just by citizens, but by those who control other valued resources: his immediate staff, his cabinet, military leaders and in the long run, the administration and political apparatus of the entire society. Emergence of the modern state

Rational-legal authority is rational among the three types of authority in the sense that it brought about the Emergence of the modern state. Weber wrote that the modern state based on rational-legal authority emerged from the patrimonial and feudal struggle for power .The prerequisites for the modern Western state are: 1.monopolization by central authority of the means of administration and control based on a centralized and stable system of taxation and use of physical force 2.monopolization of legislative

3.organization of an officialdom, dependent upon the central authority Weber argued that some of those attributes have existed in various time or places, but together they existed only in Occidental civilization. The conditions that favored this were emergence of rational-legal rationality (various status groups in the Occident promoted that emergence) emergence of modern officialdom (bureaucracy), which required 1.development of the money economy, where officials are compensated in money instead of kind (usually land grants) 2.quantitative and qualitative expansion of administrative tasks 3.centralisation and increased efficiency of administration.

Modern state

According to Max Weber, a modern state exists where a political community has: * an administrative and legal order that has been created and can be changed by legislation that also determines its role * binding authority over citizens and actions in its jurisdiction * the right to legitimately use the physical force in its jurisdiction An important attribute of Weber's definition of a modern state was that it is a bureaucracy. The vast majority of the modern states from the 20th century onward fall under the rational-legal authority category


Bureaucracy is "the existence of a specialized administrative staff". According to Weber, beaucracy is a particular type of administrative structure developed through rational-legal authority. Weber noted that bureaucracy resolves some of the shortcomings of the traditional system. His view view of bureaucracy was a system of power where leaders exercise control over others -- a system based on discipline. Weber stressed that the rational-legal form was the most stable of systems for both superiors and subordinates -- it's more reliable and clear, yet allows the subordinate more independence and discretion. Subordinates ideally can challenge the decisions of their leaders by referring to the stated rules -- charisma becomes less important. As a result, bureaucratic systems can handle more complex operations than traditional system.


Another source reveals that legal-rational authority brings about the development of a rational legal system, there is likely to be a political system which becomes rationalized in a similar way. Associated with this are constitutions, written documents, established offices, regularized modes of representation, regular elections and political procedures. These are developed in opposition to earlier systems such as monarchies or other traditional forms, where there are no well developed set of rules. As a political or legal system develops in this rational manner, authority takes on a legal form. Those who govern or rule either have, or appear to have, a legitimate legal right to do so. Those who are subordinate within this system accept the legality of the rulers, believing they have the legitimate right to exercise power. Those with power then exercise power based on this right of legitimacy.

* Max Weber’s Sociology in the Genealogy of the Contemporary Mode of Western Legal Thought- Duncan Kennedy * Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia- Rational-legal authority * Ashley, David and David Michael Orenstein, Sociological Theory: Classical Statements, third edition, Boston, Allyn and Bacon, 1995. * Cohen, Ira J., "Theories of Action and Praxis," in Bryan S. Turner, editor, The Blackwell Companion to Social Theory, Oxford, Blackwell, 1996.. * Hadden, Richard W., Sociological Theory: An Introduction to the Classical Tradition,
Peterborough, Broadview Press, 1997. * Ritzer, George, Sociological Theory, third edition, New York, McGraw-Hill.. * Blau, P. M. (1963). "Critical remarks on Weber’s theory of authority". The American Political Science Review, * Crass, C. (2003). Collective liberation on my mind. Montréal: Kersplebedeb. * Max Weber-Traditional, Rational –Legal and Charismatic Authority –By Dana Williams

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Legal Rational Authority. (2016, Oct 09). Retrieved from

Legal Rational Authority
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