THE AUTHORITARIAN GAMBLE FOR “HEARTS AND MINDS”: PERSONALITY CULTS, REGIME BRANDING, AND ELITE STRATEGY
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractCults of personality have seen extensive study in other social sciences, but they receive scant attention as political phenomena. Because many of the totalitarian regimes that erupted in the 20th century were associated with personality cults, analysis through the lens of authoritarian politics becomes prudent, especially given the grave political consequences of the last century and the accusations against contemporary leaders for fostering cults themselves. This analysis investigates the personality cult as a rational instrument deployed by regimes to “brand themselves” and garner public support by propping up a central autocrat as the face of the rising authoritarian regime. In doing so, it counters the prevailing wisdom that cults of personality emerge after the full personalization of a regime by the autocrat. Instead, we argue using historical data from three cases—Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, and Ho Chi Minh—that in certain conditions, the elites of a regime will themselves participate in fostering a cult around the central autocrat for some utilitarian end. Our analysis suggests new conceptualizations of the cult of personality and other avenues by which to explore the phenomenon as a product of elite strategy.
Degree ProgramPolitical Science