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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Prof. Paolo Napoli on Law and Philosophy - with a focus on Charisma

Dear All!

Here is a short abstract of this week's classes, provided by Prof. Paolo Napoli (don't get confused with names because of the picture here on the left...):

You may wonder why in a seminar about Law and Philosphy we should deal with the subject of "charisma". In fact, we have to understand charisma as a kind of normativity and, according to it, philosophy is just an attitude, a way to place oneself in the condition to reflect upon the relation between law and other kinds of social regulation. Philosophy is not a deposit of concepts and values which structure the theoretical basis of law. It's rather a way of problematising the "between" linking law and comparative normativities. "Charisma" is an ancient notion which was rediscovered by juridical, political and sociological thought at the end of 19th century. Since then, we have conceived "charisma" as a personified set of exceptional and supernatural qualities. How can we get rid of this current representation which seems to forget that charisma is primarily a normative function and not an personal substance?

Prof. Paolo Napoli's CV:

 Prof. Paolo Napoli is currently Directeur d'études at the Ecole des
Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales - EHESS, in Paris (since 2010),
where he directs the Centre d'étude des normes juridiques "Yan Thomas"
- CENJ. In 1987 he graduated at the Faculty of Law of the University
La Sapienza (Rome), with a degree thesis on power and law in Michel
Foucault's works. He afterwards began his research on the notion of
police during the modern era in Italy (CNR), France (EHESS), Germany
(Max Planck Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte Frankfurt am
Main) and USA (Berkley). In 1997 he received his first Ph.D in Legal
philosophy at the University of Bologna and in 2002 he received a
second Ph.D. in Law and Social Sciences at the EHESS (Title of the PhD
thesis: La police en France à l'âge moderne (XVIII-XIX siècle).
Histoire d'un mode de normativité.
He is the author of many articles and two books:
- Naissance de la police moderne. Pouvoir, normes, société, La
Découverte, Paris 2003.
- Le arti del vero. Storia, diritto e politica in Michel Foucault, La
città del sole, Napoli 2002.
See also:


  1. today while Paolo Napoli was talking about the charisma i was thinking about a recent discussion that took place after that Joseph Ratzinger has left his role. Many thought that he could not do it because the pope is a person chosen by God but others have argued that the office has the charisma and not the person. we found in saint paul's letters that at the origins of christianity the charisma was a function, a pratical concept and that everyone could be chosen to be useful for the community. Also according to Max Weber the charisma is transferred from the person to the office. From this point of view is possible for the pope to resign? is there the risk that this could become a political and not spiritual role?
    Francesca Ricciulli

  2. As we have seen today, charisma is an exceptional quality of an individual person, wich inspire loyalty and obedience from the followers. Always the concept of charisma is related with supernatural powers or extraordinary qualities and because of this it is really important in the history of christian religion.
    Today Paolo Napoli talked about the st. Paul's letter to the romans, where the charisma is a gift of god spread through society, so everyone can be touch by the grace. He talked also about Max Weber's idea of charisma as a religious power and about the matter of transmission of that power. I want to say something about it, trying to reply to Francesca's question. In my opinion, because normally the authority is focused on one leader, the end of the charisma of that leader (not only his death), would constitute the destruction of that specific government (the church in our case). Generally a society that faces the end of their charismatic leader can choose to move to another format of leadership or to have a transference of charismatic authority to another leader by succession and I think it could be the same for the church.

    Luca Cipolloni

  3. I find this topic dealing with “charisma” particularly interesting; it’s quite something how such a common word in today’s language can have such a misleading meaning compared to the original one. However, at the same time, the word has always maintained a mysterious, powerful, often supernatural quality or talent, throughout history. In a way, it’s a bit of a shame how human beings have this tendency to modify the meaning of words in time, especially when the words are as powerful and meaningful as “charisma”. I’m sure that the vast majority of people are nowadays only familiar with the current representation of the word and have no idea that it is a normative function above anything else. On the other hand we can’t really blame anyone for this happening, it’s just how things naturally evolve in time, not necessarily for the best. One day, perhaps, it will be possible to return to the original meaning of the word but, for sure, it’ll take some time.

    Claudia Carboni

  4. The way we developed the "excursus" about charisma made me think that maybe we should separate two different meanings of this word: the first is the spiritual one (christian), the other is not spiritual ( at least not religious ). Those two meanings of the same word have followed during the history two different paths, and that's why we should not reduce them to one. Nowadays we are more rational and less spiritual and so we are not considering charisma as a supernatural power anymore, instead we are rationally considering it just like an attitude some people have. So we are not able anymore to distinguish, for example, the spiritual role of the Pope from his political role and i was even wondering if the Pope himself is able to distinguish these two.

    Marcello Ricciuti

  5. Thanks to Professor Napoli we understand that philosophy is an attitude of normativity, whereas charisma is a type of normativity, specifically a type of normativity parallel, which can not exist, according to Webber, alone but needs a staff . In these three lessons we have analyzed the origins of the "charisma", as the approach of the lawyer can never be separated from the historical context. It 'was very interesting to note how, in the first Christian community, in agreement with Sohm, "charisma" meant something totally different from today, in fact the charisma was something that could be shared with all, that anyone could aspire to, because it was a gift from God (grace). It would be nice if today's "charisma" could have such original meaning.
    Luigi Winkler

  6. In class we saw that two charismatic figures can not exist at the same time. But in Dante’s point of view it was possible. I was thinking about the “two suns theory”, which Dante explained in the third book of “De Monarchia” and in a passage of the “Purgatorio”. Dante opposed this theory to the one of “the sun and the moon”, invented by Pope Innocence III for his theocratic aspirations. So, differently from the Pope, who believed that the Papacy (the sun) was the only charismatic figure and the Empire (the moon) could only depend on it, according to Dante, the “two suns” were two charismatic figures, two separated and autonomous institutions. The Papacy and the Empire derived their authority directly from God, so they had the same dignity, although they were referred to different spheres: the Papacy to the spiritual sphere, the Empire to the political sphere.
    But how long can two charismatic figures coexist together? In the history we saw that it could happen for a very short time.

  7. Prof. Napoli talked to us about the charismatic authority and I think that the charismatic authority is related to what Freud wrote about the mass in his Group psychologist and the analyze of the Ego.
    There are two types of masses: unorganized and organized and only the organized will last over time, an example is the Church. For Freud the masses delude themselves and they are elementary and passionate.
    In a mass the Super Ego is shelved in favor of an hypnotic bond that makes the mass lose its critical spirit and that unleashes passions and primordial impulses. The one that are in a mass lose their equilibrium and their autonomy but they feel omnipotent because be a part of the mass makes them feel all-power and safe and sound. The problem of the mass is that it’s ruled by unconscious and instinct and it doesn’t tolerate delay between desire and its realization but the mass is also unable to desire something for a long time: the mass is very fickle and irritable, a mass doesn’t think very much and for this reason it can commit atrocity as lynching or it can be very generous also in a way that puts itself in danger. Each member of the mass identifies with the Leader: he represents and leads the mass, and it’s thanks to this narcissistic identification that he easily influenced the mass.
    The ego ideal of the Leader becomes the ego ideal of all, erasing the differences and rivalry in favor of a sense of identity and communion. Each one is linked to the Leader by a bond of love and each one thinks that the leader loves them all. And this bond is so deep that everyone that doesn’t love the Leader and that doesn’t identify with him is an enemy for every person that are in the mass. Freud calls this the “Illusion of love” and he points out that there are many kinds of leader but none of them is in need of love: they are all self-confident and independent.
    Freud isn’t the only one to write about masses. For example Le Bon describes the mass as a force of destruction. He says that the crowds existes in three stages: submergence, contagion, and suggestion. During Submergence, the individuals in the crowd lose their sense of individual self and personal responsibility. This is quite heavily induced by the anonymity of the crowd. Contagion refers to the propensity for individuals in a crowd to unquestioningly follow the predominant ideas and emotions of the crowd. In Le Bon's view, affect is capable of spreading between "submerged" individuals much like a disease. Suggestion refers to the period in which the ideas and emotions of the crowd are primarily drawn from a shared racial unconscious. This behavior comes from an archaic shared unconscious and is therefore uncivilized in nature. Le Bon believed that crowds could be a powerful force only for destruction. Additionally, Le Bon and others have indicated that crowd members feel a lessened sense of legal culpability, due to the difficulty in prosecuting individual members of a mob.

  8. During the last lesson we talked about the genealogy, which is a historical technique that criticizes the emergence through various historical periods of social and philosophical beliefs, seeing a certain continuity between them, almost a determined pattern. The genealogy attempts to look beyond these ideologies: it is a method that counteracts the traditional historical technique. The genealogical method is able to show discontinuities where others see continuity.
    Michel Foucault was inspired by the model of Nietzsche’s genealogy, and he has never ceased to insist on the not teleological and random nature of the historical processes.
    Sudden stops or long durations of the same ideology trough the ages are always possible. There may be partial symmetries or similarities between the eras. But this order - or disorder - of events does not mean that it is possible an universal vision of history, or Weltgeist in the Hegelian sense.

    Gemma Di Stefano

  9. The concept of charisma has been introduced in the social sceiences with Max Weber who took the term from the Christian tradition and from all studies on the Christian religion held by Rudolph Sohm.Saint Paul used the concept of charisma in order to indicate the gift of divine Grace that were granted to each Christian to protect the comunity.St Paul in his letters included also the charisma of local Christian communities.Sohm had taken the concept of chatisma in controversy with the Catholic Church,noting that the native Christian communities had not a legal organization,but a charismatic one: the authority was considered a gift of Grace.From the analysis of Sohm' works the following definition of charisma arise:the possession of extraordinary powers by a psicophysic personality.These powers hadn't been granted to all mankind but only to few people.To the concept of charisma is linked the concept of the charsmatic domination,based on the attribution to a single Leader of those extraordinary powers.The problem linked to the configuration of the charismatic leader is to explain how the certainty oh having a missionarise.According to Weber the charismatic leader is generally a person marked by nature,hypersensitive and able to huge experiences.

  10. Second part of the comment: During the lessons in which we focused our attention on the analysis of charisma,we highlighted the characters of Hitler and Charles De Gaulle, who must be considered charismatic leaders.They obtained their power in a moment of crisis:Hitler,when the economic crisis exploded in his nation in 1933,and Charles De Gaulle in 1958 when his Nation was exposed to a potential civil war.According to me,these figures were chosen not only because they are clear examples of the charisma and of the paradygma of the charismatic process but also because in this way there is the possibility of underline two kinds of leaders, that of the charismatic dictator and the one of the democratic carismatic leader,that must be considered under a different point of view.In the paradygma of the charismatic evolution there are some main points thst must be analysed:the political movement and the sociological relationship between the movement and the masses of people.In the centre of the political system of Hitler there were the following ideas:history is based on the war between ethnic groups;the alternative way to the domination of the best breed is the caos;nature had entrusted the Aryan race of the task of establishing its dominion and by that Hitler was elected to lead the superior race in this fight.The political system of Hitler was,therefore,easily traceable to a few prepositions sequentially connected,a message that Hitler was able to communicate with extraordinary efficiency,since he had a deep faith in his mission,and thanks to the great demagogic means of which he was endowed.Among the most persuasive evidence of the power of Hitler,as well as his officium,we can remember the controll he quicly reestablished on the quarrelling Nazis army gathered in Bamberg.There were scenes of renewed fraternity and dedication to their Leader.Focusing our attention on the relations with the masses,Hitler possessed great demagogic qualities,that grown with the development of a theory of leader-masses ratio,largely influenced by Le Bon,by learning the rules of theater acting and a great practice of political rallies.These skills,at the service of the certainty to lead a great mission,gave it an almost irresistible power of persuasion.

  11. Third part: In De Gaulle the feeling of being destined to do great things for his country,understood as a metaphysical entity above the French people,grew up during his adolescent age.That feeling led De Gaulle to develop the concept of the charismatic leadership that found complete expression in "Le fil de l'epee".After the Liberation,for him triumphant,De Gaulle undertook a political struggle to ensure the contry of institutions able to gave life to the France he had always dreamed of.The Gaullist policy consisted of 3 linked ideas.The first was based on the realization of an Eternal France that had to become the bearer for excellence of civilization in the history,understood as the history of all Nations.The purpose of the second idea was to realize a State that highlight the public interest and the national collective feeling.The third idea was based on a national society that had to be gathered and bunched overcoming the schism class thanks to the principle of partecipation.The presence of a charismatic elite is in this case particularly evident.The movements that were born with the purpose of enhance De Gaulle were intitled "Rassemblement du People Francais" and "Le Union pour la Nouvelle Republique".The first was created by De Gaulle and was abolished in 1955,the second was founded in 1958 and rapresents now one of the great French political parties.The two movements aimed to develop the charismatic figure of De Gaulle.The relationship with the masses is particularly important because,whit De Gaulle,it has been influenced by new charateristics and has began to show a peculiar weight in all european democracies,thanks to the technological developments in the field of the comunication of the masses and thanks to the use of referendum.We can even say that De Gaulle has given arise to a new sphere of the plebiscitarian democracies.De Gaulle rested directly on people to ensure effective support to its policies of mass.Furthermore De Gaulle was especially able to use techniques in order to rekindle the patriotic values and to involve people in his mission.

  12. In the last lessons we were introduced to the word ‘charisma‘ and the changes that this notion went through during time.
    The two great names in this discussions on the concept of charisma were Rudolph Sohm on the one hand and Max Weber on the other. Although the latter‘s primary source was Sohm‘s publication „Kirchenrecht“ their theses developed were highly differentiated if not contrary.
    Sohm refers to early christian terminology in which charisma meant „gift of grace“, a supernatural force, the getting together of a community of equals in the name of god to share the gifts of the holy spirit. Charisma in that time was considered a function more than a quality.
    For Weber on the contrary charisma was no more the absence of power, but domination. It is a quality which belongs to a person who due to this attribute occupies a higher position since he is able to influence the behavior of his social environment.
    One could say that Weber has exploited the ancient model of charisma in a contrary way. But is this new conception really a degradation of charisma? And is it therefore true the old platitude that ‘everything was better in the old times‘ and that we should get rid of this new representation which obscures the ‘true‘ origins?
    In my opinion one should be careful talking hastily of a degradation, a word so highly judgmental and full of negative associations.
    Instead one should limit itself firstly to note a change between the conceptions of charisma. A radical change yes. But even when a mutation culminates in a complete alienation from the original understanding it cannot be automatically be equated with a degradation.
    A word and its meaning have always to be seen in their social-historical context. In our case one should not forget that between the early christian terminology and the one of Max Weber lie many hundred years.
    While St. Paul lived in the 1th century A.D. Max Weber was a 19th century intellectual.
    In their very beginnings the christian community in Rome, to which Paulus addressed his letters, counted only around thousand members which belonged for the most parts to the lowest strata of society, slaves and freedmen. Until the end of the second century the had neither churches nor any other place to gather in public. There were mainly private devotions where was commemorated the live of Christ. Given that background it does not seem too surprising that the first christian community was based on a ‘system‘ of equality hold together by charisma. After all most members were already socially more or less on the same level.
    In the 19th century on the other hand the Christian community is a firmly established world religion with millions of members. Trying to keep together and to organize a community with that dimensions with the mere force of a god given charisma seems slightly idealistic.
    So to interpret charisma as a quality attributed to an individual who due to his peculiarity can establish a particularly authority amongst the others seems only consequent in a society which is permeated by all sorts of hierarchy and powers.
    The radical change in the conception of charisma therefore found its reason for a large part in the radical change of our social environment. The old meaning of the word charisma has been outdated by time and replaced by a new one. One that has been adjusted at the modern reality in which it is hard to imagine a functioning society without any form of dominance.
    But outdated does not necessarily mean obsolete.
    Instead of trying to reestablish a meaning which privies of any practical relation with our day to day lives we should remember the ancient notion as a form of ideal. An inspiration for each of us on how a society can function peacefully without any imposed authority.
    And even though in reality it might not be fully realizable it could be a guideline for our acts and moreover a way to let coexist both significances of charisma. Without saying one is better than the other, but merely acknowledging their differences and being aware of the weaknesses both incorporate.

  13. What strikes me about the concept of charisma is its derivation and the way it operates.

    I mean Charisma in the early christian communities was a divinely conferred gift, so it came from above and vertically descended on the chosen person. This gift was directed to create an efficient, close -"charismatic"- community.So we could say it worked horizontally, it was horizontally diffused throughout society.

    Nowadays, what we usually call "charisma", shows an opposite path.
    I mean, in a modern sense, "charisma" is a sort of talent for communication, a charming way of appealing to people. It doesn't obviously derive from above, it doesn't descend vertically on a person, it comes from the inside, horizontally - we could say. And then, as a perversion of this kind of genius, it is used to manipulate people, and even to subjugate them, so methaphorically, in a vertical direction, to create hierarchical relationships among the citizens.

    There isn't a charismatic community anymore,
    there is just charismatic leader.
    We need a leader, and what's even worse, it doesn't matter if our leader is a divine or a human one.