In a theocracy, God, is considered the top of the hierarchy. Then in some monarchies the line is blurred a bit because the monarch is considered appointed by God or to even be a living-God as in ancient Egypt.

In each case one could argue that moral authority comes from God. i.e. what is good or bad is dictated by God, perhaps as interpreted by the human leader.

In some dictatorships, the leader is considered God-like (e.g. North Korea?) and moral authority is dictated by the will of the dictator. Perhaps also with cues from societal norms and traditions.

I wonder if there is a name for a society where the leader is not considered a God or have any kind of divinity. And yet moral authority is dictated by the leader simply by virtue of being the leader. i.e. Where the populus takes all its moral queues from whoever is is the leader at the time. A change in leader means all the populations morals can change. i.e. the leader is a Pope-like figure in that he can dictate morals but without any claimed supernatural authority.

At first I thought this might be just a "dictatorship" but that kind of implies the populus are under duress (if we assume for example the Germans were under duress during the Nazi period). But if the populus willingly submits to its leader maybe more like Putin and a large proportional of the population of Russia, but also the leader issues moral commandments much like an atheist Pope. Is there a name for this sort of society? (And are then any examples in history?) Or even a democratic system, where the leader has the power (like a Pope) to dictate morals? (I have a feeling that this has never happened since a change in leader would require a reference to a supernatural being in order for the authority to change from one person to another.)

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_personality - create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by the state or the party in one-party states and dominant-party states. It is often seen in totalitarian or authoritarian countries. Nov 27, 2019 at 4:43
  • @SurpriseDog I've always considered this to be a kind of religious thing? Also, it seems like it uses deception for its ends. Whereas I'm more interested in the case where the populus willingly submits knowing that the leader is a mere human. (Albeit the alpha-wolf in the pack so-to-speak).
    – zooby
    Nov 27, 2019 at 5:03
  • 1
    Not directly related to your question, but whether the populus willingly submits to a leader has nothing to do with whether it is a dictatorship. Personally I would see current Russia as a dictatorship under Putin, or at least very close to one but the differences to a dictatorship are not related to the popularity of Putin in the populace. Singapore is also more or less a dictatorship and afaik the president is fairly popular (relative to democratically elected leaders of democratic countries).
    – quarague
    Nov 27, 2019 at 15:43

2 Answers 2


I think the German word Führerprinzip comes closest. According to Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

The Führerprinzip [ˈfyːʀɐpʀɪnˌtsiːp] (German for "leader principle") prescribed the fundamental basis of political authority in the governmental structures of the Third Reich. This principle can be most succinctly understood to mean that "the Führer's word is above all written law" and that governmental policies, decisions, and offices ought to work toward the realization of this end.

As for the origin of the word, Wikipedia writes:

The Führerprinzip was not invented by the Nazis. Hermann von Keyserling, a Baltic German philosopher from Estonia, was the first to use the term. One of Keyserling's central claims was that certain "gifted individuals" were "born to rule" on the basis of Social Darwinism.

The ideology of the Führerprinzip sees each organization as a hierarchy of leaders, where every leader (Führer, in German) has absolute responsibility in his own area, demands absolute obedience from those below him and answers only to his superiors. This required obedience and loyalty even over concerns of right and wrong.

  • Yes. This is very close to what I mean. However, I would add that instead of "born to rule", there might be a case where a person became leader through some heroic act, regicide or even just voted in. I suppose that this is sort of covered in the Darwnian logic of survival of the fittest. Interesting. You can see why this sort of thing would only work in certain societies where the social norm is to strictly follow rules.
    – zooby
    Nov 27, 2019 at 4:50
  • I wonder if this is the same as fascism or a separate idea from fascism as they seem quite similar ideas. Whereas I can't see that Führerprinzip is necessarily an evil philosophy although undoubtedly could lead to evil things happening. And surely this kind of thing must have happened in societies which were not fascist.
    – zooby
    Nov 27, 2019 at 4:57
  • @zooby it may have worked well in the past. Think of an absolute monarchy where everything is centered around a king, including making the rules, judging them, etc. This label wasn't applied then, but it could fit. And in theory, it doesn't have to be bad, but when there are differing opinions it's not going to end nicely, because the ruler is always right.
    – JJJ
    Nov 27, 2019 at 5:09
  • Well, it's hard to know really about the past but they seemed to always have some spiritual element to the leaders. Even Gilgamesh was said to be 2/3 God 1/3 man. Maybe the closest I can think of is funnily enough Plato, who had some idea for a "Philosopher King". Kind of benign dictator.
    – zooby
    Nov 27, 2019 at 5:14
  • One funny thing about Führerprinzip is that it is hard to sustain it for any length of time. Because when a new leader comes along they might not even believe in Führerprinzip! And so it could disapear in a generation.
    – zooby
    Nov 27, 2019 at 5:16

The German sociologist Max Weber coined the term Charismatic authority (as opposed to legal authority and traditional authority - I would argue that religious authority is just a form of traditional authority). Some forms of charismatic authority might meet your definition.

Quote as per Wikipedia:

[A] certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader ... How the quality in question would be ultimately judged from an ethical, aesthetic, or other such point of view is naturally indifferent for the purpose of definition.

Note that why people might attribute the charisma to some divine origin this is not necessary, and the deciding factor is the charisma itself, not its perceived origin.

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