Any charismatic political or religious leader that has, quite literally, a cult following of people who are entirely devoted to them and enacting this leader’s mission of a utopian future is a cult of personality. Cults of personality are often associated with leaders of totalitarian regimes, such as Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. They manipulate mass media to craft a narrative in which they are a god-like persona to coerce their followers into submission.
From the outside looking in, many of these larger-than-life authoritarian figures seem outrageous, but to the individuals who entrust in them, these rulers really are as omniscient and immortal as they portray themselves on television or other forms of media. So how do they do this, exactly?
How Cults of Personality Gain A Following
A cult of personality would not be possible without the subservience of the followers who believe in them. Otherwise, these politicians would likely be considered raving madmen. What grounds the lofty ideals of these authoritarian leaders is the promise of more grounded, attainable goals, such as better working conditions or better pay. Having this realistic goal interwoven into their unrealistic visions for a political paradise is what makes their approach so powerful.
Through extensive propaganda created with the intention to sway the public into believing their leader is the only one capable of achieving their utopia, the leader legitimizes himself in the eyes of his audience. For the followers, their reason for participating in the new social norms of their cult of personality is the perceived benefit of doing so, for example, when Hitler began to push increasingly radical prejudices against the Jewish community, his followers likely followed in order to maintain status within the cult and avoid exclusion or persecution.
Their reasoning for their willingness to perform includes:
- The need to belong. If a cult of personality does their job correctly, they will make their followers believe they are part of an in-group or some sort of special club. This in-group then develops their rituals and beliefs that strengthen their devotion to their leader.
- A sense of identity. Eventually, a devoted follower will begin to feel a family-like connection to other members of their in-group, so much so that they’ll be willing to engage in violent behavior such as killing or dying on behalf of their group.
If you’d like to know more about how personalities can influence a nation, or even just your inner world, visit https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/personality/ .
Examples of Famous Cults of Personality
Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung
Former leaders of North Korea, these dictators based their regime around portraying themselves as divinely chosen and all-knowing through the use of propaganda. Kim Il-Sung, Jong-Il’s father, created a set of strict rules that governed every part of the lives of North Korean citizens. He even grouped them into the “songbun” system, a sort of caste system wherein someone’s class and the number of resources they were allotted had to do with the actions of their other’s ancestors. Later, Jong-Il created the Monolithic Ideological System, which forbids citizens to contradict his orders in any form.
In Russia, Stalin keeps his spot as one of the most bloodthirsty leaders in world history. He created Stalinism, which envisioned Russia as a more industrialized nation instead of relying on agriculture to support their economy. Under his reign, his suppressive policies were ultimately a factor in Russia’s period of famine in the 1930s. He even sought to eliminate his enemies through a process he called the Great Purge, wherein many Russians ended up murdered, imprisoned, or exiled.
Zedong was a communist revolutionary and military strategist that had a purge of his very own in 1949. During this purge, he ordered the mass killing of counterrevolutionaries, which he considered to be his political enemies. An estimated 2 to 6 million people lost their lives during this movement, and ultimately up to 55 million citizens after his push to turn China into an industrialized state caused a nationwide famine.
This anti-imperialist dictator of Venezuela was elected president in 1998 after forming the Fifth Republic Movement, a socialist political party designed to campaign for his election. Chavez’s policies that defied US interests created a Venezuela plagued by catastrophic poverty, high crime rates, prison overcrowding, and a drug trade that are more prosperous by the day until he died in 2013. Since then, Nicolas Maduro succeeded his presidency but continues to adhere to Chavez’s ideologies.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.