Charismatic authority is a form of religious or political leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to the popularity and charisma of a single leader. The leader will usually have several inspiring and engaging sides to his personality, making him an attractive figure that personifies the benevolence of his government. A charismatic ruler is thus not simply one who is obeyed but rather followed and respected.
Charismatic authority in sociology
In sociology, the concept of charismatic authority (also known as domination) comes from Max Weber's tripartite classification of authority, the other two forms being traditional authority and rational-legal authority. All of those three domination types represent an example of his ideal type concept. Weber noted that it in history those ideal types of domination are always found in combinations.
In traditional authority, the legitimacy of the authority comes from tradition, in charismatic authority from the personality and leadership qualities of the individual, and in rational-legal authority from powers that are bureaucratically and legally attached to certain positions.
According to Weber, the idea of charismatic authority emerged from the sociology of religion, and is particularly associated with new religious movements (including cults) led by a charismatic individual (e.g. a prophet or a guru), who can create laws by his decrees, or makes a revelations or gives upadesh (instruction) or "advices" to his followers.
A religion which evolves its own priesthood and establishes a set of laws and rules is likely to lose its charismatic character and move towards another ideal type of domination, especially upon a death of the prophet. Such a religion will then usually oppose to new prophets and their law creation.
In politics, charismatic rule is often found in dictatorships. In order to maintain their charismatic authority, such regimes will often establish a vast personality cult, in which inspiring images of the leader are plastered all over the country. When the leader of such state dies or leaves office and a new charismatic leader does not appear, such regime is likely to:
- fall shortly afterwards, unable to survive without the personal attraction of the ruler (consider the example of Alexander the Great empire, which fell apart upon his death)
- lose its charismatic character and move towards another ideal type of domination (consider the example of Roman Empire after the death of Julius Caesar or Soviet Union after era's of Lenin and Stalin)
One of those scenarios does not exclude the other.
Religious charismatic leaders
According to Eileen Barker charismatic leaders are very unpredictable.
Some notable charismatic leaders in religion include:
- Jesus Christ,
- Martin Luther
- Henry VIII
- John Calvin
- Joseph Smith
- Adi Sankara
- Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
- Swami Vivekanada
- Sai Baba
- Muhammad who also acquired political power
- Gautama Buddha
- Jim Jones
Political charismatic leaders
Some notable charismatic rulers in history include:
- Adolf Hitler, a passionate and skilled public speaker whose personal ideology attracted thousands of recruits to his Nazi party.
- Alexander the Great, King of Macedon; he united the warring and divided city states of Greece and conquered Persia, Egypt and a number of other kingdoms, all the way to the borders of India
- Julius Caesar, a Roman military and political leader. He became dictator for life, and heavily centralized the already faltering government of the weak Roman Republic.
- Fidel Castro, a Cuban revolutionary turned dictator whose dress and speeches continue to glorify the revolution that brought him to power four decades ago.
- Juan Peron, a former soldier whose beautiful wife Evita captured the hearts of the Argentine poor with her glamour and style.
- Mao Tse-Tung, an enigmatic philosopher and Marxist ideologue whose "little red book" of ideas inspired a virtual army of followers.