What is a Cult of Personality? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

In this lesson, you're going to learn the definition of a cult of personality. Then you'll learn about one very important historical cult of personality and another current example of one and what made them cults of personality.

Cult of Personality

The term cult of personality gets thrown around quite a bit. But what does it mean? Cult of personality is a term, usually pejorative in nature, which refers to a situation where a public figure is presented to the populace via propaganda as an amazing person who should be admired, loved, and respected.

This term is often used to refer to national political leaders. This lesson is going to go over a couple of very important examples of this.

Kim Jong-un

Perhaps the best modern-day example of a cult of personality comes to us from North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un.

First, it doesn't hurt that this man has come to power as the direct successor of a grandfather and father who were heavily propagandized as god-like people for decades prior to him. So, in essence, Kim Jong-un is at the minimum already seen as the son and grandson of deities. Not a bad start, right?

Second, North Korea is a heavily controlled and monitored state. There is no such thing as state-allowed freedom of speech. All media outlets, including speakers blasting propaganda at street level, report only that which is state-sanctioned material.

As you can imagine, this material paints Kim Jong-un as a man who can do anything. According to this propaganda, he can climb tall mountains, despite being clearly in horrendous physical shape. He can make strong and intelligent military decisions, despite having no significant military background. And when architects design new apartments and shops, he is given credit for doing so. This man is a genius at every level! Why can't we all be like him? He must be something special, and we are clearly not. Ergo, let's listen to him since he knows best.

Do you see what the cult of personality tries to achieve?

The people of North Korea are also constantly told he is a benevolent, smiling, and kind leader without whom North Koreans would have no future. This, despite the fact that he has killed numerous people closely associated with him, including family, and killed many others in North Korea's concentration camps.

But, the cult of personality goes on.

Adolf Hitler

Yet one of history's greatest cults of personality wasn't built around a North Korean leader. It was built around a Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany around World War II.

Adolf Hitler (right).
Adolf Hitler (right).

His carefully made portraits were everywhere in Germany. His inspiring speeches and mass rallies broadcasted to the entire nation. Instead of saying hello, you'd have to say ''Hail Hitler'' back then and you had to use his Nazi salute while you did so. So you were being indoctrinated on a day to day basis even when you were doing things that had nothing to do with the Nazi party or Hitler!

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