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Theory and Political Charisma

Indiana University

Of the many contributions of Max Weber to the social sciences, his theory
of charisma has received the greatest attention. It has been applied to
Hitler and the Nazi Party,1 to Lenin and the Bolshevik Party,2 to presidents
in democracy,3 and to rulers of dictatorial parties in newly formed nations.4
In addition, the scope of the term charisma has been widened considerably.
Charisma should not be limited to supernatural powers but include any
kind of human genius and creative activity.s Nor need personal and
institutional charisma always follow each other but can run concurrently
during the reign of the charismatic leader.6
Increasing acceptance has been accompanied by some significant con-
troversy among specialists. Not only is Weber accused of an incoherent
or inconsistent presentation of his arguments but the concept itself is
regarded as being either overextended or useless for empirical research.
The lack of a clear statement of what are the charismatic qualities, it is
said, deprives us of the specific factual referents for discovering whether
and when voters see charismatic abilities in a particular leader.' One critic
denies the charismatic act itself because the so-called leader behaves like
any other concerned politician who selects only those issues and grievances
that are of passionate concern to his prospective voters.8 If the gift of
Hans Gerth, 'The Nazi Party: Its Leadership and Composition', American Journal of
Sociology, Vol. XLV, January 1940, pp. 517-41.
Robert C. Tucker, 'The Theory of Charismatic Leadership', Dadalus, Summer, 1968,
pp. 731-56.
Wolfgang Mommsen, Max Weber und die deutsche Politik, Tubingen: Mohr, 1959.
Irving L. Horowitz, 'Party Charisma', Studies in Comparative International Development,
Vol. I, 1965, pp. 83-97; David Apter, The Politics of Modernization, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1966. David J. Butler, 'Charisma, Migration, and Elite Coalescence', Com-
parative Politics, April 1969.
Edward Shils, 'Charisma, Order and Status', American Sociological Review, Vol. 30, 1965,
pp. 199-213.
Reinhard Bendix, 'Reflections on Charismatic Leadership', State and Society, Boston:
Little, Brown and Company, pp. 616-29.
Claude Ake, 'Charismatic Legitimation and Political Integration', Comparative Studies
in Society and History, Vol. 14, pp. 1-13.
K. J. Ratnam, 'Charisma and Political Leadership', Political Studies, Vol. 12, 1964, pp.

grace is accepted, it is said to be transferable only to those who possess
sincere religious beliefs. The political sphere is declared as being beyond
any form of charisma and political leaders are assertedly free of charis-
matic qualities.9 Finally, an old methodological criticism has been restated.
Weber's theories of religion and charisma allegedly concentrate upon
typical characteristics. The resultant 'trait atomism' falls short of a con-
sistent theory and permits only ad hoc solutions.10
It is the aim of this study to realize three goals. We shall present Weber's
ideas in the form of a consistent theory of charisma, making use of all
parts of his writing on this theme. In doing this we shall examine all the
theoretical criticisms advanced and, if possible, incorporate the acceptable
arguments into our interpretation. If Weber's typologies can be translated
into falsifiable hypotheses, then the methodological criticism seems to be
of little merit. Finally, we hope to indicate which hypotheses of the theory
can be regarded as being in accord with experience and which ones are
in need of a major revision.


As is well known, Weber denned charisma 'as a certain quality of an
individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary
and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or exceptional
powers or qualities'.11 In religion the charismatic power is believed to be
of divine origin, while in other fields the distinct quality springs from
extraordinary human sources. Such human qualities include the magic
power of the sorcerer, the legal wisdom of the gifted judge, the extra-
ordinary courage of the leaders of the hunt or of war. Each of these
endowed persons gives rise to a particular type of charisma, the character-
istics of which can be schematically presented in an over-simplified fashion.
In his extensive writings on these three types Weber supplies us with the
relevant evidence for these characteristics. While lying outside of our
study, these three types furnish us with a convenient reference for analyzing
political charisma. [Weber not only gave greatest attention to religious
charisma but often treated prophets as the prototype for the other kinds
of charisma.] We shall follow this comparative procedure whenever the
features of political charisma are incomplete or derived from religious
The original meaning of charisma was religious in nature. As Rudolf
Sohms has emphasized before Weber: 'The charisma is from God . . . and
» Carl J. Friedrich, 'Political Leadership and the Problem of Charismatic Power,' Journal
of Politics, Vol. 23, 1961, pp. 3-24.
Talcott Parsons' introduction to Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, Boston: Beacon
- Press, 1963, pp. lxii-lxv.
Max Weber, Economy and Society, tr. by Gunther Roth and Claus Wittich, 3 vol. New
York: Bedminister Press, 1968, p. 241. Page references to this set will be placed in the text
right after the quotations.
Types of Pure Personal Charisma

Situation: Military Magic Religious

Personality: War Lord Sorcerer Prophet
Quality: Great Courage Ecstacy Ascetic
Attitude of followers: Hero Worship Awe, Fear Reverence
Achievement: Conquest Oracle Revelation
Group Formation: Daring Soldiers Sacrificial Community of
Community Disciples
Organization: Armed Forces Secret Societies Sects

the service to which the charisma calls is a service imposed by God, and an
office in the service of the church, and not of any local community'.12
In accepting the original meaning of charimsa as a divine gift, Weber added
also the 'free gifts of grace', attainable without ordination, and acceptable
outside of the established Church. His theory of the religious prophet rests
largely upon these free gifts of grace. This extension from the Church to
the religious community of the prophet is accepted by the critic. It is the
shift from the sacred to the secular sphere that is rejected because charisma
'implies a transcendental faith in God', and depends for its validity 'on
the conception of the deity with which it is associated'13 and who alone can
dispense such favor or grace. Since divinity is not typically bestowed upon
politicians, it is inferred that there can be no political charisma.
Indeed, there is not only a distinction but a substantive difference
between the two positions. Friedrich sees the central charismatic act in
the divine favor granted to a particular person by a supernatural being. In
Weber's view, however, the central point lies in the endowment of the
selected person and in his belief to be called upon to perform a great and
life-long task. There is certainly an intricate relationship between endow-
ment and bestowal or endowment and calling. In religious prophesy,
endowment and bestowal coexist, precondition and interact with each
other. If they are not co-equal, bestowal usually has greater signifi-
cance. In political charisma, however, the belief in a calling can take
the place of a bestowal whenever the calling is not of divine origin but
attributed to an unspecified destiny or fate. At any rate, Weber places

Devotion to the charisma of the prophet, or the leader in war, or to the great demagogue
in the ecclesia or in parliament, means that the leader is personally recognized as the
innerly called leader of men. Men do not obey him by virtue of tradition or statute, but
because they believe in him. If he is more than a narrow and vain upstart of the move-
ment, the leader lives for his cause and strives for his work. The devotion of his disciples,
his followers, his personal party friends is oriented to his person and to its qualities.14
Rudolf Sohms, Kirchenrecht, Leipzig: Duncker & Humbolt, 1892, Vol. I, p. 26.
Friedrich, op. cit., pp. 16-17.
Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, New York:
Oxford University Press, 1958, p 79.
greatest emphasis upon the belief of a calling whatever its particular
In making the sense of a calling the common denominator of all types
of charisma, Weber's theory gains three advantages. In playing down the
source or justifier of the calling, whether divine or fateful, he gets away
from the unknowable 'supernatural force' which cannot possibly be a
secure foundation for any science. The inner calling becomes an objective
criterion as soon as it generates a rising confidence and self-assurance of
the incipient or actual leader. The 'extraordinary quality of the person'
becomes identifiable in such a way that the followers can sense whether
he acts out of conceit or an inner obligation. The actual linkage of self-
confidence with duty constitutes for the followers the genuine charismatic
quality of the leader. It is this quality to which they become devoted and
because of which they do accept his claim to leadership.
Evolution of confidence in the inner self is usually an arduous and
hazardous process. The incipient leader has to prepare himself for his
assigned task. He has to engage himself in a series of actions that indicate
a growing strength of will, of courage and of exceptional abilities. At the
same time he has to refrain from certain worldly pleasures of the multitude
and thus show his single-minded commitment to his task. As Senator
Edward Kennedy's vicissitudes indicate, abilities and self-restraint may
not grow together harmoniously. Or the abilities may be limited to a
certain occasion and not transferable to other situations, as was illus-
trated by the partial victory of Senator McCarthy in the primaries of
1968. Inadequacies of various kinds can thus lead to sporadic or temporary
charismatic leadership or the charismatic ambition may falter completely
when tested by risky events.
Evolution of the devotion by the followers faces similar difficulties. The
required psychological predisposition in potential followers is not available
everywhere or at any time. Certain cultural experiences, such as admiration
for autocratic government, may generate the emotional readiness for a
leader. Or certain extreme crises may create widespread fear for the future
of a group or country so that the extreme difficulties seem to be controllable
only by a gifted leader. It is only when such latent predispositions exist
that the claim of the self-confident leader can be accepted by the masses
and translated into a devotion of the followers.
The validity of charisma requires that the self-confidence of the leader
and the devotion of the followers interact and reinforce each other. In
fact, Weber emphasizes the role of recognition and deeds as the two indis-
pensable criteria for the validity of charisma. 'If those to whom he feels
sent do not recognize him, his claim collapses; if they recognize him, he
is their master as long as he "proves" himself (p. 1113). There is thus a
twofold authentication of charisma. Self-confidence and calling has to be
supplemented by extraordinary deeds before the claim of the leader is
accepted by the followers. The genuineness of charisma depends thus upon
all three criteria simultaneously. While calling and self-confidence initiate
the claim, recognition accepts the quality of the person, and exceptional
deeds attest to the continued effectiveness of the extraordinary power. As
soon as the devotion of the followers turns into a sense of duty, leadership
becomes charismatic authority. Devotion creates the inner urge to obey
the leader's wishes, even when this should not be in the interest of the
followers themselves.
These ideas can be condensed into a hypothesis on the validity of
charisma. Personal charisma—sense of calling and self-confidence—
becomes valid because of the leader's capacity to perform exceptional
deeds and the sense of duty of the followers to accept his claim and follow
his leadership. Expressed negatively, if the exceptional capacity or the
dutiful devotion is missing, an inner sense of calling cannot flower into
charismatic leadership.

The charismatic personal quality can become fused primarily with excep-
tional emotions or with belief in a particular faith or set of values. Although
all three components can interact and combine with the personal quality,
there are situations in which either emotions, faith, or values, can be
stressed specifically. In order to distinguish such situations from each
other, we shall delineate the three types of emotional, faith, and value
charisma in the following pages.
In his sociology of religion, Weber came close to emotional charisma
when he spoke of 'a gift that inheres in an object or person simply by
natural endowment' (p. 400). The term 'natural' is used in contrast to
'supernatural' but also refers to the emotional components in such a
natural endowment. In this section we shall be exclusively concerned with
the specific nature of these emotions and how far they are a part of the
charismatic personality.
It has been asserted that Weber failed to distinguish among the excep-
tional emotions that are associated with his various types of charisma.
'. . . even psychologically, this lumping together of demagogues, leaders of
totalitarian movements and founders of religions is misleading'.15 It can
be shown, however, that if one compares all the relevant passages one
finds a careful distinction among ecstasy, euphoria, and political passions,
which are considered as 'the distinctive subjective conditions' of particular
types of charisma.
There is first the ecstasy-creating ability of the magician and mystic
prophet. Ecstasy may be created by the potential magician by means of
Friedrich, op. cit., p. 15.
alcoholic or other intoxications. Legend has it that the accomplished
magician moves into an ecstatic state because of the 'soul' in him that
takes possession of his person. The magician personifies the soul when he
produces his miracles. Eventually, 'magic is transformed from a direct
manipulation of forces into a symbolic act' (p. 405). Even after this shift
from natural to symbolic charisma, ecstatic feelings remain a part of the
magician's emotional experience. It either retains some form of organistic
ecstasy or becomes sublimated into intellectual ecstasy. 'Professional
magicians and warriors need permanent charisma as well as acute ecstasies'
(p. 536). Charisma and ecstasy are thus not identical but the latter becomes
fused with and greatly strengthens the charismatic quality of the magician
and warrior.
Whether ecstasy appears as a personified soul, as an intellectual sub-
limation, or as a form of organistic intoxication, it also appears in the
mystic salvation prophet. The older Israelitic prophets especially engaged
in emotional cults and represented an 'emotional prophecy based upon
"speaking with tongues"; and highly valued intoxicating ecstasy inter-
rupted the unfolding of theological rationalism' (p. 441). This kind of
prophet not only had to develop his own 'ecstatic abilities' but also help
his followers to break down their own 'organic inhibitions' to ecstasies.
This could be done by orgies but also 'by the provocation of hysterical or
epileptoid seizures among those with predispositions toward such parox-
ysms . . .' (p. 535). As a rule, however, the initiative lay with the mystic
prophet who by his own ecstasy engendered the emotional seizure of his
followers. Implicitly, Weber developed a distinction between followers and
adherents to a prophet. Minor emotional involvement would make of a
man merely an adherent but a definite predisposition would transform a
person into a true follower of a mystic prophet.
The emotional situation is quite different for the ethical prophet. He
not only is able to break the power of the demons by the force of his spirit
and redeem his followers from demoniac control, he effectively creates a
'realm of blessedness upon this earth, purged of all hate, anxiety and
need . . .' (p. 527). A magician with some ethical orientation feels a 'dream
revelation' that gives him a healing or counseling ability. The truely
ethical or exemplary prophet assures himself of a much more enduring
possession of the charismatic capacity if he relies upon 'those milder forms
of euphoria which may be experienced as either a dreamlike mystical
illumination or a more active and ethical conversion.' The ethical prophet
does not need orgiastic intoxication, since any ecstasy 'actually stands in
the way of their ethical pattern of life' (p. 536). His knowledge of a divine
mission or his assurance of grace gives him the ability to engage in excep-
tional deeds.
This leads us to the role of emotions in political charisma. In economics

as well as in politics, there can be a coupling of interest with rationality

which together create a sphere of affective neutrality. Policies are selected
and applied free of emotions. Beyond this usually small sphere, Weber
distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary emotions that become
politically relevant. Feelings of passion and hatreds can become associated
with political charisma. The particular role of these emotions depends upon
the type of political charisma. An emotionally gifted but responsible party
or Caesarist leader is able to place his passions at the service of his 'cause'.
This ability to be activated by his passions but not unpredictably torn by
his hatreds can create the admiration of the followers for his personality
and an emotional commitment for his policies (p. 1389). Controlled
passions are thus as important as exceptional deeds to engender the
indispensable confidence of the followers in the political leader.
A charismatic demagogue, however, may either not possess a cause or
lack the sense of responsibility for the consequences of his actions. He is
constantly in danger of becoming an actor by playing upon the emotions
of his listeners. In possessing the power to arouse ecstasies, he generates
the enthusiasm of the masses and derives power from their emotional
attachment to him. The enthusiasm for a charismatic figure may thus be
misplaced if the leader himself feels no commitment either for the cause
or for the well-being of his followers. Conversely, the center of attention
may be more the enemy than the leader. Hatred may be deliberately
generated by the leader in attacking the enemy, defaming his honor, and
in keeping him responsible for various misfortunes. Or the leader has to
satisfy the 'hatred and the craving for revenge . . . the opponent must be
slandered and accused of heresy'.16 The followers can thus demand emo-
tional compensation for their devotion to the leader.
At the point of emotional culmination, there frequently occurs an
emotional seizure of the leader. Both together create gripping emotional
union of leader and followers. An 'emotional form of a communal relation-
ship' arises that can lead to a mutual commitment of master and disciple
to a 'charismatic community' of all those feeling the inner bond of a union.
A sense of psychological compulsion penetrates into the charismatic
quality and becomes attached to the followers' devotion. These powerful
emotions turn the inner calling into a 'natural endowment' and transform
enthusiasm into a dutiful obligation to fulfill the leader's wishes. Rather
than containing only attitudes towards the supernatural, charisma becomes
simultaneously a supernatural as well as a natural force for the participants
that invariably governs their destiny.
While the emotional bond has been called the core of charisma17 the
Essays in Sociology, p. 125.
Lewis A. Froman, People and Politics: An Analysis of the American Political System,
New York: Prentice-Hall, 1963, p. 75.
felt linkage between the natural and supernatural has been widely over-
looked. In Talcott Parsons' interpretation of Weber's prophetic charisma
for instance, the personal quality acts like a breakthrough to a higher
cultural order. Charisma is a 'process of rationalization' from magic to
the enlightened 'program for life as a whole', thereby squeezing out all
emotional forces.18
Even more surprising is the recent assertion that Weber's theory con-
tained no psychological components and thus needs to be supplemented
by Freud's theory of repression. Charisma is redefined as 'an unconscious
force' which is released from repression by a man of creative ability.19
Actually, Weber already considered and rejected this 'supplement' when
he spoke of 'the dubiousness of applying the conceptual schema of
"repression" almost universally' (p. 499). Instead of deriving ecstasy,
euphoria, and political passions globally from an 'unconscious force', he
discovered two specific situations of resentment in charisma. One was the
'unconscious desire for vengeance' in the theodicy of the underprivileged
whose resentment attributed the unequal distribution of goods to the
sinfulness or illegality of the privileged. The other arose under the condi-
tions of the modern class struggle when the followers demanded from the
leader internal premiums that derived 'above all from resentment and the
need for pseudo-ethical self-rightousness'.20 In Weber's treatment, resent-
ment becomes an internal premium of charisma under the objective
conditions of status differentiation and class struggle. Both or either one
of these situations had to exist before resentment and slander could be
utilized by the charismatic leader. Under these conditions only did resent-
ment become the fourth psychological feature of natural charisma.
In rejecting repression as the universal psychological cause, Weber did
not create a gap in his theory of natural charisma because he traced the
four extraordinary emotions to one common denominator. Each of them
constitutes an 'emotional seizure' (Ergriffenheit, p. 1116) in which the
conscious and unconscious feelings are in full accord and both together
generate definite attitudes by and towards the leader, other followers,
adherents and enemies. While they usually originate in the unconscious
sphere, these attitudes do not change when they become conscious. The
emotional seizures intermingle with the awe felt by the leader for his calling,
by the creator for his work, and by the follower for the exemplary person-
ality of his leader. Seizure and awe merge in the moment of joyous elation
when the followers are able to touch their leader, as happened to Robert
Kennedy during the primary elections of 1968.
In all, Weber's four extraordinary emotions can be condensed into a
Parsons, op. cit., p. xxxii.
Donald Mclntosh, 'Weber and Freud: On the Nature and Sources of Authority',
American Sociological Review, V o l . 35, October 1970, p . 903.
Essays in Sociology, p p . 125, 127.

hypothesis of natural charisma. The emotional appeal of the leader, driven

by his own inner calling, causes an effectively internalized response because
he can generate ecstasy, euphoria, resentment and politically relevant
passions in his followers who feel united with him by an emotional bond.


Coexistence of natural and supernatural charisma leads to a strengthening
of the leader's power as soon as both interpenetrate and reinforce each
other. Emotional seizure and awe together create a much stronger con-
fidence in the leader than each one could accomplish alone. The greater
trust in his personality grant the leader a significant degree of freedom in
selecting his own policies. It is within his power to either neglect or overrule
the particular interests of his followers and, under certain conditions, also
those of his supporters. The opposition of Robert Kennedy to the draft
deferment of students did not appreciably dilute their elation for him. This
relative freedom from particular interests has been overlooked by some
critics. The charismatic leader, we are told, 'gets his support very largely
from the issues he is associated with' and his strength depends on how
effectively he is 'making these issues and grievances the passionate concern
of those whom he thinks will be his followers'.21 Actually, the motive to
please his followers by adopting any kind of possible issue fits the political
manipulator; the intent to propagandize a cause and gain supporters is
typical for the political ideologist. The leader of interacting charisma—
natural and supernatural—has to recognize primarily two limits in the
choice of his policies: he must select, attack and defame the 'correct'
enemy; he must stay within the very broad limit of maintaining the trust
of most of his followers. Trust and duty, not issues, interests, and grievances,
are the hallmarks of interacting charisma.
The difficulties in gaining and maintaining this trust reside primarily in
the emotional sphere. In magic and religious charisma, 'acute ecstasies are
transitory in their nature and apt to leave but few positive traces in every-
day behavior' (p. 535). In political charisma, moreover, the emotions of
the demonstrators in the street may be fickle and peter out after the meeting
has ended. Or the enthusiasm tends to disappear if the demagogue worships
mainly his vanity or is engaged in self-glorification for its own sake. The
result of these emotional fluctuations is a temporary charisma.
The stability of the charisma may also be endangered by the nature of
the crisis situation. 'The charisma of the hero or the magician is immedi-
ately activated whenever an extraordinary event occurs: a major hunting
expedition, or drought or some other danger precipitated by the wrath of
the demons, and especially a military threat' (p. 1134). Special occasions
Ratnam, op. cit., p. 345.
or crises thus create, but also limit, the opportunities for leaders to ex-
emplify their emotional capacities and inner calling.
Other situations may bring forth several contenders who claim 'specific
gifts of body and mind', leading to a differential distribution of the
charismatic quality. Conflicting claims may be settled either by 'epileptoid
seizure as a means of falling into a trance' (p. 242), or by exceptional deeds
in the form of a miracle or victory. The trust of the followers may thus be
delayed until the proof of exceptional ability is forthcoming. The dispute
among contenders may also be settled by assigning a specialized function
to each leader. These difficulties thus give rise to either sporadic or special-
ized charisma.22 A durable charisma becomes possible only if and when the
crisis or its danger is regarded as permanent. 'The warlord becomes a per-
manent charismatic figure when there is a chronic state of war' (p. 1142).
These emotional and situational limits can be supplemented by a third
one that springs from the nature of the mission itself. 'As a rule, charisma
is a highly individual quality.' This implies that the mission and the power
of its bearer are qualitatively delimited from within, not by an external
order. 'Normally, the mission is directed to a local, ethnic, social, political,
vocational or some other group, and that means that it also finds its limits
at the edges of these groups' (p. 1113). While history indicates a long list
of groups capable of providing charismatic leaders and the corresponding
disposition of devotion, Weber especially emphasizes that traditional and
bureaucratic groups do not fall for a charismatic appeal. While many a
converted group has sent out swarms of missionaries, outside resistance
has often limited the spatial spread of charisma. Even successful acceptance
and authority can thus not overcome the limit of charismatic leadership
to certain regions or periods.
There is on hand sufficient material for us to formulate a hypothesis on
the limits of charisma. Charismatic leadership is of short duration because
the ecstatic feelings of leader and followers are not continuous, the various
crisis situations occur irregularly, and various groups lack the receptiveness
for a charismatic mission. Nevertheless this delineation of a nondurable
and not easily repeatable regime raises a question as to the stability of
personal charisma wherever it did exist. As one critic has correctly em-
phasized,23 Weber failed to specify the conditions for a relative stability
of charismatic leadership prior to succession. The strengthening effect of
the interacting emotional seizures and feelings of awe is not sufficiently
appreciated. The possibility of recurrent renewal of the extraordinary
emotions, especially of political passions, able to sustain charismatic
leadership for a significant time, is not fully investigated. Most surprising
Weber describes these as Sonder-Charismata, a term which was omitted in the translations
of Parsons and Gerth. See Wirtschaft und Geselhchaft, Tubingen: Mohr, 1956, p . 684.
Friedrich, op. cit., p . 13.

is that Weber's extensive historical material does not turn up any evidence
for the attempts of leaders to declare themselves infallible. A belief in
infallibility, if accepted, could counteract the impact of fickle emotions or
delayed deeds by the leader. But could there have been some other reasons
for charismatic instability ?

In turning to the role of the mission in personal charisma, we shall have to
distinguish between value and faith charisma. While the personal call
distinguishes the prophet from the priest, the religious prophet either
proclaims a religious doctrine or a divine commandment. The ethical
prophet believes in the value of his doctrine and thus personifies value
charisma. The exemplary prophet lives according to the faith implicit in
the divine commandment and thus exemplifies faith charisma. In addition
to bringing out the similarities and differences between these two kinds of
charisma, we shall also have to inquire into the critic's contention that
because of their religious nature neither values nor faith can give rise to
political charisma.
Whether a religious prophet is predominantly of the ethical or exemplary
type, 'prophetic revelation involves for both the prophet himself and for
his followers . . . a unified view of the world derived from a consciously
integrated and meaningful attitude towards life' (p. 450). This view con-
stitutes a religious postulate that 'produces the strongest tensions in man's
inner life as well as in his external relationship to the world' (p. 451).
What is the significance of this conflict for the religious sphere and does
such tension also prevail in the political sphere ?
The ethical prophet was primarily concerned with indicating the proper
roads to religious salvation. In mystic charisma, specified rituals seek the
redemption of guilt and thus influence the distribution of sacramental
grace. Since salvation by sacrament could be obtained only by those who
had become ethically purified in the sight of God, it became the function
of the prophet to evolve an ethic that systematized the requirements for
gaining salvation. Whether the conditions for salvation called for good
works, self-perfection, or sanctification, the behavioral result was to create
'a pattern of life integrally and methodically oriented to the values of
religion' (p. 534).
In ascetic charisma, however, the world is viewed as sinful but still
created by God. In seeking to reform the world, the prophet's unique
religious charisma can prove itself by means of rational ethical conduct.
The ascetic life calls for abstaining from any excess of emotional feeling,
avoiding passion or revenge, but also insists upon repressing or punishing
sin. The believer has to participate soberly in the various rational and
purposive institutions of the world and especially to acquire a vocation for
devoting his time and energy to rational economic activity. The ascetic's
assurance of grace is achieved when 'he has succeeded in becoming a tool
of his God, through rationalized ethical actions completely oriented to
God' (p. 546). •
In these value charismas, the prophet performs two functions of worldly
significance. He formulates an ethic of a religiously oriented life, the values
of which convey a clear message to the believers as to what kind of actions
are permissible or forbidden. In seeking to implement these values, the
prophet is engaged in a systematic regulation of life and is subordinating
himself to the religious values, whether for the sake of a charismatic
rebirth or for spreading the values to the masses of potential believers.
It is because of these empirical aspects of the ethical doctrine that a
value charisma can also arise in the ideological field. This is exemplified
by the teaching of religious sects or revolutionary intelligentsia. Some of
the sects translated the ascetic ideals into natural rights and thereby became
reformers or revolutionaries. 'Examples of this were seen in the "Parlia-
ment of the Saints" under Cromwell, in the Quaker State of Pennsylvania,
and in the conventicle communism of radical Pietism' (p. 542). Certain
plebeian intellectuals turned against religion and developed an eschatology
looking towards new worldly institutions of the future. This new involve-
ment gave rise either to a 'veneration of science' or to a worship of violence.
The former knew its 'prophet of social evolution, in the sense of a salva-
tion from the class struggle' (p. 515). The latter tried to establish new
societies by revolutionary action. But 'the only remaining variant of
socialism in western Europe equivalent to a religious faith, namely
syndicalism, can easily turn into a romantic game played by circles without
direct economic interests' (p 515).
There are thus two specific reasons for the rise of value charisma in the
ideological and political fields. One was the development of an ideological
belief that became the equivalent of a religious doctrine. The other was the
veneration of science by means of which the scientist turned into a prophet
of social revolution or—one has to add—of social evolution. There was
thus in Weber's thinking an easy transition from a religious to an ideological
doctrine and from an awe of the supernatural gift to the veneration of
science that predicted the coming Utopia. The ideological doctrine became
suffused with this veneration by means of an outstanding personality who
personified its values and enunciated the appropriated slogans. The
veneration confessed for Marx and Lenin in Communist regimes clearly
shows how suffusion can remain politically relevant even after the scientist-
revolutionary has passed away and his science retains at best only a
modicum of predictive capacity.
Weber's analysis permits us to assess the merit of the suggestion that
charismatic leadership ought to be limited to the religious field. We are

told that such an extension to politics forces us to identify the ideological

with the religious values. But the charge that in Weber's theory 'Hitler
and Jesus, Mussolini and Moses are being identified as essentially engaged
in the same kind of work'24 cannot be substantiated. In the thesis of
religious equivalents, religious and ideological values remain clearly
distinct. Neither the prophet nor the ideologist will accept each other's
values. In each case, the different values occupy the same guiding position.
Equivalence is primarily concentrated on the emotional process of suffu-
sion : each distinctly different set of values will become illuminated by the
glow of the leader's charisma. Theoretical doctrines turn into religious or
ideological beliefs only if the values enter into the charismatic message
that guides leader and led simultaneously. Conflict between these values
can lead to a polarity between religion and politics, as happened in the
religious sects opposing either the power of, or the military service for,
the state. But such a clash between religious and ideological values does
not eliminate the similarity of charismatic leadership as long as the
emotional bond and the common awe for the calling unites each leader
with his followers.
Although Weber was primarily interested in ethical prophecy, his
application of charisma to ideological beliefs enables us to arrive at a
hypothesis about value charisma. Religious, ideological and political
values turn into a value charisma if a leader—who personifies these values
—follows his inner calling and if the glow of his personality enables his
followers and adherents to accept his values and be guided by them.
It is true that Weber did not use the term value charisma explicitly. This
omission affects mostly the terminology, not the substance, of his theory,
because the values are a part of the ethical religion. But he finds it difficult
to assess adequately the role of the charismatic message. 'Even though
the apostle admonishes the followers to maintain the purity of the spirit,
the charismatic message inevitably becomes dogma, doctrine, theory,
reglement, law or petrified tradition' (p. 1122). While message is derived
from the doctrine and both play an effective role in the pure value charisma,
one gets the impression from this passage that doctrine is important only
in the phase of routinized charisma. This uncertain place of doctrine and
its fuzzy link to the message is another reason why Weber could not specify
the time period required for the process of dogmatization25 and failed to
state conditions for the stability of value charisma.
Ibid., p . 15. After rejecting any relationship between charisma a n d totalitarian leadership,
Friedrich found it necessary in 1965 to call Hitler a 'pseudo-charismatic' leader. See Totali-
tarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965, 2nd ed.
p . 44.
Methodologically, this inadequate treatment of time a n d of the phasing of the different
subtypes of charisma is a n illustration of what Ephrain Fischoffhas called the 'telescoping of
d a t a ' associated with Weber's ideal type. See 'The Protestant Ethics a n d the Spirit of Capital-
ism: the History of a Controversy', Social Research, Vol. xi, 1944, p . 75.
A quite different situation arises in faith charisma, which is usually free
from any particular set of values in regard to worldly affairs. Religious
faith not only takes on the quality of inwardness but becomes the source
the specific charisma of an extraordinary and purely personal reliance upon God's
providence, such as the shepherds of souls and the heroes of faith must possess. By
virtue of this charismatic confidence in God's support, the spiritual representative and
leader of the congregation, as a virtuoso of faith, may act differently from the layman in
practical situations and bring about different results, far surpassing normal human
capacity (p. 567).
This unlimited trust of the prophet in his God often springs from a
personal involvement that may call for a 'sacrifice of the intellect' and
then leads to an anti-rational attitude to religion. There thus arises the
'difficulty of establishing an unequivocal relationship between ethical
demands and a religion . . . based upon faith, i.e. a genuine salvation
religion based upon an attitude of utter trust . . .' (p. 569).
Such a religious charisma of faith, free of a specific ethical content,
generates a primarily emotional relationship to the divine, and calls for
an emotional communication of the exemplary prophet with his God. The
prophet claims to know the will of God because of the gift of grace. This
gift enables him to strengthen his own will and lead an exemplary life so
that others can follow his example. 'The preaching of the exemplary
prophet says nothing about a divine mission or an ethical duty of obedi-
ence, but rather directs itself to the self-interest of those who crave salva-
tion, recommending to them the same path as he himself traverses' (p. 447).
The asserted identification of the will of the prophet with God's will is thus
crucial. Since the latter cannot possibly be known, the exemplary prophet
has to rely upon his intuition and perhaps clairvoyance to discover which
religious symbols and policies can and should be employed to please God.
Several different methods were utilized to gain the sense of an 'uncon-
ditional reliance on God's providence' (p. 567) via a charismatic personal-
ity. The traditionally transmitted sacred lore became the sacred knowledge
that was passed on orally among the prophets within the twice-born, as in
India. This resulted in the forming of aristocratic religious groups which
could not be joined by the masses of believers. Charisma became aristo-
cratic in nature. A controversy raged in early Christianity whether sacred
knowledge or simple faith is the higher religious quality. ' . . . Every
prophetic religion has based religious faith upon something other than
real understanding of theology . . . ' (p. 565). If the emphasis is upon simple
faith, the prophet becomes persuaded of his own powers, and the believers
can rely upon God's providence by having confidence in these powers of
the prophet. Religious faith thus led to providential charisma.

Emotional worship of providential charisma creates serious problems

either for the prophet or his followers. The lack of any ethical doctrine or
of orally transmitted knowledge has to be compensated for by an excep-
tionally strong will of the leader. If successful, the strong will permits the
leader a greater discretion in selecting his policies and symbols. His
preaching tends to stir in an authoritarian direction. A shift in emphasis
from the trust in God to the asserted identity of wills is usually called for
to justify the dictatorial elements in such a discretional interpretation of
The same lack of doctrinal guidance and absence of a definite message,
however, can also create periods of spiritual uncertainty. Doubts about
charismatic authenticity can be overcome by emotions derived from natural
charisma. In seeking to gain the appropriate emotional capacities, the
leader hibernates before making his great decisions. In addition to his
ecstatic abilities, the leader develops his intuitive powers, seeks an insight
into the emotional needs of his followers, divinates the urges of the masses,
exposes the hidden intentions of his enemies so as to arrive at the correct
decisions and impose his will upon others. Providential charisma thus adds
intuition to the feelings of natural charisma and both interpenetrate in the
experience of the exemplary prophet. The new emotional abilities inter-
mingle with his trust in God and the 'primarily emotional relationship to
the divine' give him the inner assurance of possessing God's grace.
Similar problems of authentiticity and uncertainty arise for the followers.
In discretional charisma, most followers do not participate in the leader's
emotional tribulations of arriving at the great decisions. In placing their
confidence in the will of the leader, the followers' trust in God becomes
effective only through the medium of the prophet. In experiencing an
intermingling of confidence and trust, followers can make a spiritual con-
nection with God and thereby become eligible for providential blessing.26
In emotional charisma, however, confidence in the leader springs from the
ecstatic experience which is linked by the exemplary prophet with trust in
God. Another process of suffusion takes place, whether by connection or
involvement, of trust in the divine with confidence in the leader. In conse-
quence of this suffusion, giving one's confidence becomes the religious
duty of the followers who obey the prophet as much as they believe in
The different demands and involvments of followers call for a modifica-
tion of Weber's thesis on the limits of charisma, as stated above. It is only
in the providential charisma, whether discretional or emotional, that the
authentic charismatic qualification has to be proven by exceptional deeds.
In value and natural charisma, however, ethical doctrines and the emo-
This form of connection charisma is not identical with Edward Shils' 'contact' charisma,
in the article mentioned above, because he extends charisma to any 'vital forces'.

tional bond can sustain the belief of the followers in the leader through his
whole life. Indeed, legendary and institutional charisma occurring after
his death need the ethical beliefs and emotional bonds to survive the leader
Faith charisma, whether more discretional or emotional, can be
accompanied by diverse attitudes towards politics. '. . . A purely personal
religion of faith frequently generated political indifference' as in the case
of the 'mystical apolitism' (p. 595). Autonomous religious laws could turn
indifference into opposition to politics. Wherever congregational religion
requires that its members avoid violence, 'the conflict between religion and
politics has led either to martyrdom or to passive anti-political sufferance
of the coercive regime' (p. 594). The most extreme opposition to the state
was presented by religious anarchism but its weak intensity of faith made
it only an 'ephemeral charisma'.
Certain aspects of religious faith, however, can lead to a call for reform
or revolution. 'A distinctive concern with social reform is characteristic
of Israelite prophets' (p. 443). Such programs were introduced only to
mitigate God's wrath with his chosen people. Also, the social admonitions
of the prophets were expressed under the influence of agrarian social
movements whose energies were directed against urban land magnates and
financial nabobs. Such genuine social concerns, however, were already
influenced by an ethical religion.
Eschatological expectations did give rise to political charisma. Springing
from messianic religions, desires for salvation turned into beliefs of
worldly Utopia. The impetus came from proletarian or parish intellectuals
who either resented the long and fruitless waiting for the return of the
Messiah or objected to their low social status. In seeking release from
suffering, these intellectuals formed groups who turned their religious
emotions into an eschatological faith of socialism. Some of these groups
were led by charismatic revolutionaries who engaged themselves in a
struggle against capitalism and called for a chiliastic socialism. A similar
development may change the direction of the charismatic mystic whose
feeling of brotherly love can induce him to build communities among men.
'The transformation of a mysticism remote from the world into one
characterized by chiliastic and revolutionary tendencies took place fre-
quently, most impressively in the revolutionary mysticism of the sixteenth-
century Baptists' (p. 550).
In faith charisma, too, Weber identified certain religious equivalents
that can become associated with political charisma. Fear of God's wrath
engenders social reform while resentment over the missing Messiah or
feeling of brotherly love turned charismatic leaders towards chiliastic
For a discussion of legendary charisma in developing countries see the previously cited
article by Reinhard Bendix.

socialism. However, the transition from faith to political charisma was not
accomplished through suffusion or illumination but through a process of
diverted dedication. The faith in salvation was diverted into a semi-
religious faith in political reform or revolution. It is because of this
emotional linkage that we can formulate a hypothesis on faith charisma.
A religious, ideological or political faith turns into faith charisma if the
leader's inner calling and the devotion of the followers induces both to
dedicate their lives to the fight for salvation or some political or social
Utopia on earth.
Just as Weber emphasized the fickleness of certain emotions in natural
charisma, so he was concerned about the caprice of confidence in the
leader (or of trust in God) in faith charisma, or about the infrequency of
semi-religious equivalents in political charisma. Adverse events or changes
of moods can diminish or terminate each of these emotions, thereby
creating instability for the respective leader and giving rise to additional
limits of charisma. Strangely enough, Weber did not investigate the various
devices for deliberately maintaining or strengthening the emotions under-
lying each charisma. His extensive material did not turn up any evidence
of leaders seeking to generate a belief in their infallibility. Nor is there any
recognition of the personality cult that has been employed by charismatic
dictators to intensify or renew the charismatic emotions. It will be the
task of future research to ascertain the forms, examine the extent, and
assess the significance of these two deliberate stabilizers of charisma. But
there can be no doubt about the central point: Weber's theory of religious
equivalents, backed up by his extensive comparative studies, disproves the
contention of the critic that charismatic leadership is necessarily limited
by its divine origin and doctrinal content to the sphere of religion.


In analyzing political history, Max Weber came to the conclusion that
certain forms of political charisma develop outside and independent of
religion. In presenting systematically this second part of his theory, we
have to take into account another critical charge that denies the compati-
bility between democracy and charisma. We shall thus examine the rela-
tionship between charisma and democracy as well as dictatorship.
The study of totalitarian movements has given rise to the thesis that
every kind of charismatic leadership is inherently and necessarily dicta-
torial. An outward expression of this dictatorial element is the oath of
allegiance to the leader. 'These oaths show that supreme leadership is not
an institution regulated by rules and precedents, but the investiture is in
one person, Adolf Hitler. The justification of this principle is charismatic:
it rests on the assertion that the leader is endowed with qualities lacking in
ordinary mortals. Superhuman qualities emenate from him, pervade the

state, party and people.'28 The leader orders his power according to
superiority and inferiority which makes charismatic leadership unavoid-
ably dictatorial in its application.
While this earlier thesis merely uses Weber's theory to interpret Nazi
leadership, a more recent exposition seeks to attribute a personal responsi-
bility to Weber for the rise of charismatic leadership in Germany. 'I cannot
help thinking there is something rather Teutonic, suggesting the Fuhrer-
prinzip, about [Weber's] description.' It is 'described as a romanticized
kind of personal authority inspiring blind obedience in devoted followers'.29
The hypothesis that Weber somehow anticipated Hitler was augmented by
a similar inference by a German historian. While examining Weber's
proposal that the German president of the Weimar Republic should be
chosen by a popular vote, Wolfgang Mommsen concluded 'that Weber's
theory of charismatic leadership has contributed its part to making the
Germans willing to accept Hitler's position by acclamation,'30 even though
Weber had no intention of doing so.
The subsequent debate31 clearly revealed that the undoubted charismatic
disposition for such a leader by certain rightist German groups in the
1920s was not attributable to Weber's proposed plebiscitarian presidency.
Hitler derived his sense of calling directly from his own experience. He
proclaimed this mission to the court trying him for the coup of November
The man who is born to be a dictator is not compelled; he wills it. He is not driven
forward, but drives himself. There is nothing immodest about this. . . . The man who
feels called upon to govern a people has no right to say: If you want me or summon me,
I will cooperate. No, it is his duty to step forward.32

It is quite obvious that Hitler could not possibly have derived his 'duty'
from Weber's theory or from the few plebiscites in the 1920s. Weber's ideas
on charisma, published in 1921, had hardly been mastered by sociologists
and remained unknown to politicians before Hitler's trial. Indirectly, a
detailed study of the role of the leader in rightist German political literature
of this period reveals three sources for the belief in the leader: 'the German
youth movement, the visionary interpretation of World War I, and the
history of Germandom'.33 While Weber's plebiscitarian president was to
be complemented and limited by an effective parliament, the rightists saw
the leader as the destroyer of parliament. The presidential dictatorship of
von Hindenburg from 1930 to 1932 was possible only because the constitu-
F r a n z N e u m a n n , Behemoth, N e w Y o r k : Oxford University Press. 1942, p . 8 5 .
D o r o t h y E m m e t , Function, Purpose, and Power, L o n d o n : MacMillan, 1958, p . 233.
30 M o m m s e n , op. cit., p . 140.
See t h e comments by Reinhard Bendix, Paul Honigsheim a n d K a r l Lowenstein in
Kolner Zeilschrift fur Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Vol. 13, 1961, 258 ff.
Der Hilterprozess, M u n i c h : Deutscher Volksverlag, 1924, p . 269.
Kurt Sontheimer, Antidemokratisches Denken in der Weimarer Republik, Munich:
Nyphenburger, 1962, p. 170.

tional limitations upon presidential power were ignored. The whole

attempt to cite Weber's theory or Weber himself as the godfather of Nazi
dictatorship must be viewed as an exercise in political ideology, of little
significance for political sociology.34
In concentrating attention upon Weber's theory of leader-democracy,
the debate established that, for Weber, charismatic leaders have operated
within both democracy and dictatorship. This presupposes a distinction
between democratically and dictatorially inclined types of charismatic
leaders. The participants in the debate raised but did not settle the central
issue: How and why can charismatic leadership be simultaneously com-
patible with democracy as well as dictatorship? It will be our task to
explicate Weber's intricate position.
A comparison between the sociology of law and of politics reveals that
Weber employed two different concepts of democracy. One may be called
the delegate-democracy; the other leader-democracy (pp. 269, 708). In
each case the people, who possessed the ultimate power through their
votes, selected their representatives for either parliament or the presidency.
The difference resides in the meaning of such representation. If the
nomination of candidates lies in the hands of particular interest groups,
whether parties or business organizations, elected candidates will tend to
defend and promote the particular interests of their sponsors. In studying
the interaction between political parties and economic interest groups,
Weber arrived at an important thesis: the larger the number of voters
participating in an election, the greater the need for a bureaucracy within
parties and the greater the dependence of parties on outside financial
resources for winning an election (p. 1446). Elected politicians are thus
likely to act as delegates of party bureaucracy and interest groups, unable
or unwilling to pay sufficient attention to the public interest. As the
dependence of the delegates increases, so does the tendency toward a
'leaderless democracy' (p. 298).
This theory of interest groups in politics carries an important implica-
tion. In a leaderless democracy, candidates for office compete for votes by
identifying themselves with particular group interests. The authority of
the elected is derived from the interest identity or similarity between repre-
sentatives, supporters and voters. Emotional or ideological factors are
either not considered or effectively minimized so that a delegate-democracy
usually means a political system without gifted and generally accepted
national leaders and free of any politically relevant emotions or ideals
that could preshape the political future.
Universal suffrage initiated a process of democratization in which appeal
to voters necessarily took an emotional form. The larger the number of
Guenther Roth, 'Political Critiques of Max Weber: Some Implications for Political
Sociology', American Sociological Review, Vol. 30, 1965, p. 213.

voters, the more will elections become emotionally charged situations-

There develops 'an emotional accessibility to the masses for gaining
personal power' (p. 1319). A certain type of demogogic candidate can
exploit the opportunity to gain victory by arousing the passions of voters.
Decisive in such a struggle is the extensive use of 'mass-demogogic instru-
ments'. If the resultant power is gained for the personal benefit of the
victor, there does arise the danger of a 'dictatorship based upon exploiting
the emotionality of the masses'.35 Weber's analysis leads thus to the signi-
ficant insight that mass democracy contains the possibility of an emotion-
ally generated and renewed dictatorship.
Mass democracy also provides the opportunity for a shift from a delegate
to a leader democracy. The charismatic qualities of the leader have to be
supported by the activists among the voters who work through an effective
political organization. It is not the politically passive mass that produces
the leader from its midst, but the political leader recruits his following and
wins mass support through his 'demagogy' (p. 1457). The nature of his
political regime depends on whether the leader uses his power for demo-
cratic or dictatorial goals and policies.
For situations of mass democracy Weber distinguishes four kinds of
political leaders. The first is the mere demagogue who is not committed to
any values. 'The political danger of mass democracy for the polity lies
first of all in the possibility that emotional elements will dominate politics.
The "mass" as such thinks . . . only in short run terms. For it is . . . always
exposed to direct, purely emotional and irrational influence.... Completely
irrational . . . is the unorganized "mass"—the democracy of the streets'
(p. 1460). In such a situation, 'the demagogue is compelled to count upon
"effect". He is constantly in danger of becoming an actor as well as taking
lightly the responsibility for the outcome of his actions. . . . His lack of
objectivity tempts him to strive for the clamorous semblance of power
rather than the actual power.'36 Being unable to commit himself to a cause,
he remains a mere agitator who cannot translate the confidence of the
voters into a purposeful policy. His lack of inner commitment prevents
him from becoming a genuine charismatic leader.
Quite different is the ideological leader who is bound to 'the ethics of
politics as a cause'. His ideology tends to supply him with either the ethics
of 'ultimate ends' or an 'ethics of responsibility' for his actions.37 Able to
enunciate his ideology effectively, he becomes a leader in an ideological
party, but the confidence of his voters rests solely in their belief in the
particular ideology. Motivated only by the ideology, not by any super-
human powers, this ideologist fails to become a charismatic leader. One
has to admit, however, that Weber did not always distinguish clearly the

" Essays in Sociology, p. 107. «Ibid., p. 116. «Ibid., p. 120.


ideological from the charismatic leader,38 partly because ideological values

and charismatic qualities can become intermingled in political life.
The third type is a clearly charismatic leader of a party. Generally, his
authority in a democracy is derived from two different sources. One con-
sists of his technical competence as a party leader. There is 'the necessity
for the leader to train and prove himself through conventionally prescribed
participation in parliamentary committee work . . . ' . The chance for such
a leader to get to the top depends upon his party's success in taking over
the government. The other source of authority resides in the leader's
ability to gain and hold the confidence of the masses. 'The position of the
present British Prime Minister [Lloyd George] is based not at all on the
confidence of parliament and its parties, but on that of the masses in the
country and of the army in the field'. These two sources of legitimacy lead
to a fusion of parliamentary and charismatic leadership. In a democratic
setting, the leader's inner calling does not necessarily have to be linked with
superhuman power, nor does devotion necessarily commit the follower to
the particular ideas of the leader. Robert Kennedy's opposition to student
deferment from the draft did not dampen the enthusiasm of his student
audiences, many of whom were greatly elated to shake his hand after his
speeches in the primary campaign of 1968.
Three factors explain how such a charisma can be democratic in nature.
First, the leader's mass appeal is primarily emotional. His ideals and
programs are usually reduced to a few slogans that facilitate the emotional
identification of the masses with him. His ideals stay within the accepted
framework of the democratic system. Second, once in office, the leader
faces opposition in parliament and is subjected to the pressure of powerful
interest groups, none of whom may share the charismatic feelings. Actual
policies grow out of compromises that are then given a charismatic flavor
by the leader. Last but not least, re-election imposes the dual requirement
of forming alliances with some interest groups and of retaining the
charismatic symbols for his followers. Re-election is possible only if both
requirements are met effectively and simultaneously. Rather than dividing
his power hierarchically or outlawing all other parties, a charismatic leader
in a democracy can use the spoils system to give employment and income
to his most faithful followers.
The fourth type is the Caesarist leader whose charismatic qualities may
be recognized either by voters or by soldiers. The peculiar instrument of
the civilian contender is the plebiscite which turns a genuine election into
a mere acclamation. Expressing the confidence of the masses, acclamation
is the means by which the charismatic quality of the leader is recognized
and renewed. For the England of Gladstone, Weber observed

'• Ibid., p. 127.


a centralization of all power in the hands of a few, and, ultimately of the one person who
stood at the top of the party. What brought this machine to such swift triumph over the
notables was the fascination of Gladstone's 'grand' demagogy, the firm belief of the
masses in the ethical substance of his policy, and, above all, their belief in the ethical
character of his personality. It soon became obvious that a Caesarist plebiscitarian
element in politics—the dictator of the battlefield of elections—had appeared on the

The charismatic appeal is supplemented by instruments of mass manipula-

tion so that the combination of both devices leads to a situation of a
dictatorship resting upon the exploitation of mass emotionality.
A hybrid system develops that mixes dictatorial and democratic elements.
Since the emotional nature of mass confidence does not bind the leader
to a particular political program, he enjoys a wide range of discretional
power in relation to the voters. Once his power is consolidated, the
Caesarist leader gains a certain immunity relative to the pressure of
interest groups. His control over the party machine tends to destroy any
internal democracy within the party thereby creating an anti-intellectual
atmosphere. Public opinion and most of its instruments retain a certain
influence. Other political parties possess the capacity for political fights. A
majority of votes must still be obtained in parliament for each bill pro-
posed. The confidence of the masses must be renewed in future elections,
and the goodwill of the state's bureaucracy must be kept alive through at
least a few privileges. Weber particularly emphasized the restraining
influences of parliament and of the constitution. Franklin D. Roosevelt
was the outstanding example of such a hybrid Caesarist leader whose last
three elections turned into acclamations. It took a constitutional amend-
ment limiting the presidential tenure to two terms of office in order to
avoid a repetition in the future.
The military Caesarist leader usually arises during a war or a warlike
crisis. After his heroic deeds establish his charismatic qualities, he can
advance to the highest military and political positions. 'A military dictator
like Napoleon I has his position affirmed through a plebiscite'. Either
universal suffrage, competitive candidates and parliament are not permitted
or their functions are reduced to a mere disguise of the dictatorial power.
The charisma of the military leader must be effective with two different
groups, the soldiers and the civilian electorate. Because of his extraordinary
deeds, the soldiers develop an 'empathy for the leader's will'. The resulting
emotional union enables the leader to impose military discipline; Napoleon
created a strictly disciplinary military and administrative organization for
France. Politically, the Caesarist leader can use his power either to destroy
or support a new revolutionary political order. Napoleon accepted most
of the achievements of the French revolution but he also 'elevated people
»Ibid., p. 106.
of humble origin to thrones and high military commands'. As long as the
charismatic general wins striking victories, he has a good chance of gaining
the consent of the electorate by plebiscite.
Whether one examines the leader-democracy or the Caesarist regimes,
there is evidence of the emotional attributes of personal charisma: the
superhuman calling of the leader, the emotional devotion of his followers,
and the occasional or repeated union between both. These features com-
mon to all personal charisma are infrequently accompanied by a claim of
heroic deeds if the leader's power is still too precarious to operate without
such a belief.
General de Gaulle was the outstanding example of a Caesarist leader
in our time. His charismatic reputation was established by a quasi-military
act. A poll shortly after his death showed that 52 percent of the interviewees
regarded his appeal to resist Nazi occupation, made over the London
radio on June 18, 1940, as his greatest deed. Others praised him especially
for his ability to end the war in Algeria. But his attempt to abolish the
Senate and thus increase his dictatorial power was defeated by the voters
and led to his resignation. General Eisenhower, elected primarily as a
military hero, established mainly a civilian Caesarist regime. He used
military power chiefly for making peace. His threat of an atomic attack
ended the war in Korea; his effective opposition terminated the English-
French invasion of Egypt in 1956; his brief intervention avoided a civil
war in Lebanon of 1958. As a result of these peace-making actions, his
charisma as a military hero changed into that of the father figure, an
image held by many civilian voters.
The charismatic party or civilian Caesarist leaders can develop two
distinctly different kinds of political organizations. 'The basically authori-
tarian principle of charismatic legitimization may be subject to an anti-
authoritarian interpretation' (p. 266). The power formerly regarded 'as a
consequence of legitimacy, is [now] treated as a basis of legitimacy:
democratic legitimacy' (p. 267). Rather than selecting himself, following
only his inner calling, the leader is either preselected by his predecessor or
nominated by his staff so that an electoral element becomes associated
with charisma. Another shift takes place upon succession or a severe loss
of prestige. The self-selection of the leader is then confirmed by plebiscite,
leading to 'plebiscitary democracy' (p. 268). If, however, the charismatic
leader is secure in his power, then a successful plebiscite is a mere acclama-
tion, expressing the glory of the leader, establishing a 'democratic dictator-
ship' (ibid.). Plebiscites thus do not have the same meaning: they can be
either democratic or dictatorial devices, depending upon whether the
choice of the electorate is completely uncontrolled or regulated by the
leader so that 'the power claims of a pretender are being acknowledged'
(p. 1129).
The three kinds of charismatic leaders—party leader, civilian and mili-
tary Caesarism—also possess different degrees of discretion in choosing
the particular values implicit in their policies. A charismatic party leader
is usually inclined to prefer policies that are compatible with democracy
and will be accepted by the majority in competitive elections. If unusual
events call for undemocratic goals, none of the three kinds of leaders can
readily derive such values from any charismatic message. The charismatic
party leader will appeal to the emotions and ask for the confidence of the
masses in his wisdom. A belief in 'the ethical character of his personality'
will then take the place of specific approval of new values. Caesarist
leaders, especially dictators, are usually inclined to act first and call for
an unspecified acclamation of their policy after the new values have already
been implemented.
Therefore, Caesarist leaders tend to establish hybrid systems that mix
democratic and dictatorial features of political organization. They also
prefer to avoid any specific commitment to controversial values. If circum-
stances induce them to select particular goals, they will not justify their
actions by the values in a charismatic message but will call upon the faith
of the masses in their personal powers. Thus, the hybrid systems often
belong to the category of faith charisma, seldom to value charisma. In its
reliance upon faith in the powers of the leader, however, 'charismatic
excitement' can 'break down class and status barriers' (p. 1130).
These three kinds of charismatic leaders can be assigned to a definite
place in the theory of democracy if we use Weber's social action theory for
a typology of democracy. The democracy of delegates is governed by the
power of interest oriented parties and pressure groups. Democracy of
notables is guided mainly by the traditional beliefs of powerful political,
social and economic status groups. Ideological democracy is dominated by
the political, social and economic values of mass movements, whether they
are revolutionary or reformist, restorative or counterrevolutionary in
nature. Charismatic democracy arises out of the emotions of the masses
whose leader will take over the government and rule as long as he enjoys
the confidence of the excitable electorate. It is quite obvious that Weber's
theory of democratic or Caesarist charisma is relevant only in the last of
these four prototypes of democracy.
There invariably is an authoritarian tendency in political charisma
because it usually means the glorification of one leader. Nevertheless,
Weber's analysis permits us to state a hypothesis on charisma in demo-
cracy. Charisma becomes compatible with democracy if mass emotionality
has been turned into an emotional bond between leader and led; if the
leader has captured or built up a political organization by means of which
he gains and renews his power in competitive elections; if he respects and
utilizes democratic institutions and procedures and has his power delimited
by them; and if his goals and policies are inspired and limited by some
democratic creed. Naturally, the more of these conditions that are actually
fulfilled, the more democratic is charisma. Conversely, the fewer of these
conditions that are effectively accepted in practice, the more dictatorial is
charisma. The leader then rules not only one party but also the whole
This hypothesis is in accord with Weber's own on the relationship
between political parties and charisma. On the one hand, charisma con-
stitutes the original phase in the evolution of political parties. ' . . . Indeed
all parties before the French revolution typically developed into associa-
tions of notables . . . after they had passed through a period of charismatic
excitement. . . and were replaced in favor of one or several heroes' (p. 1130).
On the other hand, there is an eruption of charisma on special occasions.
'In times of great public excitement, charismatic leaders may emerge even
in solidly bureaucratized parties, as was demonstrated by Theodore
Roosevelt's campaign of 1912.' As a rule, however, 'the party organization
easily succeeds in castrating charisma. This will also remain true of the
United States, even in the face of the plebiscitarian presidential primaries,
since in the long run the continuity of professional operations is tactically
superior to emotional worship' (p. 1132). There was clear evidence for this
in the elections of 1968. Eugene McCarthy exemplified the eruptiveness
of charisma in the primaries, while the party machine nullified his influence,
nominated its own candidates, and ran the election campaign.40
There was a sustained effort in the social field by Martin Luther King
to combine charisma with social reform within the democratic framework.
This attempt was terminated by the bullets of the assassin. Neither his
successor nor any of his other associates has been able to exhibit King's
ecstatic abilities and determined will power of charismatic leadership. His
sudden death undercut his personal ambition to become the national
leader of the black people in this country.


The religiously significant distinction between value and faith charisma,
valid often also in democracy, cannot be found in Weber's ideas on
revolutionary charisma. There is a mention of an 'emotional revolution',41
but it is similar to charismatic eruptions: a transitional phase from the
ethical to the routinized charisma. Not faith but the emotions of natural
charisma become linked with a political revolution. In Robert F. Kennedy
one could find an occasional streak of revolutionary emotionalism. It
Eruptive charismatic emotions take occasionally very strange forms. Witness the great
enthusiasm of the politically active people in West Berlin for John F. Kennedy during his
speech in 1963 as well as for General de Gaulle during his triumphal speaking tour in the
major cities of West Germany in 1963.
Max Weber, Gesammelte Politische Schriften, Tubingen: Mohr, 1958, pp. 520 ff.
surfaced in the streets of Santiago in Chile as well as in the ghettoes of this
country. Standing on top of his car, motioning to the buildings, he shouted:
'I think we can do better'.42 But his few revolutionary ideals on housing
were usually crowded out by mass emotionality.
In Weber's political writings one can also find a theory of the Parish
people and their messianic religion. We are given, however, merely the
reasons why the combination of parish people and the promise of the
coming Messiah can lead to a revolution. 'The Jew anticipated his own
personal salvation through a revolution of the existing social stratification
to the advantage of his Parish people. . . . ' (p. 494). Such revolutions
express the resentment of those being pushed into a disprivileged position
or they are generated by the tension between the 'social claims based upon
God's promise and the actual conditions of dishonor under which the
Parish people lived' (p. 497). There is thus an important starting point for
the interpretation of the two kinds of—noncharismatic—revolutions that
are most relevant in our time, emotional and social revolution. But the
sporadic charisma of Stokley Carmichael with his slogan of 'Black Power'
turned out to be just one of the phases in the struggle for the civil rights
of the blacks.
In Weber's theory charisma possesses by itself a revolutionary quality.
When a distinct ethic guides leader and followers, then the 'charismatic
belief revolutionizes man "from within" and shapes material and social
conditions according to its revolutionary will' (p. 1116). Religious charis-
matic movements in their most potent form 'disrupt rational rule as well
as traditions altogether and overturn all notions of sanctity . . . ' . Charisma
is 'indeed the specifically creative revolutionary force of history' (p. 1117)
because it has the capacity to undermine tradition as well as bureaucracy.
In the political sphere, however, the revolutionary force of charisma is
usually diminished. Just a few of the religious prophets called for politically
revolutionary action. The Israelite prophets were primarily concerned with
foreign politics. It was only after their return to Israel that they incorpor-
ated holy war into their religious doctrines. But it was not prophecy as
such but only particular features in the doctrine of 'martial religions of
ancient Islam and of Yahwism' that led to the acceptance of revolution
and war as a religiously sanctioned activity (p. 570). Although not a
typical prophet in Weber's sense of the term, 'Luther completely rejected
religious revolutions and religious wars' (p. 595). Nor was a religiously
sanctioned political revolution consistent with an ascetic ethic. But
Calvinism 'made it a religious obligation to defend the faith against
tyranny by the use of force'. This defense could be 'undertaken only at the
initiative of the proper authorities . . .'. (p. 596). The ethic of the Gospel
does not permit any political revolution because the latter includes the
New York Times Magazine, November 22, 1970, p. 128.

forbidden acts of violence.43 In bringing out this negative attitude or

opposition of religious ethics to violence and revolution, Weber empha-
sizes—with the exceptions of religions engaged in wars or missionary
enterprises—the absence of either religious values or a religious equivalent
for bringing about a political revolution.
In the political field, however, conflict over ideological values gave rise
to charismatic revolutions. 'In modern states the best examples are the
dictatorship of Cromwell and the leaders of the French revolution and
the First and Second Empire' (p. 268). In both instances, however, the
values of the English Independents or of the French revolutionaries had
been distorted by the subsequent dictators. Freedom of conscience had
been turned into its opposite. 'This charismatic glorification of "Reason"
which found a characteristic expression in the apotheosis by Robespierre,
is the last form that charisma has adoped in its fateful historical course'
(p. 1209). Weber thus distinguishes between the ideals of a revolution and
their subsequent glorification. Particular charismatic leaders, such as
Robespierre and Napoleon I, accepted the revolutionary ideals as their
own but by glorifying them distorted their meaning. In personifying these
glorified ideals, they merged charisma and ideology, both of which became
part of the rule of the political dictator.
The secular values implicit in these ideals had to undergo a dual change
before they did become a part of the charismatic revolution. Instead of
being accepted only for their specific content, the relevant values became
suffused with the charismatic emotions felt by leader and followers. A
mere contact with values was and is not enough; values selected must
become saturated with emotions so that they can be internalized into the
charismatic belief. Once transformed into such a belief, the values become
the source of an ethic that enters into the charismatic message. By means
of belief and message, the ideals turn into the ultimate ends of the move-
ment, and this 'cause' gives directives to the life and actions of leader and
followers. If ideology and directives are fundamentally opposed to the
values of the present rulers, then the charismatic movement aims at
establishing a new political system. The dictatorship growing out of the
revolution will either be 'an administration of justice emancipated from
formal procedures, as it happened under revolutionary tribunals . . .', or a
'social dictatorship' that assertedly will use its power for the benefit of the
poor' (pp. 269-70).
Toward the end of World War I, Weber expected the 'rise of charismatic
leaders against the legal authorities' of the monarchies (p. 265). He easily
identified Kurt Eisner as the charismatic leader of some of the soldiers'
councils, heading toward the Bavarian revolution of 1919. It was his
judgment that these revolutionary groups would—by using violence—
Essays in Sociology, p. 120.
unintentionally bring 'reaction' to power. This expectation correctly antici-
pated the subsequent events in Bavaria and Hungary. These attempts at a
revolutionary dictatorship were smashed by military groups which estab-
lished anti-revolutionary governments, and thereby ushered in a period of
weakness or suppression for the whole labor movement.
Interestingly, Weber derived from this and similar experiences his thesis
of an unintended revolutionary self-destruction: Ideological revolutionary
movements are incapable of establishing a lasting dictatorial regime because
they employ violence that is breeding counterviolence which destroys the
revolutionary movement by military force. The sole exception to this
thesis, recognized by Weber, was the charismatic military hero who gains
the confidence of the masses through his victory. At the end of a long war,
accordingly, victorious countries would be governed by charismatic heroes,
and defeated countries by simple military dictatorships. The latter rulers
would rise to power only if a violent revolution had frightened the capitalist
groups who would then provide a social basis for the dictatorship.44
What about the revolutionary movements and regimes of communism
and the counterrevolutions of Fascists and Nazis? In February of 1918
Weber characterized the budding Bolshevist regime as a military dictator-
ship, regarding its ideology as largely irrelevant. The new government is
necessarily a pure military dictatorship; not of the Generals but only of the corporals.
. . . It is nonsense to say that behind this dictatorship stands the class conscious prole-
tariat comparable to the one in West Europe. Nothing but a proletariat of soldiers is
supporting this regime. This has its consequences. Whatever may be the ideals of the
intellectuals in Petersburg, their political machine is based upon the soldiers who expect
and demand especially pay and booty. . . . It is purest militarism that exists presently

Weber thus regarded the Bolshevik movement as an interesting party of

soldiers who would force their leaders to give up their communist ideology
and to adopt a policy of'a bolshevist soldiers' imperialism'.45 In retrospect
one has to agree with a keen student of these political and charismatic
theories that' Weber did not at all foresee the development of totalitarian


A careful examination of the dispersed components of political charisma
suggests three major conclusions. Max Weber succeeded in establishing a
basis for a logically consistent and empirically relevant theory of political
charisma that is linked with but separate from his other kinds of charisma.
He was also able to indicate a typology of the various subtypes of political

*• Cf. Gesammelte Politische Schriften, p. 21. 45 [bid., pp. 280-1.

Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber—An Intellectual Portrait, New York: Doubleday, 1960,
p. 457.

charisma of which most are derived from historical experience. Finally,

there are some few but significant omissions of particular subtypes of
political charisma, but most of them occurred after his death. The question
thus arises whether his foundation and typology have been formulated so
that the defects can be removed or so revised that the controversy among
the specialists of political sociology and philosophers of history can be
For the sake of clarity as well as convenience, Weber's theory can be
condensed in nine propositions.

1. Supernatural. If a particular personality experiences an inner calling and great self-

assurance that enables him to develop exceptional capacities, then these abilities will
be recognized by others who feel it as their duty to recognize him as their charismatic
2. Natural. The exceptional capacity consists in the self-belief of the personality and
in his magnetic ability—by means of ecstasy, euphoria, resentment, and political
passion—to establish a communal bond between leader and followers.
3. New style. The extraordinary ability expresses itself in exemplary living or a new
political style that gives direction to his policies and political symbols, which expres-
sions become the hallmark of a charismatic movement, although it falls short of any
distinct political or philosophical doctrine.
4. Mission. Or the charismatic leader received some special mission containing doctrinal
elements that provide the basis for a political program. It becomes the duty of leader
and followers to devote their lives to fulfilling this program in the political and
possibly also the social spheres of life.
5. Political types. Within the political framework, the charismatic leader works mainly
through the 'accessibility to the masses' and obtains through their enthusiasm the
position of a demagogue satisfied with the mere semblance of power, or as an ideol-
ogist committed to his cause, or as a party leader also controlling a political machine,
or as a Caesarist leader acclaimed either by civilians or soldiers or both.
6. Instability. A charismatic regime is of short duration either because the extraordinary
quality is diluted or the emotional anxiety of the followers diminishes so that charisma
is usually incapable of creating or maintaining a durable political system.
7. Revolution. In situations of 'emotional revolutions' the leader can express the resent-
ment of the disprivileged masses and lead a political revolution or direct a social
revolution. More religiously inclined charismatic leaders tend to employ violence
only in defense of their religious beliefs or the integrity of their movement.
8. Violence. If a charismatically led revolution is successful, then there usually ensues
an unintended revolutionary self-destruction because revolutionary violence breeds
counterviolence by the regular armed forces that destroy the revolutionary regime.
9. Routinization. If charismatic movements do come to power peacefully, then they are
bound to lose their original purity because the regime requires an administrative
staff and economic support which it can obtain only if the charismatic leader becomes
a mere figurehead of a primarily bureaucratic and interest-oriented regime.

In reptrospect, these propositions were historically acceptable only up to

the end of World War I. The first four propositions, I submit, have stood
the test of time, while in regard to the others certain revisions are called
for. These include a more careful delineation between democratic and
dictatorial charismatic leaders and movements; further investigations of
the role of charisma in communist movements and regimes; detailed sub-
stantiations of charisma in fascist movements and regimes; ascertainment
of the various roles of the military during and after the rise of a charismatic
regime, and of the particular reasons for the dilution of the charismatic
qualities of short-lived or semi-charismatic leaders and movements. It is
quite likely that the result of such research will induce us to revise the
particular content of the last half of these propositions, while being able
to retain most of Weber's theoretical foundation.
In investigating the subtypes of political charisma, Weber examined
two different problems that led him to two kinds of typologies. One was
the pure type, the other was the prototype of charisma. In searching for
the pure types, Weber sought to identify the link between particular super-
natural and natural components of charisma. For instance, faith in a
salvation religion could combine itself only with ecstatic feelings, leading
to an exemplary prophet. In selecting the supernatural and related emo-
tional components as the leading typifiers, Weber arrived at a series of
pure charisma that can be presented schematically.
Ideal Types of Charisma

Supernatural components Natural components

Value Charisma Emotional Charisma

Ethical Symbolic expressions
Ascetic Europhic feelings
Ideological Political passions
Faith Charisma Ecstatic Feelings
Revelational Eleptical feelings
Providential Charisma47 Venerational feelings
Discretional Intuitive feelings
Spiritual Enthusiasm
Acclamatory Creative spells
Ephemeral Charisma

In seeking to establish the connections between the pure charisma of

the leader and the corresponding feelings of the disciples, Weber abstracted
from any political system or historical context. His subsequent ideal types
functioned, in modern terminology, as a heuristic model that permitted
In Weber's treatment we find no systematic distinction between faith and providential
charisma. It was Hitler who was compelled to regard them as different subtypes. See Arthur
Schweitzer, 'Hitler's Charisma', Historische Zeitschrift, forthcoming.
him to ascertain the affinities between the essences of the various leaders
and their respective disciples or followers.48
Placing the charismatic leaders into some political framework, one can
distill from Weber's writings different prototypes of charisma.49 Since he
did not or could not investigate modern dictatorships, his impure types of
charisma can thus be condensed into the following scheme:

Prototypes of Political Charisma

Democratic Charisma Revolutionary Charisma

Charismatic Party leader Prophet of Social Revolution

Charismatic Demagogue Charismatic Hero
Caesarist Charisma Revolutionary Ideologist
Aristocratic Charisma Glorifier of Reason

While most of these prototypical leaders and their respective political

systems and effects are only hinted at, many interesting topics open them-
selves for detailed historical investigations of charismatic leaders in demo-
cracy and revolutions. The charismatic leaders of single parties and of
counterrevolutionary dictatorships especially deserve a detailed treatment.
There are, however, two theories of Weber about the particular place
of charisma in political systems that implicitly raise doubt about the
wisdom of studying the various prototypes empirically. One is the theory
of routinization of charisma according to which administrative staffs and
economic support will squeeze out the original charismatic quality as soon
as the movement becomes a consolidated regime. The long periods of
Mussolini and Hitler, of Nehru and Mao, as charismatic leaders not only
of movements but also as effective heads of states, creates doubt about the
validity of the Weberian thesis of a mutually inimical relationship between
charisma and organization or economy.
The other hurdle derives from Weber's theory of practical ethics. While
the distinction between an ethic of responsibility and an ethic of absolute
ends is also stated mainly on an ideal-typical level, the charismatic leader
would be so committed to his mission that he would be disinclined to
consider the cost and consequences of his policies. The increasing cost
imposed upon the people by such a leader would tend to undermine his
support so that his regime would also be of short duration. Each of these
theories suggests a minimal role of charisma as a political system, hardly
worthy of detailed investigations. On a prototypical level, however, Weber
For the role of the heuristic model in Weber's methodology see Arthur Schweitzer, 'The
Typological Method in Economics: Max Weber's Contribution', History of Political Economy,
Spring, 1970, pp. 66-96.
« Cf. Arthur Schweitzer,' Vom Idealtypus zirm Prototyp,' Zeitschrift fur die geramte Staats-
wissenschaft, January 1964, pp. 13-55.
admits that the two types of ethics 'are not ultimate contrasts but rather
supplements'.50 Rather than presenting a barrier to an empirical investiga-
tion of charismatic leaders and regimes, Weber's two theories suggest that
we should not be satisfied with historical inquiry alone but also examine
how far and under which conditions his theoretical strictures are actually
Essays in Sociology, p. 127.