Friday, September 23, 2011

A Cult of personality

This might be a new term for all of us,a cult of personality is a phenomenon in which an individual uses propaganda and mass media to create a an idealized and heroic image of himself,often through the use of praise and flattery. This phenomenon is very much closely associated with dictators.

A cult of personality is very much like hero worship, the difference being that unlike hero worship it is supported by mass media and propaganda.Surprisingly it also bears a close resemblance to the third category of Max Weber's Tripartite classification of Authority,Charismatic authority wherein an individual is able to gain power through the use of his charisma.

A cult of personality is always used to promote a political or religious ideology and enforces conformity by herd mentality and constant praise and adulation of the "leader" and his work.

Cults of personality have been around since the Roman empire,where Emperor worship was promoted and enforced,but gained prominence during the traumatic years after World War I,specifically in the countries of Italy and Germany. Both of these countries suffered greatly from economic depression,political instability,loss of international prestige and a plethora of social problems. All of these problems gave rise to a sense of desperation,in which people looked out for a leader who could solve all these problems and restore their national prestige by any means necessary.

From my observations a cult of personality needs all of or most of five situations to appear and manifest itself:

1)A majority of the population must be poor or middle class and be ruled by a small elite.

2)A majority of the population must be illiterate.

3)An extreme event must have taken place which creates fear or desperation in the populace(War,Revolution and the like)

4)Any group or individual must have enormous political capital. i.e:the group or individual must have the support of a prominent part of society(the army or the poor etc.)

5)The individual being glorified must be very charismatic.

To better illustrate what a cult of personality is I'll cite two very famous examples:

Adolf Hitler:The infamous German dictator is the earliest example of a cult of personality.Hitler's case satisfies 4 of the 5 situations required to foster a cult of personality. During his time, a majority of the German population were part of the middle class and the farmers, Germany had just lost a war and was suffering from the effects of economic depression and the payment of reparations hurt it's prestige, By appealing to the German middle classes by promising to restore Germany's tarnished image he had enormous political capital and finally Hitler was a very charismatic person.

When the Nazis took power in1933,they consolidated their power by eliminating their political opponents and enacting laws that made the Nazis and Germany a single entity. To ensure that the entire population supported the party. An enormous cult of personality was built around Hitler portraying him as the savior of Germany and as a hero. The entire armed forces and the civil service swore an oath of loyalty personally to him(instead of to Germany).Images of him were put up in many public places all over Germany,streets and public squares were named after him and the famous slogan"Heil Hitler" became common.His book"Mein Kampf" became the bible of Nazi Germany and people everywhere would often cry upon just seeing him.His 50th birthday(April 20 1939) was lavishly celebrated with a parade by the armed forces held in his honor and a palatial mansion was built for him by the Nazi party. His image was so well promoted that even in other countries such as Australia, U.S.A and even Britain, people admired him,kept pictures of him and even promoted Nazi ideology and because the Nazis made sure that the party and Germany were made one entity. Hitler,in effect, was Germany itself,this was famously highlighted by a party member during a Nazi party rally. The oath sworn to him by the armed forces helped the German Army's morale during World War II and even during the last years when Germany was losing badly. When Berlin was surrounded by the Allies,Hitler's closest aides begged him to leave Germany and even offered to sacrifice themselves. Once the war was over, Germany was de-Nazified and Hitler was denounced for his crimes.However,interestingly, his image and his ideas still survive today as small groups of Neo-Nazis try to recreate his deeds and some world leaders even claim inspiration from him,his legacy shows how well a cult of personality can promote an ideology that has lost it's appeal.