In the modern state, people (and legal practitioners) attribute legitimacy to a legal order in so far as its laws have been enacted (this concept of legal authority and its legitimacy should be understood in the light of arguments of natural law and legal positivism). Weber defined legal order as a system where the rules are implemented and obeyed in the belief that they are legitimate because they conform with the statuses of a government that monopolizes their enactment and the legitimate use of physical force.
Legal domination is based on a system of rules which is applied administratively and judicially in accordance with known principles to all members of the group. The persons who exercise power are superiors appointed or elected by legal procedures. Superiors officials are also subject to rules that limit their powers, separate their private lives from official duties and require written documentation.
According to Weber, a modern state exists where a political community possesses the following characteristics:
- An administrative and legal order that is subject to change by legislation.
- An administrative apparatus that conducts official business in accordance with legislative regulation.
- Binding authority over all persons (citizens) and most actions taking place in the area of its jurisdiction.
- The legitimation to use force within this area if coercion is permitted or prescribed by the legally constituted government.
An important attribute of Weber’s definition of a modern state was the fact that it is a bureaucracy. The vast majority of the modern states from the 20th century onward fall under the rational-legal authority category.