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Fascism 'charisma' and 'charismatisation' : Weber's model of 'charismatic domination' and interwar European fascism.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2006
JournalTotalitarian Movements and Political Religions
Journal number1
Volume7
Number of pages19
Pages25-43
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The special position that many fascist leaders eventually occupied in the political and psychological structures of their movements alludes to an exceptional degree of charismatisation by the community of their followers. Less clear, however, is the relation between the fascist leader's 'cult' and society as a 'charismatic community' (Gemeinde). This article examines the relation between fascist ideology and 'charisma', drawing a distinction between the Weberian notion of 'charismatic domination' and the fascist 'leadership cult'. It also challenges the mono-causal explanation of fascist rule as irrational-charismatic, arguing instead in favour of a composite model of both genuine and manufactured, that is rationally pursued, processes of charismatisation that were quantitatively and qualitatively different across the spectrum of fascist leaders and regimes in the interwar period. The concerted charismatisation of the fascist leader, through propaganda and state-imposed rituals, did not automatically generate a genuine model of charismatic domination, even if instances and routines of adulation did become established and widespread. Here, the conceptual confusion behind the often-interchangeable use of the terms 'charismatic leadership' and 'cult of the leader' is evident. What will become clear is that, in the context of interwar fascism, the existence of a genuine charismatic personality neither guaranteed the establishment of a regime nor produced automatically a model of 'charismatic domination'. Similarly, the relative absence of specific charismatic qualities in the personality of a leader did not prevent a regime from either promoting a systematic 'leadership cult' or producing a modicum of 'charismatisation'. Only in National Socialist Germany did the leader's charisma and the 'leadership cult' come close to transforming society into a genuine 'charismatic community'; but even during the Nazi regime patterns of 'charismatic domination' coalesced with both 'traditional' and 'bureaucratic' forms of legitimacy.