Weber’s Bureaucratic Authority and Our New President

The Gist
In Weber’s theory of Bureaucracy, he contends that authority gains its legitimacy by one of three techniques. Traditional and rational-legal authorities are argued to be more formalized, structured, forms of authority usually existing with stable external environments. Leaders in these structures gain their allotted power through traditional hierarchies, or pre-established laws and regulations. Weber’s third type of authority, Charismatic Authority, can be separated from the other two. Existing in times of instability or “downturns” (as is appropriate with our economy). This form of authority exists as a direct result of existing opportunities for growth and leadership. During these times, followers will be followers, and leaders will naturally be leaders.

As we had mentioned in class today, Weber’s original implication was for this theory to apply to leaders of extraordinary scale, i.e. Jesus. But extrapolating from his grand meaning, his theory can be applied to leaders of all levels. Scott and Davis use known historical leaders such as Ghandi, Hitler, and Mao, who were recognized for having a quality that made people believe that they were destined for something great. When a nation is stricken with instability and “chaos”, followers will unconsciously look to leaders to organize and direct the people towards prosperity. This is much the case with our current economy and the burdens that have been placed on our new president.

Application Today
Just yesterday, 75,000 jobs were lost. Industry leaders are cutting back; small businesses are closing as if there were no hope for the future. First semester this year, a foreign student in my Chinese language class stopped showing up to class. I later found out that her family had pulled her from Bucknell University to go back to her country to study because they felt that an American education was no longer of value (and this was a girl in her junior year). With shocking events like these, American morale and hope to the future is at record lows. But with this election, voters saw something in President Obama that we hope will change our fortunes. As a charismatic leader, Americans and the rest of the world are watching to see what new ideas President Obama will create. In a New York Times article (Jan. 27), analysts have compared the situation of President Obama to that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During his term, Roosevelt, used a variety of unique techniques to help reestablish the banking industry. This included the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and his “fireside chat” radio addresses to help stimulate stability in the economy.
In my interpretation of the charismatic leader, the leader is someone who not only is “charismatic”, but has the power, and ability to do things that no other man can do based on inherent skills. Throw me in Ghandi’s situation and my voice would have been suppressed along with the millions of “commoners”. If Weber would agree that today’s economic situation is an instable environment, then President Obama’s ability to re-establish the American economy as a world leader, will declare him a charismatic leader. (Even if he is not Jesus)

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4 Responses

  1. It’s also interesting to consider Weber’s ideas about how charismatic qualities can bring someone into power, but in order to maintain authority they must move to one of the other forms of authority (Org&Org pg. 47). Obama’s charismatic nature and amazing oratory skills have allowed him to triumph in his bid for the presidency, but it has also given him some VERY high expectations. In order to maintain the authority, he is going to have to live up to those expectations very quickly or else people will lose hope and he will lose his authority. (According to Weber at least)

  2. I like the way you conclude (Even if he is not Jesus.)

    I think there is another level to your point. There is a certain inflated expectation about Obama (and any President). so, do you want to avoid being too charismatic as a politician?

  3. This is an interesting point. Charisma had a lot to do with the outcome of this election. Obama may very well have been elected to office with some of the highest level of expectations ever.

    He is a very capable man, but he needs an equally capable team to pull this off. With four (I think) people already declining to take up cabinet positions, I think he will find this challenge to be a bigger task than anticipated. And I will abstain from entering the world of foreign affairs (which do affect the economy significantly), there is hope on that front too – but it is rather limited.

  4. I think Charisma only goes so far, but after sometime people will look past this characteristic and look for something more. Now that some time has past since Obama has taken office, there seems to be more critical viewpoints of the president rather than the hopeful optimism that we saw in the very beginning of his term. His charisma only took him into office, but now his abilities to lead will define it.

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