Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
TO THE READING

The passages from Max Weber's Theory of Social and Economic Organization provide a basic analytic framework for a comparative sociological study of archaic polities. In his analysis of tribal federations and various patrimonial empires he defines some general social criteria which indicate the characteristics of this last type of political organization. According to Weber, the transformation of any tribal federation into a patrimonial political system is marked by the transition of the status of the individual person from that of active member in the community to passive subject in the political organization. This process is accompanied by the formation of an administrative staff—military and civil—that is personally committed to the chief or king of the territory. Also, Weber indicates how the transformation of the tribal association into a patrimonial political system implies a process of symbolic and structural differentiation between the political center and the periphery.


15
Gerontocracy, Patriarchalism, and Patrimonialism—
and Types of Patrimonial Authority

Max Weber


Gerontocracy, Patriarchalism, and
Patrimonialism

1. The most primitive types of traditional authority are the cases where a personal administrative staff of the chief is absent. These are "gerontocracy" and "patriarchalism."

The term "gerontocracy" is applied to a situation where so far as imperative control is exercised in the group at all it is in the hands of "elders"—which originally was understood literally as the eldest in actual years, who are the most familiar with the sacred traditions of a group. This is common in groups which are not primarily of an economic or kinship character. "Patriarchalism" is the situation where, within a group, which is usually organized on both an economic and a kinship basis, as a household, authority is exercised by a particular individual who is designated by a definite rule of inheritance. It is not uncommon for gerontocracy and patriar‐

chalism to be found side by side. The decisive characteristic of both is the conception which is held by those subject to the authority of either type that this authority, though its exercise is a private prerogative of the person or persons involved, is in fact pre-eminently an authority on behalf of the group as a whole. It must, therefore, be exercised in the interests of the members and is thus not freely appropriated by the incumbent. In order that this shall be maintained, it is crucial that in both these cases there is a complete absence of an administrative staff over which the individual in authority has personal control. He is hence still to a large extent dependent on the willingness of the group members to respect his authority, since he has no machinery to enforce it. Those subject to authority are hence still members 1 of the group and not "subjects." But their membership exists by tradition and not by virtue of legislation or a deliberate act of adherence. Obedience is owed to the person of the chief, not to any established rule. But it is owed to the chief only by virtue of his traditional status. He is thus on his part strictly bound by tradition.

The different types of gerontocracy will be dis

____________________
From Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, ed. Talcott Parsons, trans. Talcott Parsons and A. M. Henderson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), pp. 346-365. Reprinted by permission of the editor.

-116-

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