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Traditional Action and Traditional Authority11I am grateful to M. Michael Rosenberg, Sam Whimster, and the anonymous referees for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.


Joshua Rust

Two standard interpretations of traditional action are rejected. Traditional action is not subjectively meaningful in the sense of having what Talcott Parsons calls a ‘normative orientation’. But nor is traditional action a matter of blind habit. I contend, instead, that traditional action is subjectively meaningful insofar as the actor’s seemingly aberrant behavior can be rendered intelligible by appeal to shared exemplars. I provide further evidence for the proposed interpretation of traditional action by showing how it illuminates Weber’s account of traditional authority. The traditions that legitimize a traditional master consist, not just in rules or decisions, but in exemplars and precedents as found in the ‘documents of tradition’. I conclude with a discussion of how the proposed account of traditional action and authority illuminates charismatic authority and Weber’s notion of the irrational.

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