Max Weber’s Disciples: Theorizing the Charismatic Aristocracy

Sociological Theory 35 (4):334-358 (2017)
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While several studies have explored the interactional dynamics of charismatic power, most have neglected the role of what Weber termed the charismatic aristocracy. This article revives the classical concept to respond to contemporary calls for performative, followercentric approaches to charisma. Specifically, the charismatic aristocracy is placed at the center of an analysis of a reiterative moment in charismatization: when influential followers generate content for the emerging charismatic persona. In these germinal moments, the dialogical nature of charisma is most clear, precisely because it is then that charismatic leaders often are not themselves confident in their status and can be found responding to instructional cues—indeed following the lead—of those positioning themselves as obsequious followers. Drawing on 10 years of observations, multistage interviews, and media collections, I provide an interactionist account of the charismatic emergence of John de Ruiter, leader of a successful new religious movement. I conclude by tabling a model that conceives of the charismatic aristocracy as an important fulcrum for expectation, affectation, and recognition in charismatic interactions.
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