Tag: totalitarianism

I Am Not Safe

 

If I am not free to speak my mind, that is one thing (and not a good thing). But if I am not free to point to an objective standard, if my belief in words like “fact” or “truth” are questioned, now I have become unacceptable for saying some things are “fictions,” some things are “false,” and I am not safe. Now when I question a top-down mandate or authoritarian decisions which are based on one point of view, others denounced out-of-hand, I am not safe. What is more damning is when leaders can say one thing one day, another thing on another day, and those given the responsibility to question and report leave that role to me because they are silent, I am not safe. When my field of inquiry ignores then dismisses another point of view after which authorities attack their work eliminating their voice, and I stand up for them, I am not safe. When creators who create content whose position runs contrary to the cultural narrative of the day, their videos taken down, their words no longer accepted, and I point this out, I am not safe.

The slow slide toward dictatorship that some warn about which is then pooh-poohed by the intelligentsia because checkers of facts declare it so, and I point out the hypocrisy of choosing some facts but not all facts, I am not safe. When autocrats demean the very people they have sworn to protect, and I point out the psychology of refusal after the population is demeaned, I am not safe. When a person of color is egregiously attacked by both untruths and physical violence – but the individual does not subscribe to mainstream accepted views – that attack attracts little attention in the mainstream news outlets, and I point this out, I am not safe. The assaults on freedom of speech (or the active suppression of speech) depend not just on freedom “from” censorship but freedom “to” ground truth-telling in certainty.

Read historical accounts of the people who lived through dictatorships. Each story revolves around Hannah Arendt’s thesis in “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” Hannah Arendt, who understood discrimination as a Jew, and was a critic of Hitler and Stalin during and after WWII, wrote,

Am I an Enemy of the State?

 

Katie Benner has gained a certain level of notoriety in these parts. She’s the New York Times reporter who informed the nation through her tweets that Trump supporters were a threat to national security; eight hours later she must have had second thoughts and deleted the tweets. But I couldn’t help thinking about all the people who genuinely believed that her perceptions were legitimate; that she was telling a truth that others agreed with, just because she was a “journalist with the New York Times.” Then I began to wonder what it would be like if I were considered to be a threat to this country. At first blush, that accusation seems ludicrous; for one, I’m only a marginal supporter of Donald Trump. But given the direction this country is headed, should I contemplate the reasons a person might contrive a persona for me that makes me an enemy of the state?

I decided to work my way through this exercise and to see where it might lead me. At the end of the process, I have to admit that I felt just a bit uneasy.

Member Post

 

It turns out that Xi Jinping and I have something in common: we are both fans of Goethe’s Faust. Indeed, Xi is said to even know the work by heart. I wonder what aspects of Faust have been particularly meaningful to Xi, both personally and as relates to his current job as Dictator.  Here’s the […]

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How Totalitarianism Rhymes Throughout History: Czechoslovakia, China, & Venezuela

 

“It can’t happen here” is a political cliche in the United States. Regardless of your personal viewpoint, there is a vast swath of the American population who simply do not believe in the possibility of any kind of totalitarianism in the United States.

It’s worth noting that throughout history, in virtually every place that totalitarian regimes have arisen, the residents of these countries felt the same way. Russia was seen as too traditional and backward, the power of the Czar too entrenched to be defeated. Germany had been viewed throughout most of the modern period as the home of GoetheSchiller, and Mozart, a place where the local Jewish population had largely assimilated.

Learning From Experience, Not

 

A high-school friend had a father who worked in a factory. He had a story…it seems there was this guy who got his left arm caught in one of the machines and horribly mangled. He was out for months, and when he came back, the other workers crowded around him, asking “How did it happen?”

“Like this,” he said, demonstrating with the other arm.

P.J. O’Rourke on the Fall of the Berlin Wall

 

One of the best essays I have ever read is P.J. O’Rourke’s “The Death of Communism:  Berlin, November 1989” from his essay collection Give War a Chance. O’Rourke was the foreign correspondent for Rolling Stone in the late 1980s and early 90s and reported from many Cold War hotspots. In this essay, O’Rourke writes poignantly and humorously about the collapse of the Berlin Wall. First, he contrasts the free Germans of West Berlin with their communist brethren on the other side of the wall:

West Germans are tall, pink, pert and orthodontically corrected. With hands, teeth and hair as clean as their clothes and clothes as sharp as their looks. Except for the fact that they all speak English pretty well, they’re indistinguishable from Americans. East Germans seem to have been hunching over cave fires a lot. They’re short and thick with sallow, lardy fat, and they have Khrushchev warts. There’s something about Marxism that brings out warts–the only kind of growth this economic system encourages.

‘You Better Go to Raw Data’

 

People operating complex machines and systems–ships, aircraft, and nuclear power plants, for example–are often dependent on information that has been processed or filtered in some way. The same is true of people exercising their responsibilities as citizens in a large and complex society, inasmuch as they cannot directly and personally observe most of the relevant facts and events.  Disasters that occur in complex physical systems can serve as a metaphor to help shed light on disasters–actual and potential–in the political sphere.

On June 9, 1995, the cruise ship Royal Majesty was on a routine voyage in good weather.  The vessel was equipped with GPS, which displayed latitude and longitude position…which the crew diligently plotted..and also drove a moving map overlaid on the radar scope.

ACF Europe #14: Dear Comrades

 

So the ACF series on totalitarianism and cinema continues with our first Russian movie–the best movie of 2020, at that–Andrey Konchalovsky’s story of a young workers’ protest which turned into a Soviet massacre, indeed one so thorough that even knowledge of it, even the corpses of the murdered protesters, were suppressed. The artistic view of this evil deed opposes to ideology the private side of human life–a mother and daughter, the possibility of faith, the importance of burial. The movie is available in streaming and it’s a wonderful contribution to the recent European interest in stories about the evils of communism. @FlaggTaylor and I have talked about a lot of them, and we have some more upcoming!

Changing America – The World is Noticing

 

“The Europeanized USA” by Dr. Alex Joffe, published at the BESA Institute, is worth your time. This story sums up, in a not-so-tasty nut-shell, how the last bastion of the Free World, The “United” States of America, is doing, and how both our allies and enemies are viewing our current “situation” (demise).  Here’s the opening:

“America is undergoing a rapid transformation founded in a moral panic over race that masks the exercise of class-based power in which technology companies and left-wing politics have united to wield unprecedented control. The outcome will likely be a union of Europeanized states where freedoms are severely curtailed and social cohesion is minimized in favor of dependency.”   A slap in the face of Lady Liberty at best, who welcomed our ancestors to her shores –  a place of safety and freedom, based on a Declaration, and a Constitution, written with the blood of patriots, and the courage of those that fled the tyrannical control from another continent.  At its worst, the imports of slavery and inequality, who saw its imperfections and ugliness, through MLK and JFK and sought a path of reconciliation and opportunity – paths only found in a free society.

Filing Cabinets Full of Betrayals

 

When Anna Funder visited the former East Germany in 1994–five years after the Wall came down–she found it to be a very strange place, “a place lost in time. It wouldn’t have surprised me if things had tasted different here–apples like pears, say, or wine like blood.” The German Democratic Republic, as it called itself, had been a suffocating surveillance state, dedicated to the monitoring and control of every aspect of its citizens’ lives–enforced by a huge organization known as the Ministry for State Security, Staatssicherheit, abbreviated Stasi.

Funder wrote of her experiences and observations in a 2003 book, Stasiland.

How a Country Abandoned Law and Liberty, and Became a Threat to Humanity

 

How does an advanced and civilized nation turn into a pack of hunting hounds directed against humans? Sebastian Haffner addresses the question in his memoir, titled Defying Hitler, which describes his own experiences and observations from early childhood until his departure from Germany in 1939. It is an important document–not only for the light it sheds on this particular and dreadful era in history, but also for its more general analysis of the factors leading to totalitarianism and of life under a totalitarian state. It is also a very personal and human book, with vivid portraits of Haffner’s parents, his friends, and the women he loved. Because of its importance and the fact that it is relatively little-read in the United States (I picked up my copy at the Gatwick airport), I’m reviewing it here at considerable length.

The title (probably not chosen by the author himself) is perhaps unfortunate. Haffner was not a member of an organization dedicated to overthrowing the Nazi state, along the lines of a Hans Oster or a Sophie Scholl. His defiance, rather, was on a personal level–keeping his mind free of Nazi ideology, avoiding participation in Nazi crimes, and helping victims of the regime where possible. Even this level of defiance required considerable courage–more than most people are capable of. As Haffner summarizes life under a totalitarian regime:

Book Review: Live Not By Lies

 

To grasp the threat of totalitarianism, it’s important to understand the difference between it and simple authoritarianism.  Authoritarianism is what you have when the state monopolizes political control.  That is mere dictatorship – bad, certainly, but totalitarianism is much worse.  According to Hannah Arendt… a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology.  A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality.  Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is.  As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.”⁠ (pages 8-9)

Many have fought and endured Hard Totalitarianism – repression at the end of a rifle – and while we may have (for now) seen the back of such regimes, Rod Dreher warns, in his new book Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, that we are facing a new form of totalitarian repression.  This new form, he warns, will not (for now) come at the ends of rifle barrels and the points of bayonets, nor will it come all at once.  It will come gradually, and it will attempt to corral us not with overt force, nor even fully from our government, but through the mounting pressures, nudges, and unseen pushes and constraints of the very technologies we rely on and willingly install in everything in our lives.  Dreher predicts the emergence of a Soft Totalitarianism which will resemble the Social Credit System of the People’s Republic of China, created by an alliance of ideological interests from the technology, information, and banking industries.  This new totalitarianism will be radically hostile to any religion, creed, or understanding of the world that conflicts with its own, and especially towards Christianity, which it slanders as repressive and “hateful”, especially on matters of sex and race.  How can we recognize it?  Can we fight it?  How do we survive and endure it without compromising?  Rod has much to say.

Rod Dreher is, by his own frequent admission, something of an odd duck in American conservatism.  His first book, Crunchy Cons, was about people very like himself – the heterodox conservatives who find themselves on the political right, usually for deep-seated social concerns (religion, family, tradition, anti-corporatism), but who also find that these core values are ignored, or else clash with other conservative orthodoxies on matters like free markets or foreign policy.  Dreher is also especially known for being one the leading reporters to blow open the sexual abuse scandals of the Roman Catholic Church, and unearth how deeply that rot actually ran – the integrity of the Christian faith is important to Dreher.  His prior book, The Benedict Option, was a statement to Christians that they have lost the culture war and need to rebuild the foundations of faith and society, with instructions on how to begin this process through intentional community formation – as such it is like a book warning on how to prepare for a cultural tornado, and clean up afterward.  Live Not By Lies can be therefore likened to a warning on what cultural tornado will do, how it will act, what it will try to destroy, and how to survive during it with one’s soul intact.

QOTD: Their Dream, Our Nightmare

 

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) … The most improper job of any man … is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.

J. R. R. Tolkien, in a letter to his son Christopher Tolkien (29 November 1943)

Coronavirus and Human Nature

 

For a few weeks, we in the coronavirus-stricken parts of the world have been living under “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders. The only conceivable purpose of such orders is to keep people from congregating and spreading the disease. But I can leave my house while also avoiding human contact — a truth evidently lost on Italian authorities, who’ve been punishing the criminal scum of their society for engaging in the recklessly dangerous activity of jogging with their dogs; or on the social-media malcontents who believe that carping at their neighbors is 2020’s equivalent of storming the Normandy beaches.

In Britain, police shamed hikers for daring to wander the wilderness in solitude. Do the moorlands have a preexisting condition? Are birds and butterflies at risk of dying from coronavirus-induced respiratory failure? Britain’s own lockdown law allows residents out of their houses for only “one form of exercise” per day. Does combination exercise cause coronavirus to spring up out of nowhere, like maggots spontaneously generating in a hunk of rotting meat? Who cares whether Simon and Bertha spend their entire day camping in the countryside?

Book Review: The Family and the New Totalitarianism

 

I just finished the book, The Family and the New Totalitarianism (2019) by Michael D. O’Brien. The book was originally published 24 years ago as a compilation of various articles and speeches by the author, as a writer, editor, and speaker. As a father of six, he and his friends’ challenges were with the rapidly changing Canadian school system, as they began to incorporate more controversial teachings, such as the introduction of alternative lifestyles and sexual conduct to younger and younger children.

Political and social changes were influencing the content beyond the acceptable norms that most parents would consider appropriate, but they had little say over their children’s education. When they met with school authorities, they were met with indifference, and in some cases, hostility. This forced the O’Briens, as well as some of their friends, into homeschooling.

O’Brien however, cites many interesting references that go back decades, predicting the morally bankrupt, irresponsible culture we find ourselves in today. For example:

ACF Critic Series #24: Cold War

 

Back to Pawel Pawlikowski: @FlaggTaylor and I have a companion piece to Ida Cold War, a romantic tragedy, which features a couple escaping from and then returning to the Iron Curtain. Whereas Ida is about divine love, this is merely human love. In both cases, the Polish past and totalitarianism are the most important concerns of the story. A deeply affecting movie about national memory and personal memory with special attention to what art and love can and cannot do. A remarkable performance by Joanna Kulig. The beautiful black-and-white cinematography of Lukasz Zal (which earned him an Oscar nomination), as well as heartbreaking Polish folk songs.The movie won the Palme d’Or in Cannes as well as the director prize — it was nominated for three big Oscars, too.

The Demise of Moral Relativism – and Its Consequences

 

The claims of moral relativism have been the bane of modern society as it has risen in popularity. Its origins started centuries ago, but as Progressivism has continued to dominate the Democrat party, it has paradoxically forecast its own death — and deadly consequences for American society. How has that happened and where will it lead us?

So that we’re all on the same page, let me provide a definition of moral relativism. Here’s one:

Moral relativism has steadily been accepted as the primary moral philosophy of modern society, a culture that was previously governed by a ‘Judeo-Christian’ view of morality. While these ‘Judeo-Christian’ standards continue to be the foundation for civil law, most people hold to the concept that right or wrong are not absolutes, but can be determined by each individual. Morals and ethics can be altered from one situation, person, or circumstance to the next. Essentially, moral relativism says that anything goes, because life is ultimately without meaning. Words like “ought” and “should” are rendered meaningless. In this way, moral relativism makes the claim that it is morally neutral.