A Model of Cults of Personality
34 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2013 Last revised: 26 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
This paper presents a general model of the emergence and functioning of cults of personality. Drawing on the work of Collins (2004), I understand a cult of personality as a set of interaction rituals, linked in chains, focused on symbols that refer to a political leader, and saturating a significant part of the public space of a polity. I argue that when interaction rituals focused on leader symbols are embedded in patronage relations, processes of “flattery inflation” are likely to emerge. I illustrate this model by looking at three very different cases: the short-lived cult of Caligula in the early Principate in Rome, the cult of Mao in China, and the emerging cult of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.
Keywords: dictatorship, cult of personality, China, Rome, Venezuela
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