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Authority Types

Various countries and governments have developed different forms of authority to maintain power and stability. This post will look at three common forms of authority found throughout the world.

Traditional Authority

As its name implies, traditional authority relies on tradition to maintain its power. Examples of traditional authority usually include monarchies such as those found in Europe at one time. People support the leader because this support has been given for a long time.

The actual leader often does not have power beyond people’s respect for them. The leader can often have a figurehead-type status while others exercise overt power. For example, it is common in many countries with traditional authority to have the monarch avoid politics and serve a ceremonial role.


A variation of traditional authority is called patrimonialism. Patrimonialism is a strong-man character who has a strong administration and military support. Some may see this as a form of military-backed dictatorship. The people under the supreme leader only have their privileges through their obedience and loyalty to the supreme leader.

Charismatic Authority

Charismatic authority generally involves an individual who gains power through the strength of their personality more than on any other single reason. Often this will happen during a time of crisis in which people are looking for help and or protection. One example of this would be Napolean Bonaparte, who rose to power in France after the French Revolution.

However, charismatic leaders often do not last long. There may be several reasons for this. The crisis may worsen, the leader’s shortcomings become more apparent over time, or someone even more popular arises to threaten the leader. These are not the only reasons, but they play a part in the demise of charismatic leaders. For example, Napolean’s shortcomings as a general were the primary reason for his downfall. Though one of the greatest generals ever, he was not perfect, and often leaders are expected to never fail.

Rational-Legal Authority

Rational-legal authority emphasizes laws, rules, regulations, and the office of authority rather than the individual person. Countries with constitutions are often inspired by rational-legal authority. For example, the United States is a strong example of rational-legal authority. They have a constitution and a new president every 4 to 8 years. The power lies within the office, and there is no idea of a single absolute authority but rather an emphasis on “we the people.”

With the focus on laws, all the lawmakers have to do is make illegal things legal and legal things illegal, and there will not be as much push-back from the people because they believe in the rule of law. Examples of this from the United States can include any controversial topic such as sexuality, taxes, reproductive rights, etc. Each of these examples involves actions that were legal, then illegal, or vice versa. In summary, whoever defines the laws appears to have the power in a rational-legal framework.


Countries require leadership, and leaders can have various forms of authority. The examples provided here are just some of the commonly seen options. Naturally, it would be an oversimplification to think that leaders and countries could not mix the examples above. For example, Cesar was charismatic and spent a lot of time passing various laws. The real point here is to be aware of these various styles.

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