“”♫I'm the smiling face on your TV
♫I'm the cult of personality
|—Living Colour, "Cult of Personality"|
| How the sausage is made|
A personality cult or cult of personality is a system in which the political legitimacy of an organization is the function of the leader. Often such leaders are able to control a group of people through the sheer force of their personality. In extreme cases the leader can be portrayed as a god-like figure.
Where the personality cult forms around a head of state, criticising that person is generally prohibited and/or dangerous — with threats or actions made against the critics by supporters of the head of state. Where the head of state has attained strong or complete control of state-sponsored media, they have often used this to spread propaganda to ensure that the masses receive a consistent positive picture of the head of state. Propaganda will typically depict the leader as being a great leader (or even called "Great Leader" as in Kim Il Sung), a genius prophet or a god-like figure, able to relate to ordinary people and upholding their interests, always in command — shown in propaganda with commanding appearance and never shown in submission to anyone. Frequently, personality-cult leaders claim to be devoted to a mission as the embodiment of the will of the people or of the nation. Leaders promoting personality cults will frequently tie their own image to various national heroes (personality cults of yore) as a means of legitimating themselves and their policies (think of Roman Emperor Augustus making his great-uncle the Roman dictator Julius Caesar a deity and dedicating monuments to him, or of Soviet posters showing the faces of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao).
Various monarchies claimed some form of divine sanction, but that doesn't necessarily make them personality cults in the modern sense, as the phenomenon is most commonly associated with post-19th-century mass-media.
New surfaces may be produced for no other reason than to present that image, as satirized with the balloon bearing Joseph Stalin's image in an empty field in the 1994 Russian film Burnt by the Sun.
Personality cults are often found in strongly authoritarian societies like absolute monarchies with no democracy in them, but they can also develop in authoritarian semi-democratic societies like those of Julius Caesar and Augustus, or in totalitarian societies like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler or like the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Although it is very rare to see them in strongly-democratic countries, they do occur from time to time.
Current and former heads of state
- Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia)
- King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his son, King Vajiralongkorn (Thailand): lèse-majesté laws can lead to a 70-year sentence for insulting the Thai royal family. Although King Bhumibol Adulyadej personally opposed the laws, the Thai military junta uses it to suppress dissidents.
- Heydar Aliyev and his son, Ilham Aliyev (Azerbaijan): Aliyev Senior is often proclaimed as the Atatürk of Azerbaijan
- Salvador Allende for the left and Augusto Pinochet for the right (Chile), though Allende's worship is nowhere to the extent compared to Pinochet, who had overthrown Allende and turned the country into a dictatorship.
- Idi Amin (Uganda): gave himself the title "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular), Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas".
- Ion Antonescu (Romania)
- Hafez al-Assad and his son, Bashar al-Assad (Syria)
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Turkey)
- Aung San Suu Kyi (
- Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir (Sudan)
- Silvio Berlusconi (Italy)
- Jean-Bédel Bokassa, later Emperor Bokassa I (Central African Republic): briefly reformed the country into the Central African Empire.
- Napoleon Bonaparte (France)
- Julius Caesar, Augustus, Caligula, Domitian, Commodus, Elagabalus and most Roman emperors in general (Roman Empire).
- Nicolae Ceauşescu (Romania): Ceauşescu modeled his image after those of his predecessors (Carol II and Antonescu) as well as that of Kim Il Sung
- Carol II (Romania)
- Fidel Castro (Cuba): even though Castro disliked the concept and his last wish was that no statues would be erected in his honor and no streets or cities be named after him
- Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicholas Maduro (Venezuela): Maduro and his fellow Chavistas frequently depicted himself along with pictures of Hugo Chavez and founding father Simon Bolivar).
- Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (China and later Taiwan)
- Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines)
- François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier (Haiti)
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey)
- Francisco Franco (Spain): He is still dead.
- Alberto Fujimori and his daughter Keiko Fujimori (Peru): along with several Fujimorist political parties
- Muammar al-Gaddafi (Libya)
- Emperor Hirohito (Japan): until 1945 the Japanese imperial clan claimed to be descendants from the Sun goddess Amaterasu; this claim was especially emphasized starting with the Meiji emperor. The American occupation put an end to it.
- Adolf Hitler (Nazi Germany)
- Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam): has a city named after him.
- Miklós Horthy (Hungary)
- Enver Hoxha (Albania)
- Saddam Hussein (Iraq)
- Ayatollah Khomeini (and by extension, Ayatollah Khamenei) (Iran)
- Kim Il Sung ("Eternal President" even after his death), his son, and then his grandson (North Korea)
- Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union). Also applies to Leonid Brezhnev to a lesser extent, with his love of giving himself medals.
- Chairman Mao and Xi "Winnie the Pooh" Jinping (China): Mao was literally worshiped, had loyalty dances and inspired a Cultural Revolution because his relative power in the Communist Party was shrinking. His successors, up until Xi, deliberately went out of their way to avoid building personality cults.
- Ferdinand Marcos (Philippines)
- Mehmed II and Abdul Hamid II (Ottoman Empire)
- Slobodan Milošević and Aleksandar Vučić (Serbia)
- Narendra Modi (India)
- Benito Mussolini (Fascist Italy)
- Gamal Abdel Nasser, Hosni Mubarak, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt): following in the well trodden footsteps of their Pharaonic predecessors.
- Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan): the capital of Kazakhstan was renamed Nur-Sultan in his honor after his resignation.
- Jawaharlal Nehru and the Gandhian dynasty (India)
- Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenistan: aka Türkmenbaşy (lit. Father of all Turkmen. Read his book three times get into heaven free!), and his successor Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.
- Park Chung-Hee (South Korea)
- Juan Perón and his wife Eva "Evita" Perón (Argentina), along with her fans Peronistas. Cristina Kirchner and her deceased husband Nestor Kirchner are following their footsteps with Kirchnerism.
- Philippe Pétain (Vichy France)
- Józef Piłsudski (Poland): suppressed in Communist Poland, but rehabilitated into some sort of Founding Father by the post-communist government. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Law and Justice (PiS), is following his footsteps.
- Vladimir Putin (Russia): Rehabilitating the images of both Stalin and the Czars!
SaintRonald Reagan for Republicans and John F. Kennedy (sometimes Franklin D. Roosevelt, but not always for obvious reasons) for Democrats,[note 1] and the Founding Fathers in general[note 2] (USA)
- Ali Abdullah Saleh (Yemen)
- Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaïre): his concept of authenticité, his appearance on nearly all banknotes during his rule
- Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay)
- Suharto and Sukarno (Indonesia)
- Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia)
- Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic)
- Donald Trump (USA): "I alone can fix it"
- Álvaro Uribe (Colombia)
- Getúlio Vargas (Brazil), and currently Lula for the left and Jair Bolsonaro for the right
Other political figures
- Stepan Bandera (Ukraine): After being suppressed for decades by the USSR, Bandera's Ukrainian Insurgent Army is officially commemorated by the current Ukrainian government, despite being responsible for collaboration with the Nazis and massacring Poles.
- Rachel Corrie (USA): A rare posthumous example — she is practically treated like a goddess by the more loonier pro-Palestinian activists as well as quite a few anti-Semites (as well as the Iranian government, to the point of having a street in Tehran named after her).
- Che Guevara (Argentina/Cuba)
- Meir Kahane (USA/Israel): Founder of the Jewish Defense League, considered a terrorist group in both Israel and the USA. Fellow JDL member Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians, is similarly regarded by extremist Zionists.
- Joseph Kony (Uganda): leader of the Lord's Resistance Army
- René Lévesque (Quebec): practically a god to Québécois independence activists (despite having been born in Campbellton, New Brunswick) and supporters of Quebec Bill 101 (the Charter of the French Language) (even if René was more moderate on language than some of the PQ, and would have resigned as leader rather than eliminate English-language public schools as some party members proposed), and one of the main streets in Montreal is named for him. Camille Laurin, creator of Bill 101, is similarly regarded, though nowhere to the extent compared to Mon cher René.
- Ingrid Newkirk and other PETA activists such as Dan Mathews (mostly USA)
- Ayn Rand and her Randroids (USA)
- Rafael del Riego (Spain): one of the old Spanish national anthems was dedicated to him
- Maximilien Robespierre (France)
Religious and anti-religious personalities
- Shoko Asahara (Japan): founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult
- Richard Dawkins and the New Atheist "Four Horsemen" in general for atheists (mostly UK): Once heroes to many liberals… until half[note 3] moved in the opposite political direction (for example: Sam Harris's support for racial profiling and torture, and his supporters' attempts to normalize his near-Islamophobia, and Dawkins falling down a similar rabbit hole).
- Jim Jones and his equally disastrous "Kool-Aid drinkers" (USA)
- David Koresh and the disaster we know as Waco (USA)
- Li Hongzhi (China): self-proclaimed "Main Buddha of the Universe"
- Andrew Schlafly (mostly USA): beloved by non-troll Conservapedians, a lot of which is likely due to his sheer amount of power on the shite scaring them
- Phyllis Schlafly (USA): Andrew's mother and practically a god to many antifeminists and homophobes
- Steve Jobs (USA): co-founder of Apple Computers known for his showmanship and obnoxiously perfectionist behavior
- Elon Musk (USA): (in)famous businessman and engineer known for his batshit insane approach to new technologies. Hyperloop anyone? Musk declared himself 'technoking' in 2021.
In pop culture
For various reasons, the idea of a personality cult is entering pop culture spheres, sometimes as just another set piece (such as in "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour in 1988), but sometimes it's a major element of a movie. An example is the German film The Wave (originally made in 1981 and remade in 2008). The movie was based on the social experiment called "Third Wave" created by Ron Jones, and is about a German teacher who attempts to show his high school students what fascism is. As a result, he accidentally creates a personality cult that leads to large amounts of vandalism, an attempted murder, and a suicide when the instructor (Wenger) tells his students that the experiment is over. The 2001 German thriller film Das Experiment is somewhat similar. The Emperor of Mankind is also a fine example.
- A portion of people reading this article will be probably thinking "Why not Obama?" Simple: looking back from today, it was a very short one. The most important element of a personality cult is the usage of authority to perpetuate artificial 'apotheosis'; you don't want videos such as these lying around. American society has an unusual tendency to mythologize Presidents (ironically, even worse than today's constitutional monarchies), and over time ignore the very things which make them human, e.g., JFK. But who knows what will happen in 50 years to the legacy of the first POTUS who transcended the barriers of race. (We'd like an objective account, thanks.)
- Thomas Jefferson in particular is practically a God to Libertarians who love quoting him whenever they need to explain their beliefs on certain subjects, and is the namesake of the free speech group the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, who run the Jefferson Muzzle Awards (think the Golden Raspberry Awards but for (what libertarians perceive as) violations of the First Amendment instead of bad movies, and not as racist and homophobic as the Razzies are)
- Christopher Hitchens seems to have survived this downfall, even despite his usual oddities. Dennet seems okay too, for now.
- Living Colour Lyrics "Cult Of Personality"
- Burnt by the Sun IMDb.
- Tunisia’s Ben Ali: A cult of personality ends by Bouazza ben Bouazza & Angela Doland ( Jan. 14, 2011 12:24 PM PT) AP via The San Diago Union-Tribune.
- Romanians cherish memories of their genocidal dictator: Cult of the wartime pro-Nazi leader casts doubt on Bucharest's faith in democracy by Tony Barber (22 August 1994 23:02) The Independent.
- See the Wikipedia article on Atatürk's cult of personality.
- Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi and the Cult of Personality: Aung San Suu Kyi’s cult of personality is continuously projected within Myanmar even while it expires internationally. by David I. Steinberg (July 14, 2018) The Diplomat.
- IntelBrief: Protests in Sudan: Is Change Finally on the Horizon? (January 3, 2019) The Soufan Center.
- Berlusconi lecture delves into the cult of personality (February 8, 2012) Berkeley News.
- Conscripted into the emperor's private orchestra by Inna Lazareva (January 10, 2021) The Week.
- See the Wikipedia article on Nicolae Ceaușescu's cult of personality.
- See the Wikipedia article on Carol II of Romania's cult of personality.
- Is Castro's battle to avoid a personality cult destined to fail? by Joseph Bamat (Issued on: 05/12/2016 - 08:09Modified: 05/12/2016 - 22:14) France 24.
- See the Wikipedia article on Hugo Chávez's cult of personality.
- The Production of the Chiang Kai-Shek Personality Cult, 1929-1975 by Jeremy E. Taylor (2006) The China Quarterly 185:96-110.
- A cult of personality: Duterte’s popularity remains high despite disagreements on foreign policy by Zachary Frye (February 5, 2020) ASEAN Today.
- The Death and Legacy of Papa Doc Duvalier (Jan. 17, 2011 ) Time.
- A cult of personality dashes Turkey’s democratic dreams (October 31, 2016) The Washington Post.
- When Photographers Created a Cult of Personality Around General Franco: Like Trump, Spanish dictator's appearance was not that of a majestic ruler. He had a team who studied propaganda methods and traveled to see posters, exhibitions, and ceremonies first hand. by Miriam Basilio (October 25, 2020) Hyperallergic.
- See the Wikipedia article on Fujimorism.
- Muammar Gaddafi's cult of personality has finally crumbled by Daniel Kawczynski (23 Feb 2011 10.28 EST) The Guardian.
- See the Wikipedia article on Adolf Hitler's cult of personality.
- A Horthy-kultusz, 1919-1944 by Dávid Turbucz (2015) Történettudományi Intézet. ISBN 9634160115. Reviewed in A Horthy-kultusz 1919–1944 [The Horthy cult 1919–1944 by Turbucz Dávid (2017) The Hungarian Historical Review 6(3):695-698.
- Enver Hoxha’s personality cult lives on in today’s Albania: Albania is changing fast in the 21st century. At the same time a dictator’s ghost seems near impossible to get rid of. by Bardhyl Selimi (October 5, 2018) New Eastern Europe.
- Saddam Hussein's Ba'th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime by Joseph Sassoon (2012) Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052119301X. Chapter 6: The Personality Cult of Saddam Hussein.
- The personality cult of Ruhollah Khomeini by Tony Duheaume (Published: 11 May, 2017: 12:00 AM GST; Updated: 20 May, 2020: 10:51 AM GST) Alarabiya News.
- "Xi Jinping: the growing cult of China's 'Big Daddy Xi'" by Tom Phillips (8 December 2014) Daily Telegraph.
- See the Wikipedia article on Xi Jinping's cult of personality.
- See the Wikipedia article on Ferdinand Marcos's cult of personality.
- India, the world’s largest democracy, is now powered by a cult of personality: How Prime Minister Narendra Modi refashioned his governing party. by Kapil Komireddi (March 18, 2021 at 12:09 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
- Muriel Mirak-Weissbach (1 May 2012). Madmen at the Helm: Pathology and Politics in the Arab Spring. Garnet Publishing Ltd. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-86372-457-2.
- Neville Teller (28 September 2014). The Search for Détente:: Israel and Palestine 2012-2014. Troubador Publishing Ltd. p. 315. ISBN 978-1-78306-592-9.
- Niyazov's Cult of Personality Grips Turkmenistan by Kristen Gillespie (August 9, 200712:00 AM ET) NPR.
- Turkmenistan: My Personality Cult Is Better Than Yours by Farangis Najibullah (February 13, 2012 12:44 GMT) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
- The Occult of Personality: Korea’s CandlelightProtests and the Impeachment of Park Geun-hye by Jamie Doucette (2017) The Journal of Asian Studies 76(4):851–860. doi:10.1017/S0021911817000821.
- From Verdun to Vichy: Maréchal Petain and his Social Revolution The Wolfsonian-FIU Library.
- See the Wikipedia article on Józef Piłsudski's cult of personality.
- Obama Takes One Last Look At Inauguration Crowd "I'm Not Going To See This Again" by TPM TV (Jan 21, 2013) YouTube.
- Some Guy Filmed President Obama Working Out In a Polish Gym by Aleksander Chan, Gawker (archived from 7 Jun 2014 23:17:13 UTC).
- [Marshmallow Launch at the White House Science Fair by The Obama White House (Feb 7, 2012) YouTube.
- Obama Jokes: 'Jedi Mind Meld' Not an Option During Sequester Negotiations by The New York Times (Mar 1, 2013) YouTube.
- [The Cuban missile crisis almost ended the world. Was it Kennedy’s fault? by Max Fisher( November 22, 2013 at 1:12 p.m. PST) The Washington Post.
- The man, the myth: In public, JFK was the emblem of a shining new age. In private, he was a drug-taking philanderer with Mob links by Mark White (17 November 2013 01:00) The Independent.
- Ali Abdullah Saleh, Strongman Who Helped Unite Yemen, and Divide It, Dies at 75 by Scott Shane (Dec. 4, 2017) The New York Times.
- Anatomy of an Autocracy: Mobutu's 32-Year Reign by Howard W. French (May 17, 1997) The New York Times.
- See the Wikipedia article on Zairean zaire.
- Alfredo Stroessner by Adam Bernstein (August 17, 2006) The Washington Post.
- Indonesia ABRI: Country Studies.
- Succession and the Charismatic Leader in Yugoslavia by Milorad M. Drachkovitch (1964) Journal of International Affairs 18(1):54-66.
- Personality vs. Party by Jonah Goldberg *July 18, 2017 4:05 PM) National Review.
- Republicans have built a cult of personality around Trump that glosses over his disgraced presidency by John Haltiwanger (Mar 4, 2021, 2:00 PM) Business Insider.
- Uribe Checks Out: Washington's most reliable ally in Latin America, the Colombian president, is on his way out. That's a good thing. by Adam Isacson (March 4, 2010, 7:39 PM) Foreign Policy.
- "I Choose This Means to Be With You Always": Getúlio Vargas's Carta Testamento by Thomas D. Rogers (2006). In: Vargas and Brazil: New Perspectives, edited by Jens R. Hentschke. Pages 227-255. ISBN 9780230601758.
- Q&A: Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army: Former choirboy from Uganda leads a militia with an unparalleled reputation for brutality who pillage, rape and mutilate by Julian Borger (8 Mar 2012 13.21 EST) The Guardian.
- I Am An Animal: The Story Of Ingrid Newkirk And PETA by Nathan Rabin (1/22/08 11:01PM) AV Club.
- Charles Manson: The Cult of Personality Surrounding a Killer by Raj Persaud & Peter Bruggen (Nov 20, 2017) Psychology Today.
- The cult of Steve Jobs by Kate Dailey (7 October 2011) BBC News.
- Elon Musk: The Cult of the Controversial Businessman: Is the SpaceX and Tesla entrepreneur really a visionary, or is it all modern-day myth-making? by Ian Nordin (February 15, 2020) Study Break.
- Elon Musk is now 'Technoking' of Tesla. Seriously by Chris Isidore (6:34 PM ET, Mon March 15, 2021) CNN.