The Consent of the Governed

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From Neal Ascherson’s review of Richard Overy’s The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia (link courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily):

“Fear of the penalties for protest was important, of course, but both regimes drew wide consent from the majority who were neither active dissenters (a tiny fraction) nor party enthusiasts. More broadly, the chaos of the Twenties left both populations feeling that it was better to be ‘pro’ whatever the leadership did than ‘anti’, and that social unity mattered more than the right to criticise.

“Hitler and Stalin took over societies already riddled with fear of the future, with paranoia about conspiracies and with hatred of ‘others’ expressed in murderous language. . . . Dictatorship flourished in a climate of perpetual emergency. ‘The moral universe . . . made the state’s crimes explicable not as crimes but as necessary precautions to prevent a greater injustice.’ ”

4:23 pm on July 26, 2004
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