Charismatic Types—Historical Examples
The miraculous prophet. In the year 1425, Joan of Arc, a peasant girl from the French village of Domremy, had her first vision: "I was in my thirteenth year when God sent a voice to guide me." The voice was that of Saint Michael and he came with a message from God: Joan had been chosen to rid France of the English invaders who now ruled most of the country, and of the resulting chaos and war. She was also to restore the French crown to the prince—the Dauphin, later Charles VII—who was its rightful heir. Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret also spoke to Joan. Her visions were extraordinarily vivid: she saw Saint Michael, touched him, smelled him.
At first Joan told no one what she had seen; for all anyone knew, she was a quiet farm girl. But the visions became even more intense, and so in 1429 she left Domrémy, determined to realize the mission for which God had chosen her. Her goal was to meet Charles in the town of Chinon, where he had established his court in exile. The obstacles were enormous: Chinon was far, the journey was dangerous, and Charles, even if she reached him, was a lazy and cowardly young man who was unlikely to crusade against the English. Undaunted, she moved from village to village, explaining her mission to soldiers and asking them to escort her to Chinon. Young girls with religious visions were a dime a dozen at the time, and there was nothing in Joan's appearance to inspire confidence; one soldier, however, Jean de Metz, was intrigued with her. What fascinated him was the detail of her visions: she would liberate the besieged town of Orléans, have the king crowned at the cathedral in Reims, lead the army to Paris; she knew how she would be wounded, and where; the words she attributed to Saint Michael were quite unlike the language of a farm girl; and she was so calmly confident, she glowed with conviction. De Metz fell under her spell. He swore allegiance and set out with her for Chinon. Soon others offered assistance, too, and word reached Charles of the strange young girl on her way to meet him.
On the 350-mile road to Chinon, accompanied only by a handful of soldiers, through a land infested with warring bands, Joan showed neither fear nor hesitation. The journey took several months. When she finally arrived, the Dauphin decided to meet the girl who had promised to restore him to his throne, despite the advice of his counselors; but he was bored, and wanted amusement, and decided to play a trick on her. She was to meet him in a hall packed with courtiers; to test her prophetic powers, he disguised himself as one of these men, and dressed another man as the prince. Yet when Joan arrived, to the amazement of the crowd, she walked straight up to Charles and curtseyed: "The King of Heaven sends me to you with the message that you shall be the lieutenant of the King of Heaven, who is the king of France." In the talk that followed, Joan seemed to echo Charles's most private thoughts, while once again recounting in extraordinary detail the feats she would accomplish. Days later, this indecisive, flighty man declared himself convinced and gave her his blessing to lead a French army against the English.
Amongst the surplus population living on the margin of society [in the Middle Ages] there was always a strong tendency to take as leader a layman, or maybe an apostate friar or monk, who imposed himself not simply as a holy man but as a prophet or even as a living god. On the strength of inspirations or revelations for which he claimed divine origin this leader would decree for his followers a communal mission of vast dimensions and world-shaking importance. The conviction of having such a mission, of being divinely appointed to carry out a prodigious task, provided the disoriented and the frustrated with new bearings and new hope. It gave them not simply a place in the world but a unique and resplendent place. A fraternity of this kind felt itself an elite, set infinitely apart from and above ordinary mortals, sharing also in his miraculous powers.
—norman cohn, the pursuit of the millennium
Miracles and saintliness aside, Joan of Arc had certain basic qualities that made her exceptional. Her visions were intense; she could describe them in such detail that they had to be real. Details have that effect: they lend a sense of reality to even the most preposterous statements. Furthermore, in a time of great disorder, she was supremely focused, as if her strength came from somewhere unworldly. She spoke with authority, and she predicted things people wanted: the English would be defeated, prosperity would return. She also had a peasant's earthy common sense. She had surely heard descriptions of Charles on the road to Chinon; once at court, she could
"How peculiar have sensed the trick he was playing on her, and could have confidently
[Rasputin s] eyes are, picked out his pampered face in the crowd. The following year, her visions confesses a woman who had made efforts to resist abandoned her, and her confidence as well—she made many mistakes, his influence. She goes on leading to her capture by the English. She was indeed human.
to say that every time she We may no longer believe in miracles, but anything that hints at met him she was always , ,, -, .111. t>i strange, unworldly, even supernatural powers will create charisma. The psy-
amazed afresh at the power 0 J r r r J
of his glance, which it was chology is the same: you have visions of the future, and of the wondrous imPossible to withstand for things you can accomplish. Describe these things in great detail, with an air any considerable time. r^u*.- jjji j-jj-Aj-r i, v
„ , of authority, and suddenly you stand out. And if your prophecy—of pros-
There was something oppressive in this kind and perity, say—is just what people want to hear, they are likely to fall under gentle, but at the same your spell and to see later events as a confirmation of your predictions. Extime sly and cunning, hibit remarkable confidence and people will think your confidence comes
'under he speii of the from real knowledge. You will create a self-fulfilling prophecy: people's be-
powerful will which could lief in you will translate into actions that help realize your visions. Any hint be felt in his whole being. of success will make them see miracles, uncanny powers, the glow of
However tired you might u e+u- u a charisma.
be of this charm, and however much you wanted to escape it, somehow or otheryou always found The authentic animal. One day in 1905, the St. Petersburg salon of yourself attracted back and held. •A young girl who Countess Ignatiev was unusually full. Politicians, society ladies, and courtiers had heard of the strange had all arrived early to await the remarkable guest of honor: Grigori Efi-
new saint camefrom her movich Rasputin, a forty-year-old Siberian monk who had made a name proV"viidted him ^TseLci^of for himself throughout Russia as a healer, perhaps a saint. When Rasputin edification and spiritual arrived, few could disguise their disappointment: his face was ugly, his hair instruction. She had never was stringy, he was gangly and awkward. They wondered why they had seen ei er im or a come. But then Rasputin approached them one by one, wrapping his big portrait of him before, and met him for the first time hands around their fingers and gazing deep into their eyes. At first his gaze in his house. When he was unsettling: as he looked them up and down, he seemed to be probing came up to her and spoke and judging them. Yet suddenly his expression would change, and kindness, to her, she thought him like one of the peasant joy, and understanding would radiate from his face. Several of the ladies he preachers she had often actually hugged, in a most effusive manner. This startling contrast had proseen in her own country found effects.
home. His gentle, monastic gaze and the plainly parted The mood in the salon soon changed from disappointment to excitelight brown hair around the ment. Rasputin's voice was so calm and deep; his language was coarse, yet worthy simple face, all at the ideas it expressed were delightfully simple, and had the ring of great first inspired her confidence. ~
But when he came nearer spiritual truth. Then, just as the guests were beginning to relax with this to her, she felt immediately dirty-looking peasant, his mood suddenly changed to anger: "I know you, that another quite different I can read your souls. You are all too pampered. . . . These fine clothes and m^ mysterious (^r^fty, arts of yours are useless and pernicious. Men must learn to humble them-
and corrupting, looked out from behind the eyes that selves! You must be simpler, far, far simpler. Only then will God come radiated goodness and nearer to you." The monk's face grew animated, his pupils expanded, he gentleness •He sat down looked completely different. How impressive that angry look was, recalling opposite her, edged quite ciose up to her, and his Jesus throwing the moneylenders from the temple. Now Rasputin calmed light blue eyes changed down, returned to being gracious, but the guests already saw him as some-
color, and became deep and one strange and remarkable. Next, in a performance he would soon repeat in salons throughout the city, he led the guests in a folk song, and as they sang, he began to dance, a strange uninhibited dance of his own design, and as he danced, he circled the most attractive women there, and with his eyes invited them to join him. The dance turned vaguely sexual; as his partners fell under his spell, he whispered suggestive comments in their ears. Yet none of them seemed to be offended.
Over the next few months, women from every level of St. Petersburg society visited Rasputin in his apartment. He would talk to them of spiritual matters, but then without warning he would turn sexual, murmuring the crassest come-ons. He would justify himself through spiritual dogma: how can you repent if you have not sinned? Salvation only comes to those who go astray. One of the few who rejected his advances was asked by a friend, "How can one refuse anything to a saint?" "Does a saint need sinful love?" she replied. Her friend said, "He makes everything that comes near him holy. I have already belonged to him, and I am proud and happy to have done so." "But you are married! What does your husband say?" "He considers it a very great honor. If Rasputin desires a woman we all think it a blessing and a distinction, our husbands as well as ourselves."
Rasputin's spell soon extended over Czar Nicholas and more particularly over his wife, the Czarina Alexandra, after he apparently healed their son from a life-threatening injury. Within a few years, he had become the most powerful man in Russia, with total sway over the royal couple.
People are more complicated than the masks they wear in society. The man who seems so noble and gentle is probably disguising a dark side, which will often come out in strange ways; if his nobility and refinement are in fact a put-on, sooner or later the truth will out, and his hypocrisy will disappoint and alienate. On the other hand, we are drawn to people who seem more comfortably human, who do not bother to disguise their contradictions. This was the source of Rasputin's charisma. A man so authentically himself, so devoid of self-consciousness or hypocrisy, was immensely appealing. His wickedness and saintliness were so extreme that it made him seem larger than life. The result was a charismatic aura that was immediate and preverbal; it radiated from his eyes, and from the touch of his hands.
Most of us are a mix of the devil and the saint, the noble and the ignoble, and we spend our lives trying to repress the dark side. Few of us can give free rein to both sides, as Rasputin did, but we can create charisma to a smaller degree by ridding ourselves of self-consciousness, and of the discomfort most of us feel about our complicated natures. You cannot help being the way you are, so be genuine. That is what attracts us to animals: beautiful and cruel, they have no self-doubt. That quality is doubly fascinating in humans. Outwardly people may condemn your dark side, but it is not virtue alone that creates charisma; anything extraordinary will do. Do not apologize or go halfway. The more unbridled you seem, the more magnetic the effect.
dark. A keen glance reached her from the corner of his eyes, bored into her, and held her fascinated. A leaden heaviness overpowered her limbs as his great wrinkled face, distorted with desire, came closer to hers. She felt his hot breath on her cheeks, and saw how his eyes, burning from the depths of their sockets, furtively roved over her helpless body, until he dropped his lids with a sensuous expression. His voice had fallen to a passionate whisper, and he murmured strange, voluptuous words in her ear. • Just as she was on the point of abandoning herself to her seducer, a memory stirred in her dimly and as if from some far distance; she recalled that she had come to ask him about God.
—rené fulop-miller, rasputin: the holy devil weber: essays in sociology, edited by hans gerth and c. wright mills
By its very nature, the The demonic performer. Throughout his childhood Elvis Presley was existence of charismatic thought a strange boy who kept pretty much to himself. In high school in authority is specifically Ai1r-p , , ,, 111 1
. ,, T, , Memphis, Tennessee, he attracted attention with his pompadoured hair and unstable. The holder may r ' ' r r forego his charisma; he sideburns, his pink and black clothing, but people who tried to talk to him may feel "forsaken by his found nothing there—he was either terribly bland or hopelessly shy. At the God, nsjfisiis did on the high school prom, he was the only boy who didn't dance. He seemed lost cross; he may prove to his followers that "mtue in a private world, in love with the guitar he took everywhere. At the Ellis is gone out of him." It is Auditorium, at the end of an evening of gospel music or wrestling, the then that his mission concessions manager would often find Elvis onstage, miming a perfor-
is extinguished, and hope waits and searches for a mance and taking bows before an imaginary audience. Asked to leave, he new holder of charisma. would quietly walk away. He was a very polite young man. —max weber, from max In 1953, just out of high school, Elvis recorded his first song, in a local studio. The record was a test, a chance for him to hear his own voice. A year later the owner of the studio, Sam Phillips, called him in to record two blues songs with a couple of professional musicians. They worked for hours, but nothing seemed to click; Elvis was nervous and inhibited. Then, near the end of the evening, giddy with exhaustion, he suddenly let loose and started to jump around like a child, in a moment of complete self-abandon. The other musicians joined in, the song getting wilder and wilder. Phillips's eyes lit up—he had something here.
A month later Elvis gave his first public performance, outdoors in a Memphis park. He was as nervous as he had been at the recording session, and could only stutter when he had to speak; but once he broke into song, the words came out. The crowd responded excitedly, rising to peaks at certain moments. Elvis couldn't figure out why. "I went over to the manager after the song," he later said, "and I asked him what was making the crowd go nuts. He told me, 'I'm not really sure, but I think that every time you wiggle your left leg, they start to scream. Whatever it is, just don't stop.'
A single Elvis recorded in 1954 became a hit. Soon he was in demand. Going onstage filled him with anxiety and emotion, so much so that he became a different person, as if possessed. "I've talked to some singers and they get a little nervous, but they say their nerves kind of settle down after they get into it. Mine never do. It's sort of this energy . . . something maybe like sex." Over the next few months he discovered more gestures and sounds—twitching dance movements, a more tremulous voice—that made the crowds go crazy, particularly teenage girls. Within a year he had become the hottest musician in America. His concerts were exercises in mass hysteria.
Elvis Presley had a dark side, a secret life. (Some have attributed it to the death, at birth, of his twin brother.) This dark side he deeply repressed as a young man; it included all kinds of fantasies which he could only give in to when he was alone, although his unconventional clothing may also have been a symptom of it. When he performed, though, he was able to let these demons loose. They came out as a dangerous sexual power. Twitch ing, androgynous, uninhibited, he was a man enacting strange fantasies before the public. The audience sensed this and was excited by it. It wasn't a flamboyant style and appearance that gave Elvis charisma, but rather the electrifying expression of his inner turmoil.
A crowd or group of any sort has a unique energy. Just below the surface is desire, a constant sexual excitement that has to be repressed because it is socially unacceptable. If you have the ability to rouse those desires, the crowd will see you as having charisma. The key is learning to access your own unconscious, as Elvis did when he let go. You are full of an excitement that seems to come from some mysterious inner source. Your unin-hibitedness will invite other people to open up, sparking a chain reaction: their excitement in turn will animate you still more. The fantasies you bring to the surface do not have to be sexual—any social taboo, anything repressed and yearning for an outlet, will suffice. Make this felt in your recordings, your artwork, your books. Social pressure keeps people so repressed that they will be attracted to your charisma before they have even met you in person.
The Savior. In March of 1917, the Russian parliament forced the country's ruler, Czar Nicholas, to abdicate and established a provisional government. Russia was in rums. Its participation in World War I had been a disaster; famine was spreading widely, the vast countryside was riven by looting and lynch law, and soldiers were deserting from the army en masse. Politically the country was bitterly divided; the main factions were the right, the social democrats, and the left-wing revolutionaries, and each of these groups was itself afflicted by dissension.
Into this chaos came the forty-seven-year-old Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. A Marxist revolutionary, the leader of the Bolshevik Communist party, he had suffered a twelve-year exile in Europe until, recognizing the chaos overcoming Russia as the chance he had long been waiting for, he had hurried back home. Now he called for the country to end its participation in the war and for an immediate socialist revolution. In the first weeks after his arrival, nothing could have seemed more ridiculous. As a man, Lenin looked unimpressive; he was short and plain-featured. He had also spent years away in Europe, isolated from his people and immersed in reading and intellectual argument. Most important, his party was small, representing only a splinter group within the loosely organized left coalition. Few took him seriously as a national leader.
Undaunted, Lenin went to work. Wherever he went, he repeated the same simple message: end the war, establish the rule of the proletariat, abolish private property, redistribute wealth. Exhausted with the nation's endless political infighting and the complexity of its problems, people began to listen. Lenin was so determined, so confident. He never lost his cool. In the midst of a raucous debate, he would simply and logically debunk each one of his adversaries' points. Workers and soldiers were im-
He is their god. He leads them like a thing \ Made by some other deity than nature, \ That shapes man better; and they follow him \ Against us brats with no less confidence \ Than boys pursuing summer butterflies \ Or butchers killing flies. . . .
— william shakespeare, coriolanus
The roof did lift as Presley came onstage. He sang for twenty-five minutes while the audience erupted like Mount Vesuvius. "I never saw such excitement and screaming in my entire life, ever before or since," said [film director Hal] Kanter. As an observer, he describ-ed being stunned by "an exhibition of public mass hysteria . . . a tidal wave of adoration surging up from 9,000 people, over the wall of police flanking the stage, up over the flood-lights, to the performer and beyond him, lifting him to frenzied heights of response."
—a description of elvis presley's concert at the hayride theater, shreveport, louisiana, december 17, 1956, in peter whitmer, the inner elvis: a psychological biography of elvis aaron presley
No one could so fire others pressed by his firmness. Once, in the midst of a brewing riot, Lenin amazed with theif p1ans, no one his chauffeur by jumping onto the running board of his car and directing could so impose his will the way through the crowd, at considerable personal risk. Told that his ideas and conquer by force of his personality as this had nothing to do with reality, he would answer, "So much the worse for seemingly so ordinary and reality!" somewhat coarse man who
Allied to Lenin's messianic confidence in his cause was his ability to or-
lacked any obvious sources of charm. . . . Neither ganize. Exiled in Europe, his party had been scattered and diminished; in
Plekhanov nor Martov nor keeping them together he had developed immense practical skills. In front anyone else possessed the of a large crowd, he was a also powerful orator. His speech at the First All-
secret radiating from Lenin of positively hypnotic effect Russian Soviet Congress made a sensation; either revolution or a bourgeois upon people—I would government, he cried, but nothing in between—enough of this compro-
even say, domination of mise in which the left was sharing. At a time when other politicians were them. Plekhanov was scrambling desperately to adapt to the national crisis, and seemed weak in treated with deference,
Martov was loved, but the process, Lenin was rock stable. His prestige soared, as did the member-
Lenin alone was followed ship of the Bolshevik party unhes'tatlngly as the only Most astounding of all was Lenin's effect on workers, soldiers, and peas-
indisputable leader. For ° r only Lenin represented that ants. He would address these common people wherever he found them—in rare phenomenon, the street, standing on a chair, his thumbs in his lapel, his speech an odd especially rare in Russia, of.p.ii 4-u* j l*-* 1 T^i, 11
mix of ideology, peasant aphorisms, and revolutionary slogans. They would a man of iron will and indomitable energy who listen, enraptured. When Lenin died, in 1924—seven years after singlecombines fanatical faith in handedly opening the way to the October Revolution of 1917, which had the movement, the cause, swept him and the Bolsheviks into power—these same ordinary Russians with no less faith in himself. went into mourning. They worshiped at his tomb, where his body was preserved on view; they told stories about him, developing a body of
—a. n. potresov, quoted in " 'j ' f o j dankwart a. rustow, ed., Lenin folklore; thousands of newborn girls were christened "Ninel," Lenin philosophers and kings: studies in leadership spelled backwards. This cult of Lenin assumed religious proportions.
"I had hoped to see the mountain eagle of our
There all kinds of misconceptions about charisma, which, paradoxically, only add to its mystique. Charisma has little to do with an exciting physical appearance or a colorful personality, qualities that elicit short—term interest. party, the great man, great Particularly in times of trouble, people are not looking for entertainment— physically as welll as they want security, a better quality of life, social cohesion. Believe it or not, politically. I had fancied
, , a plain-looking man or woman with a clear vision, a quality of single
Lenin as a giant, stately and imposing. Mow great mindedness, and practical skills can be devastatingly charismatic, provided it was my disappointment to is matched with some success. Never underestimate the power of success in see a most ordinary-looking enhancing one's aura. But in a world teeming with compromisers and man, below average height, in no way, literally in no fudgers whose indecisiveness only creates more disorder, one clear-minded way distinguishable from soul will be a magnet of attention—will have charisma.
ordinary mortals. " One on one, or in a Zurich cafe before the revolution, Lenin had little joseph stalm, on meeting or no charisma. (His confidence was attractive, but many found his strident lenin for the first time in , , , \ t t i i i i 1
n„nxcn ,m manner irritating.) He won charisma when he was seen as the man who
clark, lenin:the man could save the country. Charisma is not a mysterious quality that inhabits behind the imsk you outside your control; it is an illusion in the eyes of those who see you as having what they lack. Particularly in times of trouble, you can enhance that illusion through calmness, resolution, and clear-minded practicality. It also helps to have a seductively simple message. Call it the Savior Syn drome: once people imagine you can save them from chaos, they will fall in love with you, like a person who melts in the arms of his or her rescuer. And mass love equals charisma. How else to explain the love ordinary Russians felt for a man as emotionless and unexciting as Vladimir Lenin.
The guru. According to the beliefs of the Theosophical Society, every two thousand years or so the spirit of the World Teacher, Lord Maitreya, inhabits the body of a human. First there was Sri Krishna, born two thousand years before Christ; then there was Jesus himself; and at the start of the twentieth century another incarnation was due. One day in 1909, the theosophist Charles Leadbeater saw a boy on an Indian beach and had an epiphany: this fourteen-year-old lad, Jiddu Krishnamurti, would be the World Teacher's next vehicle. Leadbeater was struck by the simplicity of the boy, who seemed to lack the slightest trace of selfishness. The members of the Theosophical Society agreed with his assessment and adopted this scraggly underfed youth, whose teachers had repeatedly beaten him for stupidity. They fed and clothed him and began his spiritual instruction. The scruffy urchin turned into a devilishly handsome young man.
In 1911, the theosophists formed the Order of the Star in the East, a group intended to prepare the way for the coming of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti was made head of the order. He was taken to England, where his education continued, and everywhere he went he was pampered and revered. His air of simplicity and contentment could not help but impress.
Soon Krishnamurti began to have visions. In 1922 he declared, "I have drunk at the fountain of Joy and eternal Beauty. I am God-intoxicated." Over the next few years he had psychic experiences that the theosophists interpreted as visits from the World Teacher. But Krishnamurti had actually had a different kind of revelation: the truth of the universe came from within. No god, no guru, no dogma could ever make one realize it. He himself was no god or messiah, but just another man. The reverence that he was treated with disgusted him. In 1929, much to his followers' shock, he disbanded the Order of the Star and resigned from the Theosophical Society.
And so Krishnamurti became a philosopher, determined to spread the truth he had discovered: you must be simple, removing the screen of language and past experience. Through these means anyone could attain contentment of the kind that radiated from Krishnamurti. The theosophists abandoned him but his following grew larger than ever. In California, where he spent much of his time, the interest in him verged on cultic adoration. The poet Robinson Jeffers said that whenever Krishnamurti entered a room you could feel a brightness filling the space. The writer Aldous Huxley met him in Los Angeles and fell under his spell. Hearing him speak, he wrote: "It was like listening to the discourse of the Buddha— such power, such intrinsic authority." The man radiated enlightenment. The actor John Barrymore asked him to play the role of Buddha in a film.
Tirst and foremost there can be no prestige without mystery, for familiarity breeds contempt. . ..In the design, the demeanor and the mental operations of a leader there must always be a "something" which others cannot altogether fathom, which puzzles them, stirs them, and rivets their attention . . . to hold in reserve some piece of secret knowledge which may any moment intervene, and the more effectively from being in the nature of a surprise. The latent faith of the masses will do the rest. Once the leader has been fudged capable of adding the weight of his personality to the known factors of any situation, the ensuing hope and confidence will add immensely to the faith reposed in him.
—charles de gaulle, the edge of the sword, in david schoenbrun, the three lives of charles de gaulle
Only a month after Evita's (Krishnamurti politely declined.) When he visited India, hands would death, the newspaper reach out from the crowd to try to touch him through the open car win-
dow. People prostrated themselves before him.
her name for canonization, 1 1
and although this gesture Repulsed by all this adoration, Krishnamurti grew more and more de-
was an isolated one and tached. He even talked about himself in the third person. In fact, the ability was never taken seriously to disengage from one's past and view the world anew was part of his phi-
Enta's holiness remained losophy, yet once again the effect was the opposite of what he expected:
with many people and was the affection and reverence people felt for him only grew. His followers reinforced by the fought jealously for signs of his favor. Women in particular fell deeply in publication of devotional literature subsidized by love with him, although he was a lifelong celibate.
the government; by the renaming of cities, schools, Krishnamurti had no desire to be a guru or a Charismatic, but he inadver-
and subway stations; and tently discovered a law of human psychology that disturbed him. People do by the stamping of medallions, the casting not want to hear that your power comes from years of effort or discipline.
of busts, and the issuing of They prefer to think that it comes from your personality, your character, ceremonial stamps. The i ^pi i i, j-i, ^ + 4-1, something you were born with. They also hope that proximity to the guru time of the evening news broadcast was changed from or Charismatic will make some of that power rub off on them. They did
8:30 p.m. to 8:25 p.m., not want to have to read Krishnamurti's books, or to spend years practicing the time when Evita had his lessons—they simply wanted to be near him, soak up his aura, hear him nH^elth mmth^Z^wew speak, feel the light that entered the room with him. Krishnamurti advo-
torch-lit processions on the cated simplicity as a way of opening up to the truth, but his own simplicity twenty-sixth of the month, just allowed people to see what they wanted in him, attributing powers to the day of her death. On him that he not only denied but ridiculed.
the first anniversary of her death, La Prensa printed a This is the guru effect, and it is surprisingly simple to create. The aura story about one of its you are after is not the fiery one of most Charismatics, but one of incan-
descence, enlightenment. An enlightened person has understood some-
in the face of the moon, and after this there were thing that makes him or her content, and this contentment radiates outward.
many more such sightings That is the appearance you want: you do not need anything or anyone, you reported in the newspapers. are fulfilled. People are naturally drawn to those who emit happiness;
For the most part, official publications stopped short maybe they can catch it from you. The less obvious you are, the better: let of claiming sainthood for people conclude that you are happy, rather than hearing it from you. Let her, but their restraint was them see it in your unhurried manner, your gentle smile, your ease and not always convincing. . . .
In the calendar for 1953 of comfort. Keep your words vagu^ letting people imagine what they wiU.
the Buenos Aires Remember: being aloof and distant only stimulates the effect. People newspaper vendors, as in will fight for the slightest sign of your interest. A guru is content and other unofficial images, detached—a deadly Charismatic combination.
she was depicted in the traditional blue robes of the Virgin, her hands crossed, her sad head to one side and surrounded by a halo.
—nicholas fraser and marysa nayarro. evita
The drama saint. It began on the radio. Throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, Argentine women would hear the plaintive, musical voice of Eva Duarte in one of the lavishly produced soap operas that were so popular at the time. She never made you laugh, but how often she could make you cry—with the complaints of a betrayed lover, or the last words of Marie Antoinette. The very thought of her voice made you shiver with emotion. And she was pretty, with her flowing blond hair and her serious face, which was often on the covers of the gossip magazines.
In 1943, those magazines published a most exciting story: Eva had begun an affair with one of the most dashing men in the new military government, Colonel Juan Peron. Now Argentines heard her doing propaganda spots for the government, lauding the "New Argentina" that glistened in the future. And finally, this fairy tale story reached its perfect conclusion: in 1945 Juan and Eva married, and the following year, the handsome colonel, after many trials and tribulations (including a spell in prison, from which he was freed by the efforts of his devoted wife) was elected president. He was a champion of the descamisados—the "shirtless ones," the workers and the poor, just as his wife was. Only twenty-six at the time, she had grown up in poverty herself.
Now that this star was the first lady of the republic, she seemed to change. She lost weight, most definitely; her outfits became less flamboyant, even downright austere; and that beautiful flowing hair was now pulled back, rather severely. It was a shame—the young star had grown up. But as Argentines saw more of the new Evita, as she was now known, her new look affected them more strongly. It was the look of a saintly, serious woman, one who was indeed what her husband called the "Bridge of Love" between himself and his people. She was now on the radio all the time, and listening to her was as emotional as ever, but she also spoke magnificently in public. Her voice was lower and her delivery slower; she stabbed the air with her fingers, reached out as if to touch the audience. And her words pierced you to the core: "I left my dreams by the wayside in order to watch over the dreams of others. ... I now place my soul at the side of the soul of my people. I offer them all my energies so that my body may be a bridge erected toward the happiness of all. Pass over it ... toward the supreme destiny of the new fatherland."
It was no longer only through magazines and the radio that Evita made herself felt. Almost everyone was personally touched by her in some way. Everyone seemed to know someone who had met her, or who had visited her in her office, where a line of supplicants wound its way through the hallways to her door. Behind her desk she sat, so calm and full of love. Film crews recorded her acts of charity: to a woman who had lost everything, Evita would give a house; to one with a sick child, free care in the finest hospital. She worked so hard, no wonder rumor had it that she was ill. And everyone heard of her visits to the shanty towns and to hospitals for the poor, where, against the wishes of her staff, she would kiss people with all kinds of maladies (lepers, syphilitic men, etc.) on the cheek. Once an assistant appalled by this habit tried to dab Evita's lips with alcohol, to sterilize them. This saint of a woman grabbed the bottle and smashed it against the wall.
Yes, Evita was a saint, a living madonna. Her appearance alone could heal the sick. And when she died of cancer, in 1952, no outsider to Argentina could possibly understand the sense of grief and loss she left behind. For some, the country never recovered.
As for me, I have the gift of electrifying men.
— napoleon bonaparte, in pieter geyl, napoleon: for and against
I do not pretend to be a divine man, but I do believe in divine guidance, divine power, and divine prophecy. I am not educated, nor am I an expert in any particular field—but I am sincere and my sincerity is my credentials.
— malcolm x, quoted in eugene victorwolfenstein, THE VICTIMS OF DEMOCRACY: malcolm x and this black revolution
Most of us live in a semi-somnambulistic state: we do our daily tasks and the days fly by. The two exceptions to this are childhood and those moments when we are in love. In both cases, our emotions are more engaged, more open and active. And we equate feeling emotional with feeling more alive. A public figure who can affect people's emotions, who can make them feel communal sadness, joy, or hope, has a similar effect. An appeal to the emotions is far more powerful than an appeal to reason.
Eva Peron knew this power early on, as a radio actress. Her tremulous voice could make audiences weep; because of this, people saw in her great charisma. She never forgot the experience. Her every public act was framed in dramatic and religious motifs. Drama is condensed emotion, and the Catholic religion is a force that reaches into your childhood, hits you where you cannot help yourself. Evita's uplifted arms, her staged acts of charity, her sacrifices for the common folk—all this went straight to the heart. It was not her goodness alone that was charismatic, although the appearance of goodness is alluring enough. It was her ability to dramatize her goodness.
You must learn to exploit the two great purveyors of emotion: drama and religion. Drama cuts out the useless and banal in life, focusing on moments of pity and terror; religion deals with matters of life and death. Make your charitable actions dramatic, give your loving words religious import, bathe everything in rituals and myths going back to childhood. Caught up in the emotions you stir, people will see over your head the halo of charisma.
The deliverer. In Harlem in the early 1950s, few African-Americans knew much about the Nation of Islam, or ever stepped into its temple. The Nation preached that white people were descended from the devil and that someday Allah would liberate the black race. This doctrine had little meaning for Harlemites, who went to church for spiritual solace and turned in practical matters to their local politicians. But in 1954, a new minister for the Nation of Islam arrived in Harlem.
The minister's name was Malcolm X, and he was well-read and eloquent, yet his gestures and words were angry. Word spread: whites had lynched Malcolm's father. He had grown up in a juvenile facility, then had survived as a small-time hustler before being arrested for burglary and spending six years in prison. His short life (he was only twenty—nine at the time) had been one long run-in with the law, yet look at him now—so confident and educated. No one had helped him; he had done it all on his own. Harlemites began to see Malcolm X everywhere, handing out fliers, addressing the young. He would stand outside their churches, and as the congregation dispersed, he would point to the preacher and say, "He represents the white man's god; I represent the black man's god." The curious began to come to hear him preach at a Nation of Islam temple. He would ask them to look at the actual conditions of their lives: "When you get through looking at where you live, then . . . take a walk across Central Park," he would tell them. "Look at the white man's apartments. Look at his Wall Street!" His words were powerful, particularly coming from a minister.
In 1957, a young Muslim in Harlem witnessed the beating of a drunken black man by several policemen. When the Muslim protested, the police pummeled him senseless and carted him off to jail. An angry crowd gathered outside the police station, ready to riot. Told that only Malcolm X could forestall violence, the police commissioner brought him in and told him to break up the mob. Malcolm refused. Speaking more temperately, the commissioner begged him to reconsider. Malcolm calmly set conditions for his cooperation: medical care for the beaten Muslim, and proper punishment for the police officers. The commissioner reluctantly agreed. Outside the station, Malcolm explained the agreement and the crowd dispersed. In Harlem and around the country, he was an overnight hero— finally a man who took action. Membership in his temple soared.
Malcolm began to speak all over the United States. He never read from a text; looking out at the audience, he made eye contact, pointed his finger. His anger was obvious, not so much in his tone—he was always controlled and articulate—as in his fierce energy, the veins popping out on his neck. Many earlier black leaders had used cautious words, and had asked their followers to deal patiently and politely with their social lot, no matter how unfair. What a relief Malcolm was. He ridiculed the racists, he ridiculed the liberals, he ridiculed the president; no white person escaped his scorn. If whites were violent, Malcolm said, the language of violence should be spoken back to them, for it was the only language they understood. "Hostility is good!" he cried out. "It's been bottled up too long." In response to the growing popularity of the nonviolent leader Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm said, "Anybody can sit. An old woman can sit. A coward can sit. ... It takes a man to stand."
Malcolm X had a bracing effect on many who felt the same anger he did but were frightened to express it. At his funeral—he was assassinated in 1965, at one of his speeches—the actor Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy before a large and emotional crowd: "Malcolm," he said, "was our own black shining prince."
Malcolm X was a Charismatic of Moses' kind: he was a deliverer. The power of this sort of Charismatic comes from his or her expression of dark emotions that have built up over years of oppression. In doing so, the deliverer provides an opportunity for the release of bottled-up emotions by other people—of the hostility masked by forced politeness and smiles. Deliverers have to be one of the suffering crowd, only more so: their pain must be exemplary. Malcolm's personal history was an integral part of his charisma. His lesson—that blacks should help themselves, not wait for whites to lift them up—meant a great deal more because of his own years in prison, and because he had followed his own doctrine by educating him self, lifting himself up from the bottom. The deliverer must be a living example of personal redemption.
The essence of charisma is an overpowering emotion that communicates itself in your gestures, In your tone of voice, in subtle signs that are the more powerful for being unspoken. You feel something more deeply than others, and no emotion is more powerful and more capable of creating a charismatic reaction than hatred, particularly if it comes from deep-rooted feelings of oppression. Express what others are afraid to express and they will see great power in you. Say what they want to say but cannot. Never be afraid of going too far. If you represent a release from oppression, you have the leeway to go still farther. Moses spoke of violence, of destroying every last one of his enemies. Language like this brings the oppressed together and makes them feel more alive. This is not, however, something that is uncontrollable on your part. Malcolm x felt rage from early on, but only in prison did he teach himself the art of oratory, and how to channel his emotions. Nothing is more charismatic than the sense that someone is struggling with great emotion rather than simply giving in to it.
The Olympian actor. On January 24, 1960 an insurrection broke out in Algeria, then still a French colony. Led by right-wing French soldiers, its purpose was to forestall the proposal of President Charles de Gaulle to grant Algeria the right of self-determination. If necessary, the insurrectionists would take over Algeria in the name of France.
For several tense days, the seventy-year-old de Gaulle maintained a strange silence. Then on January 29, at eight in the evening, he appeared on French national television. Before he had uttered a word, the audience was astonished, for he wore his old uniform from World War II, a uniform that everyone recognized and that created a strong emotional response. De Gaulle had been the hero of the resistance, the savior of the country at its darkest moment. But that uniform had not been seen for quite some time. Then de Gaulle spoke, reminding his public, in his cool and confident manner, of all they had accomplished together in liberating France from the Germans. Slowly he moved from these charged patriotic issues to the rebellion in Algeria, and the affront it presented to the spirit of the liberation. He finished his address by repeating his famous words of June 18, 1940: "Once again I call all Frenchmen, wherever they are, whatever they are, to reunite with France. Vive la République! Vive la France!"
The speech had two purposes. It showed that de Gaulle was determined not to give an inch to the rebels, and it reached for the heart of all patriotic Frenchmen, particularly in the army. The insurrection quickly died, and no one doubted the connection between its failure and de Gaulle's performance on television.
The following year, the French voted overwhelmingly in favor of Algerian self-determination. On April 11, 1961, de Gaulle gave a press conference in which he made it clear that France would soon grant the country full independence. Eleven days later, French generals in Algeria issued a communique stating that they had taken over the country and declaring a state of siege. This was the most dangerous moment of all: faced with Algeria's imminent independence, these right-wing generals would go all the way. A civil war could break out, toppling de Gaulle's government.
The following night, de Gaulle appeared once again on television, once again wearing his old uniform. He mocked the generals, comparing them to a South American junta. He talked calmly and sternly. Then, suddenly, at the very end of the address, his voice rose and even trembled as he called out to the audience: "Françaises, Français, aidez-moi!" ("Frenchwomen, Frenchmen, help me!") It was the most stirring moment of all his television appearances. French soldiers in Algeria, listening on transistor radios, were overwhelmed. The next day they held a mass demonstration in favor of de Gaulle. Two days later the generals surrendered. On July 1, 1962, de Gaulle proclaimed Algeria's independence.
In 1940, after the German invasion of France, de Gaulle escaped to England to recruit an army that would eventually return to France for the liberation. At the beginning, he was alone, and his mission seemed hopeless. But he had the support of Winston Churchill, and with Churchill's blessing he gave a series of radio talks that the BBC broadcast to France. His strange, hypnotic voice, with its dramatic tremolos, would enter French living rooms in the evenings. Few of his listeners even knew what he looked like, but his tone was so confident, so stirring, that he recruited a silent army of believers. In person, de Gaulle was a strange, brooding man whose confident manner could just as easily irritate as win over. But over the radio that voice had intense charisma. De Gaulle was the first great master of modern media, for he easily transferred his dramatic skills to television, where his iciness, his calmness, his total self-possession, made audiences feel both comforted and inspired.
The world has grown more fractured. A nation no longer conies together on the streets or in the squares; it is brought together in living rooms, where people watching television all over the country can simultaneously be alone and with others. Charisma must now be communicable over the airwaves or it has no power. But it is in some ways easier to project on television, both because television makes a direct one-on-one appeal (the Charismatic seems to address you) and because charisma is fairly easy to fake for the few moments you spend in front of the camera. As de Gaulle understood, when appearing on television it is best to radiate calmness and control, to use dramatic effects sparingly. De Gaulle's overall iciness made doubly effective the brief moments in which he raised his voice, or let loose a biting joke. By remaining calm and underplaying it, he hypnotized his audience. (Your face can express much more if your voice is less strident.) He conveyed emotion visually—the uniform, the setting—and through the use of certain charged words: the liberation, Joan of Arc. The less he strained for effect, the more sincere he appeared.
All this must be carefully orchestrated. Punctuate your calmness with surprises; rise to a climax; keep things short and terse. The only thing that cannot be faked is self-confidence, the key component to charisma since the days of Moses. Should the camera lights betray your insecurity, all the tricks in the world will not put your charisma back together again.
Symbol: The Lamp. Invisible to the eye, a current flowing through a wire in a glass vessel generates a heat that turns into candescence. All we see is the glow. In the prevailing darkness, the Lamp lights the way.
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