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.
- 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
- That every body of law consists essentially in a consistent system of
abstract rules which have (normally) been intentionally established.
- That thus the typical person in authority occupies an ‘office’.
- 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’.
- 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:
- A continuous organization of official functions bound by rules.
- A specified sphere of competence.
- The organization of offices follows the principle of hierarchy; that is,
each lower officer is under the control and supervision of a higher one.
- The rules that regulate the conduct of an office may be technical rules or
- 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.
- In the rational type case, there is also a complete absence of
appropriation of his official position by the incumbent.
- Administrative acts, decisions, and rules are formulated and recorded in
writing, even in cases where oral discussion is the rule or is even
- 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.
- They are personally free and subject to authority only with respect to
their impersonal official obligation.
- They are organized in a clearly defined hierarchy of offices.
- Each office has a clearly defined sphere of competence it the legal
- The office is filled by a free contractual relationship. Thus, in
principle, there is free selection.
- Candidates are selected on the basis of technical qualification.
- They are remunerated by fixed salaries in money, for the most part
with a right to pensions.
- The office is treated as the sole, or at least the primary,
occupation of incumbent.
- 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.
- The official works entirely separated from ownership of the means
of administration and without appropriation of his/her position.
- 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,
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