Charisma lives on : a study of Peronism and Chavismo




Andrews-Lee, Caitlin Elizabeth

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Conventional wisdom suggests that political movements founded by charismatic leaders must undergo “routinization” to survive beyond the death or disappearance of the founder. Yet charismatic movements have persisted or reemerged in countries as diverse as Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Italy, and Thailand. Consequently, party systems in these countries remain deeply personalistic and vulnerable to authoritarian threats. Focusing on Argentine Peronism and Venezuelan Chavismo, my research investigates how such movements can survive without becoming thoroughly institutionalized. To explore this puzzle, I first examine citizens’ deep emotional attachments to the movement. Rather than becoming depersonalized through programmatic or organizational means, citizens’ bonds can survive by sustaining their original affective nature. Moreover, subsequent politicians can strategically reactivate citizens’ attachments and garner support by (1) symbolically associating themselves with the founder and (2) achieving bold, impressive performance to “rescue” the followers from their suffering. I illustrate the survival of charismatic attachments using public opinion data and original focus groups with Peronist and Chavista followers. To substantiate my theory of reactivation, I draw evidence from two survey experiments conducted in three distinct regions of Argentina and Venezuela. Next, I use elite interviews and archival research to analyze the conditions under which new leaders can implement these strategies to consolidate power. Whereas successors handpicked by the founder struggle to establish independent authority, selfstarters who emerge years later enjoy more leeway to step out of the founder’s shadow. If self-starters can leverage a crisis to portray themselves as heroes and adopt the founder’s personalistic style, they can inherit his mantle and return the movement to power. Yet their success is temporary: Ungrounded institutionally, their daring policies eventually tend to collapse, causing followers to feel betrayed and seek out a more convincing successor to the founder. The short-lived successes and subsequent failures of new leaders cause charismatic movements to develop in a spasmodic fashion unlike the stable, linear trajectories of more conventional parties. The results suggest that these movements can survive without forming strong institutions. But their survival compromises citizens’ democratic representation and hinders the development of stable, programmatic parties



LCSH Subject Headings