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What does ‘totalitarian’ actually mean?

to·tal·i·tar·i·an
–adjective
1. of or pertaining to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.
2. exercising control over the freedom, will, or thought of others; authoritarian; autocratic.

–noun.
3. an adherent of totalitarianism.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary

But are those really the best definitions of totalitarian?

When someone uses the term ‘totalitarian’, we think of Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany or Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Mao’s China. Those were indisputably totalitarian states. We think of gulags and killing fields. We think of secret police and surveillance.

Yet I would argue that all those things can just as satisfactorily described as ‘tyranny’ of whatever political completion. The thing that makes a place ‘totalitarian’ is not the nastiness of it or even the repressiveness of it, but the totality of state control. The real defining characteristic of totalitarian seems obvious from the word itself.

And what is a total state? It is a state in which there is no civil society, just politically derived rules by which people may interact. And I would argue the key to that is removing the right to free association, usually on grounds of ‘fairness’ or ‘diversity’ and by declaring private property to be ‘public’.

Britain has no gulags, no killing fields, it has a relatively free press (though less so than it was), it has no internal passports (though they are working on that with ID cards and panoptic surveillance)… but every year we take more and more steps towards the destruction of a voluntary civil society of free interaction and its replacement with a state in which no aspect of life is not politically regulated. This is often described as making things ‘more democratic’… and in that the supporters of the total state are not being disingenuous, for democracy is just a type of politics after all.

We are headed for a different kind of totalitarianism than that of Stalin or Hitler or Mao, but a total state really is what a great many people have in mind for us all. They seek a sort of ‘smiley face fascism’ in which all interactions are regulated in the name of preventing sexism, promoting health, and defending the environment. The excuses will not invoke the Glory of the Nation or the Proletariat or the Volk or the King or the Flag or any of those old fashioned tools for tyrants, but rather it will be “for our own good”, “for the Planet”, “for the whales”, “for the children”, “for the disabled” or “for equality”.

But if they get their way it will be quite, quite totalitarian.

96 comments to What does ‘totalitarian’ actually mean?

  • Ham

    Well observed. I remember watching a press conference with Tony Blair about a year ago where, after introducing another ‘get em while their young’ policy on crime, he said, with a tone of defeated resignation, that ‘I can’t raise people’s kids for them.’ The fact that a Prime Minister of the UK should even have to say such a thing is indicative of the creeping ideal of the total political state. Plenty of people were complaining that he wasn’t doing enough. That it’s quite likely that the next PM or the one after that will rebuke Blair’s words as ‘selfish pessimism’ is the real reason to worry about the children.

  • Collins Dictionary has it better:

    adj. of, denoting, relating to, or characteristic of a dictatorial one-party state that regulates every realm of life. [from TOTALITY + ARIAN]

    Modern Britain is thus in danger of becoming totalitarian, while the EU aims to create such a system across the entire continent it increasingly appears.

    Even more worryingly, as the average citizen seems to positively welcome central control, both Britain and the EU get daily closer to becoming tyrannies as defined by Popper.

  • Jacob

    of, denoting, relating to, or characteristic of a dictatorial one-party state that regulates every realm of life.

    The key word is: “EVERY realm of life” – that is the distinction between a petty dictatorship (or monarchy)and a totalitarian regime. The dictators enforce usually a political regime (i.e. they block the access of others to power), and maybe also some few other issues that they fancy.
    The totalitarian regime attempts to enforce not only all behaviour, but – mainly – enforce thought – what people are alowed to think.

    Another key characteristic is the “enforce” part: a totalitarian regime is a vehement, brutal, unconstrained enforcer – it uses vast amounts of brute force upon it’s subjects.

    Now, while the Western nanny state tries to stick it’s nose in many private issues it cannot be termed “totalitarian” without devaluating this term. It lacks the mean brutality that is a basic characteristic of totalitarianism.

    So I would be wary of using the term “totalitarianism” in this context.

  • Ethan

    Once Britain’s slide into totalitarianism is complete, it’s only one further step to Islamic fascism. The only difference between two different ‘complete rules for life’ is wether the jackbooted thug is wearing a suit or a Keffeyah.

  • I may be wrong, but I think the word ‘totalitarian’ was invented either by Mussolini or by one of his propagandists.

    It’s always described an ambition or goal that tyrants have rather than a reality, They can instill fear, but old Musso could’nt even make the trains run on time, no matter what he got people to believe.

    The Soviets conned the CIA into thinking that they had the world’s second largest economy and the Nazis were by no means as efficient as the allies thought.

    The EU is mildly authoritarian and fascistic only in the sense that they sometimes try and follow a corporatist model and at other times try to shove what they imagine to be a free market system down the throats of Europe’s peoples.

    EU economics are closer to those of Louis XIV than to those of Hitler or Stalin

  • Jacob, but my whole point is we should not use ‘totalitarian’ to just mean brutal or dictatorial or repressive or murderous or tyrannical… those words work just fine. It is the total-ness that I think needs to be highlighted or the word just becomes a synonym for all the other negative terms and actually tells us very little.

    My contention is that it is not brutality that should define totalitarianism (I realise totalitarianism and brutality have a tendency to go together) as we already have all manner of very expressive words to describe brutal political regimes, it is just the fact that control is so omnipresent, so total, that it is impossible to avoid in almost anything you do.

    In so many ways, the staggering pervasiveness of modern regulatory democratic states really does fit the definition of ‘total’ control. Unless this is pointed out, the meta-context shifts and the fact everything you do is regulated just becomes ‘the way it is’.

  • Rob

    Spot on. Although you in England are farther ahead of us in the US in the advancement of velvet totalitarianism, we are playing catch up. I lived in England for nearly two years and I was creeped out by the cameras everywhere and the abomination of a TV tax. Not to mention ridiculous MOT car inspections and various Council initiatives. All are infringements upon freedom and liberty.

    Recently in the US our elitist el Presidente and Senate are trying to steamroll the American people with an amnesty legislation that a majority of Americans oppose. If this bill passes it will mark the beginning of the strengthening of America’s velvet totalitarianism–started by Republicans in Congress and a Republican President, amazingly enough. Not to mention Democrats will say nary a word. After all, whatever the best interests of the state are, the same apply to the Democrat Party.

    We don’t live in full-blown Kim Jong-Il tyranny, and I don’t suspect we ever will, but it sure will be a tyranny of sorts when the state acts without the consent or support of its citizenry.

  • M4-10

    Taylor is on to something and Mussolini provides the best definition:

    “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

  • I think this post is right on. The word totalitarian is indeed separable from brutal or dictatorial in some cases. Japan is the country you’re looking for for a sterling example of how this works. It isn’t a brutal dictatorship by any means, but the people are very closely controlled in almost every aspect of their lives. Ordinary Japanese citizens quite literally do watch each other and report even minor details of their neighbors’ comings and goings to the police. All of which isn’t to say, of course, that it isn’t starting to get pretty bad in Britain too.

  • to·tal·i·tar·i·an – that form of government which those who represent themselves as partialatarians actually intend to achieve.

  • Yes. The post makes a worryingly accurate point.

    But why is it that so many people actually seem to welcome it? Is it that they are afraid and want to be like children. Protected and told what to do. Never have to think for themselves?

    Do they really believe it is all for their own good?

  • IanP

    Phil, you asked: But why is it that so many people actually seem to welcome it? Is it that they are afraid and want to be like children. Protected and told what to do. Never have to think for themselves?

    If you look at each new law in isolation, some small number of the population gain, because it addresses a need, whilst the rest of population remain indifferent because there is no direct impact on them. It was not until road charging with surveillance hit the headlines that people woke up, being something that affects a large majority.

    It is not until you add all these laws together, to see how they could be used if applied to the entire population in a fashion only slightly different to the originally promised use, that you see the road we are taking.

    It could be that some MP’s are just overwhelmed by the sheer weight of legislation to hit them over the years, but that is probably as far as I would be prepared to go to give them a way out. But as we have always professed in the UK, ignorance of the law is no defence.

    What concerns me just as much is that opposition parties are not pledging in any way to dismantle this surveillance state, only promising to tweak with it a little, which to me makes them just as culpable.

  • Sam Duncan

    I couldn’t agree more. I said as much in a comment a while ago. Totalitarianism isn’t about brutality, or even, I would argue, the one-party state. It’t the total state: the belief that there is no such thing as “none of the government’s business”. There are far too many people in this country – many of them in positions of power – who think that way.

  • IanP

    The real battleground if you like will be the Children.

    European Commission documents openly state that they envisage resistance from the adult population, and advise to concentrate efforts on the next generation.

    This would explain the Home office plans being put forward at the moment for profiling children, the children’s database, secret fingerprinting in schools, children’s data sharing and the Ofsted Tellus2 children’s questionnaire.

  • secret fingerprinting in schools

    Sigh. Ok, go on, I’ll call you on that. Not in the school I taught at a little while ago, not at the school my partner teaches at.

    You know better, no doubt.

  • guy herbert

    I agree with Perry and Taylor. It is a quality of and ambition for the state as all-encompassing, not the means of oppression. It is a characteristic of modern totalitarians, pointed out by Orwell, long ago, that they seek to make even oppositional thought impossible. Once that is achieved the need for violence is transcended.

    Sorry to harp on again about civic republicanism, the preferred state model of the New Labour Project, but I think you’ll find ‘the citizen as constituted by his duties’
    is logically equivalent to “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

    We liberals are necessarily pluralists. Marxists can be, when they try, since they heve a theory based on conflict of interests giving rise to progress, though they be collective interests. But the civic republicans have as much difficulty with freedom of action as the theocrats.

  • Perry, you underestimate the British way of repression.
    No Gulags?
    Go to any inner city in the mainstream of England, from London to Newcastle to Bristol and Cardiff.
    Every council estate contains thousands of people desperate to leave, who are forbidden to by the killing combination of low income and revitalised civil masters, sorry ‘servants’, who tell people they have no special priviledges and condemn them to yet more years in the hinterland of social repression.

    No killing fields?
    Pol Pot didn’t want to make examples; he wanted all dead.
    The British are satisfied with a few hundred selective deaths a year and enough repression to ensure living death for the rest.

    The politics is just a joke, a game; after the social climate is established, the politicians go to work as sporting men.

  • I agree that we are headed for a form of totalitarianism.

    Perhaps, the clearest indication of this is the trend towards ever more surveillance of the general public. We see it in the rise of CCTV (with both speaking and listening forms in the pipeline), the proposals for a “spy in the sky” to track every vehicular journey (under the guise of congestion charging), the retention of everyone’s communications data, the proliferation of databases holding everyone’s personal details and the proposed national identity scheme that will enable these databases to be tied together as well as tracking people’s usage of their ID cards.

    It seems to me that a major problem for those who see where this is all going and wish it to be stopped and reversed, is that many people are often indifferent if not actively supportive of much of this agenda. and because so far it has not been accompanied by much in the way of active repression of dissent/opposition, or brutality, people seem to think those complaining about these trends are paranoid and/or are exaggerating the dangers.

    Britain still has reasonably free political dialogue, an independent judiciary and reasonably free (if looking increasingly dodgy) elections. If you’re arrested you still have some rights and you may even get a jury trial. You’re not likely to be disappeared for voicing political opinions the government doesn’t like.

    Because we are in transition, the habits of a relatively free democracy still exist and we still have some way to go before we’re a fully totalitarian society, most people it seems are not alarmed by the increasing political control over society that we’re seeing.

    I guess we could call it Weimar Britain, except we’re a lot more prosperous than the Weimar republic was.

  • Petronius

    M4-10’s post hits it well with the quote from Il Duce: Everything within the State. Jeanne Kirkpatrick made this point a quarter of a century ago. An authoritatian state maintains itself in power by quashing all explicit opposition. The totalitarian state maintains itself by quashing all independent association, even if utterly non-threatenting to the State. In the 80’s I read Hedrick Smith’s The Russians, and what fascinated me about it was the complete control the Party ran for all groupings of people. You couldn’t establish your own bird-watching club or stamp-collecting group; they all had to be set up under the aegis of the government, even if they posed no possible danger to the Party. Authoritarians don’ care. Caudillos like Pinochet jailed leftist priests, but never bothered setting up their own church. Yet the Chinese government will not allow Rome to appoint local bishops. Some habits die hard.

  • Jacob

    It’s the total state: the belief that there is no such thing as “none of the government’s business”.

    Well, yes. On the philosophical level – this notion can be labeled “totalitarianism”.
    But the belief that “everything is the government’s business” must be implemented or it’s meaningless. There is no way a really intrusive, oppressive government can be implemented except by immense force. Orwell got it right: in 1984 – force is used and threatened. The story about how in the future the people will be “educated” and force no longer necessary – is the usual “end of the world” utopia, not a state existing in reality (or in 1984).

    So, from my perspective, maybe a narrow, practical rather than philosophical perspective, totalitarianism is associated with massive use of force.
    A totalitarian regime is also associated with a leader, or fuhrer, with a big person (big Brother).
    What you have in Europe is more like an anthill of faceless insects set loose to bother and annoy, not a pack of killer wolves. A heap of anti-heroes, of empty suits.
    They are maybe totalitarian, to some degree, in their thinking, but not in the implementation.
    Authoritarian, statist, dirigiste, socialist (nuts) – these words would describe better the current ideology than “totalitarian”. It’s bad enough without using the ultimate and highest and strongest adjective in our vocabulary.

  • The advantage the USA has is that their constitution tries (with at least some success) to put some aspects of life beyond politics. The very concept of “Congress shall make no law…” is something completely absent in Britain and many other quite democratic countries. The House of Commons can do what it wishes if a majority of MPs say so.

  • veryretired

    The key element in any social/cultural/political construct is the question, “Who owns the individual?”.

    Some say the state, or the party, or the people, or the common good, or the public interest, or the volk. Each of these, in its own way, is a path to the total state.

    If I can tell you what to do, and how to do it, and when to do it, regarding every little aspect of your daily life, then the particular excuse I use to justify that control becomes almost insignificant.

    All that matters is the control.

    When there is nothing to stop me, nothing will. If there are no limits to what I may do, then there will be no limits to what I will do.

    Violence, brutality, gulags—all these are merely symptoms, the lesions that demonstrate the disease’ progress towards putrefaction.

    It was said that the wages of sin are death. After an entire century of experimenting with various forms of totalitarianism, it is abundantly clear that liberty = life, and, conversely, slavery = death.

    And, further, the latter holds true regardless of the “nobility” of the motives of the slavers.

    Humans are, by their very nature, free, self-owning entities. Each is, and must be, an end in his- or her-self.

    Any other answer to the question I posed at the beginning is an invitation to despotism. And that is one invitation which is always accepted.

    As an addendum, I just watched “The Lost City”, the very personal movie about Cuba by Andy Garcia. It is a very good, very beautiful movie, with wonderful latin music throughout. It reminded me of “Dr Zhivago”, which Garcia states in one of the special features was an inspiration for him when he made it. I recommend it very highly.

  • IanP

    David Jones, re fingerprinting.

    See the Leave those kids alone website.
    http://www.leavethemkidsalone.com/

    its been quietly going on for a few years now.

  • Perry said, “They seek a sort of ‘smiley face fascism’…”

    I’ve had that image in my mind’s eye for a couple of decades now. It is no more strange to think of future fascists wearing smiley-face patches on their shirts, than it was once strange to think that totalitarian mass-murderers would wear the patch of the swastika, which — prior to the Nazis — had been a positive symbol of energy, good luck, and success since the Neolithic period. In fact, it was the swastika’s positive associations, which the Nazis wished to appropriate for themselves and their racially-cleansed Thousand Year Reich.

    I have always wanted to watch a movie or TV series, in which the totalitarian bad-guys wore smiley-face patches, and during which was explained the appropriation of the symbol and how it was “repurposed” to become one of the most globally detested icons in human history.

    Not that this entertainment need be fictional. With what seems to be going in Britain and the US today, we might be talking about a reality series — or even the evening news — soon enough.

  • ArtD0dger

    A totalitarian regime is also associated with a leader, or fuhrer, with a big person (big Brother).
    What you have in Europe is more like an anthill of faceless insects set loose to bother and annoy, not a pack of killer wolves. A heap of anti-heroes, of empty suits.
    They are maybe totalitarian, to some degree, in their thinking, but not in the implementation.
    Authoritarian, statist, dirigiste, socialist (nuts) – these words would describe better the current ideology than “totalitarian”. It’s bad enough without using the ultimate and highest and strongest adjective in our vocabulary.

    I agree with your warning about the use of hyperbole, but the problem is not that current situation represents totalitarianism. The problem is that even benign institutions of control exist in an unstable equilibrium. They are prone to being co-opted by the corrupt and the ruthless, thus giving birth to totalitarianism.

    I’m not one to rail against admitting the camel’s nose into the tent, but I think that’s actually his dick.

  • Midwesterner

    Some commenters appear to equate ‘use of force’ with ‘demonstration of force’. By this thinking, there is no force when there is no defiance.

    An unfired gun is as forceful or more forceful than one that is fired. If you do not believe you are well on your way to totalitarianism, think of the range of activities that are now prohibited that didn’t use to be.

    I can’t speak knowledgeably of the UK, but I can tell you that in the USA, if you dare to build a house, or even an addition on a house that does not contain the state approved amount and distribution of insulation, the structure is destroyed at your expense and fines may be levied. Oh, I forgot. After the house/addition is destroyed, they charge the cost of the destruction and cleanup (to the government’s standards including site safety, environmental impact, hauling debris to an approved disposal site by an approved means and paying relevant fees, regrading and establishing grass or cover, all done by OSHA, EPA, etc rules) to you and it is put on your property taxes.

    If you don’t pay up, your house will be sold at auction on the courthouse steps to pay for all of this simply because the gov didn’t like your insulation. But in exchange for this benevolent concern for your welfare, you must get something, right? Does the state pay your heating bill? No? Then what business is it of their’s how you insulate? In truth, it is nobody’s business by your’s and anybody you sell your house to.

    Oh, one more thing. Resist any one of these steps and you will be attacked (no sense mincing words here) by armed forces (generally county deputies backed up by state troopers if they expect resistance) that will use deadly force, not to enforce insulation regulations, but to punish resistance to state power. They won’t shoot you for violating insulation regulations. But they will shoot you for defending your house they have sold to pay the cost of your violating insulation regulations. (Or for preventing them from coming on your property and destroying your house.)

    This is far from a limited example. I just chose the first thing that came to my mind. I’m sure we could fill the thread with examples.

    Perry’s case stands. ‘Use of force’ does not require ‘demonstration of force’. Totalitarian refers to scope, not method. Big Brother’s got a shiv in his left hand and it pays to remember this when we look at all of the ‘minor’ meddlings in our lives.

  • Orwell and others imagined that a future totalitarian state would be effectively repressive. They knew that it would not be able to put food on the table or develop new technology, but they thought it would be highly efficient at surpressing freedom.

    It ain’t always so.

    I seriously doubt that the British state is any more effective at surpressing crime, or devient behavior, than it was when I lived there and the street were full of Paki Bashing skinheads.

    Goverments are inefficient, its the only thing that ,makes them tolerable.

  • Oh, come on. If Britain in 2007 is a totalitarian state, then we need a different word for real totalitarianism, meaning the kind of state Stalin or Hitler ran.

    Such hyperbole is an insult to the people who are living in, fighting against, and suffering under real totalitarian regimes, like those of Cuba or North Korea.

    As a rule of thumb, as long as you can criticize the British government on Samizdata and not be locked up, it is not a totalitarian state.

  • Oh, come on. If Britain in 2007 is a totalitarian state

    No, Britain in 2007 is not a totalitarian state. Not so sure about Britain in 2017 however if present trends continue. I am saying that is were we are headed, not where we are now.

    And my whole point is not that we need a different term for Stalin et al, we just need to understand that a total state that controls every aspect of life does not have to look like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Those regimes were Communist (mass murderous collectivist totalitarian) and Nazi (mass murderous collectivist totalitarian), and those word describe them fine. Britain in 2017 may well be described as a populist authoritarian totalitarian democracy.

  • Midwesterner

    Something about Infidel’s comment reminds me of curiosities like this one, where a 62 pound fish is caught with a line that has a 12 pound breaking strength. We can view the strength of state power as the strength of the fishing line.

    I think Infidel is mistaking speed for outcome. What is different about the NKs and USSRs of the world is not the result, but the strength that can be applied to achieve it. The difference is that Kim Jong-il and Joseph Stalin are/were fishing with stronger line. The very gentleness of the pressure in the west is totalitarian’s hope for success. “Give in where we must and take when we can, never letting up” seems to be the motto of all totalitarians in waiting. Needless to say, as they can strengthen their lines, they pull harder.

    Do they mean well? Does it matter? It is sad how often the path to totalitarianism winds through democracy.

    Ultimately, the status quo always pales next to a strong trend.

  • nick g.

    I always thought the totalitarian society was one where a great Leader would remold ALL of society into a better form. The EU is Authoritarian, but is there a goal to which it aspires? I think not. Singapore is Authoritarian, but the government keeps out of religion. North Korea is Totalitarian, because it all centers on one person with a ‘vision’.

  • CFM

    I always thought the totalitarian society was one where a great Leader would remold ALL of society into a better form. The EU is Authoritarian, but is there a goal to which it aspires? I think not. Singapore is Authoritarian, but the government keeps out of religion. North Korea is Totalitarian, because it all centers on one person with a ‘vision’.”

    Perhaps you’re thinking of a “Cult of Personality”.

    Under Totalitarianism, every effort, asset, enterprise, opinion, and even thought is dictated from above. There are many apparatchiks in Brussels and national governments who would love to so dictate, and do indeed intend to re-mold society after some utopian Vision.

    Whether it’s one Great Knucklehead with a vision, or an army of Empty Suits, you an I are screwed.

  • Perry

    I always find it ironic that the State – that great destroyer of civil, of civilised and of volunteer, cooperative society – is so favoured by the Left.

    The same people who berated Thatcher for supposedly declaring that “there is no such thing as society”.

  • Chris Harper (Counting Cats)

    Blame our grand parents for this confusion.

    For the last couple of hundred years freedom seekers have advocated democracy as the appropriate means by which a free people should govern themselves, to the point that democracy became the end, rather than simply the means.

    The issue is that people remain free, supporting tyranny via democratic choice does not make it less tyrannous.

  • nick g.

    To CFM
    What’s this “You an I are screwed”? I live in Australia. I realise that my clear pronounciation and logical arguments fooled you into thinking I’m an Oxbridge Don, but it ain’t so. U is screwed, I is saved, praise the Lord and pass the ammo!

  • Chris

    Thats right. Democracy is only a means, liberty is the end.

    “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep arguing over what’s for dinner. Liberty is an armed sheep disputing the outcome”
    I think Madison

  • John_R

    Don’t count your chooks, nick g. We Australians may not have gone so far down the track as the UK, but Honest John Howard and Kuddly Kevin Rudd both have that dangerous gleam in the eye which means they are determined to do what is “good for us”, whether we like it or not. We mustn’t be complacent just because the sun shines.

  • Nick M

    Perry, minor quibble.
    Of course most people think of Stalin or Hitler when totalitarianism is mentioned. Of course they think of gulags and death camps. Jews and Kulaks being gassed or starved is a hell of a lot more vivid an image than me bitching about having to pay a TV license.

    I don’t think what is happening in the UK is “fascism with a smiley face”. It is real-deal “full on” totalitarianism. The government taxes my wife and spends some of her money telling her to eat more fruit and vegetables. My wife is vegetarian. Telling people what to eat is totalitarian. And also patronising and frankly slightly incredible coming from fat gits like Brown and Prescott. It’s actually worse than the Nazis in it’s scope. They get away with it because it’s less nasty.

    But it is total. Nikita Krushchev wasn’t actually offed when he fell from power. The USSR had mellowed somewhat by that point. Instead he was put under house-arrest in his dacha. He said of this, with his usual bluntness, that he “couldn’t take a shit without the Kremlin knowing”. That is the future our Lords and masters have planned for us.

    And my point is this. “Totalitarianism” isn’t Nazism or Fascism or Communism or Juche. It can just as easily be a continual desire by a government to meddle with everything. The Nazis didn’t actually do that. They didn’t even put the economy on a war-footing till half-way through the war. If you were a non-Jewish (obviously) middle-class Hausfrau your life of Kuche, Kirche und Kinden was utterly unaffected by the Nazis for most of their reign. The Nazis got away with it because they were deep but narrow. NuLab gets away with it because it’s broad but shallow. The Nazis tortured and killed certain sections of society. NuLab merely makes everyone’s life slightly more miserable.

    Well everyone who isn’t on their payroll doing something utterly frigging useless like being a “five-a-day co-ordinator” or a “semi-detached youth worker” or an “artist in residence” in a crumbling NHS hospital… They’re all happy as sand-boys but then I suspect most of them are sufficiently bovine not to really think. They probably suspect they’re doing good… Well they’re thick aren’t they? We have a dictatorship of dim-witted curtain-twitchers. Technocrats who couldn’t change a fucking lightbulb, Patricia sodding Hewitt.

  • I think midwesterner is quite right: Didn’t much of communist Europe rely on demonstration of force without using much of it –at least after the initial confrontations of the cold war had given them the opportunity to demonstrate how far they were prepared to go? Not that many people actually got shot trying to make it over the Berlin wall because few actually tried.
    In addition to the general comments on the new kind of totalitarianism, there is the further detail that many new laws don’t seem to be enforced as much as they could be. ASBOS and various due process restrictions could probably be abused much more widely than they currently are. The problem is that this leads to a build up of authoritarian legislation which ever fewer people care to notice any longer. After all, much of life goes on as usual for most people, at least for a while. All it will eventually take, is a government with an authoritarian agenda which is prepared to make full use of all the powers available. At that point, things could deteriorate very quickly without any need for legislative change!

  • Jacob

    Telling people what to eat is totalitarian.

    No! Government telling people what to eat is silly.

    If government agetns shoot randomly people for “not eating correctly”, or send them to a Siberia camp – that’s totalitarian.

    a total state that controls every aspect of life does not have to look like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany

    Wrong. It does.
    If the state does not use violent repression – then people will, at some point, ignore it, rebel against it, ridicule it, vote it out of power, write against it, protest, strike, emmigrate…. etc… etc.

    Look how helpless the French state is in face of student protests and strikes.

    No. Without violent and brutal repression totalitarianism can’t be implemented by the state.

  • …and it’s still worrying.

    So if the problem is defined, is there practically speaking actually anything that will turn the clock back on it?

    Do the electorate want to, or even care to?

  • Jacob

    All it will eventually take, is a government with an authoritarian agenda which is prepared to make full use of all the powers available. At that point, things could deteriorate very quickly without any need for legislative change!

    “a government with an authoritarian agenda which is prepared to make full use of all the powers available” doen’t need any legislation. A totalitarian government just shoots people at will.

    A government that depends on a legislative process isn’t totalitarian.

  • IanP

    Jacob,

    Even Hitler used the legislative route to gain control.

    See Enabling Act.

    It provides legitimacy in the early days, whereby they can claim it is the will of the people that we take over.

  • MarkE
    Telling people what to eat is totalitarian.

    No! Government telling people what to eat is silly.

    Sorry Jacob but I disagree; if government is going to get involved in trying to regulate such trivial things as what is on my dinner plate it must be aiming to regulate the totality of my life. It is therefore totalitarian.

    If government agetns shoot randomly people for “not eating correctly”, or send them to a Siberia camp – that’s totalitarian.

    That is the method by which totalitarianism is imposed, not totalitarianism itself. If government threatens to withhold medical treatment for those who fail to “eat correctly” it is violent and oppressive, but that is still the means not the end.

  • “A government that depends on a legislative process isn’t totalitarian.”

    Maybe, but the transition from a non-totalitarian state to a totalitarian one might well need some legislation. I fear that we are simply witnessing how the introduction of such legislation is leading its application.
    Hitler needed the enabling act at some point. And for some reason, even traditional totalitarian regimes continued some form of legislation, they may not depend on it, but seem to find it useful. They just switched from the rule of law to the rule by law:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe48ZWqp0bY(Link)

  • IanP

    Jacob,

    as Joseph Goebbels wrote shortly after the passage of the Enabling Act:

    The authority of the Führer has now been wholly established. Votes are no longer taken. The Führer decides. All this is going much faster than we had dared to hope.

    It is indicative of the care that Hitler took to give his dictatorship an appearance of legality that the Enabling Act was formally extended twice by the Reichstag (by then a puppet of Hitler) beyond its original 1937 expiration date.

    It is also worth noting that Tony Blair has already passed his own version of the Enabling Act, which he or Brown could use at any time should they feel that their current course is not moving fast enough or meeting too much resistance, which is the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act.

    If you compare the 2, they are so close to being identical it is certainly worrying.

  • It is also worth noting that Tony Blair has already passed his own version of the Enabling Act, which he or Brown could use at any time should they feel that their current course is not moving fast enough or meeting too much resistance, which is the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act.

    If you compare the 2, they are so close to being identical it is certainly worrying.

    Dangerous as the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (LRRA) is, I’m not sure it is as directly comparable to the Enabling Act as you suggest.

    The LRRA enables a progressive sidelining of Parliament as part of the “normal” legislative process, where the Enabling Act was ostensibly a set of emergency powers. The LRRA cannot alter the HRA, and still requires votes in Parliament for its orders to get through, but the Enabling Act enabled rule by decree.

    The more direct comparison is between the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) and the Enabling Act. Both are sets of emergency powers giving the executive power to rule by decree, requiring renewal after a set period of time (a week for the CCA, several years for the Enabling Act).

    I actually regard the LRRA is potentially more dangerous in that it allows a gradual sidelining of parliament, without any emergency needing to be invoked (which might be challenged if there’s no clear emergency or if the emergency has subsided). I.e. it enables a stealthy gradual movement towards rule by decree, and can thus stay under people’s radars for longer.

  • One word that seems to be missing in this debate is ‘fear’.

    Are the middle-classes in Britain fearful of the state? If so totalitarianism is on its way in Britain’s existing Popperian tyranny.

    In France street protests of various kinds might indicate they have further to travel down the road to fear of their state than does the UK.

    The US still seems also more ready to resist than England it appears to me when I visit. Of course their entire democratic process has not yet been undermined by NAFTA as ours has by the EU.

  • IanP

    Slightly off track. the coverup begins.

    Treasury have instructed OGC to destroy all gateway review documents and supporting documents.

    http://tinyurl.com/2sub2p

  • Midwesterner
    “Telling people what to eat is totalitarian.”

    No! Government telling people what to eat is silly.

    Nobody does or would ever would get shot in the US for not installing home insulation according to the standards laid down by the officially anointed building code. It’s easy to write off that level of regulation as petty meddling.

    That is because by the time anyone is shot, it is consequence of a steadily escalating degree of threat and force. It begins when they obstruct an officer in the course his duty. Eventually, it escalates to resisting arrest. At some point, a law officer is called on to defend himself while attempting to remove the person from their former home.

    When and if you ever see it in the news, it’s obvious to everyone that the guy was one of the wacko crazies that has guns and home schools his kids. Only because they are the only ones thick skulled enough to resist having the officially required ‘R’ value of insulation in the walls of their new family room.

    The thing to remember is that by escalating the threat and force in stepped phases, the original petty cause is long lost. That is because the real crime is resisting the state.

  • is there practically speaking actually anything that will turn the clock back on it?

    Obviously not while the debate centres on exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  • A government that depends on a legislative process isn’t totalitarian.

    My whole point is that the defining characteristic of a total state is completely independent of how you get to it (be it by subverting a democratic system (Nazi Germany) or violent revolution (Cambodia) or slow but completely pervasive regulatory creep (most modern western democracies). The defining characteristic of a totalitarian state is totality: no unregulated civil society, all interactions are governed by regulations… and that means we are headed towards a total state unless things change. A different type of total state but a total state nevertheless.

  • Brad

    Some random thoughts-

    The simplest terms whether totalitarianism exists is the fact that the US Federal Government has an ~$50 Trillion accrual basis debt. Estimated wealth held in private hands is $48 Trillion. To make good on every promise made so far defined would require the impounding of all personal equity. Therefore it is total.

    The US government is waging a war on drugs, people are swept off the streets in raids everyday. The US has the largest prison population in the world. Assets are seized and sold and put in the treasury.

    The Federal government monitors pretty much at will, especially with new Patriot Act. We are now numbered and tracked.

    The average middle class person with even a modest portfolio doesn”t have a hope of filing their taxes correctly, even in normal years, toss in a death or some special circumstance and it’s impossible. The process of rendering unto Ceasar is nearly impossible without professional assistance. This is perhaps the most tyrannical of all functions if you think about it.

    We have sin taxes, specific tax breaks, special loans, the Holy Thirteen (the Federally protected classes). We have forced insurance programs, annuities that are not REALLY annuities, we have the SEC, the Fed, the controlling if interest, money, and inflation. We have Federally mandated fortification and enrichment of food. We have had all “unowned lands” confiscated by the Federal Government, for the benefit of the its own treasury. One out of every thirteen people work for some layer of government, and it is now estimated that over half the population owe some economic benefit, whether it is a bureaucratic job or some sort of handout, to the Federal Government. It is expected that you will use electronic forms of conducting transactions, any relatively large transaction in cash is suspect.

    ————————————-

    Perhaps more cohesively put, yes, in the US, we have a totalitarian structure. The grid is already there. The one overarching attribute of Totalarianism is how all people are forced by some axiomatic definition into one “whole”. Whether it is the Volk, or Cityoens, or The Proletariat. We HAVE that conception at work everyday in almost every new law that comes into existence. If one defines the proper rationale for a State is to protect life and property, that has, by and large, already been legislated (any new rules would simply be to extend such conceptions as technologies change).

    So what constitutes the remainder of all the endless laws rolling off the presses, at the Federal, State, and local levels? If it’s not to protect life and property, it must then be to change the culture. So new laws are veritably flying off the presses as fast as our betters can dream them up, and for what? To forbid or require, and not for defensive protection, but for offensive control.

    Afterall, it must be remembered that Fascism and Communism are ECONOMIC methodologies. It is the rationale behind such, the forcing of singularity within the population (for efficiency) that such economic beliefs breed that create the necessity for crushing, yet oblique, use of force by the government against the people. And when the economic reality of $50 Trillion debt versus $48 Trillion of “equity” hits, we will then see, will we have a free, pluralistic, market based approach, or will we have massive confiscation and behavioral control, where eating a twinkie or smoking a pipe is an attack on the public treasury?

    Most simply put, we have a totalitarian economic structure, but the consequent political jackbootery has only been brought in selectively because the collectivism thus far has been bought by borrowing and smoke and mirror books. Hard realities are soon on the horizon, then we’ll see if the political end of the logic follows suit.

  • Nick M

    Jacob,
    The fact that it’s silly doesn’t mean it isn’t also totalitarian. The point has already been made on this thread that totalitatarian states are frequently deeply inefficienct.

    The fact that I am told what I should eat by a government who is using my money to fund this program means that government is totalitarian. The fact that Dundee NHS trust felt the need to publish a pamphlet telling people how to defecate makes them totalitarian. The government wants control of how we eat and shit. How much more totalitarian can you get?

    The fact that it’s merely annoying (and expensive) doesn’t make it less totalitarian than carting a specially selected minority off to the death camps. Five a day co-ordinators aren’t as evil as the Gestapo but they are actually trying to be just as controlling. Over the last ten years of labour misrule taxes have been hiked from 37% to 47% in the UK (based upon total GDP). In ten years! Where does it stop? When it hits 57%, 67%, 77%? When we cease working for ourselves entirely and are entirely provided for by the government who (in it’s great benevolence) sees it’s way clear to bung us a few quid pocket money a week to keep us in Victory gin?

    Totalitarianism only has to be backed by the active use of force if that is needed. It hasn’t been needed in the UK so far because we have been lambs to the slaughter. But if any of us were to try and fight back… In the UK the BBC levies a tax for it’s services. This is backed by the force of law. They can clamp your car for not paying your TV license! I run a small business. I can’t clamp someone’s car because they pay me late. Who gave the government this right? Why can’t I have that right?

    And no, I couldn’t give a toss about the Enabling Act or the Fuhrerprinzip or whatever because all of those things only matter if there is an alternative. There is no longer an alternative in the UK. In fact, voting is irrelevant. Anybody who believes that life would be better (or even much different) under Dave Cameron or indeed Ming needs their head examining.

    Try telling the average Brit about Libertarianism. They think you’re a raving nut-job who wants to stockpile assault weapons while demanding tax-cuts for the rich while burning the poor to pay for it. And all the time you’re whacked out of your gourd on skunk and probably a sexual prevert. Jesus, I fucking wish.

    We have become a multi-party totalitarian state. And anybody who disagrees with me on this will be promptly escorted to Belmarsh to be detained at the pleasure of Her Majesty.

  • How can it be totalitarianism when they are telling us how good it is and how easy, to pay taxes, eat our five fruit and veg, and do our five exercises, all to the simpering tunes that have been composed for the occasions; not quite reggae, not quite pop, but perfect for suggesting “we’re jus the peeple who want to remind you what’s good for you.”, sort of like a confused, fat middle-aged guy ambling along the high street wearing those odd trousers that come halfway up the ankle.
    But not with a beer can, obviously.

  • Nobody does or would ever would get shot in the US for not installing home insulation according to the standards laid down by the officially anointed building code…That is because by the time anyone is shot, it is consequence of a steadily escalating degree of threat and force.

    Right, and excellent point. This is why people shouldn’t get too hung up on just how draconian the penalties for violations of particular codes are when determining whether or not a state is “totalitarian.” Just because it isn’t punishable by being shipped of to Siberia for, say, saying something “anti-social” in the US, whereas it was in the Soviet Union, doesn’t necessarily mean that we aren’t controlled to the same degree in some ways. (I guess we’re still a long way from Soviet Russia in reality since there are no internal travel restrictions, we’re free to choose our professions, etc. – but the point is that the US government also does quite a bit of regulation of minutiae – it just puts on a nicer face.)

    The original point of this post is absolutely right. “Totalitarianism” has nothing to do with the level of brutality (though at least the threat of brutality must, I suppose, accompany control at some level) – and everything to do with the scope of regulation.

  • Jacob

    “…and that means we are headed towards a total state unless things change.”

    I don’t think so.

    I think that all politicians, really all people in Britain sincerely and deeply believe in certain basic liberties: the freedom of expression, of the media, of the academia, freedom of association, of religion, freedom of movement, of protest, habeas corpus, fair trial, equality before the law, parliamentary rule, democracy, even private property (with some limitations that you don’t like).

    Why, all those freedoms are solidly enshrined in the EU declaration of rights, in the EU constitution, in the Western mentality.

    While we, libertarians, have many quibbles with policies adopted, and correctly think that they infringe upon personal liberty, they have a different interpretation of liberty, a more limited one, but they believe in liberty, unlike the totalitarians.

    So, I think we are headed toward a more dirigiste, paternalist, statist, slocialist state, a state that we dislike for very good reasons, but still a state far from totalitarian, a state where relative freedom is far greater than there is totalitarian regimes of the present or past.

    Totalitarianism means total absence of freedom and individual rights. No rights at all. Like in the USSR.
    I don’t think the West is headed there.

    You are free to call this statist state of affairs, where freedoms exist, but in a limited form (limited – as interpreted by the libertarian model) – “totalitarianism”
    but I would not call it so.

    If you protest: “true, we’re not yet totalitarian, but we’re on the way there, we’ll arrive there in maybe 10 years” – I don’t think so. But it may be because we disagree of what the term “totalitarian” means.

  • RAB

    So you’re not much bothered about the gradual seeping away of your freedom then Jacob?
    I was going to mount an arguement,
    but most of the ones I was going to make have been round the paddock twice already.
    I was going to cut straight to the jokes
    But I’m not feeling very funny right now for some reason.
    Freedom is being lost, at least in Britain, by steath and deception.
    It’s not a new thing either.
    Since I was born, I have been told how to think, act, and behave, by those who think they know better than me . Also known as the Government.
    Almost my every act from being registered born to parroting their facts in exams you had to pass, so you parroted away, to my death and the Government hoops you still have to jump through when you cease to exist, and the govt steals 40% of your estate.
    My life has had the grubby hands of the State all over it from the moment of conciousness— to the instant of my death.And I wish it gone!!!

    But hey! If you’re not bothered Jacob
    Fair enough.

  • nick g.

    An American restroom sign-

    IF VOTING COULD ACTUALLY CHANGE THINGS,
    IT WOULD BE ILLEGAL.

    Cynical, or spot-on?

  • Julie in Chicago

    Quoth Perry:

    ‘The advantage the USA has is that their constitution tries (with at least some success) to put some aspects of life beyond politics. The very concept of “Congress shall make no law…” is something completely absent in Britain and many other quite democratic countries.’

    Our whole problem in the US is that “Congress shall make no law” is NOT a recognized concept. I have argued with lawyers about this! You even see this mistake made by attorneys presumably on Our Side in their weblogs.

    The mindset is that if you want a given outcome, there will have to be a law to ensure it. When you bring up “Congress shall make no law,” you might as well be speaking Martian.

    I think Perry’s analysis is exactly right. I also think this is an exceptionally interesting string of comments both pro and con.

    Julie

  • Jacob, you said:

    I think that all politicians, really all people in Britain sincerely and deeply believe in certain basic liberties: the freedom of expression, of the media, of the academia, freedom of association, of religion, freedom of movement, of protest, habeas corpus, fair trial, equality before the law, parliamentary rule, democracy, even private property

    I cannot speak for the British, but if you are anything like the rest of the West (and I strongly suspect you are), then this is true, of course, but: the problem is that people rightly realize that these freedoms come with a price tag of uncertainty and insecurity, and most are not willing to pay the price. Of course it is the same outside the West as well, only there people don’t even have the concept of freedom, so there is no contradiction.

  • nick g.

    If Julie in Chicago is right, then the USofA is in even worse trouble than Britain! Whilst the Bill of Rights has a list of rights, Judges have long maintained that this is more like a wish list, as it was not built into the actual workings of Parliament. Parliamentary supremacy has always held sway, for good or ill.
    BUT the Americans tried to build those guarantees into their government! They started off better, but they ended up at the same place, where governments decide what governments can do. If only we could call on Guy Fawkes now!, so he could Fawk all our Governments!

  • Jacob,

    “I think that all politicians, really all people in Britain sincerely and deeply believe in certain basic liberties: the freedom of expression, of the media, of the academia, freedom of association, of religion, freedom of movement, of protest, habeas corpus, fair trial, equality before the law, parliamentary rule, democracy, even private property (with some limitations that you don’t like).”

    All politicians? All people? I know that not to be true. A fair number of people may still believe in these things but, in Europe at least, there are also quite a few who explicitly do not and they are well represented among politicians and academics.

    “Totalitarianism means total absence of freedom and individual rights. No rights at all. Like in the USSR. I don’t think the West is headed there.”

    To a libertarian or classical liberal, liberty should be a right that can be held against the state, not room to play conceded by the state as a favour to the citizen. If you define totalitarianism as a state of affairs where no such concession is made at all then your definition is so restrictive that very few states would ever have qualified. Note that quite a few states readily seen as totalitarian by most would not be covered under your definition. The USSR under Stalin and North Korea might qualify. Eastern Germany and Poland during the cold war would not; Hitler’s Germany would not have been totalitarian by your definition either.

  • Brad

    It seems that Jacob wants to define totalitarian in terms of the propaganda used against the USSR and Nazi Germany.

    Nazi Germany has been portrayed as some wasteland where everyone lived in constant fear, the SS or Gestapo kicking in every door, hauling off everyone at the snap of a finger. The truth is that the mass carried on living their lives (until the war) much as they always had, there were academics who supported such a regime, and the people turned themselves over to it; the Nazis provided pride, jobs, and a sense of security and a goodly proportion of the people were willing to turn themselves over to it. The trade always is between security and freedom. And in bad economic times people are willing to cede away freedom for certainty.

    The same can be said for much of the rank and file of Russia. Many, if not most, of the people made their peace with the regime. The humble mass simply keeps on living their lives, and they too had some sense of security at the expense of freedom.

    It really comes down to minorities. The triangulated subset that are held to blame for the evil that the masses need protecting from. It is these portions that are swept off to gulags, or camps. The rest do live in some fear, but it is oblique, and as long as they “don’t do anything illegal, they have nothing to fear” (the battle cry of the bureaucrat to justify any law that does not protect life and property).

    So when communism falls and people are left to ponder “who is going to take care of me now?”, missing old Papa Joe, or many Germans who thought that Hitler was misunderstood, and by and large still support what Nazi’s/Fascists tried to accomplish.

    Simply put, people really do get the government they deserve. Totalitarian regimes still need to have support of the bulk of the people to maintain themselves. The jackboots aren’t meant for everyone, it’s meant for those who resist. Those who don’t want to be told what to do, or those that are axiomatically chosen to be the scapegoat. The people who don’t like having 40% of their labor taken every year. Those who don’t like having their private property made into semi-public so that they state can tell them where people can smoke. People who don’t like the concept of having to pay a fee, or get a license, or get a permit to over goods and services to people. People who don’t like the concept of having troops stationed around the world. People who don’t like the concept of being told how they can personally protect themselves. People who don’t like having cops predatorily hunting the highways and byways looking for desperados going 7 miles per hour over the posted limit. People who don’t like the concept of having their money and savings slowly eroded. People who like to choose for themselves what they put in their bodies.

    Really, there are all sorts of minorities who really are being persecuted today. Ask them what their thoughts on what constitutes totalitarianism, and whether they think it exists today.

    At the end of the day, really think about what being free really means, acting as you see fit as long as you honor others’ life and property. Practice it and see how long it is before you’ve got guys in uniforms and shiny badges looking to take you away to a box and the sell your stuff. Basically, try and resist the endless impositions now thrust on the average individual and see how long it is before you see just how totalitarian the States we live in here in the West can be. Again, the US has a huge prison population, the goodly portion of which is there for “crimes” where life and property were never directly at risk. I can’t see that as any other outcome than from a totalitarian, collectivist mindset.

    Just because you’ve gotten used to it doesn’t mean a totalitarian framework doesn’t exist. It simply means that those who have resisted are containable and don’t have access or sympathy from the Main Stream Media. And, again, we’ve only scratched the surface. Let’s see just how much the force can be ramped up when the cash flow on collectivist programs turn negative in ten years. We’ve had a totalitarian ponzi scheme, and the last sucker tier is us. We’ll see how the people react when the choice between high confiscation, stepped behavioral control, and declining benefits hits the fan. We’ve got two choices, jackboots for a hell of a lot more people to service the acquiescing center, or we bust free from collectivist mentalities. Libertarians real mission is to get people to accept the life is risk, and it is better to be free to encounter them than to be shackled – try and convince people to stop trading freedom for securities that the parasites can’t ever really provide.

  • I saw a British film that was actually good last night, in an allegorical sort of way.
    ‘Shaun Of The Dead’.
    Excellent.
    Imagine, the country has been taken over by a bunch of mindless ghouls and we humans are obliged to defend ourselves.
    There is even a ‘tear in the eye’ moment when the army arrives .

  • Jacob

    RAB,

    So you’re not much bothered about the gradual seeping away of your freedom then Jacob?

    Yes, I’m bothered.
    I just don’t see how hyperbole is useful, or that using the term totalitarian is the right way or the only way to combat it.

    When you say that government recommendations of diet are totalitarian people look upon you as a nut. You don’t buy many hearts by strange hyperbole. That’s what gives libertarians a bad reputation.

  • Jacob

    Brad,

    Totalitarian regimes still need to have support of the bulk of the people to maintain themselves.

    You are totally wrong here. You don’t begin to grasp the nature of the totalitarian regimes that existed.
    A totalitarian regime is maintained by a small group of “select” cadres or thugs, the party membres, supported by the NKVD or the Gestappo, who are terrorizing the bulk of the people.
    Great numbers of people are shot or incarcerated in concentration camps. Masses, not just “minorities”. The rest keep quiet out of terror. That is the nature of totalitarianism – not in theory, but in practice.

    I see total, libertarian, freedom as one side of a continuum, and totalitarian regimes, where no rights exist at all, just murder and terror – at the other extreme.
    In between there exist many, infinite, intermediary states – some freedom and some oppression side by side.
    The refusal of doctrinaire libertarians to grasp this continuum, and their declaration that it’s either pure, libertarian freedom or totalitarianism – this seems terribly wrong to me.

  • You want a perfect example of totalitarian thinking?

    You will not even safe to have some wine in the privacy of your own home thanks to this government strategy.

  • Brad

    Jacob,

    Again, if you need to define Totalitarianism as Bad Statism (you know, the kind the History Channel tells us was Bad), and the huge leviathan we have today (in the US anyway, and most of Europe from what I can see) as Good Statism, then fine. And you’re right, most people DO think just that. That’s why we have a $50 Trillion accrual basis debt (or $750,000 per working couple).

    But if one is logical and consistent, does it really matter that I am coerced on a daily basis to abide by puritanical laws, or to be forced to pay for someone else’s hip replacement, or their food, or their shelter? When prisions are filled with people whose only crime was putting something in their body that was not on the “approved” list of psychoactive drugs? Or someone is harrassed for deeming to individually decide how they will protect themselves and their family. Or is just for being a Jew that someone gets harrassed and it’s bad? Or someone doesn’t profess their devotion to the proletariat strongly enough? I daresay most of the people in prison in the US, who have not threatened or coerced anyone, are there simply because it ran against the puritanical sensibilities of a zealous minority, and rubber stamped by a lazy, uncritical mass. Sound vaguely familiar?

    Simply put, it doesn’t really matter what I am hassled for, it is the fact that I am hassled. And I am hassled each and every day, in hundreds of ways, that having nothing whatsoever to do with my laboring in exchange for money, spending that money on just exactly what I wish, while not coercing or threatening a soul.

    I am taxed on my labor to the tune of 40%. I am taxed for the gaul of putting a roof over my head. I am taxed if have the temerity to buy something. I even pay extra tax on “sinful” items like beer. If I put extra fencing around my house, I have to get a permit, so that it will be on the tax roll so I can pay more property taxes. All in all I am forced into a financial collective, and the Federal Government is the insurer of last resort. When I had my first child, we had to pass scrutiny of the very people we contracted with to help in the birthing process, and if we hadn’t luckily passed inspection, social services would have been involved shortly.

    I am monitored and tracked via a social security number. My state code is my driver’s license. I had to buy some decongestant the other day, and I had to hand over my driver’s license and put my signature in a nice fat book. My money is empty of value, State controlled inflation eats away at my savings. Interest is basically a State program, and any “equity” I do keep is really just a loan callable at anytime (see prorated portion of accrual national debt above).

    But we’re not totalitarian or anything of the sort!

    If I did try and practice the basic philosophy of laboring freely, trading freely, and not coercing or hurting anyone else or their property, and in no way concealed it, I would be in jail or prison within a month.

    I can’t compute that as anything ELSE but totalitarianism.

    If that makes me a nut, so be it. It’s the flat out truth.

  • Jacob

    Brad,

    it is the fact that I am hassled.

    Of course you’re hasseled. Hasseled a lot. It’s terrible, I agree. It’s bad.
    But you’re not dead, neither in a concentration camp, neither in imminent danger of that.
    So, don’t dismiss the considerable freedoms you still enjoy.
    It could be worse…
    If you call the current state “totalitarian” – well, you ain’t seen nothing yet….

  • Jacob

    Alisa,

    the problem is that people rightly realize that these freedoms come with a price tag of uncertainty and insecurity, and most are not willing to pay the price.

    Seems to me that the current, diluted, freedoms, as defined for example by the EU constitution, are widely accepted by almost all. It is universally accepted that these freedoms that I enumerated in my post above should be preserved.
    A steady erosion is happening at the margins, but I think, the main freedoms are not in imminent danger in the West.
    Politics is cyclical – some are more socialist, others less so – see Sarko.

  • Brad

    ***Brad,

    it is the fact that I am hassled.

    Of course you’re hasseled. Hasseled a lot. It’s terrible, I agree. It’s bad.
    But you’re not dead, neither in a concentration camp, neither in imminent danger of that.
    So, don’t dismiss the considerable freedoms you still enjoy.
    It could be worse…
    If you call the current state “totalitarian” – well, you ain’t seen nothing yet….***

    Well then precisely. If being in a concentration camp and killed is the sole determiner of totalitarianism, then it’s your definition that is lacking. And I can only assume it’s because you’ve bought the fact that your particular brand of totalitarianism has sold the concept to you that “well, yeah, we take half your labor, yeah we coerce you on a daily basis for no reason other than we think it will do you and society good, though we won’t prove it. Yeah we pretty much truncate and and undo your actions and behaviors, we short circuit your daily life, your beliefs, your behaviors. Everything you do is reviewable, cancellable, and reversable.

    But, hey, at least we didn’t kill yah!”

    Well thanks so much.

    And, please, please, please, define for me just what the $50 Trillion accrual basis debt is, especially when compared to a total personally held worth of $48 Trillion? If that is not de facto totalitarianism from the economic side of the ledger, then what is? And it has always been those who are the currators of the economics of collectivism that are the ones who do the rounding up and put select people into gulags or concentration camps. So if being just a few years off from a MAJOR economic reckoning means that we must be in the clear because I’m not at this moment rotting in a box is the sole determiner of label totalitarianism, then I’ll just call it a Grossly Invasive, Individual Crushing, Parasite Ridden, Superstition Driven, Puritanical Leviathan and leave it there. But thank the heavans it’s not Totalitarian.

    Anyway, having little or no freedom other than the swell freedom to not have been killed yet is still not one to be blowing horns over.

  • jacob, you have explained what you think totalitarian means (must be violent and Nazi or Communist-like). I disagree for the reasons stated (all it need to be totalitarian is for control to be total).

    No need for us to keep repeating ourselves.

  • Brad wrote: Totalitarian regimes still need to have support of the bulk of the people to maintain themselves.

    Jacob answered: You are totally wrong here. You don’t begin to grasp the nature of the totalitarian regimes that existed.
    A totalitarian regime is maintained by a small group of “select” cadres or thugs, the party members, supported by the NKVD or the Gestapo, who are terrorizing the bulk of the people.
    Great numbers of people are shot or incarcerated in concentration camps. Masses, not just “minorities”. The rest keep quiet out of terror. That is the nature of totalitarianism – not in theory, but in practice.

    Jacob, Brad is right, and you are wrong. It is at the beginning of the revolution that great numbers of people are being imprisoned and killed. (We don’t have to go through this, as Blair and the rest of them have devised a velvet revolution for us). After just a few years things settle down, and everyone lives their lives best they can. Sure, you don’t do certain things, or you do them in the privacy of a home, and in the company of people you trust. Just like smoking pot these days in the West.

    I’ll give you a few events to consider:

    My grandmother was 15 in 1924 when Lenin died. She wept, as did her friends.

    In the 30ies’ purges, her husband, my grandfather, was arrested, for being a Kirov’s man, and probably also for being Jewish. Granny was allowed to visit him, and he told her about people in his prison being tortured. He told her they never tortured him – I have no idea if he was. When WWII started, he was shipped straight to the front, and never heard from again.

    In 1953, when Stalin died, my mother was 25. She wept, as did her friends, and many others.

    I grew up in the SU in the 60ies and early 70ies. There was no fear. If you did not do anything outrageously illegal (the definition of which is just a matter of geography), you had nothing to worry about. The only reason the whole thing has collapsed is the economy, stupid. If not for that, it would still be with us.

    As for you reply to my previous comment, and some of your other remarks: you have made several correct observations, but they are beside the point.

  • Jacob

    Alisa,

    After just a few years things settle down, and everyone lives their lives best they can.

    Well, masses were sent to concentration camps from the 1917 revolution on until Stalin’s death in 1953. Some 60 million people died. Hardly a few years, hardly a few people. After Stalin the pace slackened a little.
    About weeping upon Stalin’s death – many did, everywhere – the power of brainwashing !

    As to “everyone lives their lives best they can” – well, yes, but without the rights I mentioned above, no free expression, no free association, no political rights, no free movement, no private property – and the threat of the KGB ever present. You can in no way compare those “lives” to what we have in the West. (poverty aside…).

    Brad,

    Anyway, having little or no freedom other than the swell freedom to not have been killed yet is still not one to be blowing horns over.

    Agreed, but maybe half the population in the world or more live today in conditions (as far as freedom is concerned) much worse than those in the West, i.e. those you complain about.

  • It is all relative, Jacob. They were masses in the beginning. The bulk of those 60 million were the kulaks in the early stages. The rest were the victims of occasional purges, people like my grandfather, who were activists connected to the wrong people. Later there were some other “subversive elements” and “enemies of the state”, most of them people who did not mind their own business and made waves.

    About weeping upon Stalin’s death – many did, everywhere – the power of brainwashing !

    Again, beside the point. I am talking about people who were directly harmed by him, not idiots who read about him in distorted media reports.

    You insist on discussing degrees of oppression, while the point should be the essence, and also the direction in which we are headed, which is more oppression. No one is saying that the West today is similar to the USSR of yesterday, or that it will even become the same. What Perry seems to be saying is that the direction in which we are headed is bad, and that although in some aspects it may never get as bad as that (brutality), in some other aspects it can get worse (totality).

    You never lived under a totalitarian regime, so to people like you it seems like a nightmare, completely different from what we have here in the West. I also see the many very important differences that you rightly point out, but I also can see some worrying similarities What is more worrying is that I can see a trend towards even more similarities.

  • MarkE

    Agreed, but maybe half the population in the world or more live today in conditions (as far as freedom is concerned) much worse than those in the West, i.e. those you complain about.

    But I’m sure you are not saying that the Nazis were not totalitarian because the comunists were worse? That if my pocket is picked without me noticing that I have not been robbed because there was no violence?

    Your definition of totalitarianism seems to be total control over the totally of citizens’ lives enforced by extreme violence and ultimately, murder. I and others here might view this as its ultimate expression. You also seem (correct me if I’m wrong here) to be insisting on success; a failed attempt to impose this control is not totalitarian.

    I (and possibly others) also consider the aspiration to excercise even limited control over the totality of citizens’ lives to be totalitarian, even if the sanctions used to further that aspiration do not include murder.

  • Jacob

    Alisa,

    You never lived under a totalitarian regime, so to people like you it seems like a nightmare, completely different from what we have here in the West.

    Au contraire. I did live there and that’s why I say it was(not seems) “a nightmare, completely different from what we have here in the West”.

    As to brainwashing – the braqinwashing inside the communist countries was immense – the schools, the press, books, everything. Amazing. I wasn’t talking about the useful idiots in the West.

    Your definition of totalitarianism…

    Well, I say this (and Perry, forgive if I repeat myself):
    If you enjoy freedom of speech, of assosiation, of politic action, freedom of the press, of movement etc. as we do enjoy in the West - then it’s not a totalitarian regime.
    And I don’t think there is imminent danger of losing those basic freedoms.
    Nevertheless, the harassment that we are subject to from our governments, though not yet catastrophic, is worrying.

  • Jacob: then I apologize. Obviously, it is possible for different people to look at the same thing and see something quite different.

    If you enjoy freedom of speech, of association, of politic action, freedom of the press, of movement etc. as we do enjoy in the West – then it’s not a totalitarian regime. True, no one was arguing otherwise.

    And I don’t think there is imminent danger of losing those basic freedoms. Obviously, that’s where the disagreement is, at least if we leave out the word “imminent”.

    Nevertheless, the harassment that we are subject to from our governments, though not yet catastrophic, is worrying. So what are you arguing about then?

  • So what are you arguing about then?

    About rhetoric. About hyperbole. About words.
    It’s like the “taxes are theft” slogan. People who aren’t already hardcore libertarians are turned off by this kind of talk.

  • Jacob, you are constructing straw men here (most likely unintentionally). No one here ever said that today’s Britain is a totalitarian state, Perry merely pointed at a trend that you yourself seem to acknowledge, because it is the truth. I am not a hardcore libertarian, maybe not even a libertarian, period (I don’t like to be labeled anyway). This blog is about anything but slogans and hyperbole, that’s why I keep reading. No one here says that all taxes are theft, what they are saying that many taxes are, and it is the truth. If you suggest that some people might be turned off by hearing the truth, then I agree, but what can you do, tell lies?

  • abc

    I find that when I watch tv programs about China I often recognise the same enforcing techniques being used within the UK. For example Mao used public humiliation. Only today humiliation is being openly talked about in the media as a stick to beat absent parents with. The external form and the degree are different but the essence is the same. Perhaps Perry is right about the word ‘totalitarianism’ and it’s the dictionary definitions which should be revised. Then we would have a measure that we could use for the degree of totalitarianisation of the UK as it progresses.

  • Brad

    At the risk of further pulling the sock Perry tried to wedge in the thread to stop redundancy (and Jacob’s refusal to answer my question to define just what a $50 Trillion accrual debt versus $48 Trillion of personal equity means) I have two summary points-

    1) When a State has acquired a debt more than the equity held by private hands, the term that can only be used is TOTAL (you see 50 is more than 48). It is a total grab of every last action, behavior, decision, choice, bearing of risk, and dilemma solved by every last man, woman, and child. That is Totalitarian. PERIOD.

    2) Gulags and concentration camps and gutters running with blood from the guillotines ARE LOGICAL PRODUCTS OF TOTALITARIANISM, not its defining feature. The totality of the State existed before the deaths occurred. See?

    When the rubber meets the road as far as the collectivist mindsets we have in the West, a reckoning not very for off, perhaps, for the US, the period of a two term President, we have two choices, undo the Totalitarian mindset in place, or the logical use of Force against those defined as the cause of all problems. It’s not going to do anyone much good to not call Totalitarianism for what it is UNTIL the bodies are in the pits. STOP IT before hand, call out the mentalities for what they are before the first barbed wire fence goes up.

    O.K.?

    If it is any use to you, I more than certainly can see pogroms being unleashed here in the US (minor pogroms are already in place – the “War on Drugs”), especially when the economic realities hit. The breeding ground for the Totalitarian that even Jacob recognized ALL resulted from drastic economic times. What will be the result of the explosion of the situation the US has created for itself? Get some empty bellies, and a list of broken Statist promises (of course blamed on some other sector), and general misery, and it won’t be too much of a bridge to cross for the logical endgame of totalitarian collectivism. Did the Germans of 1932 ever imagine what 1945 had to reveal? In just over a decade?

  • Having wondered seriously myself, how the Germans got into that mess with the Nazis, I definitely do see Brad’s last point.

    Concerning totalitarianism, we have a linguistic problem: of agreeing some threshold, some degree of undesirable government activity that takes things too far. I’m sure it’s easier with hindsight.

    I would like to make a contribution. Many of us think sometimes that we know how to sort out someone else’s life (or some bit of it). We might be right; we might be wrong; they might, or might not, want to know. Perhaps totalitarianism is when you think you know how to sort out (most of) everyone’s life better than them: and then do it.

    Best regards

  • Jacob

    “… but what can you do, tell lies?”

    When people say that building codes that require insulation, or smoking bans in public places, or government nutrition guidelines are totalitarian – I’m uncomfortable with that – it sounds as a wild exaggeration to me. It’s silly. It’s false. The practices need to be criticized, but save the heavy ammo for greater battles.

    The war against drugs ? A stronger candidate to the title, a more dangerous and violent affair. Lamentably, great majorities of the people support it. And they have a point too, junkies often do pose a problem for society. Calling it names like “totalitarian” won’t convince the majority. A long debate, not for here and now.

    Brad – the deficit ? It’s bad, I agree, but I don’t think it will end in catastrophe, just in gradual loss. But that’s a long debate too, off topic, won’t go into it now. And nobody understands it or cares about it; calling it “totalitarian” you will reap blank stares.

  • Jacob

    “…about China I often recognise the same enforcing techniques being used within the UK.”

    In China it is estimated that some 100 million people were murdered by Mao’s regime. Do you recognize the same enforcing techniques in the UK ?

  • Midwesterner

    When people say that building codes that require insulation, or smoking bans in public places, or government nutrition guidelines are totalitarian – I’m uncomfortable with that – it sounds as a wild exaggeration to me. It’s silly. It’s false.

    The very pettiness of building insulation IS the point.

    You WILL insulate your house according to the government’s very detailed orders. This is not something where you pay a fine and all is well. There WILL NOT be a wall in a house that is not built the way the government’s administrators decree. Period. There are guns pointed at you that can and will be used on you for not insulating your house according to the very strict and detailed instruction laid down by the government.

    The code enforcement officers do not carry guns. But you WILL permit them to look at your wall and see if you built it according to their instructions.

    If you attempt to prevent them, or if they determine the wall is in violation, the officials order the wall altered or destroyed.

    If you attempt to prevent them, you WILL be arrested with whatever force is required to do so.

    Your wall will then be destroyed.

    You will be ordered to pay whatever they demand for this ‘service’.

    If you do not pay for the ‘service’ of having your wall destroyed, it will be added to your property tax bill.

    If you do not pay your entire property tax bill, your property WILL be sold at public auction to somebody else.

    If you do not leave your (now former) property under your own power, you WILL be removed.

    If you resist and die during that process, it is ‘your’ fault.

    Question. How many steps between first contact with insulation inspectors and getting shot while defending your property, does this cease to be totalitarian?

    Does this fact that there is a steadily escalating level of force and number of criminal infractions being applied make a difference?

    Is it only totalitarian if the first official you meet offers to shoot you? Does the fact that we here go through many intermediary steps to ‘convince’ you to comply, while adding to your list of crimes if you don’t, absolve the charge of totalitarianism?

    Of course not. That idea is dangerously but successfully delusional.

    It is the very pettiness of the trigger of all this, that proves the point.

  • Jacob

    Mid,

    If you drive your car without a driver’s licence, or without car registration you will be fined, if you don’t pay your fine you will be arrested.
    Is that totalitarian ?
    There are about 1.75 billion laws and regulations. Some of them are needed and justified, some not.
    Some of them are considered justified by many people, but you disagree.
    We could debate each of them if we finally solve the problem of longevity, and get to live infinite lives.
    A regulation free society exists only in libertarian utopia.

    Meanwhile, let’s examine the basics: life, liberty… etc.

    No, I don’t think that building codes (there are thousands of them) are totalitarian. Some are needed, others are silly… they were not established with the specific end of oppressing you.

  • Midwesterner

    Only if they come onto my OWN property to stop me. I’ve been driving cars on the farm here without “driver’s licence, or without car registration” since I was about eight years old. In that entire time, nobody ever even suggested that I must not do it.

    You seem to have a very tenuous grasp of the concept of personal property, Jacob.

  • Nick M

    Jacob,
    Assuming Mid pays his own heating bills he has an automatic, natural reason to insulate his house as well as he sees fit.

    There doesn’t have to be a law. And if a law isn’t needed it shouldn’t be passed.

    As far as the vast majority of building regs are concerned, especially when applied to dwellings, seeing as the owner has a very significant vested interest in getting an optimal property then… Well, what’s the point?

    In the UK new-build now has rules on taps to prevent people scalding themselves. Do you not see the insanity of that? It’s like making suicide a capital offence.

    I live under an airport landing path. I probably shouldn’t be allowed to erect a 1000m radio mast in the back-yard but Mid was talking about something which was of no conceivable threat to anyone else.

    Get a grip!

  • Jacob

    There doesn’t have to be a law. And if a law isn’t needed it shouldn’t be passed.

    I never said otherwise.
    Of course this law (or regulation) is nuts.
    There are probably another 2 million laws and regulations that are as idiotic as this one. That’s the world we live in, it’s short of an ideal world.

    What I said is that not every idiotic law is totalitarian. You have to make distinctions, you have to prioritize, to tell what’s important from what’s minor.
    You can’t treat murder and insulation regulations with the same amount of indignation and outcry.

  • abc

    I think the two things in our contemporary totalitarianism, in the sense that Perry uses the word, that guarantee it’s limited lifespan are it’s internal contradictions and it’s superficiality. Take the morality of British Islam vs homosexuality for example. The contemporary notion of generalised equality has to give a nod to both but cannot really resolve the contradiction. It’s superficiality is expressed where advocates of Multiculturalism can really only tolerate cultural forms in other countries so long as they don’t infringe on contemporary western values. See the recent BBC television news report and implied disapproval of temple prostitution in the form of the cult of the Devadasi in India.

  • Nick M

    Jacob,
    How does having a couple of million laws that are idiotic not count as totalitarian?

  • Will

    What people are witnessing in the UK is a generation of hectoring lower-middle classes attempting to redress the imbalances and unjustness they perceive in society. All of their great “ideas” such as multiculti are merely attempts to weaken the conservative christian right. Naively they have cosied up to Islam to that end, not realising that it, not they will be the winners. England and her long standing liberties and traditions, will be sacrificed on the altar of their intolerant marxist ideology. The new political class need something to keep their inept and futile lives busy with. Sadly, in the absence of any true statesmanship, guts or competence they tinker around with our delicately constructed laws and poke their noses into every aspect of our lives. Please do not worry about about GB becoming a totalitarian state- that needs a degree of competence-this lot couldn’t organise a good time in a brewery. We still have the freedom to vote these apparatchiks out-so bloody well do so for all our sakes. Liberty must be hard won, it does not come on a plate!

  • Reading these posts from 2007…What a difference a couple of years years makes.

    Jacob,
    You seem to conflate and confuse a question of the existence of tyranny and totalitarianism only with the degree of extremity by which it enforces or manifests itself – or when it decides to enforce with murder – which only then you then take as evidence eg: existence of concentration camps for example. Does this mean that the early years of national socialism where the concentration camps had not started that that regime was therefore not totalitarian? Or that Auschwitz was totalitarian but outside of the gates German ‘civil’ society wasnt?

    Totalitarian systems think that they are the ‘totality’ but they never are; which is why they can be defeated.

    But your argument is like saying that you are not shot if someone points a gun at you and fires – you are only shot at the very point the bullet goes through your head.

    Technically correct perhaps, but again its like saying ‘don’t get out of the water until the actual moment that the shark bites’.

    Remember also that the that the National Socialists did have a democratic mandate from the German people – this did not make them or their society any less despotic or totalitarian.

    I think your argument was eloquently denied by Mdwesterns replies.

    A totalitarian regime can enforce its totalitarianism by whatever means it likes, whenever it likes – it responds to resistance to its edicts with force.
    Again I think Midwesterns scenario in this is accurate.

    The response to this would be; that in that case all democratic countries are totalitarian since they have laws and if those laws are transgressed or broken then there are penalties fines and imprisonment – and so the same applies.

    But there IS a difference – and it is this:

    One particular characteristic of the totalitarian state is its insistence that people adhere to a strict ideology or attitude and that any dissenters to this are criminalised. The crime then becomes a ‘thought crime’ and ‘an attitude’ crime,

    This can then be invoked against the dissenter.
    If this occurs on a wide enough scale and it is backed up in the legislation process then the system becomes more effective in its enforcement of totalitarianism and uses murder because it realises it can act with impunity. This occurs when people resist or are identified as dissenters against the State.

    Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had finely honed judiciary processes – not least because they could have ‘show trials’. Totalitarian regimes usually were also massively bureaucratic and had a massive State civil service.

    This change has happened in Britain and has gained ground especially under New Labour.
    Social Workers are now allowed to snatch babies from their mothers because there may be a potential for mothers to ‘emotionally harm’ their babies. Find the story of Fran Lyon (type in her name) on the internet who had to leave the UK where social services were going to take away her baby as soon as it was born. She fled to Sweden where she is looking after her baby and where the authorities there said she was a perfectly fit mother and that the UK was in violation of her human rights.

    Is this a ‘one off’ case? Sadly not – look at to see the mother Amanda Wileman who fled from the UK to Ireland where the Irish courts ruled in favour of her keeping her child.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spcV5LCwGkE

    Family courts sit in secret so that there may be many cases where this is occurring. Investigate. Forced adoption now affects thousands of people in the UK. These go beyond ‘silly’ laws. You will remember that ‘forced adoption’ was also a measure used extensively in the USSR.

    Investigate what is known as ‘Common Purpose’ http://www.stopcp.com Under the Freedom of information Act you still have time to do this. See if Common Purpose are in your local council.

    The UK is now a State that is heavily monitored with CCTV, where you can be arrested for taking a photograph, where you can be arrested for uttering a pronouncement thought to be ‘racist’ or likely to cause ‘terrorism’ – so loosely defined it can be used against any dissent. These are the ‘thought’ crimes described by George Orwell.

    Even as I write the papers have published a story about a man arrested in front of his family for posting an email where he was thought to be ‘racist’ for using the word ‘likey’ because it rhymed with ‘pikey’ and therefore could be inferred as being racist against gypsies> http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1241994/Businessman-arrested-wife-son–anti-gipsy–email-didn-t-write.html

    Stories like this are happening on a daily basis in the UK, It is not just that these are ‘one off’ cases as a result of ‘silly laws’. The State uses these laws to oppress its population, who, in fear, obey, to stay ‘under the radar’.

    Schools enforce ‘multiculturalism’ and arrest children even if they dissent – its nothing to do with ‘racism’ or trying to get rid of racism but whether you will obey the way the State and its employees ORDER you to think.

    This has happened in the UK – and you notice it more so if you have been away from the country and how it has changed. This is why I believe, with great sadness, at the present time Britain HAS become a totalitarian state.

  • Danyl O Connell

    No sane person would want to exist under such a State. We live on a beautiful planet, and still cant seem to comprehend that we can live together peacefully. I suppose that I had better get on writing my books, before we reach theyear in which it will be banned.