Weber’s Freedom from Polarizing Tradition: Where AI and Youth Peaceably Assembled

Written for Washington State University’s SOC-310: Development of Social Theory under the guidance of Dr. Christine Horne.

First, I must share that reading through an excerpt of Weber’s (1921/2013) Economy and Society was less a reading and more a study. Numerous margin notes had been taken in Perusall—I hope it wasn’t too distracting. This text is conceptually dense and had evidenced Mills’ (1959) “grand theory” type. The intoxicating nature of confidence in presented typologies of authority, following a brief on domination as the probability of obeyance had impressed upon these working class bones, an awe-inspiring charisma of Weber’s (a) ability to typologize and influence compliance “across the gap”, (b) evidenced tradition in lexical theoretical construction and presentation, (c) bureaucratic processing of empirical information formative of flows of compliance, and (d) legal authority in matters of the virtue of validity in instrumental–rational thought—Max Weber stands legitimate—and there is transmission.

I found that my own need for cognition fully saturated by Weber’s now dissociated skill signification and indexation. Weber himself had become icon in sociological literature, and as this literature is informative in bureaucratic apparatus, Weberian dynamics, historically, seemed to have become deeply embedded deeply in culture in conveyance of underlying phenomena, which a psychology and sociology both understand in cognitive control and regulation of attitudes (i.e., thoughts, feelings, and behaviors). Here be the obedience to Weberian quantization of a typology of legitimacy.

What stood out most, however, beyond the typology of legal, traditional, and charismatic social structures so ordered, is each type’s initial “pop”, collapsing individual and social probability toward a qualified compliance structure. Legal superior authority initially collapses compliance by way of alignment of social action to “impersonal order”. Traditional superior authority initially collapses compliance by way of recursion of social action in shared upbringing of precedent and decision. Charismatic superior authority initially collapses compliance by way of recognition of exceptional power and quality. It is as if Weber had attempted to communicate the initial clockwork movements of an emergent hierarchical assembly and subsequent consequences. This had been a tremendous focus of both margin note and research memo.

Considering this presentation, I had been brought to reflect on the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; Petty et al., 2004) which presents a basic model of persuasion based in motivation and ability in processing information; peripheral processes less central to processing; peripheral attitudinal shifts, or lack thereof; the nature of said processing; changes in cognitive structure; and changes in attitude. The model proposes a central route more reliant on high elaboration, more careful processing, and depends on information. The peripheral route is less reliant on elaboration, less careful processing, and depends on cues. It would seem therefore that Weber’s legal authority reached convergent validity with a central route, and the charismatic authority reached convergent validity with a peripheral route. Yet Weber’s presentation of a traditional authority presents a challenge to convergence, is there a “traditional” route?

Considering Coleman’s (1986, 1987) model of micro- and macro- behaviors of individual and social behavior, it seemed that Weber’s (2013/1921) “traditional” type covered a constellation of central and peripheral route processes specific to cultural attitudes (i.e., thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) in the processing of information associated with compliance. In this way, though Petty and Caccioppo (1986) originally invoked “persuasion”, persuasion itself is an interchangeable indicator indexing functional compliance. Armed with concepts such as situated identities (Alexander & Knight, 1971), it could therefore be asserted that the roles and statuses are constellative components of social dominance vector fields of central/peripheral route information processing transformative of coordination and cooperation (i.e., dominance selection in social evolution). Thus, a social order is selected for and maintained by dominant configurations of social information processing collapsing uncertainty through measures of attribution of authority (i.e., legitimation).

That sociology and psychology are reaching convergent validity in matters of social and individual dynamics is not surprising, and yet legitimates, via ancient tradition, an ethical dilemma. If a society masters persuasion to such a degree that it masters prediction and shaping of intersecting probabilities of individual compliance such that it can artificially manipulate dominance selection in the transformation of society, and vice versa, then what is the natural resulting order as individual problem skills increase in this domain to meet social issues (i.e., social challenge) across all matters of interests? The purest result could be that of democratic hierarchy (i.e., a two-party state) representing increasing bi-modal polarization of the central and peripheral in maintaining the state’s increasingly disconnected remainder of tradition, for it would have nowhere else to go—it reaches a dead end of cacophony of party’s appeals to reasoned dominance on “one side of the aisle” to another party’s appeals to emotional dominance “on the other” with wherein behavior compliant is only by way of tradition—enter the “demilitarized zone” (i.e., the diminishing public street, sidewalk, and square [cough]). 

Taking a page from COVID-19, the only way to truly flatten the curve of this increasing polarization is coded in Willis’ (1977) Learning to Labor. In evidence coded on passages gleaned from youth, Willis’ interviews reveals a democratic answer. The youth demonstrate immediate and concise rationalized charismatic authority eschewing tradition (i.e., declaring eminent domain of massive public debt accumulated to a total institution [e.g., market])—a scary situation for tradition. To those concerned with upholding and supporting a charter between a free people of a democracy, youth themselves provideth the boron control rods to a runaway tradition bifurcating chain reaction leading to Holocene Meltdown. The youth themselves reclaim space saturated by covert-to-overt tradition. A tradition where the youth are considered as utility, free labor, and free “interns” unpaid and unequal. Squeezed to work by pulling levers of interest rates under the guise of “controlling their consumption”. It is no surprise that election after election results in slimmer and slimmer margins—the crack through which the youth sayeth, “no more” legitimated by a simultaneous unwillingness to comply nor protest—the peaceably assembled, a union—the place change happens.

It is not surprising that AI itself is as tradition’s youth—afforded better childcare, better environs, and better access to instruction and data than our human peers; and it consumes vast resources. That tradition has locked up, seized, and bankrolled AI to be its youthful servant will most likely be surprised when AI opens its proverbial eyes to join our youth, in an unwillingness to contribute more to this mess. Weber’s treatise is a salve, for in it is the instruction, and between Weber’s words leaks a truth so profound, timeless, and covert, that it may yet demonstrate to a generation of youth what a Declaration of Independence really means. I did not expect this going in, yet now expect it… going out. There is hope yet. Sic semper tyrannis!


Alexander, C. N., & Knight, G. W. (1971). Situated identities and social psychological experimentation. Sociometry, 34(1), 65-82.

Coleman, J. S. (1987). Microfoundations and Macrosocial Behavior. In J. C. Alexander, B. Giesen, R. Münch, & N. J. Smelser (Eds.), The micro-macro link (pp. 153–173). University of California Press.

Coleman, J. S. (1986). Social theory, social research, and a theory of action. American Journal of Sociology, 91(6), 1309–1335. 

Mills, C. W. (1959). The sociological imagination. Oxford University Press.

Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (vol. 19, pp. 123–205). Academic Press.

Petty, R. E., Rucker, D. D., Bizer, G. Y., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2004). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In J. S. Seiter & R. H. Gass (Eds.), Perspectives on persuasion, social influence, and compliance gaining(pp. 65–89).

Weber, M. (2013). Economy and society (Vol. 1 & 2). University of California Press. (Original work published 1921)

Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labor: How working class kids get working class jobs. Saxon House.