There are lists for everything, all open to the public view—everything from “The 10 Most Beautiful Left-Handed Women” to “The World’s Tallest Athletes” to “The Most Influential People on TikTok.” There is even one for charismatic people—as if there could be a definitive list for an attribute so elusive, so ethereal, so magical, as to be almost mythical. Sure, there are “influencers” in today’s media-circus world; there are media stars, sexy MMA girls, guys on video making cheese ravioli, and an uncountable number of fifteen-minute “stars” who will be replaced any second now with the next batch. But true charisma is quite ephemeral, quite as slippery as any definition can be, as the Stoics were quick to point out. It does not depend on popularity, number of followers on Twitter, splashy photos on Facebook—it is the “X-Factor” of human attributes—it is in the eye of the beholder, and if that eye is already clouded with the detritus of a throw-away culture, of a culture which knows little of value and values little, then charisma begins to become even more ghostly.
The word derives from the Greek, meaning “grace” or “charm.” It was originally thought to be a divinely conferred attribute—a spiritual gift, which right away eliminates golf ladies in tight sweaters and rappers with enough gold around their necks to subvert a small country’s economy. German sociologist Max Weber introduced the term “personality charisma”:
Charisma is a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These as such are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader. […]