Tag Archives: the origins of totalitarianism

Slipping into Totalitarianism?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I did my taxes yesterday as across the nation tens of thousands of people protested President Trump’s refusal to release any of his tax returns as he prepares to make wide ranging changes to the U.S. Federal Tax Code which according to most analysts would benefit him. In response the President derided them on Twitter. Likewise, in response to lawsuits about his encouragement of violence at his campaign rallies, Trump stated that since he won the election that he is immune from any actions that any court might find him responsible. Even so many people seem not to care. Despite the fact that the administration lives in a “fact free” world where the President and his advisors can make up things with impunity and accuse anyone who disagrees with promoting “fake news” he is allowed by those who have the power to remove him to get away with it. But this is the normal path to power for any totalitarian.

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

Those are not the words of a man interested in maintaining our Republic, its Constitution, or its laws; they are the words of an autocrat and a would be dictator. Sadly, despite the resistance of many people, I don’t think that anything will stop him from gaining that power. Our society is too atomized to come together in any meaningful way to stop him, and he and his closest supporters understand that fact. Despite his frequent mistakes, foul ups, and failures, he is given a pass by his supporters, as well as some in the media who think that firing a few missiles makes one presidential. His anemic approval rating doesn’t seem to concern him probably because his opposition, liberals and conservatives are so divided and distrustful of each other that they cannot come together to oppose him.

Yesterday, the people of Turkey voted to change their constitution to give President Erdrogen and his party nearly unlimited power, paving the way to a one party dictatorship. Even a few years ago most experts said that such an outcome was impossible. No one should assume that the American experiment of a democratic constitutional republic cannot be destroyed. All it takes is a significant part of the populace that is willing to give up its rights for promises of security and prosperity, which is also willing to grant the government extraordinary powers for it to happen. As Timothy Snyder wrote: “People who assure you that you can only gain security at the price of liberty usually want to deny you both.” So with each new crisis, domestic and foreign, many engineered by the Trump administration itself and its media enablers unsettles us, further divides us, and frightens us, know that we are sliding more steadily into a totalitarian world with very passing day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Totalitarian Contempt for Facts

A Short thought to begin the week that kind of follows my posts of the last several days. Hannah Arendt wrote in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism this poignant fact and warning:

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” 

In my life which now spans almost 57 years I have never seen an American political leader attempt to present a full-blown counter-factual narrative to support their desire for power; but that was before the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. This not only comes from watching the campaigns of various presidential candidates and the actions of those men who have gained the Presidency, but from my study of history. Yes, I have seen Presidents lie with varying degrees of success. I have seen politicians twist facts and numbers for specific ends, but I have never seen one do so on such a scale and magnitude as our current President; nor have I seen any President so boldly attack and attempt to discredit the institutions established as checks and balances in the Constitution.

Hannah Arendt’s words describe in terribly precise detail the kind of propaganda campaign that has been waged by the President and his chief advisor, Steve Bannon since last summer, which is reinforced by his spokespeople on a daily basis. Arendt wrote: “The outstanding negative quality of the totalitarian elite is that it never stops to think about the world as it really is and never compares the lies with reality.” Arendt’s statement is very descriptive of this administration. I am going to leave things here for now.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Where the Distinction Between Fact and Fiction, True and False, No Longer Exists

hannah-arendt

Hannah Arendt 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about presidential spokesperson Kellyanne Conway who defended a number of outright lies posited by Press Secretary Sean Spicer as alternative truth. The statement was astounding and was met with much criticism and ridicule, but it reflects an attitude that of cynicism that has swept our nation that facts as they are, are unimportant, that truth itself is malleable.

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”

The world that most of us grew up with is changing before our eyes and it is happening around the world and it is hard to say what is going to happen. I started re-reading Hannah Arendt’s book last night. It was one of my texts as an undergraduate when studying Hitler’s Germany. The book deals with both Naziism and Stalinism which makes it in some sense like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. While the latter focuses more on how Hitler and Stalin used their power on their own people as well as the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Belorussians, and others who happened to find themselves swallowed up by the two totalitarian states; Arendt’s book more at the underlying social conditions. In a time when populist politicians around the world are speaking in the the language of authoritarians, and promising to deliver their people from various political, racial, and religious enemies, it is important to remember where such talk almost always ends, totalitarian states.

But the fact is based on numerous polls in this country and around the world going back two decades show a rise in people of all ages and ideologies who are willing to accept authoritarian government and to abandon democracy. Well before President Trump ever announced his run for the presidency in 2015 the stage was set for an authoritarian leader to arise in the United States just as many are doing in Europe. Whether President Trump actually ends up ruling as an authoritarian is not yet clear, but the signs keep pointing that he may be heading in that direction, and that his followers will have no problem with it. His inaugural address was marked by his distain for both political parties and the political establishment and linking himself with the people. It was loaded with populism and nationalism, as are the messages of  Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, and others in Europe.

William Shirer wrote of how Adolf Hitler convinced many Germans to follow him. His message was basic populism in which certain groups were responsible for their problems and he promised to fix it. Yes Hitler was anti-semitic and especially blamed the Jews, but most Germans, many who were raised in a culture of anti-Semitism, just ignored that part and followed him because anti-Semitism was normal for them. Shier wrote:

“To all the millions of discontented Hitler in a whirlwind campaign offered what seemed to them, in their misery, some measure of hope. He would make Germany strong again, refuse to pay reparations, repudiate the Versailles Treaty, stamp out corruption, bring the money barons to heel (especially if they were Jews) and see to it that every German had a job and bread.”

So how did we get here? How did we get to the point that a presidential spokesperson can defend lies and refer to them as alternative facts?

I won’t answer that today in fact I want to think about it more, and do more research, but much is based on the constant repetition of simple propaganda messages that are designed to bypass the intellect and appeal to raw passion. I have written about this trend for several years using different historical examples but today I am just going to leave you with one other thing that Arendt wrote:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

 

I will discuss that passage in depth at another time but I think it is good just to let it sink in.

Have a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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