IN history, the images of heroes are always exploited by the ruling classes, political parties and social and cultural groups to mobilise the sentiments of the people in order to further their own interests. These heroes are imposed upon the popular conscience as a means of persuasion and propaganda.
Intellectuals fully participate in this campaign to project so-called heroes as perfect, infallible and as a source of the people’s aspirations. Inspired by such images the masses are readily persuaded to sacrifice themselves and fully support those who claim to be the followers and disciples of the so-called heroes.
When the ruling classes face a crisis of confidence and become unpopular they seek the help of some personality who enjoys credibility and trust among the people. He is transformed into a hero and such ideas and thoughts are attributed to him which suit the designs of the ruling classes. The historicity of the hero disappears and he is given a new image which is promoted by the ruling classes.
Such is the case with Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan whose image as a liberal and secular leader is in conflict with his religious persona as promoted by those in power to serve their purpose. In our country, both religious and liberal political parties have used his myth to promote their own agendas.
A hero is also needed in case of a political upheaval. When rulers and their supporters lose the trust of the masses they look for a hero to rescue them from their turmoil. One such example is that of Napoleon III, who, after assuming power as emperor of France failed to solve the problems of the country. People were disillusioned by his policies and he was losing his grip on power. To regain his authority, he decided to use the name of his uncle Napoleon I and resolved to bring his dead body from St Helena to rebury it in Paris.
The whole event was played out with great fanfare. Napoleon’s coffin was brought in a state funeral procession and was buried in the heart of the city. An elegant mausoleum was built in his honour. The people of France for a time revived memories of Napoleon I and his conquests as his nephew tried to strengthen his position. He failed again and eventually had to vacate the throne and leave France.
In some cases, it is true that people themselves make and unmake heroes. If a person wielding power tries to fulfill their dreams and bring peace and prosperity to the people, they wholeheartedly support and adulate him. But the moment he fails to meet their expectations, he is disgraced and humiliated. We have the example of Mussolini who came to power with the promise of making Italy great once again.
For a short while, the people were enthused by his domestic policies and his expeditions to colonies in the African continent. They saw in him a Roman emperor who was reviving glories of the ancient past. However, when he got Italy involved in the Second World War and the Italians faced the horrors of war and ultimate defeat, they turned against him. He was murdered by a mob and his body was hung upside down as a sign of their hatred and frustration.
It is interesting that in the world of capitalism, the image of heroes is often commercialised and used for profit. Che Guevara, the revolutionary hero who fought along with Fidel Castro to liberate Cuba from dictatorship and later went to Bolivia to bring about a radical change, was murdered by the Bolivian army in collusion with the CIA. Soon, the image of the revolutionary hero became a widespread commercial symbol throughout the world and his posters became a popular symbol of heroism.
In the 1960s and 1970s, one could see his picture in every student’s room. Slowly, his revolutionary ideals dimmed and his picture became a fashion symbol. His memory is revived again and again but not to inspire revolution or change but to celebrate him as a fad. Business is thriving in his name. There are not only books and posters, there are also T-shirts and other symbols which are used by those who have nothing to do with Che Guevara’s ideals.
Does this mean the age of hero worship is going to end? The answer is both yes and no. In democratic societies where the people play an important role, the image of the saviour is on the decline. Governments change after elections and no permanent individual remains in power for a long time.
With the phenomenon of collective leadership taking root, the role of institutions has become more and more vital and thus deters an individual from turning into an all-powerful person. He is compelled to rely on the advice and suggestions of professionals while deciding on crucial state matters.
In countries where institutions and collective leadership are weak, an individual assumes all power and undermines the normal democratic process. In such a society, political parties and social groups also rely on the image of a hero as they do not have creativity and talent enough to mobilise the people independently.
They bring back heroes of the past and use them for their political agenda. Intellectual bankruptcy and lack of credibility are replaced by hero worship. It is easy to use the image of a hero for spurring the sentiments of the people rather than trying to convince them by rational arguments. That is why we need heroes in order to mislead the people for an agenda which could not be accomplished otherwise.
Courtesy: daily Dawn, 16/4/2008