Two Models of Political Leader Cults: Propaganda and Ritual
Forthcoming, Politics, Religion, & Ideology
19 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2018
Date Written: July 4, 2018
Personality cults of political leaders can be conceptualized in one of two different ways: as propaganda that portrays the leader positively, or as rituals of leader worship. The first model stresses the forms of communication that make possible the transformation of bureaucratic state power into charismatic (extra-bureaucratic) authority, while the second emphasizes the forms of participation that make possible the construction of charismatic authority in micro-interaction contexts. These two ideal types are not mutually exclusive, since leader-focused propaganda and rituals of leader worship can interact and amplify each other. But each of these ideal types has distinctive origins and political consequences. Moreover, each conceptualization leads to distinctive scholarly emphases: on the persuasive aspects of cult messages, on the one hand, or on the diversity of reasons for participation in rituals and the signaling function of such participation, on the other hand. In this paper I argue for a greater focus on the signaling and ritual aspects of leader cults, and show how it pays dividends in understanding these multifaceted phenomena. I illustrate this argument with a case study of the cult of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.
Keywords: personality cults, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, Hugo Chávez, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong Il, Stalin
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation