It is not good for us to worship an individual. Only an ideal or a principle can be worshipped.— Mohandas Gandhi
On a Saturday, at his Presidential Campaign Rally in Iowa, Donald Trump said to his supporters: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”. This is a stereotypical behavior of an authoritarian leader who considers himself above the law, if not above, equal to a Godly status.
He denied releasing his tax returns; he disrespected women using derogatory comments; All while thinking that his fan base will accept his behavior because his authority and morality cannot be questioned.
This ‘Cult of Personality,’ in which an individual is elevated to divine status, is a hallmark of fascism, in which the individual is the supreme leader. The leader’s appearance, presence, and words are treated as the laws of nature and their policies, no matter how degrading, are praised by their followers.
Just as a father has unquestionable authority over his family in a patriarchal setup, the leader has unlimited power to rule the citizens of the country as he deems fit. Like these fathers, the supreme leaders are decisive, strong, and infallible to keep their country safe, and strong.
Quotes on Some Fascist Cult Personalities
“Adolf Hitler, I love you because you are both great and simple at the same time.” – A German citizen in 1936
“Mussolini is always right. I have never seen him make a mistake.” – Achille Starace, Mussolini’s loyal follower.
“Mao is the red sun in our hearts.” – Chinese Communist Party propaganda about Mao Zedong
“The supreme leader of the Korean people is the most outstanding thinker and theoretician who has appeared in human history.” – North Korean propaganda about Kim Jong-un
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is often quoted as Viswa Guru (The Universal Teacher) by his followers.
“Orban has built a cult of personality around himself, which is unique in Europe today.” – Guy Verhofstadt, former Prime Minister of Belgium
In his book, Dictators: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century, Frank Dikötter explores the concept of authoritarian leaders and their need for a strong and charismatic persona to maintain their power.
Dikötter points out that even Mussolini, the founder of Fascism, initially believed that his political movement had reached a dead end after losing in the initial Parliamentary elections.
However, Mussolini soon realized that a leader with a commanding and influential personality was crucial to continue the cult following of Fascism, and so he became that leader himself. Dikötter highlights how supreme leaders often develop a powerful and decisive persona that is different from their true character, driven by their authoritarian desires to maintain control.
These leaders may even become actors, consistently portraying an alternative personality that aligns with their public image and preserves their authority.
In one example cited by Dikötter, Mussolini’s demeanor changed dramatically during an interaction with journalist George Slocombe, as his facial muscles relaxed, his tense jaw softened, and his tone became more cordial.
This anecdote underscores how authoritarian leaders can skillfully manipulate their image to serve their interests and maintain their grip on power.
Making Ideologies Larger Than Life
The very essence of fascist ideology rests on the fundamental principle that all human beings are not equal. Such a message can be disseminated through various mediums, yet its potency increases manifold when it is personified by a resolute and decisive leader who embodies these ideologies. Consequently, those who identify with these beliefs can be transformed into zealous disciples who regard the ideology as a larger-than-life construct.
The leader’s image is disseminated through all popular mediums, with their presence and words regarded as the ultimate truth.
In doing so, they further solidify the ideology and their leadership, creating a cult-like following among their supporters. This allows them to continue to manipulate and control the masses, as their followers become more and more entrenched in their beliefs.
Such hundreds of thousands of followers become warriors of the ideology by spreading hatred and spewing venom against liberal ideologies, common sense and conventional wisdom.
Ultimately, the leader’s power becomes nearly absolute, with any dissent or opposition that could become a threat to the very foundation of the ideology.
To conclude, creating a Cult of Personality is one of the most effective strategies to carry out an attack on democracy as it runs on its own momentum after the initial trigger.
The Follower-Leader Relationship in Fascist Ideology
Human beings hold a fundamental belief that no one is divine or above others. However, Fascist forces manipulate this belief by creating an emotional appeal to their followers, often by masking their true belief system.
The cult of personality begins with the portrayal of a cult leader as a divine force, creating a follower-leader relationship. This creates cognitive dissonance within the followers, as they are forced to ignore any negative traits in the leader.
Once the followers are indoctrinated with certain ideologies, they expect the leader to act in a way that aligns with their belief system, leading to confirmation bias. Furthermore, the perceived positive qualities of the leader may cause the followers to overlook any negative traits or actions, known as the Halo effect.
The follower-leader relationship becomes a self-reinforcing loop that strengthens the cult of personality, making it difficult for followers to question the leader’s actions or beliefs.
To be continued…