Charm: How Magnetic Personalities Shape Global Politics

The utilization—and weaponization—of charm in contemporary global politics


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Aug 20, 2024
34 b/w illus. 1 table.
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Politics is a site of performance, and contemporary politicians often perform the role of a regular person—perhaps someone we would like to have a beer with. They win elections not because of the elevated rhetorical performances we often associate with charisma (“ask not what your country can do for you”), but because of something more ordinary and relatable. The everyday magic spell that politicians cast using mass and social media is what sociologist Julia Sonnevend calls “charm.” In this engaging and enlightening book, Sonnevend explores charm (and the related “charm offensive”) as a keyword of contemporary global politics. Successful political leaders deploy this form of personal magnetism—which relies on proximity to political tribes and manifests across a variety of media platforms—to appear authentic and accessible in their quest for power.

Sonnevend examines the mediated self-representations of a set of liberal, illiberal, and authoritarian political leaders, past and present: New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and Germany’s Angela Merkel. She considers how charm (or the lack of it) is wielded as a political tool, and the ways charm is weaponized to shape the international image of a country, potentially influencing decisions about military aid, trade, and even tourism. Sonnevend argues that charm will shape the future of democracy worldwide, as political values will be increasingly embodied by mediated personalities. These figures will rise and fall, often fading into irrelevance; but if we do not understand charm’s political power, we cannot grasp today’s fragile political moment.