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Rational Legal Authority

Dirk Bunzel


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According to German sociologist Max Weber, rational legal authority represents a form of legitimate domination, with domination being the “probability that certain commands (or all commands) from a given source will be obeyed by a given group of persons” ( Weber 1947 : 324). While this probability implies a certain interest on the part of those obeying in the effects of their compliance, such interest can be diverse, and individuals may act upon calculated self-interest, habituation, affection, or idealistic orientations. For domination to endure, however, it depends on the belief in the legitimacy of the command and its source. Accordingly, Weber distinguishes three types of legitimate domination. Charismatic authority rests upon a belief in the extraordinary, sacred, and/or exemplary qualities of the person commanding, while traditional authority calls for submission to those who are privileged to rule by historical convention. In contrast, rational legal authority differs in its unique combination of impersonality, formality, and everyday profaneness ( Alltäglichkeit ). It rests upon “a belief in the ‘legality’ of patterns of normative rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands (legal authority)” ( Weber 1947 : 328). Significantly, Weber conceptualized legitimate domination ideal-typically, thus producing a theoretical idealization that ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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