Legitimacy Research Essay

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The public's general acceptance of a government or a system of administration is referred to as legitimacy. In other words, the definition of validity could be normative or constructive. The first definition of legitimacy is focused on political theory, which addresses issues like what are the appropriate sources of legitimacy. From this angle, legitimacy can be seen as a traditional subject within the scope of political theory. The second definition of legitimacy is founded on empirical methodologies that try to measure how widely accepted the current regimes are. Political legitimacy refers to a virtue exhibited by the political institutions and their decisions about laws, policies and candidates holding various political offices. Max Weber was a German sociologist, political economist and a philosopher. Moreover, he is also membered as one of the founding fathers of sociology. According to Weber’s interpretation of authority helps illustrate how ideal types could be used as an analytical tool. Also, his interpretation created implications of how the political structure could be viewed particularly in the western world.

Gaining or achieving legitimacy in any situation is a requirement that is not only limited to liberal democratic regimes but is perceived as an elementary entity condition of the rule. Such could be explained by the fact that governing regimes without any form of legitimacy would most likely collapse. For that reason, any existing regime should make efforts to justify its reign. The method of justification adopted by the ruling regime can be based on various concepts. The concepts of legitimacy have been changing over the years. Traditionally, the regimes of monarchs were vindicated by their celestial origin. However, this type of legitimate rule was challenged through enlightenment and democratic revolutions during and after the declared will of the people to the rudimentary foundation of legitimacy. Max Weber came up with a topology of legitimacy practices in the context of modernization. Weber’s typology of legitimacy was referred to as the legitimate authority topology, which up to date are the most important points of reference. According to Weber, the interpretation of legitimacy authority was differentiated into three categories, political authority, traditional, legal-rational and charismatic (Birch, 2007).

The traditional theory of legitimacy is drawn from the perspective of the sanctity of tradition and the emphasis on the right to rule through inheritance. According to Weber’s illustration of the theory is that it is the development of new law opposite traditional norms which is believed to be impossible in principles. From this illustration, traditional authority of legitimacy could be perceived as irrational and perpetuates the status quo. Weber, (2009), argues that authority was historically embodied in feudalism and patrimonialism. According to the documentation of traditional authority provided by Weber, is that it is an administrative staff of the system that would only function or act as assigned by the traditional authority figure. Unlike Legal-Rational Authority, traditional authority does not have a component of reason in the control or influence that the figure embraces. Weber tries to explain how the traditional authority has evolved starting from the patriarchal house. It is this evolution that spreading on the territory takes place leading to patrimonial domination. From Weber’s perspective, the most advanced or modern version of traditional authority was the feudal system of Europe that had significant impacts on the historical events, for example, the French Revolution.

A charismatic leader forms a charismatic authority. Max Weber, defines the term charisma based on the Greek’s definition that means the gift of grace. It is from his definition and explanation of the term that charismatic authority was defined as a form of authority that breaks the customs and paves the way for revolutionary changes. According to Teiwes, (2017), charismatic authority is the results of the breakthrough of the traditional authority. Charismatic leaders are perceived as individuals that are effective in achieving revolutionary authority of tradition and are considered as superhumans. Therefore, from a modern perspective of Hitler’s regime, he can be classified as a charismatic leader. Weber makes some remarks on the implementation of charismatic authority by documenting that it is incompatible with the uniformity required to sustain ordinary social life. Therefore, this gives rise to the third form of legitimate authority that is the legal-rational legitimate authority.

A legal-rational authority created by Weber symbolizes the belief in the content of the law (legal) or natural law. The aspect of obedience concerning authority is not conformed to a person because of the traditional connections to authority or their charismatic capabilities. It is however dependent on the set of uniform principles. According to Weber’s illustration of legal-rational authority, he based his argument on a legal code which covered everyone in a particular territory. Moreover, the legal code also covers the rulers either politically or economically. From the legal-rational authority perspective, an administrative staff develops and in its purest from turns out to be a bureaucracy (Allen, 2004). The rational legal authority is common in the modern states, city governments and public corporations. Weber argued that the improvement of the modern state is parallel to the modern the powers that be and bureaucratic administrations. The development of bureaucratic organizations is identical to the development of modern authority leads to the increased bureaucratic of financial enterprise.

According to Weber’s explanation of the modern form of legitimacy, he presents it as a legal-rational structure through which orientation among the modern outsets of legitimacy considered as the German-speaking world. Legitimacy according to a constitutionalist is focused on the regular procedures adopted in the formulation of the will of the people and on the normative limitations. Consequently, it also involves the judiciary controls of leading majorities with the aim of securing equal treatment and individual liberty. However, Anglo-Saxon contradicts this analogy of conceptions of democratic legitimacy by focusing more on the aspects of popular participation and regime responsibility by securing free and fair elections. Such a state is only possible through a combined system of political checks and balances.

Administrative bureaucracy is a key component on the effective operative of democracy in the modern times. This forms the basis of Weber’s ideologies and works. Bureaucracy is founded on the division of labour whereby each person specializes in whatever they do. It is from this form of bureaucracy that a hierarchical pyramid which could be considered as a democratic system in various public officials at different levels within the government. However, Weber did not the base idea of bureaucracy on democratic terms. The idea of bureaucracy involves the Marxist theme of central management particularly in a situation that involves strict separation of either private or public poverty. The choice of what resources or work that bureaucracy opts to use are classified as public goods. Therefore, neither the resources nor work is owned by the individual performing the work (Allen, 2004). Contrary to this illustration, the theme of welfare is evident in the concept of bureaucracy, which can be derived from the fact that workers of the bureaucracy get a pension upon retirement. The modern effects bureaucracy are traceable by analyzing the roles of the civil servants. In any working government, civil servants form a crucial part. They are considered as permanent and impartial to politics making them operational bureaucrats who are unpretentious by politics.

The implications of the concept of legal-rational legitimacy are crucial for the modern day democracy. Despite the fact that Weber believes the compatibility of democracy with small societies, he further documents that there are main areas of democracy such as parliament and concepts such as equivalence that are crucial for the global trend towards achieving democratization. Legal-rational legitimacy is a key element in the development of effective democracy.

The key differences between legal positivism and Weber’s sociology of law

Legal positivism of the modern law refers to the evolution of the bureaucratic legal systems based on the natural law on the evaluation of law concerning the universal moral standards (Weber, 2009). The developed system due to the positivisation of modern law is founded upon perseverance of a logical separation between the law and morality (Alexander, 2014). Unlike the natural law that strictly articulate claims validity irrespective of whether enforced or imposed, legal positivism is dependent on the order of coercion and has no inner necessity. Legal positivism is founded on five principles; laws are directives of human beings, there is exists no link between law and morals, exploration of legal models is worth following, and a legal system is a closed logical. The fifth principle claims that rational argument cannot form the basis of delivering a moral judgment. From the five principals of legal positivism, it can be concluded that important propositions about social phenomena are those that in principle are examinable by conducting an empirical analysis.

Max Weber is a trained lawyer, has a sociological theory perception of the law. His main project was to clarify and describe the development of capitalism in Western populations. Weber’s description of sociology law was based on the context of a much broader and motivated justification on the general associations of the economy to other scopes of social life. According to Weber, the general growth and development of capitalism are a special aspect of the validation of modern society, sanctioning law and politics that are considered to have both dependent and independent in associations to each with non-exerting precedence (Alexander, 2014).

Weber’s sociology of law was founded on the notion of rational law. According to his explanations of the law is that there is a likelihood that an order could be endorsed by a specific staff of men who can use physical compulsion with the intention of achieving conformism with the order. Weber perception of the modern law is that it tends to move towards the direction of the understanding of certain provisions in a legal code. Therefore, the law has the possibility of being formal, but it cannot be directly apprehensive with meaning. Weber’s arguments about nature of modern law are based on the development of legalism which is a phenomenon drawn from the past years as well as a transition from a situation when natural law was vital. The arguments explain that this could bring rise to a situation where the evolution of positive law contingent hat natural law has come to an end.

The main difference between Weber’s sociology and legal positivism is that, the formal rationalization of law common in the Western societies. The rationalization of law is due to the capitalism that is focused on strictly formal law and legal procedure. The methodology backing up Weber’s claim is the need to advance a theory of law that depends on the identification of common elements within any system of legal assumption and to illustrate how they have advanced (Alexander, 2014). The main concern of Weber about empirical law-finding, as is evident through his engagement and study of Anglo American common law was the lack of imposition of the law of the concepts of the common law.

Weber strongly believes in the need to have continuous postulating of legal notions. In his defence, he argues that legal notions form the juristic precision of judicial opinions that could are likely to be impaired if economic or sociological arguments were to be considered instead of legal concepts. There is a distinction between Weber’s sociology of law and legal positivism according to Arrow. The theory of sociology law described by Weber is that it reinforces and enhances the independence of lawyers as the group of interest. The results of the law involve the contribution to a vision of society as a multitude of the rival groups, forming a part of an empirical compound-element approach of social science.

In his explanation of sociology law, Weber uses the concept of ideal types and the advancement of certain concepts related to rationality, to effectively establish the shift headed for capitalism. Weber’s liberal reference point as an individual and social action can be understood by allusion to its meaning objective and intent for the individual. Weber’s sociology law is no applicable in the late 19th century, since at the time legitimacy was based on the rule of law. According to weber’s argument the modern law was a neutrality forming the basis of authority independence of acceptance by people of a specific moral or political value. Legal positivism represents a fundamental reversal towards applicable rationality that assumes the form of the progressing acceptance of discretionary regulation predisposed by fundamental questions of policy. Weber, points out the limitations and at some point contradicts the presented reciprocal relationship of legal positivism. In his description of sociology law, Weber repetitively uses the expression “logical interpretation of meaning”, but according to legal positivism, meaning is not presented by logic rather an understanding through experience. Legal positivism proposes that the key to understanding the many paradoxical interpretations by Weber in the development of modern law by acknowledging the irrational fascination with formal logic. Weber from his explanation of sociology law shows that he is persuaded that formal legal rationality has comparable intimate association with the rationalization of the natural sciences. With respect to the logic of a lawyer, Weber appears to possess an equivalence precision in natural science, that he rebates the apparent growing weight of substantive considerations in modern law.


Alexander, J. C. (2014). Classical Attempt at Theoretical Synthesis (Theoretical Logic in Sociology): Max Weber. Routledge.

Allen, K. (2004). Max Weber: A Critical Introduction. London: Pluto Press.

Birch, A. (2007). The concepts and theories of modern democracy 3rd edition. New York: Routlegde. ISBN10: 0-203-96365-2

Teiwes, F. C. (2017). Leadership, legitimacy, and conflict in China: From a charismatic Mao to the politics of succession. Routledge.

Weber, M. (2009). The theory of social and economic organization. Simon and Schuster.

Weber, M. (2009). From Max Weber: essays in sociology. Routledge.

July 15, 2023

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