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Covenant and Charisma


kamurj

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Excerpted from
Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us
By Philip Rieff

In Freud's explanatory myth of social organization, the dynamics of guilt are never reconciled with his uses of the liberal myth of origins, the social contract, which is presented as a rational agreement among the masses-sons to cease their individual struggles to become men of power-except over their own women. The social contract is thus a rationalist alternative to charismatic organization. Yet, in the historical psychology of the Jews, what may he called social contract is combined creatively with the dynamics of guilt in the idea of the covenant. In their mythologizing efforts, neither Weber nor Freud took seriously the idea of the covenant.

This corporate articulation of something greater than self-respect organizes the dynamics of guilt. In the making of a covenant, guilt is the main mechanism. A covenanted culture cannot exist apart from a sense of guilt, for the most obvious fact of experience is the difficulty it presents in keeping a covenant-more important, the temptations it presents not to keep it.

The covenant was the way in which the charismatic quality was verbalized, the contents of which thus penetrate and organize the common life. The covenant may be considered the particular and deliberate expression of moral order through negation and denial. Breaking the covenant becomes an expression of guilt; equally, keeping the covenant was an expression of guilt; the covenant itself is a charismatic recognition of the ambivalences felt among the keepers of the covenant. To honor the maker of the covenant, the god-term, is to prefer him and his representatives precisely in their charismatic quality of the self; to respect the covenant more than the self is an articulation of that renunciation of "instinct/' which is not only the essential form of all social organization, but also indicates the essential form of culture. Indeed, culture is the elaboration of respect for something other than the self, a creative preference for something that is not self. This achievement of something greater than self-respect, the preference for a holy other, constitutes the dynamics of guilt. In the making of a covenant, guilt is the main mechanism. Culture, if it is credal, cannot exist apart from a sense of guilt.

The other major point here is the meaning of the discipline of inwardness, with special reference to the disciples of the charismatic who mobilize those within their reach for fresh renunciations of instinct. This is the essential function of the discipline of inwardness and, therefore, of discipline itself, and the major way in which new institutions are created may be said to be through the discipline of inwardness as communicated by the disciples of the charismatic, who, in turn, mobilize others for fresh renunciations of instinct.

Failing to see that discipline, and, in particular, that the early disciples of the charismatic, must communicate the renunciatory discipline of inwardness, Weber opposed discipline to charisma-and thus opened up in an insoluble way the false problem of institutionalization. In fact, he associated the waning of charisma with the development of discipline, understanding discipline as rational and external. For Weber, the content of discipline is nothing but the consistently rationalized, methodically trained, and exact execution of received orders. All critical capacity is unconditionally suspended; the actor is unswervingly set for carrying out commands. Superego and instinct reunite. The perfectly disciplined one will do whatever he is commanded to do.

Yet the opposite seems far more profoundly the case; the force of discipline does not eradicate personal charisma, nor does it eradicate stratification by status groups. On the contrary, discipline may be postulated as the extension of personal charisma and as a support of stratification by status groups; it is only through discipline that fresh renunciations of "instinct" are mobilized. Discipline thus is a bridge conception toward the institutionalization of charisma. No discipline of inwardness can lead to that consistently rationalized, external, exact execution of received orders Weber had in mind. The superego will not be so externalized. No discipline can survive the loss of inwardness. Rather, such discipline as Weber imagined necessitates the elimination of inwardness, a loss of the entire quality of respect, so that there is nothing to renounce. Weber's references to Spartans, to Jesuits, to officer corps, spell out his confused theory of discipline as opposed to charisma. Yet he declares that "discipline as such is certainly not hostile to charisma or to status group honor." He does not understand how such apparently external discipline as the methodical and exact execution of received orders, the consistent and unswerving carrying out of commands, must be, if it is to be a discipline related to charisma, communicated by mobilizing fresh renunciations and extending those renunciations to larger numbers of people.

There may, in fact, well he another kind of discipline which is opposed to the charismatic quality, in which you have a discipline resting rather on externalization, on opportunism, on the constant accruing of instinctual satisfactions, but this discipline is far different from the classical order of discipline to which Weber refers. He himself, being a modern, has confused the two. Discipline is a mobilizing of fresh renunciations; that is the true spiritual exercise expressed in disciplinary institutions. This absence of internalization, characteristic of the Weberian conception of discipline, seems to me to indicate again Weber's modernist hostility to charisma.

In Freud's analogizing of the primal father, his mythical conception of the totally external man, the man of power, on the one hand, and his conception of the religious founder, Moses, the man of faith, on the other, Freud expressed his own hostility to charisma, at least as powerfully as Weber. That hostility is entirely dependent on Freud's historic postulate that inwardness itself, i.e., faith, is analogous to neurosis. Freud's treatment of inwardness on the analogy of neurosis constitutes a devastating attack on inwardness and on all the disciplines of inwardness which are, to Freud, seen in the perspective of our own time in late primal history, neurotic. No greater attack on inwardness has ever been mounted in our intellectual history; none has been more effective; none has appealed to men's constant desire, their most basic desire, which is to open up possibility. It is as a result of this condition-this intellectual and spiritual condition-of the attack on inwardness as neurotic and on the disciplines by which inwardness is constituted institutionally-that the torment of the infinite has grown so much more powerful and movements of terrible liberation have increased the intensity of their destructive action. In their very different ways, both Freud and Weber have mounted major assaults on the possibility of the charismatic, and, in fact, have helped greatly to close off that possibility in our own time.

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