Is Charismatic Leadership Antithesis to Democracy
The charisma of leadership is the persona of a leader that has the potential to attract the masses through his personality and grace, and which makes him above all. Weber used this ecclesiastical term to denote “the absolute personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership. (Weber, 1948: p. 79)
We have many instances in history like in Poland, Eastern Europe and many more where charismatic leaders have led to the democratization of that place by throwing away the old regime of rulers. Such leaders have not only acquired position by their nature but also by the nature of the situation.
We have many heroic geniuses like George Washington who ruled by reason, logic and compassion. The most important thing about them was that they were adored, and not feared, by any section of people.
But, in the recent past, we have come across many such leaders all across the world who have led us nowhere, but they still enjoy mass support — Donald Trump is one among them. The diehard supporters regard such leaders as superhuman.
Such charismatic leaders enjoy so much power that putting a sanction on their authority and liberty becomes equally challenging for the party itself to which they belong. The political party itself feels that going against such leaders will ruin the electoral mandate and may not let them win. So, they, in turn, become silent, sycophants or act like yes-men.
The whole party revolves around a single man which leads to the concentration of power in one hand.
The political parties, which are the pillars of a democratic structure, themselves get into a dictatorial framework. Even the local level elections are won in the name of national leaders and not on the basis of the quality of the work they do, if any.
These leaders never plan any potential successor to their position be it from their own party because for them a successor is only a threat and all the effort is made to crush that person. This leads to a weak successor and generates instability in the near future. It leads also to a series of authoritarian measures to establish new norms and faith in order to sustain one’s position which might deny legitimacy and can undermine the democratic fabric of a country.
Not only this, the emergence of democratic erosion happens because every leader will re-emerge with a similar trait. (S)he will try to emulate the practices and principles of that “charismatic” man so that (s)he may also establish his/her hierarchy among the people.
How charisma is routinized is what determines the future of a country, but one thing is sure: democracy is not supposed to have a class of superior beings and charismatic leaders are unequal so it can’t nurture a democratic spirit. Such a relationship is always hierarchical where masses venerate a single individual without scrutinizing it on the altars of rationality which leads to vertical political feelings rather than horizontal ones. This emotional exchange can be harmful for society and the nation at large.
Democracy needs a legal and rational approach rather than a dictatorial one. At times I feel charismatic leadership is a myth, it only exists when there is a psychological gap between the leader and his/her follower and both of them don’t measure progress on the basis of what it cost and who paid for it.?
The writer is a CSS aspirant.