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Charismatic leadership and revolution

Paul Rubinson

Subject History, Politics
Economics » History of Thought
Legal and Political » Political Philosophy

Place World

People Hitler, Adolf

Key-Topics language, revolution

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00325.x


Conventional wisdom dictates that a social movement's success depends on a charismatic leader. Such an individual can galvanize the masses through passionate oratory and mobilize people into action for their cause. Men and women as diverse as Mohandas Gandhi, Adolf Hitler , Jesus Christ, and Mother Jones have been cited as leaders who used their charisma to bring people to their cause through sheer force of personality, rhetoric, and will. From this perspective, a charismatic leader becomes the physical embodiment of a movement's cause, leading by eloquence, passion, and example. But charismatic leaders appear relatively rarely, and movements have often succeeded without one. While a charismatic leader can indeed awaken the forces of social change, their relationship to their movement is far more complicated than the traditional leader-follower dynamic. Furthermore, a charismatic leader can be a curse if a movement relies too heavily on him or her. Finally, the concept of a charismatic leader was shaped, to an extent, by the specific context in which it was created, which has led social movement scholars to move beyond an exclusive focus on charisma. In its original meaning, charisma referred to religious or spiritual qualities, but today it can refer broadly to any sort of engaging personal demeanor. Although contemporary uses of the term have gone far beyond his intent, the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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