What is legal authority?

According to Weber, there are three types of legitimate authority. The validity of their claims may be respectively based on: rational authority, traditional authority, and charismatic authority. In the case of this organization, our primary concern is on rational authority.

Legally authority is based on a belief in the ‘legality’ of patterns of normative rules and the right of those elevated to authority infer such rules to issue commands. Under the control of legal authority, obedience is attributed to the legally established impersonal order. It extends to the persons exercising the authority of office under it only by virtue of the formal legality of their commands and only within the scope of authority of the office.

The effectiveness of legal authority builds on the acceptance of the validity of the following mutually inter-dependent ideas.

  1. That any given legal norm may be established by agreement or by imposition, on the bases of expediency or rational values or both, with a claim to obedience at least on the part of the members of the corporate group.
  2. That every body of law consists essentially in a consistent system of abstract rules which have (normally) been intentionally established.
  3. That thus the typical person in authority occupies an ‘office’.
  4. That the person who obeys authority does so, as it is usually stated, only in his capacity as a ‘member’ of the corporate group and what he obeys is only ‘the law’.
  5. In conformity with point 3, it is held that the members of the corporate group, in so far as they obey a person in authority, do not owe this obedience to him as an individual, but to the impersonal order.

Legal authority with a bureaucratic administrative staff

In a bureaucratic story-telling organization, we usually can divide rational legal authority into the following eight fundamental categories:

  1. A continuous organization of official functions bound by rules.
  2. A specified sphere of competence.
  3. The organization of offices follows the principle of hierarchy; that is, each lower officer is under the control and supervision of a higher one.
  4. The rules that 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.
  8. Legal authority can be exercised in a wide variety of different forms that will be distinguished and discussed later.

Drawn heavily on the above characteristics of legal authority in bureaucratic administrative style, Web gave ten criteria addressing how individual officials are appointed and function, in the purest type, within the whole administrative staff under the supreme authority.

  1. They are personally free and subject to authority only with respect to their impersonal official obligation.
  2. They are organized in a clearly defined hierarchy of offices.
  3. Each office has a clearly defined sphere of competence it 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 qualification.
  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 incumbent.
  8. It constitutes a career. There is a system of ‘promotional’ 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/her position.
  10. He is subject to strict and systematic discipline and control in the conduct of the office.


NOTE: The Survey Instrument we are using comes from work by Burns and Stalker on Mechanistic and Organic Organizations. To read a brief review of this topic, (please here) OR click just click (Left Arrow to take you back).

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