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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. The majority of the modern states of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are rational-legal authorities, according to those who use this form of classification.

Rational-legal authority[edit]

In sociology, the concept of rational-legal domination comes from Max Weber's tripartite classification of authority (one of several classifications of government used by sociologists); the other two forms being traditional authority and charismatic authority. All of those three domination types represent an example of his ideal type concept. Weber noted that in history those ideal types of domination are always found in combinations.

In traditional authority, the legitimacy of the authority comes from tradition. Charismatic authority is legitimized by the personality and leadership qualities of the ruling individual. Finally, rational-legal authority derives its powers from the system of bureaucracy and legality.

Legal rationality and legitimacy[edit]

Under rational-legal authority, legitimacy is seen as coming from a legal order and the laws that have been enacted in it (see also natural law and legal positivism).

Weber defined legal order as a system where the rules are enacted and obeyed as legitimate because they are in line with other laws on how they can be enacted and how they should be obeyed. Further, they are enforced by a government that monopolizes their enactment and the legitimate use of physical force.

Emergence of the modern state[edit]

Weber wrote that the modern state based on rational-legal authority emerged from the patrimonial and feudal struggle for power (see traditional authority) uniquely in the Occidental civilization. The prerequisites for the modern Western state are:

  • monopolization by central authority of the means of administration and control based on a centralized and stable system of taxation and use of physical force
  • monopolization of legislative
  • organisation of an officialdom, dependent upon the central authority

Weber argued that some of those attributes have existed in various time or places, but together they existed only in Occidental civilization. The conditions that favoured this were

  • emergence of rational-legal rationality (various status groups in the Occident promoted that emergence)
  • emergence of modern officialdom (bureaucracy), which required
    • development of the money economy, where officials are compensated in money instead of kind (usually land grants)
    • quantitative and qualitative expansion of administrative tasks
    • centralisation and increased efficiency of administration.

Weber's belief that rational-legal authority did not exist in Imperial China has been heavily criticized, and does not have many supporters in the early 21st century.

Modern state[edit]

According to Max Weber, a modern state exists where a political community has:

  • an administrative and legal order that has been created and can be changed by legislation that also determines its role
  • binding authority over citizens and actions in its jurisdiction
  • the right to legitimately use the physical force in its jurisdiction

An important attribute of Weber's definition of a modern state was that it is a bureaucracy.

The vast majority of the modern states from the 20th century onward fall under the rational-legal authority category.

Rational-legal leaders[edit]

The majority of modern bureaucratic officials and political leaders represent this type of authority.


  • are personally free.
  • serve a higher authority.
  • are appointed on the basis of conduct and their technical qualifications.
  • are responsible for the impartial execution of assigned tasks.
  • Their work is a full-time occupation.
  • Their work is rewarded by a salary and prospects of career advancement.


  • are solely responsible for independent action.
  • must recognize that public actions that conflict with their basic policy must be rejected.
  • should have charismatic appeal to win elections under conditions of universal suffrage.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational-legal_authority — Please support Wikipedia.
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2 news items

Nigerian Observer

Nigerian Observer
Sat, 23 Aug 2014 03:36:22 -0700

On governance, the organisation and legitimacy of Nigeria rest in principle of what Weber described as rational legal authority. The problem of Nigeria is its failure in most cases even to approximate to rational- legal mode of operation. One level in ...


Wed, 06 Aug 2014 05:49:01 -0700

Rational-legal authority is what President Obama has. You're on top of a major bureaucracy, and that's how you get things done. And then there's charismatic authority. This is the authority that Billy Graham had. It's the authority that Jesus had. It's ...

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