Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Totalitarianism and Liberal Democracy

Borrowing from pages 397-8 of Consciousness and Society, The Reorientation of European Social Thought 1890-1930  by H. Stuart Hughes, " . . . Lord Russell described the philosophy of logical analysis in its broadest terms as one having 'the quality of science. . . .  It has the advantage as compared with the philosophies of the system-builders, of being able to tackle its problems one at a time, instead of having to invent at one stroke a block theory of the whole universe.'"

While that sort of analysis has its advantages, I would rather focus upon a "block-theory-type" of analysis in regard to the subject.  In very broad terms, three major systems competed for supremacy in the 20th century, Communism, Fascism, and Liberal Democracy.  These systems fought on the field of battle in hot and cold wars and by the end only Liberal Democracy was left standing.  But, while Liberal Democracy may have been the only system at the "block theory" level left standing, it had by no means utterly eliminated sympathy toward the other two systems.  Which needn't surprise us; since so much of what went on during the 20th century involved hatred of "Liberalism" and hatred of "Democracy."  Those hatreds didn't end with the fall of the Soviet Union. 

 "Block theory" level Communism was not interested in "equality."  It was interested in replacing one class with another, the Capitalist class with the Working class.  And even after they achieved political victory they didn't plan for "equality."  They planned that each person would produce according to his ability and receive compensation according to his need.  With blithe ignorance of human nature, a Communist Party created the vast experiment called the Soviet Union and put Marxism-Leninism to the test, and as we know, Human Nature would not be denied.  The result was a Totalitarian System very like the system produced in Nazi Germany. 

Today there are individuals who long for the idealistic days of Communism.  They take their hatred of Liberal Democracy and invest it with correctives to known flaws in Liberal Democratic systems and wish for "progress," for "change," or for a "new revolution." 

There are also individuals who long for the idealistic days of Fascism, although they wouldn't use that term.  If we look at the Russian Federation today, we can see that it is leaning toward something they term "National Sovereignty," which seems very like National Socialism.  The word "socialism" is missing from their title, but socialism was never an actual practice in the Third Reich either.  One difference between National Socialism and Communism was that the latter controlled the means of production and the former, broadly speaking, did not, and now we see that the Russian Federation's "National Sovereignty" does not.

Another major force in the world we find attracted to elements of Communism and National Socialism is Islamism.  We know this because the chief theoretician of Islamism, Sayyid Qutb, admitted it.  But Islamists aren't interested in the "philosophy" of Communism or the "philosophy" of National Socialism (if it can be said to have one) but in the "techniques" for acquiring and maintaining power.   It is easier, perhaps, to follow Hannah Arendt and keep to the simpler term, Totalitarianism, and when we do, we see the real danger in the systems that oppose Liberal Democracy. 

Liberal Democratic systems are dedicated to providing their citizens with as much freedom and liberty as possible; which has the built in problem of trying to determine where one person's "liberty" leaves off and another's begins, e.g., the concern for equality and rights in all Liberal Democracies.

Totalitarian systems (as the USSR and Nazi Germany amply demonstrated) did not want its citizens to have "as much liberty and freedom as possible."  Totalitarian leaders had (and have) an agenda.  For example, the leaders in the USSR wanted to severely limit the freedom of the Kulaks, and Nazi leaders wanted to even more severely to limit the freedom of the Jews.

In the 21st century we have some new Totalitarians who wish to limit the freedom of those who don't accept Islam.   We have seen them at work in several middle-eastern nations, and witnessed their methods in perhaps all Western and Eastern-European nations.

            In regard to modern critics of Liberal Democracy living within Liberal-Democratic nations, they regularly take up problems pertaining to "equality" or "rights."  And while many of these people are comfortable with the details, in the Bertrand Russell sense, they are at sea when it comes to "block theory."  They vaguely speak of "progress" or "change" or "revolution"; when all they have in mind are the specifics of the "inequalities" that they are focused upon. 

Are there any who follow their desires for "change," "progress" or "revolution" to logical conclusions?  Yes, a few do.  Noam Chomsky is an example.  He would abandon Liberal Democracy for his own theory of a better system, Anarcho-Syndicalism.  Here is Chomsky being interviewed in 1976 about "The Relevance of Anarcho-syndicalism."   Would Chomsky's ideas work?  I don't know, but it isn't likely they will ever be seriously considered, for Liberal Democracy has a resiliency that Karl Marx never envisioned.  His dialectic theory of economic determinism were proved wrong because the Capitalists who controlled the means of production were in turn controlled by governments not interested in usurping the enterprises of their corporations and businesses but merely curbing their greed when it too severely infringed on the rights of workers.  And as this process developed, as workers continued to elect politicians who claimed to have their interests at heart, the workers could be said to have at last bought into to the Capitalistic system.  Their standard of living improved dramatically, so much so that the arguments of Communist agitators appeared absurd to them.  Workers in America could readily expect to achieve the "American dream" which involved a house with a white picket fence, schooling for their children, a decent wage or salary, and prospects for economic improvement. 

Furthermore, there are several areas where the worker, the non-capitalist, and the non-rich would like a bit more than he presently has.  These areas are addressed as "entitlements."  He is opting, mostly in Western Europe so far, to entitle himself to benefits at the expense of the public coffers.  Tax money is being used to pay for shorter work-weeks, longer vacations, better medical benefits, etc.  Liberal Democracies are well equipped in theory to provide these "entitlements."  The only limit seems to be their ability to afford them.  Some nations such as France seem to have over-extended themselves a bit, and here in the U.S. we extended an entitlement to those who couldn't under earlier systems qualify to buy houses.  That entitlement went awry and additional tax money was needed to bail it out.  Banks who loaned money in response to this entitlement needed to be bailed out with tax money.   This is all in keeping with Liberal-Democratic systems which have learned to cater, to a larger and larger extent, to the "worker, non-capitalist, and non-rich."

There are many, and I number myself amongst them, who find the intricate workings of Liberal-Democratic systems a depressing business.   The aforementioned "worker, non-capitalist, and non-rich" might in a sense be termed the "lowest common denominator," or to use Nietzsche's term, "the last man."   He indeed keeps the wheels of our Liberal Democracies turning, but he doesn't produce art or literature or philosophy.  If he has excess time, he spends it watching game shows or sports or sitcoms.  If he has excess money he uses it to buy a bigger car, truck, boat or  house. 

And yet only a little thought enables those of us who think of themselves as a step or two up from "the last man" to realize that this system which is fostering the "last man" also enables the rest of us to do whatever we like with our "excess time," and "excess money."  We might invest some of it in history books and study the two great systems of the last century, Communism and Fascism, which thought they could do better.




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