The Paradox of Trump’s Charisma

Donald Trump has a lot of charisma.

Let me finish. I do not mean charisma in the colloquial sense of being charming, though he has charmed millions. I’m referring to a style of leadership famously described by the German sociologist Max Weber, who described three forms of authority or leadership: traditional, legal-rational and charismatic.

In traditional societies monarchs derive their authority from custom. In modern societies, most leaders—elected or otherwise—are chosen based on their qualifications and expertise and their authority is prescribed by law. Charismatic leaders bring something else to the equation: an inner quality that commands loyalty and even worship.

The ancient Greeks used the word “charisma” to mean a divine gift or grace. Weber secularized it to mean some quality that inspires intense followership. “Men do not obey [a charismatic leader] by virtue of tradition or statute,” Weber observed, “but because they believe in him.” I suspect that Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is not a close student of Weber’s, but she captures the idea well enough when she talks about Trump’s “BDE.” You can look that up.

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