Weber and Legitimacy

Recently, the president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, has been extremely ill. Because of this, other government officials must take a greater role and have greater responsibility than they already have. One such government officials that has a had greatly expanded role is Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov. Paul Quinn-Judge of Time Magazine wrote an article entitled “Russia’s New Icon” describing the Russian situation. In this article he articulates that “Former Spymaster Yevgeni Primakov reluctantly became Prime Minister of Russia two months ago. Now he is virtually running the country”. Throughout the course of politics and government the issue of legitimacy of the power of rulers has arisen. The rise to power of Yevgeni Primakov brings about many questions about whether or not he possess the legitimacy to become an effective and exemplary leader.

Max Weber(1864-1920), a German sociologist, believes in government, to be a legitimate ruler, one must have three characteristic. These characteristics are law, tradition, and charisma. “One can say that three pre-eminent qualities are decisive for the politician: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion.” If one possess the trait of law, it means that the person is acting under the strict guidelines of the law and is not deviating from what a person must do to become the leader legally and justly. The characteristic of tradition, is if the way the person came to rule was because “it was always this way”. As an example, if a king has only one son then the next king will be the king’s son. Charisma is a rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm.
Many people in Russia question the legitimacy of Primakov’s power. These people ask does he have the right to rule or does he have legitimate power? They also wonder does he have the law, tradition, and charisma to establish this legitimacy. Essentially, Primakov must satisfy all three of these requirements to establish his legitimacy.

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First, is the question of the legality of his power. He emerged the leading prime minister candidate “last September when, after weeks of chaos” and was named the Prime Minister later in the year. This shows that he is legally the prime minister of Russia. Still, the question arises, does that entitle him the power to rule the country, if there is a higher authority figure, namely President Boris Yeltsin. According to the article written by Quinn-Judge, President Yeltsin “was too sick to go on a state visit to AustriaPrime Minister Yevgeni Primakov quickly stepped in-in every sense of the word. Yeltsin’s advanceman sketched out Primakov’s arrival and departure; Yeltsin’s chief of protocol arranged the state visits; and Yeltsin’s personal interpreter did the German-to-Russian translating”. This shows that when Yeltsin is too “under the weather” to perform his presidential duties that Primakov took over for him using all the capabilities that the Russian President has the power to use. However, in the ever-changing, volatile Russian government is the Prime Minister the person to take over for the President when the current President is unable to execute the tasks of the position. According to Microsoft Encarta, the prime minister is “second in command”, after the president and when the president cannot do the president’s job, the Prime Minister is to take over and become empowered with the presidents control until the next popular election. Because of this, Yevgeni Primakov has the legality to possess the legitimate power of the Russian Presidency, thus fulfilling one of the three criteria that Max Weber says one must acquire to have legitimate power.

Another of the three characteristics, is tradition. Traditionally, Russian leaders have been strong, intelligent, and qualified. Primakov seems to fit this profile well. He studied at “Moscow’s prestigious institute Oriental Studies, where he learned Arabic and graduated in 1953.” His work background is extensive. Primakov was a journalist in the Middle East forming relationships with such leaders as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Then he supposedly worked for the KGB as an intelligence officer. He also was the director of both the Institute of Oriental Studies and the Institute for World Economy and International Relations. Personally, he is a very private man but has persevered through many tragedies in his life such as the deaths of his wife and one of his children. Through his education, work experience, and personal background, he fits the mold as a traditional leader, because he is strong, educated, and qualified. Thus he fulfills the second criteria to be a legitimate ruler.

The last characteristic that a leader must posses to have legitimate power is charisma. This is when a ruler can arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm. This is perhaps the hardest of the three characteristics to have. In fact, although Yevgeni Primakov clearly possesses the legality and tradition to be legitimate, there is not the same clarity in determining his charisma. Primakov is not an egotistical man, he usually moves in a ” secretive style”. He has a reputation “for diligence, loyalty and crucial in a world of big egos -aversion to publicity”. A secret man that works diligently can develop popular devotion and enthusiasm but to date Primakov is lacking in both of these areas. However, if the Russian public become aware of his hard work and unassuming attitude, he may very well command popular devotion and spur on patriotic enthusiasm. Primakov has the ability to become a charismatic leader but he is no there yet. Therefore he does not fulfill the third criteria that Max Weber believes determines if a person is a legitimate ruler.

Whether Yevgeni Primakov is a legitimate leader of Russia is a question that cannot be clearly answered. The answer can vary. If you go strictly on the definition of Max Weber , that a ruler must have three characteristics: law, tradition, and charisma. The answer is, maybe. He does possess the legality and tradition to be the President of Russia but the third characteristic of charisma is a fuzzy issue. If he does not have charisma now, but is on his way to acquiring this trait, he is not legitimate now. However, when he does obtain charisma he will then become a legitimate leader.