Power and Authority

This section discusses the three authority types as defined by Max Weber, one of the foremost social theorists of the twentieth century. Weber outlines three primary types of authority: traditional authority, rational-legal authority, and charismatic authority. As you read, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which type of authority leads to the most stable form of government, and why? Which type leads to the least stable form of government?
  • How can one form of authority eventually lead to another? For example, in how can charismatic authority evolve into traditional authority? 
  • Why is the U.S. government primarily characterized by rational-legal authority? Can either of the other two types of authority apply?