Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Not quite

Clive James sez:
We can still see it today, even when totalitarianism is no longer a thing for states, but only for religious fanatics.
My understanding - and I'll simply state this is a gut-level understanding - is that those closest to a totalitarian system are least likely to realize it. That would be true of a society's intelligentsia: especially the intelligentsia. I'm pretty unlikely to defend the notion of permanent revolution that was advocated by Trotsky and his followers (some of whom have taken their Jacobin tendencies with them on their way to becoming neoconservatives), nor his actions as a leader as I am generally leery of those political figures who are trying to sell me on their brand of revolution and have been around the block enough times to recognize that there are no purely "good guys" or "good gals" in political endeavors. I do however find James' comparisons of Trotsky to bin Laden, while reassuring himself and his readers that totalitarianism as we know it is a thing of the past to be disingenuous.

Just a quick and dirty definition of totalitarianism to ponder as a starting point:
Common to all definitions is the attempt to mobilize entire populations in support of the official state ideology, and the intolerance of activities which are not directed towards the goals of the state, entailing repression or state control of business, labour unions, churches or political parties. Totalitarian regimes maintain themselves in political power by means of secret police, propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism, the use of mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror tactics.
We have our secret police in the US, as well as a mass media (nominally private) that serves primarily to disseminate propaganda, increased regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism of the political and economic system, plenty of mass surveillance, and at least some reliance on terror tactics (think of last December's Swift Meat Packing raids for example) by the government, as well as the more ad hoc actions of the Minutekan crowd. Basically totalitarian systems - whether of the old Stalinist variety or the more familiar fascist variety - operate to dominate the language of discourse, to dominate the perceptions of as much of the citizenry as possible. Hence the propaganda. Hence the marginalization of dissent. Since some perception of liberty is important to Americans, part of the mythology includes superficial choices between two nominally different political parties that in practice operate toward the same ends (who coincidentally are the only ones to receive any media attention). All the rest (the surveillance, the use of terror, and so forth) is to maintain the relative silence of those who don't buy the myth. In other words, I'm far from convinced that totalitarian states have ceased to exist, nor am I sanguine enough to consider the US in any other light than one of a society that if not totalitarian is well on its way to that point.

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