SOCY 151: Foundations of Modern Social Theory
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Foundations of Modern Social Theory
SOCY 151 - Lecture 18 - Weber on Traditional Authority
Chapter 1. Review of Weber’s Theory of Domination [00:00:00]
Professor Iván Szelényi: Well, I would like very briefly to come back to Weber’s theory of domination. I deleted it from the questions, but I promise I will get this back in one way or another for the next test. So probably the last thing you want to think about now is a test, but let me still talk about the theory of domination. I think this is a very important theory–extremely influential and extremely insightful. So let me just very briefly sum up where we left it last time, and then I’ll move into Weber’s theory of traditional authority.
And last time we were talking about the crucial distinction Weber makes between Macht and Herrschaft. Macht is translated in English as power; there is no question about this. The translation of Herrschaft varies. It is translated either as authority, or it is translated as domination. And I think both translations are good. I think, people whom I feel closer in my own Weber reading, translated it more like domination rather than authority. And, in fact, I think just to emphasize you the importance of the translational difference, in the notion of Herrschaft, the first four letters, Herr, means the lord. So I think the notion of herrschaft has very strong implications of asymmetrical power relationships; what I think domination captures better than authority. Those who translated Weber’s notion of Herrschaft as authority, like Talcott Parsons, wanted to emphasize that Weber looks at Herrschaft as something which is authoritarian–right?–where somebody acts out of authority. Right? This is not a false translation, but misses an important point–namely, Weber’s interest in the way how power is being exercised. In fact it, in a way, misses Max Weber’s roots in Friedrich Nietzsche, or probably even, I may dare so, in Hobbes. Right? Human history is all about the history of struggle for power.
That’s, in my reading, Weber’s fundamental idea–power with an important modification. And I gave you the citation last lecture, but let me come back to this. Power means the likelihood that people will obey order, even against resistance. And domination means the likelihood that people will actually follow orders, without being coerced to do so. So the notion of domination, or Herrschaft, does imply a degree of voluntariness, a minimum level of belief that in fact those who issue orders do have the right to do so; or at least it is reasonable that they issue orders and I follow the orders. Or to come up with an even more minimal definition of Herrschaft, that I cannot see any real alternative under the present circumstances but to obey the orders to the one who issues these orders. Right? And this has everything to do with the idea of legitimacy. And I put, at last lecture, this little equation–right?–on one of the slides, that power plus legitimation adds up to domination or authority.
So what is legitimation? Weber said power is really an extreme case; that very little, very–it happens very rarely that the one who exercises authority, exercises simply by exerting power, coercing people to obey. Those who are in a position of authority try to legitimate their authority, and try to come up with reasons why people subjected to this authority should obey their authority. It’s again very Nietzschian, the idea. Right? That those who are exercising power tries to internalize your subjugation to power in one way or another, and try to create in you a morality–right?–a set of principles by which you would say, “Well, this probably may be the right thing for me to do.” Or, as I said, the minimum definition, even if you don’t particularly like obeying orders, you say, “What else can I do? The alternative, if I don’t obey orders, would be worse.” Or about the person who issues authority: you may not like the person who issues authority, but you will say, “But the alternative is worse.” Right?
So you can pick a course. You may not like the lecturer all that much, or the way how he grades, but there were other courses you did shop for and they were even worse. So you picked the least worst course. Right? You picked the lecturer who seems to be the least boring, and who seems to be the most reasonable grading your assignment. Right? That doesn’t mean that you are all that thrilled to be at lectures, and to do assignments, but you have to do it, and under the circumstances you go for the less evil. Right? That’s, I think, the kind of most extreme interpretation of Weber’s idea of legitimacy.
But Weber also–I pointed this word out to you–Weber said that all legitimacy contains an element of a myth. It doesn’t mean that the person who tries to justify its authority is telling the truth. Whether it is truth or not truth is almost beside the point. The most important issue is that it creates a mythology about the reason why you have to obey authority. So what I tried to underline already in last lecture, that Weber’s notion of legitimacy is so much more sophisticated, so less liberal, and so much more Nietzschian than the idea we normally hear when you hear the word legitimation. Right? Legitimation, we see something very good. Right? A power is legitimated because it was somebody was elected in fair and free elections to an office, and we believe that this person will do a great job, having been elected. Well, Weber would be more likely to think something like Karzai. Well, under the circumstances, probably there is no alternative to Afghanistan but to have this guy as the president. Though it’s very doubtful, you know, what all those claims about the legitimacy of the system are being made; they are pretty much a mythology created around it. But otherwise the alternative is chaos, and even this guy’s probably better than chaos, which would happen otherwise. Right? This is in my dark reading of Max Weber.
Now, as you can see, of course, the difference from Marx is fundamental. Marx did see human history as unfolding of modes of production. It was all struggle around ownership, means of production, clash of economic interests. For Weber, it is not economic interest which drives human history but struggle for power. And he can describe different systems of authority over time, but it is all described on the quality and the nature of those mythologies those in a position of power come up with to legitimate what they are trying to do to you. Right? So that is one fundamental difference between Marx and Weber.
There is another fundamental difference, and you will have to bear this very much in mind as this lecture on traditional authority unfolds. Though Weber develops these different types of domination, primarily to describe historical change–grand societies, traditional authority, charismatical authority, legal-rational authority, kind of describe the evolution of humankind–and has a similar kind of flavor than Marx’s subsequent modes of production. But Weber does more than that. These three types of authority do describe all kinds of organizations or social units. Today we can talk about legal-rational authority, traditional authority, or charismatic authority in contemporary society; though he would call liberal market capitalism as the purest type–and what pure type is, I will talk about this in a minute–of legal-rational authority.
He will say that even in contemporary society we have organizations which are based on traditional authority. The most obvious example of traditional authority–and bare it in mind when we will be talking about this today–is the family you live in. Right? The family is primarily bound together by tradition. But the very institution where you are in now, universities, do have a flavor of traditional authority. Right? It has a kind of ethos where at least we teachers believe that you have to pay some respect to the teachers. And we have all kinds of traditional rituals–right?–which makes the making, the functioning of a university in a way a traditional organization. Right? There is the graduation ceremony, when you will be wearing all these funny, you know, academic dress, and then you are awarded a degree, which is happening almost like awarding a lordship by the queen. Right? The president will say, “By the power vested in me”, and then by this power “will confer to you”–right?–the degree of Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Sciences. Right? This is very much like conferring the title of Lordship on somebody, by the Queen of England, by the powers vested in her. Okay, so therefore Weber is more flexible with Marx. No, it doesn’t simply describe society, but in every society it does describe certain organizations.
And in contemporary society we often talk about charisma. And we have been talking a lot about charisma in the last eighteen months. When we were talking about Barack Obama and Barack Obama being a charismatic leader. Right? So the charisma is also something what we very often invoke today, describing the nature of authority somebody is exercising. Okay, so that’s again, you know, just a backdrop to the notion of authority, and I hope it will help you to locate it more in the literature.
Chapter 2. Review of Three Types of Authority [00:14:34]
Now, as I mentioned also in last lecture, there are three major types of authority. Traditional authority, in which basically you have a personal master in charge, and this personal master somehow appeals to old, age-old, sacred rules, to ask you to obey his or her commands–mostly his, but occasionally her commands. After all, there is a queen in England, and there were queens in England for a long time. Okay, so that’s traditional authority. The other one is charismatic authority, where the person in charge calls for obedience on the grounds that that person is believed to have some supernatural, extraordinary powers. And finally legal-rational authority: authority in which the person who is issuing a command is also under the same law as people who are obeying orders, and in legal-rational authority you do not have a personal master, you do not obey a person, but you obey the rules and laws. That’s why Weber calls it legal-rational authority. As a shorthand, I think it would be more obvious to call it liberal authority or a liberal system of authority.
I just want to make one more– one very brief comment, as we proceed to traditional authority; namely, that the three types of authorities are not exactly of the same ontological status. Weber basically has two major types of authority: traditional authority or legal-rational authority. Charismatic authority does not have the longevity what traditional authority or legal-rational authority has. Charismatic authority, as we will talk about this a great deal, is a revolutionary force. Charismatic authority usually occurs for a relatively brief period of time. Typically the charismatic leader is one person, and it is very lucky if that one person can maintain the charisma for all the time this person is in charge. I mean, just after nine months of the election of President Obama, we see a little–right?–withering of his sort of strong charismatic appeal. So in order to maintain your charisma while you are in office–and especially for a lifetime–is very difficult; and even more difficult to transfer charisma to another leader. So charismatic authority is really a change, basically–as I will argue later on–from one form of traditional authority to another form of traditional authority, in Max Weber. So therefore really the two big types–traditional authority and legal-rational authority–and what Marx called the transition from feudalism to capitalism; or what we understand, modernization is really nothing else but the movement from traditional authority to legal-rational authority. Okay?
Now let me go into today’s topic, and talk about traditional authority. And first about pure type. I will describe his definition of the pure type, but it needs a footnote what pure type is all about. As I already pointed out, Max Weber was a Kantian. That meant that Max Weber did not believe that human knowledge, which completely describes the reality, is possible. Right? The reality is so infinitely rich that the concepts what we develop is only mental images of this object, what we are developing a concept about. Right? It can never be fully describing the subject. So these mental objects, what we have in our mind about the object, from which we try to develop knowledge, is what he calls ideal types. They are abstractions from the world, not a precise description of the world.
So therefore what he said: The best what we can aim at, to develop ideal type, pure types; and all realities will be always somewhat different from the ideal type, what is in our mind. And as human knowledge is progressing–and that’s what makes actually Weber a difficult reading–is that in the process of knowledge we develop an ideal type and conceptions about the world, and then we go back to reality and we see that it does not exhaust the reality as it is; the reality has other important features we missed in the first instance. So we go back and we redo our ideal type; enrich the ideal type to fit–to create a better fit with reality. Right? That’s the fundamental idea. And that’s what makes Weber so difficult to read, because he often comes up with an ideal type, a pure type. And he said, “Yes but when I am reading a historical reality, it does not quite fit; so therefore I’ll redo a little my ideal type and enrich it.” So you can easily get lost when you are reading Weber. And this is not accidental. Right? This is the methodology how he proceeds. He does not believe that we can attain absolute knowledge. What he believes, that we have to strive to be able to describe what we want to describe as precisely as we just can–as we can. So this is the idea of pure types.
Chapter 3. Basis of Legitimacy [00:21:28]
So what is the pure type of legal-rational authority–of traditional authority? First of all we have to talk about the basis of legitimacy–just very briefly something also about the patterns, how a staff is being recruited, as such. And here he comes with a very clear and simple definition. In traditional authority, legitimacy is claimed for, and believed in, by virtue of the sanctity of age-old rules. So the person who rules makes a claim that this has been always this way, and there is some sacredness in, in fact, obeying the person who by age-old tradition was assigned to a position of authority.
Again, let me just go back to the family. This is a classical example. The parents do have some sacred rights to issue some commands, and we do obey parents because it was always this way; children always had to obey parents. To what extent they have to obey, and what parents can do to children, may vary a little over time. But the parents are in charge and they are, in fact, to have the rights to issue certain kinds of commands is widely accepted.
But the word “believed in” is also very important. Right? So the parents do not have to force you to obey; you’re beginning to believe that it is indeed the right thing that the parents obey order. It happens also if you particularly dislike what they try to order. And occasionally you may not like one of your parents, or both of your parents. Nevertheless, you think some degree of obedience is necessary; unless you really break the law and you run away. Right? But that is certainly an extreme case. As it is an extreme case that parents will force children, use coercion of children, to obey their rule.
Well occasionally they use some degree of coercion. It’s also very important in Weber; you know, that coercion is always present in every type of domination. Do not think that legal-rational authority does not have coercion. In the United States, over three million people are in jail. Right? They are being coerced. In the United States, people occasionally are killed by the government–right?–they are executed. So there is coercion, even in legal-rational authority. In the most liberal democratic society, if you break the laws you will be coerced. And if you are not breaking the law, there is always the promise of coercion. Right? It’s said, “Well under certain circumstances you will be coerced.” Now the second important point is–right?–that the master who obeys the order is designated by traditional rules–right?–and they are obeyed because of their Eigenwurde. Well Eigenwurde is translated into English as traditional status. It’s not a very good translation. Eigenwurde really means that they are believed to have virtues by themselves; that they have a virtue what they themselves carry out. So there is honor; I think the term honor is extremely important–right?–for understanding traditional authority. The traditional master is always assumed to be an honorable person. Right? And if that person becomes not honorable, it is likely that it will lose its authority.
Again, think about parents. Right? The parents are supposed to be honorable, and if they are not honorable any longer, there is a crisis in the family. Have you seen Arthur Miller’s play, the Death of a Salesman? This is exactly what happens in the Death of a Salesman, when his son catches the father, whom he admired so much, is catching him with another woman than his mother. Right? Then suddenly the father loses his honor; he’s not honorable any longer–right?–and that creates a lifelong crisis for the child. So I think honor is very important to understand traditional authority. And it is based–traditional rule is based on personal loyalty. You personally feel that you have to be loyal to this person.
Again, all of these issues do apply to a substantial degree in institutions like a university. Right? It is also kind of assumed–right?–that, you know, professors should act in an honorable way, and if they don’t, they are caught of being not honorable, they will be losing their legitimacy. And there is a great deal of personal loyalty in university situations. Well particularly in graduate school the relationship, the mentor and the Ph.D. student, is a highly personalized relationship of mutual loyalties. Right? There is so much a mentor will be able to take; that a Ph.D. student in the dissertation will be too critical of the professor who is supervising the dissertation. It expects some degree of loyalty–right?–from the student; and the student would be very disappointed if it turns out that the mentor is writing bad letters for him. Right? There is an expectation–right?–of mutual loyalty in every type of traditional authority. And what is therefore important, there is also a personal element. Whom you obey is a kind of a personal master; not simply a supervisor, not a boss, but something of a personal master, an honorable person to whom you are linked to by loyalty.
Chapter 4. Patterns of Recruitment of Staff [00:28:40]
Well how do you recruit staff under this system? There are really two ways to do it. There is a so-called patrimonial recruitment; namely, that people are selected into position because they are related to the chief, by tradition, because they are known to the chief. This happens to a great deal in various organizations even today; especially university organizations do exercise a substantial patrimonial system of recruitment. But there are extra-patrimonial ways when persons are judged to be loyal by the master and are appointed to the office because of their expected loyalty, as such. Again, I can give you the example of the universities where a lot of recruitment is happening through patrimonial recruitment. You are–well in the U.S. universities, you are not supposed to recruit your own students. In Europe they do. In the U.S. few universities do. But you recruit the students of your buddies or your friends or your colleagues. Right? There’s a lot of patrimonialism going on in university recruitment. And, in fact, loyalty is very important when it comes particularly to the appointment of administrators in the university system.
Well there are–let me move on and let’s have the broader historical view. There are various historical variations of traditional authority. Well Weber is very messy in terms of terminology. I was trying to make as much sense as I could. I think there are two major forms of traditional authority. One is called patriarchalism, and the other one is called patrimonial domination. The big difference between patriarchal systems, that it does not have a staff–that what is being–the authority is exercised directly by the master and does not need a staff in order to exercise its authority. Patrimonial domination, on the other hand, does have a staff. It is a larger scale society, or a larger scale organization, where a staff will carry out the commands of the master. This is–the distinction between master, staff and the people who obey–is extremely important for Max Weber. And try to get deep down in your brain, this comment, because you cannot understand Weber without this.
As I pointed out, Weber said there is always a degree of belief or faith involved in legitimacy. But what kind of faith depends a great deal whether the faith is by the staff in the master, or by the people in the master. Weber’s fundamental idea is that the system is legitimate as long as the staff has a positive belief in the master. The masses, the people, usually do not have a positive belief. They don’t usually love the person who rules them; they just accept it as the lesser evil. But the staff has to have a positive belief in the master. When do come–revolution comes? When the staff is losing faith in the master. When the Shah of Iran fell? When the security services in Iran began to lose faith in the Shah. The people of Iran usually did not like the Shah all that much. They just could not think of an alternative; so they accepted it. But the regime fell when the security services lost faith in them. The same can go for the fall of Communism. Communism fell when the Communist Party staff, and especially the secret services, began to lose faith in the system. Not that most people who lived under Communism were all that bloody Communists. Right? But well the staff was. When the staff turned out to be against Communism, that’s when Communism fell.
Well patriarchalism–I will make two distinctions here, primary patriarchalism and gerontocracy. And then about patriarchal domination, about pure patrimonialism, where the staff is purely a person or instrument in the master, and finally estate-type of domination, or what we normally call feudalism, when the administrative staff actually appropriates certain powers from the master. And now what I’ll do, to show, I think, what Weber’s theory of history is–how these different types of systems evolve.
Chapter 5. Historical Evolution of Types of Authority [00:33:58]
He said that history begins with patriarchalism. It’s relatively small societies, for instance, kinship networks, where the elders or the father can rule the society and does not need policemen, jailers, you know, judges, administrators, tax collectors, in order to run the staff. It does it directly. Then it moves to a primary patrimonialism where the society becomes larger. There is staff, but the staff is individually selected by the master, and they completely depend by the master. The most extreme example of this is, as I will talk about this in a minute, sultanism where the sultan can actually get rid–typically gets rid of the staff at will, and very frequently.
Then it is moving to a feudal type of domination, where the staff appropriates certain powers from the master–appropriates those powers because, for instance, it has land holding, what is given to a noble family, not only for life but also for the family for the life of the family. Right? The feudal property has been inherited, and then the staff appropriates certain powers from the master and will act as a master, for instance, even serve justice. And finally, legal-rational authority, where the power of coercion is the monopoly of the state. No individual has the right to exercise coercive power, except the state. Well this is not quite true. Parents, for instance, still have some right–we feel uncomfortable about this–but parents do have some rights to exercise coercion. But generally you cannot exercise any coercion; only the state can. So as you can see, in a way, the history of humankind is an evolution of the means of coercion. Right? For Marx, the question was the evolution of the means of production. For Weber, history is driven by the evolution of the means of administration and coercion.
Again, a very Nietzschian idea, that dark read of the history, that history actually is getting worse because those who rule have more and more sophisticated means to suppress a larger number of people. And what makes it even worse, they internalize–you internalize your own submission. Internally you believe that this is the right thing, that you are not free. Right? That’s again, I think, the Weberian view of history, in my reading.
Now about patriarchalism–is the most elementary form, as I said–when we believe–right?–that there is one master without a staff, who has the right to exercise orders. Because it is no staff, it is assumed that the members of the group which is under patriarchalism–for instance, kinship networks–has a substantial feeling that they actually should obey this master. Weber calls them, they are Genossen. They are comrades; there is a camaraderie. Right? This is a family. Right? The family has some degree of oneness. They are not, he said, Untertanen. They are not subjects to authority, but they are comrades. Right? They are members of a community.
Primary patriarchalism means when there is typically a father kind of rule; the father rules. Typically it’s a–there may have been maternal authority as well. The historical record is a bit unclear whether there were matriarchal societies. We can assume there were. So then they were patriarchal/matriarchal societies. It was a mother who ruled the family, or a father who ruled the family. And the relationships were not necessarily based on blood relationships, because actually for a very long time we did not know that the sexual act may have all that much to do with procreation. It’s a reasonably recent discovery of human scientific knowledge that this happened. And therefore in very early societies it was not known that there is blood relationship between the father and the children; even then, it did hold.
Well one sub-case is, of course, slavery. I’ll leave it out, but let me talk about gerontocracy. There are some systems in which the elders rule; the older person has the authority. Well gerontocracy is again something which is not unheard of from modern societies as well. Now let me move onto patrimonial domination. And it does emerge–typically emerge–when an administrative staff is being created. This is larger societies. You need armies and policemen and tax collectors in order to operate, and the members who are subordinated to your authority are treated as subjects.
I mean, I’m also Her Majesty’s subject; you know, when I got once Australian citizenship, and then, you know, the Queen is still the Queen of Australia. So I’m Her Majesty’s subject, not simply an Australian citizen. Right? When there is a person with whom the authority is relied. And in some ways in England, and in Australia, this is the figure of the queen who does that. Right? Well I don’t want to deal with this because I am running out of time. Right? Initially patriarchal domination–patrimonial domination was really just a large household. And, in fact, what, you know, the ruler, the king or emperor did, he went from one village to the next, with his staff, and was fed for–like in a household, and moved on. But then, of course, it became more complex, and then had to create an estate; had to create an estate in which moves beyond the oikos, where taxes are being collected, and it’s running in a–with kind of a bureaucracy.
Now in a pure type of patrimonial domination–right?–the staff are purely instruments in the hands of the master. And like I mentioned, sultanism is where there is virtually unrestrained power for the ruler to replace those under its authority, as it pleases. But then evolves in history a more complex system: estate-type of domination, or feudalism. It is a system in which–he calls it estate-type of domination–in which the staff has a certain degree of stability. Now how much stability it has, it will depend how the staff is being rewarded. And Weber makes a crucial distinction between benefices and fiefs; these are the two ways how the staff can be rewarded in an estate-type of domination.
A fief, you will easily remember that. Right? We use the term in ordinary language. We say somebody has a fiefdom. And by this we mean if somebody has a fiefdom, it means that somebody created a sub-system over which it has control, virtually as long as that position is alive, or as that position is at least in the same organization. So again, if I can use the university examples–you may not be as familiar with this as I am–but in universities, for instance, office space for faculty is a typical fiefdom. Once, you know, a faculty got an office, it’s virtually impossible to take that office away from somebody. It created a fiefdom over the territory, what that person has. Well this is only for the time of the tenure. Of course, somebody retires, their office will be immediately taken away; the fiefdom is lost. But, you know, the notion of fiefdom means that you have lasting power on it. Benefice, on the other hand, means that you get certain rewards, but only under the conditions that you actually do deliver to the ruler.
And there are really two types of feudal systems. One is based on benefices, and this is a kind of prebendal form of feudalism. That means the nobility who is serving the czar–for instance Russia was ruled typically after Ivan the Terrible, my namesake, and until the Russian Revolution, by a kind of prebendal system, in which the czar gave an estate to the lords, as long as they were loyal to it. We see this now happening in Russia again. President Putin actually took the billions of dollars of wealth, what people received from President Yeltsin as private property, because he did not think they are loyal. So these people ended up in jail, or they were sent into emigration. Their property was taken away. So even contemporary Russia, in a way, operates almost like a prebendal type of feudalism. Right? President Putin is a kind of Ivan the Terrible–right?–who sort of reinforces loyalty.
And I made the point–right?–that was exactly as in Russia changed the feudal system and when boyars were turned into pomeshchiks. Boyars in Russia, before Ivan the Terrible, had inherited wealth, and Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great took that away and turned them into serving nobility, in exchange for loyalty. If you have listened to Mussorgsky’s fantastic opera, Boris Godunov, you get the story there exactly. If you have not listened to it, do. Right? Don’t get a Yale degree not having known Mussorgsky’s fantastic opera, Boris Godunov. Right?
Well Western feudalism, on the other hand, is based on long-lasting powers of the staff. Western feudal lords received a property for lifetime, and it actually was inherited by their children. And, in fact, they also exercised a great deal of administrative power. Right? Feudal lords in France or England did held court and made judgments–right?–over their serfs; those who belonged to their authority. So they–and the kings were rather limited in their power. Well we have seen this struggle earlier in this course–right?–between the kings trying to gain more of authority, take it back from the feudal lords. That’s all what absolutism versus constitutional monarchy was all about. Right? Well, of course, for a constitutional monarchy, it was not simply the feudal lords who resisted, but also already the bourgeoisie who wanted to have a constitutional monarchy to limit the rights of the monarch.
Well traditional authority doesn’t go very well with the economy–right?–because it is primarily oriented towards satisfaction of needs, and not generation of the profit. Right? And therefore traditional domination is likely to prevent the development of business-oriented activities. And that’s, I think, again true for the more traditional type of system, what we are familiar with, like the family or the universities. They do not quite operate like business corporations, and therefore they may make economic calculation and profit-seeking difficult or impossible. They can be a defense against market mechanism, but do not promote market mechanism. Well, and of course in all of these organizations there is a larger degree of arbitrariness than in modern organizations. And, of course, in traditional organization there is always a greater respect to the welfare of those who are subjugated to authority. So that’s about traditional authority and its tension with modern capitalism. Thank you.
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