Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Psychology of Totalitarianism

Classical Greece and Rome had a tradition of appointing a dictator during times of national emergency. After the crisis finished, the dictator would step down so that government could return to normal, usually to some form republic or oligarchy. Following this tradition, modern leaders frequently appeal to times of real or alleged 'crisis' to persuade the populace to entrust them with powers that would normally be distributed.

However, there is a crucial difference. During times of national crisis the ancients would be ruled by a person, whereas we are ruled by laws rather than people. The consequence of this is that the augmented power required by a crisis has to first be legitimized by legislation. And here's the rub: the legislation does not step down after the crisis is over like the classical dictator did. In this way, an entire slough of totalitarian legislation can be built up over the years, like barnacles clinging to a ship, gradually changing the face of society from one of freedom to one of enslavement.

Just consider the following list of executive orders that Presidents have issued to cope with “emergency” situations:

Totalitarian creep should concern us all, but first we must stop thinking of totalitarianism solely in terms of things like steel fences and ID checkpoints. That is where totalitarianism end but it is not where it starts. Totalitarianism, at least in the modern west, has traditionally begun with leaders who are human enough to empathize with our needs and shrewd enough to fulfill those needs as soon as sufficient power is entrusted to them.

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. (See my article Maternal Statecraft). Significantly, 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. Totalitarians tap into a basic impulse of human psychology: the desire to be cared for, the desire to be looked after, and the willingness to surrender substantial liberties for the sake of percieved security.

Even before he was elected President for his first term, Obama identified himself with a type of “caring totalitarianism” of Mussolini. That is why the Obama administration has made clear that they never want a good crisis to go to waste. Times of crisis are opportunities for the government with totalitarian aspirations if the populace can be convinced that the needs of the crisis can only be addressed by the augmentation of power. If the people have already been oriented to view their leader as caring, they will gladly yield up their liberty for the security he promises to bring. That is why, when I defended my decision not to vote for Obama, my reasons were based, not in his policy, but in his compassion. Obama is just caring enough to overcome any obstacle, even the constitution itself, if he believes he is truly helping the American people. And that, my friends, is precisely why he is so dangerous.

Having issued those warnings about Obama, it is appropriate now that he is being inaugurated for a second term, to time to take stock and see how things stand. Has America experience the type of totalitarian creep that I warned about? Well, consider a few facts.
  • By expanding George Bush’s “war on terror” to mainland United States (not to mention expanding it abroad), President Obama has introduced war-time conditions into America. But the “war on terror” is ubiquitous and can never be won since it is against an abstract foe, which by definition can never satisfy the conditions for surrender. The intrusion of this abstract fight into America herself means that all citizens become potential enemies, and no longer can they depend on their historic rights for protection. This is to invest the Executive Branch with a power undreamed of by the architects of the American nation.
  • Obama’s proposed Cybersecurity executive order would re-route all Internet traffic through federal agencies, ostensibly to be on the look-out for terrorist groups. But let’s not forget that under Obama the Department of Homeland Security issued a report associating states’ rights activists and “those “dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion” with domestic terrorists. Is this really the type of administration we want spying on our internet activity?
  • The Obama administration put mechanisms in place earlier this year which have been designed to create an infrastructure inimical to any criticism of Islam.
  • Obama has attempted to bypass the supreme court, showing that he does not understand the division of powers that lies at the heart of the American system.
  • On 16 march, 2012, President Obama signed into law Executive Order 13603, which makes provisions for establishing martial law in America during times of peace. Brandon Turbeville explains how this will allow “the President and his Secretaries have the authority to seize all transportation, energy, and infrastructure inside the United States as well as forcibly induct/draft American citizens into the military” and possible forced labor. (Click here to listen to a revealing radio show about the order, and visit William Anderson’s article Executive Orders and the Decline of Law‘ for a good background about executive orders in general.)

Further Reading

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