William Anthony Hay on The Powers of Charisma in the Age of Revolution

Napoleon crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1800

“How Cults of Personality Shaped the Age of Revolution”

By William Anthony Hay

“What makes leadership charismatic? That question has loomed large since the eighteenth century with transformations wrought by revolution and mass politics. Political hero worship has ties with authoritarian temptations, but it also has a place in the electoral politics of constitutional democracies with their demand for persuasion. Charisma inspires more effectively than rational argument, let alone the currently diminished claims of technical expertise or standing within bureaucratic hierarchies.

In Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution, David A. Bell gallops through the eighteenth century to trace the modern emergence of charismatic leadership when romanticism met revolutionary politics. Heroic figures captured popular imagination not only through impressive exploits but a sense among their admirers that they expressed the spirit of the age. Indeed, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Simon Bolivar, along with Pasquale Paoli and Toussaint Louverture, seemed to guide that spirit. Bell argues that bonds they had with their followers enhanced their ability to shape events and gained them a heroic status as founders of a new order, even if, in some cases, a transitory one. These men on horseback created a new image of leadership in the age of revolution that lasted beyond it. Bell, who is a historian at Princeton University, has written several important books, but this is by far his most ambitious. The result is a superb study…”

Read the entire review at The National Interest >>



William Anthony Hay is an Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University. He specializes in British History, International Relations, and the Atlantic World over the long eighteenth century. Elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2009, Professor Hay is a past-president of the Southern Conference on British Studies. Before coming to Mississippi State, he directed a program on European politics and U.S. foreign policy at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Professor Hay also writes regularly for publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, and Modern Age. His latest book, Lord Liverpool: A Political Life (The Boydell Press, 2018) takes the career and outlook of Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, one of Britain’s longest serving prime ministers as a way to explore the crucial transition from the Georgian to the Victorian era.

Professor Hay is a JMC fellow.

Learn more about William Anthony Hay >>



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