A charismatic figure possesses above all power. For sorcerers, the power consists in their supposed ability to control nature or humans. The modern scientist as a “wizard” in popular culture disposes over traces of this charisma. Other figures, such as athletes and actors, display more nebulous sorts of charisma. But in general, a person exudes charisma because he or she succeeds as a leader, a hero or Führer, in religious, martial, or other arts. Charisma thus emerges from and inheres in a social relation. A group of people ascribes certain extraordinary abilities or powers to a person. That person has charisma in relation to the ascribing group, whose members become active or passive disciples or followers or fans (William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University, Chicago, 2006).
In the world of easy ‘likes’, Twitter armies, and the blogosphere, I rather feel that there is a surfeit of charisma kicking about the internet. There are enough scary nouns in Clark’s little charismatic reduction to make us most wary of it. The concatenation, Joe Public is a monster is a leader, is terrible, and the ethereal world makes it plausible. How many trolls have a few thousand followers or fans, more or less active? Vigilance, more than ever, is required. If charisma is to be so democratic, all the more reason to advocate goodness, virtue, manliness.