Society always needs a leader; there can be no argument about that. Even in the age of the advent of individual psychology doctrine, the need for an average human being to follow the crowd and comply with the opinion of the highest authority remains unchanged. The given phenomenon can hardly be regarded as negative, since the need to follow directions and mix with the crowd remains the basic principle of the way in which a modern civilized society works.
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However, following the directions of the leader blindly can easily lead to the establishment of the so-called cult indoctrination within the society and, therefore, turning a specific person from a leader into a role model for the entire society.
Thus, every single word that comes out of the given person’s mouth becomes accepted immediately without questioning its value, morals or, for that matter, accuracy. Defined as compliance breeding acceptance, the phenomenon that turns the history of the society into a one-man show has taken place more than once; it was used by Hitler, Mussolini, Mao Zedong, just to name a few.
Although the aforementioned examples are the historical proof of the danger behind the compliance breeding acceptance, the latter can still be observed in a number of states even nowadays, which begs the question what threats the given phenomenon conceals and whether it can actually be avoided at the early stage of its development.
However, to stress the necessity to avoid compliance with breeding acceptance, it is necessary to take a look at the effects of the latter. When it comes to talking about the effects of compliance resulting in acceptance, mostly negative and global issues come to people’s minds, like the notorious German Nazism or Italian Fascism.
However, the aforementioned phenomena can be regarded as movements, each of them having their own unique features; the latter being the exact effects of compliance breeding acceptance, they are worth considering closer. To start with, compliance leading to acceptance may finally resolve in discrimination against the people who are for some reasons out of favor of the leader and his/her followers.
The reasons for the latter not to accept the outcasts may vary; as a rule, racial or national issues prevail in the context of the world history. For example, compliance led the aforementioned Nazis to accept discrimination of the Jewish nation, as well as the Black people and the Gypsies, since the latter were considered “second-rate” people according to the absurd Nazi doctrine:
“Before 1933, eugenics proposals, such as the sterilization of mentally retarded and ill persons, failed to win wide support, but the Nazi “revolution,” beginning that year with Adolf Hitler’s assumption of power, upset the status quo” (Bachrad, 2004, 418).
Therefore, it can be assumed that lack of tolerance, discrimination against the people of a different race, nationality, ethnicity, social background or any other aspect of life come as a result of compliance breeding acceptance. After a nation gets used to complying with every single word that comes out of their leader’s mouth, even the most anti-humanist ideas become acceptable and might even be considered as the only possible way of structuring the society.
It is essential that the phenomenon of compliance breeding acceptance creates the grounds for discrimination based not only on national or ethnical background, but also on the social one, as well as on the reasons of an alternative sexual orientation; to make the situation even worse, thoughtless acceptance of the leader’s ideas leads to shunning and even physically abusing the people who are out of favor.
Although the compliance with the ideas of discrimination against a specific social class or a specific religious group is far not as widespread as the ones of racial profiling, it still has taken place in the course of the history. Another negative effect of compliance that leads to thoughtless acceptance of specific behavior is the loss of ability to think logically and be independent in one’s choices and decisions. While the complexities and injustices arising within the society are quite understood and often get a proper mentioning, the changes within an individual are rarely addressed.
The subject is nonetheless intriguing; as psychological researches conducted on the issue claim, the nation, whose representatives have become used to being guided by the authorities, following their every guideline without questioning the reasons behind the newly adopted rules have very little chances of surviving on their own, as they lose the ability to analyze and criticize.
Therefore, the cult following of a specific person and his/her directions ultimately results in a person’s inability to think beyond the boundaries predetermined by the existing political doctrine. The results of the given phenomenon are truly devastating, since it leads to the nation’s complete loss of independence and ability to think.
By internalizing the commitments that are stated recurrently, people tend to stop defining their own moral dimensions and leave it to the people in the authority to decide what is right and what is wrong. Consequently, the nation whose leader has created a cult of him-/herself and has ripped his/her nation of its independency faces the threat of shaping weak-willed puppets who can hardly figure out what to do with their own lives.
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While the given situation is under control as long as the leader is alive and, therefore, it capable of giving directions, with the death or retreat of the person in authority, the nation in question immediately loses confidence and shows all signs of complete inability to live on its own. With that being said, one must admit that the key effect of compliance breeding acceptance is the fact that people are unable to make their own decisions.
As a result, the given type of behavior triggers the lack of understanding of the social, political and cultural events that take place within the state. Once one loses touch with the social and political life of his/her society, a downgrade in the standards of society should be expected. To start with, understanding that they are merely pawns in one’s major game, people switch to a more passive behavior, losing the interest in social activities, education and professional life.
In fact, people are most likely to lose their creative skills as well, being guided by someone else and not taking any initiative. Individuals are more than likely to drop their initiatives in education and academic performance; thus, the academic life of the state in question will inevitably degrade. Alternatively, a massive brain leakage can be expected, as long as the residents of the state are willing to reinvent the world of science yet have no such opportunity in their native land.
Hence, technologically and academically, the state in which the cult of a specific person was created is doomed to regress (Kruglanski & Higgins, 2007). The next question that needs to be answered is who is responsible for the phenomenon of acceptance breeding compliance. On the surface, it seems that the situation is very clear and that the nation is to be held responsible for following the evidently insane propositions of the country leader.
However, it is worth mentioning that the phenomenon in question is predisposed by a large number of factors, the moods of the nation being only one of these factors. To start with, the leader’s charisma matters considerably in defining the attitudes among the residents of the state. However, personal appeal alone cannot possibly lead to taking over the minds of millions of people; a weapon much stronger is required to reach the desired effect.
At this point, the history of the state under consideration should be brought up. As long as the nation feels that the rights of people have been infringed due to the unfair decisions of other states, people’s minds are ready to accept the ideas that would most likely seem monstrous to them otherwise. Again, by far the most striking example is the one of Hitler and of Nazism in Germany.
The cult following of Hitler and his Nazi ideas among the German people of the 30ies and 40ies can be viewed as the need to compensate for the defeat in WWI and the following humiliating conditions listed in the Treaty of Versailles, as well as the search for a person who could possibly lead the state out of the post-war crisis: “Given the political and economic climate in Germany at the time, combined with the humiliation and unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles, the German population was ripe for such propaganda” (Narayanaswami, n. d., 3).
Therefore, blinded by the promises of a better life and better perspectives, the German people were turned into a powerful weapon that, controlled by the fuehrer, could not be possibly stopped. If it had not been for the state of despair and humiliation that the German people had to go through after the WWI ended, the Second World War might have never taken place after all.
Thus, it can be assumed that the external factors combined with the leader’s charisma lead to the phenomenon known as compliance breeding acceptance. Knowing the deplorable effects of compliance breeding acceptance is enough to understand that absolute compliance and the following acceptance without questioning the motifs of the leader is more than unreasonable.
However, since charismatic leadership remains one of the most powerful and, hence, by far the most popular types of leadership, it is strongly recommended that alternative methods of winning the nation’s appreciation and trust should be developed. According to what McGlynn’s research conducted in 2001 says, a “model of group and individual influence that builds on the normative-informational dichotomy” (McGlynn, 2001, 137) should be used.
According to the author of the research, “the extension accommodates outcomes of influence beyond compliance and acceptance” (McGlynn, 2001, 137) and practically proves that norm plausibility can avert the chances of a nation developing compliance breeding acceptance. Therefore, informational social influence is coordinated within the boundaries of the accepted standards, preventing from people getting over-obsessed about a specific idea or personality.
It is worth noting, however, that the dependency on the leader and the following compliance breeding further acceptance may take smaller scales. Though such cases are less notorious, they, nevertheless, are truly striking as a study of group psychology and the psychology of an individual.
For instance, Sherif showed in his autokinetic effect experiment that a private acceptance reinforced by the Informational Social Influence, i.e., “a cognitive influence to accept information from others as evidence about reality due to being in an ambiguous or crisis situation or in the presence of an expert” (Willis, 2009) leads to a complete attitude change.
The given issue raises the question whether private acceptance and public compliance are actually intertwined. As Willis explains, often, due to the escape mechanism as an integral part of human nature, public compliance is not followed by personal acceptance – or, at least, not followed immediately.
Thus, people are able to adapt to the changes within the society without restructuring their own self and working on adapting to the new standards and principles. As the experiment conducted by Kassin and Kiechel shows, in 69%, people tend to break the instructions that they consider unreasonable (the prohibition against hitting the ALT key on the computer in the given experiment), yet only 28% confess about breaking the rules later on in a private conversation (Willis, 2009).
The given an example shows that compliance is not necessarily followed by acceptance in the cases when people keep their ability to think logically and objectively. As a result, the negative effects of compliance breeding acceptance are reduced; moreover, the process of breeding acceptance is slackened.
Thus, much to the credit of human nature, it can be assumed that, while one may comply with the orders of the authorities, one can still mock acceptance as long as one wishes; with firm moral principles and strong beliefs, such strategy is quite realistic.
Unfortunately, researches show that as time passes, people are likely to accept the existing regime even knowing from the start how wrong it is. The given phenomenon can be explained by the mechanisms of acculturation, which are very strong in every person. As Kaplan and Krueger’s study shows, “People become more likely to comply with the wishes of others after their self-concepts have been threatened” (Kaplan & Krueger, 1999, 178).
Therefore, as long as the authority of the leader is strong enough and the odds are in his/her favor, an individual has little to no chances in fighting the urge to not only comply with the orders, but also accept them as reasonable. Historical record shows that nations have always needed strong and decisive leaders to become powerful and independent.
However, history has also shown in a very graphic manner that, when taken too far, a complete absence of criticism of the actions carried out by the government and the authorities can result in the most deplorable aftermath. While the effects of strong leadership are doubtlessly positive for any state, the effects of charismatic leadership must not be blown to the epic proportions of worshipping the leader and complying with his/her demands without even questioning the motifs behind the actions of the leader in question.
Despite the fact that there has been a plenty of historical examples of where compliance breeding acceptance can easily lead to a tragedy, including by far the most notorious example of the Third Reich, the humankind is still unable to shake off the charm of the charismatic leadership concept, which means that the threat of the destructions, which compliance breeding acceptable can lead to, is still very tangible.
With that being said, it is crucial to admit the necessity in creating a set of norms for state leadership strategies, as well as shaping a more critical attitude towards state leaders in people, which will help avoid the instances of forming personality cults and being subdued into a compliance breeding acceptance type of behavior.
Bachrad, S. (2004). In the name of public health – Nazi racial hygiene. The New England Journal of Medicine, 351(5), 417–420.
Kaplan, A. & Krueger, J. (1999). Compliance after threat: Self-affirmation or self-preservation? Current Research in Social Psychology, 4(7), 178–197.
Kruglanski, A. W. & Higgins, E. T. (2007). Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
McGlynn, R. P. (2001). Beyond compliance and acceptance: Influence outcomes as a function of norm plausibility and processing mode. Group Dynamics: Theory, research and Practice, 5(2), 136–149.
Narayanaswami, K. (n. d.). Analysis of Nazi propaganda: A behavioral study. Web.
Willis, G. E. (2009). Public compliance vs. private acceptance in conformity. Web.