Without Max Weber sociology would not be what it is today. His sociological theories were able to change the way that we look at different social relationships. Some of his most interesting theories were about the different kinds of power. According to Weber power is the ability to impose your will, even against opposition, within a social relationship. There are many people that have sought power, but it does not necessarily come easily. They must find a group that will obey their commands, preferably without opposition. By doing this the ruler will be able to dominate over them. Over time this group will learn to have discipline, meaning that they will automatically obey and follow the ruler’s commands and rules. Weber believed that there are three different ways that a ruler can have authority, or a legitimate form of domination. This authority can be traditional, where it is based on customs. It can be charismatic, where the ruler is believed to be supernatural in some way. Finally it can be rational or legal, and come through the power of laws, rules, and positional authority.
When it comes to an example of authority one of the best that I can think of is Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. In the mid-1950s Jim Jones established his own church, the People’s Temple, in Indianapolis. As more people started attending his services he began to expand the People’s Temple to new locations as far away as California. People of all races joined because they were impressed with Jim. He held “healings” where he would convince people that he knew private information about them. He wanted people to wear casual clothes so everyone would feel the same. He also did some good by having food and clothing drives to help the less fortunate. He was a talented speaker, and was able to disguise his communist ideals as religion in order to brainwash his followers. He eventually got his followers to ignore their real families and spend more time with the church. He also convinced them to donate their possessions to the church so that they could all be equal. By the height of his power his followers believed that he was a Christ like figure. There was even a structure set up where the educated people took care of the day to day plans and then the others were the workers that performed physical tasks. By 1974 Jim had established a commune in Guyana, where he brought his followers to live without persecution from America. Jonestown, as it was called, eventually grew to around 900 people and they lived there under Jim’s rule until 1978. It was then that Congressman Leo Ryan and some reporters came to investigate the community. They found that the people were content living in Jamestown, but a few wanted to leave with him. As he and the defectors left they were attacked by other Jamestown residents and Congressman Ryan, three journalists, and a defector were killed. The next day Jim, afraid of retaliation, convinced his people to commit suicide. 918 men, women, and children died that day from drinking grape flavored Flavor Aid. Jim was later found dead from what looked like a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The loss of life that day was the greatest loss of American life in a non-disaster until September 11 2001.
In the case of Jim Jones we could say that he is a charismatic leader. He was able to impose his will on his followers, and they began to believe what he said. He used eloquent speech to convince his followers that he was a Christ like figure. They would obey his commands to the point where they would leave their family and friends and move to a remote commune in South America. While in Jamestown the followers had a lot of discipline obeying what Jim said, even to the point that they would kill a Congressman and then give cyanide to their children before drinking it themselves. Jim Jones possessed ultimate power over his followers. He was able to get them to give up everything, even their lives, for him. It is frightening how powerful our words can be. Jim did not have an army to control his followers. All he did was preach equality and provide comfort for his followers and they were willing to do anything for him.