By Jim Mason
Jim can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments.
“The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes.” – Christopher Hitchens
Totalitarianism. It is a theme that seems to be more and more in vogue in the modern lexicon, particularly among the politically active. It can be found both in complaints made against each other by the Right and Left. It seems that both sides are convinced that each is flying down the path to totalitarianism. Is either correct? Is neither?
Wikipedia defines totalitarianism as “a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible”. It specifies that a distinctive feature of these governments is an “elaborate ideology, a set of ideas that gives meaning and direction to the whole society”.
It may shock people to find out totalitarianism, as a concept, is fairly new. It is only perhaps a century old and is relatively all encompassing when it comes to what “fits” under the label. Nazi fascism and Soviet communist governments could both easily be described as totalitarian, although arguments have been made that neither was totalitarian at all.
One particular theme that repeats across all definitions is the essential elimination of the individual. The state, theoretically, controls all actions of the citizens down to the most minute detail. Control is absolute, and is achieved through whatever methods are deemed necessary. Though one would imagine that the initial seeds of a totalitarian regime do not involve much use of force at the outset, they usually involve a slow and steady creep toward the dominance of the state. It is far more likely, that the use of force comes at the more mature stages where resistance is, for lack of a better word, futile.
For instance, Lenin made promises of land to the peasants during his Communist revolution, and he delivered by confiscating this land from the “wealthy” and redistributing it to the “poor”. Of course, in the long run who owned the land was not actually relevant, because they would all be slaves to the state shortly thereafter. The land they had been promised and the joy it brought them was short-lived, as eventually it all was nationalized.
The point here being that the carrot is often more useful in revolutions of this type than the stick in the early stages. If promised a life of slavery by a charismatic individual, not many would follow, but promises of a better life at the expense of those deemed to be the cause of suffering has proven to be quite alluring to the masses throughout history.
So what of the present day? Could, in fact, President Trump be a madman bent on totalitarian ends? Or is the modern Left, and their fervent pursuit of equality of outcome taking us down a dangerous road to a totalitarian regime?
You will often hear those on the left call President Trump a totalitarian, among other not so flattering names, but without any real meat on the bones of the argument. Even articles, such as “Is Donald Trump America’s first totalitarian president?”, gives no real evidence of actions committed by President Trump which anyone has cause to be concerned about.
One of their many attacks focuses on President Trump’s truthfulness, but this is not unique to the President. Former President Obama spouted plenty of fibs of his own, such as “if you like your doctor you can keep them”, or ISIS being a “J.V. squad”. Former President George W. Bush had “weapons of mass destruction” and “mission accomplished”. Former President Bill Clinton had “I did not have sex with that woman”. These are just famous examples of what were, in some cases, unintentionally misleading, and in others outright lies.
The Left also makes vague claims of him clamping down on freedom of speech and press, but again there seems to be a distinct lack of any real evidence this has ever happened. The hostility toward certain elements of the press is certainly at a level we are not used to seeing, but President Trump has made no policy decisions, at least publicly, that directly assault the press and their ability to do their jobs. Of all the arguments that the country is seeing an initial step toward a totalitarian regime it is the hostility toward the mainstream press to be the most compelling. Still weak, but at least something to pay attention to in the coming years.
As for the expanse of his own power, which a true totalitarian would seek always, President Trump has actually proven to be moving in the opposite direction. His primary advisors have openly stated they wish to weaken federal power, not expand it, as evidenced in White house Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s comments at CPAC on the deconstruction of the administrative state.
The Trump Administration’s recent rescinding of the Obama-era bathroom rules as applied to Transgender students also weakened the Federal Government’s role in local education systems specifically, and in the daily lives of all Americans. The rule change empowered the States, and removed power from his own hands. While this specific issue may seem trivial, the fact remains that it could have easily been used as an argument for further executive reach into accepted citizen behavior, and President Trump gave that power away, voluntarily.
And what of the Left’s arguments that the movement inspired by the President is full of automatons marching the path toward totalitarianism? We have yet to see a very good argument for this point of view when considering the vast majority of the modern Right in America today.
In nearly all interactions with those on the Right in this writer’s world, which has been many, I have found that while there may be a wide range of beliefs, two in particular can be found among nearly all of them. There are the belief in free speech and the right to bear arms. These two rights are generally cherished by those on the Right in America, and are completely at odds with the rise of any form of a totalitarian regime. With those two rights fully intact, no totalitarian government could survive, let alone come to exist in the first place.
Which leads into a critique of the modern Left and its potential to be on the path to totalitarian ends.
In the beginning of this article, it was mentioned that a distinctive feature of totalitarian regimes is an “elaborate ideology, a set of ideas that gives meaning and direction to the whole society”. A pretty convincing argument can be made for the idea that the modern Left has embraced this ideology. The evidence comes in the form of social justice, much like Lenin’s promise of land for all.
This is not coincidental, social justice and equality of outcome have often been the guise in which totalitarian regimes are born. They are both beguiling and nearly impervious to assault. How can one say there should not be equality? How can one suggest the government cannot, or should not, help those in need? It is a psychologically powerful method of control, using a citizenry’s desperation (for food, shelter, etc.) in the cause of equality, or their guilt over their own good fortune in the case of social justice. This is only the foot in the door however, and eventually there comes a need for further refinement and programming. Fortunately for the modern Left, they have discovered a new tool and its name is “political correctness”.
In reality, political correctness is a bit of Newspeak sleight of hand. It started quite innocently enough, but has over a mere two decades evolved into a form of thought policing Orwell would be quite impressed by.
Pavlov discovered he could induce a physiological reaction in dogs by creating an association between a bell, and food. What the Left has discovered is that they can do similarly through negative reinforcement over time when it comes to language. What began as a good intentioned “Kumbaya” moment between races and cultures has quickly devolved into a sinister method of power and control with an ancillary benefit of stealth censorship.
This new tool has been growing exponentially in strength in the past decade, but met its first real major challenge on November 7th of 2016. When then Candidate Donald Trump, a man who is many things but most certainly not politically correct, was elected. This was not supposed to be possible, as in all prior contests since Reagan the Republican candidate had at the very least colored inside the lines of the Politically Correct coloring book. This was the first sign that it was possible the modern Left’s entire basis for power could be unwound.
It also happens to be a reason why “intersectionality” is the buzz word of the day among the social justice warriors. Intersectionality is a fancy word for consolidation of power. Before, their movement seemed healthy and strong, but with this new and unexpected assault upon them, joining ranks is necessary for their survival. It is why you will see modern feminists claim Black Lives Matter is now also a feminist cause, or more hypocritically, the defense of Islam.
In the end, whichever form the group takes or whatever cause they claim to champion, they share a modus operandi which is to silence those who oppose them. The methods they use for silencing their opponents are more and more inclusive of some variation of violence, be it destruction of property or direct assault.
This is a totalitarian mindset. It is obvious, the motives for their behavior is not relevant. The motives will always be a “good” on their face. It will be “fairness”, as with Lenin. It will be for the “greater good”, as with Hitler’s removal of the Jews which he deemed to be the root of Germany’s economic crisis after WWII. Perhaps, it will be for “equality”, as is the case with every major social justice movement in modern America today.
These mindsets, in pursuit of their claimed altruistic goals, have no room for freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a hindrance because, as with Lenin, Hitler, and the modern left, they know the right way to think so outside debate is unnecessary, and even more importantly, in their eyes it is dangerous.
So they censor, and more and more those who follow the ideology of the modern Left are coming to accept that censorship as a necessity of a perceived achievable utopian existence. They can spin this how they want, but the fact remains that the end result of this pattern of behavior is fulfilling an essential requirement of a totalitarian regime.
The modern Left checks another box on the totalitarian check list when it comes to gun control. A lot of verbose detail is not required here. Totalitarian regimes and dictatorships all look to enforce some level of gun restriction or banning, and this fits right in with how the modern Left feels about guns in the hands of the citizenry.
One of the best examples of cognitive dissonance those on the Left must maintain came out in an interview between CNN broadcaster Piers Morgan and then Breitbart Editor at Large Ben Shapiro in 2013, in which Piers scoffs at Mr. Shapiro’s reasoning for defending the right to bear arms. This reasoning, specifically “fearing the possibility of tyranny arising in this country in the next fifty to one hundred years”, is precisely why those who come to control the populace look to remove guns from the hands of their citizens.
If the fight against a tyrannical government by its citizens were truly so outrageous of a concept, if the average man on the street armed with a rifle could never hope to be a threat to the state, why do all states seeking absolute power waste effort in disarming their populations? The answer is simply that an armed populace, that can speak freely, is and will forever be a threat to any potential totalitarian regime that seeks to impose itself upon them.
Given this set of facts, it is clear that the modern Left is fertile ground for a totalitarian form of rule, and those in it have already been acclimated to that potential change. They are willing to censor those with whom they disagree for the stated moments “greater good”, and they are willing to disarm a law-abiding populace for that same cause.
The single greatest weapon in the hands of those on the Right against both Leftist labelling of totalitarianism, as well as the actual formation of a totalitarian state, is the passionate defense of both the freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. If the people defend those things, no rational person should ever be able to claim the citizenry has an interest in the formation of a totalitarian regime.
In the stout defense of these rights, the citizens of the USA can rest soundly, assured of the fact that no, they are not Nazis. Unfortunately, those on the Right may lose sleep over the fact that the person who called them Nazis may very well be on a similar ideological crusade as the brown shirts, and at the moment they are winning the culture war.
Que sera, sera.