Charismatic Authority and Democratic Legitimation
35 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2018
Date Written: August 26, 2016
Almost all political regimes today claim to be democratic, whatever their actual structure. Yet the rhetorical and normative triumph of democracy as an ideal has not prevented the recurrent emergence of claims to personal authority alongside with, and undermining, the claims of the more abstract institutions of constitutional government, in accordance with impartial, impersonal, and general rules and procedures. And despite the apparent tension between charismatic leadership and the rule of the people, such "charismatic" or "personal" claims to authority have not always been thought to be in conflict with democracy. In this paper, I argue that the apparent compatibility of charisma and democracy emerges from the fact that charismatic authority depends on a form of representation. I illustrate this claim by showing that in the early 20th century (a period marked by a proliferation of claims to personal authority), many ideologically very diverse writers -- from communists to fascists -- converged on a theory of "charisma as representation" that could accommodate charismatic claims while accepting democratic justifications for authority. Though most of these attempts are no longer credible today, 20th century attempts to construct theories of "charisma as representation" indicate both the sources of the recurring appeal of personal authority and modes of political justification and the dangers of attempting to appropriate charisma for democracy.
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