Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

15.1G: Charismatic Authority

  • Page ID
    8426
  • Charismatic authority is power legitimized by a leader’s exceptional personal qualities, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Create a model of a hypothetical charismatic leader in a hypothetical government which describes the charisma and explains in detail how it is legitimized, used, and maintained

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • For Weber, charisma applies to “a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural powers “.
    • In contrast to the current popular use of the term charismatic leader, Weber saw charismatic authority not so much as character traits of the charismatic leader, but as a relationship between the leader and his followers.
    • A cult of personality refers to when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.
    • The methods of charismatic succession are search, revelation, designation by original leader, designation by qualified staff, hereditary charisma, and office charisma.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • routinization: Charismatic authority almost always endangers the boundaries set by traditional or rational (legal) authority. It tends to challenge this authority, and is thus often seen as revolutionary. Usually this charismatic authority is incorporated into society. Hereby the challenge that it presents to society will subside. The way in which this happens is called routinization.
    • cult of personality: A situation where a leader (often a dictator) has been falsely idolized and made into a national or group icon and is revered as a result.
    • revelation: A manifestation of divine truth.

    Charismatic authority is one of three forms of authority laid out in Max Weber’s tripartite classification of authority. Weber defined charismatic authority as “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him”.

    image

     

    Max Weber: Weber defined charismatic authority as “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.”

    Charismatic authority is power legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities, or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers. In contrast to the current popular use of the term charismatic leader, Weber saw charismatic authority not so much as character traits of the charismatic leader but as a relationship between the leader and his followers. For Weber, charisma applies to “a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. ”

    Charismatic authority almost always evolves in the context of boundaries set by traditional or rational-legal authority, but by its nature tends to challenge this authority, and is thus often seen as revolutionary. However, the constant challenge that charismatic authority presents to a particular society will eventually subside as it is incorporated into that society through routinization. Routinization is the process by which “charismatic authority is succeeded by a bureaucracy controlled by a rationally established authority or by a combination of traditional and bureaucratic authority. ”

    In politics, charismatic rule is often found in various authoritarian states, autocracies, dictatorships, and theocracies. In order to help to maintain their charismatic authority, such regimes will often establish a vast cult of personality, which is signaled when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. When the leader of such a state dies or leaves office and a new charismatic leader does not appear, such a regime is likely to fall shortly thereafter unless it has become fully routinized.

    image

     

    Lenin, a charismatic leader: Bolshevik political cartoon poster from 1920 depicting Lenin sweeping away monarchists and capitalists; the caption reads, “Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Filth.”

    According to Max Weber, the methods of charismatic succession are search, revelation, designation by original leader, designation by qualified staff, hereditary charisma, and office charisma. These are the various ways in which an individual and a society can contrive to maintain the unique energy and nature of charisma in their leadership.

    image

     

    Mussolini and Hitler: According to Weber, charismatic leaders gain authority not because they are necessarily kind, but because they are seen as superhuman.