Abstract

Because charisma is a social phenomenon, not an individual trait, its analytical utility in assessing and evaluating the quality and character of political leadership remains questionable. Cultural differences influence the traits and attributes that are internalized by one set of followers and not others. At the nation-state level, political leaders do arise who mesmerize their constituents charismatically, but too frequently that appeal is episodic, transient, and easily forfeited. Most of all, successful political leadership is more than behaving charismatically; delivering results in the form of economic growth, educational advances, health and medical services, and national self-respect are more important and more lasting. David Bell brings all of those considerations to the fore in a remarkable book that analyzes the charismatic appeals of Washington, Napoleon, Louverture, Paoli, and Bolivar, and raises important questions about the force of charisma in history.

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