Friday, September 4, 2015

Totalitarianism and America today

It seems a stretch to say that American governance has a totalitarian tinge, but it's not such a stretch at all.

Hannah Arendt was the preeminent scholar of totalitarianism in the 20th century. Her classic work-- The Origins of Totalitarianism--is the best overview of the philosophical and political underpinnings of totalitarianism.

Arendt points out that totalitarianism is a very specific type of government--it is not mere tyranny.

Tyranny--of the sort one sees in a tinpot dictatorship--is rule without law. The whims of the tyrant replace the law.

Democracy in a republic is rule by positive law--that is, rule by written objective law that is enforced consistently and applies to all.

Totalitarianism is sui generis. It has a framework of positive law, but enforcement of the law is driven not by the whims of a dictator (as it is in tyranny) but in accordance with "laws" of nature or history. 

Totalitarian states employ traditional legal structures of positive law to bring about changes in society based on theories of nature or history--theories of racial superiority or class struggle. All of this happens in a matrix of traditional law--totalitarian states are not lawless and are not arbitrary.

Selective enforcement of the law in accordance with a grand theory of nature or history is the hallmark of totalitarianism. The purpose of law enforcement is terror--to radically change society and human nature using selective enforcement of law in accordance with a theory of man that is outside positive law.

Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were not lawless. Both states had extensive comprehensive legal systems. Both states ostensibly guaranteed a variety of rights--the Soviet constitution, for example, guaranteed freedom of religion and speech. But the enforcement of the law was tailored entirely to the accomplishment of radical transformation of society according to "laws" of nature or "laws" of history.

It was illegal in Germany to commit murder. But the law was selectively enforced: murdering a member of the Nazi Party was prosecuted with vigor. Murder of a Jew was not prosecuted. Free speech was respected, in a sense, in the Soviet Union. The right of citizens to speak freely of the virtues of the state and the Party was protected. The right of citizens to criticize the State or the Party was not protected.

It is the peculiar nature of totalitarian states that radical social transformation is achieved via selective enforcement of the law to achieve an 'inevitable' and 'desirable' social change. The totalitarian application of law is necessarily sufficiently unpredictable as to lead to a general terror of government persecution. This "freezes" the populace (to use Arendt's term) which enables the totalitarians to move society en masse with much greater efficiency.

One cannot see the developments in American society over the past six years--massive selective enforcement of law to achieve ideological ends, persecution and jailing of Christians, incessant gaystapo attacks on supporters of marriage, bizarre court rulings unhinged in precedent or law or reason, kangaroo courts on college campuses to prosecute obviously innocent male students for rape--without wondering if Arendt's totalitarian structure of government is becoming more and more a reality in our country--a fundamental transformation of America.

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