Vigilance against attitudes that infringe on freedom is always important. Such attitudes move society in the direction of a tyranny of opinion. (Photo: Steffen Aaland)
I will begin by reflecting briefly over the definition of a totalitarian society, so that we can determine if the retiring professor of Church History, Bernt Oftestad, is correct in his conclusion. Oftestad believes that Norwegian society is bound in the direction of a totalitarian state as left-wing political-cultural elites and the media manipulate us to think exactly like they do. Which they of course do not entirely manage to do, since a wind of freedom is blowing through a Europe that is weary of the over-bureaucratized socialist state’s stifling authority. The state continues to try to govern us down to the smallest detail and press us into the socialist mold, where everyone thinks alike and expresses the same intentions.
We no longer accept this forced institutionalization. We rebel against the tyranny of consensus in a welfare state that emphasizes rights and demands, but has forgotten what is the responsibility and duty of the individual in civil society.
So what is a totalitarian society? Aldous Huxley provided an excellent description in his celebrated 1932 book Brave New World. Huxley shows how restrictive society becomes if personal initiative and the belief in individualism and social responsibility, knowledge, wisdom and the right to differ disappear. Only strict secular uniformity without respect for history remains in a state that regulates and dictates all things.
The well-known philosopher Hannah Arendt has also discussed this in length, for example in her book The origins of totalitarianism. Arendt analyzed the origins of Nazism and Communism. The Second World War demonstrated clearly how evil can be systematized in a modern democratic state focused on the active bureaucratic manipulation of its citizens.
Since socialism has similar origins, this is relevant in today´s Norway. Nazism was not extreme right-wing. It was extreme left-wing. The popular term NAZI is an acronym for the National Socialistic Labor Party in Germany. Hitler demanded a cohesive citizenry and woe to them that did not follow his dictates. This was a strong socialist state that controlled freedom of expression and limited the individual´s sphere of action to what the elite in power defined as correct. The centralized power of the state was a very important agency for directing the population. Here there was little individual freedom and respect for differences. Everyone was required to think in unison, whether they wanted to or not.
We know very well how race-conscious Nazism opened for an appalling lack of respect for different opinions. It was enough to suspect that someone one entertained an opinion that was not politically correct. People were condemned based on mere indications, pre-judged, exposed in the media, compared to murderers and traitors, denied leading positions in the state and fired from their positions, — as a conscious step towards silencing the political opposition.
Arendt illustrates how the individual´s freedom is strangled when group thinking takes over in such a way that the “masses” are controlled by the state. She points out that totalitarian governance is worse than dictatorship. In a dictatorship the elite strive to amass political power and persecute the opposition simultaneously. The elite of democratic totalitarian regimes aspire not only to political power, but to dominate every aspect of their citizenry ideologically, and to determine what they think down to the smallest detail. What they should believe about family, sex, partnerships, religion, school, priests, police and the law. Their goal is to have full control over the development of society, with a universal desire that the entire world should eventually develop in the same direction. Their goals are global. Civil rights, the sovereignty of nations, the right of other cultures to define which values and ideals are important in their own culture – none of these rights are respected. Their purpose is to dominate the world and to govern all others according to their own political-ideological goals.
Here propaganda is a most cunning weapon. Propaganda is a form of media-communication that does not purport to provide citizens in a democratic state with objective news. Instead the news provides the impression of being objective when it really only presents a portion of the truth. Propaganda is used consciously to influence the individual in a defined political or ideological direction.
Someone once said: “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will eventually believe it”.
Noam Chomsky has been voted by both the New York Times and The Observer the world´s most important intellectual and is the most cited living author in the social sciences and humanities. In his book Necessary illusions. Thought control in democratic societies he is highly critical of many trends in Western democracies, particularly in the USA, and states that political forces limit freedom of the press and freedom of expression in democracies far more than people commonly think. In the West the press is largely an instrument for western propaganda that functions to cloak a reality where the media, also in democracies, is manipulated by a political-ideological elite with a continual need to control mass opinion. The reason is simple: in democratic countries the people determine the results of political elections. According to Chomsky, control of opinions is therefore critical.
In his books, for example in Manufacturing consent, Chomsky discusses this in great length. He believes that private market forces are so strong that the market´s propaganda influences the flood of information to a large degree. In this way democracy is strangled in democratic states. Chomsky does not consider the USA to be a democracy, since the mixture of political power and private capital is so pervasive.
This is also relevant for Norway. Of course Norway cannot be considered a totalitarian state today, but it still important to reflect over what characterizes such a development. We speak loudly of tolerance and respect here – very loudly – but in reality the underlying socialistic peer pressure silences many. They do not dare to say what they think or present attitudes that differ from what is defined as politically correct.
Can we say that we are democratic in Norway? Or do we have an oligarchy where only a few, a powerful group of elites, exert control on behalf of the citizenry? Those that once participated in the cultural-radical 1968 rebellion against the ruling bourgeois elite powers are the same that today reign as the major powers of society. The roles are now reversed. Robin Hood has become the Sheriff of Nottingham. He takes from those that are “outside” and provides in the name of solidarity only to those that are ”inside.” They have sat at the helm for so long, that they have become “the privileged power”. The State soon owns everything and permeates society by placing their loyal select in central positions of power. Norway´s Official Analysis 2004 posed an apt question – since the 1970s parties have unquestionably developed in the direction of power cartels, is the development of the party therefore equivalent to the end of democracy?
Cartel parties characterize democratic decline: the parties have become financially independent of their members by allocating themselves considerable public funds. Elite democracy is a threatening fact, where a small group has political control and the media acts to support the powers-that-be.
Democracy in its true form depends on free courts, free media, free private business and a free parliament where the perspectives of the various parties are actually respected by the government. Temporarily elected governments with limited power prevent the development of systematic misuse of power. Thus the perspectives of a few political groups are unable to assume a disproportional dominance, while other political views that the majority of the population might wish to receive attention, are consistently discriminated against to the point of meriting the term undemocratic.
Norwegian schools provide a good example of this. The Socialistic Left Party (SV) has received an undue amount of power to perform radical reforms that gradually have destroyed the system of quality control that once characterized our schools, and substituted “fun and games” and a lack of discipline, study and respect for teachers. The miserable results on the PISA tests and other evaluations are the consequences. The “SV” school is an utter failure, one of the most unsuccessful ideological projects in modern Norwegian history. SV represents only a few percent of the population, and a marginal percent at that, just as few as the Human Ethic Association whose membership is less than 2% of the Norwegian population.
How democratic is it when such extremely marginal groups have such broad influence? They represent nearly no one, and certainly not the majority of people´s interests. It is one thing to respect marginal minorities and allow them freedom of expression, it is quite another thing to allow them preeminence and right-of-way at the price of the rest of the population´s preferences.
If the powers-that-be in society become too greatly characterized by ideological camaraderie, peer pressure and a closed elite that places itself and its friends in nearly all influential positions, then it is appropriate to ask the question – is the country really a free democracy? In Africa that I grew up in, this was referred to in no uncertain terms as plain and simple political and economic corruption.
We need to reverse this freedom-limiting trend. We need to rebel against the limitations of the politically correct and the fear of not fitting into their agenda and perspectives. We need a solid measure of individual freedom combined with increased social responsibility, more religious freedom and respect for other religions, respect for differences and respect for the traditional culture´s traditional emphasis on morals and ethics. Only then will we put an end to some of the tragic social trends that have riddled us the last decades – in our schools, our police, our churches and our families.
According to liberal conservative thinking, the State´s task is not to act as a trustee for the public, making decisions for individual citizens, but to facilitate conditions for optimal personal freedom and to respect the responsible choices of the individual in relation to their fellow citizens in society. With a good dose of independence, strength, discipline and stalwart belief in our traditional culture and its constructive social ideals, we can re-assume the governance and act as the antidote for the spreading poison of totalitarianism in modern democracies.