I have argued in the past that violent repression, gulags and mass murder are not in fact the defining characteristics for a state to be ‘totalitarian’. The defining characteristic is, as the word itself suggests, that control over people be pervasive and total… mass murderousness, goose-stepping troops, waving red (or whatever) flags are merely an incidental consequence and which can be better described in other ways (such as ‘tyrannical, murderous, dictatorial, brutal, national socialist, communist, islamo-fascist etc.).
As a result my view is that we in the west are already well on the way to a new form of post-modern totalitarian state (what Guy Herbert calls ‘soft fascism’) in which behaviour and opinions which are disapproved of by the political class are pathologised and then regulated by violence backed laws “for your own good” or “for the children” or “for the environment”.
And so we have force backed regulations setting out the minutia of a parent’s interactions with their own children, vast reams on what sort of speech or expression is and is not permitted in a workplace, rules forbidding a property owner allowing consenting adults from smoking in a place of business, what sorts of insults are permitted, rules covering almost every significant aspect of how you can or cannot build or modify your own house on your own property, moves to restrict what sort of foods can be sold, what kind of light bulbs are allowed, and the latest one, a move to require smokers to have a ‘licence to smoke‘. Every aspect of self-ownership is being removed and non-compliance criminalised and/or pathologised.
The person suggesting this latest delightfully totalitarian brick-in-the-wall, Professor Julian le Grand, says some very telling things:
“There is nothing evil about smoking as long as you are just hurting yourself. We have to try to help people stop smoking without encroaching on people’s liberties.” […] But he said requiring them to fill in forms, have photographs taken in order to apply for a permit would prove a more effective deterrent.
No doubt Julian le Grand thinks that makes him seem reasonable and sensible, because he does not want people to have their civil liberties encroached upon… and he then proceeds to describe how he would like to do precisely that in order to ‘deter’ you from doing what you really wanted to do.
The reason for this seemingly strange approach is simple to understand because to the totalitarian, something does not have to be ‘evil’ to warrant the use of force to discourage it, you merely have to have (a) coercive power (b) disapprove of another person’s choices regarding their own life. That is all the justification you need, simply the fact other people are not living the way you think they should, in your presumably infinite wisdom.
Notice how coercive actions imposed by state power are described as ‘helping’. We will force you to pay more, force you to go to a doctor…but we will throw your arse in gaol if you dare try to circumvent our unasked for ‘help’.
The ‘paleo-totalitarian’ simply uses force if you disobey, no messing about… however the post-modern totalitarian prefers to add a morally insulating intermediate step that allows his kind to talk about ‘civil liberties': first he gives you a nice regulation to obey and only if you dare not comply with that do the Boys in Blue get sent to show you the error of your ways.
I can think of quite a few ways I would rather like to ‘help’ Julian le Grand and his ilk in order to mitigate their pathological need to interfere with other people’s lives. All for the greater good of society, you understand.