Dynamist Blog

Obama or Osama?

That's the ingenious title the editors at The New York Post put on my latest essay, which examines the difference between glamour (Obama) and charisma (Osama). Although it is packaged as one, the piece is not in fact a review of Philip Rieff's very strange "new" book Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us. For that, I recommend Chris Caldwell's NYTBR piece, although it is far kinder to Rieff than I would have been. Along with an appalling writing style, the book has many analytical problems and even worse empirical shortcomings. Rieff appears completely ignorant of the contemporary existence of charismatic religious leaders and, perhaps because he wrote the book 35 years ago and stuck it in a drawer, of the substantial scholarship on religious charisma that has come out in the past two decades. What dates the book isn't its use of terms like "women's lib" and "hang loose" but its mid-century conviction that religion is dead as a lived experience and that without religious authority all hell will break loose. I had this book in mind when I wrote on Cato Unbound that "Surviving the 21st century with our sanity and civilization intact will require less Nietzsche and more Hume."

If you really want to understand charisma, I recommend the other scholarly book I cite, Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities by Len Oakes. It's a dispassionate yet sympathetic treatment, with insights that apply beyond purely religious leaders. (Ayn Rand and her circle kept coming to mind.)

Sharp-eyed readers will note from the author author credit on the Post piece that I've made a deal with The Free Press to write my long-delayed book on glamour. If you've got a lot of bandwidth and would like a preview, you can read the proposal here. UPDATE: Thanks to advice from reader Lawrence Rhodes, the file is now a more manageable size.

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