Authority is the possession of power seen as legitimate by those over whom it is wielded. According to Robert Morrison MacIver, "Authority is often defined as power, the power to command obedience."
Authority Sociology Definition

Definition of Authority

Authority is the possession of power seen as legitimate by those over whom it is wielded. It is the established political rule within a community or state when this rule also possesses a grounding in one or more possible forms of political legitimacy. The power seen as legitimate by the people and used to rule over is what is known as authority.

According to Robert Morrison MacIver, “Authority is often defined as power, the power to command obedience.”

As per Fredrick, authority is “The capacity to justify by process of reasoning what is desired from the point of view of man.”

According to American political scientist Herbert Alexander Simon “Authority is the power to make decisions which guide the actions of another. It is relationship between two individuals—one superior and the other subordinate.”

American political theorist Robert Alan Dahl states, “Legitimate power is often called authority.

Sociological Explanation

Accepted authority

There are two main categories of accepted authority:

Sacred authority: It is placed in a religion’s sacred texts, the church’s clergy, temple, mosque, or any combination of these. Fundamentalism may result from the authority held by religious tradition, which is often unchallengeable.

Secular authority: This is often connected to elected officials and the proper branches of government. Great political leaders with the charisma to win genuine support may also be considered political power.

A common phenomenon in social groups is the authority, i.e., the right or power to give orders and enforce standards. It is only meaningful if people comply with those rules and directives.

Legitimate authority

Weber wanted to explain how this power induces conformity in society. People in a group will conform to the dictates of command if they are threatened with physical or economic harm. On the other hand, Weber believed that societies could not rely totally on coercion. Instead, he argued, the people in a community had to view the authority as legitimate, so conformity to the orders and standards is voluntary and not coerced.

Weber has given three types of authority: traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational.

Rational legal authority establishes a set of regulations and practices that everyone must abide by to assure compliance. Because the most significant profit is realized inside the system, conformity is freely provided.

Because people see the position and succession of power as a holdover from the past and a system that should persist, traditional authority fosters compliance. Benefits are not logically calculated; instead, there is just acceptance that everything is in order.

Charismatic authority promotes compliance by persuading group members that the individual in a leadership position has unique attributes and should be followed. When the charismatic person dies, the power either vanishes or may change into the conventional authority that is transmitted down via a line of successors. Authority of this sort only lasts as long as the charismatic person survives.

Any of these three methods will induce a society’s members to submit to the leader’s authority without the need for force because they respect the legitimacy of the authority and the demands it makes.

Although Weber’s typology of authority prioritizes the varying nature of legitimacy as a way of conceptually partitioning that phenomenon, the resulting divisions encompass a wide range of additional components, such as the arrangements for judicial dispute resolution and criminal punishment, the typical ways in which those in authority revealed and portrayed themselves and those under their commands, and above all the provisions are made for administrative management.

In other words, Weber’s most important political ideas—such as those regarding patriarchalism, patrimonialism, feudalism, administration, or bureaucracy—are structured within his typology of power and are among his most significant contributions.

If people obey a command because they fear the consequences of refusing, they respond to power. They react to authority and follow because they believe they should. Authority is that subtype of power that is accepted as legitimate.


We can take the example of Person A, who has a gun and can shoot anyone who goes against him. The weapon gives him power, but that is not legitimate. On the other hand, a police officer in uniform has a gun and a legal right to shoot those who commit a severe crime in the eyes of the law. Both have a weapon, but the legitimation to use it makes a difference.

The rule of Hitler in Nazi Germany and the adherent Nazi followers is another example of its application.


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