17 Mar, 2022 320 Political science

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of charismatic authority developed by Max Weber (1864-1920) to explain why people welcome some as their legitimate rulers and follow them loyally, for better or worse, while following others only dutifully or grudgingly. Weber was fascinated by those such as Napoleon (above) and Washington who achieved power not by right, as with traditional monarchs, or by law as with the bureaucratic world around him in Germany, but by revolution or insurrection. Drawing on the experience of religious figures, he contended that these leaders, often outsiders, needed to be seen as exceptional, heroic and even miraculous to command loyalty, and could stay in power for as long as the people were enthralled and the miracles they had promised kept coming. After the Second World War, Weber’s idea attracted new attention as a way of understanding why some reviled leaders once had mass support and, with the arrival of television, why some politicians were more engaging and influential on screen than others.

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  • Linda Woodhead 2 episodes
    The FD Maurice Professor and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London
  • David Bell No other episodes
    The Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University
  • Tom Wright 2 episodes
    Reader in Rhetoric at the University of Sussex

Reading list

  • Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution
    David Bell (Macmillan, 2020) Google Books →
  • Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson
    Daniel Mark Epstein (Mariner Books, 1994) Google Books →
  • Passionate Journeys: Why Successful Women Joined a Cult
    Marion S. Goldman (University of Michigan Press, 2021) Google Books →
  • An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity
    Allan Heaton Anderson (Cambridge University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • Charisma
    Charles Lindholm (Blackwell, 1990) Google Books →
  • In Defense of Charisma
    Vincent W. Lloyd (Columbia University Press, 2018) Google Books →
  • A History of Charisma
    John Potts (Palgrave MacMillan, 2009) Google Books →
  • Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us
    Philip Rieff (Random House, 2008) Google Books →
  • Octavia, Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers
    Jane Shaw (Yale University Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • Charisma and Disenchantment: The Vocation Lectures
    Max Weber (trans. Damion Searls) (New York Review of Books, 2020) Google Books →
  • The Spellbinders: Charismatic Political Leadership
    Ruth Ann Wilner (Yale University Press, 1984)
  • Charismatic Leaders Who Remade America
    Molly Worthen (, 2020)
  • Orenda and the Indigenous Roots of Charisma
    Tom F. Wright (Symbiosis journal, 2021)
  • Routledge International Handbook of Charisma
    Jose Pedro Zuquete (ed.) (Routledge, May 2022) Google Books →

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Max Weber, 1864 to 1920, devised the idea of charismatic authority to explain why people accept some as their legitimate rulers and not others.