History, Long Read, Politics, Spotlight

Understanding Totalitarianism

In recent years, amid concern about a possible resurgence of totalitarianism, a number of books and articles have appeared that are intended to warn about the rhetoric and behavior of the populist Right. At the same time, a countercurrent of public intellectuals and journalists have leveled similar accusations at the radical Left, alleging illiberal motives, ideas, and tactics for influencing culture and politics. Alarm about both of these developments can be found across the political spectrum.

A sense of proportion is important when discussing this topic. For all its problems, America does not seem to be on the brink of a totalitarian revolution. Its institutions have been stressed during Trump’s term in office, but they have proved to be remarkably robust. And while there has been a concerning resurgence of radical leftwing activism in the months following the death of George Floyd, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for American president is a political moderate. And, although the pandemic provides unique challenges for the election in November, the country remains a constitutional republic of laws and a peaceful handover of power (should the Democrats win) remains likely.

Nevertheless, American politics and culture have been roiled by profoundly troubling developments in recent years that have destabilized the nation, undermined its self-confidence, and further divided an already polarized population. Disaffection, distrust, and despair offer the ideal conditions for a possible totalitarian resurgence, and demagogues will not hesitate to exploit them if they can. So while it is important to avoid catastrophizing, it is also important not to lapse into complacency.

In what follows, I will offer an overview of totalitarian movements that examines why they rise and how they operate once they assume power. This will, I hope, provide an illustration of the habits of mind and of rhetoric of which Americans should remain wary in this precarious moment. The United States is still a young country, and Americans would do well to remember that a constitutional republic is by no means the natural order of things and should not be taken for granted.

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Totalitarianism is most accurately defined as the idea that exercising control and direction over every aspect of the lives of a society’s inhabitants will yield the best of all possible futures. For totalitarianism to succeed in establishing itself, two preconditions are required. The first is widespread psychological dispositions that make society susceptible to totalitarianism’s temptations. The second is the skillful use of manipulative propaganda. Once put into practice, totalitarianism is a ruthless, all-encompassing socio-political force, intolerant of loyalty to anything but itself. This is the antithesis of the constitutional republics and parliamentary democracies that are the models of modern Western government.

Totalitarian regimes begin in mass movements, but it should be noted that not all mass movements are totalitarian. The American Civil Rights movement was a mass movement and undoubtedly a hugely positive force for urgently needed change. Mass movements typically coalesce around political or cultural narratives and causes that draw people together from broad segments of a national population. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt observed that the masses have very little in common in terms of interests or politics, but that a mass movement can bind diverse groups of people together with common goals and grievances. In practice, however, it is not always easy to distinguish a totalitarian from a benign mass movement at inception.

The main distinction between the two is in the all-consuming nature of the totalitarian variant. The Nazi movement aimed to deprive the people of any facet of life outside of an exclusive commitment to its mission. In fact, the Nazis, the Bolsheviks, the Maoists, and the Jacobins all sought to radically remake society by compelling every last individual to become nothing more than a cog in their revolutionary machines. Any life outside of political life was seen, by the movements’ elite leaders, as not only superfluous but suspect and as a challenge to the movements themselves. Even morality and reason are subordinate to the cause. It has often been said that such movements subordinate means to ends, but this misses the subtle point that when all means are “justified,” justification itself becomes irrelevant. So, for totalitarians, reason itself is subordinate to the cause, not merely morality. This, by and large, does not seem to be the case in modern American political movements, but at the margins of society, this kind of thinking does seem to be on the rise. If non-totalitarian mass movements are analogous to religious or spiritual organizations, then totalitarian movements resemble cults.

Eric Hoffer began his book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by pointing out that all mass movements are partly born of a desire for change in personal and social circumstances—totalitarian movements are no different. The individuals who are most susceptible to joining mass movements are characterized by loneliness, hopelessness, self-disdain, disappointment, and boredom. People who are contending with those kinds of feelings are initially attracted to the novelty and excitement of a mass movement, and quickly come to identify in it those aspects of their lives that are missing. In societies accustomed to progress, people who are actively dissatisfied with their personal and professional lives are especially susceptible.

In his book A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891–1924, Orlando Figes pointed out that, for the revolutionaries, the most appealing thing about joining the revolution was not the promise of improving society, but rather the “sense of ‘wholeness’ which might give higher meaning to their lives and end their alienation from the world.” Arendt likewise noted that mass movements thrive in societies that have experienced social atomization because this laid the groundwork for “self-abandonment into the mass” and “the passionate inclination toward the most abstract notions as guides for life.” An appealing mass movement creates the chance for the disaffected individual to lose the unhappy person that they are and remake themselves anew as a part of a seemingly benevolent mission.

Hoffer’s observation about the individual’s susceptibility to mass movements can be understood with reference to much of the literature on human behavior in the social sciences. Humans are social creatures, but we also have strong tribal tendencies. It turns out that how we self-identify is closely related to the cultural groups with which we associate. In his essay “The Dangers of Tribalism,” the philosopher of science Kevin deLaplante argues that our ideas, knowledge, and values are largely shaped by our individual sense of tribal belonging, and it’s this perception of belonging to particular groups that provides the context from which we draw much of our self-esteem as individuals.

One of the most relevant forms of tribal identity to have emerged in America in recent decades is partisan identity. In her book Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, Lilliana Mason argued that partisan identity is more important to individual partisans than the actual issues. In fact, partisans often maintain their political identities in the face of contradictory policy positions. In the US, competing partisan identities have grown increasingly divergent since the 1980s as citizens have been sorting themselves into mutually exclusive geographical and cultural tribes. Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler show in their book Prius or Pickup that it is possible to predict how someone votes simply by looking at a handful of seemingly unrelated preferences. For example, Republicans are more likely to live in rural areas, drive pick-up trucks, drink pilsners, listen to country music, prefer dogs to cats, watch wrestling, and prefer meatloaf to pad thai. They prefer that children be well-mannered rather than curious. Democrats are more likely to live in cities, drive hybrids, drink local beer, listen to hip-hop, have pets on their furniture, watch basketball, and eat bibimbap. They are more likely to prefer that children be independent than to show respect for their elders.

In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt argued that liberals and conservatives predictably utilize different sets of moral values. Liberals are much more attuned to the moral values of caring and fairness while conservatives more frequently include the moral senses of sanctity, loyalty, and authority. On the standard personality test known as “OCEAN,” liberals tend to be much more open to new experiences, while conservatives tend to be much more driven to perform their work well and thoroughly. The accumulated differences between these two groups amount to an inability for conservatives and liberals to relate to one another. What’s worse is that the lack of common culture has led partisans to develop an increasing level of mutual hostility and distrust. In the social psychology literature, this is known as social polarization or affect polarization.

A permanent feature of democracy accounts for much of what is potentially threatening about America’s relative political ineffectiveness as well as its fascination with social discord. In The Authoritarian Dynamic, Karen Stenner argues that about a third of people in Western liberal democracies have an authoritarian personality. People with this personality profile exhibit strong preferences for “unity and conformity” in society. They want society to believe in the same values and norms and they are avoiders of complexity. This type of personality is manifest in intolerant behaviors and attitudes, activated by perceived threats to “unity and conformity” in society. Accordingly, exposing authoritarians to a diversity of beliefs and the failure of political leadership to inspire the confidence of the citizenry, makes them less tolerant of any kind of differences in society. When authoritarians are experimentally exposed to news of social discord, they are much more likely to favor banning dissident political speech and to crack down on immigration.

This is a source of danger for democratic governments, which depend for their legitimacy upon the consent of the governed. Distrust in government as well as in the institutions of society allows totalitarian movements’ propaganda to thrive. Any information that is mysterious, hidden, secret, or granted attention by mainstream society offers a potential basis for totalitarian propaganda. Disaffected people want to escape from reality, but they also yearn for a consistent narrative—a desire that can be satisfied by movement leaders peddling paranoia and intrigue. It can be the inner workings of the Democratic National Committee or explanations for disparities in outcomes and other forms of potential social injustice.

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Totalitarian leaders prey upon societal divisions like these and share an understanding of the power of simple, emotive messages repeated ad nauseam. This consideration helps shape their political rhetoric. Whenever Lenin sought to appeal to the masses, he employed the simple slogan, “bread, peace, and land.” One of Hitler’s popular mantras was “one people, one realm, one leader.” Mao used the phrase “a few years of hard work and 10,000 years of happiness” to describe the sacrifices required by his disastrous plan known as “The Great Leap Forward.” These simple messages were specifically aimed at the masses—they were designed, in the first instance, to capture the attention. Once they had the individual’s attention, they could draw him into the movement. In Mein Kampf, Hitler explained:

[Propaganda’s] function, like the poster, consists in attracting the attention of the crowd, and not in educating those who are already educated, or who are striving after education and knowledge, its effect for-the-most-part must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree the so-called intellect. All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be… The more modest its intellectual ballast, the more exclusively it takes into consideration the emotions of the masses, the more effective it will be.

Hitler had an early and advanced understanding of political messaging, and he drew upon the example of socialist-Marxist organizations, and their “astounding skill” at utilizing propaganda. Hitler’s propaganda minister and closest confidant, Joseph Goebbels, was equally astute when it came to propaganda. Much of what Goebbels learned about propaganda seems to have come to him through one of the contemporary American intellectuals who had written the early literature on the subject, Edward Bernays.

Though propaganda has been aimed at all kinds of emotions, one variety was particularly common to totalitarian mass movements—that marked by the promise of a utopian future. Eric Hoffer likened the experience of a lonely, disconnected individual who joins a mass movement to someone who sees themselves as becoming part of a “holy cause.” You can catch a glimpse of this in Mao’s “10,000 years of happiness” which echoed Hitler’s promise of a new thousand-year Reich. And, of course, these promised lands would be a paradise for their inhabitants. In an essay entitled “Socialism and Religion,” Lenin stated that it was unimportant for the workers and peasants to share the same religious beliefs, but he went on to express his conviction that “unity in this really revolutionary struggle of the oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth” was what was really important.

Totalitarian leaders define what is wrong with the country and to insist that they are the only solution. As a totalitarian regime evolves and becomes increasingly powerful, it will extend and develop this mirage of exclusive problem-solving ability by destroying competing solutions and downplaying or even dismissing problems it cannot easily address. To this end, it sees all potential challenges or challengers as things that must be either culled or brought to heel. Hannah Arendt concluded that the most advanced totalitarian regimes attempt to destroy their subjects’ ability to think for themselves, so as to render them totally reliant on the regime for decision-making.

As totalitarian movements acquire power, they begin to divide their focus between recruiting new members and converting those already recruited into uncritical fanatics. To that end, the ideological message is tailored to the recipient. For outsiders, ideology takes the form of dubious persuasion, but for insiders, it’s an emotional appeal to reorganize society by creating totalitarian versions of various normal organizations. This means that the real fanatics will build up all manner of new organizations and even false versions of government institutions aimed at destroying and replacing existing ones.

Totalitarian propaganda relies on deceptive narratives and disinformation—conspiracy theories and folklore are integral components of any aspiring or ascending totalitarian movement. Totalitarian folklore involves self-mythologizing the movement and its history. For the Nazis, this included the glorification of their early, failed attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic known as the “Beer Hall Putsch.” Maoists mythologized the “Long March”—a military retreat that covered thousands of miles. And Bolshevik propaganda used art and ceremony to transform the “October Revolution” (the coup in which the Bolsheviks seized power) into a heroic feat in the popular imagination.

But self-glorification tends to coexist in totalitarian regimes with an atmosphere saturated in paranoia. A great deal of what the Nazis did can be explained by their belief in a racist conspiracy theory known as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” This was a fabricated document that purported to be the minutes of a meeting of a secret cabal of Jewish leaders, revealing a plot to take over the world and remake civilization as they saw fit. Purges and pogroms in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China were also justified on the basis of conspiracy theories. Stalin blamed society’s problems on a conspiracy of Trotskyists attempting to overthrow him and institute capitalism, and he ordered show-trials of the alleged conspirators. Mao claimed that a conspiracy of “deviationists” were plotting to oust him and implement capitalism. Revolutionary France was also animated by conspiratorial suspicions that society was seeded with “enemies of the Revolution.”

Perhaps the most seductive feature of totalitarian ideologies is that they derive authority from spurious claims that they are based on scientific facts. The communist regimes in Russia and China claimed they were enacting Karl Marx’s “scientific” ideas about the supposed laws of capitalism and history. For the Nazis, “Aryan” and Jewish blood were not just figures of speech and racism wasn’t just an attitude—these were undeniable scientific facts. When Hitler began learning and practicing his public speaking, his speeches would be dusted with references to “rational” anti-Semitism and racial hatred based on “reason and facts” not emotion. Revolutionary France didn’t have much that we would, today, recognize as modern science. However, just as the Nazis and Bolsheviks would drag the good name of science through the mud, so did the Committee of Public Safety tarnish the Enlightenment and “reason.” In tragic fashion and with astonishing incoherence, the “Reign of Terror” was alleged to be conducted on behalf of Enlightenment values.

Equipped with the authority of pseudoscience, the leaders of totalitarian movements make what are assumed to be infallible predictions based on what they profess (and likely believe) to be, basic forces of nature and arithmetic. Totalitarian leaders will put the interest of proving themselves correct above what is best for the nation. During the 1891–1892 famine in Russia, some 400,000 people starved to death. Some Russians, including Leo Tolstoy, led a philanthropic effort to alleviate the suffering, but Lenin argued that there should be no relief effort because the famine was part of the natural force of history that would bring about the revolution. Humanitarian aid might cause a delay in the progress of history towards communism.

Violent revolution is usually the means by which totalitarians acquire power, and purges are the means by which that power is maintained and consolidated. The logic of totalitarian purity has a habit of consuming even its own most fanatical adherents. In this way, the all-consuming violence and paranoia of totalitarianism results in the systematic destruction of society. During the French Revolution, the masses rose against Louis XVI who attempted accommodate his subjects by introducing broad reforms. Nevertheless, he ended up under the guillotine and the benefits brought about by the end of the monarchy were soon overshadowed by the cruelty and injustice of the Reign of Terror. Mere accusations became sufficient justification for people to be executed, and before the terror finally subsided, its architects, including Maximilien Robespierre, were themselves guillotined.

Similarly, during the Cultural Revolution in China, the guilty and the innocent alike were massacred without much discrimination merely on the basis of accusations or alleged associations. Mao instructed revolutionaries to purge the government and broader society of any remaining members suspected of being capitalists or traditionalists in order to re-establish “Mao Zedong Thought” (as articulated in Mao’s “Little Red Book”) as the supreme doctrine to guide society. Mao knew that it wasn’t enough to purge political opponents and rivals, so he targeted factories and the education system too. The youth of the country, in the form of the Red Guards, took it upon themselves to execute the mass purges. Students tortured their teachers to death. Elderly people, typically associated with more traditional Chinese culture, were publicly humiliated and mercilessly beaten. Before the Revolution was over, Lin Biao, the head of the People’s Liberation Army who had compiled the “Little Red Book,” was accused of involvement in a plot to overthrow Chairman Mao and was liquidated—destroyed by the very doctrines he had helped promulgate.

The Bolshevik coup that seized power from the provisional parliamentary government was a successful attempt to halt progress towards a democratic-republican model. All other parties, including the other socialist factions, were expelled from the government at once. In the ensuing years, there were countless executions, including of those who had fought to overthrow the Czar. When Stalin took complete control of the Party and the country he began a series of ruthless and paranoid purges. Before it was over, even Leon Trotsky, a Bolshevik who oversaw many executions in his own right, and who many believed would be Lenin’s successor, was exiled and subsequently assassinated.

The Nazis’ Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was a 1933 decree prohibiting the employment (and allowing for the immediate dismissal) of government workers who were not “Aryans,” or who were identified as, or associated with, communists. The Nazis later purged rank-and-file party members. The early Nazi movement’s paramilitary organization, the Sturmabteilung (also known as the SA or “the brownshirts”) was as notorious for its terrorism and street fights as it was for its street marches. Ernst Röhm headed the SA and was a prominent and important early ally to Hitler. However, in 1925, Hitler established a new paramilitary force known as the SS, an elite battalion ultimately led by Heinrich Himmler. The SS was a death squad, but it also provided the Nazis’ fanatical militants with a competitively tiered hierarchy. In 1934, Hitler used the SS to eliminate the leadership of the SA, including his former friend Röhm, during a four-day purge known as “Night of the Long Knives.”

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Totalitarian mass movements exploit disaffected, socially isolated, lonely people by offering them a sense of identity, solidarity, and purpose. Many of their earliest and most enthusiastic recruits are conformists, temperamentally predisposed to make others conform as they did. As totalitarians obtain power, this sense of purpose and desire for conformity spreads into all aspects of life, through propaganda and organization. And because reason and morality have been subordinated to the goals of the totalitarian movement, any tactic is permitted.

In America today, tribal identities increasingly shape our perception of the world. As these identities sort information, values, and beliefs, we are becoming less able to understand and live with one another. This polarization of the populace is reflected in the polarization of the political class. Consequently, governance has become highly partisan, sclerotic, and ineffective, which has led to rising cynicism and suspicion about the country’s democratic institutions and processes. Those seeking easy explanations for the country’s malaise are susceptible to conspiracy theories circulated by demagogues on the Left and the Right, amplified by social media echo chambers, and spread by ready Internet access. Identitarian politics across the political spectrum are further balkanizing an already divided country.

Meanwhile, the steep rise in unemployment produced by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns risks exacerbating existing disaffection and loneliness. A report by Cigna in 2018 warned that loneliness in America had reached “epidemic levels.” Polling conducted by Ipso, they said, showed that almost half of American adults said that they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty-three percent of American adults said that they sometimes or always feel like their relationships aren’t meaningful and that they feel isolated from others. As COVID-19 continues to kill Americans, this concern has become even more pressing.

The accumulated literature about totalitarianism reflects humanity’s need to guard against its resurgence in view of the catastrophic damage it has caused in the past. Unfortunately, an understanding of totalitarianism, and of how it comes about, does not yield a civic blueprint for preventing it. Nevertheless, identifying and understanding a threat are necessary if not sufficient preconditions to resisting it. There is nothing inevitable about democratic backsliding, even when prevailing conditions increase a country’s vulnerability.

 

Brent Holley is a freelance writer and professional locksmith, living and working in the Birmingham, Alabama area. You can follow him on Twitter @Brenth2017.

Feature image: NSDAP Hitler Youth Salutes The Fuhrer 1937, Alamy Stock Photo

Comments

  1. Diversity delivers division.
    Division delivers failure (weaknesses to be exploited).
    Failure delivers totalitarianism.

    If you don’t want totalitarianism, either as response to leftist determination to destroy society, or from leftists to enact & finalise such destruction, don’t embrace diversity (racial, cultural) and resist it at all costs.

    People do not learn these lessons of history because they wish the truths they expose did not hold.
    But they do.

  2. We do have a “civic blueprint.” Perhaps I should say, we did have a civic blueprint. It was not democratic (as understood today) nor was it intended to be. Democracy is always a precursor to despotism. Not much more can be said without appearing unkind to stupid people. It wouldn’t be very democratic.

    The American people today are primed for totalitarian government. The majority will embrace it warmly. The progressive ‘long march’ has been a resounding success. The Jeffersonian old stock are outnumbered. The sheep are being herded skillfully, by very clever wolves and shrieking harpies.

    The virus panic has given the ruling caste an occasion to show its deranged, ugly and frighteningly venal face. These are very creepy people----the likes of Jeffrey Epstein consort smoothly with them.(Not even in Brahminic India have I seen such hatred of their own countrymen as I see in the elite here----and, that’s really saying something!)

  3. From the article: “Totalitarianism is most accurately defined as the idea that exercising control and direction over every aspect of the lives of a society’s inhabitants will yield the best of all possible futures.”

    Is that the most accurate definition? It implies a level of altruism, as if the goal is to make a better society. In Africa, many dictators unashamedly gut their economies for personal wealth.

    Also: “For totalitarianism to succeed in establishing itself, two preconditions are required. The first is widespread psychological dispositions that make society susceptible to totalitarianism’s temptations. The second is the skillful use of manipulative propaganda.”

    Regarding the first clause, sure, if people have little or nothing, they can be inspired to join a movement. They can be conned into fighting for a “cause” that in reality just means putting a bunch of new dictators in power. However, I don’t know if the second clause, “skillful use of propaganda” is neccessary. You just need a target. And brute force. A military coup, thugs beating up people, terrorising and assassinating opponents. To quote Robert A Heinlein, "Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.”
    The beginning of the article refers to a populist Right and radical Left as if they are of equal threat. Later, the article describes Republicans as rural-dwelling conformist yokels and Democrats as urbane and educated sophisticates. Now myself I am not partisan to any party. I just want to live free. But, right now, for me, and for many others, the real threat is from the Left. Trump is called a fascist. You want to know what true tyrants do to reporters they don’t like? They jail them, they torture them, they arrange their death. Same goes for ordinary citizens who say the wrong thing. Now, Trump does none of this shit. But the Left cancels, it doxxes, it deplatforms. Antifa beats up people in five to one confrontations all the time with little to no punishment. These creeps have a far greater lust for violence and power than the populist Right at present.
    Also, the writer refers to Biden as a political moderate. No, he is an empty shell. There is nothing in him but a desire to be president. He is not a moderate, but a twit who will say and do anything if it means he can be president.

  4. I think that the author did a fantastic job of defining totalitarianism in this case. I don’t think they are to be confused with tin-pot-would-be totalitarians. The successful type are definitely utopians of a sort.

    As for your other critique: that the right is presented as yokels while the left is presented as being urbane: I suggest that maybe your reading into this in an uncharitable way. Perhaps it is because we believe that rural people who drive pick-up trucks and listen to country music are yokels. If so, then it is serving to affirm a common stereotype. So too, the notion that urban dwellers are all sophisticated. I would hardly endorse that concept! Many urban dwellers are crass morons… I mean, I am certainly not in the “Never Trump” camp and I rather like the guy for some strange reason… but he’s pure New Yorker and I sure as hell wouldn’t use the words “urbane” or “sophisticated” to describe ol’ Uncle Donny…

  5. Actually if you read the quote the author did use more pejorative terminology towards the right. It didn’t show strong bias, but if it was meant to be perfectly fair it failed. In particular the last line of each was glaringly wrong.

    Republicans: " They prefer that children be well-mannered rather than curious. "
    Democrats: “They are more likely to prefer that children be independent than to show respect for their elders.”

    Well-mannered is Not the opposite of curious. A child can be both well-mannered and curious. How many Republicans if asked would say they don’t want their children to be curious. I dare say very few.

    Whereas if you polled Democrats and asked them if their children show show respect for their “elders”, I believe a significant portion would take offense to the term elders and would say No.

    Furthermore the author used the glaring example that Republicans are more likely to watch wrestling vs the Democrats watching basketball. Wrestling for many good reasons is looked down upon. It’s not actually a sport, it’s more performance theater.

    If the author had said Republicans are more likely to watch NASCAR, that would have been fine (though Republicans watching Football is probably a closer equivalent). Or If instead they had said Democrats were more likely to watch interpretative dance, that would also have been fine.

    But at least two of the examples listed were phrased in a way that cast Republicans in a slightly more negative light.

    One other nitpick. Democrats are more likely to eat bibimbap. This is probably? true, but I doubt more than 10% of Democrats could tell you what bibimbap is. This really isn’t a case of it casting Democrats in a positive or negative light as it is completely in Left field. Also, I’d be willing to bet that Democrats eat meat loaf far more than they eat Pad Thai. Just like Republicans.

  6. I’m really not big on casting this in racial terms. I think it’s crucial that we always treat everyone as an individual, and completely ignore their race. Yes, that ship may have long sailed, in terms of getting everyone to agree on that approach. I’ll still go under pledging allegiance to that ideal, though - because I believe that in a very deep way, it’s the Correct Thing (even if all of one side, and a good chunk of the other, don’t, and never will, agree with me).

    Noel

  7. We fear totalitarianism from the Right because the Left tells us that the Right is totalitarian.
    We fear totalitarianism from the Left because the Left tells us that the Left is totalitarian.

  8. The author writes, “For all its problems, America does not seem to be on the brink of a totalitarian revolution.”

    But for many totalitarianism is already here.

    Many professors, students, and employees already live and work in totalitarian institutions that will investigate or fire them for dissenting, stating facts, and so on.

    The question is whether this totalitarianism will become even more deeply entrenched in our society, extending perhaps to the federal government, or be held in check or reduced.

    Totalitarians on the left have been very successful in establishing themselves in various NGOs, and I don’t think we should underestimate their ability to continue.

  9. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, the only answer, to any question, is always more:

    1. government
    2. regulation
    3. rules
    4. bureaucracies
    5. civil servants
    6. pogroms
    7. restrictions
    8. censure

    Never more freedom, always less. Never smaller government, only more. Never limited government, …

  10. Liberals are much more attuned to the moral values of caring and fairness while conservatives more frequently include the moral senses of sanctity, loyalty, and authority.

    Are they? Sociologists being sociologists, they believe that people saying “caring” or “authority” are important to “society” has anything to do with holding such moral virtues. It does not.

    Take “caring”. A liberal considering “caring” important, for example, means he “cares” for society, or the poor, or the environment - but never for any particular individual. It means occasionally sending a donation to a professional care-jobber, such as Greenpeace, or kneeling in public for a minute, or not using paper bags, or even publicly saying - with great feeling - that the president (or some other public entertainer) sucks because he doesn’t care.

    “Caring” here never means caring for a now cranky old parent, which can take half your life. “Caring” liberals are not any better (or worse) in excercising that sort of “caring”, the only one that matters and what caring actually means, than anyone else. The “caring” which the sociologists and their subjects speak about - or for that matter, again, the “authority” they and other subjects speak about - is a perfectly convenient “virtue”, where you become good by an “effort” which, if we took the time involved in it over a lifetime, could be done in a free afternoon.

    If they want to find the common ground between them, then both liberals and conservatives should look at themselves and ask what it means for a person to be caring, or educated, or respectful of authority, or how they can tell the authority deserves respect. They will find, wisdom and knowledge being both universal and, at the same time, extremely difficult, that they share a common concern for both and should help each other do better.

    The nonsense about the gaps in how they fill in questionnaires for sociologists, psychologists, and other goodness experts, or the worry of said experts about the “evil” found in “the authoritarian personality type” by those who answer the goodness questionnaire wrong (people like, say, Plato and Confucius) will be then seen as what it is - nonsense.

  11. To be fair that is probably true for most fanatics. They are dealing with what they think is important stuff - toy issues like “the fate of the nation” or “world peace” - and do not have time for mere persons.

    I confess I am a bit like that, sometimes, myself. As the man in the marriage, I make all the important decisions, such as what the world should do about the Corona virus, or whether we should go to Mars. My wife makes the small decisions, such as where we will live, what school the kids will attend, etc.

  12. What annoys me about the progressive world view is its deep racism.

    The average racist says that black by nature are lazy and violent, but even those - like @LGH in this thread - admit some blacks are different, more like (or even better) than the white man in their industry and civilized behavior. They are still moral agents: they still should be industrious an peaceful, or at least as industrious and peaceful as they can be.

    The average progressive claims this is all “bourgeois morality” and “imposing standards” on people of a “different culture”. What this means in practice is that the progressive agrees blacks are lazy and violent, but that this is both a good thing - they’re not surrendering to “white” morality - and in any case unchangeable, race being the most important property of the person, the one that determines their entire reality.

    What this amounts to is the progressive saying that blacks are subhuman, or non-human, at least not in the sense that whites are human. They are essentially different creatures, with a totally different morality, much like orcs or morlocks.

    This seems to me to explain why so many open racists are in real life friendly with actual black people, while so many progressives live in lily-white neighborhoods and avoid blacks wholesale (except in situations like academic conferences, where they can be sure they are meeting tame and housebroken ones.) For the Klansman, blacks are still human. But who wants to live in the same neighborhood as orcs and morlocks?

  13. No.

    Perhaps because I recall that in all elections with an incumbent republican president since, at least, 1984, which is the earliest one I personally remember, the press was “worried” that the crazy Hitler mistakenly in the WH right now would declare martial law and a dictatorship to prevent the democratic candidate from taking over. They “worry” about it even when said crazy Hitler is not even running, this being his second term.

    “Imagine” writing that in 2008? Don’t you remember how many progressives said Bush will declare martial law if Obama wins, since the racist conservatives will never accept the legitimacy of a black president? Sure, you didn’t hear of that in 2012 or 2016, since a democrat, and the living saint Obama at that, was in office. Only republicans are Hitlers, you know.

    So, no, I am not worried. I have survived the coming Hitlerian takeover of democracy quite a few times, despite the NYT warning me constantly that we are “descending into fascism” yet again. Even if, which is extremely unlikely, Trump does plan to take over the USA and become dictator (how, exactly, is never explained), the media says that so often that, by now, nobody listens.

  14. I lived half of my life in a totalitarian country. The liberals of today are exceedingly difficult to distinguish from the totalitarians of the 20th century. Here are some of the key similarities:

    • against freedom of speech. The communists told us that they would not let us see, read, and listened to western media and books because the western propaganda is just spreading lies and hatred. Sounds familiar?
    • against free markets. Both big totalitarian regimes of the 20th century (communism and fascism) either completely canceled or severely constrained the market forces.
    • for big government. Both fascists and communists expanded government claiming that surrendering our freedoms to big, benevolent government is the only way to cure the problems caused by individualism.
    • against Christianity. Totalitarian ideologies are TOTALITARIAN because they are all encompassing. They explain and regulate everything. All alternative belief systems are suspended. Christianity in the west, Falun Gong in China, you name it. Totalitarian ideologies don’t want any competitors.
    • “everything is political”. One of the most salient and annoying characteristics of communism was that everything was politicized: entertainment, sports, art, everything. There was no sphere of private or public life that was not charged with political missions. Art had to convey the superiority of communism over capitalism, entertainment had to have an ideological component, Olympic medals proved how communism is so much better than capitalism. Today we see how the liberals politicized everything: sports, entertainment. So familiar.
      In summary, for the last 5-10 years I have been watching in horror the transformation of America into the place that I ran from. I think today there is more political and economic freedom in some countries in Eastern Europe than in the West.
  15. No antisemite ever claims to hate Jews just because they are Jews. They are hated because they are communist revolutionaries, and because they are capitalist bloodsuckers. Because they are evil European colonialists who established their state on stolen land, and because they are landless Asian parasites who insist of living in Europe. Because they are white devils and because they are n**ger-lovers. Because they wear strange clothes and because they assimilate and can no longer be distinguished from non-Jews. Because they obey an ancient, superstitious religion and because they are godless atheists. Because they are uneducated Ostjuden and because they are overeducated eggheads. Because they care only about money and because they are wimpy, impractical welfare cases. But never just because they are Jews.

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