Rational-legal authority

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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.


  • There are three pure types of legitimate domination. The validity of the claims to legitimacy may be based on:
1. Rational grounds – resting on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands (legal authority).
2. Traditional grounds – resting on an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them (traditional authority); or finally,
3· Charismatic grounds – resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him (charismatic authority)
  • Weber's theory mystifies the conditions of 'domination' by so posing the problem that the apparatuses, instruments, and sources of state power are ignored or derived from its claim to legitimacy. Outside of Weber's categories it is clear that the masses 'obey' states not for the reasons claimed by legitimating ideologies but because of the concrete mechanisms of compliance which the state as a social institution possesses. The source of these state powers is not some legitimatory claim but the political relation of social and economic forces to the state. To examine conditions of existence of the state in terms of its claims to legitimacy is to take the the ideological form of the state at face value and to deduce from 'obedience' the effectivity of legitimation. When a large proportion of the world's population is subject to military dictatorships or other forms of authoritarian rule Weber's theory is not simply wrong and obfuscatory, it is an authoritarian political ideology.
    • Paul Q. Hirst, "The Three Types of Legitimate Domination" in Social Evolution and Sociological Categories (1976), p. 51

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