Essay on Definition of Authority – Sociology

Definitions:

1. “Authority is that form of power which orders or articulates the actions of other actors through commands which are effective because those who are commanded regard the commands as legitimate” -By E.A. Shills in Dictionary of Sociology.

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2. Max Weber used the term authority to refer to legitimate power.

3. In simple words, it can be said that authority refers to power which is regarded as legitimate in the minds of followers.

Weber’s notion of authority does not imply that power is legitimate and that illegitimate power plays no role in society. “Weber only argued that legitimacy is a general condition for the most effective and enduring manifestations of power. Still this legitimacy may take different forms and different justifications.” Demerath and Marwell

As Ian Robertson has stated, “Power based on authority is usually unquestionably accepted by those to whom it is applied, for obedience to it has become a social norm. Power based on coercion, on the other hand; tends to be unstable, because people obey only out of fear and will disobey at the first opportunity.

For this reason every political system must be regarded as legitimate by its partici­pants if it is to survive.” Most people must consider it desirable, workable, and better than alterna­tives.

If the majority of the citizens in any society no longer consider their political system legiti­mate, it is doomed, because power that rests only on coercion will fail in the long run.

The French, Russian and the American Revolutions, for example, have proved it. The authority of the respective monarchies was questioned, and their power which was based mainly on coercion rather than on loyalty inevitably crumbled. In these cases, the exercise of coercive control was in conflict with the exercise of legitimate authority.

“The legitimacy of authority is ultimately a matter of belief concerning the rightfulness of institutional system through which authority is exercised”. It depends on “the rightfulness of the exerciser’s incumbency in the authoritative role with the institutional system”.

It also depends on “the rightfulness of the command itself or of the mode of its promulgation’. Weber describes three ‘ideal types’ of legitimating which correspond to three types of authority.

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