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The New Totalitarianism

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Regular readers of LRC are no doubt familiar with the criticisms of Marxism to be found within the classical liberal, traditional conservative and modern libertarian intellectual traditions. However, I come from another tradition that contains within itself those thinkers who were among the very first to recognize what the proponents of authoritarian, statist socialism were up to. Who would the reader suppose was the author who characterized the Jacobins, Blanquists and Marxists as those who would "…reconstruct society upon an imaginary plan, much like the astronomers who for respect for their calculations would make over the system of the universe…”?1 Ludwig von Mises? Friedrich August von Hayek? Murray Rothbard? No, it was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first thinker to ever call himself an anarchist. Who would one suspect of issuing the following critique of Marxism?

“The expression of ‘learned socialist’, ‘scientific socialism’…which continually appear in the speeches and writings of the followers of …Marx, prove that the pseudo-People’s State will be nothing but a despotic control of the population by a new and not at all numerous aristocracy of real and pseudo scientists. The ‘uneducated’ people will be totally relieved of the cares of administration and will be treated as a regimented herd. A beautiful liberation indeed!”2

This prediction of the logical outcome of state-run economies predates the “new class” theory pioneered by the likes of Max Nomad, George Orwell and James Burnham by nearly a century. Its author is the renegade Russian aristocrat and number-one rival of Karl Marx, the classical anarchist godfather Mikhail Bakunin. And nearly one hundred fifty years before the venerable Professor Hans Hermann Hoppe published his thoroughly radical and compelling critique of the modern deification of “democracy," Proudhon said of the mindset similar to that exhibited by those whom Lew Rockwell has characterized as “red state fascists":

"…because of this ignorance of the primitiveness of their instincts, of the urgency of their needs, of the impatience of their desires, the people show a preference toward summary forms of authority. The thing they are looking for is not legal guarantees, of which they do not have any idea and whose power they do not understand, they do not care for intricate mechanisms or for checks and balances for which, on their own account, they have no use, it is a boss in whose word they confide, a leader whose intentions are known to the people and who devotes himself to its interests, that they are seeking. This chief they provided with limitless authority and irresistible power. Inclined toward suspicion and calumny, but incapable of methodical discussion, they believe in nothing definite save the human will.”

“Left to themselves or led by their tribunes the masses never established anything. They have their face turned backwards; no tradition is formed among them; no orderly spirit, no idea which acquires the force of law. Of politics they understand nothing except the element of intrigue; of the art of governing, nothing except prodigality and force; of justice nothing but mere indictment; of liberty, nothing but the ability to set up idols which are smashed the next morning. The advent of democracy starts an era of retrogression which will ensure the death of the nation…”3

Having been an adherent of the classical anarchist outlook for nearly two decades and a participant, whether directly or peripherally, in the culture of the radical Left during that time, my own political background has given me some important insights into what is going on politically in our country and in Western civilization today.

The New Totalitarianism

Historically, classical liberals, libertarians, traditionalist conservatives, classical anarchists and, quite frequently, religious believers and even dissident socialists have fervently resisted the onslaught of the greatest evil of modernity, that of the totalitarian state. Though I am a traditional Bakuninist anarchist and most of those reading this are likely in the libertarian, paleoconservative, classical liberal or anarcho-capitalist camps, most of us would no doubt agree that the state and the concentrated power it represents is among the gravest threats to human life, liberty, culture and civilization. Therefore, we have reason to value one another. Most of us are instinctively inclined to associate the totalitarian state with the ideology of Marxism. Given that the concept of state-directed “command” economies has fallen into intellectual disrepute in recent decades, some are inclined to regard Marxism as having been relegated to the garbage heap of once prevalent but now discarded intellectual frameworks in the same manner as Zeus worship or the Ptolemaic model of the universe. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Orthodox Marxists, particularly Stalinists, were in their heyday fond of referring to heretics within their own ranks as “revisionists." Enver Hoxha’s polemics against the “de-Stalinized” Communist parties of Western Europe in the 1960s and 1970s come to mind. Yet, the branch of Marxist “revisionism” that should be of the most concern to us today is that whose roots can be traced to the Frankfurt School of the 1930s and its subsequent influence on the so-called “New Left” of the 1960s. Fortunately, LRC’s own regular contributor William Lind has elsewhere summarized the foundations of this system of thought, thereby saving me the trouble of having to do so. Says Mr. Lind:

“We call it ‘Political Correctness.’ The name originated as something of a joke, literally in a comic strip, and we tend still to think of it as only half-serious. In fact, it's deadly serious. It is the great disease of our century, the disease that has left tens of millions of people dead in Europe, in Russia, in China, indeed around the world. It is the disease of ideology. PC is not funny. PC is deadly serious. If we look at it analytically, if we look at it historically, we quickly find out exactly what it is. Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. It is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with classical Marxism the parallels are very obvious. First of all, both are totalitarian ideologies. The totalitarian nature of Political Correctness is revealed nowhere more clearly than on college campuses, many of which at this point are small ivy covered North Koreas, where the student or faculty member who dares to cross any of the lines set up by the gender feminist or the homosexual-rights activists, or the local black or Hispanic group, or any of the other sainted ‘victims’ groups that PC revolves around, quickly find themselves in judicial trouble. Within the small legal system of the college, they face formal charges – some star-chamber proceeding – and punishment. That is a little look into the future that Political Correctness intends for the nation as a whole…

…What the Frankfurt School essentially does is draw on both Marx and Freud in the 1930s to create this theory called Critical Theory. The term is ingenious because you're tempted to ask, “What is the theory?” The theory is to criticize. The theory is that the way to bring down Western culture and the capitalist order is not to lay down an alternative. They explicitly refuse to do that. They say it can't be done, that we can't imagine what a free society would look like (their definition of a free society). As long as we're living under repression – the repression of a capitalistic economic order which creates (in their theory) the Freudian condition, the conditions that Freud describes in individuals of repression – we can't even imagine it. What Critical Theory is about is simply criticizing. It calls for the most destructive criticism possible, in every possible way, designed to bring the current order down. And, of course, when we hear from the feminists that the whole of society is just out to get women and so on, that kind of criticism is a derivative of Critical Theory. It is all coming from the 1930s, not the 1960s…

…These origins of Political Correctness would probably not mean too much to us today except for two subsequent events. The first was the student rebellion in the mid-1960s, which was driven largely by resistance to the draft and the Vietnam War. But the student rebels needed theory of some sort. They couldn't just get out there and say, ‘Hell no we won't go,’ they had to have some theoretical explanation behind it. Very few of them were interested in wading through Das Kapital. Classical, economic Marxism is not light, and most of the radicals of the 60s were not deep. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for our country today, and not just in the university, Herbert Marcuse remained in America when the Frankfurt School relocated back to Frankfurt after the war. And whereas Mr. Adorno in Germany is appalled by the student rebellion when it breaks out there – when the student rebels come into Adorno's classroom, he calls the police and has them arrested – Herbert Marcuse, who remained here, saw the 60s student rebellion as the great chance. He saw the opportunity to take the work of the Frankfurt School and make it the theory of the New Left in the United States.”

When I first read the transcript of Mr. Lind’s lecture, I was reminded of the following passage from the autobiography of 1960s counterculture icon Abbie Hoffman, describing the scene at a speech given by Herbert Marcuse during the late 1960s:

“Marcuse was, with the exception of Maslow, the teacher who had the greatest impact on me. I studied with him at Brandeis, and later attended his lectures at the University of California. In the spring of ’67, I saw him speaking-of all places-at the Fillmore East. There he was, this statuesque, white-haired seventy-year old European Marxist scholar, following the Group Image acid-rock band onto the stage, accompanied by the thunderous foot-stomping cheers of America’s most stoned-out, anti-intellectual generation….Ben Motherfucker, leader of the Lower East Side’s most nefarious street gang, spat on the floor, raised his fist, and exclaimed, “Dat cat’s duh only fuckin’ brain worth listnin’ to in de cuntree!”4

Of course, this eerie scene resembles nothing quite so much as a sixties counterculture version of the Nuremberg Rallies. The reader may be wondering what such an obscure bit of American folk history has to do with contemporary world politics. To understand the significance of what I have described here, we need to examine some further developments in American political history.

The Sixty-Eighters, Totalitarian Humanism and Liberal-Nazism

The radicals of the 1960s were first and foremost proponents of a cultural revolution. Though theirs might not have been quite so brutal as the “cultural revolution” going on in China at the same time, it was a cultural revolution nevertheless. During the First Gulf War of 1990–91, I became involved with what passed for an antiwar movement at the time and I once put the question to a then–middle-aged veteran of the antiwar Left of the sixties, a former member of the Students for a Democratic Society, of what he thought his generation had actually achieved, given that the US empire and its imperialist wars seemed to still be going strong. He reflected on the question for a moment and then replied that the problem with sixties radicalism was that it was a cultural movement, primarily involved with questions of race, gender, ecology, sexuality and the like, and had achieved great victories in those areas, but had achieved virtually nothing in the realms of politics, economics or foreign policy. Therefore, the US empire that emerged during the early Cold War period remained intact and largely unscathed, in spite of the upheavals of the 1960s.

That is exactly right. The cultural left of the sixties has since gone on to become largely the status quo. Many people no doubt wonder whatever happened to the hippies, the student radicals, the antiwar protestors of that time. Where are they today? Shouldn’t they be more visible given the similarties of that time to the present time? Dr. Tomislav Sunic provides a partial answer with this description of what has since transpired:

“Back then, the 68ers had cultural power in their hands, controlling the best universities and spreading their permissive sensibility. Students were obliged to bow down to the unholy trinity of Marx, Freud, and Sartre, and the humanities curriculum showed the first signs of anti-Europeanism. Today, the 68ers (or ‘neo-liberals’ or social democrats) have grown up, and they have changed not only their name, but also their habitat and their discourse. Their time has come: Now they hold both cultural and political power. From Buenos Aires to Quai d’Orsay, from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 10 Downing Street, they sit in air-conditioned executive offices or in ministerial cabinets, and they behave as if nothing has changed. Perfectly recycled in stylish Gucci suits, wearing expensive Bally shoes, sporting fine mascara, the 68ers pontificate about the global free market. They have embraced their former foe, capitalist entrepreneurship, and have added to it the fake humanistic facade of socialist philanthropy…

…They have drawn up a hit list, filled with the names of senile individuals from distant countries who have been accused of ‘war crimes’ and must be extradited to the 68ers’ kangaroo courts. Seldom, if ever, do they acknowledge the millions of victims of communism, documented recently by Stephane Courtois in Le livre noire du communisme. Nor do they wish to face their own role in communist genocide. And why should they? Their decades-long civil disobedience resulted in the downplaying of communist horror and legitimized the Gulag. While the 68ers did not play a direct role in Beria’s, Yagoda’s, or Tito’s ethnic cleansing, they were useful idiots. If today’s caviar left were to open the Pandora’s box of the Gulag, Augusto Pinochet would look like a naughty little scout from boot camp. The best way to cover up their own murderous past is to sing the hymns of human rights and to lecture on the metaphysics of permanent economic progress…

…The 68ers and their well-clad cronies are the financial insiders now, speculating on stocks, never hesitating to transfer megabucks to Luxembourg via the Cayman Islands or, better yet, to do some hidden wheeling and dealing on Wall Street. They no longer spout nonsense about equality and social justice for the Vietcong, Congolese, or Tibetans, nor do they indulge in academic rantings about socialist utopia. And why should they? Today, the time is ripe for their gross corruption, veiled, of course, in the incessant rhetoric of multiculturalism. The 68ers have won: The world belongs to them.

…The political power held today by the former 68ers is being institutionalized through legal restrictions on freedom of speech, of thought, and of research. Germany, Belgium, France, and other European countries have already passed strict laws forbidding young scholars to pursue open and honest research in certain touchy areas of modem history. Passages from the German Criminal Code bring to mind the Soviet comrade Vishinsky: They are not what we expect of a free and democratic country. ”

By quoting these passages, what I am trying to do is illustrate my core argument. Simply put, what I am really saying is that now that the radicals of the sixties have gotten older, greyer and wealthier, they have gone on to form a new kind of cultural and intellectual establishment, largely by securing their own dominance within the worlds of academia, media and entertainment. Further, the end result of this dominance has been that this new Cultural Left Establishment has formed an alliance with the older, pre-existing political, economic and military establishment. What the proponents of the sixties cultural revolution have, in essence, done is rather than overthrow the US empire, they have seized control of that empire and are using it for their own purposes, which may or may not overlap with the interests of the older establishment. The creeping totalitarianism we see evolving today is an outgrowth of Marxism, not necessarily in the orthodox socialist sense, but in the re-application of Marxist theory to cultural matters, where the ‘official victims’ of Western civilization replace the proletariat as the focus of a dualistic struggle for political power. The emerging ideology of the Western, particularly American, ruling classes can, I believe, be described as follows:

  1. Militarism, Imperialism and Empire in the guise of ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’, modernity, universalism, feminism and other leftist shibboleths.
  2. Corporate Mercantilism (or ‘state-capitalism’) under the guise of ‘free trade’.
  3. In domestic policy, what I call ‘totalitarian humanism’ whereby an all-encompassing and unaccountable bureaucracy peers into every corner of society to make sure no one anywhere, anyplace, anytime ever practices ‘racism, sexism, homophobia’, smoking, ‘sex abuse’ or other such leftist sins.
  4. In the realm of law, a police state ostensibly designed to protect everyone from terrorism, crime, drugs, guns, gangs or some other bogeyman of the month.

The kind of state that proponents of this new ideology envision is one where the purpose of local government is to enforce leftist orthodoxy against competing institutions (like families, religions, businesses, unions, clubs, other associations), the purpose of national government is to enforce leftism against local communities, and the purpose of foreign policy is to enforce leftism against "backward" or "reactionary" traditional societies. If you think I’m exaggerating, check this out.

Rather than the traditional divide of Left and Right, I would regard the core aspect of contemporary political struggles to be the battle between those who support the paradigm described above (whose ranks include most liberals and leftists obviously, but also many so-called "conservatives," "libertarians" and others as well) and those who reject this paradigm, whose ranks amount to a divergent collection of dissidents from a variety of ideologies.

It should also be pointed out that the old-guard Marxists, even the Stalinists, only took their egalitarianism so far. Their professed aims were limited to the ostensible equality of wealth among the social classes and, in some instances, political equality of racial and ethnic groups. They did not nearly go so far as to attack the long list of “isms," “archies” and “phobias” (for instance, “looksism," “phallocracy”” or “transphobia”) so reviled by today’s leftoids, nor did they typically advocate equality of looks, weight, ability, intelligence or even species (hence, the modern leftist infatuation with concepts ranging from “grade inflation” to virtual prohibition of so-called “fatty foods” to giving animals legal rights approximating those of humans). Nor did they advocate ending race and gender oppression by simply abolishing races and genders. Indeed, the contemporary leftist obsession with both race and health under the banner of multiculturalism and the therapeutic state calls to mind the other great totalitarian ideology of the twentieth century. One shudders to think what will happen when these elements gain control of a more fully developed genetic engineering technology and subsequently combine this with emerging surveillance technologies. An increasing popular concept in leftist academic circles is the notion of “whiteness” which, as might be expected, is typically used as a term of opprobrium. Indeed, one of the more extreme proponents of “whiteness” theory maintains a website whose masthead reads “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity." To understand the implications of this slogan, one need only remove the term “whiteness” and replace it with “Jewishness."

Secessionism and the Breakdown of the State

Unfortunately for the cultural Marxists but quite fortunately for the rest of humanity, these new proponents of Liberal-Nazism are quite likely to fail in their endeavors to remake the world in the image of the sociology department of an American university. Martin Van Creveld’s important scholarship on the history and likely future of the state indicates that all around the world states are breaking down and the nation-state system that first arose in Europe during the High Middles Ages is reaching its geriatric years. I think the best bet for our political salvation would probably be an alliance of local and regional secession movements, with each of these maintaining various cultural, ideological, religious, ethnic or economic sub-tendencies within themselves. For instance, there can be fundamentalist Christian enclaves in South Carolina and homosexual enclaves in San Francisco, ‘militiaman’ enclaves in Texas and Nation of Islam enclaves in the large cities. The early individualist anarchist and pioneer feminist Voltairine de Cleyre regarded philosophical anarchism as the logical extension of the American tradition of Jeffersonian liberalism and decentralism. Ms. De Cleyre advocated an “anarchism without adjectives” whereby society would operate as a collection of voluntary communities independent of “one size fits all” utopian pipe dreams for the remaking of mankind. A contemporary left-anarchist, Kirkpatrick Sale, continues this tradition. Says Mr. Sale:

“I am convinced, believe it or not, that secession-by-state where the state is cohesive (the model is Vermont, where the secessionist movement is the Second Vermont Republic), or by region where that makes more sense (Southern California or Cascadia are the models here), is the most fruitful objective for our political future. Peaceful, orderly, popular, democratic, and legal secession would enable a wide variety of governments, amenable to all shades of the anti-authoritarian spectrum, to be established within a modern political context. Such a wide variety, as I see it, that if you didn't like the place you were, you could always find a place you liked.”

It’s been amusing to observe the irrational hostility I’ve gotten from Leftists by arguing for this idea of liberty fostered by decentralized particularism. Recently, I was booted from a "libertarian" discussion list owned by a transsexual prostitute for “advocating common action with racists and reactionaries" – which, of course, amounts to Satan worship in the theology of Leftism. Within the subculture of the present day radical Left, I am widely regarded as a kind of “neo-fascist." This is in spite of the fact that the majority of my political views are to the left of the Green Party. If Lincoln responded to the efforts of previous secessionists with an iron fist, one can only imagine the lengths the Totalitarian Humanists and Liberal-Nazis will go to in order to subjugate those who would resist being rendered to the status of pawns for their fulfillment of their psychopathic fantasies.

Notes

  1. Dolgoff, Sam. The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society; (Minneapolis, Soil of Liberty, 1979).
  2. Bakunin, Mikhail. Critique of the Marxist Theory of the State. Cited in "The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations," Charles Bufe, Editor; (San Francisco: See Sharp Press, 1988), p. 56.
  3. Cited in Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Erik von. Liberty or Equality.
  4. Hoffman, Abbie. Soon to be a Major Motion Picture. (New York: Perigee Books, 1980), p. 84–85.

January 22, 2007