In his essay “The Three Types of Legitimate Rule” published in 1958, the influential German sociologist Max Weber introduced his theory of authority which was based on tripartite classifications of authority: Traditional authority, rational-legal authority and charismatic authority (also referred to as Charismatic leadership or domination). According to Weber, order is based on two fundamental forms: norms and authority. Authority and norms represent polar principles of social organization: In the one case organization rests upon orientation to a rule or a principle; in the other instance it is based upon compliance to commands”. In particular, Weber was concerned about pure authority though he knew that mixtures in legitimising authority are relevant in reality. For instance: traditional authority is legitimated by the sanctity of tradition and heritage, legal-rational authority by the belief in legal and natural laws and charismatic authority is to do with the dynamic , inspirational and non-rational political figure.
Charismatic leadership, according to Weber, is found in a leader with extraordinary characteristics of individual, whose mission and vision inspire others. In such, this charismatic leader is seen as the head of any social or political movement, sometimes gifted with divine powers such as: religious prophets and Gurus. However, charismatic leadership is considered unstable as it is related to faith and belief; once these fade, the authority and leadership dissolve.
Thus, charismatic authority depends on the extent to which a religious or political figure is able to preserve moral influence and prosperity to his followers. Weber favoured charismatic leadership and saw its inevitable influence over the other two authorities with the use of soft power in both the traditional and legal-rational authorities. According to Weber, Charisma is: ” a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities”. In this regard, Charismatic authority is the legitimised power on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers. Therefore, this power is based on the leader, who perceives legitimacy, and the absence of this leader will dissolve the power. Charismatic leadership is not only based on human characteristics but also on the relationship between the leader and his/her recognisers. Recognition, in this concept, can be understood as an abandon driven by enthusiasm, hope or faith. Today’s leaders managed to attract public support by a charismatic relation which included: giving/taking, trust and influence. Leadership is thus understood in terms of charismatic and non-charismatic means. Yet, behaviours must not be mixed with charisma; leaders intentions are not known in prior and many voters feel disappointed after the elected leader is in office.
However, Weber saw a decline in charismatic leadership in what he described as a “routinization” with orders traditionalised and followers legalised. By so doing, charismatic leadership changes, it will be “succeeded by a bureaucracy controlled by a rationally established authority or by a combination of traditional and bureaucratic authority”. The Prophet Mohammad is a clear example of a routinization process; he initially appeared as an extremely charismatic and influential figure, once the structure of Islam was set, traditional form of authority succeeded his charismatic leadership.
In politics, charismatic leadership is often associated with authoritarian, autocrat, dictator and theocrat states. Leaders in these systems tend to establish a rooted cult of personality which includes the use of propaganda, soft power, media and other methods in order to construct an unquestionably appraised public image, characterised by perfection and heroism, exhibiting traits of narcissism “egoism, vanity, conceit and simple selfishness”. The succession process of this leader will result in a cleavage within the state because power was concentrated around one person (i.e. Libya), unless prior arrangements were made (i.e. North Korea). This society will have to face two choices: either transfer powers to another leader and regard it as a charismatic one or move to another form of authority. Accordingly, Weber identifies the methods of succession as demonstrated below:


Charismatic leadership varies considerably between non-democratic and democratic politics. Weber believed that in charismatic relations, people no longer obey customs or laws; the followers submit to the imperious demands of a heroic symbol, whose orders are legitimated not by logic, nor by the hero’s place in an ascribed hierarchy, but solely by the personal “power to command” of the charismatic individual. In non-democratic societies, the notion of charismatic authority is abused. In such, it allows the concentration of power around one leader (i.e. Libya under Gaddafi and North Korea) or elite (i.e. Egypt, Syria, Algeria); if misused, it can affect other nations as the energy within society is enormous. Charismatic leadership can also be routinized into a traditional form of authority. In other words, charismatic leaders would direct the succession to their sons and family members such as in Egypt and Libya, where both Mubarak and Gaddafi aimed to introduce their sons to politics prior to the Arab spring. Examples of other charismatic leaders in the Middle East included Gamal Abdul Nasser (Arab Nationalism), Saddam Hussein, Houari Boumediene, Yasser Arafat, Ayatolah Khumeini, among others. These leaders have managed to take rule, mostly after coup d’états or social revolutions lead by the leader. They managed throughout the years to construct legitimacy as heroic symbols for the fight against colonialism. Social movements determine whether the future of governance should rely on democracy or on a Charismatic leader. With the Arab Spring, charismatic leadership has declined and publics are becoming more aware of the necessity for democracy and the rule of law. Religious charismatic leaders have also been significant, for instance, Gurus, Priests, and Muslim clerics in Al Azhar (i.e. Al Qaradawi). In Asia, China and North Korea are still significant examples of a successful charismatic leadership. A dark side of charismatic leadership includes Osama Bin Ladin as a heroic symbol for Salafist extremist groups around the world.
As a result, charismatic authority is no longer relevant in democracies because it allows the concentration of power and the establishment of an unquestioned hierarchy within society. Checks and balances are not exercised, therefore, corruption can spread and the democratic rule will be curbed as such allocation of power will prevent the process of democracy to be shaped. Furthermore, the essence of democracy from leadership, competition, electoral campaign, referendums and debates will be paralysed as followers will be blinded by the qualities of the leader and overlook his actions. However, this does not deny the fact that charismatic leaders do exist in democracies. Some key examples include Barrack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Angela Merkel, among others. Their charisma influenced voters, and with the use of soft power, these leaders have managed to change public’s perceptions and achieve significant outcomes within the context of democracy.