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  • Cited by 7
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    This chapter has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Kulke, H. 2018. Max Weber’s Concept of Legitimation in Hinduism Revisited. Max Weber Studies, Vol. 18, Issue. 1, p. 41.

    Tholen, Berry 2016. Machiavelli’s Lessons for Public Administration. Administrative Theory & Praxis, Vol. 38, Issue. 2, p. 101.

    Tholen, Berry 2015. Citizen participation and bureaucratization: the participatory turn seen through a Weberian lens. International Review of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 81, Issue. 3, p. 585.

    O'Donovan, Nick 2011. Causes and Consequences: Responsibility in the Political Thought of Max Weber. Polity, Vol. 43, Issue. 1, p. 84.

    Adair-Toteff, Christopher 2008. Thirty years of political thinking: Peter Lassman's Max Weber. History of the Human Sciences, Vol. 21, Issue. 1, p. 147.

    McCulloch, A. 2005. Jesus Christ and Max Weber: Two Problems of Charisma. Max Weber Studies, Vol. 5, Issue. 1, p. 7.

    Reed, Michael 2001. From Eating to Meeting. Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 18, Issue. 5, p. 131.

  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: May 2012

4 - The rule of man over man: politics, power and legitimation


Man is born free, and everywhere he is chains. One believes himself the others’ master and yet is more of a slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? I believe I can solve this question


In place of “Sociology” a theory of the forms of rule (Herrschaftsgebilden). In place of “Society,” the culture complex, as my chief interest.


Just like the political associations which preceded it historically, the state is a relationship of rule (Herrschaft) by human beings over human beings, and one that rests on the legitimate use of violence (that is, violence that is held to legitimate). For the state to remain in existence, those who are ruled must submit to the authority claimed by whoever rules at any given time. When do people do this, and why? What inner justification and what external means support this rule?

(Weber [[PW 311])

Politics, power and the rule of man over man

The idea that the “rule (Herrschaft) of man over man” is an inescapable fact of human existence is a central theme of Max Weber's social and political thought (E&S 939). A discussion of the forms of rule (Herrschaft) constitutes the core of his most important work, the unfinished and incomplete Economy and Society. For Weber, the idea of a world free from “the rule of man over man” is Utopian. So too is any escape from the struggle for power through a unity of interests within classes, political parties, states or nations.

Few political thinkers have been committed to the idea of the “permanence of the political”; in some ways Weber was obsessed with it. For Weber, man's unavoidable fate is to be a political animal, but politics does not and cannot offer a road to either happiness, justice, perpetual peace or redemption. “Anyone who goes in for worldly politics must, above all, be free of illusions and acknowledge one fundamental fact: to be resigned to the inevitable and eternal struggle of man with man on this earth” (GPS 29). The “rule of man over man” is the inevitable concomitant of this struggle. Struggle requires leaders who, in turn, require the “apparatus of a human following.” Consequently, it is not surprising that the religious prophet and the political demagogue play a central role in Weber's thought.

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The Cambridge Companion to Weber
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