Key Thinkers on Power, Authority and Legitimacy

  • Created by: cg97
  • Created on: 21-04-15 13:57

John Locke

(3 – Authority/Accountability): He argues that accountability comes from the granting of consent based upon the state operating to protect the natural rights of its citizens.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

(3 – Legitimacy): He wrote that “The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master unless he transforms strength into right and obedience into duty” – he believed that the government should be based on the general will (the collective good of the community). Having the general is what makes a government legitimate.


(3 – Legitimacy): He believed that a legitimate state exists to serve the common good of the people and an illegitimate state exists to serve the interests of those in power. He believed that legitimacy is strictly related to the justifiability of the purpose – therefore, he identified democracy, oligarchy and tyranny as illegitimate forms of democracy because they only seek to help the few.

Robert Dahl

(3 – Power): He believed that power is the ability to influence the decision-making process and is about which group or individual gets their own way, how often they achieve this and what issues they particularly focus on. After some investigations in New Haven, Connecticut, he found that instead of there being one distinct elite group, there were in fact several but there was a dominant group in each policy area.

Hannah Arendt

(3 – Authority): Believes that authority is placed at the top to help those at the bottom but warns that any collapse in such moral and social behaviours will damage stability and leave the system open to abuse from dictators.

Max Weber

(3 – Authority): He defined authority in terms of statistical laws: “the probability that a command with a given specific content would be obeyed by a given group of persons”. Developed three ideas to do with this:
- Legal Rational Authority (associated with Western democracies)
- Traditional Authority (like the monarchy, military etc.)
- Charismatic Authority (most common with dictatorships as well as totalitarian and authoritarian regimes)

(3 – Legitimacy): He suggests that there are three ways in which members of society can give their support to authority thus giving law legitimacy through…


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