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Domination is a social science after the sociologist Weber Max defines "rule to say the chance , given for a command contents at assignable people obedience to find." In contrast to the " power " rule set by Weber legitimacy requires that only through the acceptance of the rulers is ensured by the ruled (belief in legitimacy) . In addition to this classic sociological understanding, the political sciences and history also differentiate between different forms of social rule, especially according to the number and intentions of those in power. Dieter Nohlen's Lexicon of Politics defines rule as an "asymmetrical social relationship with a stabilized expectation of behavior, according to which the instructions of a higher authority are followed by their addressees".


The classic social-scientific concept of rule is based on Max Weber's typology of rule. Accordingly, the ruled must recognize the legitimacy of the rulers in order for rule to arise. In contrast to his definition of power (which he describes as sociologically amorphous , i.e. informal), rule presupposes a certain degree of permanence; it is an institutionalized form of superiority and subordination, which, however, does not require any hierarchical structures.

Because Weber requires a minimum of obedience, his definition goes beyond that of Karl Marx , whose concept of rule was based on political power . Similarly, Franz Oppenheimer means by rule a relationship between two legally unequal social classes . With Otto von Gierke, he distinguishes rule as a vertical social relationship from the cooperative as a horizontal relationship.

Max Weber's definition of terms

Max Weber, 1894

Today, however, the concept of rule is understood in the meaning of the legitimized power relationship enforced by Max Weber . Weber was the first to bring the concept of legitimacy together with rule. Prior to Weber, legitimacy related to the state and the form of government . In ancient political philosophy, rule referred to laws that governed the coexistence of people in the state. In feudalism , rule was thought of as a personal relationship between lord and vassal . The lord or the vassal could apostate, but this did not affect the God-given basis of legitimacy as such. The secularization process of modern times raises the question of rule in connection with its legitimacy. Rule is not something that has always existed, as in antiquity or something God willed as in feudalism, but something made by people and thus also questionable. Max Weber's typological answer brings legitimacy and rule together, but there can be no illegitimate rule with Max Weber. Either there is obedience, then there is domination, or there is no obedience, then there is no domination.

With this Max Weber took a look at the actual circumstances and the legal system . There were z. B. Talcott Parsons or Norbert Elias , who expanded Weber's question of rule to include the question of the conditions of rule. This question lies beyond the concept of domination. Weber distinguishes three types of rule on the basis of the acceptance of their legitimacy by the ruled:

“[Dominion] can be conditioned purely by interests, that is, by purely rational considerations of advantages and disadvantages on the part of the obedient. Or, on the other hand, through mere 'custom', dull getting used to the settled action; or it can be justified purely affectively, through mere personal inclination of the ruled. "

- Max Weber : Economy and Society

In the first case there is legal rule, in the second case traditional rule and in the third case charismatic rule.

Legal rule

Legal rule is based on the following ideas:

  • every right by Paktierung or imposition is rational, rationally or value rational oriented,
  • each right can be established with a contract and
  • the legal master himself is obedient to this law.

Here the legitimacy of rule is established with a statute.

The purest type of legal rule is the bureaucracy with an administrative staff. The administrative staff typically consists of the head, who is designated as such by election or successor designation, and individual officers. Here, the type of commanding officer is a superior, the type of administrative staff is an authority with officials, and finally the obeying are the members or citizens.

But even outside of a classic bureaucracy, there is always legal rule when a person carries out or omits certain actions simply to avoid legal punishment. Here there is a classic purposeful consideration, since this person contrasts the good of performing an action with the evil of a punishment to be feared. In contrast to charismatic rule, this form of rule is tied to institutions, since without a functioning executive no actual execution of the punishment can be expected.

Traditional rule

Traditional rule (sometimes and not called traditional rule according to the wording in Weber ) exists when the legitimacy is supported and believed on the basis of the sanctity of traditional orders and master powers. In this case tradition is obeyed. In contrast to legal rule, the ruler is not the superior here, but personally the master. Its administrative staff is not made up of officials but of personal servants. The ruled are not members of the association, but either traditional comrades or subjects. And in contrast to legal rule, the relations of the administrative staff to the master are not determined by the objective official duty, but by personal loyalty to servants. In addition, the statutes are not obeyed, as is the case with legal rule, but tradition or the gentleman named by tradition. His orders are legitimized both by the content of tradition and by his free will.

In premodern societies, rule is also legitimized by the notion that emotional ties bind ruler and ruled. The hierarchical asymmetry was justified with human nature, according to which not interests and needs, but feelings shape social relationships. The emotional drivers that would prevail and make it acceptable were love and horror. Both could be assessed positively, but could also be used to differentiate good from bad rule, so that the possibility was created to criticize rule. The norms to which rule were subject were tied to basic human constitutions. The practice of rulership in premodern societies required agreements, which, however, did not arise through deliberate agreements and common user expectations, but rather through emotional similarities between the rulers and the ruled.

The Lord can rule with or without an administrative staff. However, rule without an administrative staff is the typical case of traditional rule. Forms of traditional rule are usually:

  • Gerontocracy : the rule of the elder in the association as the best connoisseur of tradition
  • primary patriarchalism: the rule of individuals within the home as a result of inheritance rules.

In the case of the creation of an administrative staff, traditional rule presents itself as patrimonialism with a corporate structure in which master power prevails. Here, hierarchy is mostly broken by privileges.

Charismatic rule

According to Weber, charisma is a valid quality of a personality, for the sake of which it is valued as having supernatural or superhuman or at least specifically extra-everyday or not accessible to everyone else or as being sent by God or exemplary and therefore as a “leader”. So here is obeyed by virtue of personal qualities. Prophets, warlords or leaders can act as commanders. Obeyers can be disciples for prophets, followers for warlords, and confidants for leaders.

There is no hierarchy, no official parish, no competencies and no salary or benefice, because those who obey belong to the leader's circle of friends. There are only local and material limits to charisma. The legitimacy of charismatic rule is lost when the charisma disappears. So rule is felt outside of the ordinary. In the course of time it transforms into traditional rule if it does not disappear by then.

Political Science

Almost all classical theories of political philosophy (with the exception of anarchism ) presuppose the rule of a person or a group of people over the population of a state. The theory of the state gives explanations of how this rule should be organized and why it is necessary. In addition, some classics also give their own characterizations of the rule itself. The focus here is less on Weber's question of what ensures the continued existence of rule (although this is also important), but more on the question of what distinguishes (morally) good rule from bad rule. "Legitimacy" does not (as with Weber) refer to the reasons for which the ruled recognize the rulers' right to rule, but to those reasons for which rule is actually morally justified. In addition, the classics made a division of the forms of rule , which was also often associated with the concept of a constitutional cycle.


Plato drafts his political philosophy in particular in the dialogue Politeia . There he takes the view that states emerge when groups of people begin to unite and thereby undertake a division of labor. This division of tasks allows the tasks to be carried out in a higher quality: If a person specializes only in a certain occupation, they are much more likely to hone their skills in this area. B. make better (or simply more) shoes than someone who wants to be self-sufficient. According to Plato, this advantage of the division of tasks also applies to politics: he proposes a system of three classes. The greatest number of people should fall into a craftsman and peasant class, which should do practical work . The guard stand is responsible for monitoring this stand and for defending the city. The regents should be recruited from the guardianship; Philosophers are ideally suited as regents, so Plato advocates a philosophical rule here .

Plato sees the various real existing forms of rule as decay of the ideal state (the "Politeia"). In the aristocracy only the "best" rule, that is, the philosophers. The timocracy is the rule of the honorable (after Plato usually the guardians) still oriented towards justice. From this, however, an oligarchy can develop if the population confuses honor with wealth and thus a rule of the rich arises. If these rule unfairly, the people can rise up against them and a democracy emerges , in which, however, chaotic conditions exist. This, in turn, can lead to the people appointing a demagogue to be their ruler and tyranny arising. Ultimately, even in the worst case, rule by the uneducated is still possible, an ochlocracy .


In contrast to Plato, who exclusively describes state rule, Aristotle tries to use a more comprehensive concept of rule in his work Politics . This also applies to the oikos (the Greek household including slaves). The Oikos is founded for the purpose of maintaining one's own life, since, as with Plato, the advantages of the division of labor can be used here. The slaves function as "tools" for the landlord, since the landlord has planning capabilities that the slave lacks, at least if these "slaves are by nature". Otherwise, it is a question of such slaves who are justly not allowed to be. The rule of the man over the woman is justified insofar as "the masculine [...] by nature is more suitable for leadership than the feminine (if there is no relation to nature)" In all dominance relationships in the Oikos, as in the state, require the virtue of prudence , so that the ruled recognize their (especially intellectual) inferiority and try to achieve the best possible life as the ruled.

Scheme of forms of rule
according to Aristotle
Number of
legitimate rule illegitimate rule
Sole power monarchy Tyranny
Group domination aristocracy oligarchy
Majority rule Politics democracy

In contrast to the Oikos, the state is founded not only to sustain life, but also to achieve a self-sufficient, self-sufficient life. The state differs from the Oikos not only in its size, but also in that it represents a “community of free people”. Aristotle differentiates between six forms of rule based on two criteria (see table): First, based on the number of rulers and, second, based on their intentions. Since the state is about rule over free people, they should not be ruled despotic and in the interests of self-interest. So those forms of rule are legitimate in which the rulers have the common good in mind, the other forms of rule are illegitimate. In addition, however, a single ruler can enforce his intentions more effectively than the entire population, since unity is difficult to achieve. Therefore, the monarchy is better than the aristocracy and politics (or timocracy ). In the case of illegitimate forms of rule, it is the other way around: Since a tyrant can enforce his bad intentions better than a democratic crowd, tyranny is worse than democracy.

The church father Augustine regarded any rule as a deficient form of human community, which, however, was necessary as a result of the fall. If there is no justice, the state is nothing more than a band of robbers, as he explains in his work De civitate Dei , without giving positive examples of a just state. His conception had an effect in the Middle Ages , often in the sense that rule was justified because it was presented as inevitable. However, his view could also be used to delegitimize the rule of secular rulers and to oppose them to better rule by clergy.


An early modern classic of state philosophy is Niccolò Machiavelli , who, especially in his work The Prince , pleaded for a partially authoritarian style of power politics, which was later referred to as Machiavellianism . He attaches great importance to the fact that a good ruler must also be able to conquer power and stay in power. Here it is helpful to win the love of the people and to be regarded as "gracious and gracious". However, this aim should not be placed too high, because "[if] it is a matter of keeping the subjects in unity and obedience, then a prince must be very indifferent to the charge of cruelty". However, a prince must be careful not to incur the hatred of the people, as this would endanger his power.

Contract theories

In the political philosophy of the modern age, especially following Thomas Hobbes contract theories became increasingly popular. Such theories were advocated by Locke , Rousseau and Kant , among others , and by Rawls in modern times. According to this idea, the members of a society conclude a hypothetical contract in which they commit themselves to a state order. The nature of this order is very different depending on the theorist. Thus, according to Hobbes, a sovereign sovereign not dissimilar to Machiavelli's ideals as Leviathan should rule society. Other theories pursue a far less authoritarian social order as an ideal. Overall, in these theories, rule becomes a question of contractual loyalty , since the members of society see themselves as bound by the hypothetical contract insofar as it is fulfilled by the state order.

Forms of rule

Regardless of the above, rulership can also be differentiated according to which persons or groups exercise it. This interpretation is particularly used in political science and law . Here the plurality of the term becomes clear, which is used both positively as rule of the people in democracy and negatively, for example as Nazi rule. This must be distinguished from the forms of government , which are differentiated according to who is the bearer of state power , and the forms of government in the narrower sense, which are differentiated according to the position of the head of state .


In historical studies , domination is the exercise of power over subordinates and dependents through means of power. Rule is only legitimate if rights to exercise power are observed above the ruler and the ruled. The origin of the rule is to be sought in the house rule ( power of the landlord over the housemates ), from this the manorial rule developed . The rulers were the nobility ; the kingdom which their legitimacy through symbolic rituals represented (elections, anointing, coronation) and the insignia was in feudalism only a special form of aristocracy (cf.. suzerainty ). In the age of the estates , the ruler's power is limited by enforced contracts of domination. In modern times , the unified state authority prevailed. The new forms of rule are subject to an ongoing process of reorienting their legitimacy basis.

See also


  • Hartmut Aden (Ed.): Theories of domination and phenomena of domination . Wiesbaden 2004.
  • Giorgio Agamben: Homo Sacer . Giulio Einaudi, Turin 1995 (German: Homo Sacer. The sovereign power and the bare life. Frankfurt am Main 2002).
  • Giorgio Agamben: ( Homo Sacer II ) Quel che resta di Auschwitz . Bollati Boringhieri, Turin 1998 (German: What remains of Auschwitz. The archive and the witness. Frankfurt am Main 2003).
  • Murat Ates: Philosophy of the Ruler. An introductory final note . Vienna 2015.
  • Walter Benjamin : On the Critique of Violence and other essays . 1965.
  • Ralf Dahrendorf: Challenges to Liberal Democracies. Lecture on the tenth anniversary of the Federal President Theodor Heuss House Foundation ( Federal President Theodor Heuss House Foundation, Kleine Reihe 19), Stuttgart 2007.
  • Arnold Bühler: Rule in the Middle Ages. Reclam, Ditzingen 2013.
  • Richard Edwards: Dominance in the Modern Production Process. Campus, 1981.
  • Hans Haferkamp: Sociology of rule. Analysis of the structure, development and state of governance relationships . Opladen 1983, ISBN 3-531-21635-X .
  • Peter Imbusch (ed.): Power and rule. Social science concepts and theories. Opladen 1998, ISBN 3-8100-1911-9 .
  • Andrea Maurer : Sociology of domination. An introduction. Frankfurt am Main / New York 2004, ISBN 3-593-37240-1 .
  • Hubertus Niedermaier: The end of rule? Perspectives of the sociology of domination in the age of globalization. Constance 2006, ISBN 3-89669-602-5 .
  • Heinrich Popitz : Phenomena of Power . 2nd ext. Ed., Mohr (Siebeck), Tübingen 1992, ISBN 3-16-145897-4 .
  • Werner Rösener : manorial rule . In: Lexikon des Mittelalters , Vol. 4. Munich 1989, Sp. 1739–1750.
  • Hans-Joachim Schmidt: Rule through horror and love. Ideas and justifications in the Middle Ages. Göttingen 2019.
  • Wolfgang Schluchter: Aspects of bureaucratic rule. Studies on the interpretation of the advancing industrial society . Suhrkamp, ​​1985.
  • Klaus Türk, Thomas Lemke, Michael Bruch: Organization in modern society. A historical introduction. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ²2006, ISBN 3-531-33752-1 .
  • Otto Ullrich: technology and domination. From craft to the reified block structure of industrial production. Suhrkamp, ​​1979.
  • Max Weber: Economy and Society . Tübingen 1985, Part 1, Chapter 1, § 16; Chapter 3.
  • Heiner Minssen : rule. In: Heiner Minssen, Hartmut Hirsch-Kreisen (Ed.): Lexicon of work and industrial sociology. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2017, pp. 160–162.

Web links

Wiktionary: Dominion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Max Weber: Economy and Society: Outline of Understanding Sociology. 3rd edition, Zweiausendeins, 2005, p. 38.
  2. Ulrich Weiss rule. In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics. Volume 7: Political Terms. Directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 249.
  3. ^ Study edition of the Max Weber Complete Edition , Economy and Society , Part 4: Herrschaft (Volume I-22/4 of the Complete Edition), p. 217.
  4. Hans-Joachim Schmidt: Rule through horror and love. Ideas and justifications in the Middle Ages. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2019, pp. 152–164, 241–256, 293–309.
  5. Cf. Aristotle, Politik , 1252 b27 - b30 .
  6. ^ Aristotle, Politics , 1254 b18 .
  7. ^ Aristotle, Politics , 1259 b1f . (Translation by Olof Gigon ).
  8. Cf. Aristotle, Politik , 1259 b13 .
  9. Cf. Aristoteles, Politik , 1280 a32f .
  10. Cf. Aristoteles, Politik , 1279 a21 .
  11. Cf. Aristoteles, Politik , 1324 b32 – b40 .
  12. Cf. Aristoteles, Politik , 333 b26 - b28 .
  13. Cf. Niccolò Machiavelli, Der Fürst , in: ders., Politische Schriften , ed. by Herfried Münkler, obs. by Johannes Ziegler and Franz Nikolaus Baur, p. 108 (chap. 20).
  14. a b Niccolò Machiavelli, Der Fürst , in: ders., Politische Schriften , ed. by Herfried Münkler, obs. by Johannes Ziegler and Franz Nikolaus Baur, p. 94 (chap. 17).
  15. Cf. Niccolò Machiavelli, Der Fürst , in: ders., Politische Schriften , ed. by Herfried Münkler, obs. by Johannes Ziegler and Franz Nikolaus Baur, p. 96 (chap. 17).
  16. Erich Bayer (ed.): Dictionary of history. Terms and technical terms (=  Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 289). 4th, revised edition, Kröner, Stuttgart 1980, ISBN 3-520-28904-0 , p. 217.