The ABC of sycophancy : structural conditions for the emergence of dictators’ cults of personality
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The purpose of this dissertation is to identify the structural conditions necessary for a cult of personality of state leaders to develop. I define the cult of personality of state leaders as quantitatively exaggerated and qualitatively extravagant public demonstration of praise of the leader. Although the subject has interested several disciplines, which produced a vast literature, bringing valuable insight for the study of the phenomenon, the causal explanations proposed so far are unsatisfactory, either because they cannot be generalized to all known cases, or because they cannot explain the lack of personality cults in otherwise similar dictatorships. Integrating the literature and further exploring the phenomenon from a historical comparative sociology perspective, I outline a causal explanation which avoids both pitfalls identified in the literature. Thus, I am confident that my theory is reliable, explaining all known cases of personality cults, and valid, as I test it against negative cases. The explanation presupposes a combination of necessary, but not sufficient, structural condition, and a path dependent chain of events which, together, lead to the cult formation. As stated, the present dissertation focuses only on the structural conditions. Starting from a thick description of the personality cult of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, and testing the theory by comparing it with other cases of personality cults, I identify three necessary conditions: a particular combination of patrimonialism and clientelism, lack of dissidence, and systematic falsification pervading the society’s culture. Personality cults of state leaders depend on the presence of all three stated conditions.
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