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Cults of personality, preference falsification, and the dictator’s dilemma

Charles Crabtree, Holger L Kern and David A Siegel
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Charles Crabtree: Government Department, Dartmouth College, USA
Holger L Kern: Department of Political Science, Florida State University, USA
David A Siegel: Department of Political Science and Public Policy, Duke University, USA

Journal of Theoretical Politics, 2020, vol. 32, issue 3, 409-434

Abstract: We offer a novel rational explanation for cults of personality. Participation in a cult of personality is psychologically costly whenever it involves preference falsification, with the costs varying across individuals. We highlight two characteristics associated with lower individual costs of preference falsification: (i) loyalty to the regime and (ii) unscrupulousness. Different characteristics might serve the regime better in different roles. Using a simple formal screening model, we demonstrate that one’s participation in a cult of personality improves the dictator’s personnel decisions under a wide variety of circumstances. Decisions are most improved when subordinates’ characteristics that better enable cult participation are correspondingly valued by dictators. Dictators who can manipulate the costs that cult participants pay find it easiest to ensure that correspondence. Our model also highlights the importance to dictators of not believing their own propaganda, and their need to offer increasingly extreme acts of cult participation as old acts become normalized.

Keywords: Adverse selection problem; cult of personality; dictatorship; preference falsification (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1177/0951629820927790

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