A Kantian Theory of Charisma
Scholars have for some time remarked on the incredible influence of a charismatic leader. Both Sohm and Weber attempt to provide an explanatory theory of charisma. Yet there remains an inexplicable excess to charisma as it unfolds in public. Sohm locates charisma in the agent while Weber argues charisma emerges from public consent; but both remark on charisma's magical qualities, qualities that seem to defy explanation. The unknown power linked with charisma is the focus of this paper. By defining charisma as either an individual or audience granted phenomenon past theorists have limited the explanatory power of their frameworks. As such, I will not discuss charisma as a "product", but as a catharsis, a culmination of individual genius, the cultivation of an audience, and the expansion of the moral good. I will not explore the ways in which charisma is maintained or changed. I will not examine the social ramifications of charismatic events. Rather, I will theorize charisma employing Kant's schema for the beautiful, a theory focused on the harmonious accord that rarely emerges in language. In contrast to Weber's argument that how charisma is "ultimately judged from any ethical, aesthetic, or other such point of view is naturally entirely indifferent for purposes of definition", this essay will focus on how aesthetic judgments determine the rise of the charismatic moment.
Keywords: Charisma, Immanuel Kant, Rhetorical Theory
Dr. G. Mitchell Reyes
Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies, California State University, Long Beach