Weber’s theory of bureaucracy and modern society


Legitimate Domination: The Foundation of Bureaucracy



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Legitimate Domination: The Foundation of Bureaucracy
Weber formed a distinction between traditional, charismatic and legal-rational types of legitimate domination to explain why people believe they are obliged to obey the law. Traditional legal domination is where legitimacy is claimed on the basis of belief in the sanctity of age-old rules and powers. Charismatic legal domination is based on ‘devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person’, whilst legal-rational domination is founded on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands. Within the legal rational type, which best describes modern society, the commonest form of its expression is found in bureaucracy.
Though the notion of legal-rational authority is bound up with Weber’s theory of value, which argues that the sociologist must adopt a detached view of his subject, the important correlation is between this form of domination and the modern bureaucratic State. Weber points out that under other forms of domination, authority resides with people, whilst under bureaucracy it is vested in rules.
Weber saw the hallmark of legal-rational authority as its so-called impartiality3, though this depends on what Weber calls the principle of ‘formalistic impersonality’ which requires that officials discharge their responsibilities ‘without hatred or passion’, and hence without affection or enthusiasm. The dominant norms are thus concepts of straightforward duty without regard to personal considerations.4
Weber argues that whilst the legitimacy of the traditional and charismatic forms of legal domination depends on specific relationships between ruler and subject, the source of legitimacy of legal-rational domination is impersonal. Obedience therefore becomes owed to the legal order, rather than to an individual or social group. This might be set out as follows5;


DOMINATION

Traditional

Charismatic

Legal-rational

LEGITIMATION

Traditional

Charismatic

Legal-rational


LEGAL THOUGHT

Formal irrationality

Substantive irrationality



Formal irrationality

Substantive irrationality



Logical formal rationality

JUSTICE

Secular or theocratic empirical

Charismatic

Rational





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