Hero worship, the act of idealizing and admiring someone to an excessive degree, can be problematic from an anarchist perspective as it reinforces systems of power and oppression and hinders the achievement of true freedom and autonomy for all individuals.
Historical examples from around the world demonstrate how hero worship has been used to justify and legitimize oppressive and violent actions. In the Soviet Union, the cult of personality surrounding Joseph Stalin led to the suppression of dissent and the persecution of perceived enemies of the state, resulting in the deaths of millions of people. Similarly, in China, the personality cult surrounding Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution led to the persecution of millions of people, the destruction of cultural heritage, and the interruption of education. More recently, in North Korea, the cult of personality surrounding leader Kim Jong-un has been used to justify and legitimize the country’s oppressive regime.
The United States is not immune to such problematic consequences of hero worship. The hero worship of President Andrew Jackson in the early 19th century helped to justify and legitimize the forced removal of Native American tribes from their ancestral lands, a policy known as the Trail of Tears, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Similarly, the hero worship of the founding fathers of the United States, particularly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, has led to a selective and sanitized view of history, which has been used to justify and legitimize ongoing systems of oppression and racism. Furthermore, the narrative of the “heroic cop” has been used to justify and legitimize police brutality and racism, particularly against communities of color. This narrative has also led to the creation of a culture of silence and impunity among law enforcement, where officers who engage in misconduct are often protected by their colleagues and superiors.
Anarchists believe that true freedom and autonomy can only be achieved when individuals are free from the control and domination of external authorities, whether they be government, corporations, or other forms of hierarchy. Hero worship, however, perpetuates the idea that certain individuals or groups should be held in higher regard and given more power than others. This not only reinforces existing systems of oppression but also creates new ones. Anarchists instead advocate for a society based on mutual aid, cooperation, and direct democracy, where everyone has an equal say in the decision-making process, rather than depending on a leader or figurehead to make decisions on their behalf. Therefore, hero worship goes against the very principles of anarchism, as it creates a hierarchical structure where some people have more power and decision-making than others.