I came across the following article related to some anthropological work that Charles Lindholm has been involved in, and reading it I found it quite useful (with some reservations) in understanding some eastern cultures – especially those of the Indian Subcontinent. It is a long article that will require a a number of sittings to read and comprehend. If you don’t have the time, atleast try to understand the conclusions.
What does it mean to be ‘in one’s right mind’? Ordinary discourse and the technical languages of the social sciences assume that being in one’s right mind essentially means that one has the ability to calculate how to attain valued ends while avoiding injury and opprobrium (See Note 1). The calculating rationality which utilizes appropriate means to achieve desired ends is thought to be known and recognized both by rational subjects themselves and by equally rational observers; irrationality, then, is an incapacity to calculate, and is revealed in a lack of congruence between acts and goals.
Anthropologists, as professional iconoclasts, have often attempted to demonstrate that assumptions about ‘normal’ consciousness vary according to cultural context; what is madness here is sanity there, and vice versa. This approach is especially characteristic of interpretive anthropologists who wish to avoid imposing preconceived Western notions of rationality on what Clifford Geertz calls ‘local knowledge’.
However, although the range of goals and methods for achieving them has been greatly expanded by an awareness of cultural context, the interpretive approach does not really offer any significant challenge to the model of rationality outlined above, but rather remains grounded in standard utilitarian assumptions of rational individual actors calculating means to achieve valued ends. In this paper, I argue that a truly radical challenge to the notion of rationality already exists within the canon of Western social thought in the works of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, as well as in the now forgotten writings of crowd psychologists Gustave Le Bon and Gabriel Tarde.
In the next few pages, I will outline these oppositional and radically non-calculative aspects of social theory, contrast them with the work of some influential modern scholars, and, by means of a discussion of typical recruitment mechanisms found in some ‘New Age’ movements, suggest a few ways these classic perspectives might help us to rethink our notions of person, agent, and sanity.
Max Weber and the Irrational
It is appropriate to begin with Max Weber, who is the predominant figure in the pantheon of modern American sociology and anthropology. For Weber and his orthodox followers sociology and anthropology were defined as the effort to reveal sympathetically yet systematically the significance of social action through exposing the cultural values and norms that motivate persons. This is the famous method of verstehen, or, in Geertzian terms, ‘taking the native’s point of view’, and is the foundation of interpretive anthropology. From this perspective, the interpreter reaches ‘understanding’ by realizing the meanings the local actor attaches to his or her actions in pursuit of culturally valued goals. In other words, Weberian and Geertzian actors are reasonable, although their reasons may not be immediately transparent to an uninitiated observer due to cultural and historical differences in value-systems and in the modes of rationality developed as a consequence of these differences.
We can see then that Weberian sociology and its modern interpretive descendants are approaches to social science that fit in well with the model of ‘standard’ consciousness I outlined above: human beings are assumed to be rational agents acting consciously and intelligently to maximize their valued goals; their thought is recognizable as reasonable by the thinker as well as by the culturally knowledgeable observer; furthermore, rationality is highly valued within its particular cultural setting, since only rational action can lead to attainment of culturally desirable ends. The contribution of interpretive social science, in the Weberian and Geertzian sense, is thus to reveal the rationality of apparent irrationality through supplying “the interpretive understanding of social action and thereby… a causal explanation of its course and consequences” (Weber 1978: 4).
For Weber, this approach, in which the point of view of the other is taken in order to display the underlying intent and purpose of social action for that other is the sole mode of inquiry proper to the social sciences. According to Weber, such a limitation of the possibilities of sociology is necessary because sociologists (and, by extension, anthropologists) are products and purveyors of rational analytic thought and can only practise their craft in this mode. Even more crucial, however, is Weber’s fundamental contention that any action orientation in which the actors’ motives and goals are not self-consciously determined is outside the realm of meaning, therefore unintelligible, and as such must be excluded from the central interpretive task of social theory.
But although Weber specifically excludes all irrational, unconscious, and purely reactive activity from the realm of theory and accordingly devotes himself to explicating the types of rationality that ‘make sense’ of other cultures and historical epochs, he himself was well aware that a great deal of human life – indeed, most of human life – is not experienced by self-conscious agents acting for achieving valued goals within coherent ‘webs of meaning’. Weber therefore breaks action orientations down into four ideal types. Two of these types – value rationality and instrumental rationality – are different forms of calculating consciousness based upon the rationality of the actor (See Note 3), and in most of his major writing Weber elaborates their distinctions and evolution. The other two types of action orientation, however, are deemed by Weber to be without any purpose or meaning whatsoever, and thereby to stand outside the range of social theory. These types are tradition and charisma (See Note 4).
Tradition is defined by Weber as “on the other side” of the borderline between meaningful and irrational action (Weber 1978: 25), since for him tradition ideally implies an automatic and unthinking repetition by the actor enmeshed within the confines of a mindless swarm; it is a state of torpor, lethargy and inertia, predictable and mechanical, reproducing itself in utter indifference and submerging the creative individualities of all persons caught within its coils (See Note 5). Here, Weber gives us a picture of mundane life governed by routine; a world of the passive crowd in which rational self-consciousness and goal-orientation has no part to play.
Yet, although tradition is sociologically unanalyzable in principle, Weber nonetheless notes that action motivated by habit and thoughtless conformity is hardly unusual. Instead, he writes that “in the great majority of cases actual action goes on in a state of inarticulate half-consciousness or actual unconsciousness of its subjective meaning” (Weber 1978: 21) and that the “bulk of all everyday action” is motivated by “an almost automatic reaction to habitual stimuli” (Weber 1978: 25). Weber freely acknowledges such “merely reactive imitation may well have a degree of sociological importance at least equal to that of the type which can be called social action in the strict sense” (Weber 1978: 24).
Of even greater importance is charisma, which stands in absolute contrast to tradition. In its simplest form, charisma is defined by Weber as “a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities” (Weber 1978: 242). Individuals possessing charisma are portrayed by Weber as above all else emotional and vitalizing, in complete opposition both to the ennervating authority of the patriarch and the rational efficiency of the technician-bureaucrat. Instead, whatever the charismatic leader says is right not because it makes sense, or because it coincides with what has always been done, but because the leader says it. Orders can therefore be completely whimsical, self-contradictory and even lead to death or destruction for the follower, demonstrating the disciple’s inner emotional compulsion to obey without regard for coherence or consequence.
The extraordinary figures who inspire such unreasoning devotion are imagined by Weber to be, in their typical form, berserk warriors, pirates and demagogues. They reveal their capacities through a highly intensified and emotionally labile state of consciousness that excites and awes the onlookers, and jolts them from the everyday (See Note 6). The primary type, from which the others spring, is the epileptoid magician-shaman who can incorporate the Gods and display divine powers primarily through convulsions, trembling and intense effusions of excitement (Weber 1972: 327, 1978: 401) (See Note 7). Through his capacity for epileptoid states, the shaman served both as an exemplar of ecstasy and as the leader in the rituals of communal intoxication and orgy Weber took as the original sacred experience (Weber 1978: 401, 539).
Why should such manifestations of apparent abnormality appeal to an audience? It is not intuitively obvious that a display of epileptoid behavior would be attractive to anyone; in our society quite the contrary is the case. But Weber postulated that extreme emotional states, such as those generated in seizures and other forms of emotionally heightened altered states of consciousness, had a contagious effect, spreading through the audience and infecting its members with corresponding sensations of enhanced emotionality and vitality; these expansive sensation are felt to be emanating from the stimulating individual, who is then attributed with superhuman powers. The charismatic appeal therefore lies precisely in the capacity of a person to display heightened emotionality and in the reciprocal capacity of the audience to imitation and corresponding sensations of altered awareness.
Thus for Weber, what is essential and compulsive in the charismatic relation is not its meaning, though explanatory meaning systems will certainly be generated after the fact (See Note 9). Rather, it is the participatory communion engendered by the epileptoid performance of the charismatic which experientially and immediately releases the onlookers from their mundane sufferings. “For the devout the sacred value, first and above all, has been a psychological state in the here and now. Primarily this state consists in the emotional attitude per se;” an attitude in which the following could momentarily escape from themselves by dissolving in “the objectless acosmism of love” (Weber 1972: 278, 330 emphasis in original). For Weber, such prophets provided the creative force in history; only through their inspiration could enough energy and commitment be generated to overturn an old social order. They are the heroes and saints who, he feared, could no longer be born in the rationalized world of modern society (See Note 11).
To recapitulate, we have then in Weber two forms of altered or dissociated states of consciousness that, from his point of view, are not amenable to sociological analysis since they stand outside rational goal-orientation, yet are nonetheless of crucial importance in history and culture. In fact, the question of what these states are altered or dissociated from becomes a difficult question to answer, since Weber sees the predominance of the rational ‘standard’ consciousness to be a relatively recent development. Perhaps, instead, it is more appropriate to say that rationality itself, especially in its modern instrumental version, is an altered state, vis-a-vis its powerful predecessors of tradition and charisma.
The Rationalization of Irrationality
But these opposites also continually transform one into the other in a continuous dialectic, and they move as well through history toward their own supercession by more rational modes of thought. Charisma occurs, Weber says, when tradition has lost its hold and people no longer feel compelled to repeat the old patterns, obey the old orders. Charismatic revolutions themselves are destined to be short-lived, and necessarily have a new tradition nascent within them; ritualization and bureacratization inevitably appear as the prophet’s original vitalizing revelation is repeated and institutionalized by his self-interested followers, who wish to cloak themselves with the sacred transformative quality originally imputed to the personal aura of the leader himself. This type of charisma supports the new traditions born of the original prophesy; but now the crown, the throne, the robe, instead of being the accoutrements of the ecstatic prophet, may legitimize a moribund time server. Charisma in this instance becomes co-terminus with tradition, justifying and validating the habitual obedience of the masses (See Note 12). From this perspective, tradition too changes in character, losing its irrational somnambulistic component to become a coherent framework within which free agents actively and rationally pursue the given values and goals elaborated by the prophet and his minions. In other words, both charisma and tradition become rationalized as they transform from their ideal-typical state.
Weber’s conceptualization of this process has had great influence upon his American followers. But where Weber placed the primary forms of charisma and tradition outside the boundaries of social thought, while still giving them credit as the precursors of rationality, his successors have tried to make them disappear completely by incorporating them within their systematic meaning-centered theories. Thus the influential sociologist Edward Shils claims that an innate human quest for a coherent and meaningful way of understanding the world is the sacred heart of every viable social formation. Therefore, it follows that “the charismatic propensity is a function of the need for order” (Shils 1965:203) and that charisma is felt automatically whenever one draws near the entities and institutions thought to embody and emanate that order. Tradition can then be understood as located precisely within the same order-giving central structures in which charisma inheres; structures that, far from being irrational, provide a sacred and coherent model for living a meaningful life. Shil’s paradigm is explicitly followed by Clifford Geertz, who argues for “the inherent sacredness of sovereign power” (1983: 123), and proceeds to analyze the manner in which this supposed sovereign, meaning-giving central power is manifested in various cultural frameworks.
These neo-Weberian perspectives have erased the image of charisma as an irrational emotional convulsion. Instead, all persons in all societies at all times are attempting, with greater or lesser success, to promote and to attain a culturally given sacred central symbolic system of accepted significance, as revealed in concrete institutional forms. The only human problem is not being able to achieve proximity to this holy order. From within this framework, the frenzy of the shaman is transformed into a reasonable search for coherence and significance, and tradition and charisma become equivalent to rationality (See Note 13).
Obviously, this version of society is far from the social and historical concept of irrational action that Weber knew, revealed, and set aside as ineffable and thus outside of sociological discourse. Weber certainly could not have accepted the reduction of charisma and tradition to ‘sacred order’. For him, the primary form of tradition remained imitative and senseless, and the primary form of charisma remained convulsive, revolutionary, and outside of ‘meaning’ entirely. The best that sociology could do, from his perspective, was to recognize the capacity of these irrational impulses to influence a rational course of action, and thereby to “assess the causal significance of irrational factors in accounting for the deviations from this type” (Weber 1978: 6) (See Note 14).
Durkheim and Group Consciousness
Let me turn now to Emile Durkheim, the other great ancestor of contemporary social thought, whose work offers what I believe to be a more theoretically compelling understanding of the irrational than does Weber. However, Durkheim’s concern with grasping irrational states of being is now more or less forgotten or else the object of misunderstanding and derision (See Note 15). Instead, he is known today primarily as he was interpreted by Talcott Parsons, ie., as a systematic thinker strongly associated with functionalism and with his pioneering use of statistical data to isolate variables for the purposes of demonstrating causal chains in social organizations. Here his great contributions are his dissection of the division of labor and its consequences, and his correlation of suicide rates with alienating social conditions. His other great project, one which strongly influenced later structuralism, was his effort to demonstrate that categories of thought are themselves social products, and thereby to ground Kantian metaphysical imperatives in a structured social reality.
But these are only a part of Durkheim’s sociology. In contrast to the Weberian concern with conscious agents struggling to achieve culturally mediated goals and values, Durkheim founded his sociology on the notion that ordinary consciousness is characterized more by rationalization than by rationality. For him, the reasons people claim to have for what they are doing and the meanings they attribute to their actions are post facto attempts to explain socially generated compulsions which they actually neither understand nor control.
Thus Durkheim, unlike Weber, draws a radical distinction between the goals and character of the group and the goals and characters of the individuals within the group, arguing that “social psychology has its own laws that are not those of individual psychology” (1966: 312). Furthermore, “the interests of the whole are not necessarily the interests of the part” (Durkheim 1973: 163); indeed, they may be, and often are, completely at odds. But the group imposes its own will upon the hearts and minds of its members and compels them to act in ways that run against their own subjective interests; these actions are later rationalized to ‘make sense’, and the rationalizations then become the value systems of a particular human society.
Durkheim therefore presents us with the extraordinary proposal that sociology cannot take as its subject the individual person who is manipulating within culture to maximize his or her own ends. Rather, he proposes a continuous conflictual ebb and flow between singularity and community, self and group (See Note 16). As he writes, “our inner life has something like a double center of gravity. On the one hand is our individuality – and, more particularly, our body in which it is based; on the other it is everything in us that expresses something other than ourselves…. (These) mutually contradict and deny each other” (1973: 152) (See Note 17).
Durkheim, like Weber, envisions the individual to be rationally calculating and maximizing. But far from assuming this form of consciousness to be the nexus of society or of sociology, Durkheim repudiates egoistic calculation as immoral, solipsistic, depraved, animalistic, and of no sociological interest. Instead, he argues that human beings rise above animality and pure appetite precisely at the point where the ‘normal’ mind of the self-aggrandizing egoistic actor is immersed and subdued within the transformative grip of the social (See Note 18).
Durkheim’s vision of the selfish actor dissolved within the crucible of society appears to parallel to Weber’s image of tradition as a state of deindividuated trance. But there is a very significant difference between the two, which derives from Durkheim’s understanding of the experience of group consciousness. Where for Weber the state of unthinking immersion in the group is associated with torpor and lethargy, Durkheim argues instead that people submerge themselves in the collective precisely because participation offers an immediate felt sense of transcendence to its members. It is a sensation of ecstasy, not boredom, that experientially validates self-loss in the community.
Influenced by studies of Mesmerism (See Note 19) and the same notions of emotional excitability that Weber also utilized, Durkheim thought that an extraordinary altered state of consciousness among individuals in a group, which he called ‘collective effervescence’ would occur spontaneously “whenever people are put into closer and more active relations with one another” (Durkheim 1965: 240-1). This experience is one of depersonalization, and of a transcendent sense of participation in something larger and more powerful than themselves (See Note 20). Durkheim, ordinarily a placid writer, paints a potent picture of this state, as the personal ego momentarily disintegrates under the influence of the fevered crowd. “The passions released are of such an impetuosity that they can be restrained by nothing…. Everything is just as though he really were transported into a special world, entirely different from the old one where he ordinarily lives, and into an environment filled with exceptionally intense forces that take hold of him and metamorphose him” (Durkheim 1965: 246, 249).
Durkheim imagines that within the excited mass, sensations of emotional intensification are released in impulsive outbursts that contagiously spread to those around. From this point of view, charisma exists only in the group; the charismatic leader who is Weber’s hero is here a passive symbol serving, in Elias Canetti’s words, as a ‘crowd crystal’ around whom the collective can solidify and resonate (Canetti 1978) (See Note 21). The result of this solidification is immediate imitation, magnified through the lens of the leader and synchronized within the group as a whole. In a feedback loop, this echoing and magnifying serves to further heighten emotion, leading to greater challenges to the ego and more potent feelings of exaltation. After this ecstatic experience “men really are more confident because they feel themselves stronger: and they really are stronger, because forces which were languishing are now reawakened in the consciousness”(Durkheim 1965: 387).
The physical experience of self-loss and intoxication in the crowd’s collective effervescence is, for Durkheim, the “very type of sacred thing” (Durkheim 1965: 140) and is the ultimate and permanent source of social cohesion; all else is secondary. Thus he writes that what is necessary for social life “is that men are assembled, that sentiments are felt in common and expressed in common acts; but the particular nature of these sentiments and acts is something relatively secondary and contingent” (1965: 431-2).
Tradition, from this perspective, is not seen as a torpid counter to the excitement of charisma, as in the Weberian model. Instead, a viable tradition is understood as suffused with the ecstatic experience of regular collective participation. Thus Durkheim conflates charisma and tradition in a manner completely the reverse of Shils and Geertz. For Durkheim, any attribution of meaning to the felt reality of collective effervescence is strictly a posteriori; an attempt by individuals try to explain and rationalize what is actually a primal, prelogical, experiential state of transcendent self-loss that provides the felt moral basis for all social configurations, and combats the solipsistic self-interest that would tear society apart.
Durkheim’s positive moral view of group consciousness and Weber’s favorable portrait of charismatic relations were completely overturned in the early 20th century by the crowd psychologists Gustave Le Bon and Gabriel Tarde. These two French theorists, though now largely forgotten by academics, were tremendously influential in their time, and were the founders of the present-day practices of political polling and media consultation as well as the esoteric study of group psychology. For them the collective experience no longer had any redemptive features, and became instead a frightful combination of chaos, credulity and passion as persons within the crowd automatically regress to more primitive, child-like states of being while under the influence of their irrational, emotionally-compelling leader (See Note 22).
In this formulation, the ‘standard’ state of rational consciousness, which Le Bon and Tarde both quite explicitly took to be the consciousness of a masculine, calculating, utilitarian free agent, was fragile indeed. Indeed, though lauding rationality as the highest form of thought, the crowd psychologists, like Weber, were suspicious of the extent to which rational consciousness actually prevailed. Tarde, for example, believed that people, though imagining themselves to be free agents acting for understood goals, are in truth “unconscious puppets whose strings were pulled by their ancestors or political leaders or prophets” (1903:77). From this perspective, men and women, insofar as they are members of a group, are “in a special state, which much resembles the state of fascination in which the hypnotized individual finds himself in the hands of the hypnotiser”(Le Bon 1952: 31).
In this vision, even the most rational individual ran great risk of being quickly and irresistibly reduced to the lowest common denominator when immersed in a crowd, and consequently of acting in a savage, childish, ‘feminine’ and, in short, irrational manner that would never be condoned by ordinary standards of behavior. Rational consciousness, then, is portrayed and appreciated by these thinkers as a feeble refuge from the torrents of passion and destruction that seethe within the collective; a torrent that drowns all who are drawn into its vortex (See Note 23). The Durkheimian view of the power of the collective is here completely accepted, but this power is allowed only a negative moral content, while the good is found solely in the flimsy boat of rationality.
For the crowd psychologists, as for Durkheim, the mechanisms that stimulate the crowd are simple. Once a mass is gathered, any strong action excites immediate imitation and magnification in a cycle of intensification that eventually dies down, much like the ripples that appear after a stone is thrown into a pool. Only through such stimulation can human beings attain “the illusion of will” (Tarde 1903:77) (See Note 24). So, where Durkheim believed the primal group would coalesce spontaneously without the necessity of any external excitement, crowd psychology argued that someone had to throw the stone and provide the “dream of command” that stimulates the crowd to unite in pursuit of “a dream of action”(Tarde 1903: 77).
In postulating the need for a leader to galvanize the group, Le Bon and Tarde brought together Durkheimian and Weberian imagery. But where Weber had given the charismatic a positive value as the founder of new religions and the healer of the dispirited, Le Bon and Tarde see him in negative guise as a powerful and willful figure; a mesmerist who is capable of expressing in his person the electrifying excitement and volition that awakens the sleeping crowd, providing the masses with an irresistible command that solidifies and motivates them under his thrall (See Note 25). The inner character of this leader remained an enigma; far from a rational calculator, he is “recruited from the ranks of those morbidly nervous, excitable, half-deranged persons who are bordering on madness” (Le Bon 1952: 132). In particular, he had to be “obsessed” by an idea that “has taken possession of him”, in a way exactly parallel to the possession of the shaman by a god or gods (Le Bon 1952: 118). The crowd psychologists argue that it is precisely the leader’s obsessive self-absorption that appeals to the crowd, since only through feeling himself pulled and formed by forces beyond his control does the leader gain the power to act and thereby break the cycle of imitation and passivity that has held the collective in a somnambulistic stupor (See Note 26).
In the paradigm offered by crowd psychology, such persons elicit not only obedience, but also the love and adulation of the followers. By standing apart, completely focused on an inner vision which compels and energizes them, they embody and exemplify the “dream of command” that electrifies the following. So we have the paradox of a leader who, far from wishing to further the ends of his followers, instead “in perfect egotism offered himself to (their) adoration” (Tarde 1903: 203). The crowd psychologists thus come to the pessimistic conclusion that the group’s devotion has “never been bestowed on easy-going masters, but on the tyrants who vigorously oppressed them” in order to serve their own driven obsessions (Le Bon 1952: 54).
Crowd psychology therefore unites Durkheim and Weber by placing an ecstatic and convulsive charismatic at the center of a receptive group. The state of torpor that Weber saw in tradition is here understood as the somnambulistic trance that precedes charismatic involvement in a state of collective effervescence. The moral quality of crowd participation and charismatic excitement is now also reversed. Where Durkheim portrayed the vitality of society arising from communal experiences of unity, and where Weber hoped for the arrival of a transformative new prophet who could break open the iron cage of instrumental rationality, crowd psychology gives us frightening imagery of both groups and leaders; imagery that points not toward the church and the prophet, but toward Nazism and Hitler. As Le Bon prophetically writes, as a consequence of the erosion of traditional bonds of kinship, ethnicity and religion that kept the regression to mass consciousness at bay, “the age we are about to enter will in truth be the ERA OF CROWDS” (1952:14).
The Denial of Charisma
In so demonizing the altered states of charisma and group participation, crowd psychology prefigures the modern attitude, though unlike modern writers, the crowd psychologists retained a fearful appreciation of the potency of group consciousness. But this appreciation has been repressed by the efforts by Shils, Geertz and others of the interpretive school who aim to transform the charismatic appeal of the leader and the convulsive reaction of the group into a rational quest for meaning, order and coherence. In a parallel manner, ‘resource mobilization’ theorists of mass movements have argued that activist groups are made up of purposive and reasonable individual free agents voluntarily gathered together for the sake of commonly held goals of social justice. And, similarly, social constructivist theories of emotion portray emotion as ‘cognitive,’ and therefore consider emotions primarily as ’embodied appraisals’.
I want to be clear here that I do not dispute the salience of a search for meaning, coherence, and justice as causes for commitment to any movement; and certainly emotions are cognized (to be afraid of a cut electrical wire one must know that it is dangerous). But the feeling person, overwhelmed by nameless anxiety, immersed in the vortex of a mob, or irresistibly drawn to a charismatic figure like a moth to a flame, is hardly a rational calculator. The image of free agents making reasonable appraisals of risks, enacting values, construing meaningful systems and pursuing desired outcomes within a coherent cultural context is a vision of humanity that may be appropriate for understanding a great proportion of action and thought; but clearly the apotheosis of rationalization and voluntarism found in these contemporary theories ignores precisely the aspects of social behavior that Weber, Durkheim and the crowd psychologists sought to bring to the fore; i.e., the power of irrational group experience to stimulate men and women into actions that can only be called meaningful, orderly, and goal-oriented if these terms are emptied of all content.
Why has this denial of the irrational psychology of groups and leaders occurred? In part, the assertion of human reasonableness under even the most extraordinary circumstances can be considered an intellectual reaction to the implications of the horrible spectre of Nazism that the crowd psychologists so uncannily prophesied (See Note 27). But it is also clear that the denial of collective deindividuating altered states of consciousness corresponds with our present social formation, which mirrors and ratifies the rationalization processes of the society at large and finds its most powerful philosophical expression in the romantic existentialist apotheosis of the self (See Note 28). Because this model holds sway, a positive moral evaluation of collective charismatic states will be very difficult to achieve, as will the experience of charisma itself.
Charisma Today: est and Scientology
I can illustrate my point (See Note 29) by sketching the trajectory of two apparently pragmatic and “world affirming” (See Note 30) charismatic groups: est, founded and led by Werner Erhard and Scientology, founded and led by the late L. Ron Hubbard (See Note 31). In their stated purposes, these two groups appear highly instrumental, charging a substantial fee to help people to achieve better adjustment at work, new friends, greater happiness, a more satisfying love life. They have a strong continuity with the ‘healthy-minded’ ‘once-born’ religions that William James (1982) found so characteristic of American culture; religions which typically affirm the goodness of all creation and preach accommodation with the world as it is, attracting middle-class, white collar adherents anxious to better themselves. The est Forum, for instance, stresses that its program is suited to “the already successful… the already healthy…the already committed…the already accomplished…the already knowledgeable” (Forum pamphlet 1986). The purpose of joining is to learn a practice allowing one to manipulate “the levers and controls of personal effectiveness, creativity, vitality and satisfaction” (Forum pamphlet 1986); and testimonials from converts make claims not to higher wisdom, but rather that the discipline “has helped me to handle life better…. I get on better with people…. I can apply myself to work and study more easily than before” (Foster 1971: 119). Successful graduates are “people who know how to make life work” (Erhard quoted in Brewer 1975: 36).
In the pragmatic, cheerful ‘once born’ ethos, the desire for personal enlightenment is reconciled with practical action, doing well in the office becomes a pathway to self-fulfillment, and accepting hierarchy is understood not only as a useful strategy in business, but also as a spiritual exercise, since “you get power by giving power to a source of power” (Erhard quoted in Tipton 1982: 215). Armed with new perceptions, the trainees can acquiesce to whatever situation they find themselves in, confident that “being with it makes it disappear” (an est trainer, quoted in Tipton 1982: 209); that whatever one is doing is what one wants to do, and that the world is good and just.
“Everyone of us is a god in his own universe, and the creator of the very reality around ourselves” (an est trainer, quoted in Singh 1987: 10). As Ellwood remarks, from this perspective “an individual only gets into traps and circumstances he intends to get into…. the limitations he has must have been invented by himself” (1973: 175).
In keeping with the practical, work-oriented manifest content of this ideology, most participants have little involvement in any particular spiritual technology, judging efficacy, like any good consumer, solely by perceived results. They are, in Bird’s (1979) terminology, apprentices rather than devotees or disciples; persons merely looking for helpful knowledge in a complicated mystic marketplace.
Yet, despite their overtly instrumental character, utilitarian orientation, and constantly shifting peripheral membership, these groups paradoxically appear to have a strong tendency to develop highly committed charismatized inner cores of intensely loyal devotees gathered around a leader taken to be a demigod. As Roy Wallis puts it, “social reality outside the movement may come to seem a pale and worthless reflection of the social reality of the movement…. (as) the self and personal identity… become subordinated to the will and personality of the leader” (Wallis 1984: 122-24).
In Scientology, for instance, there was a “transformation from a loose, almost anarchic group of enthusiasts of a lay psychotherapy, Dianetics, to a tightly controlled and rigorously disciplined following for a quasi-religious movement, Scientology” (Wallis 1977:5). L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of this group, began as a science fiction writer and entrepreneur, but ended by claiming to be a Messiah “wearing the boots of responsibility for this universe” (Hubbard quoted in Ellwood 1973: 172). His disciples concurred, seeing him as a charismatic superman who could escape space and time, and whose insight into the world would lead to universal salvation.
For the inner cadre of Scientologists the ‘meaning’ of membership did not hinge on a coherent doctrine, since Hubbard “modified the doctrine frequently without precipitating significant opposition” (Wallis 1977: 153). As a result, “even the most doctrinally learned Scientologists may be unsure what palpable qualities a clear (an enlightened person) is supposed to manifest, other than confidence and loyalty to the cult” (Bainbridge and Stark 1980: 133). Participation rested instead on absolute faith in Hubbard himself and on one’s total unreserved commitment to the organization. As a former convert writes, “the extent of one’s faith was the measure of one’s future gains…. Everything depended on one’s own certainty at the moment” (Kaufman 1972: 25, 179). Any questioning showed one was not moving toward ‘clear’, whereas meditation on Hubbard’s often self-contradictory words was considered to be transformative in itself.
In the fully formed Scientology corporation a multi-million dollar enterprise was headed by a small, secretive, highly disciplined and fully committed central cadre, the Sea Org, marked by their esoteric practices, special language, and distinctive uniforms of white, with black boots and belt. Totally dedicated to Hubbard, they formed an inner circle of virtuosi living in seclusion aboard Hubbard’s yacht, proclaiming their devotion by signing ‘billion year contracts’ of spiritual service to their eternal leader.
As the group made claims to have the key, not simply to enhanced awareness, but to all the world’s problems, it also became more rigid and totalitarian; fear of ‘suppressives’ (Scientology language for opponents) heightened, leading to expensive lawsuits and countersuits; meanwhile Hubbard himself withdrew deeper into paranoia, eventually isolating himself so that only three people were actually permitted to see him, and it became a matter of controversy whether he was alive or dead (See Note 32).
Est has followed a similar trajectory. Beginning as the revelation of a former encyclopedia salesman and ex-Scientology convert, est brought together the techniques of Scientology, Buddhist meditation, existential philosophy and group therapy to form a potent self-help organization which soon began to exhibit a charismatic character. Werner Erhard, the founder, was idolized by his committed followers as a “fully realized human being” who “lives in risk and possibility… we catch up with him, then he moves ten steps ahead” (a convert quoted in Singh 1987: 89). An inner circle of devotees controlling the vast est empire were absolutely loyal to Erhard, whom they conceived to be a savior. This inner circle was tightly knit, strictly regulated, and required to have only “those purposes, desires, objectives, and intentions that Werner agreed for you to have” (the president of est, quoted in Martin 1980: 112). Not coincidentally, they began to resemble Erhard closely, down to mannerisms and dress.
The accommodative est message of “perfection as a state in which things are the way the are, and not the way they are not” (Erhard quoted in Martin 1980: 114) was taken by the inner circle to be a message that would transform the world through transforming consciousness, and est began to reorient itself into a more overtly religious salvationist direction, with Erhard as the prophet of the coming millennium. But the pressure of being a charismatic figure began to tell on Erhard, who showed signs of psychological disintegration, brutalizing members of his family and the inner core while simultaneously demanding greater and more violent tests of loyalty from those closest to him. The ensuing tension led, in recent years, to defections and litigation within the core, and to public attacks on Erhard by some of his closest relatives and associates (See Note 33).
The parallel descents of these groups into paranoia and authoritarianism are instructive, and illustrate the difficulties even the most accommodative charismatic movements and leaders have in adapting to modern social conditions. They also illustrate recurrent patterns of group processes that are not reducible to a quest for meaning or coherence or any other rational end, but that can better be conceptualized within a framework of charisma, collective effervescence, and the psychology of crowds. The same framework can help us to understand the methods of recruitment that drew people deeply into these organizations (See Note 34).
Essentially, recruitment to est and Scientology, in common with recruitment to many other modern cults, relies on techniques that reveal to the prospective clients the degree to which their personal identities are contingent and socially constructed. The stated end is to permit the convert to escape from obligations of should and ought (referred to as ‘garbage’) in order to find the authentic, eternal and vital selves that lie beneath social and familial conditioning.
The notion of a primal unsocialized vital center is taken absolutely literally by Scientology. In its doctrine, human beings are actually concrete emanations of timeless energy forces called Thetans, who manifested themselves in the material world for amusement, but who have been so absorbed in their games that they have forgotten their true transcendent identities. To remedy this unhappy condition, one must ‘clear’ material residues and memories away from Thetan consciousness and allow the Thetan to “relinquish his self-imposed limitations” (Hubbard quoted in Wallis 1977: 104).
The fantastic science fiction ideology would hardly be convincing to many potential converts without its experiential ratification through a long process of training in which the new member’s sense of identity and social context is consistently undermined via a bewildering, repetitious and emotionally charged sequence of ‘deprogramming’ exercises (‘auditing’) which utilize a fallacious instrument (the ‘e-meter’) that students believe registers fluctuations in their emotional responses (see Whitehead 1987 for a detailed account).
In the training, the student, under the eye of an experienced ‘auditor’, may be asked repeatedly to relive and repeat painful or intense experiences of the past. The auditor asks questions such as “tell me something you would be willing to have that person (indicated by the trainer) not know about you”, over and over again. No explanations are given, and the trainee is also constantly obliged to redefine the most common words and phrases he or she uses in response, and is required as well to master the complex Scientology jargon. The ‘runs’ of repeated questions and answers can go for many hours, confusing and exhausting the trainee. The ostensible aim of this ritual is to distance the trainee from emotional reactions to ‘garbage’ so he or she can become ‘at cause’ by getting a ‘clear’ reading on the e-meter. In consequence of this process, the trainee will hypothetically become free to experience unencumbered ecstatic Thetan awareness.
The training process occurs in an atmosphere of high anxiety, as the trainee struggles to control the random fluctuations of the e-meter while simultaneously feelings of disorientation, remorse, hatred, love, jealousy and so on are elicited by the repetitious, probing, highly personal questions and complex demands of the auditor, a powerful authority figure believed to have achieved a more evolved superhuman consciousness. Each auditing session concludes with cathartic group gatherings in which the participants ‘share wins’ and “were warmly welcomed into the group, greeted and applauded” (Wallis 1977: 173). This sequence proved to be remarkably effective in gaining great loyalty from many Scientology ‘preclears’, who would themselves move up the elaborate ladder toward ‘clear’ status and become ‘auditors’ of other initiates (See Note 35).
Est never utilized such a literal image of liberation as Scientology’s Thetan, but very similar techniques were in operation in the recruitment and training process. For est, as in Scientology, history and family are considered to be destructively enmeshing, and the point of training is to be released “from the cultural trance, the systematic self-delusion, to which most of us surrender our aliveness” (Marsh 1975: 38). The process is conceived as awakening to one’s timeless and vital transpersonal essence, thus becoming “truly able and perfect” (an est trainer, quoted in Tipton 1982: 177). As in Scientology, trainees cannot break through into this perfect realm by reason; reason is regarded as a defense against the intrinsic and immediate truth of intuitive feeling states. “If you experience it, it’s the truth. The same thing believed is a lie” (Erhard, quoted in Tipton 1982: 192).
As in Scientology, instruction is geared to break down the students’ reasoning power and ‘conditioning’ through emotionally charged training sessions designed to demonstrate that their beliefs and personalities are programmed by their past, their culture, and their associations. In the classical est seminar, 250 persons or so spend two weekends totalling 60 to 70 emotionally intense (and expensive) hours of lectures, meditation and confrontation. The trainer typically abuses and infantilizes the group, calling them ‘assholes’ whose lives are ‘shit’, and prohibiting them from using the toilet. The students are further bombarded by paradoxes undercutting logic (See Note 36), asked to relive traumatic emotional experiences of the past, incited to act out deep fears, or perhaps insulted and abused by the leader in front of the audience for arrogance or selfishness. Role playing, switching genders, taking on other identities, all are part of the repertoire. The effectiveness of these efforts to decenter the self in the context of the group is evident in one participant’s description: “It seems now that almost the entire roomful of people are crying, moaning, groaning, sobbing, screaming, shouting, writhing. ‘Stop it! Stop it!’ ‘No! No! No!’ ‘I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!’ ‘Please….’ ‘Help!’ ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy….’ The groans, the crying, the shouts reinforce each other; the emotions pour out of the trainees” (quoted in Martin 1980: 123).
These methods are quite typical, and involve what Harriet Whitehead (1987) has called ‘renunciation,’ that is, a dedifferentiation of cognitive structures coupled with a withdrawal of affect from its previous points of attachment. In this process, the susceptible subject is pressed to become ‘deautomatized’ (Deikman 1969), hyperaware of the role of conditioning and the plasticity of the self, while simultaneously stimulated to emotionally charged abreactions which are mirrored and magnified by the group and the leader, who represents the sacred group founder. These deconditioning’ exercises are obviously not aimed at promoting adaption to ‘ordinary misery’ (Freud’s claim for psychotherapy), but rather to the revelation of a deeper, transcendent inner self no longer bound by the chains of culture or context, nor by the stimulus-response mechanisms of the mind. Instead, “you take responsibility…. in effect you have freely chosen to do everything that you have ever done and to be precisely what you are. In that instant you become exactly what you always wanted to be” (Brewer 1975).
For participants (See Note 37), this inner self is not a matter of conjecture or theory. It is really experienced in the effervescence of the collective – just as Durkheim hypothesized. The combination of an undermining of personal identity, systematic devaluation and confusion of ordinary thought, the stimulation of heightened abreactive emotions detached from original causes within the context of the mirroring group and under the protection of a god-like leader act together to provide expansive sensations of catharsis for those who are carried away by the techniques of collective ecstasy.
The individual participating in this experience is likely to attribute his or her feelings of expansion to the doctrine and the leader. The ‘perfect self’ that is then revealed when personal identity is stripped away is, more often than not, a self modeled after the charismatic group exemplar. A new identity then replaces that which has been abandoned as inauthentic – an identity legitimated by the intensity of the emotion generated in the altered state of consciousness of the ecstatic group context – but one which, in consequence, can only exist within this extraordinary situation (See Note 38). In other words, despite appearances of pragmatism, the world-affirming group is likely to develop into a node of collective effervescence that stands in opposition to the larger rationalized social organization, which is experienced as ‘dead’ and alienating. The next step is to try to make the world replicate the group; this is the road toward Messianism and paranoia.
Two points are especially worth reiterating here. The first is the repeated use of techniques aimed at demonstrating that the recruit is not an autonomous individual, but rather is ‘programmed’ and ‘conditioned’ by history, culture, and family. This revelation, engendered in a highly charged group context under the authority of an apparently powerful authority figure, is crucial in stimulating the emotional abreaction that helps lead the subject into collective participation. It is, it seems to me, an anthropological fact of considerable importance that persons in this culture can be transformed by discovering that their lives are not totally autonomous and that their identities are not completely self-manufactured. The efficacy of this technique is, quite evidently, closely related to the prevalent American capitalist social organization and its accompanying ideology of possessive individualism and purposive agency.
A connected point is that members of a configuration with such an ideological and social structure are highly susceptible to a covert hunger for the collective experience offered by charismatic immersion. As I have argued elsewhere (1990), when the feeling self is stripped of identity markers and significant emotional ties with others, and simultaneously affirmed as the sole source of action and preference, then the intensity and certainty of charismatic revelation will be extremely attractive, since participation in a charismatic group offers precisely the emotional gratification, self-loss and affirmation of a transcendent identity that the predominant social model of reality precludes.
However, because such movements are in conflict with the ruling order of thought, they must take on extreme forms. Charisma becomes not a moment, but eternal; the god is no longer manifested occasionally in an otherwise ordinary mortal, but the vehicle has to be holy all the time. So, paradoxically, a culture founded on the ‘standard’ consciousness of rationality and individual agency renders even more fervid and impetuous the expression of the altered state of awareness Weber called ‘charisma’.
To summarize, in this essay I have argued that ‘meaning-centered’ interpretive analysis is in fact located within a tradition that assumes as its basic premise the rationality of maximizing individual actors. This perspective is not adequate for understanding forms of social action that are outside the realm of rationality – a point recognized by Weber himself in his discussion of tradition and charisma.
Here I have sketched very lightly, with plenty of room for contradiction and dispute, some alternative views on irrationality, using the works of Weber, Durkheim, Le Bon and Tarde to argue that processes of charismatic involvement, collective effervescence, and crowd psychology may help us grasp the basic pattern of such apparently irrational action and to place it a framework of theoretical knowledge. Far too rapidly, I’ve applied this framework to the actual trajectories of two new religions, showing how their evolution and their mode of recruitment fit within it.
The final question is perhaps whether this mode of approach is applicable only for understanding cultic groups at the periphery of social life, or whether it might have some relevance for more mainstream medical practitioners and psychiatrists. I contend the latter is the case. For example, if we believe, with Durkheim, that human society is built upon an emotional experience of selflessness within the transcendent group, what then happens when the increasing dominance of the competitive economy and the worship of the individual make such experiences less and less likely to occur, or even to be imagined? One result might be the charisma hunger mentioned above, and the escalating excesses of charismatic groups. But the more prevalent result may be the appalling number of complaints about depression, deadness and detachment among psychiatric patients in the US, coupled with fevered efforts to stimulate some sense of vitality through various forms of addiction and thrill seeking. These may be the prices paid for the absence of any felt sense of connection to the social world.
- I am not claiming that Westerners only have positive evaluations of instrumental rationality; ‘sincere’ emotion is also highly valued. However, sincere feelings do not come from the mind, but from the heart.
- The ‘ideal type’ is a formal conceptual model to be used as a lens for viewing variations in real social configurations in order to make comparisons. This implies that ‘rational’ social formations are in actual fact never fully rational, but always have ‘traditional’ and ‘charismatic’ elements within them, even though these elements may be suppressed or denied. And, of course, the reverse is also the case. For more on Weber’s methodology, see Weber 1949.
- Instrumental rationality – the rationality typical of modernity and capitalism – is characterized by the most efficient use of means to reach an end. Value rationality – the rationality of premodern societies – envisions means as ends, with efficiency taking second place to proper modes of behavior. The complexities and ambiguities of this distinction are many, and the boundaries of the categories are by no means clear, but what is relevant here is simply that both types of social action, whatever their differences and similarities, involve conscious choices and acts aimed at maximizing valued goals.
- In a sense, charisma is the non-rational parallel to value-rationality, since charisma is the attachment of the self to another through affect, just as value-rationality involves an affective faith in a value. Tradition, which is cold and routinized, is, in this respect, analogous to the equally cold technical efficiency of instrumental rationality.
- Interestingly, Weber foresaw just such a hive-like future for rational man. Utmost rational efficiency will lead, he feared, to a rigid and immobile bureaucratic and technocratic social system.
- See Weber 1978: 242, 400-3, 535-6, 554, 1112, 1115. 1972: 279, 287 for the relationship between charismatic revelation and ecstatic states of excitement.
- The conjunction between epilepsy and charisma seems odd given our modern medical conception of grand-mal and petit-mal epileptic seizures as electrical storms in the brain that eliminate consciousness while causing gross motor convulsions. But Weber’s model (one common to his era) broadly imagined epileptic – or, more properly, epileptoid – seizures as closely akin to hypnotic states and to hysterical fits (see Thornton 1976, Massey and McHenry 1986 for more on this connection). Our modern counterpart might be the category of dissociation. However, it is also worth noting that Winkelman (1986), among others, has argued for a parallel between shamanic dissociation, temporal lobe epilepsy, and other forms of what Sacks (1985) has called mental superabundances, or disorders of excess, in which sensations of energy and vitality become morbid, and illness presents itself as euphoria. An example is Dostoyevsky, who writes, “You all, healthy people, can’t imagine the happiness which we epileptics feel during the second before our fit… I don’t know if this felicity lasts for seconds, hours or months, but believe me, I would not exchange it for all the joys that life may bring!” (quoted in Sacks 1985: 137). We might also recall that cross-cultural studies of shamanism do in fact show strong incidence of overtly epileptoid manifestations such as trembling and convulsions, especially in the early stages of shamanic initiation. Evidently there may be both a predisposition and an element of imitation and training at work in achieving shamanic trance, and the trance itself may have a considerable overlap with some mild forms of disturbance of the temporal lobe.
- “Ecstasy was also produced by the provocation of hysterical or epileptoid seizures among those with predispositions toward such paroxysms, which in turn produced orgiastic states in others” (Weber 1978: 535).
- Characteristically, Weber’s own intellectual concern is with typologizing and contextualizing the novel ethical meaning systems provoked by the prophet’s revelations. He notes that the prophet himself may believe the new meaning system is his major contribution. But Weber clearly states that for the masses, and especially for the impoverished, the prophet remains a charismatic with transcendent powers; the commitment of these followers is not to ideas, but to the prophet’s person and his promise of immediate experiential salvation (Weber 1978: 467, 487).
- Levi-Strauss (1967) takes a similar position, but with a very different analytical point.
- “Under the technical and social conditions of rational culture, an imitation of the life of Buddha, Jesus, or Francis seems condemned to failure for purely external reasons” (Weber 1972:357).
- See Greenfeld (1985) for a good statement of the distinction between primary and secondary charisma; though she too assumes as the essential driving force an orientation for building meaning.
- As Harriet Whitehead writes, “cultural anthropology has chosen the conservative route of merely noting that religious practices seem to have some intensifying or disordering effect upon experience, and retreating back into the realm of culturally organized meaning manipulation” (1987: 105). In Weberian terms, this ‘retreat’ has an ‘elective affinity’ for intellectuals, because it is founded on an assertion of the absolute value and importance of the scholarly professional faith in the primacy of reason and the possibility of approaching meaning through interpretation.
- Weber profoundly regretted his own incapacity to experience the compulsion of charisma, he lamented the decline of the ecstatic, and he longed for the advent of “entirely new prophets” who would bring, through their very presence, an escape from “the iron cage” of rational action without transcendent content that he envisioned as the inevitable and unhappy future of humanity (Weber 1958:181-2).
- See, for example, Meeker, who portrays Durkheim as believing “science would eventually prove fully adequate as a replacement for religion” (1990: 62), and who castigates him for his supposed dismissal of “human dreams and wishes” in favor of the apotheosis of an abstract emblem. Meeker here ignores Durkheim’s emphasis on passion and desire in the construction of the elementary forms of religious life.
- “We do not admit that there is a precise point at which the individual comes to an end and the social realm commences…. we pass without interval from one order of facts to the other” (Durkheim 1966: 313).
- In taking this perspective, Durkheim prefigures Freud, but with an entirely reversed moral viewpoint. And, of course, the influence of Rousseau and the Comptean vision of a revolutionary sociology are very strong indeed in Durkheim’s apotheosis of society.
- Durkheim argues in an important footnote that the realm of the economy, where the maximizing rational individual holds sway, is the only arena of social life that is in essence completely opposed to the sacred. The dominance of the economy in modern culture is therefore destructive of the moral bonds of society (1965: 466). Note how different his project is from Weber’s, who aimed to show the ways in which various prophecies favor or oppose the rise of capitalism.
- As Moscovici writes, the hypnotic state was envisioned in late 19th century French culture as “that strange drug which… releases the individual from his solitude and carries him off to a world of collective intoxication” (1985: 92). As already noted, hypnotism and epilepsy were thought to be similar in nature. The idea and experience of hypnotism and allied dissociated states was a romantic counter to Utilitarian individualism, and had a strong influence on social and psychological thought, as well as literature and the arts, in the late 19th and early 20th century.
20 The similarity to Weber’s ‘objectless acosmism of love’ is evident.
- For this reason, Durkheim can make the seemingly paradoxical claim that “despotism is nothing more than inverted communism” (1984: 144).
- This image continues to prevail in medical theories of ‘mass hysteria’. See Bartholomew (in press) for a compendium of examples. Bartholomew’s paper is also an example of the interpretive attempt to validate all apparently irrational action by demonstrating its meaningfulness and intent within a cultural context.
- The tropes of the ‘feminine’, ‘savage’, ‘childish’ crowd are painfully clear indicators of the anxiety felt by these men over a possible loss of control and over the weakness of their masculine, civilized, adult personnas. An interesting, if obvious, analysis could be made of these metaphors, which relate to the changing political climate of France and heightened fear of lower class rebellion. What I wish to stress here, however, is the structure of the argument.
- Awareness makes no difference to this existential condition. “If the photographic plate became conscious at a given moment of what was happening to it, would the nature of the phenomenon be essentially changed” (Tarde).
- As Tarde writes, “volition, together with emotion and conviction, is the most contagious of psychological states. An energetic and authoritative man wields an irresistible power over feeble natures. He gives them the direction which they lack. Obedience to him is not a duty, but a need….. Whatever the master willed, they will; whatever the apostle believes or has believed, they believe” (1903: 198).
- Although the the leader’s appeal is irrational, it has certain pattern, and Le Bon gained much of his fame as a modern Machiavelli, telling rulers how to hold the reins of power in the new Age of the Crowd through the use of emotionally charged theatricality, large gestures, dramatic illusions and the rhetoric of myth. According to Le Bon, the modern leader’s technique must be “to exaggerate, to affirm, to resort to repetitions, and never attempt to prove anything by reasoning” (Le Bon 1952: 51). Le Bon’s instructions have been taken seriously by many demagogues, including Hitler, who cited him extensively in Mein Kampf.
- Those who believe that Nazi devotees and leaders were motivated by either value or instrumental rationality should consider work by Robert Waite (1977) and Ian Kershaw (1987), as well as Joachim Fest’s biography of Hitler (1974), and the numerous biographies of dedicated Nazis. For more on this, see Lindholm 1990: 93-116.
- The intellectual debt of much contemporary anthropological theory to existential and phenomenological thought cannot be adequately pursued here, but particularly noteworthy is an emphasis on ‘authenticity’ and a refusal to make comparisons – both derived from premises of the priority of a unique inner self-consciousness struggling to free itself from what Heidegger (1962) called the tyranny of ‘the they.’ The Western character of these premises is, I hope, evident.
- see Lindholm (1990) for a theoretical framework, and for analysis of more extreme cases of modern charisma: Nazism, the Manson Family, and Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple.
- The term is used by Roy Wallis to distinguish these positive movements from apocalyptic and millennial ‘world rejecting’ movements such as Jonestown (Wallis 1984).
- The material is taken from sources which rely both on the testimony of converts and of those who have ‘deconverted’. On the question of the moral stance of the informant, and its influence on the data, see the Appendix in Wallis (1984). Here, I have used material which is corroborated by sources both within and without the movements.
- Hubbard was officially reported dead in 1986, but he had not been seen in public for many years, and may have died sometime previously (see Lamont 1986 for an account). The difficulty of maintaining a charismatic organization after the death of the leader is probably one cause of the reluctance to admit his death.
- Erhard has subsequently resigned some of his positions of authority in the organization.
- These methods have been substantially altered as each organization moves through the cycle of charismatic routinization and then again attempts to restimulate fervor among the disciples. The examples used here date from the most expansive and charismatic phase of this process.
- See Bainbridge and Stark (1980), who argue that the lack of any real content in ‘clear’ status and the constantly shifting Scientology doctrine actually enhanced Scientology’s hold over its converts.
- Erhard, a postmodernist before his time, has commented that “there are only two things in the world, semantics and nothing” (quoted in Martin 1980: 114).
- I should note that of course not all participants prove to be equally susceptible to the lure of the group. Innumerable differences in personal and cultural background and circumstances will make a difference in the degree to which any individual will be likely to participate. But under the right conditions, it is also very possible that even the most resistant individual might be caught up in the compelling dynamic of a charismatic collective.
- Bainbridge (1978) has called this process “social implosion,” that is, the development of a tight knot of persons, interacting solely with one another, bound by powerful feelings of loyalty and of separateness from the rest of society.
Charisma, Crowd Psychology and Altered States of Consciousness, Charles Lindholm, University Professors Program and Dept. of Anthropology, Boston University