Charisma is a word that was heavily overused in the seventies and was accordingly dropped from favour. Of course, it was misused, as words usually are when they are bandied about by people who hardly know their real meanings.
As I watch and read the commentariat tie themselves into knots over Newt Gingrich's unlooked for win in South Carolina, it seems to me that it would be a good time to give some thought to that wonderful word, charisma. It means, quite simply, grace. But not the kind of grace that makes us think of ballerinas and such. No, this is the kind of grace that comes from above- from that higher realm I wrote about the other day.
I first started thinking about that idea when I became fascinated by the music and personality of the composer Richard Wagner. Some of the most glorious music ever written came out of his fertile imagination. It was noble, it soared, and it transformed the history of music. It was a seismic event in the music world of the 19th century. Many people hated it... and still do. That's not a bug, as they say, it's a feature. What really fascinated me was that this gift that was visited on Wagner was undeserved. Not to put too fine a point on it, by all accounts Richard Wagner was a jerk. He was not a nice man. His music was noble, but his person was petty, mean, vindictive and callous. He was especially good at using women to advance his interests and then ditching them as soon as they became inconvenient. And he didn't particularly care if they were already married, or that he was married to someone else.
Another figure more familiar in our times who had charisma was Steve Jobs. Since moderns don't grasp the ancient Greek concept of charisma, the term 'reality distortion field' was invented. But charisma was a far better expression.
Because charisma enables its host to see things the rest of us don't. While the rest of us paw over the same old bits of the puzzle, trying to arrange them in some way that will help us understand, the Steve Jobs and Richard Wagners of the world see solutions in one blinding glance. While the rest of us are afraid, they dare. That lack of fear, and the unrelenting will to advance a vision is another attribute they have that distinguishes them from the rest of us. And above all, they are able to enlist a following of devotees to become their shock troops and allies, without which they could do nothing. They are able to convince the more ordinary among us to do their bidding. The more talented and dedicated and numerous that following may be, the more likely the charismatic individual will have a major impact on the world.
But it's always wise to remember that Adolph Hitler had charisma. Jimmy Jones had charisma. Sometimes it enables evil instead of good.
At any rate, when I saw the videos of Newt Gingrich inspiring the crowds at the South Carolina debates, I knew I was seeing charisma. And if those silly commentators- even ones I greatly respect, like Mark Steyn- are still pawing over the entrails of past scandals, of various political platitudes, of political promises, etc, etc, they entirely miss the point.
Barack Obama had (has?) charisma, too. I responded in horror, just as most of the political pundits (even the conservatives) are recoiling in horror at Gingrich. He is erratic, they say, he changes his mind about things. One day he is trying to reduce the deficit, the next he is sitting with Nancy Pelosi discussing the global warming hoax. Except they weren't saying it was a hoax. But something tells me this man is the one to turn back the tide- or maybe he is the tide. Barack Obama may have been the high tide of statism, and he may have been necessary to show anyone willing to listen that his way is the way to slavery and oppression. The tide, the seasons, they go back and forth and all we can do is adjust and try to decide which wave to latch onto.
One perceptive writer on the Gingrich phenomenon compared him to Winston Churchill, and I wouldn't disagree with that. In his victory speech Gingrich spoke of American exceptionalism, which sounds a lot like charisma to me. Like Gingrich, America has lots of warts. In spite of the warts America has been the light of the world for over two hundred years. That's charisma. There's a lot more I could say about that, but I just turned 69 today and I tire easily. And it was a beautiful day in Victoria. It was warm, the sun shone, and Victoria looked young and beautiful again. Yes, I think Victoria has Charisma, too, as does the earth and especially the human race. Yes, environmentalists, we humans are also part of Nature... and though sometimes my faith is shaken, I really know that we are what the earth has been striving toward for all these eons.