Charisma revisited by Roger Eatwell

von macchiato

In der anglophonen und spanischsprachigen Forschung hat sich der Politikwissenschaftler Roger Eatwell aus Bath als vergleichender Faschismushistoriker, aber auch als Beobachter europäischer Rechtsextremismen und als Analytiker des Charisma-Begriffs einen Namen gemacht. Obwohl solche Themen eigentlich gerade für unsere Sprachräume interessant sind, haben wir auf deutsch ebenso wie auf italienisch bei einer kurzen Recherche nur je eine einzige Übersetzung eines Text von ihm gefunden. Der deutsche heißt „Zur Natur des ‚generischen Faschismus‘ – Das faschistische Minimum‘ und die faschistische Matrix“, und ist gedrucktin Uwe Backes (Hrsg): Rechtsextreme Ideologie in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Köln 2003 (Das englische Original heißt The Nature of Generic Fascism: the „fascist minimum“ and the „fascist matrix“ pp.134-161 in „Comparative Fascist Studies: New Perspectives“, ed. C.Iordachi. Routledge: Abingdon 2009).

Je einen anderen Text, haben haben wir in den letzten Tagen für diesen Blog ins Deutsche und ins Italienische übertragen. In stichwortartig gerafftem Englisch hingegen zitieren wir heute Roger Eatwells Überlegungen zu einem Thema, das beide Kulturräume in besonderem und gleichem Maße betrifft: Auf dem Weg zu einem neuen Modell rechtsgerichteter charismatischer Führung„:

The Weberian model, to whom Gentile and Kershaw refer, is rather vague:

What exactly do ‚charismatic‘ leaders have in common?

Perhaps the answer…lies in the nature of the support…rather than their ideology and image? However, political religion approaches overstate the affective side of support for leaders…majority of academic analyses of contemporary extreme right focused (n.b. too much, according to Eatwell) on primacy of demand rather than supply side explanations of support Most importantly:

i) the single issue (immigration) thesis;

ii) the protest (anti-Establishment) thesis;

iii) the social breakdown (anomie) thesis;

iv) the reverse post material (a reaction to the ’new‘ politics) thesis; and

v) the economic interest (the losers in the process of modernisation) thesis (Eatwell 2003a).

Weber: What is alone important is how the individual is actually regarded by those subject to charismatic authority. But this approach offers little insight into contemporary movements.

Eatwells „Post-Weberian“ model: the term charisma is still powerful if reconfigured as coterie charisma and centripal charisma and conceptualised by using the terms charismatic personality and the charismatic bond.

4 approaches to charismatic personalities:

1. A special mission, 2.Leader-follower identity, 3. Friend-enemy (Manichean) categorisations, 4.Presence (or ‚magnetism‚, traditionally seen in terms of speaking ability at mass rallies).

4 approaches to charismatic bonds:

language of mission+identification with the true people+demonisation of enemies. Why do specific types of leaders appeal at times?

1. (Social) crisis: a (’sense-making crisis‘ in perceived anomie+rational/economic choices); personal identity crises, concern to achieve a new sense of belonging vs over-foreignerisation (Überfremdung) following immigration. But crisis is not an objective reality: the sense of crisis can be heightened or even created by charismatics.

2. Cultural (historical) legitimation

3.(Political) Facilitation: the emergence of charismatic leaders is associated with Presidential rather than parliamentary systems. and/or with weak party systems. Role of popular media in Western Europe: they like to personalise issues, sometimes creating ‚presidential‘ contests even in parliamentary systems. They also play an important role in ‚agenda setting‘ and ‚framing‘ of issues. But they are pluralistic and ultimately tend to be debunking.

4. (Psychological) Personality: Adorno’s theory of the authoritarian personality is weak at explaining sudden take-off electorally in both Italy and Germany. Saul Friedlander (History and Psychoanalysis, Holmes and Meier Publishers, N.Y., 1978): there are certain historical conditions in which people in large numbers become ‚charisma hungry‘:

i) fear

ii) anxiety, especially as experienced by persons in an identity vacuum;

iii) existential dread = the distress that people experience under conditions in which rituals of their existence have broken down. Madsen and Snow’s ‚proxy control‘: people have a need to understand complex events, and often find it easiest to come to terms with complexity through the image of a single person who is held to be special, but in some way accountable = of particular appeal to those most disconnected from mainstream politics (estimates at ca. 1/3 in France). But undue focus onmagnetisability of followers rather than the magnetism of leader.

Hunger for leaders yes, but of which type? E.g. those who use conspiracy theories = esp. appealing to those who do not simply seek simplistic explanations for complex events. Defining the ‚Other‘ = important part of identity creation. Politically, focusing on the ‚Other‘ allows the creation of a wider constituency of support than focusing on specific positive traits. Indeed, one of the mopstz impoprtant aspects of the charismatic leader is his ability to put together support based on notably different factors and motivations.


Nothing like Weberian mass-affective charisma has characterised the vast majority of supporters of the contemporary European extreme right. But Eatwell questions the extent to which inter-war fascist support can be understood in affective-charismatic terms. The political religion approach unduly focuses on STYLE rather than on the MANY REASONS why people supported or at least tolerated fascism: voters turned to fascism for many reasons, including specific economic appeals, such as the growing welfare benefits, fear of the left, or simply fear of the police state, or protest against the Establishment, or for a sense of continuity with earlier forms of national leadership. There is a possibility that charisma may act mainly on a minority, who than recruit a wider constituency.

Charisma remains an important approach in two major senses which help explain why often-divided extreme right parties survive, and go on to build extensive electoral success. Charisma is still a powerful tool if reconfigured as „coterie charisma“ and „centripal charisma“ and conceptualised by analysing the charismatic personality and the charismatic bond.


(Source: Towards a New Model of Right-Wing Charismatic Leadership, -in

Spanish- in M.Simon ed.: La derecha radical desde 1945 a nuestros dias;

conceptos, ideologia y movimientos, Tecnos, Madrid, 2008 – here quoted

in English from