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ETpro's avatar

How close are far right and far left political movements to cults?

Asked by ETpro (34466points) March 13th, 2011

I am currently reading a book called Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Other Abusive Relationships written by Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich. As I learn more about how cults function, about the thought control techniques they employ to recruit new members and convert them to unthinking automatons capable only of mouthing cult talking points and thinking the cult leader’s thoughts; I have been struck by how similar the results of cult indoctrination and the extremes of political totalism are.

Wikipedia has a nice article defining cults and identifying what makes an organization a cult.
What political movements today border on being cults? What cultic features do they incorporate, and in what ways do they differ from a true political cult?

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8 Answers

incendiary_dan's avatar

I’ve observed a few groups that seem very cultish. I’ll comment more soon, hopefully.

marinelife's avatar

Most are not cult-like, because there is no messianic figure at the center.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, they are both populated with people who can’t or won’t think for themselves.

ETpro's avatar

@marinelife A Mesianis leader is not actually a given. Scientology remains a cult now that L. Ron Hubbard is dead. It is the recruiting and mind-control methods that truly make it a cult. A mesianic leader is one of the tools to achieve that. “Follow me and I will teach you to be the superman, god, guru, enlightened one that I am.” is one of the typical appeals. But not the only possible one.

@I think most people can think. Cults invest great energy and employ very powerful thought control techniques to stifle individuality and independent thinking and shape followers into group thought. Many of the techniques are the same as those ised in Chinese Communist reeducation camps and on the nation’s youth to create a compliant population.

mattbrowne's avatar

According to Michael Shermer, who is a historian of science and author, a (dangerous) cult is characterized by

1) Veneration, glorification and inerrancy of the former or current leader to the point of virtual sainthood or divinity
2) Acceptance of beliefs and pronouncements on all subjects without applying critical thinking
3) Persuasive techniques from benign to coercive are used to recruit new followers and reinforce current beliefs
4) Hidden agendas exist and the true nature of the group’s beliefs and plans is obscured from or not fully disclosed to potential recruits and the general public
5) There is deceit, therefore recruits and followers are not told everything they should know about the group’s inner circle, and particularly disconcerting flaws or potentially embarrassing events or circumstances are covered up
6) Sometimes there is financial exploitation and recruits and followers are persuaded to invest money and other assets (in very rare cases there’s also sexual exploitation)
7) There is absolute truth which also means that the group has discovered final knowledge on any relevant number of subjects
8) Absolute morality is also being claimed, which means the group’s system of right and wrong thoughts and actions are are applicable to members and non-members alike. Those who strictly follow the moral code become and remain members and those who do not are dismissed or punished

So even ultra-conservative movements like the Tea Party are dangerous, they are not a cult in a strict sense and Sarah Palin is not a cult leader. The same can be said about ultra-left movements like the one headed by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

syzygy2600's avatar

I think a lot of people have a predisposition towards extremism, which explains the cult like attitudes of some of the far right and far left.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@mattbrowne I think 7 out of 8 makes them qualify.

ETpro's avatar

@incendiary_dan I agree. The far right as a whole actually has a leader or cadre of leaders. THey just don;t know who the leaders actually are. A handful of billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch put up the money in the US to churn out the cult propaganda and train its recruiters. There may be a larger scope worldwide, in which case I would guess the biggest money rules.Instead of setting up a single person to venerate, they set up an ideology.

Specific right and left wing groups do have messianic leaders. The Ku Klux Klan is a far-right group and heavily influences right wing politics in America, leading to the subtle dog-whistle appeals to racism. It is lead by a Grand Wizard.

Left wing organizations aimed at environmental terrorism, bringing communism to America and such also often have a messianic learer the group commits wholeheartedly to.

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