The Many Guises Of The Totalitarian Impulse
Wouldn’t it be nice and fair and simple if all the voting systems across the country were the same?
Wouldn’t it be nice and fair and simple if every school in the nation were equally as good?
Wouldn’t it be nice and fair and simple if everyone had access to robust and identical health care programs?
Whether or not one agrees with these statements, it must be said that they have a certain visceral appeal – what could be wrong with structural equality? – and they have a definite rhetorical advantage because if one does not see their merits, one must, therefore, be in favor of structural inequality.
And it is this rhetorical advantage that is so sublimely being used now – and always has been used throughout history - to mask the woke’s quest for dominance.
For each of the above notions – among countless others – have something important in common: The need for centralization; that is, the need for a centralized power to determine and then enforce exactly what equal means. And that requires people to wield that power.
Totalitarians seldom attempt to gain power based on a platform that overtly and specifically states that they plan to take over your personal life, control societal interactions, and re-set cultural norms as much as possible. Instead, they use these types of pleasantly barbed “nice, fair, and simple” hooks ad nauseum to win the public’s trust.
An underlying authoritarian urge can be hard to detect, but to protect the rights of the individual in a free society it is important that a nation look beyond the details of a specific statement or policy proposal and, instead, get to the root impetus to determine, as objectively as possible, whether what is being put forward centralizes or decentralizes power. It can be argued that power is a zero-sum game and that the amount of “power” in a given system doesn’t actually change, but the center and concentration of power can change often. It should also be noted that, once such changes are made, they can be difficult to rectify, especially if that power is embedded in essentially eternal organizations that have little, if any, direct public oversight. As Sir Humphrey Appleby once said: ‘Permanence is power; rotation is castration.”
By using the centralization question as the first filter through which all public policy (and, arguably, cultural manifestations) must pass, a society can better defend itself.
For example, take HR 1 (the voting rights bill) that the Democrats want to pass. The bill would set national standards and systems for conducting elections – again, an idea that could sound reasonable. But at its core, it is absolutely totalitarian in nature, shifting all power over the most basic action taken in a democracy to one, centralized, controllable place. Therefore, no matter the theoretical convenience, “fairness,” or what have you, it is an authoritarian concept.
Let’s now look at the concept of ending the Senate filibuster. While many – if not most – political factions would at some level, deep down, possibly, like to end the practice, whether or not they would actually do so is telling. At its heart, the filibuster is about protecting transitorily minoritized viewpoints and enshrining the idea that power itself should be – at some level, at least - a shared thing. Overtly and strictly limiting the rights of the party temporarily out of power is a totalitarian concept.
This same argument can be made with respect to the establishment of speech codes and/or the desire to pre-emptively limit what can be said by those who may be in opposition. A crucial aspect of any totalitarian political culture is the outright control of speech and thought, or at least the creation of societal strictures that best ensure that thoughts and speech conform to the empowered group’s wishes.
Therefore, the attitude taken towards speech should strongly inform the public about the true nature of a political movement or specific policy; in other words, if a political – or societal – group even contemplates, let alone allows or supports, limits on free speech and open debate it can be rightly be described as totalitarian, no matter what “pleasant” reason is given or any other justification offered.
This attitude towards centralization does not have to be openly and specifically all-encompassing to have an impact. When it comes to cities and counties (i.e., local, diffuse government), the California legislature has been considering bills that would strip them of – or at least lessen their control over -- land use and zoning. This may seem to be a bit esoteric, but it goes to the heart of the issue of centralization.
Traditionally, in America, when local land use issues were involved, it was almost always deemed best to leave such matters in local hands. Obviously, when those decisions were taken out of spite, were incredibly harmful to the common good, or were racially motivated, higher powers should, could, and eventually did, step in. But to preemptively make such decisions at the state or federal level is anathema to more individualistic political concepts. A good example of this is Biden’s land use language in a recent bill, which, while it does not technically require higher densities, does include massive financial “incentives” for them, incentives that can be turned on or off by federal bureaucrat.
An especially worrisome, if rather obvious, part of the totalitarian/collectivist playbook recently has been the issue of federalization. As created, our federal system was, ironically, specifically designed to thwart the federalization of policies and practices. The dispersal of power to multiple levels of governance was seen then – and remains today – the best possible way to resist this type of centralization (it’s even embodied in the federal government itself through the “balance of powers” idea). Therefore, any policy that increases federal power at the expense of more local control is, at its heart, in the authoritarian mode.
The idea of centralizing power is, forgive me, central to the continued and/or potential success (depending upon your viewpoint) of the more totalitarian streams of current political thought. The more concentrated a regime is, the easier it is to control the (fewer and fewer) levers of society. To echo Caligula (or Nero or Stalin -- either way not the best company to be in) things would truly have been easier if, in fact, “Rome had only one neck to strangle.”
We may all just have to stick our necks out to make sure that never happens.
Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more of his work at https://thomas699.substack.com/
IMAGE: Created by Andrea Widburg using images from PurePNG.
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