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A more modern form of traditional authority is patrimonialism    , which is traditional domination that is facilitated by an administration and military that are purely personal instruments of the master (Eisenberg 1998). In this form of authority, all officials are personal favorites appointed by the ruler. These officials have no rights, and their privileges can be withdrawn or augmented based on the caprices of the leader. The political organization of ancient Egypt typified such a system: when the royal household decreed that a pyramid be built, every Egyptian was forced to work toward its construction.

Traditional authority can be intertwined with race, class, and gender. In most societies, for instance, men are more likely to be privileged than women and thus are more likely to hold roles of authority. Similarly, members of dominant racial groups or upper-class families also win respect more readily. In the United States, the Kennedy family, which has spawned many prominent politicians, exemplifies this model.

Charismatic authority

The power of charismatic authority    is accepted because followers are drawn to the leader’s personal qualities. The appeal of a charismatic leader can be extraordinary, inspiring followers to make unusual sacrifices or to persevere in the midst of great hardship and persecution. Charismatic leaders usually emerge in times of crisis and offer innovative or radical solutions. They may even offer a vision of a new world order. Hitler’s rise to power in the postwar economic depression of Germany is an example.

Charismatic leaders tend to hold power for short durations, and according to Weber, they are just as likely to be tyrannical as they are heroic. Diverse male leaders such as Hitler, Napoleon, Jesus Christ, César Chávez, Malcolm X, and Winston Churchill are all considered charismatic leaders. Because so few women have held dynamic positions of leadership throughout history, the list of charismatic female leaders is comparatively short. Many historians consider figures such as Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, and Mother Teresa to be charismatic leaders.

According to Weber, power made legitimate by laws, written rules, and regulations is termed rational-legal authority    . In this type of authority, power is vested in a particular rationale, system, or ideology and not necessarily in the person implementing the specifics of that doctrine. A nation that follows a constitution is applying this type of authority. On a smaller scale, you might encounter rational-legal authority in the workplace via the standards set forth in the employee handbook, which provides a different type of authority than that of your boss.

Of course, ideals are seldom replicated in the real world. Few governments or leaders can be neatly categorized. Some leaders, like Mohandas K. Gandhi for instance, can be considered charismatic and legal-rational authority figures. Similarly, a leader or government can start out exemplifying one type of authority and gradually evolve or change into another type.

Summary

Sociologists examine government and politics in terms of their impact on individuals and larger social systems. Power is an entity or individual’s ability to control or direct others, while authority is influence that is predicated on perceived legitimacy. Max Weber studied power and authority, differentiating between the two concepts and formulating a system for classifying types of authority.

Short answer

Explain why leaders as divergent as Hitler and Jesus Christ are both categorized as charismatic authorities.

Why do people accept traditional authority figures even though these types of leaders have limited means of enforcing their power?

Charismatic leaders are among the most fascinating figures in history. Select a charismatic leader that you wish to learn more about, and conduct online research to find out more about this individual. Then, write a paragraph describing the personal qualities that led to this person’s influence, considering the society in which this leader emerged.

Further research

Want to learn more about sociologists at work in the real world? Read this blog posting to learn more about the roles sociology scholars played in the midst of the Arab Spring uprising: (External Link)

References

Acton, Lord. 2010 [1887]. Essays on Freedom and Power. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Eisenberg, Andrew. 1998. “Weberian Patrimonialism and Imperial Chinese History.” Theory and Society 27(1):83–102.

Pollock, John. 2011. “How Egyptian and Tunisian Youth Hijacked the Arab Spring.” Technology Review , September/October. Retrieved January 23, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Weber, Max. 1978 [1922]. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology . Berkeley: University of California Press.

Weber, Max. 1947 [1922]. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization . Translated by A. M. Henderson and T. Parsons. New York: Oxford University Press.

Zuckerman, Ethan. 2011. “Civil Disobedience and the Arab Spring.” My Heart’s In Accra Blog , May 6. Retrieved January 13, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Global sociology. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2014 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11658/1.2
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