A cult of personality arises when a country's regime – or, more rarely, an individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to 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.
The term came to prominence in 1956, in Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences, given on the final day of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In the speech, Khrushchev, who was the First Secretary of the Communist Party – in effect, the leader of the country – criticized the lionization and idealization of Joseph Stalin, and, by implication, his Communist contemporary Mao Zedong, as being contrary to Marxist doctrine. The speech was later made public and was part of the "de-Stalinization" process the Soviet Union went through.
The Imperial cult of ancient Rome identified emperors and some members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority (auctoritas) of the Roman State. Throughout history, monarchs and other heads of state were often held in enormous reverence and imputed super-human qualities. Through the principle of the divine right of kings, in medieval Europe for example, rulers were said to hold office by the will of God. Ancient Egypt, Imperial Japan, the Inca, the Aztecs, Tibet, Siam (now Thailand), and the Roman Empire are especially noted for redefining monarchs as "god-kings".
The spread of democratic and secular ideas in Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries made it increasingly difficult for monarchs to preserve this aura. However, the subsequent development of mass media, such as radio, enabled political leaders to project a positive image of themselves onto the masses as never before. It was from these circumstances in the 20th century that the most notorious personality cults arose. Often these cults are a form of political religion.
The term "cult of personality" probably appeared in English around 1800–1850, along with the French and German use. At first it had no political connotations but was instead closely related to the Romantic "cult of genius". The political use of the phrase came first in a letter from Karl Marx to German political worker, Wilhelm Blos, 10 November 1877:
Neither of us cares a straw of popularity. Let me cite one proof of this: such was my aversion to the personality cult [orig. Personenkultus] that at the time of the International, when plagued by numerous moves [...] to accord me public honor, I never allowed one of these to enter the domain of publicity [...]
There are various views about what constitutes a cult of personality in a leader. Historian Jan Plamper has written that modern-day personality cults display five characteristics that set them apart from "their predecessors": The cults are secular and "anchored in popular sovereignty"; their objects are all males; they target the entire population, not only the well-to-do or just the ruling class; they use mass media; and they exist where the mass media can be controlled enough to inhibit the introduction of "rival cults".
In his What is character and why it really does matter, Thomas A. Wright states, "The cult of personality phenomenon refers to the idealized, even god-like, public image of an individual consciously shaped and molded through constant propaganda and media exposure. As a result, one is able to manipulate others based entirely on the influence of public personality...the cult of personality perspective focuses on the often shallow, external images that many public figures cultivate to create an idealized and heroic image."
Adrian Teodor Popan defines cult of personality as a "quantitatively exaggerated and qualitatively extravagant public demonstration of praise of the leader". He also identifies three causal "necessary, but not sufficient, structural conditions, and a path dependent chain of events which, together, lead to the cult formation: a particular combination of patrimonialism and clientelism, lack of dissidence, and systematic falsification pervading the society’s culture."
The media has played an instrumental role in forging national leaders' cults of personality.
Thomas A. Wright reports that "It is becoming evident that the charismatic leader, especially in politics, has increasingly become the product of media and self-exposure." And, focusing on the media in the United States, Robert N. Bellah adds that, "It is hard to determine the extent to which the media reflect the cult of personality in American politics and to what extent they have created it. Surely they did not create it all alone, but just as surely they have contributed to it. In any case, American politics is dominated by the personalities of political leaders to an extent rare in the modern world...in the personalised politics of recent years the "charisma" of the leader may be almost entirely a product of media exposure."
Enjoying repeated electoral success; particularly his third election victory in 2008, Silvio Berlusconi, an Italian media tycoon and politician who served as Prime Minister of Italy in four governments, was the most controversial head of government in the EU. He is the controlling shareholder of Mediaset and owned the Italian football club A.C. Milan from 1986 to 2017. Forbes magazine ranked him 12th in the List of The World's Most Powerful People due to his domination of Italian politics in 2009.
Often, a single leader became associated with this revolutionary transformation and came to be treated as a benevolent "guide" for the nation without whom the transformation to a better future could not occur. This has been generally the justification for personality cults that arose in totalitarian societies, such as those of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong. Jan Plamper argues while Napoleon III made some innovations it was Benito Mussolini in Italy in the 1920s who originated the model of dictator-as-cult-figure that was emulated by Hitler, Stalin and the others, using the propaganda powers of a totalitarian state.
Pierre du Bois argues that the Stalin cult was elaborately constructed to legitimize his rule. Many deliberate distortions and falsehoods were used. The Kremlin refused access to archival records that might reveal the truth, and key documents were destroyed. Photographs were altered and documents were invented. People who knew Stalin were forced to provide "official" accounts to meet the ideological demands of the cult, especially as Stalin himself presented it in 1938 in Short Course on the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) , which became the official history.
Historian David L. Hoffmann states "The Stalin cult was a central element of Stalinism, and as such it was one of the most salient features of Soviet rule...Many scholars of Stalinism cite the cult as integral to Stalin's power or as evidence of Stalin's megalomania."
The American band Living Colour won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990 for their song "Cult of Personality". The song includes references to Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Benito Mussolini, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Malcolm X.
Atatürk's cult of personality was mostly established starting in the late 1930s by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's successors after his death in 1938, by members of both his Republican People's Party and opposition parties alike, and in a limited amount by himself during his lifetime in order to popularize and cement his social and political reforms as the founder and first President of Turkey, including the introduction of republicanism, secularism, women's political and civil rights, and language and alphabet reform. It has been described as the "world's longest-running personality cult".Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four)
Big Brother is a fictional character and symbol in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
He is ostensibly the leader of Oceania, a totalitarian state wherein the ruling party Ingsoc wields total power "for its own sake" over the inhabitants. In the society that Orwell describes, every citizen is under constant surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens (with the exception of the Proles). The people are constantly reminded of this by the slogan "Big Brother is watching you": a maxim that is ubiquitously on display.
In modern culture, the term "Big Brother" has entered the lexicon as a synonym for abuse of government power, particularly in respect to civil liberties, often specifically related to mass surveillance.Cult of Personality (song)
"Cult of Personality" is a song by rock band Living Colour. It was their second single off their debut album, Vivid, released on July 14, 1988. "Cult of Personality" reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 9 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. It also won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990. Its music video earned the MTV Video Music Award for Best Group Video and MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist. The song was ranked No. 69 on VH1's 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs. The solo was ranked No. 87 in Guitar World's "100 Greatest Guitar Solos" list. It was also selected for inclusion in the musical reference book, 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download.
The band's founder, Vernon Reid described the song as very special for the band not just for its commercial success but because it was essentially written in just one rehearsal session. The riff was stumbled upon while practicing something else and by the end of the session they had written what was to become Living Colour's best known song.
The song contains many political references, and shares its name with a phenomenon involving psychology and politics.De-Stalinization
De-Stalinization (Russian: десталинизация, destalinizatsiya) consisted of a series of political reforms in the Soviet Union after the death of long-time leader Joseph Stalin in 1953, and the ascension of Nikita Khrushchev to power.The reforms consisted of changing or removing key institutions that helped Stalin hold power: the cult of personality that surrounded him, the Stalinist political system, and the Gulag labour-camp system, all of which had been created and dominated by him. Stalin was succeeded by a collective leadership after his death in March 1953, consisting of Georgi Malenkov, Premier of the Soviet Union; Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Ministry of the Interior; and Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).De-Stalinization in Romania
The De-Stalinization in Romania was a process of removing Stalinist policies and Stalin's cult of personality between 1959 and 1965. Implemented by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, it included the marginalization of Stalinists, such as Ana Pauker and a large-scale amnesty of thousands of political prisoners. A number of political and cultural figures from the 19th century fight for independence were rehabilitated and writers formerly considered "bourgeois decadent" (like Tudor Arghezi) were allowed to publish again. It marked the beginning of a period of liberalization in Communist Romania, which ended in 1971 with the July Theses returning the country to Stalinism.Dictator
A dictator is a political leader who possesses absolute power. A state which is ruled by a dictator is called a dictatorship. The word originated as the title of a magistrate in the Roman Republic appointed by the Senate to rule the republic in times of emergency (see Roman dictator and justitium).Like the term "tyrant" (which was originally a respectable Ancient Greek title), and to a lesser degree "autocrat", "dictator" came to be used almost exclusively as a non-titular term for oppressive, even abusive rule. Thus, in modern usage, the term "dictator" is generally used to describe a leader who holds or abuses an extraordinary amount of personal power. Dictatorships are often characterised by some of the following: suspension of elections and civil liberties; proclamation of a state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents; not abiding by the rule of law procedures, and cult of personality. Dictatorships are often one-party or dominant-party states.A wide variety of leaders coming to power in different kinds of regimes, such as military juntas, one-party states, dominant-party states, and civilian governments under a personal rule, have been described as dictators. They may hold left or right-wing views, or may be apolitical.Heydar Aliyev's cult of personality
Heydar Aliyev's cult of personality, also known as Heydarism (Azerbaijani: heydərizm), became a significant part of Azerbaijani politics and society after he came to power in 1993 and continuing after his death in 2003, when his son Ilham Aliyev succeeded him. Aliyev, a former Soviet politburo member and the leader of Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1987, became the President of Azerbaijan in 1993. He then began to carefully design an autocratic system, with heavy reliance on family and clan members, oil revenues and patronage.In Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev is presented as "Father of the Azeri nation".Hugo Chávez's cult of personality
In Venezuela, a cult of personality has been created around the late President Hugo Chávez, where his supporters venerate him. Chávez largely received his support through his charisma and by spending Venezuela's oil funds on the poor. Using populism, Chávez delegitimized Venezuela's institutions and representative democracy, instead fostering rebellious attitude and his own cult status.Since his death, followers known as "Chavistas" refer to his death as a "transition to immortality", commonly calling Chávez the "eternal commander". Among his followers, Chávez has been compared to holy figures, especially by his successor Nicolás Maduro.Józef Piłsudski's cult of personality
A cult of personality developed around the figure of Józef Piłsudski, Polish military commander and politician, starting with the interwar period and continuing after his death in 1935 till the present day. At first it was propagated by Polish state's propaganda, describing Piłsudski as a masterful strategist and political visionary. It has survived decades of repression during the communist rule of Poland. In modern Poland, Piłsudski is recognized as an important and largely positive figure in Polish history.List of cults of personality
This is a list of regimes of countries or individual leaders around the world which have been discussed in the media or academia as having created a cult of personality. A cult of personality uses various techniques, including mass media, propaganda, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an heroic image, of a leader, often inviting worshipful behavior through uncritical flattery and praise.Living Colour
Living Colour is an American rock band from New York City, formed in 1984. Stylistically, the band's music is a creative fusion influenced by heavy metal, funk, jazz, hip hop, punk, and alternative rock. Their lyrics range from the personal to the political, in some of the latter cases attacking Eurocentrism and racism in America.
Living Colour rose to fame with their debut album Vivid in 1988. Although the band scored a number of hits, they are best remembered for their signature anthem "Cult of Personality", which won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990. They were also named Best New Artist at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards and won their second Grammy Award for their follow-up album Time's Up. After disbanding in 1995, Living Colour reunited in late 2000.Music of North Korea
Music of North Korea is heavily influenced by the political situation in the country. Many songs are related to the North Korean cult of personality.Nicolae Ceaușescu's cult of personality
During the Cold War, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu presided over the most pervasive cult of personality within the Eastern Bloc. Inspired by the personality cult surrounding Kim Il-sung in North Korea, it started with the 1971 July Theses which reversed the liberalization of the 1960s and imposed a strict nationalist ideology, established Stalinist totalitarianism and a return to socialist realism. Initially, the cult of personality was just focused on Ceaușescu himself. By the early 1980s, however, his wife, Elena Ceaușescu—one of the few wives of a Communist leader to become a power in her own right—was also a focus of the cult.North Korean cult of personality
The North Korean cult of personality surrounding its ruling family, the Kim family, has existed in North Korea for decades and can be found in many examples of North Korean culture. Although not acknowledged by the North Korean government, many defectors and Western visitors state there are often stiff penalties for those who criticize or do not show "proper" respect for the regime. The personality cult began soon after Kim Il-sung took power in 1948, and was greatly expanded after his death in 1994.
The cult is also marked by the intensity of the people's feelings for and devotion to their leaders, and the key role played by a Confucianized ideology of familism both in maintaining the cult and thereby in sustaining the regime itself. The North Korean cult of personality is a large part of North Korean socialism and totalitarianism.On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences
"On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences" (Russian: «О культе личности и его последствиях», «O kul'te lichnosti i yego posledstviyakh») was a report by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, made to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 25 February 1956. Khrushchev's speech was sharply critical of the reign of the deceased General Secretary and Premier Joseph Stalin, particularly with respect to the purges which had especially marked the last years of the 1930s. Khrushchev charged Stalin with having fostered a leadership cult of personality despite ostensibly maintaining support for the ideals of communism.
The speech was shocking in its day. There are reports that the audience reacted with applause and laughter at several points. There are also reports that some of those present suffered heart attacks, and others later committed suicide. The ensuing confusion among many Soviet citizens, bred on the panegyrics and permanent praise of the "genius" of Stalin, was especially apparent in Georgia, Stalin's homeland, where the days of protests and rioting ended with the Soviet army crackdown on 9 March 1956. In the West, the speech politically devastated the organised left; the Communist Party USA alone lost more than 30,000 members within weeks of its publication.The speech was a major cause of the Sino-Soviet split, in which China (under Chairman Mao Zedong) and Albania (under First Secretary Enver Hoxha) condemned Khrushchev as a revisionist. In response, they formed the anti-revisionist movement, criticizing the post-Stalin leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for allegedly deviating from the path of Lenin and Stalin.The speech was a milestone in the "Khrushchev Thaw". As a whole, the speech was an attempt to draw the Soviet Communist Party closer to Leninism and away from Stalinism. However, it possibly served Khrushchev's ulterior motives to legitimize and consolidate his control of the Soviet Union's Communist Party and Government, after political struggles with Georgy Malenkov and firm Stalin loyalists such as Vyacheslav Molotov, who were involved to varying degrees in the purges. The Khrushchev report was known as the "Secret Speech" because it was delivered at an unpublicized closed session of Communist Party delegates, with guests and members of the press excluded. The text of the Khrushchev report was widely discussed in party cells in early March, often with the participation of non-party members; however, the official Russian text was openly published only in 1989 during the glasnost campaign of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.Religion in Korea
Religion in Korea refers the various religious traditions practiced on the Korean peninsula. The oldest indigenous religion of Korea is Korean shamanism, which has been passed down from prehistory to the present. Buddhism was introduced to Korea from China during the Three Kingdoms era in the 4th century, and the religion flourished until the Joseon Dynasty, when Korean Confucianism became the state religion. During the Late Joseon Dynasty, in the 19th century, Christianity began to gain a foothold in Korea. While both Christianity and Buddhism would play important roles in the resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century, only about 4% of Koreans were members of a religious organization in 1940.Since the division of Korea into two sovereign states in 1945—North Korea and South Korea—religious life in the two countries has diverged, shaped by different political structures. Religion in South Korea has been characterized by a rise of Christianity and a revival of Buddhism, though the majority of South Koreans have no religious affiliation. Religion in North Korea is characterized by state atheism in which freedom of religion is nonexistent. Juche ideology, which promotes the North Korean cult of personality, is regarded by experts as the national religion.Stalin's cult of personality
Joseph Stalin's cult of personality became a prominent part of Soviet culture in December 1929, after a lavish celebration for Stalin's 50th birthday. For the rest of Stalin's rule, the Soviet press presented Stalin as an all-powerful, all-knowing leader, and Stalin's name and image became omnipresent. From 1936 the Soviet journalism started to refer to Joseph Stalin as the Father of Nations.Stalin Monument (Budapest)
The Stalin Monument in Budapest, Hungary was completed in December 1951 as a "gift to Joseph Stalin from the Hungarian People on his seventieth birthday". It was torn down on October 23, 1956 by enraged anti-Soviet crowds during Hungary's October Revolution.The Obama Nation
The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality is a bestselling book by Jerome Corsi intended by its author to oppose Barack Obama's candidacy for President of the United States. The book alleges Obama's "extreme leftism", "extensive connections with Islam and radical politics", "naïve... foreign policy", past drug use and connections to corrupt backers, among other things. The book has been criticized for containing factual errors, for being racially charged, and for being a political "attack book" containing smears, falsehoods, and innuendo.