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Discuss the Nature and Scope of Political Authority in Traditional Societies.

Discuss the Nature and Scope of Political Authority in Traditional Societies.

Owlgen
Course: ba sociology

1 Answer

Political authority specifies the governing authority and defines the manner the power is to be exercised. It determines the nature of relations between the government and the governed. The doctrine of legitimacy implies that the authority should be used according to well recognized and accepted pattern. The natural sequence of happenings following the usage or custom or the established procedure invests the authority with legitimacy. Command and obedience relationship is based on the assumed legitimacy in the exercise of authority.

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The concept of authority in general terms implies the right to command. It is not to be identified with persuasion or influence. The expressions like the parental authority, authority of tradition, authoritative opinion, political authority, legal authority or the constitutional authority are familiar expressions and they clearly convey that authority is exercised more characteristically within a net work of clearly defined roles. It is exercised according to the established and well recognized pattern.

The Central Authority: A wide variety of political traditions are found in the pre-modern societies. Centralization of political authority exists in varying degrees in these societies. Power is concentrated in the hand of a single individual. A hereditary monarchy tends to emerge the monarch becomes powerful and literally has the power to take off the lives of his subject.

Chief Authority as a Titular Head: in the traditional society controlled by tribal chiefs. Chiefdom’s are societies headed by individuals with unusual ritual, political or entrepreneurial skills. It is more complex and organized, being particularly distinguished from tribes by the presence of centers which coordinate economic, social and religious activities.

Secular Authority Endowed with Sacredness: In terms of secular power, the chief may not necessarily function as an executive head of the state. That is, he may represent the group only symbolically. Yet the symbolic authority had significant political implications. Evans Pritchard observed that the titular head of the Shilluk of Upper Nile turned into a secular authority under the British rule impact.

Necessity of Acquiring a King: Vice-versa, the secular authority of a king is conferred with sacredness e.g. Indian Rajahs. This assumption raises the status of the king and the successive kings assert their royal origin through rituals and ceremonies.

Territory and Demography in Relation to the Range of Political authority: The territorial limits define the range of political authority, that is the limits of the exercise of power over people. Claims and counter-claims on land through conquest or cooperation has been a constant in Indian history.

Economy and Concentration of Power: Socioeconomic institution and the development of the state are closely related. The primitive societies with hunting , food collecting and primitive farming were organized through the family, kinship and rural communities. These organization had chiefs or heads., These organizations were controlled by folkways. The need for control and order was limited in these organization. Growth of economy, surplus production leads to the development of centralized policy, as evidenced by research findings in India.

Scope of Political Authority: Political authority specifies the governing authority and defines the manner, the power is to be exercised. It determines the nature of relations between the government and the governed. The doctrine of legitimacy implies that the authority should be used according to well recognized and accepted pattern. The natural sequence of happenings following the usage or custom or the established procedure invests the authority with legitimacy. Command and obedience relationship is based on the assumed legitimacy in the exercise of authority. The extent to which authority is exercised over people define the scope of political authority. A powerful central authority does not allow people’s recourse to law on their will. While an individual’s freedom to resort to force indicates lesser scope of central authority e.g. king of the Shilluks of Upper Nile is powerless in the face of blood feuds.

Patrimonial Authority: When the scope of authority is not clear-cut, remain diffused and pervades all aspects of people’s lives, it is termed as patrimonial authority (Max Weber).

Delegation and Distribution of Authority: Delegation of authority generally takes place whenever there is a wide scope of political authority. That is, authority is distributed among others giving rise to a pyramidal formation with the ruler at the top. This gradation of authority can be amongst the relatives of the ruler e.g. southern Bantu states, or his loyal subjects.

Delegation of Authority as the Balance of Forces: Authority delegation introduces a check and balance mechanism. It prevents the ruler from becoming autocratic and paramount and ensures representation of varied interest within the Government.

The Basis of Legitimacy of Political Authority: The process of state formation took place either through endogeneous or exogeneous evolution. The former was
the result of the evolutionary process from within and were called primary states e.g. Meitis of Manipur state, the later emerged from external influences through conquest and were termed as secondary state.

Legitimacy in Primary States: Primary states are homogeneous and rooted in indigenous tradition. Common structural principle such as unilineal kinship define political relations. The right of the king to rule is not open to question. People obey a ruler because they know that doing so in past generations has given their society order and continuity.

Legitimacy in Conquest Type or Secondary States: Secondary states form when smaller political units are conquered by the powerful and non-indigenous traditions are superimposed. However, there is a constant possibility of a break away or challenge by the smaller entities e.g. we see such instances in Indian history in the attempt of either Muslim dynasties or British colonials to politically unite India. According to Wittfogel, legitimacy of political authority can be attained through, religious sanctions e.g. a king with a priest as an advisor was the ligitimate political authority. Further, when there is an absence of political integration, the central authority has the legitimacy only as a tax collecting and public works body. The unity of smaller states is maintained, then through other traditional factors such as religion and caste system in India.

Legitimacy Derived from Myths: At times myths of divine origin are used to legitimize political authority.

Grounds on which people accept Authority: Max Weber put forth three bases of legitimacy-traditional, charismatic and rational legal. In most pre-modem societies, traditional grounds form the bases of legitimacy. Charismatic authority, that is leadership due to the personal charm or qualities, may over time become institutionalized and form a part of traditional authority.

Institutions to Prevent Abuse of Authority: In traditional societies, certain mechanisms operate to check abuse of authority. Succession to the position of power is either by inheritance according to the prescribed rules (Matrilineal/Patrilineal) or by election or choice. The guidelines and exhortations of the Councillors during oath-taking act as a check on the king. There is also the right to appeal against an subordinate official to the ruler/ king. However, in the face of abuse of power by the ruler, the subject may resort to means such as deposition, migration, association, revolt, rebellion.

December 22, 2018
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