Max Weber (1864-1920) on patrimonialism

A good English summary of the notion and its contemporary applicability is given in:


According to Max Weber (Weber, 1968), there are three types of domination:
1) Legal-rational domination: based on western bureaucratic impersonal rule
2) Charismatic domination: by virtue of prestige of a person due to his high extraordinary qualities
3) Traditional domination: based on the belief in the sacred character of immemorial traditions

He further distinguishes three different but strongly related forms of traditional rule:
1) Patriarchal rule
2) Patrimonial rule
3) Feudal rule

Patrimonialism develops out of the most basic form of traditional authority called patriarchalism. Patriarchalism is based on a strictly personal loyalty, and not on the adherence to abstract and impersonal rule as in the case of legal-rational domination.
In patriarchalism, the head of the household dominates over the other members of the household. The authority and domination of the head of the household is based on the filial respect of members of the family and other dependents for the patriarchal chief (head). The head exercises authority, so that in securing compliance the patriarch does not need administrative or military machine, being solely dependent on the authority traditions gives him augmented by his control over key resources such as land, grazing rights, cattle and women.

Patrimonialism first appears along with the political differentiation when patriarchalism must extend its authority to meet the need of the expanding political community and when the patriarch (head) exercises his authority beyond his own domestic group, over people who are no longer relatives or servants, which is ultimately the state.

With this expanded sphere of administrative activities, authority can no longer be exercised directly and must be mediated by administrative officers, personal retainers like servants, relatives or slaves. What determines the relation of the administrative staff to the chief is not the impersonal obligations of office, but rather the personal loyalty to the chief .

Patrimonialism signifies a particular type of administration, one that differs very markedly from the legal-rational bureaucracy. Legal-rational bureaucracy is based on hierarchy of graded authority (rational ordering of relations of superiors and juniors), fixed jurisdictional areas with clear-cut procedures and regulations, salaried officers who are recruited and promoted according to objective qualifications and experience, strict separation between incumbent and office, between the private and the public spheres.
In contrast, under patrimonialism, office holders are the personal dependents of the ruler, appointed at his whim on the basis of criteria that are subjective and non-standardised. In patrimonial administration, office holding is at the pleasure of the ruler and any patrimonial bureaucrat may be moved or dismissed by the ruler when it is expedient. Throughout the patrimonial administration there are no clear-cut procedures for taking decisions and decision-making tends to have an ad hoc character . Consequently, the defining characteristic of patrimonialism is the absence of a distinction between the public and private domain, the private servant and public officer, the public purse and the private purse-main…

…The application of patrimonialism that is a mode of traditional administration to modern political system is at the origin of the use of the notion of neo-patrimonialism instead of the one of patrimonialism. Within the African state, two mixed dual forms coexist and are articulated together in the same system. …

The concept of patrimonialism is very useful in understanding African states practices because it provides the common denominator for all the different concepts currently applied to African politics…{Ceteris paribus this denominator may apply to some East-European countries as well.)

In present western states, the legal-rationality that characterises their bureaucracies have been developed from an overlapping of feudal and patrimonial kingdoms which transformed through the centuries into approximation of the legal-rational and bureaucratic model. In contrast, in Africa, an approximation of a legal-rational state was exported to Africa through colonialism…

(Nowadays) the formal structure of the state is bureaucratic, a written law exists, the civil servants are recruited through examination, but there is no real state law and the functioning of the state is largely patrimonialised. Many developing countries continue to be characterised by the appearance of a weberian “legal-rational” administration. But beneath the trappings of formal bureaucracy, procedural rules, and law, their regimes are based on networks of personal loyalty, patron-client ties and the concentration of powers on a single ruler or a narrow oligarchy at the apex of clientelistic pyramid. Public and private resources are melded, as assets come under discretionary control of political elites, and public offices serve as conduit for private accumulations. Consequently, this leads to the personalisation of power: private means personal and the lack of differentiation between what is political and what is economic…

African political economy reflects the central hallmarks of neo-patrimonial rule. Post-independent African states have been characterised by numerous writers as a prebendal order.
The following salient aspects portray this system (Prebendalism):
1) Public resources are widely appropriated for personal or parochial gains
2) Ethnically delineated patron-client networks pattern such allocations.
3) The distributive areas are largely decentralised and clientelistic relations are diffused and pervasive.

“Prebend” is an office of state, which an individual procures either by examination or as a reward for loyal service to a lord or ruler. The definition of prebend by Weber was to illustrate the extensive corruption in Nigeria.

The neo-patrimonial nature of administration means that political exigency, personal consideration, the manipulation of benefits and liabilities have constantly dominated the implementation of government policies. This has resulted in a small circle of civilian cronies largely circumventing the formal economy through unprecedented corruption…
The combination of personal calculations and clientelistic pressures within the system, which has led to a more personalistic and predatory control of the state, makes a mockery of public policies.


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