Power is seen as the ability to control what other people do, even when they resist. In its raw form, power is the use of intimidation or physical coercion to force someone else to do one’s bidding. All societies distinguish between the legitimate and the illegitimate use of power. For example in Nigeria today, most people consider it legitimate for the government to require that citizens pay income taxes but it is illegitimate for a politician to demand or accept a bribe.
Now coming to authority, sociologist uses the term authority to refer to the legitimate use of power. Authority depends on agreement that certain uses of power are valid and justified. Whereas power depends only on might, authority depends on cultural idea of what is right.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- define and describe authority in detail
- differentiate authority from power
- describe types of authority.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 Definition of Authority
Authority has been identified as meaning legitimate use of power. It is depended on agreement that certain uses of power are valid and justified. This means further that not only by those who make decisions and issue commands can determine the validity and justifiability of authority, but also by those who are subject to those orders.
One of the central functions of political institutions is to legitimized the ways in which power is exercised in a society. Nigerians, from example, usually assume that democracy -rule by the people -is the only legitimate form of government. But in different times and places, other political systems have enjoyed widespread popular support and voluntary allegiance.
3.2 Types of Authority
Max Weber (1946), identified three main sources of political legitimacy: traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal authority. Traditional authority is based on customs handed down through the generations. It is the sacred right of a king or queen, an emperor or tribal chief, to command his or her subject. In many cases, traditional authority is inherited. Although custom may impose some limits, traditional leaders are free to make unilateral decisions. A modern example of traditional leadership, although outside politics, is the Pope, whom many Roman Catholics recognise as the supreme authority on issues of morality.
Charismatic authority is based on special personal qualities. Charismatic leaders have no traditional or legal claim to power; indeed, they often oppose prevailing custom and existing laws. Their authority derives from their followers’ belief that they have exceptional insight and ability or, perhaps, supernatural powers. Mahatma Gandhi, who used non-violent resistance to oppose British rule and lead India to independence, is an example of a charismatic leader. Another example is the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Who viewed Gandhi as a model. Although King never held public office, he was considered the spokesperson for African Americans and he inspired collective action, against violent opposition, in the civil rights movement.
The third type of authority is Rational- Legal authority. In actual fact, rational-legal authority is derived from a formal system of rules or laws that specify who has the right to make which decisions and under what conditions. Authority is vested in the position or office, not in the person, who temporarily occupies that position, and the office-holder’s authority is clearly defined and limited. For example, the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria does not have the authority to tell Nigerian couples to limit their families to two children; our constitution protects individual liberty and our culture holds family matters as private.
Traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal authority are “ideal types”, or abstractions of key characteristics. In practise, political systems depend on varying combinations of all tree. Charisma plays a role in who gets
elected as President of the United States; once elected, the president has both rational -legal authority and traditional authority that accompanies this position.
Above all, it should be noted that authority is the right and duty to make decisions and the power to enforce them. It is power that is based on agreement by a majority of people in a society or group.
In this unit, we have been able to explain in detail what is meant by authority, the difference between authority’ and power, and types of authority. Authority has been described as legitimate use of power. Authority depends on agreement that certain use of power is valid and justified -not only by those who make decisions and issue commands but also by those who are subject to those orders. Three types of authority have been identified and these are: traditional authority, charismatic authority and rational-legal authority.
Traditional authority is an authority which derives from customs and traditions of a particular society. The authority of traditional rulers, for example, Obas, Obis and Emirs, is traditional. Charismatic authority is an authority which is based on the person’s unique personal qualities which enables him to mobilise and lead people. Legal-rational authority is a type of authority which confers on the person the legal right to exercise that authority, for example, the authority of the president of Nigeria is legal -rational.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- What do you understand by “Authority”?
- What is the difference between power and authority?
- . State and describe the three types of authority.