Government and Politics

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Reagan’s presidency ended, those powers were transferred to his successor. If a president acts within the legitimate powers of the office, but not to our liking, we may wish to elect a new president. But we will not normally argue that the president’s power is illegitimate.

However, if an official clearly exceeds the power of an office, as Richard Nixon did by obstructing justice during investigation of the Watergate burglary, the official’s power may come to be seen as illegitimate. Moreover, as was true of Nixon, the person may be forced out of office. Charismatic Authority Weber also observed that power can be legitimized by the charisma of an individual.

The term charismatic authority refers to power made legitimate by a leader’s exceptional personal or emotional appeal to his or her followers. Charisma allows a person to lead or inspire without relying on set rules or traditions. Interestingly, such authority is derived more from the beliefs of loyal followers than from the actual qualities of leaders.

So long as people perceive the person as possessing qualities that set him or her apart from ordinary citizens, the leader’s authority will remain secure and often unquestioned. Political scientist Ann Ruth Willner (1984) notes that each charismatic leader draws upon the values, beliefs, and traditions of a particular society. The conspicuous sexual activity of longtime Indonesian president Achmed Sukarno reminded his followers of the gods in Japanese legends and therefore was regarded as a sign of power and heroism.

By contrast, Indians saw Mahatma Gandhi’s celibacy as a demonstration of superhuman self-discipline. Charismatic leaders also associate themselves with widely respected cultural and religious heroes.

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