When we talk about inequalities, we often focus only on the economy: situations where a minority has enough money to control many aspects of other people’s lives.
It is true that it makes sense to focus on the material accumulation of goods and money, because today having a high level of income explains a lot. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are other forms of inequality that go beyond our economic capacity, and this is reflected in cultural phenomena and the ability to condition the behavior of others. The cult of personality, or cult of the person, Is a clear example, and in this article we will see what it is.
What is personality worship?
Personality cult is a massive phenomenon of seguidism, flattery, and constant obedience to an individual who has become the leader of a particular movement or field, usually extending it to at least an entire country.
On the other hand, the cult of the person it is characterized by the uncritical attitude of those who follow the leader, And for sectarian and hostile behavior towards those who do not obey, as well as for ritualized activities and the use of symbolism and icons reminiscent of the leader, in a manner similar to what happens with the symbols in the case of organized religions proper or not nomadic societies.
Characteristics of this mass phenomenon
These are the main characteristics of the cult of personality, and they serve to distinguish it from other ways of influencing leadership.
1. It generates a sense of unity among the masses
The mass-lauded leader confronts him with something much more abstract, a collective movement that needs icons to represent and defend its unity easily and intuitively. In this sense, this class of chiefs has a function similar to that of kings, although unlike the latter they have more means to make themselves known to millions of people: Photographs, television, Internet, radio, etc.
2. Project an idealized image through distance
Another factor that allows the leader to retain his power is the fact that he controls his image a lot. He is not constantly exposed to the scrutiny of othersBut he does so on rare occasions and in a very studied way, to offer his most flattering side. To this end, video and photographic editions, censorship policies against critics or journalists, etc. are carried out.
3. It is associated with values linked to conservative values
The cult of personality draws on ideas and symbols deeply rooted culturally among the followers of the leader, but manipulating so that they match their specific goals. For example, if in this society the unity of the nuclear family is seen as something to be defended at all costs, the leader can justify his anti-abortion measures by stressing that they will prevent girls from moving away from their parents in the future. cause of the crisis. this (supposedly) involves the removal of an embryo.
4. Adds an emotional charge to policy measures
Nothing conveys emotions like a face of flesh and blood. Something as simple as having someone to champion a political ideology allows you to add legitimacy and appeal to those ideas, if a good public image is offered.
5. It gives meaning to collective sacrifices
This aspect of personality worship is related to the above. Through constant demands for emotional connection with the leader or leader, the hardships people may go through are justified as part of a collective plan to achieve the goals set by the regime. Protests and riots come to be seen as a betrayal of the leader and, by extension, to the people, which justifies its violent repression.
6. It allows to filter the interests of the elites in the public agenda
As the leader comes to represent the people, he can impose his own ideas (or those of the minority that help them stay in power) on the goals to be achieved collectively, showing that these are interests they benefit the majority. This is why the cult of personality has historically been used to promote entirely new policies while in theory defending the empire of common sense and the conservative attitude (which in practice is only expressed in front of which are considered to be “outside interference”).
Why is it used by totalitarian regimes?
Judging by the characteristics of the personality cult, we are already beginning to understand why this social phenomenon is favored by the oligarchies who maintain the power of a region. The figure of the leader who gives meaning to everything that is happening within the civilian population helps control dissent through simple and emotional means, as well as not having to admit mistakes or be accountable to an authoritative entity (Because all authority is accumulated by the leader).
On the other hand, the country’s propaganda machine can offer political and ideological propaganda by only talking about the leader and his proposals and ideas, passing this type of content through information of general interest.
On the other hand, personality cult has weaknesses in its strengths: if the leader is eliminated or another state emerges that surpasses it in authority, all of its propaganda and power cease to be viable, and it disappears. the spirit of those nostalgic for the previous regime.
- Bradley K. Martin. Under the loving care of the paternal ruler: North Korea and the Kim dynasty. New York: Griffin of Saint Martin.
- Kershaw, I. (2001). The Hitler Myth: Image and Reality under the Third Reich. London: Oxford University Press.
- Strong, Carol; Killingsworth, Matt (2011). Stalin, the charismatic leader ?: Explaining the “cult of personality” as a technique of legitimation. Politics, religion and ideology. 12 (4): pages 391 to 411.