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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

Political Leadership in the Eye of the Beholder: Charismatic Leadership, Folk Heroes / Devils and Moral Panics

Political Leadership
Rudolf Metz
Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Rudolf Metz
Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Populist and authoritarian tendencies, the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit process displayed once again the dark side of leadership (Helms, 2014; Tourish, 2013) causing deepening moral panics (Joosse, 2018). The scientific and public debates still mostly focus on “bad” (unethical/ineffective) leaders and pay little attention to the followers’ behaviour and relations to leaders. However, a suspicion might rise in spectators, that there is a significant change in the relationship between the leaders and the followers behind the emergence of populist leaders. In modern democracy due to personalization, citizens’ views and judgements on leaders’ personality became crucial even if they do not have effective means to influence politics and policy (Green, 2010). Nevertheless, their perceptions are often controversial (Medvic, 2013) while their expectations grew constantly (Flinders, 2012), which opens the way for populist politics (Galston, 2014). Thus the questions are given: What kind of role do followers play in such populist leadership? How do they construct their leaders’ charisma? How and why do charismatic or populist leaders create deliberately or unintentionally and utilize moral panics? Why do followers see some leaders as folk devils while others as folk heroes?

The paper aims to provide a theoretical, follower-centric explanation for the populist phenomena of recent years by connecting three different perspectives on leadership: the social construction of charisma (Joosse, 2014; Meindl, 1995); theory of moral panics (Flinders and Wood, 2015; Joosse, 2018); the social identity approach to leadership (Haslam et al., 2011). The study of political leadership has given only very little space for analyzing followers (Hartley, 2018) in contrast to the strengthening trends in the generic leadership literature (Uhl-Bien et al., 2014). The theoretical framework proposed by the paper can be a good basis for further follower-centric empirical analyses.
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