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The Authorities Of Donald Trump And Pope Francis Defined In Max Weber’s Terms

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In this essay, we will ask what types of authority that figures such as Donald Trump and Pope Francis have according to Max Weber. Weber states in his writings that there are three types of authority: legal authority, traditional authority, and charismatic authority. With these definitions in mind, we argue that Trump carries legal authority, while the Pope exercises charismatic authority.

To start, legal authority is ruling that leaders gain through state legislation. To clarify, people are subject to following rules and processes that allow them to become leaders of a state. Weber states: “by virtue of the belief in the validity of legal statute and functional competence based on rationally created rules. In this case, obedience is expected in discharging statutory obligations” (Weber, 1919, 2). Here, Weber says that people believe in the laws enacted by state legislation, and as such obedience of those in power occurs through these legislations. For example, democracy is a type of government in which people can participate in elections. The population of the state then choose which political leader from a selection of offered parties to elect to power. Political leaders who win the election through legislation gain the state’s obedience by law, provided their orders are within the legislation. Even those that did not vote for the elected leader must follow their rule.

Next, traditional authority is an authority that occurs when a state follows leadership due to norms present in the culture of that state. Weber describes this type of authority as “the authority of the eternal yesterday, i.e of the mores sanctified through the unimaginably ancient recognition and habitual orientation to conform” (Weber, 1919, 2). In this quote, Weber claims that people conform to their new leaders because people have long since respected the methods used to select a new leader. An example of this is a monarchy, such as when a prince becomes the new king due to the passing of his father, the previous king.

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Lastly, charismatic authority is ruling that does not stand on legal grounds, but rather on personal traits demonstrated by an individual that influences a group into following them. “There is authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma), the absolute personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership” (Weber, 1919, 2). Weber here describes the traits charismatic leaders show to attract followers to them, so that they may gain authority that is provided by a big enough following. An example of a charismatic leader is Martin Luther King Jr, whose heroism inspired many African Americans to follow him and establish a civil rights movement against segregation.

As stated in the introduction of this essay, we associated Pope Francis with charismatic authority. An example of where Pope Francis uses this authority, albeit a minor case, is where he instructed his followers, his bishops, and his priests to not use their cell phone during Mass, an important prayer time (Specia, 2017). Of course, having one’s phone out during Mass is not in of itself illegal, but his followers obey him and then shut off their phones during the practice, as well as look down on those who do not heed his command. The reason why Pope Francis carries charismatic authority is because he performs acts of kindness regularly, such as instances in where he embraced a man with a severely disfigured face (Karimi, 2013) and used buses for transit instead of private vehicles to stay connected with his community (Reilly, 2013). Such acts of humbleness are what inspire people to follow Pope Francis and allow him unwavering authority over the Vatican.

Trump differs much from Pope Francis, despite both of them having authority. In fact, many people heavily dislike Trump, seeing him as immoral, racist, and sexist. However, this does not stop people from being obligated to follow Trump’s orders provided they are within legislation, as Trump carries legal authority over the US after winning the federal election in November 2016 (Page and Heath, 2016). For instance, Trump banned nationals of Yemen, Chad, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Somalia from entering the US in December 2017 with the major goal being to prevent Muslims from entering the US (Hamedy, 2016). This was met with major backlash from protesters, but despite their best efforts to protest the ban still held strong (Krieg, 2017). This is a perfect example of Trump exercising his legal authority, as despite all the protests Trump was still able to change the travel law to as much as he was legally entitled to.

Well known figures such as Trump and Pope Francis both have their own respective forms of authority according to Weber, with Trump carrying legal authority and Pope Francis having charismatic authority. The Pope frequently performs kind actions that draw many to follow him with loyalty, granting him authority. Trump, on the other hand, gained his legal authority by winning fairly in a federal election. Considering all these facts, it is without a doubt that these two do indeed carry the respective authorities assigned to them.


  1. Hamedy, Saba. “Everything you need to know about the travel ban: A timeline.” CNNPolitics. Updated June 26, 2018.
  2. Karimi, Faith. “Pope Francis’ embrace of a severely disfigured placeman touches world.” CNN. Updated November 7, 2013.
  3. Krieg, Gregory. “Opposition groups launch instant backlash to new travel ban.” CNNPolitics. Updated March 6, 2017.
  4. Page, Susan and Heath, Brad. “How anti-establishment outsider Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States.” NaplesNews. Updated November 9, 2016.
  5. Reilly, Jill. “Pope on a bus! Francis shows he’s still a man of the people as he hops on board minibus to church on his first day on the job.” DailyMail. Updated March 15, 2013.
  6. Specia, Megan. “Pope Francis: Mass Is for Lifting Hearts, Not Cellphones.” The New York Times. Updated November 8, 2017.
  7. Weber, Max. Politics as a vocation. 1919.

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