authority In social theory, the analysis of authority is first developed by Weber. He focuses on the question of why certain agents have authority. He offers three ideal types in explanation. Authority may be legal-rational, in which case authority is bestowed on rules or laws, typically through some regular and public process of law formation or a demonstration of the necessity and efficiency of the rules (as in the case of bureaucracies). Traditional authority again follows more or less well defined rules, but such rules are grounded in traditional practices, customs and cosmologies, rather than in recent, public processes of formation. Charismatic authority rests, not in rules, but in the personality (and sanctity or heroism) of a particular leader, and thus in that person's teaching and example.

In political philosophy, the question of authority may be seen to receive a crucial modern formulation in the work of Hobbes. Hobbes effectively addresses the question of the need for authority (contingently in the face of the social disorder of civil war), and the grounds upon which individuals should submit to it. In Weberian terms, Hobbes's account is a legal-rational one. It is, for Hobbes, rational to form a free social contract with a sovereign, providing that the sovereign maintains the social order and delivers peace. This approach is developed in the liberal tradition. A state is perceived to have authority in so far as its rules and laws would be acceptable to all rational citizens, independently of any particular interests they may wish to pursue. John Rawls's (1972) thought experiment of an 'original position', in which potential citizens plan a society in ignorance of their own talents and interests , is the most sophisticated contemporary version of such social contract accounts. In contrast, communitarian political philosophy suggests the primacy of traditional authority. In contradistinction to liberalism, agents are understood as already embedded in a particular community and culture. The agent's Judgement of authority will thus depend upon values taken-for-granted in their community.

Political 'realists', such as Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, reject the distinction between authority and power, arguing that all submission and obedience is ultimately imposed upon the mass of social members. The distinction authority and power is questioned more subtly by certain accounts of ideology. Within marxism, particularly, the possibility that agents may be coerced, not merely by the use or threat of physical violence, but also by the control that a dominant group or class can exercise over ideas (for example, through control over education, mass media and religion) is broached. A state may have authority in the eyes of its citizens, only because those citizens are denied the relevant cultural resources and information necessary to recognise that it is not acting in their best interests. The increasing difficulty that states find in maintaining authority has been analysed by Habermas (1976b) within the theory of a legitimation crisis. [from: Edgar/Sedgwick, 2002]