Max Weber (1864-1920) was one of the fathers of modern sociology, back when Sociology and Economics were still on speaking terms, before the invention of Macroeconomics in the 1930s and the conquest of Sociology by collectivists in the middle decades of the 20th Century.
Weber’s work on charisma* is particularly relevant today.
The term ‘charisma’ will be applied 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… [I]t is the duty of those who have been called to a charismatic mission to recognize its quality and to act accordingly… No elective king or military leader has ever treated those who have resisted him or tried to ignore him otherwise than as delinquent in duty. (pp.358-360) [italics in original]
In other words, charisma is sanctimonious narcissism with a band of disciples.
Charismatic authority… is sharply opposed both to rational, and particularly bureaucratic, authority, and to traditional authority… Both rational and traditional authority are specifically forms of everyday routine control of actions; while the charismatic type is the direct antithesis of this. Bureaucratic authority is specifically rational in the sense of being bound to intellectually analysable rules; while charismatic authority is specifically irrational in the sense of being foreign to all rules. Traditional authority is bound to the precedents handed down from the past and to this extent is also oriented to rules… [C]harismatic authority repudiates the past, and… it recognizes no appropriation of position of power by virtue of the possession of property…
The rallying cry of the charismatic ruler is, “Change!” with no reference to what the ultimate goal of that change is. It is a tantrum and not a strategic plan.
The only basis of legitimacy for it is personal charisma… as long as it receives recognition and is able to satisfy the followers or disciples. (p.361-362)
As long as a charismatic ruler holds his or her disciples in thrall, they bestow authority upon him or her. However, when the shine begins to tarnish, and the façade begins to crumble, the disciples withdraw, if they do not openly denounce and condemn.
What is despised, so long as the genuinely charismatic type is adhered to is traditional or rational everyday economizing, the attainment of a regular income by continuous economic activity devoted to this end… From the point of view of rational economics activity, charisma is a typical anti-economic force. It repudiates any sort of involvement in the everyday routine world. It can only tolerate, with an attitude of complete emotional indifference, irregular, unsystematic, acquisitive acts. (p.362)
Charity, volunteerism, national service, and the like are the favored programs of the charismatic leader. Never mind that all of our clothing, food, housing, and transportation must be produced, the charismatic leader holds grubby capitalist profiteers in disdain, and rhapsodizes over sacrifice, spreading the wealth, and making the high and mighty pay their fair share.
This is one reason why charismatic rulers tend to be populists and collectivists—whether of the so-called ‘right-wing’ national socialist or ‘left-wing’ international socialist variety—and we probably never will see a charismatic libertarian… at least not one who isn’t nuttier than a squirrel’s dreams.
[I]t is conceivable that insulation from economic struggle should mean limitation of those who were really eligible to the ‘economically independent’; that is, to persons living on income from property. (p.363)
Charismatic rulers and their disciples will tend to come from those who are referred to in many places as ‘Volvo socialists’ and ‘trustafarians’. One who has become a multi-millionaire from the proceeds of a best-selling autohagiography can afford the luxury of living a charismatic life, especially if that individual is not the son or daughter of the hegemony. Those who live from paycheck to paycheck—i.e., those who are bound up in the status quo and pay the taxes that support the political and parasitic classes—are excluded from the inner circle, and only the idle and the unemployed can stay with the movement long enough to wield power in the charismatic ruler’s regime.
Weber goes on to describe how a charismatic revolutionary movement must transform into a new permanent routine structure. “The vassals, the holders of benefices, or officials are differentiated from the ‘tax payers.’ The former, instead of being the ‘followers’ of the leader, become state officials or appointed party officials.” The final stage is reached, when the animals take over the farm and change their chant from “Four legs good, two legs bad,” to “Two legs good, four legs bad.”
Weber, Max (1964; 1947), The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (Trans., A.M. Henderson & Talcott Parsons; Ed., Talcott Parsons), New York: Free Press. ISBN: 0-684-83640-8 [return]