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A Journey with Max Weber in Timor-Leste’s Countryside: Constructing Local Governance after Independence

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Abstract

Max Weber wrote of “pure” legitimated belief systems regarding the exercise of authority that facilitate its endurance in peaceful circumstances. If Weber could travel around the district of Lautém on the easternmost tip of Timor-Leste, he would find entrenched elements that he would recognize as pertaining to his “traditional authority” model. In Lautém, a clan leader, head of a family, patriarchal figure, or member of the dominant elite all are candidates to discharge unchallenged (or little-disputed) ruling functions over third parties. Weber would also not fail to recognize the transition to modern legal-rational forms of authority, in which a familiar local authority is replaced by an impersonal officeholder. Weber might even find “charismatic” leaders, persons endowed with special characteristics that reveal an extraordinary nature that is widely acknowledged and valued by the leader’s social group. Yet, there is also a dynamic that challenges Weber’s views that traditional power opposes legal-rational authority, and that clashes between them are likely. Timorese enjoy high degrees of civil liberties, and for that reason what are conceptually antagonistic perceptions of legitimacy can be expressed, and a complex set of ideas need not be dismissed as incompatible or reduced to hybrid forms of engagement: they can, to a very large extent, cohabitate with a modicum of peace. Embracing civil liberties allows for the coexistence of a plurality of views (and leaders), namely, on what is legitimate and how (and by whom) power may be exercised. By adopting principles of democracy that respect differences within communities, and which are based on the widest possible franchise of all members, a contemporary, legal-rational approach to institutionalizing local power is possible and even embraced.

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Indonesia

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Vol. 107

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Page range: 17-39

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2019-04

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Cornell University Southeast Asia Program

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