Max Weber: oratory, leadership, and power

‘In modem electoral campaigns the quantity of oratory is ever on the increase, and it tends to lose in content what it gains in mass appeal. The aim of campaign speeches is to have an emotional impact, to give the people an image of the party’s power and confidence in victory, and to convey a sense of the candidate’s charismatic qualifications for leadership. Where the campaign brings to the fore the personal charisma of the leader, he can make himself independent of the party organization and may come into conflict with it. However bureaucratic party organizations become … the charismatic leader can disrupt these vested interests by virtue of his vote-getting power. The charismatic element is in this sense an integral aspect of a party system, because the choice of representatives depends upon the vote of the ruled, notwithstanding the great influence of party organizations on the electoral process.’

Weber readily conceded that the means used in the electoral struggle can give rise to the most glaring abuses. Orators who lack all political character and ability can rise to power; financial resources at the disposal of a nonentity can tip the balance; above all, demagogic appeals to sentiment and to the most shortsighted interests can bring to poWer the worst rather than the best leaders.

faith and a confirmation of the ruler by “acclamation.” Dictatorial tendencies are set afoot wherever any leader’s ‘position of political power depends on the fact that he has the confidence of the masses’ and Weber saw demagogic mass appeals and the possibility of dictatorial rule as integral parts of even the most viable democratic system. But he argued that these acknowledged dangers have to be assessed comparatively, not allowed to serve as an excuse for opposition to democracy as they did in Germany during his lifetime.

Reinhard Bendix, (1966) Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, London, Methuen and Co, pp. 447-9.