Friday, September 04, 2009

The Temptation of Caring Totalitarianism

What are some of the first things that come to your mind when thinking about the great dictators of the 20th century?

Doubtless there are an array of attributes that are associated with men such as Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin and Stalin, but I can venture that qualities such as “caring” and “compassionate” are probably not the first things that spring to mind.

And that is unfortunate, because it obscures an important part of why individuals and nations find totalitarianism initially so attractive. Totalitarianism never starts with steel fences and ID checkpoints. Rather, it begins with a leader who is human enough to empathize with your needs and just possibly shrewd enough to fulfill those needs as soon as sufficient power is entrusted to him.

When totalitarianism does arrive, it arrives as the concomitant of a population that has been oriented to view the state as benefactor and protector, even as the great mother. When Mussolini first coined the term “totalitarianism” it was not a pejorative slur, nor was it something connoting tyranny. Rather, he used the word to refer to a humane society in which everyone was taken care of and looked after by a state which encompassed all of life within its grasp.

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