TOWARD A THEORY OF
THE ROUTINIZATION OF CHARISMA*

April 1972

Charismatic authority has been a topic of much discussion in the literature of social science since its introduction by Max Weber.1 Although there is no final definition of charisma or of the various forms "discovered" by subsequent theorists,2 it is generally recognized that charisma is ephemeral and transitory, that it exists in pure form only in the moment of its appearance, that it is, paraphrasing Durkheim, sui degeneris. This apocalyptic nature of charisma means that it is inherently transitional, moving toward becoming something other than what it at any moment is. In Weber’s terms, charismatic authority must of necessity move in one of three directions: toward dissolution, toward traditional authority, or toward rational-legal authority.3 Charisma thus incorporates this dilemma: to survive it must change, but in changing it must give up its definitive, essentially charismatic qualities. This is the problem of the routinization of charisma, the solution of which may be central to any full understanding of the successful transition of collective behavior into institutionalized or quasi-institutionalized social movements, i.e., those social movements which survive over time.

The routinization of charisma, although referring to a critical phenomenon, is largely undefined in the sociological literature. In particular, the mechanisms whereby routinization proceeds remain problematic. The expansion of Weber’s original theory described below is a first systematic explication of this gap between the charismatic authority which instigates mass movements and the traditional or rational-legal authority which must follow to make their furtherance as social structures possible.

A review of some of the most remarkable social movements and revolutions initiated by charismatic leaders throughout history reveals the striking fact that many of them are usually associated not with one, but with two leaders: Jesus and Peter; Joseph Smith and Brigham Young; Lenin and Stalin; Gandhi and Nehru; Gueverra and Castro; King and Abernathy; Kennedy and Johnson; Agnew and Nixon. This pairing, which tends to be analytically consistent suggests a new expansion—tentatively referred to here as the theory of double charisma. Simply stated, the theory postulates the appearance of two charismatic leadership roles in those social movements which are successful and which fully solve the problem of the routinization of charisma. These two leadership roles seem to appear in both conjunction and succession, the first demonstrating "charisma of the outer call," the second "charisma of an inner consolidation."4 It is this second leader who is able to turn the corner from charisma to routine, accomplishing it under the aegis of the more unearthly charisma of the first leader. It is this first charisma which Weber described; the charisma of inner consolidation remains to be adequately defined, although the literature is suggestively prescient enough to make adumbration at least plausible.

General precedents of this sort of pairing, particularly in a functional sense, are readily available to those familiar with the sociological tradition. For example, Durkheim’s distinction between the sacred and the profane5 and Bale’s distinction between maintenance and task leaders in groups6 are both suggestive. The differentiation between line and staff in organizational structures is also somewhat parallel, as is Troeltsch’s contrast between sect and church.7 More pertinently, Roche and Sachs point out the complementarity of the enthusiast and the bureaucrat.8 Turner and Killian treat leadership as composed of symbolic and decision-making functions;9 and Bendix distinguishes between familial and institutional charisma.10

Yet, until very recently, the presence of the second leader has gone unnoticed or, at least, unremarked. The first explicit recognition of this pairing in the literature appeared in October 1970, when Donald McIntosh noted that it was striking "how often the charismatic leader leaves the task of building the new order to his successor, as with Jesus and Peter (and Paul), Caesar and Augustus, Robespierre and Napoleon, Lenin and Stalin, Gandhi and Nehru."11

A cursory review of the histories of some of these successful social movements suggests that the following components and sequence comprise a first approximation to an ideal-type of the theory of the double charisma:

1. the sudden appearance of a dramatic, unconventional charismatic leader with his "gift of grace," issuing an irresistible call to a growing band of followers;

2. the gathering about him of an inner circle of disciples, persons who themselves are charismatic or who are able to borrow or share the charisma of the leader;

3. the equally sudden, dramatic, and unexpected martyrdom of the charismatic leader, leaving an initial, temporary void of leadership only partially filled by the inner circle of disciples as a collective body;

4. the rise, from within the discipleship, of a new leader, also charismatic, predominant over the others, and issuing a new call—a call to consolidation and organization, distinct from the earlier call to the initial gathering;

5. the institutionalization, in some concrete and/or symbolic form, of the martyred, original charismatic leader and the treatment of this by the second charismatic leader and the followers as the basic legitimating totem.

In this description of the ideal-type, there are a number of characteristics to note:

although the charisma of the outer call corresponds more closely to Weber’s original definition and to traditional usage, what distinguishes the two leaders is not so much a difference of charisma as the direction in which their leadership efforts express their thrust and focus; the first leader is strange, fascinating, unusual, unearthly, the second is more conventional, mundane, practical; the first leader brings the elect together, the second creates an organization to contain them; the first leader is inspired by a vision, the second elaborates that vision into a plan;

1. the charisma of the second leader, while his own, borrows from the charisma of the first in that it finds expression among those whom the latter has originally brought together and in that it is temporally sequential to it—it is in effect, the second stage;

2. the martyrdom of the first charismatic leader may be either literal or figurative, i.e., real, physical death does not have to occur, only the cancellation of the role; however, real death is "ideal"12 and avoids certain problems which are difficult to resolve if the death and martyrdom are solely symbolic;

3. the institutionalization of the martyred first leader is especially important in solving the problem of the routinization of charisma; ideally, the first leader is martyred at the height of his leadership, before he is faced with its ephemeral, transitory nature; in this way that elusive quality of charisma—its extinction in the fact of its very expression—is captured in the form of a promise unfulfilled, a gesture uncompleted, a journey of destination without arrival; it is in this way that what is yet unfinished is frozen in time, the atemporal temporalized, the sacred and exclusive transformed in to something to be shared by all;

4. this institutionalization is relevant only for the first leader—it is only his charisma which needs to find a resolution for the dilemma it presents; the second leader in a way yet to be fully articulated expresses his charisma in a partially routinized form or along more routinized channels;

5. both the first and second charismatic leaders are roles; while analytically distinct, they may in historical fact be played out or articulated by the same physical person, the same actor;

6. the components as well as the sequence describe an ideal-type with which empirical, historical events may differ in varying degrees.

Although Weber sagely extended his concept of charismatic leadership to include its profane forms, the phenomenon finds its purest expression in the religious prophet.13 Thus, among those alluded to, the two social movements which were essentially religious in nature provide the clearest illustrations of double charisma: Jesus and Peter in Christianity, and Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in Mormonism. In their routinization of charisma, in fact, these two movements exemplify the theoretical model. However, by way of demonstration, more suggestive than rigorous, it is possible to apply the ideal-type described above to several different social movements which, while not so neatly fitting the model, still demonstrate its heuristic usefulness.

The first is the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro. Castro is somewhat unusual in that he successfully succeeded himself, i.e., he was able to shift from his original role as a charismatic leader issuing an outer call to that of a charismatic leader moving effectively toward an inner consolidation. What was perhaps central to this achievement was the rise of Che Gueverra, an original member of the revolutionary band, to a place of prominence as a charismatic leader in his own right. Che came to this position after Castro made his shift and, in effect, replaced Castro as the charismatic leader of the outer call. Subsequently, he left Cuba and received martyrdom in Bolivia. Significantly, at least among supporters of the so-called Third World Movement, it is Che and not Fidel who tends to be revered and symbolized in the manner of the first charismatic leader.

A second movement which is edifying is the recent [1968] abortive political campaign of Eugene McCarthy. Certainly this was charisma of a rather unusual sort—witty, urbane, plaintive, esoteric, refined—appealing initially mainly to college youth. But it was a charismatic call nevertheless14 and, within the framework of American politics, genuinely revolutionary. Chicago proved to be its nemesis; at the convention and in the streets McCarthy was symbolically martyred. Upon returning to Washington, he himself completed the job by resigning his prestigious Senate committee membership, unwilling or unable to become the leader of inner consolidation, a role which John Gardner in his chairmanship of "Common Cause" may now [1972] be most closely approximating.

The Martin Luther King, Jr.-Ralph Abernathy pairing is also instructive. There is little question of King’s charisma, commanding rhetoric, or domination of the civil rights movement. He, too, was martyred at the zenith of his power and much of the countrywide momentum of the movement died with him. Among his lieutenants—the inner circle—there was some question of succession. Abernathy, as nominal second-in-command, took over the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and followed through with the already pending Poor People’s March on Washington. Plagued by rain, mud, poor organization and factionalism, this encampment was largely unsuccessful and, in retrospect, seemed to mark the peaking out of the movement. Unquestionably, Abernathy lacked King’s charisma, yet he apparently used King as his role model—his programs and his utterances were highly reminiscent of his predecessor. In terms of the model outlined above, Abernathy failed to move into the second charismatic role, the one postulated as necessary for a movement to consolidate and institutionalize. One can only speculate about what might have happened to S.C.L.C. had leadership been taken by a man who evidenced more charisma of inner consolidation, for example, Jesse Jackson of Chicago’s Operation Breadbasket, a superb organizer and a man with considerable following within the movement.15

Two pairings mentioned above should also be elaborated upon. Both Kennedy-Johnson and Agnew-Nixon are suggested double-charismatic pairs which do not herald new social movements so much as they reflect thematic changes in the ongoing political system. Yet particularly Kennedy’s invocation of the "New Frontier" was suggestive of a new dynamic in American society by a charismatic figure and urged a new following.

The Kennedy legacy—the thousand days reminding a generation of older Americans of another, more genial, aristocratic President; the crash program to put a man on the moon "in this decade;" the Peace Corps—all were rich in appeal and promise. Following Kennedy’s assassination, the man who was to show his belly scars to the public and lift his pet hounds by the ear for the press acceded to office. It is generally accepted that Lyndon Johnson was largely responsible for legislatively securing the programs of both the New Frontier and his own Great Society. Whatever charismatic appeal Johnson lacked with the American electorate—although it is well to recall his exceptional majority in the election of 196416—he more than made up for within the inner workings of the 89th Congress. Quite accurately, one might describe Johnson as possessing a powerful charisma of inner consolidation.17

Nixon, on the other hand, has often been described as a man totally devoid of charisma. This is especially true of the so-called "new Nixon," since his earlier presence seemed to call forth counter-charismatic responses.18 Interestingly, the man who did become a household word, who until picked for the Vice Presidency was almost totally unknown, who has been at least momentarily the righteous, adamant, crusading leader of "Middle America," notorious for his rhetoric and eagerness to challenge the "radiclib Establishment," has played a charismatic role. Spiro Agnew, in effect, has played Che to Nixon’s Fidel, if one may forgive the analogy. The double-charisma model again receives some validation in the contrasting behavior of Nixon and Agnew. In fact, Agnew’s outer-directed role may have helped Nixon become more inner-directed, more diffident, and more removed from expedient vote-reaping, enabling his new executive image to take form and gather depth. This interpretation is perhaps best supported by the sudden change in role construed by critics to be a reversion to type, which Nixon briefly exhibited in his somewhat infamous election eve statement in November 1970 and the strong condemnatory reaction in received in the news media. Time Magazine went so far as to offer an alternative, more appropriate version of "what Nixon might have said."19 In this case, Nixon was criticized for reverting to a crude charisma of the outer call rather than serving the people with the charisma of inner consolidation; in Time’s words, "The whole approach evidently suggested the rhetoric of the stump politician, not the reasoning of a President who must lead a nation."20 In fact, Nixon’s use of Agnew throughout his administration—and his failure to do so in this instance—displays significant affinity to the model of double-charisma described here.21

Obviously, these interpretations are highly speculative. Serious problems remain, such as stipulating more exactly the ways in which a second order of charisma is possible. Weber himself did indeed raise and answer the question of succession, which is, in a fundamental way, the process of routinization.22 In the model suggested above it seems that the second charismatic leader prefigures in time the solutions to the problem of succession envisioned by Weber. In effect, the problem of legitimacy is solved de facto prior to being worked out de jure and prior to the time when charisma attaches itself to an office or becomes institutionalized in some other way.

A more serious question is whether the phenomenon of the two charisma’s is the exception or the rule, whether social movements which do not seem, at least at first glance, to be characterized by two charismatic leaders should be viewed more closely, and whether the presence or absence of the second leader correlates with organizational success or failure.

These and other questions should be answered in the growing need to discover more about the actual processes of the routinization of charisma. It is hoped that the model described above will help further these efforts.


NOTES

* This article appeared in the Rocky Mountain Social Science Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, April 1972, pp.93-98, adapted from a paper presented to the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Rocky Mountain Social Science Association at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, May 1971.

1 The most complete explication of charismatic authority appears in Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations, trans. A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons. New York: The Free Press, 1947, pp. 358-392. However, an earlier discussion appeared in Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action. New York: The Free Press, 1937, pp. 658-672.

2 Various "subtypes" of charisma have included situational charisma, countercharisma, institutional or corporate charisma, systemic charisma, postmortem charisma, and spurious or manufactured charisma. See Edward A. Shils, "Charisma, Order and Status," American Sociological Review, Vol. 30, No. 2, 1955, pp. 199-213; Robert C. Tucker, "The Theory of Charismatic Leadership," Daedalus, Vol. 97, No. 3, 1968, pp. 731-756; Ann Ruth Willner, Charismatic Political Leadership: A Theory. Princeton, NJ: Center of International Studies, 1968.

3 As Weber writes, charismatic authority "cannot remain stable, but becomes either traditionalized or rationalized, or a combination of both." The third alternative of dissolution is logically implicit. See his Theory of Social and Economic Organization, p. 364.

4 These two identifying terms are the author’s and at this point merely serve to distinguish.

5 Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. Joseph Ward Swain. New York: The Free Press, 1965.

6 Robert F. Bales, Interaction Process Analysis:: A Method for the Study of Small Groups. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1950.

7 Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches. New York: Harper and Bros., 1960.

8 John P. Roche and Stephen Sachs, "The Bureaucrat and the Enthusiast: An Elaboration of the Leadership of Social Movements," Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1955, pp. 248-261.

9 Ralph H. Turner and Lewis M. Killian, Collective Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

10 Reinhardt Bendix, "Reflections on Charismatic Leadership," in Dennis Wrong, Max Weber. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

11 Donald McIntosh, "Weber and Freud: On the Nature and Sources of Authority," American Sociological Review, Vol. 55, No. 5, 1970, pp. 901-911. It is interesting to note that Adolf Hitler made a similar distinction between the theoretician and the politician in Mein Kampf.

12 I should not here that I am using the term "ideal" in the sense of an ideal-type. This is a descriptive not a normative statement; I am certainly not asserting a preference for a desired outcome.

13 See Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, trans. Ephraim Fischoff. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963, pp. 45-59.

14 The proof of the charismatic "pudding" is in the following: As Weber says, "psychologically, the recognition [of a charismatic leader] is a matter of complete personal devotion to the possessor of the quality, arising out of enthusiasm, or of despair and hope." The Theory of Economic Organization, op.cit., p. 359. Thus the so-called "flower children" validated McCarthy’s charisma, which was then lost when he could not perform miracles in Chicago [at the Democratic Nominating Convention].

15 See Time Magazine, April 6, 1970, pp. 14-23, where Jackson describes himself as a "moral engineer." See also the lengthy interview with Jackson in Playboy Magazine, November, 1969, pp. 85-292.

16 He won with over 61% of the popular vote and 90% of the electoral votes.

17 Thus Johnson’s retention of the inner circle—the Harvard"brain trust" and the Kennedy cabinet—makes sense in terms of the theory, for these were people with whom Johnson retained some of the charisma he "borrowed" from Kennedy. As to a residing totem, the plethora of renamed locations in American geography alone give some evidence of Kennedy’s influence as well as the corelessness of American society. Contrast these innumerable commemorations with those granted Eisenhower, for example.

18 Few of us [still!] need to be reminded of Nixon’s ubiquitously shadowy image in American popular culture.

19 Time Magazine, November 16, 1970, p. 28.

20 Ibid.

21 It should be noted that the audience in reference to whom one may be observed to have either type of charisma can vary and must be specified. Johnson’s inner charisma was largely within the legislative branch of government, while Nixon’s was with the larger Middle American public.

22 See especially Weber, Theory of Social and Economic Organization, op.cit., pp. 363-366.