HCJ THREE: (Seminar Paper) Max Weber, Economy and Society

“It is horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but little men clinging to little jobs and striving toward bigger ones.” (Weber) 

Weber was fascinated with power and how it can be made legitimate. The German sociologist and political economist’s book, Economy and Society, was published in Germany in 1922 by his wife Marianne.

Considered to be one of Weber’s most important works, here are my notes for my Seminar Paper constructed on Part One, Chapter III, Types of Legitimate Domination:

Domination is defined as the probability that certain specific commands (or-all commands) will be obeyed by a given group of people. Every genuine form of domination implies a minimum of voluntary compliance and an interest in obedience.

The rule over a large group of people requires a staff (i.e. a special group), which execute the general policy as well as specific commands. The members of the administrative staff may be bound to obedience to their superior by customs, affectual ties, a material complex of interests or by ideal (wertrationale) motives.

In everyday life these relationships are governed by custom and material calculation of advantage. Such a system attempts to establish and cultivate the belief in its legitimacy.

There is a variation in effect whereby the type of obedience, the kind of administrative staff developed to guarantee it, and the mode of exercising authority will all fundamentally differ. Therefore, there are different types of domination according to the kind of claim to legitimacy typically made by each.

Not every claim, which is protected by custom or law, should be spoken of as involving a relation of authority.

Example: A worker could exercise authority over his employer because his claim for fulfillment of his wage contract can be enforced by order of a court. This is because a factory worker fulfills a wage contract. His formal status is that of party to a contractual relationship with his employer, in which he has certain “rights” to receive payments.

Comparison with other contract theories:

  • Hobbes thought that the lives of individuals in the state of nature were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”, a state in which self-interest and the absence of rights and contracts prevented the ‘social’, or society. The social contract was an ‘occurrence’ during which individuals came together and ceded some of their individual rights so that others would cede theirs.
  • Hobbes contrasts with John Locke’s conception of the social contract. Locke believed that individuals in a state of nature would be bound morally. He argued that individuals would agree to form a state that would provide a “neutral judge”, acting to protect the lives, liberty, and property of those who lived within it.


Loyalty can be hypocritically simulated by individuals or by whole groups on purely opportunistic grounds or for reasons of material self-interest.

Obedience can be taken to mean that the action of the person obeying follows in essentials such a course that the content of the command may be taken to have become the basis of action for its own sake.

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,

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).

Legal authority rests on the acceptance of the validity of the following mutually interdependent ideas:

1. That any given legal norm may be established by agreement or by imposition, on grounds of expediency or value-rationality or both, with a claim to obedience at least on the part of the members of the organisation.

2. That every body of law consists essentially in a consistent system of abstract rules, which have normally been intentionally established. Furthermore, administration of law is held to consist in the application of these rules to particular cases.

3. That thus the typical person in authority, the “superior,” is himself subject to an impersonal order by orienting his actions to it in his own dispositions and commands.

4. That the person who obeys authority does so, as it is usually stared, only in his capacity as a “member” of the organisation and what he obeys is only “the law.”

5. The members of the organisation, insofar as they obey a person in authority, do not owe this obedience to him as an individual, but to the impersonal order.

The fundamental categories of rational legal authority:

(1) A continuous rule-bound conduct of official business.

(2) A specified sphere of competence (jurisdiction). This involves: (a) A sphere of obligations to perform functions which has been marked off as part of a systematic division of labor. (b) The provision of the incumbent with the necessary powers. (c) That the necessary means of compulsion are clearly defined and their use is subject to definite conditions. A unit exercising authority, which is organised in this way will be called an “administrative organ” or “agency”.

(3) The organisation of offices follows the principle of hierarchy; that is, each lower office is under the control and supervision of a higher one.

(4) The rules which regulate the conduct of an office may be technical rules or norms.

(5) In the rational type it is a matter of principle that the members of the administrative staff should be completely separated from ownership of the means of production or administration.

(6) In the rational type case, there is also a complete absence of appropriation of his official position by the incumbent.

(7) Administrative acts, decisions, and rules are formulated and recorded in writing, even in cases where oral discussion is the rule or is even mandatory. The combination of written documents and a continuous operation by officials constitutes the “office” (Bureau), which is the central focus of all types of modern organised action.

The purest type of exercise of legal authority is one that employs a bureaucratic administrative staff, consisting of individual officials functioning according to the following criteria:

(1) They are personally free and subject to authority only with respect to their impersonal official obligations.

(2) They are organised in a clearly defined hierarchy of offices.

(3) Each office has a clearly defined sphere of competence in the legal sense.

(4) The office is filled by a free contractual relationship. Thus, in principle, there is free selection.

(5) Candidates are selected on the basis of technical qualifications.

(6) They are remunerated by fixed salaries in money, for the most part with a right to pensions.

(7) The office is treated as the sole, or at least the primary, occupation of the incumbent.

(8) It constitutes a career. There is a system of “promotion” according to seniority or to achievement, or both. Promotion is dependent on the judgment of superiors.

(9) The official works entirely separated from ownership of the means of administration and without appropriation of his position.

(10) He is subject to strict and systematic discipline and control in the conduct of the office.

The purely bureaucratic type of administrative organisation attains the highest degree of efficiency and is therefore the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings.

Social consequences of bureaucratic domination:

(1) The tendency to “leveling” in the interest of the broadest possible basis of recruitment in terms of technical competence.

(2) The tendency to plutocracy growing out of the interest in the greatest possible length of technical training. Today this often lasts up to the age of thirty.

(3) The dominance of a spirit of formalistic impersonality: “Sine ira et studio,” without hatred or passion and hence without affection or enthusiasm. The dominant norms are concepts of straightforward duty without regard to personal considerations. Everyone is subject to formal equality of treatment as everyone is in the same empirical situation. This is the spirit in which the ideal official conducts his office.

Traditional Authority: Authority will be called traditional if legitimacy is claimed for it and believed in by virtue of the sanctity of age-old rules and powers. They have “comrades” or “subjects” rather than “officials”.

Obedience is owed to the person who occupies a position of authority by tradition or who has been chosen for by the traditional master. However there is a double sphere:

a) that of action which is bound to specific traditions;

b) that of action which is free of specific rules.

In the pure type of traditional authority it is impossible for law or administrative rule to be deliberately created by legislation. The master rules with or without an administrative staff.

The typical administrative staff is recruited from one or more of the following sources:

(I) From persons who are already related to the chief by traditional ties of loyalty. This will be called patrimonial recruitment. Such persons may be: kinsmen, slaves, dependents who are officers of the household, especially ministeriales, clients, coloni, freedmen.

Gerontocracy (a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population) and primary patriarchalism (where the male gender role is the primary authority figure) are the most basic types of traditional domination where the master has no personal administrative staff.

In an extreme case, sultanism arises whenever traditional domination develops an administration and a military force, which are purely personal instruments of the master.

Estate-type domination is the form of patrimonial authority under which the administrative staff appropriates particular powers and the corresponding economic assets.

The patrimonial retainer may receive his support in any of the following ways:

a) By living from the Lord’s Table.

b) By allowances (usually in kind) from the lord’s magazines or treasury.

c) By rights of land use in return for services (“service-land”).

d) By the appropriation of property income, fees or taxes,

e) By fiefs (heritable property or rights).

Traditional domination and the economy:

Under the dominance of a patrimonial regime only certain types of capitalism are able to develop:

a) capitalist trading,

b) capitalist tax farming, lease and sale of offices,

c) capitalist provision of supplies for the state and the financing of wars,

d) under certain circumstances, capitalist plantations and other colonial enterprises.

All these forms originate from patrimonial regimes and often reach a very high level of development.

Charismatic authority:

The term “charisma” can be applied to a certain quality of an individual’s personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. Such qualities are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a “leader.”

This recognition is freely given and guaranteed by what is held to be a proof, originally always a miracle, and consists in devotion to the corresponding revelation, hero worship, or absolute trust in the leader. E.g. Jesus

An organised group subject to charismatic authority is called a charismatic community. It is based on an emotional form of communal relationship. The administrative staff of a charismatic leader does not consist of “officials”; least of all are its members technically trained. It is not chosen on the basis of social privilege nor from the point of view of domestic or personal dependency. It is rather chosen in terms of the charismatic qualities of its members. The prophet has his disciples; the warlord his bodyguard; the leader, his agents.

The Routinisation of Charisma

Charisma is either traditionalised or rationalised or a combination of both.

However, there is a problem of succession. Possible types of solutions include:

(a) The search for a new charismatic leader on the basis of criteria of the qualities, which will fit him for the position of authority (Dalai Lama).

(b) Revelation manifested in oracles or divine judgments.

(c) Designation on the part of the original charismatic leader of his own successor and his recognition on the part of the followers.

(d) The conception that charisma is a quality transmitted by heredity; thus that it is participated in by the kinsmen of its bearer, particularly by his closest relatives. This is the case of hereditary charisma.

(e) The concept that· charisma may be transmitted by ritual means from one bearer to another or may be created in a new person – the charisma of office.

For charisma to be transformed into an everyday phenomenon, it is necessary that its anti-economic character should be altered. It must be adapted to some form of financial organisation to provide for the needs of the group and hence to the economic conditions necessary for raising taxes and contributions.

When a charismatic movement develops in the direction of prebendal provision, the “laity” becomes differentiated from the “clergy”, that is, the participating members of the charismatic administrative staff have now become routinised. These are the priests of the developing “church.”

Feudalism (medieval system):

Feudalism can be described as “the rule of a landed military aristocracy”. Different types of feudalism exist, including “feudalism based on fiefs”, “prebendal feudalism” or “feudalism based on benefices”. Western feudalism is a form of feudalism based on fiefs.

The Transformation of Charisma in a Democratic Direction:

The basically authoritarian principle of charismatic legislation can be subject to an anti-authoritarian interpretation as the validity of charismatic authority rests entirely on recognition of the ruled, on “proof before their eyes”.

The most important transitional type is the legitimation of authority by plebiscite – (A direct vote in which the entire electorate is invited to accept or refuse a proposal).

The most common examples are the modern party leaders.

Relationship to the economy:

The anti-authoritarian direction of the transformation of charisma leads to the path of rationality. If a ruler is dependent on recognition by plebiscite he will usually attempt to support his regime by an organisation of officials which functions promptly and efficiently.


The term “party” is employed to designate association, membership in which rests on formally free recruitment. The end of which its activity is devoted to secure power within an organisation for its leaders in order to attain ideal or material advantages for its active members.

The Conditions of Direct Democracy and of Administration by Notables:

(a)   Short terms of office, (b) liability to recall at any time, (c) the principle of rotation or of selection by lot in filling offices so that every member takes a turn at some time, (d) a strictly defined mandate for the conduct of office laid down by the assembly of members, (e) a strict obligation to render an accounting to the general assembly, (f) the obligation to submit every unusual question which has not been foreseen to the assembly of members, (g) the distribution of powers between a large number of offices each with its own particular function, (h) the treatment of office as an avocation and not a full time occupation.


Free Representation: the representative is not bound by instruction but is in a position to make his own decision. He is obligated only to express his own genuine conviction, and not to promote the interests of those who have elected him.

A factor in the development of free representation was the undermining of the economic basis of the older status groups. The source of this undermining process was modern capitalism.

Genuine parliamentary representation with the voluntaristic play of interests in the political sphere, the resulting plebiscitary party organisation with its consequences, and the modern idea of rational representation by interest groups, are all peculiar to the Western World. It is only in the Western World that ‘cities’ and ‘estates’, ‘bourgeois’ and ‘proletarians’ have existed.

About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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