China in Transition: Communism, Capitalism, and Democracy

By Ronald M. Glassman | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
Charismatic Leadership

In this volume on China, Max Weber's conception of charismatic legitimacy as a bridge between traditional and modern social organization becomes central. 1 Although the Chinese Communist Party established the institutions of modernity, Mao Zedong became the symbol of China's new identity and reunification. Charismatic leadership, because it establishes a powerful emotional and personalized bond between the leader and his followers, becomes the perfect bridge between the old and the new systems, during periods of rapid social change. The old social and cultural structure has broken down, yet the new structure is not yet developed. Therefore political anarchy and cultural anomie would prevail. Anarchy and anomie engender social disorganization, 2 deviance, crime, and senseless episodes of violence directed at random targets.

Charismatic authority reduces such anarchy and anomie, by producing a temporary authority structure that unifies the society around the charismatized figure of the leader. Of course, the actual person behind the leader gets lost, and the charismatic figure becomes larger than life--becomes like a god. This godliness can emanate from the leader as a genuine charismatic aura, or it can be artificially manufactured as pseudo-charisma, where genuine charisma is lacking. But some questions must first be asked: "How can rational-minded human begins become emotionally infantalized fools? Why would hardened revolutionary realists, trained at military arms, follow such a leader and become carried away by his charisma? Let us analyze this further, for people do become emotionally bonded to exceptional leaders, and revolutionaries often follow such leaders blindly, trading their realism for dreams and risking their lives in the process.

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