The Mechanisms of Cult Production: An Overview
In Kirill Postoutenko and Darin Stephanov, eds. Ruler Personality Cults from Empires to Nation-States and Beyond: Symbolic Patterns and Interactional Dynamics, pp. 21-45, Forthcoming
20 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 14, 2020
This chapter argues that leader personality cults are typically produced by a specific set of mechanisms of flattery inflation. It describes how loyalty signaling, emotional amplification, and direct production mechanisms can combine, under specific circumstances, to transform ordinary flattery into full-blown practices of ruler worship. And it argues for attending to the specific conditions that make possible the operation of these mechanisms, showing how patronage relationships in particular provide fertile ground for the emergence of personality cults. Moreover, the chapter argues that both ancient and modern leader cults depend on similar mechanisms, despite clear differences in context and function. I illustrate the operation of these mechanisms with many modern examples and an extended discussion of one ancient example, the abortive cult of Caligula during the Roman Principate.
Keywords: Personality Cults, Caligula, Flattery Inflation, Hugo Chávez, Mao Zedong, Stalin
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