Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Cult of Personality

     Dictators have a need to be respected, to be loved, to be adored. The great difficulty most of these dictators encounter however has been that many people do not like them, do not support them and disagree with what they want to do and what they represent. So, what is a dictator to do? If he is to survive, if he is to carry out his policies, he must re-create himself, paint himself into the picture, create his own cult of personality.

     Studies suggest that there are common characteristics seen in many non-democratic leaders. Death cults, whether the 'quirky' such as the Manson Family (see post: Death Cults) or the religious ((see post: The Reverend Jim Jones) are invariably led by demagogues who impose their personalities on their followers. These leaders and many dictators display the many of the signs of six types of 'personality disorders'.
     Totalitarian leaders such as Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Adolf Hitler of Germany, Mao Ze Dong of China, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Juan Peron of Argentina, Kim Jong Il of North Korea (and there are many more) all have some or all of the characteristics of the following 'disorders'.
     Schizotypal personality disorder is a personality disorder where the person experiences as need for social isolation, has an odd manner of thinking or behaviour, anxiety in social situations and often has unconventional beliefs. People with this disorder are often unable to maintain close relationships.
Muammar Gaddafi

     These people are often superstitious and often interpret events as 'meaningful' for themselves.They frequently misinterpret situations as being strange or having unusual meaning for them. Paranormal and superstitious beliefs are not uncommon for these people. Anxiety and depression are a common problem.
     Schizoid personality disorder (SPD) is characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle, secretiveness and emotional coldness.

      Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a disorder where the individual is excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power and prestige. These individuals are seen as egocentric and often as megalomaniacs ( an inflated sense of self-esteem).
A Narcissist

     Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is characterized by disregard for, and violation of the rights of others. This usually begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.

      Paranoid personality disorder is a disorder characterized by paranoia and usually involves beliefs of persecution or beliefs of conspiracy towards the individual and/or his group. There is a general mistrust of those outside of the 'inner circle' or 'tribe'. People with this particular disorder may or have a tendency to bear grudges, suspiciousness, tendency to interpret others actions as hostile, persistent tendency to self-reference, or a tenacious sense of personal right.

Paranoid Behaviour (Vincent van Gogh)

     Sadistic personality disorder is a disorder no longer recognized as a distinct entity by the American Psychiatric Association. But the characteristic of sadism can be said to be a common behavioral disorder characterized by a callous, vicious, manipulative, and degrading behavior expressed towards other people.

     Before the development of modern media and communications, emperors, monarchs and ruthless generals used religion as the spring-board to seize and maintain power. In medieval Europe, the dictator could cite the 'divine right of kings' (see post: The Monarchy of North Korea), in Imperial China, the 'mandate of heaven'.
The Coronation of Charlemagne
     The ruler could allow himself to be crowned by religious leaders (Charlemagne, the first 'Holy' Roman Emperor) and even declare himself a 'god-king' (the Imperial cult of ancient Rome).

     Today, cult development depends not just on display and rumour but relies heavily on propaganda and the media, tilted in favour of the cult personality. Throughout history, there have been cults built up around individual leaders using word of mouth, persuasion, coercion and brute force but since the age of modern media (radio, television, rapid transit for mass rallies) there has been a proliferation of personality figures who have emerged.
     Human beings, it has been said, are 'programmed to worship', whether it be worship of a god, worship of a teen-age pop star, worship of an ideology or worship of an individual. The personality cult takes advantage of this human predisposition. It is a system in which a leader is able to control a group of people through the sheer force of his or her personality/charisma, where the person is seen as god-like figure and where criticism of that person is generally prohibited depends today so much on the unending bombardment of the masses by state-sponsored media to ensure that the people are given a consistent picture of the leader's 'perfection'. The aim of the personality cult is usually to enact radical change within society.
     The individual leader's image becomes associated with this new set of values or goals that are perceived by the public to be beneficial to the nation's well-being, even when these 'values' or goals have a negative effect on everyday life. Personality cults are maintained through glorification of the leaders often to that god-like status.
The Imperial Cult of Rome

     As far back as ancient Greece, leaders and monarchs developed the theory that the ruler 'embodied the law'. High profile and showy ceremonies honouring the leaders contributions and achievements, statues and paintings of the leader commemorating events and 'benevolent' acts as well as the omnipresent face on the coin, the daily reminder of the man in charge - these are all means used in the past and in the present day for a personality cult to thrive.
     Many political leaders stand out in history as creators of personality cults. Joseph Stalin is perhaps one of the best examples of a leader who set out with the precise intention of creating a cult in his own name. Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) took on the name 'Stalin' ('Man of Steel'), changing his name from the Georgian Dzugashvili at the age of 34. He was the son of a shoemaker and, as a young man, studied for the priesthood but was expelled from the theological school for insubordination.
Joseph Stalin

     In Stalin's early years he was continually in trouble with the local authorities. Stalin accepted grandiose titles such as 'Father of Nations', 'Brilliant Genius of Humanity', 'Great Architect of Communism', 'Gardener of Human Happiness') and rewrote Soviet history, giving himself a more significant role in the revolution of 1917. He insisted that he be remembered as one with 'the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people'.
     Towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader and the 'Stalin Prize' and the 'Stalin Peace Prize' were named in his honor. Statues of Stalin depict him at a height and build greater than his true physique with photographic evidence suggesting that he was between 5 ft 5 in and 5 ft 6 in (165–168 cm). 
     Stalin had his name included in the new Soviet National Anthem and he was the focus of literature, poetry, music, paintings and film that exhibited fawning devotion. At times, Stalin was credited with almost god-like qualities, including the suggestion that he single-handedly won the Second World War.
Massive Starvation in the Ukraine-1933

     Once firmly in power, Stalin carried out purges, killing off potential rivals. Terror was used to keep the population 'in line'. Historians estimate that nearly 700,000 people (353,074 in 1937 and 328,612 in 1938) were executed over this two-year period with the majority of victims ordinary Soviet citizens - workers, teachers, priests, soldiers, pensioners and beggars. Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin ordered deportations altering the ethnic map of the Soviet Union.
     Between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. Almost half of the resettled population died of malnutrition and disease. 'State-organized' famine has been alleged, ordered by Stalin (Holodomor famine) to eliminate Ukrainian nationalism in 1932–1933 when between 2.2 million and 5 million died of starvation. Ethnic Poles and Germans were also targeted and eliminated.
     Even today, nearly 60 years since he died, many elderly men and women reject or rationalize any and all evidence of Stalin’s 'errors' and hang on to their belief in Stalin’s godlike powers. 
Statue of Stalin-Larger than Life

     Some people claim that they used to believe in Stalin but lost their faith gradually, like groupies who eventually outgrow their youthful infatuation with a band. And there is evidence that significant numbers of Russians remain 'proud' in some sense of Stalin, though this 'pride' in Stalin appears to have much less to do with Stalin’s actual cult of personality than with Stalin’s supposed achievements as a leader.
     Perhaps it was in the years that he spent in the priesthood that Stalin learned something about 'following without questioning'. Trouble with authority was evident in his youth and, once he sensed that power was at hand, Stalin immersed himself into the cult of personality.
     Was Stalin narcissistic? He did change his name to the 'Man of Steel' and stuck it on town and cities. He built  larger than life images of himself and spread them throughout the country.
Katyn Massacre-Thousands of 
Polish Soldiers Murdered

      Was Stalin paranoid? Did he have 'anti-social' characteristics? He was always 'looking over his shoulder' and eliminated rivals with a fury.
     But, like every demagogue who wants the world to forget his dark side, Stalin built monuments, bridges, forced modernization and populated the far reaches of the Soviet Empire. Even today, some people still have fond dreams of the long-lost days of Stalinism.
     *Personality cults: subject of research for the novel The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

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