Home » Current Affairs » Hanne Nabintu Herland: On the fear of Western democracies turning totalitarian
Hanne Nabintu Herland: On the fear of Western democracies turning totalitarian

Hanne Nabintu Herland: On the fear of Western democracies turning totalitarian

Share the article

The rise of totalitarianism in democratic states has worried Europe’s intellectuals for some time. The original fervent faith in the ability of modernity to overcome evil was significantly setback and reduced in the aftermath of the Second World War. (Photo: NRK) Left thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Michel Foucault all attempted to use critical theory to establish mechanisms to understand how totalitarian systems could emerge in the midst of modern secular democratic states. They believed that science should play more of a role in politics, not only to describe but also to change oppressive conditions in the social structure. The facilitation of  a critical public transparency would make it possible to force a dialog with elites and  governmental powers. In this manner the ruling systems underlying society could be exposed and reflection on the use of language as a tool of suppression could be encouraged, with the result that abuse of power could be prevented in the future. In his book Fearless speech Foucault explains why it is so important that society allows the critical voices to be heard. The original Leftist agenda of the postwar era focused therefore on building a just society where no single minority groups would be suppressed at the expense of others.

And they were right, for never before in human history have so many been killed as during the twentieth century, when atheism disolved norms and the right to an ego-centric, unpredjudiced life was fully legitimized. In What’s so great about Christianity the best-selling author and analyst Dinesh D’Souza points out that during the abusive Middle Ages, with inquisitions, witch burning and one persecution after another about 200 000 people were killed. Adjusted for population, the fact is that over a period of five hundred years with Christian leaders in Europe only 1% of the population were killed, compared to the millions who lost their lives in the waves of hate, ethnic cleansing and genocide instigated by atheists like Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot and others over the few decades of the atheist’s heyday —  the twentieth century.

The definition of modern conservatism

In the book Liberty and tyranny the best-selling American author Mark Levin offers a modern understanding of what conservatism is. The task of the government is not to make decisions for man, but to facilitate a liberal society with as much individual freedom as possible, while safeguarding the interests of society. This implies that each person should be made aware that he or she has a duty and a moral responsibility to do their best in civil society. To be conservative is to fight for the right of the individual to a personal choice that is not choked by a custodial state. Levin describes conservatives as people who value tradition and want to preserve the originally constructive ideals of a culture.

However, it is not an ideal to preserve all values ​​from the pre-modern era, when a number of these were in full decay and produced exactly the kind of society that led to the French Revolution. Modern conservatives want to preserve values ​​that have served society well and want only to reform those that do not function. This attitude is similar to that of many of the most famous liberals. Democracy in its real form requires free courts, a free media, a free private sector, a free parliament where the perspectives of various parties are actually respected and temporarily elected governments whose power is limited. This is for the exact purpose of preventing the development of systemic abuse of power where the perspectives of certain political groups prevail in a disproportionate manner. Conservatism can thus be said to be more tolerant than socialism and its varied forms, precisely because it involves a fundamental respect for the dynamic fruits of diversity.  Thought similarity and conformity are not primary goals.

Moreover, there is little contrast between having a strong shared value-base,  ​​and respecting individual differences. It is possible to have a strong mutual value-base in a culture, and yet, for example, respect religious minorities that, within the framework of Norwegian law, have values ​​that differ from the cultural majority. Conservatism´s and liberalism´s medicine is exactly what is required to restore a better balance in modern democracies. A number of philosophers such as Adam Smith, Charles Montesquieu, Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville have made significant contributions to an understanding of the freedoms that are important for the interaction between the individual and society to function properly and not slip loosely into an extreme individualism where empathy and solidarity disappears and society slowly disintegrates.

Other conservative groups oppose “state-ism”, just as liberals do, but for slightly different reasons. The so-called traditionalists oppose the notion that God is dead and that the state should therefore be considered as “everyone’s mother” and build the perfect society. They believe that preservation of the Christian-humanistic value-base is the only way to prevent the disappearance of the “social glue” of solidarity and empathy for weaker groups of society. In A time of transition the world-renowned philosopher Jürgen Habermas points out  that Christianity, and only Christianity, is the ultimate foundation for liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy in Western civilization.  One sees the hollowness of the “secular messianism” as Pope Benedict XVI calls it, the religiously hostile socialist dream for realization of a modern utopia where everyone finally becomes friends and lives together in peace in a “colorful community”, where evil no longer exists in the human heart, and where Hobbes’ social contract is no longer necessary and all wars are over.

Marxism advocates a view of humanity that considers man as only good. If something goes wrong, it is the fault of society. It is assumed that once the evil in human nature is intellectually rejected through ideology, the evil will disappear, as it is undefined. Marxism releases man from the question of guilt and personal responsibility for his own life is dismissed. The conservative criticism – by atheists, agnostics and believers alike – is directed towards the form of radicalism that shows an inability to adequately reflect over the values ​​and norms that are worth preserving and those that require reform. Far too much has been subjected to reform in a kind of naive faith that every reform automatically leads to a better society and thus better people.

The European ongoing financial crisis reflects the long term effects of socialism on society. In country after country, from Greece to Spain to France, it is evident that the socialist model has failed. Instead of producing innovative, hard working people who are trustworthy and effective, we see the tendency towards dependability on the welfare state, resignation, lack of private initiative and moral decay.

Totalitarian Democracy

In this picture, it is interesting to recall some of the philosophically insightful views of those who in depth have studied the socialist model at the time when it was on its heght of popularity. The Israeli professor T.J. Talmon speaks of «totalitarian democracy» as a socialist model that breaks with the traditional liberal form of democracy. Its aim was to form a radical system that over time would produce far better results in Europe than the traditional culture had succeeded in producing. These new social ideals would be described as rational, while the traditional values would be labeled irrational, unnatural and intolerant. A strong state with a clear political leadership would be the source of moral thinking.

In The origins of totalitarian democracy, Talmon argues that totalitarian democracies are characterized by an unusually low respect for the right of the citzen to individual freedom. Because the goal of socialist politics is that citizens should unite and agree, – work in groups, think in groups, express themselves in unison and coordinated in groups — peer pressure becomes the method  to keep people in check. Control of citizen behaviour thus becomes a goal. Freedom is defined as the right to participate in and push for the development of the socialist society.

Those who disagree are regarded as an obstacle to the development of freedom. They will quickly hear that they are intolerant, old-fashioned, racist and  unmodern. Ideally they should leave the country, or be removed in some way. A significant political pressure is placed on the achievement of  collective agreement. A strong state will thus preserve the concensus of its citizens and motivate them by various means to support the idea of egalitarity, primarily through the control of literature, media, publishing, academia and political groups. THis is what professor Harvey Mansfield calls “soft tyranny”, claiming that the effects on the individual under a soft tyranny is just as hard to bear as the lack of freedom under any dictatorship.

Talmon notes that it is important to remember that contemporary liberalism, as it sometimes appears, is nothing but the liberalism that the English philosopher John Locke attempted to achieve when he devised theories of human rights. Freedom for Locke was not an individual ´s right to trample on others, or freedom from responsibility in the community. Nor did liberalism mean that one’s own right to liberty could lead to the right to abuse and exploit others in pursuit of self-satisfaction.

It is hedonism that idealizes these lack of norms, not liberalism that emphasizes individual freedom with responsibility to the community. Nihilism and hedonism are also related moral philosophies that seek to justify the individual’s right to give personal satisfaction precedence over the interests of others. The French anti-Marxist André Glucksmann has termed the ongoing value struggle in Europe as exactly  that — a battle between nihilism and conservatism.

Nihilism advocates a morality without limits where people are free to do anything they wish. Evil is regarded as non-existent. The shame of conscience is perceived as a socially constructed result of traditional dogmas one should actually rebel against. Freedom is thus the abandonment of pre-modern social norms, particularly in matters relating to sexual ethics. Over the course of their lives both Plato and Aristotle struggled against the trends of social dissolution that lead to hedonism. Plato´s The republic and his dialogs  with Trasymakos provide examples of challenges in the wake of a legitimation of this form of egoism and its break with solidarity.

The term liberalism can therefore be said to have lost much of its original meaning. Many people today associate liberalism with unprincipled supporters of free sex in a hedonistic social climate emphasizing the right of individuals to egoism and self-realization in disregard of others. Or, powerful capitalists who violate people’s trust, rip-off people´s money and only think of themselves. Others believe that being liberal is to be the bearer of a progressive-radical denial of responsibility defining the development of society as the “responsibility of the state”. The United States and Europe have different traditions for how to define these limits. Even though modern liberals emphasize the right of individuality and thus deviate from social norms or religious traditions, modern European conservatism supports a respect for diversity and the right to individual freedom from the custodial state. An excessive state power is regarded as a threat to economic, personal and moral freedom. They support the philosopher Charles Montesquieu’s formulation of the modern separation of powers to ensure that power is distributed over several free agents – the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government – so that the danger of abuse of power is minimized.

Liberalism has since its humble origins contained important conservative elements. Key features have been the idealization of a society where one appreciates people´s differences. Here, the goal is social environments and subcultures with high ceilings for different opinions, economic freedom and the right of the individual to think freely. Both liberalism and traditional conservatism carry a deep respect for the right to differ without being forced into an egalitarian society where the state makes most decisions. Liberalism means the pursuit of a free and tolerant way to live together, where there is respect for diversity and religious freedom. It does not mean a strict state ruled by a small oligarchic political elite who employ themselves and each others in key positions. Nor does it mean a sweaty claw constantly dictating how everyone should live so that they fit into a narrow, pre-defined mold.

Alexis de Tocqueville sums up the fear for the decay of democracy under a strong government by saying that a strict collectivist discipline is far worse than the most blatant stupidity of pre-modern social structures. He believes that when democracy sacrifices its historical ideals, culture is reduced to a caricature, the opposite of freedom — a tyranny of meaning led by the popular mob. Democracy without morality is like capitalism without the Protestant ethic: when breach of trust, selfishness and narcissism are legitimate, democracy becomes tyranny and a path towards the abuse of individual liberties.

A defense of liberalism

The Israeli professor T.J. Talmon speaks of “totalitarian democracy” as a socialist model that breaks with the traditional liberal form of democracy. The aim was to form a radical system that over time would produce far better results in Europe than the traditional culture had succeeded in producing. These new social ideals would be described as rational, while the traditional values ​​would be labeled irrational, unnatural and intolerant. Now a strong state with a clear political leadership would be the source of moral thinking. In The origins of totalitarian democracy, Talmon argues that totalitarian democracies are characterized by an unusually low respect for the right of the citzen to individual freedom. Because the goal of socialist politics is that citizens should unite and agree, – work in groups, think in groups, express themselves in unison and coordinated in groups — peer pressure becomes the method  to keep people in check. Freedom is defined as the right to participate in the development of the socialist society. Those who disagree are regarded as an obstacle to the development of freedom. They will quickly hear that they are intolerant, old-fashioned, racist and  unmodern. Ideally they should leave the country, or be removed. A significant political pressure is placed on the achievement of  collective agreement. A strong state will thus preserve the concensus of its citizens and motivate them by various means to support the idea of egalitarity, primarily through the control of literature, media, publishing, academia and political groups.

Talmon notes that it is important to remember that contemporary liberalism, as it sometimes appears, is nothing but the liberalism that the English philosopher John Locke attempted to achieve when he devised theories of human rights. Freedom for Locke was not an individual ´s right to trample on others, or freedom from responsibility in the community. Nor did liberalism mean that one’s own right to liberty could lead to the right to abuse and exploit others in pursuit of self-satisfaction. It is hedonism that idealizes these lack of norms, not liberalism that emphasizes individual freedom with responsibility to the community. Nihilism and hedonism are also related moral philosophies that seek to justify the individual’s right to give personal satisfaction precedence over the interests of others.

The French anti-Marxist André Glucksmann has termed the ongoing value struggle in Europe as exactly  that — a battle between nihilism and conservatism. Nihilism advocates a morality without limits where people are free to do anything they wish. Evil is regarded as non-existent. The shame of conscience is perceived as a socially constructed result of traditional dogmas one should actually rebel against. Freedom is thus the abandonment of pre-modern social norms, particularly in matters relating to sexual ethics. Over the course of their lives both Plato and Aristotle struggled against the trends of social dissolution that lead to hedonism. Plato´s The republic and his dialogs  with Trasymakos provide examples of challenges in the wake of a legitimation of this form of egoism and its break with solidarity.

The term liberalism can therefore be said to have lost much of its original meaning. Many people today associate liberalism with unprincipled supporters of free sex in a hedonistic social climate emphasizing the right of individuals to egoism and self-realization in disregard of others. Or, powerful capitalists who violate people’s trust, rip-off people´s money and only think of themselves. Others believe that being liberal is to be the bearer of a progressive-radical denial of responsibility defining the development of society as the “responsibility of the state”. The United States and Europe have different traditions for how to define these limits. Even though modern liberals emphasize the right of individuality and thus deviate from social norms or religious traditions, modern European conservatism supports a respect for diversity and the right to individual freedom from the custodial state. An excessive state power is regarded as a threat to economic, personal and moral freedom. They support the philosopher Charles Montesquieu’s formulation of the modern separation of powers to ensure that power is distributed over several free agents – the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government – so that the danger of abuse of power is minimized.

Liberalism has since its humble origins contained important conservative elements. Key features have been the idealization of a society where one appreciates people´s differences. Here, the goal is social environments and subcultures with high ceilings for different opinions, economic freedom and the right of the individual to think freely. Both liberalism and traditional conservatism carry a deep respect for the right to differ without being forced into an egalitarian society where the state makes most decisions. Liberalism means the pursuit of a free and tolerant way to live together, where there is respect for diversity and religious freedom. It does not mean a strict state ruled by a small oligarchic political elite who employ themselves and each others in key positions. Nor does it mean a sweaty claw constantly dictating how everyone should live so that they fit into a narrow, pre-defined mold.

Alexis de Tocqueville sums up the fear for the decay of democracy under a strong government by saying that a strict collectivist discipline is far worse than the most blatant stupidity of pre-modern social structures. He believes that when democracy sacrifices its historical ideals, culture is reduced to a caricature, the opposite of freedom — a tyranny of meaning led by the popular mob. Democracy without morality is like capitalism without the Protestant ethic: when breach of trust, selfishness and narcissism are legitimate, democracy becomes tyranny and a path towards the abuse of individual liberties.

 

SUBCRIBE TO OUR

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

 

Every Friday you will receive a newsletter with the relevant articles that we have published during the week.

Fill in your email adress and press the button above!

SUBCRIBE TO OUR

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

 

Every Friday you will receive a newsletter with the relevant articles that we have published during the week.

Fill in your email adress and press the button above!


Share the article

2 comments

  1. You seem to say that hedonism and nihilism are what are pushing Western civilisation into a blind alley. I agree. I say very much the same thing in my trilogy of near-future, fact-based novels, “Hearing Voices”. If you don’t have time to read them, you may find the extensive supporting quotes at the top of most chapters, which I have accumulated over the years as new researcher, may be useful to you. Just check “David H Overton” on Amazon, and my books will come up.
    Sincerely
    David H Overton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com