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Totalitarian Rule

TOTALITARIAN RULE TOTALITARIAN RULE The concept of totalitarian rule cannot be determined by purely logical means. It was explained and clarified only by those who went through the bitter experience of this form of government. As late as the end of the 1920’s the word “totalitarian” was used to designate any state which was governed in an authoritarian rather than a parliamentarian manner. The London Times, for example, on November 2, 1929, spoke of a reaction against parliamentarism “in favor of a totalitarian, or unitary state whether Fascist or Communist;” the quotation marks and the explanatory phrase “or unitary state” prove that at the time the concept was still fairly unusual. In the 1930s and 1940s the experiences of the Third Reich and Stalinist Russia added to the definition the criteria of the synchronization and conformation of life, political police and concentration camps, and aIl the other horrors disseminated by these regimes. But admitting that in our century open terror has assumed particularly inhuman forms, such terror is nevertheless not confined to totalitarian rule and therefor is not sufficient to define it.

From time immemorial despots have imprisoned their opponents under particularly cruel conditions; they have tortured them, dishonored them, debased and executed them. The suppression of freedom has always assumed the same forms. what Tacitus wrote in his biography of Agricola concerning the despotism of the Emperor Domitian was experienced as reality by the high school students of Hitler’s Germany: “Not only the writers but their very books were objects of rage, and . . .the triumvirs were commissioned to burn in the forum those works of splendid genius.

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They fancied, forsooth, that in that fire the voice of the Roman people, the freedom of the Senate, and the conscience of the human race were perishing, while at the same time they banished the teachers of philosophy, and exiled every noble pursuit, that nothing good might anywhere confront them. Certainly we showed a magnificent example of patience; as a former age had witnessed the extreme of liberty, so we witnessed the extreme of servitude, when the informer robbed us of the interchange of speech and hearing. We should have lost memory as well as voice, had it been as easy to forget as to keep silence.” The unique particularity of the unfolding of totalitarian power was at first experienced only by those who were under its immediate subjection, and even they understood it only gradually because it was an entirely new experience– at least in our century. Totalitarian power grows beyond all standards of normal politics, it gains incalculable and sinister dimensions; under its dominion life falls into confusion and insecurity of all kind not known heretofore. Human beings find themselves not only oppressed and confined in their freedom but also delivered up to the regime, mercilessly exploited by it, and finally, as it were inadvertently, criminally involved in the regime,s activity. Characteristically, it was precisely the politically sophisticated observers who predicted all quick collapse of totalitarian rule, and from their point of view they were justified; for according to the traditional views and standards all such regimes destroy the preconditions that can give permanence to all government.

Everywhere it goes against the most basic Law of international diplomatic relations and economic life, destroys the ordered domestic government, openly goes back on its promises, at every step violates all loyalty and faith, is mendacious, unbalanced, repressed, unprofessional–nevertheless, totalitarian rule flourished, secured its position, manages to win over large sections of the population though they resist at first’ and can even place its opponents in its service. Persons under totalitarian rule are always in the ranks, always under all strain. They may no longer show themselves as they really are but are constrained constantly to play prescribed roles in an atmosphere of false emotionality, joylessness, mistrust; and they must take care to put their loyalty “to the test.. Not only does the regime forbid them to develop, but it seeks also to make of them other personalities than they are by nature; it not only restricts their freedom but tries as well to overpower them. This situation holds true for the declared adherents of the regime even more than for its opponents; for the adherents must always be anxiously concerned to move along whatever general line is currently in favor. No corner of public life or private life offers refuge from control; one can inadvertently lay oneself open to suspicion anywhere. Applause, indignation, enthusiasm, willingness to serve are produced artificially.

In general, artificiality is an outstanding characteristic of totalitarian activity, standing in grotesque contrast to the regime,s favorite appeal to the authentic forces of life (“die elementaren Krafte des Lebens”). But what is worse is that concepts, words, and values are robbed of their traditional meanings, and moral standards become disordered. As regards open terror, there is no doubt that it is to be abhorred; but when evil appears in the guise of historical necessity, the common good, the welfare of all people or all class, man becomes prey to nearly insoluble moral conflicts. Thus, though dictatorial procedures, open force, and the deprivation of freedom are also part of totalitarian rule, its true characteristic is the creeping assault on men through the perversion of thought and social life. This assault follows from the fact that the totalitarian claim to power is not kept within the bounds of possible governmental competence but –as the name makes clear–is in tended to dispose unreservedly over the totality of human life.

The claim is not confined to the areas for which the state is responsible but is allowed to encompass all areas, aha to have an exclusive voice even where the political regime can at best play an ancillary role–as, for instance, in family life, in scientific research, and in art. Totalitarian rule attempts to encompass the whole person, the substance and spontaneity of his existence, including his conscience, It does not acknowledge the primacy of society over the state as an area of freedom which, in principle, lies beyond governmental control, but rather interferes in it deliberately, to change it from the ground up according to its own plan; for the regime wishes to create–in accordance with its own ideological scheme and with social engineering techniques–all wholly new society, all “new type of man,” as Lenin put it–even all new world. It undertakes the production of an artificial, synthetic society. Under these circumstances, men can have validity only as building blocks or structural elements, raw material, “human material”; totalitarian rule cannot as a matter of principle acknowledge the citizen’s personal autonomy, on which political liberty is based, but must render him available for whatever service seems desirable. While it is of the essence of the human personality in the last analysis not to be the available object but the partner of another human being, totalitarian rule attempts to make the unavailable accessible to itself.

It destroys the old social elements and social processes and sets new, artificial ones in motion. Groups that are considered harmful are expunged; and attempt is made to form new elites, and there is no hesitation in modifying the personality of the individual by means of drugs and surgery. In this spirit the National Socialists were eager to create all new society by means of biological breeding and selection. The totalitarian demand to create all new society was not restricted to bringing to power a new social stratum–the proletariat, for example, instead of nobility or …


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