Cult of personality

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This article is about political institution. For a song by the band Living Colour, see Cult of Personality (song).
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A cult of personality is a term applied to a political institution in which a country's leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestioning flattery and praise. The term often refers as well to leaders who did not use such methods during their lifetime, but are built up in the mass media by later governments.

A cult of personality differs from general hero worship in that it is specifically built around political leaders. However, the term cult of personality is often applied by analogy to refer to adulation of non-political leaders.


[edit] Background

Throughout history there have always been leaders who have fostered adulation. For much of premodern times, absolute monarchies were the dominant form of government, and monarchs were almost always held in enormous reverence. Through the principle of the divine right of kings, rulers were said to hold office by the will of God. Imperial China, ancient Egypt, the Inca, the Aztecs and the Roman Empire are especially noted for elevating monarchs to the status of god-kings.

The advent of democratic ideas in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries made it increasingly difficult for monarchs to preserve this aura. However, the subsequent development of photography, sound recording, film and mass production, as well as public education and techniques used in commercial advertising, enabled political leaders to project a positive image like never before. It was under these circumstances in the 20th century that the best-known personality cults arose.

The criticism of personality cults often focuses on the regimes of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il. During the peak of their reigns these leaders (Kim Jong-Il is still in office) appeared as god-like infallible rulers. Their portraits were hung in every home or public building, and many artists and poets were instructed to produce only works that glorified the leader. The term "cult of personality" comes from Karl Marx's critique of the "cult of the individual."

From my antipathy to any cult of the individual, I never made public during the existence of the [1st] International the numerous addresses from various countries which recognized my merits and which annoyed me. . . . Engels and I first joined the secret society of Communists on the condition that everything making for superstitious worship of authority would be deleted from its statute.

Nikita Khrushchev recalled Marx's criticism in his 1956 "Secret Speech" denouncing Stalin to the 20th Party Congress:

Comrades, the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person. . . . One of the most characteristic examples of Stalin's self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his Short Biography, which was published in 1948.
This book is an expression of the most dissolute flattery, an example of making a man into a godhead, of transforming him into an infallible sage, "the greatest leader," "sublime strategist of all times and nations." Finally no other words could be found with which to lift Stalin up to the heavens.
We need not give here examples of the loathsome adulation filling this book. All we need to add is that they all were approved and edited by Stalin personally and some of them were added in his own handwriting to the draft text of the book.

The most famous fictional cult of personality is probably that of Big Brother in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. The character was possibly based on Britain's Earl Kitchener although more likely based on Stalin.

[edit] Examples

Billboard of Joseph Stalin. Stalin was the subject of a massive campaign to rename locations in his honor.

[edit] Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il

Journalist Bradley Martin documents the personality cults of North Korea's leaders extensively.<ref>Bradley K. Martin. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. ISBN 0-312-32322-0</ref> While visiting North Korea in 1979 he noted that nearly all music, art, and sculpture that he observed glorified Kim Il-sung, whose personality cult was then being extended to his son Kim Jong-il. The younger Kim's pictures were then ubiquitous and his abilities were described as superhuman.<ref>ibid. pp. 4, 8, 352</ref> Kim Il-sung rejected the notion that he had created a cult around himself and accused those who suggested so of "factionalism." <ref>ibid. p. 215</ref> A US religious freedom investigation confirmed Martin's observation that children learn to thank Kim Il-sung for all blessings as part of the cult. <ref>ibid. pp. 387,408; U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. "Thank you Father Kim Il Sung." November 2005</ref>

[edit] Saparmurat Niyazov

Known in the west for his absolute power and cult of personality <ref>Double Standards for Dictators, The Washington Post, April 14 2006</ref> <ref>BBC News Country Profile of Turkmenistan with information and articles about Saparmurat Niyazov </ref> Niyazov attempted to improve his image. Speaking to 60 Minutes in January 2004, the president of Turkmenistan said he personally disapproved of seeing his image everywhere, but it reflected the will of the people.<ref>"Turkmenbashi Everywhere." 60 Minutes. January 4, 2004.</ref> Shortly after this report aired, Russian newspaper Novye Izvestiya reported the government was taking down hundreds of Niyazov's portraits, and that Niyazov had blamed accusations of a cult on "toadying" by his subordinates.<ref>Daniel Kimmage. "Analysis: Dictator as Clown Grows Stale." Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. May 31, 2004.</ref>

[edit] References

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[edit] See also

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bg:Култ към личността de:Personenkult es:Culto a la personalidad fr:Culte de la personnalité it:Culto della personalità he:פולחן אישיות lt:Asmenybės kultas hu:Személyi kultusz nl:Persoonsverheerlijking pl:Kult jednostki pt:Culto da personalidade ro:Cultul personalităţii ru:Культ личности sk:Kult osobnosti fi:Henkilökultti sv:Personkult zh:个人崇拜

Cult of personality

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