Understanding Personality Cult

The intention (of promoting personality cult worship) is to make such a human character totally acceptable and all his words and actions accepted with little or no questions or resistance.

The interactions of this writer with people of various classes in our society left a shocking revelation that many seem to be at a loss when the issue of personality cult comes to the table. In some cases when you accuse someone of Personality Cult worship, you get a strange look that tells you the person in question doesn’t really understand what you mean, and surprisingly, this includes even people that one presumes should be in the know. This experience thus brought me to the conclusion that the concept is not as commonplace as I had thought. For the interest of the reader who may as yet not be at home with the terminology, we have decided to present some select definitions of that concept, as offered by various English Lexicon.

  • The Merriam Webster defines Personality cult as “a situation in which a public figure (such as a political leader) is deliberately presented to the people of a country as a great person who should be admired and loved”.
  • The Cambridge English Dictionary defined the concept as “an officially organized admiration and love for a particular person, especially a political leader”.
  • In the Collins English Dictionary, it is defined as a “ deliberately cultivated adulation of a person…”
  • In Oxford, personality cult is defined as an “ excessive public admiration for or devotion to a famous person, especially a political leader”.

All emphasis on the above definitions are that of this writer and those words are highlighted to drive our message home in this essay. From the words of those definitions as highlighted, one can very easily establish that every cult of personality presents some kind of make belief. When one is “deliberately presented” to be admired and loved; when such love or admiration is not spontaneous as expected but “organized”, it means that such an act is geared towards achieving an end and not necessarily because that subject of personality cult may be deserving of such love and admiration. And what is more? It is often made “excessive” because the deliberate intention is to present a larger- than- life image of the personality so projected. The intention is to make such a human character totally acceptable and all his words and actions accepted with little or no questions or resistance. The likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin enjoyed this to an appreciable degree in their times. As a matter of fact, the term is reported to have come 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.

As is well known, history is replete with details of the worship and adulation that such people enjoyed.

“A deliberately cultivated adulation of a person…”

Collins English Dictionary

“an officially organized admiration and love for a particular person, especially a political leader”

Cambridge English

an “ excessive public admiration for or devotion to a famous person, especially a political leader”.

Oxford Dictionary

a situation in which a public figure (such as a political leader) is deliberately presented to the people of a country as a great person who should be admired and loved”

Merriam Webster
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