And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose.
The world you live in – your nation, your people – is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed.
Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves
Sound familiar? It did to me when I stumbled across it on the Democratic Underground website. I thought it was a pretty accurate description of how things have changed since 9/11. So it was a bit of a bummer to discover it was taken from a book about the rise of fascism in Germany in the years leading up to World War II.
They Thought They Were Free was written by Milton Mayer, a Jewish American journalist of German descent who travelled to Germany at the end of WWII to study the lives of a group of ordinary Germans under the Third Reich.
What happened was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security.
That’s exactly what I see happening every morning when I switch on the TV. Government by surprise. You know… When they announce some piece of legislation you’ve never even heard about has suddenly become law. Situations so complicated we have to have an expert explaining in front of a big screen like we’re children in primary school High security information so dangerous it can’t be made public. The gradual invasion of our privacy and curtailment of our liberties that previous generations laid down their lives to prevent. And all in the name of a perpetual war against terrorism that will never end.
Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing).
You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.
How did we ever get this stupid? How did we ever come to accept that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength?
“I found the parallels with current day America to be much to close for comfort, if you substitute white rural culture for Jews in Germany,” says one Amazon reviewer. Substitute Jews in Germany for dole scroungers or gypsy Romas in the UK and its exactly the same thing.
This book will open your eyes as to how totalitarianism is welcomed by the mass of people if the media support it, and the economy is good.
I don’t agree with that last bit. When the economy is good you don’t need scapegoats. Totalitarianism thrives in the bad times, not the good. But I do agree that media support is the key. So what is totalitarianism exactly? How do we know it when we see it> Well, according to the dictionary it’s:
‘a system where the state seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever possible’
That seems like a pretty good description of what I see happening most mornings on the TV news. Little by little, the gradual habituation of the population to government control over every conceivable aspect of our lives, from what we should eat, to how we should behave, to how we should think.
‘a society in which the ideology of the state has influence, if not power, over most of its citizens.’
By influence over most of its citizens does he mean state control of education and the media I wonder?
Back in 1932, when A Doctrine of Fascism was first published, the state did have have total control over radio broadcasting in the UK through the BBC. But what teachers taught and newspapers published was still largely up to them.
State control of teacher training and the educational curriculum were more or less complete by the mid 1980s. Thanks to the Leveson Inquiry, state control of the press is next on the list.
The corporate state considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and useful instrument in the interest of the nation.
State intervention in economic production arises only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when the political interests of the state are involved. This intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management.
There’s nothing here that many people would object to. Private enterprise is at the heart of the global economy and the neo-liberal consensus all political parties subscribe to. And state intervention is what has been keeping the global economy afloat since the collapse of 2007-08. OK, so old-school socialists would have objected, no doubt. But they disappeared into the twilight zone a generation ago when Tony Blair kicked Clause IV out of the Labour Party constitution in 1995.
So who wrote it do you think? Tony Blair, David Cameron, George Osborn, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, David Miliband, Gordon Brown, Mervyn King, Mark Carney, George W. Bush or Barack Obama? It could have been any of them. But it wasn’t. It was Benito Mussolini, in Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions, in 1935.
When I began primary school in the mid 1950s, when WWII and fascism were still as fresh in people’s minds as 9/11 and Islamic terrorism are today, we were taught that Hitler’s use of terror weapons like the V-1 Flying Bomb proved the Nazis were cold-blooded psychopaths who had to be beaten at any cost.
What we weren’t told is that the allies took over development of the V-1 from where the Nazis left off.
So by the time the generation who had fought fascism were entering the nursing homes, their children, the baby-boomers, who had inherited the fruits of their sacrifice but had no memory of what it was like to be on the receiving end of a Nazi terror attack, had no problem re-launching the V-1s as the Tomahawk Cruise Missile and re-branding the victims as terrorists.
Well, you know how that story ends. By the time the baby-boomers reached retirement, their children, who knew so much more about everything thanks to rising exam grades in state-controlled schools and daily documentaries on state-controlled TV, had no problem accepting that the man who ordered the launching of unmanned flying bombs on a daily basis shouldn’t be tried as a war criminal but should be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.
So if you think that fascism is confined to racialist bully-boys in far-right organisations, or that totalitarianism couldn’t happen here, then think again.
There is no alternative, as Margaret Thatcher first told us more than 30 years ago and David Cameron is telling us now.
So what’s that all about then? No alternative? Only one option? How total is that? Oh how times have changed!