Studies in Leadership: Leadership and Democratic Action

By Alvin W. Gouldner | Go to book overview

Toward a Sociology of Authority1

BY JEREMIAH F. WOLPERT

THE PROBLEM of authority is basic to the understanding of the variety of types of leadership. Over the span of historical development the character of leadership has been defined according to the conceptions of authority which dominate a given society. Since this development has not been uniform, different kinds of authority exist at the same time and can be understood only when referred to their cultural matrices. In every case, however, what distinguishes the character of authority is the fact that it must find ethical sanctification. Through the ethics of authority, whether flowing from the dominant groups or subgroups within a social order, leadership is carried out. Leaders in order to command a following must either appeal to the impersonal rightness of that for which they stand or carry within their persons a specific ethic which is recognized as such. The process by which allegiance to authority is engendered must be considered apart from its ethical content for more often than not in modern society it is a technical problem for leaders.

Before proceeding further, it should first be emphasized that the analysis of authority always calls up deep-seated sentiments outside the realm of inquiry on the part of the inquirer. He is directed toward the problem by interests which are certainly not purely intellectual ones. Moreover, the assumptions upon which his interpretation rests are an integral part of his value system. If this be true, the best ap- proach to the problem would seem to lie in a frank recognition on

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1
This is a previously unpublished paper.

-679-

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