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How Should We Read the Totalitarian Philosophers?

This the first instalment in a series of essays by Matt McManus examining the work and legacies of the totalitarian philosophers.

How should one read and interpret authors whose work has clearly become associated—justly or not—with totalitarianism? In recent years, this debate has included figures like the Marxist historian Erik Hobsbawm, who has received scathing criticism for his soft approach to various communist regimes, and the literary theorist Paul de Man. However, here I will focus on the work of four philosophers whose work provided inspiration to totalitarianism and terror—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger.

It might seem disconcerting to imply there is a problem with reading such authors. After all, an intellectual work isn’t especially interesting unless it forces us to look critically at sides of ourselves and our societies we have been unwilling to examine—the darker undercurrents of politics and the human psyche. This may be especially true if we wish to combat totalitarian and authoritarian impulses successfully. Looking at those who inspired or supported these movements can give us a better understanding of their appeal. Hannah Arendt remains one of the most probing and articulate analysts of twentieth century totalitarianism, but she never gave in to a prudish dismissal of its intellectual inspirations. This gives her still controversial analyses a considerable depth often lacking in comparable authors; the Origins of Totalitarianism would be a lesser work without her Heideggerian sensitivity to the dangers of modern technocracy and inauthenticity.

In liberal democratic societies, we purport to place a high value on reading and combating even the most pernicious writings. These liberal virtues were perhaps best articulated by J.S Mill in his classic work, On Liberty. Mill convincingly argues that being exposed to ideas which challenge and disturb us can be exceptionally helpful. Beyond the dangers to individual rights in allowing public opinion or government officials to regulate what individuals can be exposed to, society benefits from exposure to provocative ideas in a number of ways.

First, an idea, while unpleasant, may well be correct or true, in which case we gain insight by being exposed to it. And even if it is only partially true, it can help us reach a more complete understanding of the whole truth. Second, even if the idea is simply wrong, we benefit from hearing it and having to think through why it is wrong. This connects to the third point, which is that even true or useful ideas need to be contested and re-evaluated if they are to remain fresh and avoid calcifying into rigid dogmas. Exposure to what Mill calls the “marketplace of ideas” can help us develop a better understanding of the world, often because we have been challenged by those who think differently. As Mill artfully put it:

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.

Of course, despite these forceful arguments, both Mill and the liberal democratic societies he inspired place restrictions on the expression of certain kinds of ideas. These run the gamut from laws against fraud and libel, to restrictions on child pornography and some other salacious materials. In some circumstances, liberal societies even permit state restrictions on forms of political expression. And while notably few books are banned outright (we have come a long way since Ulysses was prohibited due to its abstract depictions of sexuality) there are live discussions about whether or not one can praise or even discuss certain texts and still be acting morally.

For many, Rousseau remains a corrosive influence and an entry point to proto-authoritarian sentiments. Jordan Peterson and Paul Kengor have been extremely critical of anyone presenting the works of Marx as anything but proto-totalitarian and dangerous, given the slaughter subsequently carried our in his name. Early in the twentieth century Nietzsche was a black sheep in respectable circles because he was considered the official philosopher of Nazism. Martin Heidegger was actually a member of the Nazi party, and yet some still consider him to have been the greatest thinker of the twentieth century. Unfortunately for Heidegger, the recent publications of his Black Notebooks have exposed new associations between his thinking and antisemitism, reigniting the debate over whether it is still ethical to invoke him. So, while one can go into any college bookstore and find a copy of The Communist Manifesto or Being and Time, whether their ideas should stigmatize those who read and admire them remains a difficult question.

The Politics of the Totalitarian Philosophers

None of the authors discussed above are liberals in any sense. They had little patience for liberal rights and democracy, which they considered, at best, a waystation to a higher form of society, and, at worst, vulgar and degenerate. And certainly none of them would be surprised at the controversy that continues to surround their writings. Rousseau was a polemicist, famed for being difficult to get along with. Marx and Nietzsche were often bitingly satirical and deliberately aimed to provoke their opponents. Martin Heidegger—the philosopher without humor, par excellence—was more stately in his style but likewise published trenchant polemics attacking almost every established way of thinking. So, none of these men can be accused of writing boring books (well, maybe in parts). But can we justify reading any of them given the atrocities with which they have been associated, rightly or wrongly? Here we have to be very careful in distinguishing between the intended effect of a piece or writing, its actual effect, and the author’s own behavior.

Rousseau is one of the most mercurial figures in the history of Western political thought. He has been hailed as both the father of Romantic individualism, to the original totalitarian. Reading him is often frustrating and fascinating, as one encounters an endless series of brilliant observations, horrifying irresponsibility, and apparent contradictions. As a result, it can be difficult to identify the real Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and even his attempts at personal candor were mixed. At points, his writings seem to imply that the contemporary world is insufficiently individualistic and too beholden to mass opinion and commercial crassness. His Discourse on Inequality and Reveries of a Solitary Walker fall into this vein of romantic individualism. In many ways these were pioneering critiques of modernity’s limitations. At other points, such as in The Social Contract, his arguments for a “general will” which is both ontologically and morally superior to the aggregate will of all individuals does indeed assume the quasi-totalitarian implications identified by Isaiah Berlin, among others. It is difficult to know what he might have thought of the Jacobin revolutionaries his works inspired, though no doubt he would have found some way to aggravate them in the long run. Whether he genuinely supported terror seems to depend a great deal on which iteration of Rousseau one reads; the romantic individualist or the totalizing theorist of the general will.

Marx intended to expose the inner workings of a socio-historical system called capitalism, which he argued was exploitative and self-contradictory. A careful parsing of his work reveals that he judged capitalism to be riven by such serious dialectical contradictions that it would ultimately give way to a higher form of society in which private property would be eliminated. Of course, this was never actually the effect of Marx’s work. His predictions as to how the communist revolution would come about tended to be wrong, and the totalitarian societies erected in his name bore little resemblance to the utopian sketches (and that was all they were) offered in the Manifesto and the Critique of the Gotha Program. In his own behavior, Marx was an agitator and organizer, but never actually carried out any of the infamous acts with which his name has become associated. Nonetheless, the movements inspired by his writings were often responsible for the most appalling atrocities, so much so that for many Marx’s name borders on a curse.

Nietzsche’s works were clearly intended to criticize Judeo-Christian values and the liberal democratic societies that he described as springing from the ashes of religious civilization. He repeatedly criticized political moderates, mocked liberals, socialists, democrats, and the like. And certainly the totalizing quality of his work and its sheer intellectual brilliance probably made it inevitable that different groups would find different emphases within it. The Nazis drew upon Will To Power, the post-humous publication of which was organized by Elizabeth Förster Nietzsche (a Nazi supporter) to try and paint her late brother as a proto-fascist. There are certainly irresponsible passages within Nietzsche that could support such an interpretation, such as when he mocks feelings of pity and fetishizes strength and will. But a closer look at his life and philosophy show that he also detested nationalism, particularly when based on ethnicity, considering it the temptation of banal individuals. Had he lived, he would almost certainly have been aghast to see his writings associated with the Nazi movement, though we will never know if this would have inspired greater caution in his writings.

Heidegger’s situation is considerably different to either Marx or Nietzsche’s. Marx never lived to see the Bolsheviks and the Maoists transform his work, as Lenin did when he called for the organization of a vanguard party to seize control of the state. Nietzsche went insane long before the Nazis came to power, and might well have emerged as one of their wittier critics. But Heidegger joined the Nazi party and leant his already considerable intellectual reputation to the movement. At the time they seized power, he had recently published Being and Time, in which he presented an entirely new way of thinking about human existence. His account of human existence in Being and Time and other works is so profound and rich that it is difficult to think of the world in the same way after reading it. This is what makes his writings and behavior through the 1930s and ’40s so perplexing and infuriating. In his published writings such as What is Metaphysics? and speeches such as his rectoral address, he condemned liberalism and communism as “metaphysically the same” and called upon Germany to assume its unique destiny in bringing about new ways of being in the world. When presented with evidence of the death camps, Heidegger hardly had anything to say, and when he bothered to speak up, it was largely to equivocate. In his most recently published Black Notebooks, he expressed a host of antisemitic views and directly associated them with his thinking. That he was nonetheless a brilliant philosopher hardly seems sufficient to forgive his living and active support of such a monstrous regime. Like Carl Schmitt, another highly intelligent Nazi party member, it is hard to read a page of his work without the tragic feeling that a great mind has turned a very dark corner.


He who thinks great thoughts often makes great errors
~Martin Heidegger

Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger are four figures who embody what it means to be a dangerous thinker. Each of them offers remarkable ways of looking at the world, but are burdened by a historical legacy often associated with violence and wickedness. This is particularly true of Marx and (especially) Heidegger, who gave concrete support to parties and proposals that resulted in the deaths of millions of people. Is it possible to morally justify treating their ideas with sympathy and intellectual charity, given our knowledge of this legacy?

I think that we can, although it makes reading and interpreting them a more complex task.  Following Mill, I would argue that each of these authors presents important truths about the world we now inhabit that can compel us to reflect more deeply on our own dogmatically held opinions. Rousseau taught us a great deal about how the crass pursuit of naked self-interest can lead to a deep sense of inauthenticity. Marx’s analysis of how capitalism is a revolutionary mode of production which upends tradition societies and their values was a brilliant insight. It can tell us a great deal about how our societies have become increasingly fragmented and pluralistic. Nietzsche’s psychological account of resentment remains the most damning critique of the politics of victimhood to this day, and his genealogical look at the history of moral truths was pioneering. Heidegger’s interpretation of human existence in the world can be separated from his more nefarious political commitments, and provoke deep reflection on some of the rationalistic dogmas all too common today. Indeed, I often think a deeper look at Heideggerian computing in the manner of Herbert Drefyus would do away with certain popular but reductionist accounts of human consciousness and behavior. In each of these examples, it is a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff.

We have less to fear from these authors than we do from those determined to interpret them in a malicious or dangerous manner. In any political context there will always be those who will turn to such authors for inspiration or justification for terrible things. Often, as with Richard Spencer’s invocation of pseudo-Nietzschian tropes, these are based on taking the most extreme and vulgar interpretations of an author’s work to justify positions they themselves would probably have never supported. In other situations, we can see figures taking inspiration from the very worst ideas an author put forward, at the expense of the very best, such as those who lift quotes from Marx about the glories of revolutionary violence, and use them to justify totalitarian terror. In those cases we have no choice but to acknowledge the author was partially at fault, while condemning those who take inspiration from what is most valueless in their writing. 

We needn’t moralize about dangerous authors, and immediately condemn those who find something of value in their work. Taking our cue from Mill, we should recognize that part of the attraction of these authors it that they say many things that seem disturbing, and at times reprehensible, but which nonetheless may contain a considerable amount of truth. Finding those truths and making use of them is one of the virtues of careful and engaged scholarship.


Matt McManus is currently Visiting Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey. His forthcoming books are Overcoming False Necessity: Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law and What is Post-Modern Conservatism? He can be reached at or followed on Twitter @MattPolProf


  1. A C Harper says

    While I agree that philosophers’ works shouldn’t automatically attract criticism for their personal views I’d also argue that reading their works without locating them in the society of their time is also risky.

    The 4 philosophers mentioned were all writing against the background of their times. Would Marx have been less critical without the background industrial revolution? Nietzsche was writing at the time of the upending of religious certainty, Heidegger was writing when anti-semitism seemed ‘natural’ and so on.

    To reject philosophers works because they are no longer apposite or have been corrupted by others is to fall into the trap of failing to learn from history. The past was a very different place.

    • defmn says

      With all due respect the idea that philosophers are a product of their time and place is an error of such proportion that it necessarily invalidates any other understanding of their writing that you might feel is to be gleaned from the reading of it.

        • Timothy Roberts says

          An apostrophe doesn’t appear to be yours, however.

      • Timothy Roberts says

        They’re not a product of their time and place? What are they, nymphs?

      • Hellyeah says

        How so friend? Our ideas are not product of our time? I don’t understand.

    • Achilliana says

      Ecclesiastes 1:9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

      • david of Kirkland says

        @Achilliana – So all invention isn’t new?

        • Craig WIllms says

          @david of Kirkland
          geez, think before you speak!

          [there is nothing new under the sun] is about human nature

      • yandoodan says

        While we’re going biblical, what about, “You will know them by their fruits,”?

        It’s not that the philosophies of Marx or Heidegger could be interpreted in a way both non-totalitarian and useful, it’s that they can easily be interpreted to support mass murder. It’s like the legal standard for criminal intent. The accused can’t skate with the excuse “I didn’t know,” when it can be shown that they should have known. Marx et. al. should have known that they were giving support to the morally vicious.

        John Stuart Mill was a contemporary of Marx, but you don’t see calls for a Millsian Revolution. Ludwig Wittgenstein was a contemporary of Heidegger, but you don’t see calls for Wittgensteinian purges. You can live within the spirit of the time without encouraging evil.

      • Bob Rorigues says

        Ecclesiastes 1:15 Perversi difficile corriguntur, et stultorum infinitus est numerus. (The perverse are hard to be corrected, and the number of fools is infinite. — RC Douay-Rheims Bible)

  2. The Nazis were not nationalists they were actually supra-nationalists just like the EU.

    [1] “Above and beyond the concept of the nation-state, the idea of a new community will transform the living space given us all by history into a new spiritual realm… The new Europe of solidarity and cooperation among all its peoples, a Europe without unemployment, without monetary crises, … will find an assured foundation and rapidly increasing prosperity once national economic barriers are removed.”

    Arthus Seyss-Inquart, Minister of Security and the Interior in the post-Anschluss Nazi government, 1938, and later Prefect of Occuppied Holland – here he is addressing his Dutch subjects

    [2] “There must be a readiness to subordinate one’s own interests in certain cases to that of the European Community.”

    Walther Funk, Finince Minister in Hitler’s government, 1942.

    [3] “The solution to economic problems… with the eventual object of a European customs union and a free European market, a European clearing system and stable exchange rates in Europe, looking towards a European currency union.”

    Memorandum of the Reich Chancellery, 9 July 1940, signed by Hermann Göring

    [4] “The results of excessive nationalism and territorial dismemberment are within the experience of all. There is only hope for peace by means of a process which on the one hand respects the inalienable fundamental patrimony of every nation but, on the other, moderates these and subordinates them to a continental policy… A European Union could not be subject to the variations of internal policy that are characteristic of liberal regimes.”

    Alberto de Stefani, Finance Minister in Mussolini’s government, 1941

    [5] “A new Europe: that is the point, and that is the task before us. It does not mean that Italians and Germans and all other nations of the European family are to change their spots and become unrecognizable to themselves or to one another, from one day or one year to the next. It will be a new Europe because of the new inspiration and determining principle that will spring up among all these peoples.” … “The problem of the hierarchy of states will no longer arise. At least in its usual form, once we have cut off the dragon’s head; that is, the notion of state sovereignty. Moreover, this does not have to be done outright, but can be achieved indirectly, e.g. by creating interstate European bodies to look after certain common interests (exchange rates, communications, foreign trade etc….)”

    Camillo Pellizi, editor of Civilita Fascista, in an article entiled ‘The Idea of Europe’

    [6] [Here I shall quote from a well received, at the time, policy document which recommended the need to] “…put forward a European con-federal solution based on free cooperation among independent nations” [culminating into uniting Europe] “on a federal basis” [and adding that, to see this federation process through], “all that is required of European states is that they be loyal, pro-European members of the community and cooperate willingly in its tasks… The object of European cooperation being to promote peace, security and welfare for all its peoples.”

    Cicile von Renthe-Fink, Nazi official holding the diplomatic rank of minister of state, 1943.

    [7] “We must create a Europe that does not squander its blood and strength on internecine conflict, but forms a compact unity. In this way it will become richer, stronger and more civilized, and will recover its old place in the world.” “National tensions and petty jealousies will lose their meaning in a Europe freely organised on a federal basis. World political development consists inevitably in the formation of larger political and economic spheres.”

    Vidkun Quisling, Norwegian Nazi Collaborator, ‘Prime Minister’ of Occupied Norway, 1942

    [8] “It is not very intelligent to imagine that in such a crowded house like that of Europe, a community of peoples can maintain different legal systems and different concepts of law for long.”

    Adolph Hitler, addressing the Reichstag, 1936

    [9] “In my view a nation’s conception of its own freedom must be harmonised with present-day facts and simple questions of efficiency and purpose… Our only requirement of European states is that they be sincere and enthusiastic members of Europe.”

    Joseph Goebbels, 1940

    [10] “The people of Europe understand increasingly that the great issues dividing us, when compared with those which will emerge and will be resolved between continents, are nothing but trivial family feuds.” … “In fifty years Europeans will not be thinking in terms of separate countries.

    Joseph Goebbels, 1942

    • Simon Hodges – Thanks for emphasizing this commonly neglected point. The Nazis used German nationalist sentiments but they were themselves internationalists. They had no problem exterminating all kinds of German citizens.

      • CA

        Thanks in turn for bringing up Nietzsche and the Progressive left as I had been writing about them today.

        The Neoliberal imperialist progressive elite are very Nietzschean in their politics in that they repeatedly criticize and pour scorn on political populist moderates, true liberals, socialists and anyone of any political complexion that believes in democracy and national sovereignty and who resists the totalitarian drift into Neoliberal and Neoconservative globalism as they are being rammed down our throats as the Progressive shout that “THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE”. TINA itself is nothing new, English and US Progressive Imperialists of the 19th Century and the Nazis in the 20th Century were saying exactly the same things about the supposed irresistible forces of globalization and the inevitable erosion of democracy and the nation state which didn’t happen.

        The progressives are totalitarian in that they are completely intolerant of anyone’s opinions or ideas if they are contradictory or ‘other’ to their own. They have completely rejected moral, theological, economic, political and cultural relativism which is nothing other than the rejection of the core principles of liberalism itself. They claim to embrace pluralism and diversity, but they only do so because they seek to ‘import’ others in order to ideologically transform and re-educate everyone into their own limited world views which are based on the narrow Neoliberal economic definition of humanity as people whose only interest is in seeking to maximise economic returns and this is twinned with eternal Nietzschean power struggles where everyone is supposedly only interested in seeking to maximise power’s returns in endless struggles for ’empowerment’ from which there is no escape – not least because power does not exist as such. Understanding every human relationship purely in terms of acts of oppression and resistance is extremely reductive and not healthy, helpful or politically useful as every victim turns out to be someone else’s oppressor within power’s grand scheme of things. Identity politics has turned the private sphere into a police state and has set every different gender, race, group etc against one and other.

        All Nazis tend to try and build a coalition of support against a target group. In a very subtle move, in place of the German Nazi crusade against the Jews the Progressive Neo-Nazis have substituted the stereotype of the ‘White Male’ as the new target for their racist Neo-Nazi hatred around which they intend to gather support, divide nations and whip up hysterical conflicts. A subset of the hated white male that is hated even more thoroughly is the stereotype of the white Trumpian MAGA male. The Progressives like Nietzsche, hate and despise their stereotypical perceptions of the ‘common people’ and they see themselves in contrast as Nietzsche’s Übermensch. That is as elite and superior men and women fundamentally opposed to the deplorable masses, their culture and everything they democratically stand for.

        “Nietzsche saw a lack of intellectual progress, leading to the decline of the human species. According to Nietzsche, individuals needed to overcome this form of mass culture. He believed some people were able to become superior individuals through the use of will power. By rising above mass culture, society would produce higher, brighter and healthier human beings.”

        The Progressive Übermensch do not seek liberal and moderate discussion and compromise, they seek to shout and shut down debate and try and produce as much social conflict and violence as possible. The Progressives Übermensch do not seek to resolve social conflicts they are actually involved in actively producing them and fanning their flames to reach the maximum potential for revolutionary violence which they psychotically crave as the spectacle of the resultant engineered violence seems to underwrite power’s own self contained reactionary and revolutionary thesis regardless of the actual politics of those involved.

        There are many who confuse Identity Politics with Postmodern philosophy but this is a false association. Identity Politics is contradictory to the logical conclusions of postmodern philosophy which shows that differences between us are meaningless social fictions. Once recognized as being a fictional social construct, gender, racial, sexual preference etc. differences between us cannot therefore be a basis or substantive foundation for any meaningful human conflict to ever take place again as such once we all understand this. Postmodernism is a good platform for peace in that all its really says it look guys and girls there’s nothing to really get worked up about and you don’t need to be trapped in anyone’s definition of what you can or can’t be. From a postmodern perspective there is no ideological basis for conflict and as such there is no political basis for an ‘identity politics’ as choices such as transgender or sexual preferences are no more meaningful than any other consumer preferences or expression of brand loyalty. One could even apply this to the tribal brand preferences of politics itself which now more than ever is essentially a meaningless choice as to which party is going to implement the now universalized neoliberal economics of austerity and imperialist neoconservative geopolitical policies. It is more than curious that in the absence of any difference in their approaches to policy that the political parties have become so bitterly divided? One assumes that in the absence of any policy differences there is a political desperation to produce some kind of identity difference to carry on conning political consumers into buying into the various brands in any kind of meaningful way.

        Up until the late 1990s sociologists were repelled by postmodernism and refused to take any of its ideas seriously as postmodern conclusions are largely apolitical for good reason. From a postmodern perspective gender, race and class differences etc are visually observable but one shouldn’t try to read too much into any of them or necessarily take them seriously. Postmodernism and Poststructuralism are philosophies with a strong sense of humour and irony which refuse to take themselves ‘seriously’. Postmodernism is a critique, but it is entirely different from the critiques of the modernist era in that it does not advocate any political or systematic replacements. The closest it gets to reactionary politics is probably in Jean Baudrillard’s ‘strategy’ of the silence of the masses. Aside from that then Postmodernism’s political dimension has been the celebration of popular culture against elitist modernist high culture which runs entirely counter to Nietzsche’s Übermensch or Overlords who despise mass culture. The humour in the work of Banksy as an artist and his questioning of the distinctions between art and graffiti and the relocation of art from the prison of the frame and gallery to the streets of the real world is a good postmodernist example of the celebration of popular culture and the deconstruction of elitist discourses about art and the institutions of art.

        In direct contrast there is nothing funny about the totalitarian Progressive Neo-Nazis and their policed state of identity politics and they take it very seriously indeed. Postmodernism is not a foundation of Identity Politics but Nietzsche most certainly is and we know the strong tendencies of political philosophies built upon Nietzschean thought to develop into fall blown authoritarian and totalitarian undertakings which is clearly the journey that the Progressive Übermensch are trying to herd us into.

        The progressives are the real Neo-Nazis in the current political climate, but in many respects they are worse than the German Nazis as they have framed their imperialist totalitarianism within Unipolar globalist ambitions. This progressive imperialism in addition to its aims of breaking up the social fabric of western societies and turning the people against themselves as opposed to their corrupted leaders – has also led to millions of deaths and untold human suffering in the Middle East.

        The Progressive globalist establishment seems to be currently gearing up for regime change in Iran because they are completely intolerant of any form of government other than their own national parliamentary democracies. Worse still is the fact that they do not believe in democracy and national sovereignty any way as they despise the proletarian electorate and actually believe in the Nazi model of the EU and seek to establish government by unelected Progressive political and technocratic Übermensch (unfortunately most of these economic technocrats are wholly untrustworthy investment bankers). In terms of politics or choice under Progressive globalism our only option is to hope that these unelected politicians and technocrats will act benevolently. Given my observations of the way that markets and investment bankers actually function then that seems a very naive and forlorn political hope. None of the political directions of progressive thought can be assimilated to postmodern theory which essentially rejects the enlightenment grand narratives. Progressive thought is entirely regressive in that it mixes 19th Century laissez faire capitalism with 19/20th Century Nietzschean power theory. Progressive Identity Politics cannot be postmodern because postmodernism rules out the very notion of ‘progress’ itself. Pregressive is probably a far better term for describing these theoretical dinosaurs.

        Progressives are not liberals and they are not moderates and they most certainly are NOT postmodernists. You only have to read the Euston Manifesto, published in 2006, to see how in defence of their Messiah, Tony Blair, the Progressive Übermensch effectively rewrote and reduplicated the extreme right wing imperialist geopolitical philosophy of the “Project for the New American Century” an organization which closed itself down that very same year as soon as the Progressives had taken up the globalist imperialist baton on their behalf. This is why progressives totalitarians like Clinton etc are now so keen on war because the Euston Manifesto justified it to them in its intolerant and absolute rejection of moral and cultural relativism which has now spread through Progressive Ideology like a cancer which is effectively destroying the social fabric and turning the private sphere into a police state of hate crimes policed by armies of self appointed SJWs trained by Nietzschean minded sociologists to only see the world through power’s reductive lens of endless conflicts of oppression and resistance.

        The Progressive Übermensch try and affiliate themselves with moderate liberalism but this is an entirely false association that conceals their hate filled Neo-Nazi ideologies and anti-democratic policies. I have read and studied postmodernism for 25 years and none of this can be attributed to any influence of postmodernism. They have inapproriately snatched a few postmodern conclusions without acknowledging what sacrifices postmodernism had to make to reach those conclusions – most notably the outright rejection of any authentic, autonomous human subject which is the subject of progressive identity politics which is supposed to be the ‘thing’ that is somehow authentically, intrinsically or meaningfully being ‘offended’. From a postmodern perspective identity politics never even gets off the ground as any meaningful political argument.

        • dellingdog says

          I’ve now read dozens of comments (attached to various articles) comparing progressives to Nazis and implying that we’re well on our way to becoming a fascist dystopia. Being charitable, I usually interpret these claims as rhetorical hyperbole intended to express a deep dislike of social justice activists. If they are, instead, meant literally, they seem as unhinged and deranged as the fears among my liberal friends that Donald Trump would repeal the Bill of Rights and appoint himself President-for-life upon taking office. Could someone who actually believes that the regressive left poses an existential threat to the future of Western democracy provide a plausible, step-by-step account of how this is likely to happen? I’m genuinely curious. As it stands, fears of “fascism” seem profoundly paranoid from my perspective.

          1) Overzealous students protest conservative speakers (most of whom become more famous and successful and a consequence). 2) Public figures who make controversial comments get shamed on Twitter. 3) Individuals get fired from at-will employment for expressing unpopular views. ….. X) Anyone who dissents from social justice dictates gets rounded up and placed in re-education death camps. Please fill in the missing steps!

          • Fill in the missing steps. Sure read this article if you have any doubts I believe re-education and gulags get a strong mention.


            You seem to think that people can just say that they are left wing regardless of what they actually end up thinking. Progressives do not belong on the left they are a hard right element who are strongly supported by the members of the PNAC. If you end up saying and thinking exactly the same things as the Nazis with regard to Europe then at the very least whether you like it or not that makes you a Nazi sympathiser. Claiming to be left wing is just part of the moderate spin to suggest that their bloody imperialism and wars in the Middle East are somehow liberally acceptable.

          • Charlie says

            Reducing freedom of speech at universities and in public discourse: believing oneself to be morally and intellectually superior to those one disagrees with, curtailing previously free actions and characterising opponents as inferior and bad. Ever since H Marcuse introduced ” Repressive Tolerance ” the left have been reducing freedom of speech at universities. As N Fergusson has stated, most historians are left wing and will only appoint those of similar views. Political correctness which is censorship. The attacks on Charles Murray.

            The modern left Orwell’s descriptions: physically feeble; despise physical courage, patriotism and British culture; only capable of carping criticism, shallow self righteousness, highly developed totalitarian streak. ” I do not fear the dictatorship of the proletariat and I do of intellectuals “. As M Muggeridge said ” They have a grudge against their fellow man and civilisation.”

          • TdwClark says

            We are presently at #3…does anyone really want to see what comes next? And do we wait for “X” before recognizing it? Too late? I understand the point re: paranoia and a tendency to overreact…but apathy and denial are equally as dangerous.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Well said, dd. I hate SJWs as much as the next man, but I do think that the influence of the regressive left is really overplayed.
            The real detriment from which we suffer is the constant need of the media to stoke the flames of moral outrage.
            It would just be best if people, businesses and insitutions developed a backbone and refused to be intimidated by the SJW wankers.
            So-called racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic and islamophobic remarks should be criticised but not punished. Those who seek to ruin the life of a ”racist” would be the first to try and find excuses for criminal behaviour. They should instead try to correct and instruct, not to punish.

          • Serenity says

            43.91 per cent votes in German democratic elections 1933 secured Nazi Party a third of seats in the Reichstag. Within months, the Nazis banned all other parties and dissolved the Reichstag. Hitler gained absolute power and effectively became the dictator of Germany.

            Goebbels: “One of the most ridiculous aspects of democracy will always remain… the fact that it has offered to its mortal enemies the means by which to destroy it.”

        • Post-modernism is self-refuting nonsense. And People link together Post-modernism with Progressive, Far-Leftist like SJWs because both rationalize themselves with relativist, blank-slatist fallacies.

          • kn83

            Progressives do not rationalize themselves with blank slatist fallacies. The blank slate in philosophy is derived from John Locke and stands at the very heart of enlightenment it was not invented by mischievous postmodernists. The progressive political arguments are very much tied to an historical association with an autonomous intrinsic feminist, homosexual or transgendered subject which must pre-exist in order to eventually be politically and socially oppressed.

            The Progressives are not relativists, they reject relativism in order to construct a unipolar globalism which entirely rejects anything other than the current status quo of neoliberal economics coupled with imperialist Neoconservative geopolitical foreign policy. These progressives do not exist merely on the left as they equally exist in the centre and on the right and this cuts across traditional political boundaries.

            This is not a worry if you think that the great financial crisis was some kind of accidental one off event and that all of the systemic problems have been fixed. Many of us see the fallacy in falling for that rhetoric and see that GFC2 is coming very shortly and that none of the problems have been fixed and that things are going to be much worse in GFC2 by orders of magnitude.

            You have obviously failed to notice, but there is a strong coalition against all these things from figures previously both of the left and right who have joined forces to try and halt the drift into totalitarianism which are implicit in Progressive philosophies and political structures such the EU, IMF world bank etc. One can even go as far as to suggest that the original GFC was no accident and that GFC2 will be no accident either.

            If you want to see how a more in depth explanation as to how and why postmodernism is not Identity Politics then watch the video below.


          • dellingdog says

            @Simon: Megan Murphy lost her Twitter account and a book deal. I can see parallels with McCarthyism, but not Nazism or Stalinism.

      • Also Mohammed and Jesus (and Buddha maybe?) were internationalists with totalitarian aspirations, “go out to the ends of the world, and teach all the peoples”) logically also, where you think you are close to the universal truth, or have already found it.
        I see an imperial stroke in the EU, in my youth only 6 nations with common culture and social system, now spreading ever more eastwards, though, in the Ukraine it seems to have been halted, though preachers were preaching the Holy Union even in Kiev some years ago, when it got feverish there.
        Maybe uptil 1950, the totalitarian and imperial thought ( Romans,Habsburg, Ottomans, Brittannia rules the waves, and not only the North Sea) seemed the only one with real value.
        So, if you are a philosopher, behind a comfortable desk in your study, in the 19th century, it would have been very strange to spawn postmodern and multiculti ideas and systems.

    • TdwClark says

      Jesus…Varoufakis wrote that in 2013. Is no one listening?

  3. Matt Mcmanus raises a relevant question though I’m not sure the benefit of reading anyone if the reader can’t make a good faith effort to understand the author as he understood himself.

    A great thinker generates a constellation of ideas the power of which can affect other human beings. How those ideas are absorbed and transformed is a function of the power (virtue) of the reader. Certain ideas lend themselves more to vulgarization than others – Marx did indeed claim to his ideas to be a science of history – while other ideas require more grotesque distortions to reveal some nefarious implication – Rousseau’s “general will”, Nietzsche’s “will to power” etc.

    Great writers are dismissed, ignored and misinterpreted at various points in history. So long as free thinking people exist their ideas have life and can generate life. Over time great minds persist, mediocre minds tend to become footnotes. Anyone who insists certain thinkers are too dangerous to read probably shouldn’t, probably can’t, read those authors, – water seeks its own level.

    By the way, I think it quite relevant to note that we are today witnessing a particular totalitarian consequence of a half century of vulgar readings of Nietzsche by postmodern theorists. What is the totalitarian left but Nietzsche for the People.

    • defmn says

      Pretty much this. The “intellectual virtue of honest dissimulation” is a favourite phrase to encapsulate the diversity of opinion regarding what philosophers “mean” to convey by their writings. Secrets exist because the truth is hard to know as well as because some truths are not fit to utter.

      For Nietzsche I think the end message “writ large” is a simple question. Can you build and maintain a human community based upon honesty – the virtue he calls “the youngest”. The post-modern nonsense that thinks it is based upon his thought has to this point delivered a resounding “no”.


  4. Tony Shreck says

    If I’ve ever seen a picture of Heidegger before, it was not recently enough to remember what he looked like. Imagine my bleary-eyed bafflement this morning when per the tiny images on my phone, the fourth “totalitarian philosopher” appeared to be Ludwig Von Mises.

  5. Farris says

    Now that’s funny. Donald Pleasence came to mind for me

  6. Red Allover says

    Marx felt that the history of the world was that of robbery and slavery of the majority of the people by a small elite class living off their labor. The goal of a Socialist Revolution is to liberate the people by putting the means of production, that is, the factories, railroads, mines, communication systems, etc., under control of the working class, the majority of the people, rather than a few wealthy individuals. For the workers, Socialism is democracy, while Capitalism is slavery. The Capitalist, on the other hand, is threatened by Socialism and does everything in his power to depict the breaking of his stranglehold over the majority as “totalitarianism”. The philosophy of Marx is qualitatively different from bourgeois thinkers; it has been used by many millions of workers all over the planet to free themselves.

    • Red Allover – I think you misinterpret Marx’s thought – I don’t believe he considered himself a “socialist” as the term was used in his day. He wasn’t so much opposed to Capitalism (in fact, if I recall, he writes favorably of Ricardo), rather Marx felt that Capitalism was a stage of history and that it would give way to the next stage regardless of what anybody wanted or chose.

      Marxism is in effect a secular Christian myth as Orwell, among others, points out – a deliverance from suffering into a world of happiness and equality.

      • Red Allover says

        Thanks for the comment. I think you are making some basic errors, however. Marx did of course identify as a Socialist. Marx was the greatest Socialist critic and opponent of capitalism of his time. He described the crimes of capitalism against the working class at length in Capital and his other works as vividly as Dickens or Zola. As for Ricardo, it is true Marx acknowledged that he had developed his labor theory of value from the classical bourgeois economists Ricardo and Adam Smith. But the idea that capitalism would pass away by itself he never espoused. That is why he organized the First International Workingman’s Association, the first trans national labor association. He was no armchair philosopher but in the thick of the labor & political fights of his time. Finally, Marxism is not a religion but a science and George Orwell never studied Marxism in his life, although he did name his French poodle Karl, which the upperclass guests at his dinner parties found amusing . . . .

        • ga gamba says

          Marx is a “a destructive spirit whose heart was filled with hatred rather than love of mankind… extraordinarily sly, shifty and taciturn. Marx is very jealous of his authority as leader of the Party; against his political rivals and opponents he is vindictive and implacable; he does not rest until he has beaten them down; his overriding characteristic is boundless ambition and thirst for power. Despite the communist egalitarianism which he preaches he is the absolute ruler of his party; admittedly he does everything himself but he is also the only one to give orders and he tolerates no opposition,” said Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini, Marx’s contemporary in the International Workingmen’s Association in the mid-1860s. Mazzini had a greater stature than Marx due to his leading role campaigning for Italian unification as a republic. Prior to the publication of the The Communist Manifesto he foresaw communism leading straight to dictatorship and wrote .

          Michael Bakunin, the revolutionary ancho-socialist and contemporary of Marx in the International Workingmen’s Association, stated in 1869 what would be the legacy of Marx’s theory of Communism: statism.

          The reasoning of Marx ends in absolute contradiction…. To appropriate all the landed property and capital, and to carry out its extensive economic and political programs, the revolutionary State will have to be very powerful and highly centralized. The State will administer and direct the cultivation of the land, by means of its salaried officials commanding armies of rural workers organized and disciplined for this purpose. At the same time, on the ruins of the existing banks, it will establish a single state bank which will finance all labor and national commerce.

          It is readily apparent how such a seemingly simple plan of organization can excite the imagination of the workers, who are as eager for justice as they are for freedom; and who foolishly imagine that the one can exist without the other; as if, in order to conquer and consolidate justice and equality, one could depend on the efforts of others, particularly on governments, regardless of how they may be elected or controlled, to speak and act for the people! For the proletariat this will, in reality, be nothing but a barracks: a regime, where regimented workingmen and women will sleep, wake, work, and live to the beat of a drum; where the shrewd and educated will be granted government privileges; and where the mercenary-minded, attracted by the immensity of the international speculations of the state bank, will find a vast field for lucrative, underhanded dealings.

          Bakunin’s prophesy proved remarkably accurate.

          Understanding of “the shrewd and educated will be granted government privileges” came to Trotsky just before his assassination when he saw the proletariat were ruled by bureaucrats under Stalin and feared that

          Bakunin added: The German workers, Bornstadt, Marx, Engels – especially Marx, poison the atmosphere. Vanity, malevolence, gossip, pretentiousness and boasting in theory and cowardice in practice. Dissertations about life, action and feeling – and complete absence of life, action, and feeling – and complete absence of life. Disgusting flattery of the more advanced workers – and empty talk. According to them, Feuerbach is a “bourgeois”, and the epithet BOURGEOIS! is shouted ad nauseam by people who are from head to foot more bourgeois than anyone in a provincial city – in short, foolishness and lies, lies and foolishness. In such an atmosphere no one can even breathe freely. I stay away from them and I have openly declared that I will not go to their Kommunistischer Handwerkerverein [Communist Trade Union Society] and will have nothing to do with this organisation.

          In his Bakunin on Anarchy he contrasted Marx to the other influential figure in his life, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: … he [Marx] lacks the instinct of liberty – he remains from head to foot an authoritarian.

          Bakunin added: He is extremely ambitious and vain, quarrelsome, intolerant, and absolute, like Jehovah, the Lord God of his ancestors, and like him, vengeful to the point of madness. There is no lie or calumny that he would not invent or disseminate against anyone who had the misfortune to arouse his jealousy or his hatred, which amounts to the same thing.

          Marx was such a remarkable organiser that at his funeral in Highgate Cemetery there were only eleven mourners.

          Today his adherents seek to distance Marx from the criminals Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the three Kims, and others but they fail to see the inherent defects of the ideology. Marx’s brutal simplification of reality. Marx’s intolerance of deviation by anyone other than himself. Marx’s vindictive cruelty. They were there from the start of Marxism because they came straight from Karl Marx the man himself. He cheered and justified every revolutionary terror from 1792 to 1870.

          Above all, Marx’s failure was to show exactly why capitalism carries the seeds of its own destruction. He utterly failed to foresee the rise of the welfare state and its blunting force against socialism. Remember, Marx thought his new dialectical science would allow him to not only understand the present but also to predict the future as well. So profound was this error that leftists today unabashedly lie in desperation to claim market capitalist economies such as those in Scandinavia are ‘socialist’. They ain’t. Marx also failed to appreciate the depth of feeling many have for their communities and nations. Until WWI socialists genuinely believed the working class would rise in solidarity and turn their weapons against their ‘masters’. So wrong was that the New Left of the Frankfurt School had to concoct cultural Marxism to explain the revolution would arise from the non proletariat.

          After German unification in 1990, graffiti artists spray-painted a statue of Marx and Engels in Alexanderplatz in Berlin with the ironic slogan, ‘Next time it will be better.’ Given the millions of deaths and human misery for which Marxism has been responsible, let us hope there never will be a next time.

          Who can forget Marx’s observation that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”? Who can forget that? Red Allover can, undeniably.

          • ga gamba

            I believe you are correct to emphasize Marx’s naivete regarding the state. Marx called the state an “unholy form” because it represented a power which embodied and protected the domineering capitalist interests. Marx did not subscribe to ideas of the state, as are common then and today, as a “redistributive” power. With the Revolution and the destruction of capitalist social relations man would be liberated and no longer require a state.

            The great irony is that while Marx’s Revolution fantasy never quite worked out, in a way he was correct about the state. The state today has made an unholy alliance with corporate power affirming an identity of interests and a common nihilistic vision. The corporation and the state have taken on a life of their own, root and branch of one tree.

          • Red Allover says

            Thanks for the comment, Ga, but of course I must disagree.
            Why do so many millions of working men and women around the world cherish Marx & honor his memory? Because Marx taught us that working people are not animals–unlike the way we are depicted in Orwell’s “Animal Farm”–that we workers can and should overthrow our capitalist masters.
            Of course Marx personally has always been vilified–by his contemporary political enemies–and still today by the supporters of the capitalists and the rich. They correctly recognize Marxist philosophy (when understood by the working people!) as the most dangerous enemy & threat to their control over all of us.

          • ga gamba says

            Marx called the state an “unholy form” because it represented a power which embodied and protected the domineering capitalist interests.

            I think this statement needs further examination and may be wide of the mark in at least one way. Firstly, it assumes that capitalists are a hive mind. Undoubtedly companies and their capitalist owners then, as they do today, had differing and often conflicting interests. Even within a company it may hold conflicting ideas. For example, automobile manufactures may lobby for protection such as tariffs and quotas from competition whilst concurrently lobbying against protection for its steel and tyre suppliers.

            Let’s explore Marx’s era a bit, say from 1838, when he was 20, until his death in 1883.

            German males didn’t get the vote until 1871. Full British male suffrage didn’t occur until the end of WWI. In France it was 1944. In Australia it was 1902 for white men and 1920 in Canada. Even the vote for white American males was restricted to property downers and the literate; later an assortment of measures to disenfranchise poor whites as well as black males were implemented in regions. It wasn’t until Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections that these practices ended. (I’ve left women out because their suffrage movement is better known. Many people think men have been voting since, well, almost forever – I exaggerate a bit, but to highlight the way some feminists go on about this issue.)

            Eric Hobsbawm argues that the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1780s and was not fully felt until the 1830s or 1840s; others argue it started in the 1760s. Though both the UK and the Netherlands were the first to have less than 50% of labour working in agriculture, which happened in mid 18th century (proto-industrialisation beginning in the mid-17th century), everywhere else in Europe labour left the farm much later. Moreover, for a long time people leaving the farm tended to remain rural – Britain in 1800 was still 71% rural though it was no longer majority agrarian. Labour in France, Italy, and Poland was still majority agricultural – over 60% of the workforce – in 1800. Spain was 79% agrarian. In 1882, Germany’s labour was 44% agricultural; it was a net food exporter until the early 1870s though its yields per hectare were lower than Britain, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The German industrial juggernaut was a late 19th century phenomenon. The US mirrored Germany’s experience with 53% of the workforce employed on the farm in 1860 – keep in mind the US still had slavery. Though not slavery, people were still bound to their land and lord in Germany; the last remains of serfdom in the German states were abolished in 1848.

            Though England and later Britain long had a House of Commons, property qualifications and the rotten borough system thwarted the representation of the people. i.e. those few permitted the vote. The first working-class MP, a miner, entered Parliament in 1874. Further, it was until 1911 that the House of Lords, which represented the landowning aristocracy, could reject or amend any legislation by Commons. The predominantly hereditary nature of the House of Lords ended in 1958. When the Labour Party first achieved electoral success in the 1920s, more than 70% of its MPs were drawn from working-class backgrounds. This has declined drastically from the mid-80s and today just 8% of Labour MPs are working-class.

            Most companies then, i.e. the capitalists, were small employers – just like today where 99.7% of US employers have fewer than 500 employees and about 90% of companies employ fewer than 20. If you read the history of 19th century shoemaking, most cordwainers employed a handful of workers, several of whom were apprenticed boys, and everyone lived on together because the company was also the employer’s home. In England, typical firms in the mid century employed less than 50 workers, most of whom were not machine operators. Small family firms dominated over large partnerships or shareholdings. Such firms drew upon relatives and friends often within religious groupings. Non-conformists, Quakers and Jews in particular, were prominent amongst entrepreneurs. Personal loans and family finance were often more important than the formal institutions of the capital market, such as banks and mortgage brokers. The aristocratic land-owning class continued to dominate in government. Financial and rentier interests, rather than the new industrial entrepreneurs, tended to guide national economic policy, often at the expense of industry.

            In the US, which was a few decades behind Britain, much industry remained small-scale and labour intensive, oriented towards niche rather than mass markets. Boston Manufacturing Company, founded by Francis Cabot Lowell who stole the secret of the power loom during a trip to England, was the nation’s first factory (more on this industry in bit). It employed 300. Two of the largest railroad locomotive companies in the US, Baldwin and Norris, each employed about 600 in 1860. These two firms were the largest employers of machinists in the nation. The thing is, there were many other locomotive companies too – Rogers, Grant, Swinburne, Lowell, and Danforth, for example. Many of them started in the textile business manufacturing spinning machines, power looms, and the steam engines to power them – there hundreds of mills in the 1820s. Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, opened his steel plant in 1872, and it was about a decade later through technical innovations and take overs of other mills that he became the steel baron. One company, United Shoe Machinery Corporation (USMC), was so successful with consolidation that it controlled 95% of shoe machine market by the turn of the century. With its merger of England-based Pearson and Bennion, USMC not only controlled the US market but also Britain’s – these were the world’s two largest shoemaking nations. And yes, monopolies tend to be undesirable, but because USMC introduced leasing the barrier to entry by buying machines reduced considerably. Still, USMC angered its customers by forbidding them to maintain or alter these machines as well as imposing a production royalty – the more shoes one produced using USMC’s machines the more one paid, much like how a car lessee pays a surcharge for driving excess kilometres.

            Unlike Britain at the time, America’s political class drew those who came from nothing. Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the US (1865 – 69), had been indentured to a tailor. In his youth Henry Wilson, who later served as the 18th vice president of the United States (1873–75), was an indentured servant on a farm for a decade; finishing that, he apprenticed himself to a shoemaker.

            It was through consolidation of industries, be it railroads, oil, textile weaving, steel, and even shoe machines that made these corporations very influential – the rise of the trusts and monopolies. This happened at the end of the 19th century, a few decades after Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto and Capital Yet, as powerful as the capitalists were, why were they unable to stop the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and Sherman Act of 1890? The Sherman Act was written by a Republican congressman and signed into law by a Republican president. These were preceded by the populist Granger Movement and the legislative acts in response to monopolistic railroads. Yet, a shortcoming of the movement was the failure to address what was the root cause of many farm ills: overproduction. There were too many farmers and too much productive land; the advent of new, mechanised equipment only exacerbated the difficulties. But because people have sympathy for “the little guy” they tend to hear and heed their protests more readily. At times the “oppressed” are the cause of their own downfall. Often because the actions of some capitalists harmed not only the working man they also damaged other capitalists and would-be entrepreneurs.

            Textiles were of Britain’s engine of growth in the first half of the 19th century. So competitive were the mills that they were more productive and economical than Indian textiles though Indian workers only earned 1/6th what was paid to British textile workers. Britain dominated the sector worldwide except in places where restrictions such as tariff walls had been erected, for example the US. Spinning and weaving were mostly a home-based industry, and where firms had been established they still relied on labour-intense procedures, yet the government erected protections for these small businesses at the expense of other businesses that would have profited from the import of British textiles as well as consumers – the 1807 Embargo, the Non-Intercourse Act of 1808, the War of 1812, and the tariffs (24 – 60%) erected in 1816. The cotton growing South opposed many of these measures which led to insufficiently protective tariffs applied on finer weaves with which the British excelled. Britain played a role too by forbidding not only the export of textile machinery, which damaged its machinery makers, but also by strictly regulating the emigration of skilled handloom weavers until 1824.

            Often, it’s a messy mix.

          • ga gamba says

            Why do so many millions of working men and women around the world cherish Marx & honor his memory?

            Why do children cherish Father Christmas? Why do tribesmen in the South Pacific worship giant metal birds that drop cargo on their heads? Why do educated people in advanced nations play the lottery?

            People like gifts. Many enjoy the chance of a big pay off in exchange little actual effort.

            The problem is companies are far more complex than gifted steel axes and Lego bricks. The failure of Marx and his cohort is they toss aside risk and the investments needed to innovate. The first steam engine was patented in 1698, yet it took about 125 more years of constant innovation by numerous unassociated men in several countries to create finally a pressurised one capable of hauling cargo over a variety a grades at speeds faster than pack animals and canal barges. For each incremental improvement there were many dozens of failures, and these were borne by those who invested their time, money, and talent.

            Imagine what would have happened had these men needed to appear before the Committee of the Means of Production to appeal for resources to perform their experimental tinkering. This is why the USSR and other socialist states innovated little more than Sputnik and armaments. Socialism kills innovation. Innovation is progress. Progress improves the quality of life. The socialists had to rely on constantly stealing technology to keep up with the capitalists, yet when even having the advantage of others bear the R&D costs the socialists couldn’t keep basic necessities like bog roll on the shops’ shelves.

            In closing, I encourage everyone to read this account of anarchists implementing their socialism in Barcelona during the Spanish Republic.

            After stealing the means of production, the workers voted themselves pay raises and lavish benefits to make the taxable profit disappear.

            In short, after being told that the workers now owned the means of production, the workers often took the statement literally. What is the point of owning the means of production if you can’t get rich using them? But of course if some workers get rich, they are unlikely to voluntarily donate their profits to the other members of their class. This seems elementary upon reflection, but only practical experience was able to reveal this to the economic reformers of the Spanish Revolution.

            Because no one was extending credit soon the economy went haywire, so the workers then began to pawn the means of production they had stolen. In the end some had empty factory floors and with that no incomes.

          • Marx was a hypocritical parasite of the capitalist system he criticized and condemned. If Engels, his partner in crime had not inherited a small factory and supported Marx financilally, the man would have been a penniless beggar all his life.

        • BobbyV says

          The vision of a perfectible society leads inevitably to the gulag. Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

  7. Farris says

    Excellent article. It reminded me of the old cartoon Spy v. Spy but I would call it Fallacy v. Fallacy.
    Marx for example points out inherent flaws with capitalism and private ownership. The capitalist responds that Marxist ideals led to inhuman totalitarianism therefore Marx’s critique of capitalism is wrong, Marx is bad and capitalism is perfect. Fallacy #1
    Yet Marx throws the baby out with the bath water. He fails to recognize that though capitalism may be flawed that flaws alone does mean it isn’t optimal. Marx trashes capitalism in total without attempting to correct or address what he deems its flaws. Though in hindsight Marxism is a failed ideology, Marx does not engage foresight. History prior to Marx had demonstrated that concentrating power in individuals or collectives leads to totalitarianism. The most benevolent dictator will still end up being totalitarian because human nature requires he view himself as correct and thus his unempowered opposition as wrong.
    Fallacy #2
    The result is both groups talking past one another. The Capitalist failing to address the problems of capitalism and the Marxist failing to address the concentration of power problem.
    Admittedly this is not the best example as history as not been kind to Marxism. But the fact the Capitalist may feel vindicated by history still does not render capitalism flawless. The challenge for the Capitalist is can he show capitalism on its own is optimal without relying totally upon the failure of Marxism. In short demonstrating that one side is incorrect is not a substitute for proving the opposite side correct.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Both suffer from the tyranny that comes from centralized power. Capitalism is generally supported by government funds, which closer to fascism. Socialism suffers when power structures tell others how to live and work. It seems the maxim about power corrupting comes into play regardless of ideas. I mean, even Jesus’ message was turned into brutal killings once the power structures got hold of it.
      The question always remains: how do you tame the powerful from harming others to gain ever more power? Socialist or capitalist, atheist or religious, democratic or imperial, that problem of human nature always presents itself. Liberty demands defined rights in order to preserve it. Equal protection is an ideal, but probably never to be achieved in a world where laws are created and adjusted by courts so frequently that nobody can understand “the law” nor even know if any given action “complies with all those laws” nor know that powerful entities won’t subvert the law or have laws created for special interests over common ones.

      • BobbyV says

        Socialism is a good idea that won’t work on a large scale due to human nature. Capitalism is a bad idea that works to an extent due to human nature. Comment on Crooked Timber

  8. Tersitus says

    Great follow up, CA

    My answer to the title question, how— in a word, well. By which I mean thoughtfully, critically, more than summarily. Well enough to understand their thinking, its contexts, its assumptions, its implications, its biases and limitations, its riches. Well enough to recognize its misreadings by critics and followers alike. No easy thing, admittedly, for writers as prolific and challenging as these four, and the multitude of concerns they address.
    There is a preliminary question imbedded in the title— should we read the totalitarian philosophers— and perhaps along with it an comes an implicit, “why?” Maybe even “who.”
    My answer would be, yes, absolutely, if you think yourself at all a serious reader about the world, its history, and the multifarious force, human nature, that has shaped them. Any understanding of the world, post -1789– modern, postmodern, present— that doesn’t come to terms with their thinking and its legacy seems to me hopelessly incomplete, and likely not worth seriously entertaining.
    The questions posed by the examples of Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Heidegger, deMan, Foucault, Pol Pot, Saddam, the Assads, Khomeini, Chavez and Maduro, ISIS, and especially those who follow and cheer them, remain ours to confront.

    • Tersitus – thanks. I think it would actually be illuminating to study these four philosophers in relation to each other. Seems like each is dealing with the alienation which arises in the modern world.

      • Tersitus says

        Couldn’t agree more, CA— I’ve often wished Marx had a Nietzsche (instead of/in addition to an Engels) to puncture some of his inflated notions, and Nietzsche an Engels to temper his sense of solitary pessimism (he’d despise my calling it self-pity).

  9. none of these social commentators are philosophers — they could care less for the negative self-critique on opinion and beliefs. they wallow in opinion and belief. you read them because they bring up important ideas — ideas which you, as a philosopher, have been working with for years. unfortunately for intellectual life, kids find their first exposure to important ideas in the works of these carnival showmen. some grow out of that first narcissistic moment of revelation and learn to think critically. others don’t really need to think critically at all. a philosopher reads everything as a dialog with the author. you’re honest, and you talk with someone and you try to see where they’re coming from — why they’re using the words they use — and look at yourself reacting and see how you yourself came to think as you do. that’s the closed loop of philosophy and it’s only really fun and all like philosophy for kids, after you get off the ride. ‘one more time.’

  10. E. Olson says

    Almost any book or philosophy can be viewed as dangerous or misused to do evil. Certainly Holy books such as the Bible and Koran have been misused to justify wars and oppression. Danger is also associated with many children’s classics, as Huckleberry Finn is deemed racist because it dares use the “N” word, while Dick and Jane is deemed oppressive to women because it teaches traditional gender roles. Yet I’m not sure any writers or books have the body count and oppression associated with them as the 4 authors reviewed by this article, which begs the question why? One way to consider an answer to this question is to compare them with some of their contemporaries from the other side of the political/economic spectrum that I believe are associated with virtually no oppression, deaths or other “misuse” such as Adam Smith, Alex de Tocqueville, or Friedrich Hayek. Perhaps such enlightened authors can serve as a useful frame of reference in evaluating the writings of the “evil” 4 to determine what they got wrong about human character and economic/political organization, which has so often and so easily been used for evil purposes.

    • jimhaz says

      [Yet I’m not sure any writers or books have the body count and oppression associated with them as the 4 authors reviewed by this article, which begs the question why?]

      How does one know what might have occurred without them ever existing. People will always find excuses for their domination desires – if not this 4 would it be some other 4 or some other set of causes. It is technology that allows significant changes in thought and power structures. It is not as if modern progressives would have arisen to hold the power they appear to now have, had the world not become so able to produce more for the many.

      • E. Olson says

        jimhaz – you raise some very interesting points. We will never know what would have occurred without the 4 writers, but we do know what occurred from the people who claimed to be influenced by their writings. You are absolutely correct, however, that the crazy Leftists would never get anywhere if not the the wealth generated by Capitalism.

  11. Peter from Oz says

    ”Of course, despite these forceful arguments, both Mill and the liberal democratic societies he inspired place restrictions on the expression of certain kinds of ideas. These run the gamut from laws against fraud and libel, to restrictions on child pornography and some other salacious materials. In some circumstances, liberal societies even permit state restrictions on forms of political expression. ”
    Not true. Libel or fraud is not the expression of ideas but the commission of a deed designed to decive.

  12. X. Citoyen says

    The answer to this question depends on one’s standpoint. The political philosopher’s position can be summarized by recourse to an alternate universe where it’s 1946 and Heidegger has just been convicted at Nuremberg. I’m a full-time philosopher and part-time hangman in the middle of reading Being and Time when I get the call. What a coincidence, I say to myself and head for the scaffold. As I put the noose around Heidegger’s neck I say cheerfully, “I had some questions about Being and Time, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting the answers now.” Heidegger, resigned to his fate, replies, “No, I suppose you won’t.” I nod goodbye, pull the lever, and then head home to finish Being and Time.

    Notice that I don’t take this position on Heidegger because I’m relativist. Heidegger picked the wrong side, and so he hangs with the rest. But he might be right about something and, even if he isn’t, he’s worth mulling over. The same could be said—maybe with more force—for Carl Schmitt. A political philosopher interest in law and the legitimacy of regimes has to contend with him, taint or not.

    The progressive intellectual’s standpoint is an altogether different beast. As in so many other matters, he’s a contradiction. According to his self-conception, he’s an individual open to considering all views and doesn’t assume that he’s right. But his behaviour betrays a fundamentalist deeply concerned about his own moral purity, especially in eyes of his equally fundamentalist tribe. As a result, he agonizes over whether he’ll be contaminated by this or that thinker—he is ever policing the boundaries and self-policing his tastes and interests. Such a thinker—were he capable of self-consistency—would have to decry these authors as moral contagions that must be cordoned out of the public discourse, except of course as unread objects of hatred.

    • Kristof says

      “Such a thinker—were he capable of self-consistency—would have to decry these authors as moral contagions that must be cordoned out of the public discourse, except of course as unread objects of hatred.”

      Well put. Reminds me of a contradiction Leo Strauss wrote about:

      “Liberal relativism has its roots in the natural right tradition of tolerance or in the notion that everyone has a natural right to the pursuit of happiness as he understands happiness; but in itself it is a seminary of intolerance.”

      Natural Right and History

      An idea Alan Bloom took up in his book on the Closing of the American Mind, viz., which developes the insight that the radical openness (tolerance) of present day progressives is actually a form of closedness (intolerance).

      Elsewhere Strauss writes that the basic delusion of liberalism is that only unlimited tolerance is true tolerance.

  13. mitchellporter says

    You should read them as belonging to a stage in western thought that has now passed. That was the liberal stage; and Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger belong to the motley roster of opponents of liberal thought.

    But now we are in the progressive stage of western thought, and the opposition (who, as in the previous stage, disagree among themselves) is best epitomized by thinkers such as Kaczynski, Benatar, Dugin, and Hodges.

    And this stage too shall pass.

  14. E. Olson says

    Dellingdog wrote above: “Could someone who actually believes that the regressive left poses an existential threat to the future of Western democracy provide a plausible, step-by-step account of how this is likely to happen? ”

    At your request, here are 10 easy steps to US totalitarian socialism brought to you by the Democrat party:

    1. Trump is soundly defeated by the “resistance” in 2020 and President Liz Warren arrives with a long coattail of new Democrat Senators and Representatives that give her party large cloture proof majorities in both houses.

    2. During the first 100 days Democrats enact free healthcare, free college, and 70% tax rates on income and capital gains, establish a wealth tax of 5% per year, and shut down ICE. Illegal immigrants are allowed to vote in all state and national elections, and the US becomes a sanctuary nation. For the safety of the people, all gun ownership is outlawed except for flintlock muskets of the type available at the enactment of the 2nd Amendment. The Green New Deal is enacted and the oil, coal, and gas industries are shut down, while renewable mandates and subsidies are increased dramatically.

    3. Because of so many nuisance lawsuits by industry, wealthy individuals, NRA, Red State Governors, etc. against the new taxes, immigration policies, gun policies, and energy policies, President Warren decides to pack the Supreme Court with 5 new radical left leaning judges who believe in a “living Constitution” that permits any Leftist policy preference of the moment, who are eagerly approved by the 60+ votes of Democrat Senators. All these policies are ruled Constitutional in the Supreme Court by 9 to 5 margins.

    4. In June 2021 the Mueller investigation finally delivers the Russian collusion report, which finds extensive collaboration between Putin and Republican officials throughout the USA during the 2016 election, although actual proof of collusion is classified top secret for “national security reasons”. Due to this dangerous situation, Congress passes the Loyalty and Obedience Act of 2021, which requires all federal employees and all employees of state and local agencies and institutions receiving federal funding to take a legally binding oath of loyalty to the US Constitution, President Warren, and the Democrat party. Employees who refuse to take the oath are offered a choice of immediate termination of their employment without benefits or pension, or a mandatory 6 month intensive reeducation program on the value of diversity, gender and racial equality, open borders and bathrooms, redistribution of wealth, and single party rule taught by the nation’s leading professors of grievance studies. Congress is pleasantly surprised to find that 95 to 99% of Federal employees, public college and school teachers, and red state government employees are eager to take the oath since they are already registered Democrats. Only the few areas of government contaminated by too much toxic masculinity and white privilege such as a few agencies in blue states, the military, and some police forces prove reluctant to take the oath, and after their termination are replaced by a new Democratic People’s Army and Police force comprised of 50% women at all ranks and positions, and many new immigrants. The Supreme Court rules all these policies to be Constitutional by 9 to 5 margins. Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh, Roberts, and Alito resign from the Court in protest, and are promptly replaced by justices of the flexible Leftist variety.

    5. As industry and investment slows down or leaves the country together with many of the nation’s wealthiest citizens, government tax revenues fall far short of the needed funding for all the free stuff and renewable subsidies. In response President Warren nationalizes the energy, health, and financial sectors so that they can be run more efficiently and fairly by government agencies. The IRS is also authorized to confiscate all privately held net worth above $2 million, and tax rates are raised to 90% on all income above $250,000 per year (the new definitions of rich). The Supreme Court rules all these policies to be Constitutional by 13 to 1 margins.

    6. The 1 billion new US residents coming in through the open US borders leads to a major housing crisis. President Warren announces a new free housing program to be enacted by confiscating all the private housing owned by white citizens living in states that voted for Russian colluding Trump in 2016. Larger homes are remodeled into 500 square foot apartments at the former owner’s expense and as compensation they can receive one of the apartments for free. President Warren justifies this policy as reparations for 300+ years of white privilege against people of color including her fellow Native Americans. The Supreme Court rules all these policies to be Constitutional by 13 to 1 margins.

    7. Republicans are completely routed in the November 2022 elections as the 1 billion new US residents mostly located in blue states and enjoying free housing, free health care, and free education turn the entire country bright Red.

    8. Unfortunately the economy completely collapses and hungry, unemployed people are marching in the streets. SWAT teams start making 6 AM arrests of all “disloyal and unpatriotic” agitators, which are eagerly broadcast on CNN and MSNBC. Fox News and talk radio go ballistic over these arrests, which leads Congress to pass the 2023 Media Loyalty and Obedience act that promptly shuts down Fox News and all talk radio programs for disseminating fake news and sedition. The act also forces all members of the media to take an oath of obedience to President Warren and the Democrat party or face 6 months of re-education, but compliance turns out to be 100% as all non-Fox journalists are found to already be registered Democrats. To feed the protesting hungry, President Warren announces the collectivation of all private farm and ranch land to provide free food to the people. The Supreme Court rules all these policies to be Constitutional by 13 to 1 margins, and the media offers 100% support for the policies and the court decisions, but blasts Justice Gorsuch for his lack of patriotism in dissenting from the majority opinion.

    9. Mysteriously, early polls for 2024 suggest major Republican Congressional majorities and a return of Trump to the White House. The Warren DOJ and FBI arrest Trump and Republican party leaders for continuing collusion with Russia, and the media unanimously reports that they are being all held in solitary confinement for their own protection against angry mobs. President Warren uses executive action to postpone the 2024 and any subsequent elections “temporarily” until a thorough Russia investigation is completed by a crack team of Warren campaign contributors. The Supreme Court rules all these policies to be Constitutional by 13 to 1 margins.

    10. In 2037, the Russia investigation reveals a complete Russian takeover of the Republican party, and recommends the banning of rival political parties to prevent future foreign interventions in US elections. President Warren implements the report recommendations, and executes 91 year old Donald Trump for the security of the nation. After careful consideration of the titles “Chief” and “Queen” Warren decides to stick with tradition and declares herself “President for Life” and changes the name of the country to “The People’s Republic of Social Justice and Fairness”. The Supreme Court rules all these policies to be Constitutional by 13 to 1 margins, and Justice Gorsuch commits suicide by 6 shots to the back of his head.

    • E. Olson says

      Correction for step 7: switch the colors from Blue to Red and Red to Blue – I always get confused that Leftist states are called Blue even though their policies are so communist Red.

    • E. Olson – I love dystopian prophesies. I think your prophesy can be summed up in one sentence: “And America is finally transformed into a giant College Campus,”

    • dellingdog says

      @E.: Interesting fantasy, but your scenario breaks down half-way through your first sentence. There’s no way the Democrats will have 60 votes in the Senate after the 2020 elections. (Last time they did, in 2008, progressives weren’t even able to include a public option in the ACA.) So you start at “completely implausible” and rapidly descend into “batshit crazy conspiratorial nonsense.” If your post was intended as a parody of the regressive right’s paranoid hysteria, kudos. If it’s meant to be taken at all seriously, I feel very sorry for you and the deranged version of reality you apparently occupy. I should have specified that I’m asking for *plausible* steps from deplatforming to fascism, not a right-wing schizoid slippery slope.

      • E. Olson says

        A well placed recession in 2020 and 100% positive media coverage of whoever runs against Trump could certainly cause a landslide for the JackAss party – just look at the Reagan win in 1980 (with no positive media spin for him) or Clinton’s win in 1992 (where the media conveniently decided not to investigate or report all the Arkansas financial and sexual scandals of his past, and very unfairly painted actual WWII war hero and masterful Gulf war conductor Bush 41 as an out of touch wimp) or Trump 2016 to see how quickly things can change. Yes the Dems failed to get all they wanted in the ACA in 2008, but their major Leftward shift since then, and toxic hate of Trump and everyone who voted for him could very well lead to the enactment of lots of campaign promises for free everything paid for by huge tax increases. And the lunatic Kavanaugh protests and serious discussion of court packing could very well lead to a court packed Leftward shift in the Supreme Court that would approve all the crazy unconstitutional stuff the Dems want to force on the public. And it is already very well documents how leftist the federal bureaucracies, college campuses, teacher’s unions, and the mainstream media is – so there would be lots of eager helpers to enact a socialist paradise. Finally, very few took Hitler or Castro or Chavez very seriously until it was too late.

        • dellingdog says

          Alternatively, you could be a paranoid lunatic. You make Alex Jones sound sane by comparison. Your view of reality is so distorted by your hatred of Democrats that you have no understanding of how the U.S. political system actually works (e.g., FDR had to abandon his court-packing plan when the Democrats were far more powerful than they will possibly be in 2020). I’m sure this wasn’t your intention, but you’ve succeeded in making me feel sorry for you: the bizarro world you inhabit must be an incredibly threatening place. I sincerely hope you get the help you so clearly need. You obviously have a lot of free time — I recommend seeking professional help for your mental illness. (Unless you think psychiatrists are part of left-wing conspiracy to turn America into a socialist dystopia.) Perhaps your hyperpartisan rants on Quillette are therapeutic for you. Instead of taking the bait, I’ll try to see them for what they are: the ravings of a very sick and troubled mind.

          • E. Olson says

            DD – thank you for your great concern about my mental health, but the funny thing I notice about your comments is that they are almost always personal attacks against someone with a different viewpoint. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since Leftists always resort to personal attacks to anyone who isn’t sufficiently Leftist. Speaking of which, FDR couldn’t pack the court because Democrats in 1936 were not all Communists, and because his intimidation and court packing threat moved the existing court to the Left where they suddenly started to find his New Deal interventions into the economy Constitutional. Unfortunately, there are far fewer sane Democrats anymore, which is why Starbucks Schultz is talking about running as an independent.

          • dellingdog says

            You’re right, E.: Democrats are all Communists now. That’s why they accept massive campaign contributions from the financial industry, pharma, military contractors, etc. — because they plan to nationalize the means of production. The John Birch Society was right all along; we just failed to realize the kind of long game the Commies were playing. Hopefully your bomb shelter is fully stocked with all the guns and dried foods you need to survive the rapidly approaching apocalypse.

            Here’s a proposal: if you stop responding to my posts, I’ll refrain from trying to diagnose your mental illness. I’m very happy to avoid your contributions but I can’t resist engaging with your paranoid fantasies when you reply directly to what I write. Up to you. If think these exchanges are productive, feel free to continue provoking them.

          • E. Olson says

            DD – seems to me that most top Communist leaders throughout history have been very happy to take money from rich Capitalists or Western Governments. The Castro, Chavez, and Ortega families reportedly have billions in various offshore bank accounts despite officially having little or no salary for presiding over their various worker’s paradises.

    • Tersitus says

      Or just cue “Venezuela— History— 1999 to present:
      How the wealthiest nation in South America completely self-destructed in 20 short, stupid years.”

      • Tersitus says

        Supplemental resource—
        Zimbabwe (Rhodesia)— History— 1970’s to present— How the wealthiest nation in Africa…….

        • dellingdog says

          E., We’re so far apart in our perspectives on reality that constructive conversation is literally impossible. These exchanges have become tedious and are obviously pointless. So long.

  15. markbul says

    ” none of these men can be accused of writing boring books (well, maybe in parts).”

    Someone obviously never tried to slog his way through the turgid prose of Marx’ Capital. And by the way – ‘posthumous’ is not hyphenated, and ‘try and’ is incorrect. It should be ‘try to’ leading to an infinitive. I just happen to be old enough to remember when intellectuals could still write.

  16. A very odd essay. There was very little political theory or even political rumination in either Nietzsche or Heidegger, so the idea that either of these philosophers were “totalitarians” has no textual basis. Heidegger in his private life certainly had political sympathies for the Nazis and collaborated with them to some extent, but his work was mostly concerned with metaphysics and ontology.

    Nietzsche was highly critical of German nationalism, it was his sister that was a Nazi and “edited” his last book to turn it into Nazi ideology, after he had lost his mind.

    Rousseau isn’t totalitarian, there was nothing like the communications and surveillance technology that enabled totalitarianism in his historical time. The English hadn’t even invented concentration camps yet, and you can’t have equality with out a massive slave labor force in work camps. Marx, well Marx is complicated, some of his followers were totalitarian, but there are plenty on Marxists in social democracy movements.

    Even Gentile, who actually was a philosopher of “totalitarianism”, probably did not mean it in the sense that it has taken in the 20th Century.

    Last, the idea that there is a thing “liberal democracy” that exists across time is balderdash. Pre-Civil War America was a totally different political order from now (read Dred Scot), post-Civil War America was a totally different political order (read Upton Sinclair), post-New Deal the same (read the Fountainhead), and the current period doesn’t really get going until the 1960’s. If someone criticizes Italian liberalism in 1911, they really aren’t talking about “liberal democracy” in the modern sense. If someone criticizes French social democracy in 1975, they can be criticizing “liberal democracy” in the modern sense. And frankly, whatever exists in 60 years will probably be significantly different from “liberal democracy” as we know it. As good liberal democrats, we have to acknowledge that “progress” is good, and the replacement of the old and tired is for the best.

    Most of these thinkers were dead, and Heidegger was in his dotage when anything like “liberal democracy” reared its head in the world, and that doesn’t make them “totalitarians”. Philosophers aren’t dangerous, ideas are dangerous, and ideas are only dangerous if they contradict totalitarian doctrine. That is to say, a philosopher can only be dangerous from the point of view of a totalitarian.

    If “liberal democracy” entails labeling whole systems of ideas and whole swaths of culture and history as “dangerous”, than it is neither “liberal” nor “democratic”.

    • Its worth pointing out the Heidegger’s work was extremely influential on the whole existentialist movement of the mid-20th Century, which supported a full cast of characters encompassing both political extremes as well as different views on naturalism and theism. If his work is all crypto-Nazism, how did so many brilliant philosophers miss it?

      Likewise, Nietzsche has always had one of the most eclectic fan followings of any philosopher, from libertarians and anarcho-capitalists to anarcho-syndicalists to fascists and Nazis and Communists.

  17. Jim Jones says

    This article completely misunderstands Nietzsche. A man’s body of work and ideas cannot be judged by the morons that misinterpret it and adopt it after the fact. It’s utterly bizarre to even suggest that he was a Totalitarian philosopher or even a proto-totalitarian philosopher. How would one even square the idea of will to power with turning over one’s personal sovereignty to the State? A totalitarian state is no different than a totalitarian church in the realm of Nietzsche’s work.

    The problem with using philosophy, especially great philosophy to make political points is that very few people have spent the time and effort to really understand the nuance of said philosophy, and if they had they would know better than to try to impose it on the exterior world. In doing so a person would realize that whatever ideological point they are trying to make is so inferior to that which they are using to make the point it’s a useless effort.

    If you read and understand Nietzsche you will realize where the Nazis got him wrong. If you read Marx you will realize where Marxists get him wrong. If you read Heidegger you will get a headache.

    I’m a fan of Jordan Peterson but his constant bleeting about post-modernism and marxism has little analytic value. You can’t blame a massive artistic and intellectual movement for a small set of events. The movement pervades society in such a way it affects everything. The same “post-modernism” that he blames for authoritarian left academic movements led to the free-speech movements of the sixties and seventies.

    Even worse he generally attributes aspects of post-modernism to groups that are distinctly not post-modernist, like social justice warriors. Where is the irony? Where is the painful self-awareness? I don’t know what this new totalitarian “thing” is that is creeping up from the left but it’s not post-modern.

    • dellingdog says

      “If you read and understand Nietzsche you will realize where the Nazis got him wrong. If you read Marx you will realize where Marxists get him wrong. If you read Heidegger you will get a headache.”

      Very well said! And you’re exactly right: most people who refer to “post-modernism” and “Cultural Marxism” don’t have a very good idea what they’re talking about.

  18. Fickle Pickle says

    Why not read the stuff written by some modern philosophers whose ideas have had, and are still having a profoundly negative on the collective human situation in the 21st century.

    R J Rushdoony an his inherently totalitarian Dominionist paradigm – Mike Pence is a Dominionist

    Leo Strauss. As far as I know his ideas influenced some/many of the propaganda hacks that supported the shrub’s “crusade” to bring Christian-ism, freedom and democracy to the Middle East and North Africa, beginning with the pre-planned shock-and-awe destruction of Iraq.

    The “saintly” psycho-path Josemaria Escriva who was the founder of Opus Dei which now wields behind the scenes political and financial power all over the world. It also has very close links to the Federalist Society. Its director is an Opus Dei operative.

    The various leaders and the world-wide activities of The Family as described by Jeff Sharlet in his book titled The Family.

    Paul Kengor is of course an ultra-“traditionalist” right wing “catholic” who wrongly believes that his brand of “catholic” traditionalism is the ONLY source of truth in the world, and that the benighted “catholic” magisterium is binding on all human beings

    Chris Hedges joins all of these dots together in his book American Fascists as does Kevin Phillips in his book American Theocracy. As does Fred Clarkson in his book Dominionism Rising a Theocratic Movement Hiding In Plain Sight.

    For an example of how bad things have become check out the new book The Faith of Donald Trump : A Spiritual Biography by David Brody – an utter travesty of a book. Check out who has endorsed it and who wrote the foreword too

    Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently told David Brody that she sincerely believes that “God” placed Agent Orange in the White House.

    • Hal White says

      Nicely put, Fickle. Once we’re past WW1, there really are ‘totalitarian’ thinkers; those who approve of tyranny, complete control, unified state under one set of leaders (party). No one has mentioned such people as Gentile, philosopher of Italian fascism. Rushdoony is a modernized Calvinist. We don’t need all this right-wing lunacy about Hillary and Liz being commies and that FDR was a totalitarian, not a rich guy with a concern to keep the system going by adjustments. While there is a wacko left, it’s not in power at most universities and governments, hence Peterson can go on about he’s oppressed with thousands of followers, postings on youtube, etc. The issue of ‘cultural marxists’ almost never identified is quite irrelevant to the question ‘Did Marx approve of Stalinism?’. He didn’t and wouldn’t have. ‘Would Nietzsche have approved of Hitler?’ No. He approved of Julius Caesar in his context; JC was not a ‘totalitarian’. And here’s a philosopher often mentioned as a precursor: Plato. The Republic has totalitarian aspects.

    • Kristof says

      “Leo Strauss. As far as I know his ideas influenced some/many of the propaganda hacks that supported the shrub’s “crusade” to bring Christian-ism, freedom and democracy to the Middle East…”

      No one who has taken the time to study the works of Leo Strauss would make such a claim. Strauss was a scholar who applied the art of philosophical hermeneutics he learned from Heidegger to paradigmatic texts of political philosophy. He is controversial in the best sense, viz., inspiring debate about the fundamental questions.

  19. There can be no adequate system of governance that is not totalitarian in nature for the simple reason that we live not in an economic or a social world, but in a physical one, in which the brutally totalitarian inviolable remorseless laws of physics govern everything.

    Therefore any viable socioeconomic systems and systems of governance will have to start with taking that fact into account as their foundation.

    So it happens that no system that has ever been tried at a significant scale has done so, in fact most, including the one we are living in right now, have started with the assumption that the laws of physics do not exist (thus it being fundamentally based on the premise that infinite economic and population growth is not only possible but desirable; well, it isn’t).

    This is so because the fundamental biological drivers of the behavior of humans (and every other self-replicators) steer it in that direction.

    There no obvious way to prevent the resulting self-destruction other that some pretty draconian totalitarian control over human behavior so that those tendencies can be reigned in.

    If that cannot be achieved because “human nature” (as some will be very quick to object), then with 100% certainty civilization will be a very short-lived phenomenon on this planet (and the human species may well go extinct very quickly too).

    From which it follows that It is the height of stupidity to automatically dismiss everything “totalitarian” as bad and to be fought against.

    • Is the basic problem that the hunter-gatherer departed from monotonic experience into the interpreted 2nd order experience? (There is cost to learning!) If so, humans soon cut the anchor to the remorseless laws of nature, and, also, jumpstarted the multipliers of myth, religion, ‘philosophies,’ and the communication among each other of learning and innovative heuristics.

      Of course the departure itself was unwilled, was natural; and may have been due to having a brain a bit too large for the task of long term survival. I suppose this is a premature post-mortem.

  20. Serenity says

    “…the Devil can quote scripture for his own purpose.”

    It is not about scriptures as such, it is about devils using scriptures to propagate hostilities, to mobilise harassment, bullying and all kinds of psychopathic behavior in order to enjoy personal power and to further personal ends.

  21. Simon Austerlitz says

    Terrible headline. Anyone who reads Heidegger carefully should see that he is the opposite of totalitarian, despite what others may have later misinterpreted. Moreover, this article, like every one that mentions Heidegger, focuses only on his relationship to the Nazi party and says nothing about his monumental rereading of Western philosophy and the origins of science. Mr. McManus agrees that no one who seriously engages with Heidegger can fail to see the world differently, but doesn’t say why.

    Heidegger’s brief membership to the Nazi party was one he acknowledged later to be an act of stupidity. His critiques of the Nazi regime (“barbaric”) are there to be read or deciphered (after a certain point he couldn’t be open about it, obviously) in his courses. The admittedly dismaying anti-Semitic remarks in his unpublished diaries — which he left no instructions to destroy — constitute a fraction of their content. None of Heidegger’s many Jewish students considered him anti-Semitic. There is no anti-Semitic remark in any of his published philosophical works or courses, which run into tens of thousands of pages. The few remarks in his diaries also explicitly denounce the “biologism” behind the Nazi racial propaganda.

    While the Nazi issue certainly must be addressed, I take my cue from Paul Celan, Hannah Arendt, and the many Jewish intellectuals who saw what Heidegger’s non-Jewish students also saw: a thinker so utterly original, and stimulating, that (again) one can’t be the same after reading him. (By the way, no one read Plato or Aristotle better — or Kant for that matter.) Anyone seriously concerned about Heidegger’s political error, and who reads French, should examine the extensive debates on the subject that have been ongoing for decades. François Fédier and Stéphane Zagdanski (who, by the way, is Jewish, and has excellent commentaries about Heidegger) are particularly good, and provide an antidote to the purgist screeds offered by Emmanuel Faye, which seem to be the only thing that any Anglophones know about in this regard.

    All this is a pity, because Heidegger is so easily caricatured that we miss, perhaps most seriously, how absolutely up-to-date he is. There is probably no better critic of our time. He is the real philosopher of difference, and of letting others be as they are. He foresaw the totalitarian effect of technology, and he remarked that the ways in which we dehumanize ourselves are often so subtle that we don’t even see the problem. Can Hiroshima be traced back to Parmenides? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s an interesting question. In any case, the advent of a global culture subsumed within a mercantile-technologist ideology — which may end up causing the true obliteration of difference, hence its totalitarian danger — is something that we see quite differently with Heidegger’s insights.

  22. I wonder what Rousseau is doing in this tetravirate of proto- totalitarians. Rousseau, the father of the new French social contract, of freedom and liberty, against the absolutism and terrors of kings and religious powers,as well as the founding father of the Human Rights bills. The contract as the result of gatherings and discussions of free thinking individuals, with the Swiss kanton communities as example. The authour of the Reveries of a solitary promeneur! The pilar of modern pedagogy (Spock as a late disciple) of free and un-authoritarian upbringing of children (imagine, in that time, even in my youth his teachings were not yet common practice, Spock was not yet translated, and still had to become a bestseller). What can have brought Matt so far to include him in that association of the Big Four??

    • Tersitus says

      Have you read his Social Contract, justifying tyranny of the majority as “forcing men to be free”? Thus the Reign of Terror.

      • Tersitus says

        Actually, every bit as much justifying tyranny of a minority, for that matter.
        Granted, though, the author’s term, “totalitarian philosophers,” is very loose, certainly questionable. All four are obviously more than just tp’s.
        Heidegger’s case is to my mind to the most troubling— actions speaking louder than words. The man was a Nazi.

    • Interpreted fairly or not, Rousseau was considered a hero by the great executioners of the French Revolution.

  23. Hal White says

    It’s unclear to me if ANY of those name are ‘totalitarian,’ except Heidegger. If that term implies a comprehensively repressive, tyrannical, murderous state apparatus. Could you not find some real, clear ‘totalitarians’. (Sorel, Evola, possibly Hobbes, Calvin come to mind) Marx clearly viewed ‘dictatorship’ as transitional only. The aristocratic states of whom Nietzsche expresses approval are pretty clearly not, even though they did some extrajudicial killing (e.g. in high renaissance Italy). The Rome of Julius Caesar scarcely qualifies.

    • Kristof says

      Was Heidegger totalitarian in any theoretically interesting or consequential sense, as was, for instance, Carl Schmitt? Do his writing help us better understand the nature of the totalitarian? Or does his temporary political allegiance to the Nationalist Socialist revolution stand in the same largely irrelevant relation to his work as Wagner’s anti-Semitism stands to his? Granted, Mime and Beckmesser are likely caricatures of Jews, does that fact help us understand the plots of Siegfried or Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg in a way that their status as generic villains would not? It seems no more essential than Heidegger’s political allegiance is to our understanding of Sein und Zeit or What is Metaphysics? It remains an interesting curiosity, external to the work and our edification.

      The only way in which an author’s “being” totalitarian (or ascribing to totalitarian principles) would be relevant to a theoretical work is if a scholar advocated a totalitarian state, which is not the same as paying parenthetical tribute to one under conditions of totalitarian oversight.

    • Marx certainly was not a totalitarian, he saw and explained something in society that was going completely the wrong way, but he also thought that the system would correct itself, as kind of a cultural evolution. For example, as a journalist, he always fought for a free press (the first thing that Lenin abandoned). Of course, he didn’t see it correctly, but who can? Kant? Hegel? Tom Paine?Jefferson? Aristoteles with his ideas on the nature of slaves and slavery? How can even one philosopher, in a certain timespan, oversee a whole system?, where it should go?, or where it necessarily (scientifically) has to go? All the 4 above have contributed substantially to the progress of mankind, although, yes, all of them piecemeal, and not holistic (which is not even possible, man is not God,the only real totalitarian power, and with good faith and reason, though virtually so ).

  24. ga gamba

    Thanks for your illuminations above regarding the state of industrialization in the 19th century. However, it’s unclear to me whether you are suggesting my one sentence description of Marx’s ideas of the state is “wide of the mark” or whether Marx’s ideas of the state are “wide of the mark”. Also, it would appear that Marx assumed capitalists to be of a “hive mind” but I don’t see how anything I wrote warrants that interpretation of my thinking.

    If capitalism simply means the “free flow of goods and ideas” then it can take all kinds of forms. A small farmer and a great industrialist can both be captitalists. My point about an “unholy alliance” of the state and corporations is that Marx completely misunderstands the role of the state in facilitating the concentration of power by Capitalists. Governmental rulings and regulations (Interstate Commerce Act, Sherman Antitrust, labor and environmental regulations etc) which appear to harm Captital interests can actually protect Capitalists from their worse impulses.

    The growth and complexity of the modern international corporation is inconceivable without a vast and complex regulatory state. Marx’s mind would be blown by the vastness of today’s corporations. Moreover, the scope of the laws and regulations which helps the Big often harms the small – I know this first hand having worked in construction and living on a small farm.

    It seems to me we have reached a point in time where the regulatory state and the corporation share an identity of interests and indeed, a common world view. It is only the power of ideology to fragment our minds which prevents us from seeing this.

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  28. In the words of another famous philosopher “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

    I wonder if the author would consider that philosophy, along with many other streams of thought (Climate deniers, Intelligent Designers, gender binaryists to name a few) worthy of falling under his magnanimity “they say many things that seem disturbing, and at times reprehensible, but which nonetheless may contain a considerable amount of truth”.

    My guess is no, like the rest of woke Western Society only those he finds agreement with can possibly contain ANY truth. As such they are to be dismissed out of hand, silenced and sent to Siberia – while denying such treatment and advocating against it. Philosophical largess is a vestige of a universe with meaning, which of all untrue things is the most untrue. I hope the intellectual elites (author included) will actually condescend to apply, in reality, the wise conclusion of this article (I’m attempting to do so by reading articles like this). Because flying boars might yet proceed from anywhere!

  29. Gregory L McColm says

    It seems dangerous to judge a thinker by the actions of (alleged) fans after said thinker is dead. Consider the mischief committed in the name of Christianity; it seems a bit wild to blame Jesus for the Holy Inquisition. The rationales for crimes committed on behalf of Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche are a bit contorted. Heidegger, on the other hand, seems as much a legitimate target as Jacques-Louis David. Like David, Heidegger was there, and like David, Heidegger should have known better.

    And I have always been a bit suspicious of Arendt. Any excuse will serve a tyrant, said Aesop, and it isn’t the excuse that makes the tyrant tyrannical. Was Hitler’s problem that he read too much Nietzsche? Or was it that he was embittered by Germany’s humiliation as he lay in the infirmary? And was Germany’s problem that German’s were also humiliated and many would welcome a rationale that would blame somebody else (a motive that must have been compelling for the architect of the disaster, Erich Ludendorff).

    Perhaps the article’s presumed chronology is backwards. “I begin by taking,” said that compulsively candid warlord, Frederick the Great. “I shall find scholars later to demonstrate my perfect right.”

  30. Kristof says

    The author takes as incontrovertible and not worth discussing that regimes that limit individual liberty, or that put the group before the individual, are necessarily and invariably inferior. But no political order is feasible without constraints on individuals, including constraints by political authority. That there must be conformity of some kind may be safely assumed. But these facts must be distinguished from the ‘totalizing’ nature of a philosophical discourse which, by its inner telos and nature, attempts to think [the part in] ‘the Whole.’ In this epistemic sense totalitarianism is inscribed into the very dialectic of the One and the Many that ever replicates itself through philosophical discourse. Not least of all that of political philosophy, which, by way of the dialectic of power, puts flesh on the bones of this fundamental mathematical and ontological polarity.

    ‘Totalitarian’ designates an interest in order, unity, and totality over disorder, entropy, and the particular (= individual). Political totalitarianism is the embrace of authority and constraints at the cost of individual liberty, while philosophical totalitarianism is the by-product of attempting to conceive an over-arching or underlying unity. Modernity–or post-Rousseauean political philosophy–promotes the individual as the locus non plus ultra of what is real and valuable. But this modern emphasis is by no means universal. In many cultures putting the group before the individual positively defines the moral qua Sittlichkeit or social custom. Morality is always the morality of the collective. Turkey is a contemporary example of a country that has embraced a form of totalitarian (centralized, authoritarian and theocratic) regime. And not because some philosopher got on a soapbox to agitate for a supreme Leader. Some societies just seem more open to closure, authoritarianism, and oversight (= a less than sacrosanct sphere of privacy). Ours, on the other hand, strongly protects non-public hiding places as extra-political spheres of individual liberty. Which suggests a definition of totalitarian regimes as ones where the individual has no place to hide.

    The articulated polarity that exists between the sovereign individual and the sovereign state is as old as Plato, who, as we know, was no friend of democracy. His final work The Laws could serve as the blueprint for regimes that restrict individual liberties for a range of normative and ideological reasons. All theocratic regimes are of this nature. The polity present-day Ultra-orthodox Jews would institute qualifies as readily as those of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, or the People’s Tribunal during the Terror. Well nigh all political regimes down through history until quite recently thought nothing of violating the sphere of privacy to enforce ideological purity.

    But it vastly over-estimates the influence of philosophers to imagine their theoretical constructs have much bearing on world affairs. Only a naive idealist–a historian of ideas–transposes the order of influence in this manner. The political order does not “stand on its head,” and the philosopher does all he can to make sense of a situation beyond his control, given as a brute facticity. (Unless, of course, he happens, by historical contingency, to find himself in the position of our founding fathers, designing a Constitution as so many philosopher-kings.)

    Regimes that put order, safety, and ideological purity above other values invariably impinge upon the self-determination of the individual citizen. Conversely, the elevation of freedom of speech to the unconditional right of individuals and the social compact is as problematical for the public peace and the efficient operation of institutions as the effort to control thought is for the individual. The libertarian mind tends to have but a rudimentary appreciation for the value of limiting speech for the efficient operation and authority of institutions.

    Controlling/censoring opinion is alive and well in the age of individualism. The currently hegemonic ideology of progressive egalitarianism rules by means its own regiment of censorship and ostracism to limit what is expressible.

    The author fails to consider is the inevitability of totalitarian control. Though he acknowledges the paradox that, for example, one modern source of totalitarian ideas, Rousseau, was also the source of our belief in the absolute moral autonomy and natural innocence of the individual. This paradox cannot be emphasized enough. Rousseau also acknowledged that man is an imitator; that conformity is requisite for social co-existence; and that intellect (= free speech) can be corrosive of social institutions. This fact seems at least as relevant as the libertarian fear of censorship. When have repressive regimes ever stifled radical thinking? It just goes underground for a time.

    Whether the readers of any philosopher’s works should be “stigmatized” seems like the paradigmatically totalitarian question, one inseparable from whether inquisitive minds should be at liberty to investigate heterodox thinkers for themselves, and from the question of whether dangerous thinkers should be censored. On that score: the defining moment for Plato’s theoretical-political development was the condemnation to death of his philosophical teach and idol, Socrates, by a democratic regime. That democracies are the least evil of political regimes is far from an unqualified endorsement. The trial of Socrates demonstrates that majority rule does no guarantee of just rule. In other respects too Plato’s critique of democracy in the Republic was spot-on and prescient.

    If Kierkegaard had temporarily embraced the Catholic Church with all its hierarchies and “rigid” dogmas and mandatory obedience would his insights as a radically individualistic thinker be invalidated? Or would we retain what is noble while decrying what was in-congruent with the nobility of his thoughts and actions? This is the only morally relevant question and it comes down to our ability to discriminate between what is ultimately important in a philosopher from the follies of his individual decisions at the crossroads of history. It is the ability to distinguish, to speak with Kierkegaard, the ‘demands of eternity’ from the concerns of the biographer.

    There are reasons beyond prudence and pragmatism that allow, nay demand, examination of controversial thinkers from Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza, to Nietzsche and Carl Schmitt. (I don’t think anyone who has seriously read Heidegger’s main works would put him inthis category of thinkers.) The office of the philosopher is not to be socially useful. His uselessness (unfitness to lead) is inseparable from his attempt to be impartial in his pursuit of truth at any cost. Not least of all in order to challenge orthodoxy and the consensus, whether of the left or the right. The teacher of philosophy must attempt to make the best possible case for any position bar non: for tyranny as well as democracy; for fascist and for communist regimes. Each has something to recommend it. If this were not the case we would be left in utter perplexity about how otherwise decent and reasonable individuals could embrace such regimes. The requirement of heuristic impartiality in itself puts the philosopher in a post-moral position, at least temporarily. This fact in turn is the reason why intellectuals have always been suspect, and not just to tyrants.

    • Hal White says

      Yes, Schmitt should be mentioned. Let’s get some totalitarian thinkers.

      • Kristof says

        He’s unavoidable if you’re is studying 20th century political philosophy. His “Constitutional Theory”–considered a modern classic–has been in print in Germany uninterruptedly since 1928. A brilliant mind is a brilliant mind, regardless of political persuasion. And if Schmitt is ‘the enemy’–we positively owe it to ourselves to delve deeply into his texts. Present day liberalism suffers from nothing so much as complacency about the anti-democratic thinking that opposes it. If anything is ‘dangerous’–though still only on the theoretical level–it is this inability to engage one’s adversary.

  31. Good that you come up with Kierkegaard, Kristof, when reading this article and the comments on it, I also thought, where to put or place Kierkegaard here, the hero of the personal and individual feeling and suffering? The personal, so overpowering now, in our time, but not in the time of the 4 above (though, Rousseau maybe, yes). The dichotomy of the personal and the communal values need more attention.

    • Kristof says

      The hypothetical case of Kierkegaard embracing Catholicism was intended to drive home that fact that a theoretical work, once ‘composed’ becomes autonomous. What the author meant to say may be of biographical interest, but the work must speak for itself.

      The real or imagined institutional allegiances made by citizen Kierkegaard or citizen Heidegger are irrelevant to the gist of their work, which is not political in any obvious sense. Heidegger may in fact have been complicit in the rule of a totalitarian regime, therewith factually a fascist, even spouting fashionably chauvinistic slogans for a period, but that is a matter for his biographers, not those who would appropriate his texts. He was also, lest it be forgotten, Hannah Arendt’s lover. A love that was reciprocated.

      Where to situate Kierkegaard on the spectrum of laissez-faire liberalism to authoritarian statism is an interesting question. As a Lutheran Kierkegaard would have been unphased by a totalitarian state, rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. The true freedom of a disciple of Christ lies elsewhere than in worldly institutions.

      I can’t imagine him dying for his ‘paradoxical’ faith either, which implies having something to prove in the eyes of the collective. Or, for all his devotion, choosing martyrdom over survival. He was too intelligent for the ultimate sacrifice. And, it seems, for institutional religion.

      The broader point is that one extreme tends to call forth another. Rousseau is the perfect example. There are legions of radical individualists who wound up throwing themselves into the arms of Mother Church or enlisting in the Revolution (Communism as the “opium of the intellectuals”). A few reasonable types negotiated a middle path, mediating between individual and community, Athens and Jerusalem (viz, G.W.F. Hegel). It was just this reasonableness that Kierkegaard vehemently rejecting in his embrace of the God of Abraham.

  32. The default assumption here being that modern liberalism define “good”, and anything that deviates from them is “bad”. The reason these are dangerous thinkers is because they don’t agree with this morality, so the author’s moralistic critique is missing the point. Condemning them according to current liberal moral standards is the mark of small, conditioned minds who are products of their time rather than great thinkers for the ages. (By the way, another thinker who belongs on this list for offering a potent critique of liberal modernity is Julius Evola—once an obscure, proscribed figure, but whose influence grows over time much like Nietzsche’s, to the point that it is now influencing world politics.)

  33. Tersitus says

    Mr. McManus—
    Thanks for precipitating a bit of rethinking about these writers, all of whom deserve better understanding, and at least gesturing toward the human bloodlettings connected, fairly or unfairly, to their names. Lest we- no—Because more and more of us forget. Because there is a little totalitarian in all of us.

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