Seductive Heroes and Ordinary Human Beings:

Comparative Studies of Social and Political Elites

ISBN: 978-0-76231-379-2, eISBN: 978-1-84950-466-9

ISSN: 0195-6310

Publication date: 11 December 2006


We take as our point of departure Weber's well-known taxonomy of forms of authority (Weber, 1947; 1968). Traditional authority, which first of all characterizes pre-modern societies, is based on inherited privileges and positions. Legal authority, which is often termed rational and bureaucratic, is based on position and competence. In addition, it is impersonal. By contrast, charismatic authority is personal, not positional. It has one main feature, authority legitimated by the appeal of leaders who claim allegiance because of the force of their extraordinary personalities. Weber saw this kind of authority as liberation from the alienation, which the bureaucratic “iron cage” represented. The essence of charisma is a sort of life and vitality, which is the opposite of the formality of bureaucracy and the roles and conventions of traditional society (Weber, 1968, p. 24). Consequently, charisma implies a sort of renewal. According to one of Weber's most heavily quoted passages, charisma is based on “the devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him” (Weber, 1968, p. 46). The charismatic leader has, in other words, exceptional qualities and is accordingly “set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities” (Weber, 1968, p. 48).


Krogstad, A. and Storvik, A. (2006), "Seductive Heroes and Ordinary Human Beings:", Engelstad, F. and Gulbrandsen, T. (Ed.) Comparative Studies of Social and Political Elites (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 23), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 211-245.

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