totalitarianism

October 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

In a previous post I pointed out that religion provides the means by which power explains and justifies itself to those who are subject to that power, and since this is its anthropological or sociological function, it’s probably a good idea to ask if the record of 20th century “totalitarianism” was the result of some mysterious quality of Marxist theory, or if it wasn’t simply the predictably religious character that any power would have to take in pre-modern agrarian societies which were tasked with the challenge of unifying, mobilizing, and industrializing within a generation in order to avoid being colonized or re-colonized by more technologically and militarily advanced rivals.

We’re supposed to believe, after all, that Marxism is inherently totalitarian, or even that totalitarianism itself originates with Marxism, and yet when we look at history, we see all the qualities we identify as totalitarian in the political economy of any society that unifies as a polity by means of imposed religious conformity, from Charlemagne’s violent imposition of Christianity which made a Western European christendom possible, to Spain’s unification through the inquisition.  Furthermore, we can easily identify the “totalitarian” in pre-Marxist secular societies, the most obvious example being the Terror during the French Revolution, but it is by no means the only example.  Did we think that Marx had a time machine?

What we identify as the totalitarian is not the result of a magic spell cast on humanity by Karl Marx or anybody else, but is instead a regularly occurring feature of political economies that is as old as politics itself because it’s persecution politics which creates the possibility of the polity, tribe, gang, or nation. The group becomes the group and defines itself as the group by persecuting what it believes it is not.  Its unification is made possible by the perception of a common enemy, which can be real or imagined.

Societies persecute these enemies within their midst for the same reason the mean girls clique in high school picked on the fat girl – it’s because by attacking her, the mean girls can establish that they belong to the mean girls clique and are not the fat girl themselves. It is only through persecuting her that the mean girls clique comes to be the mean girls clique in the first place, and the leader of the mean girls, or the one with the most power within the group, will be the one who points the finger at the fat girl they will persecute.  So, if you like, you can think of Hitler as the head of the German mean girls clique at Western European High and the Jews and Roma as the fat girls.

The bottom line here is that power, identity, persecution, and belief, both religious and ideological, all meet at the historical and sociological nexus that we identify selectively as “totalitarianism,” so we probably wouldn’t be able to understand much about any of these things, much less produce a coherent understanding of history, if we’re attributing them all to a magic book and an evil Jewish wizard who wants to punish success and convince our daughters to listen to jazz and date negroes.

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