Comparing Karl Jaspers' Concept of Paradigmatic Individuals with Max Weber's Concept of Charisma
Drexel University College of Medicine
In The Origin and Goal of History, where he developed the concept of the Axial Age, Jaspers cited, as his key source for the idea, Hegel’s discussion of Jesus’ life and teachings as the axis of history. Yet, sociologists have long understood that Jaspers’ esteem for his friend and colleague Max Weber’s comparative studies in the sociology of religion, attested to in several of Jaspers’ writings, provided the scholarly substance underpinning the concept of the Axial Age. Jaspers noted Weber’s research on the Hebrew prophets, Confucian thought, Hinduism and Buddhism, the Greek poleis, and, with qualifications, Islam in presenting his notion of axial religio-philosophical movements. He also discussed Weber’s conception of charisma and charismatic authority in a brief treatment of modern political institutions. However, in the first volume of The Great Philosophers, Jaspers discusses the lives of Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus as “paradigmatic individuals” who “have exerted a historical influence of incomparable scope and depth.” He does not use the term charisma nor that of Axial Age, but he makes clear that the cultural frameworks of great civilizations were shaped by the legacies of these key figures – all charismatics to Weber – in respects that cannot be claimed for any other historical persons. The presentation will compare the concepts of charismatic leaders and paradigmatic individuals, calling attention in particular to differences that Jaspers seems to have deliberately emphasized.