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The Charismatic Bond: Political Behavior in Time of Crisis.

This book constitutes an important effort to develop a framework for studying charisma that has cross-cultural applicability. In it, Madsen and Snow have charted a new course for the study of political leadership. It is a brave book in that the authors not only adopt and extend a major concept in historical political sociology, but deign to establish rules of evidence to examine it in a discrete and important case--Peronist Argentina. The authors are studious of brevity--the distillation of the relevant literature is apt and lean; the relationships between proposition and evidence are tightly reasoned; the analysis evinces ingenuity and originality.

The authors submit that charismatic leadership occurs in the context of a collective psychological crisis induced by a rather immediate and abrupt change in personal well-being and pride in self, where there is a strong and distinct perception of the prospect of loss, and where there exists a collective sense of uncertainty about the future. Such leadership, in short, tends to arise where there is a simultaneity of helplessness, of loss of control, of anger and despair, of loss of self-efficacy. Using the formulation of Albert Bandura, such conditions are conducive to the search for "proxy control" that is imputed to the would-be charismatic leader by the affected public.

Charisma is, in their view, "an influence relationship marked by asymmetry, directness, and, for the followers, great passion". The putative leader has proffered influence, but this is not reciprocal; there is no significant mediation between leader and followers either through formal structures or informal networks. By great passion the authors mean "intense devotion to and extraordinary reverence for the leader," the most distinctive defining element of charisma and an element that is found in a wide range of contemporary political cultures and begs for deeper and more systematic comparative work. Proxy control is accompanied by deep affective attachment--by a "bonding with the leader, and also with the group" which "restores a sense of security and of competency, which ultimately may provide the foundation for renewed autonomy". The authors find two stages in the routinization of charisma--the development of structure where key political disciples become interpreters and intermediaries and in the process erode control of the center of the charismatic movements, a not so new idea; and the "dispersion of the charismatic response" where followers invest intermediaries with the affection and hopes initially concentrated and showered upon the charismatic leader, a less well examined idea.

The analysis provides extremely valuable information, insight, and inferences for those interested in the social psychology of Peronism and in refined testing of formal propositions and nuanced statistical applications alike. It is a welcome effort that addresses in a systematic way an important problem that has been poorly attended in recent generations of political inquiry. The authors remind us that Argentinean immigration differed significantly from that to North America in that immigrants, who constituted the urban working class as well as a nascent middle class, tended not to become citizens. By World War II, however, the urban working class was composed primarily of recent agricultural migrants and, to a lesser extent, the children of immigrants. These internal immigrants differed from their earlier counterparts in that they were potential voters whose institutional protection, however dependent, in the form of rural patron-client relationships was not replicated in the urban environment where, during the depression, there was no change in real wages of a burgeoning work force, but where housing shortages became acute and public services and facilities in the new villas miserias were practically nonexistent. It was in this context that Peron--first as Labor Minister and subsequently as President--devoted word, imagination, and ultimately resources to the urban poor.

The authors know how to make the most out of available electoral and attitudinal data; they also condense the historical and sociological context in a compelling way. In their ecological analysis of the 1946 elections the authors develop a vivid portrait of the class and locational bases of political support and establish persuasively, among other things, that rather than an industrial labor class, the recent migrant population constituted the most powerful source of Peronist political support. The authors further find differentiation in the electorate with respect to the dispersion of the charismatic response. Employing retrospective interview data from a 1965 survey, the authors find a differentiation between those with high affect for Peron and lukewarm sentiment for the movement (a "Personalist" response) and those with high affect for the movement and negative feelings for the man (an "Organization" response). Personalists are distinguished by their small town origins while Organization types tended to be from metropolitan Buenos Aires; the latter tend to come from Union households, the former not; Personalists tend to score lower on standard class measures than the others; they also include a disproportionate share of women; the Personalists also are less inclined to believe they are efficacious in political life and tend to endorse the proposition that "strong leaders" are needed while Organizationalists are more inclined to support institutional activity, worker-backed candidates, and the collaboration of unions of different ideological orientation. It is suggested that the passion of charismatic identification tends to become transformed into something akin to partisan identification as a way of portraying the public self.

While there are quibbles to be raised about the book--one would have hoped for interview data developed explicitly for the task at hand and to have it as one point in time for longitudinal comparison--attractive qualities far outweigh the few quibbles. The study is an exemplar of how to employ ecological and attitudinal data to test major propositions about political action and relationships. It will be of interest to anyone interested in comparative political behavior and the culture of charisma.
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Author:Sisson, Richard
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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