When we refer to persons in ‘authority’ or to the ‘authorities’, the implication is that such persons or groups of persons have a right to be especially important in fonning our political decisions and affecting our political behaviour. This acknowledged right is not afforded because the decisions or acts are approved by us or others, but because the advice or command emanates from the ‘authorities’. This lightness rests in the source. The source is considered legitimate.
Max Weber gives the classical statement of different types of authority, the most universal and primitive case being that “resting on an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of the status of those exercising authority under them.” There is also a claim to legitimacy which rests on the “belief in the legality of patterns of normative rules and the rights of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands.” In the third type, legitimacy is based on “devotion to the specific and exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person”, and of normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him. In the traditional and legal forms of authority the emphasis is on rules and in the other, called by Weber, ‘charismatic’, the accent is on the personal qualities. In practice, political authority is not of a pure type but a mixture. Much authority is based on traditions and is important as it is in Britain.
So deep-rooted have the conventions of the Constitution, as Dicey has named them, been found in the habits of Englishmen, and so firmly the mechanism of government is created on their foundation that without them the political system of the country becomes maimed if not absolutely unworkable. The United States has a written constitution and utmost importance is attached to legality, but some Presidents, as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, have exercised significant charismatic authority. Similarly, in Cuba where Castro exercised largely charismatic authority legal authority is also present. The charismatic authority of Jawaharlal Nehru was proverbial coupled with the legal authority the Constitution conferred on the office of the Prime Minister. To sum up, authority is often described as power exercised with general approval, that is, as legitimate power or the approved use of force.
This view both restricts the notion of authority and gives it the wrong emphasis. The essence of authority is not that it is power (or force); it is that those who possess it may affect the judgment or actions of others without use of force because those who are to be affected acknowledge the right of the others so to affect them. The authority may, of course, be backed up “by the largest arsenal of coercion in the society, but authority, as such, is effective without coercion: Acceptance of authority is the recognition of a moral right.”