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Selections on the Rise of the Totalitarian Mentality


Americans for decades have taken it for granted that their nation’s heritage of liberty will carry forth, as if of its own volition, into future generations. Yet the hour is now upon us when burgeoning tyranny is at last rearing its monstrous head.

The painful realization for many Americans that we are losing our beloved republic has finally struck home. Patriots are rallying to sound the alarm of advancing statism at last only to find that while many are sympathetic to the cause, there are millions steadfast in their determination to impose their will on the majority wielding the machinery of the state.

Despite all warnings of impending disaster, there are true believers who continue their drive to transform America into their collectivist utopian vision. They disregard all protestations, and forge ahead with reckless, nearly suicidal abandon to advance their destructive agenda.

These lost souls devoutly believe that the arrival of a new world order requires a baptism by fire. True believers torch, pervert, or co-opt every institution that provides stability to a society: The church, the family, the schools, the universities, the courts, the media, the military, and the government itself. What remains after the left’s long march through the institutions of the nation is a desolation of smoldering carnage, of which the remaining government has complete dominion.

So how does a once-free nation finally reach this dire state? The answer lies in mass psychology.

What is Totalitarianism?

There are many ways to describe a political phenomenon: One is by typology, or by describing the characteristics of that phenomenon; and another is by definition, or by identifying the underlying essence of the phenomenon.

A quick and dirty way to gather a look at what totalitarianism is popularly believed to be is to look the term up in the encyclopedia, in our case, Wikipedia. It is predictable that the publicly edited description of totalitarianism is typological in form:

Totalitarian regimes or movements maintain themselves in political power by means of an official all-embracing ideology and propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that controls the state, personality cults, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism, the use of mass surveillance, and widespread use of state terrorism.

This typology is sufficient for a superficial grasp of totalitarianism, but what it lacks is an ability to anticipate novel forms of totalitarianism (such as might be predicted by Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World, which described a totalitarian society featuring eugenics and hedonism).

What is needed for our purposes is a definition that cuts to the core of what totalitarianism is, so that we might know it when we see it. Such utility might be gathered by the following definition, which is my own:

Totalitarianism is the political ideology of complete unification and control of all spheres of human existence.

While totalitarianism is often characterized by a command-and-control economy, intense political propaganda, and a police state apparatus that tramples the rights of individuals, we must be able to engage our imaginations to anticipate new, more subtle forms of human control.

We thus find a philosophical problem in Hannah Arendt‘s classic text The Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt saw parallels in the scale of terror in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia and argued that these terror states represented a new “totalitarian” form of polity unprecedented in world history. As one academic website summarizes:

Arendt insisted that these manifestations of political evil could not be understood as mere extensions in scale or scope of already existing precedents, but rather that they represented a completely ‘novel form of government’, one built upon terror and ideological fiction. Where older tyrannies had used terror as an instrument for attaining or sustaining power, modern totalitarian regimes exhibited little strategic rationality in their use of terror. Rather, terror was no longer a means to a political end, but an end in itself. Its necessity was now justified by recourse to supposed laws of history (such as the inevitable triumph of the classless society) or nature (such as the inevitability of a war between “chosen” and other “degenerate” races).

Yet why should one define a political phenomenon based on scale or means and not on essential driving ideology? Arendt’s contentions, if taken as granted, hamstring one’s ability to identify and anticipate what Hayek referred to as “the road to serfdom” in one’s own society; it also belittles the oppression of other individual human beings in past generations due to totalitarian ideology.

One example in world history of a regime that sought total control of a polity was Qin Shu Huang’s China. Huang, who was China’s first emperor, burned books and executed scholars in order to create a uniform state doctrine. China would turn out to have a long history of totalitarian ideologies. Barrington Moore, in his famous work Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, is more apt than Arendt when he remarks in the context of China in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries:

The whole combination of welfare policies, police surveillance, and popular indoctrination constitutes a revealing precursor of modern totalitarian practices. To my mind, they demonstrate conclusively that the key features of the totalitarian complex existed in the premodern world. But, in agrarian societies before modern technology made totalitarian instruments vastly more effective and created new forms of receptiveness to its appeals, the totalitarian complex was little more than an ineffectual embryo. (207)

If we follow Moore’s analysis, it is not that the twentieth century heavyweights of totalitarian states were completely novel in form, it is simply that the technological means of control for the state had grown to match its appetite. This is important to bear in mind, because by doing so we can see and identify trends that tend toward the state’s intention to dominate society much more easily.

On the most fundamental level, we can empirically ascertain the efficacy of state control not only by the willingness of individuals to submit to the state, but even more so by the number who enthusiastically seek to carry out its goals.

To achieve the psychological state where individuals absolve themselves of their own will, and hence become pliable in the hands of elites to remold as they see fit, requires a multi-step, incremental, and concomitant process of value destruction, progressive economic vulnerability, historical revisionism, and societal reinvention. These elements can be found woven throughout the following selections, which help elucidate how one develops a “totalitarian personality” in modern Western society.

Nihilism: Into the Abyss

When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you. – Friedrich Nietzsche

The following are two extended quotes, without italics, and with minor editorial comment, from Allan Bloom‘s The Closing of the American Mind (1987).

Nietzsche and Value Relativism

When President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” right-thinking persons joined in an angry chorus of protest against such provocative rhetoric. […]

What was offensive to contemporary ears in president Reagan’s use of the word “evil” was its cultural arrogance, the presumption that he, and America, know what is good; its closedness to the dignity of other ways of life, its implicit contempt for those who do not share our ways. The political corollary is that he is not open to negotiation. The opposition between good and evil is not negotiable and is a cause of war. Those who are interested in “conflict resolution” find it much easier to reduce the tension between values than the tension between good and evil. Values are insubstantial stuff, existing primarily in the imagination, while death is real. The term “value,” meaning the radical subjectivity of all belief about good and evil, serves the easy-going question for comfortable self-preservation.

Value relativism can be taken to be a great release from the perpetual tyranny of good and evil, with their cargo of shame and guilt, and the endless efforts that the pursuit of the one and the avoidance of the other enjoin. Intractable good and evil cause infinite distress – like war and sexual repression – which is almost instantly relieved when more flexible values are introduced. One need not feel bad about or uncomfortable with oneself when just a little value adjustment is necessary. And this longing to shuck off constraints and have one peaceful, happy world is the first of the affinities between our real American world and that of German philosophy in its most advanced form, given expression by the critics of the President’s speech. […]

And the further in the text:

Values are not discovered by reason, and it is fruitless to seek them, to find the truth of the good life. [This is where Ayn Rand’s objectivism comes in so beautifully.] This quest begun by Odysseus and continued over three millenia has come to and end with the observation that there is nothing to seek. This alleged fact was announced by Nietzsche just over a century ago when he said, “God is dead.” Good and evil now for the first time appeared as values, of which there have been a thousand and one, none rationally or objectively preferable to any other. The salutary illusion about the existence of good and evil has been definitively dispelled. For Nietzsche this was an unparalleled catastrophe; it meant the decomposition of culture and the loss of human aspiration. The Socratic “examined” life was no longer possible or desirable. It was itself unexamined, and if there was any possibility of human life in the future, it must begin with the naive capacity to live an unexamined life. The philosophic way of life had become simply poisonous. In short, Nietzsche with the utmost gravity told modern man that he was free-falling into the abyss of nihilism. Perhaps after living through this terrible experience, drunk it deep to the dregs, people might hope for a fresh era of value creation, the emergence of new gods.

Modern democracy was, of course, the target of Nietzsche’s creativity. Its daily life is for him the civilized reanimation of man. Nobody really believes in anything anymore, and everyone spends his life in frenzied work and frenzied play so as to not to face the fact, not to look into the abyss. Nietzsche’s call to revolt against liberal democracy is more powerful and more radical than Marx’s. And Nietzsche adds that the left, socialism, is not the opposite of the special kind of right that is capitalism, but its fulfillment. [From Nietzche’s particular European perspective. ed.] The Left means equality, the Right inequality. Nietzsche’s call is from the Right, but a new Right transcending capitalism and socialism, which are the powers moving in the world. (141-143)

On Nihilism, The Weimar Republic, and the Psychopathology of American Fascism

Whether this value relativism is harmonious with democracy is a question that is dealt with by never being raised. The social sciences have dealt with Nazism as a psychopathology, a result of authoritarian or other-directed personalities, a case for psychiatrists, as presented by Woody Allen. Social science denies that thought, especially serious thought, even the very thought at its own root, could have had anything to do with Hitler’s success. But the Weimar Republic, so attractive in its left-wing version to Americans, also contained intelligent persons who were attracted, at least in the beginning, to fascism, for reasons very like those motivating the Left ideologues, reflections on autonomy and value creation. Once one plunges into the abyss, there is no assurance whatsoever that equality, democracy or socialism will be found on the other side. [Think radical environmentalism. ed.]

At very best, self-determination is indeterminate. But the conditions of value creation, particularly its authoritative and religious or charismatic character, would seem to militate against democratic rationalism. The sacred roots of community are contrary to the rights of individuals and liberal tolerance. The new religiosity connected with community and culture influenced people who look at things from the perspective of creativity to lean toward the Right. On the Left there was only an assertion that Marx would, after his revolution, produce exactly what Nietzsche promised, while on the Right there was meditation on what we know of the conditions of creativity. […]

Decent people became used to hearing things about which they would have in the past been horrified to think, and which would not have been allowed public expression. An extreme outcome between Right and Left in Weimar was inevitable.

The great mystery is the kinship of all this to American souls that were not prepared by education or historical experience for it. Pierre Hassner once asked whether this fantastic success of Freud in America was due simply to the fact that so many of his disciples took refuge from Hitler there [many members of the Frankfurt School, ed.] and were very effective propagandists, or whether there was some special need for him in a country he did not much care for.

We will survey an excerpt from the neo-Freudian psychoanalyst Erich Fromm below. Continued:

Once Americans had become convinced that there is indeed a basement to which psychiatrists have the key, their orientation became the self, the mysterious, free, unlimited center of being. All out beliefs issue from it and have no other validation. Although nihilism and its accompanying existential despair are hardly anything but a pose for Americans, as the language derived from nihilism has become a part of their educations and insinuated itself into their daily lives, they pursue happiness in ways determined by that language. There is a whole arsenal of terms for talking about nothing – caring, self-fulfillment, expanding consciousness, and so on, almost indefinitely. Nothing determinate, nothing that has a referent, as we saw in Allen and Riesman. There is a straining to say something, a search for inwardness that one knows one has, but it is still a cause without an effect. The inner seems to have no relation to the outer. The outer is dissolved and becomes formless in the light of the inner, and the inner is a will-o’-the-wisp, or pure emptiness. No wonder the mere sound of the Existentialists’ Nothing or the Hegelians’ Negation has an appeal to contemporary ears. American nihilism is a mood, a mood of moodiness, a vague disquiet. It is nihilism without the abyss.

Nihilism as a state of soul is revealed not so much in the lack of firm beliefs but in a chaos of the instincts of passions. People no longer believe in a natural hierarchy of the soul’s varied and conflicting inclinations, and the traditions that provide a substitute for nature have crumbled. The soul becomes a stage for a repertory company that changes plays regularly – sometimes a tragedy, sometimes a comedy; one day love, another day politics, and finally religion; now cosmopolitanism, and again rooted loyalty; the city or the country; individualism or community; sentimentality or brutality. And there is neither principle nor will to impose a rank order on all these. All ages and places, all races and cultures can play on this stage. Nietzsche believed that the wild costume ball of the passions was both the disadvantage and the advantage of late modernity. The evident disadvantage is the decomposition of unity or “personality,” which in the long run will lead to psychic entropy. (154-156)

Individualism, Social Alienation, and Self-Alienation

It is this “psychic entropy” that feeds the appeal of totalitarian movements. An individual may feel overwhelmed by the pace and variation of “modern life” to the point where he desires a “post-modern” life: A world where there are no heroic myths to animate one to overcome adversity; a world where life does not imitate art out of a sense that life is meaningful and worth living; a world that remedies one’s immense loneliness and pervasive feeling of powerlessness.

The sense of loneliness (or alienation) as a precursor to totalitarianism is elaborated on at length in the monumental twentieth century work, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Mass feelings of being alone, powerless, and overwhelmed contribute to the attractiveness of totalitarian collectivist movements. Two passages help flesh out this point.

First Tzvetan Todorov, as cited in The Black Book of Communism:

A citizen of a Western democracy fondly imagines that totalitarianism lies utterly beyond the pale of normal human aspirations. And yet, totalitarianism could never have survived so long had it not been able to draw so many people into its fold. There is something else – it is a formidably efficient machine. Communist ideology offers and idealized model for society and exhorts us toward it. The desire to change the world in the name of an ideal is, after all, an essential characteristic of human identity … Furthermore, Communist society strips the individual of his responsibilities. It is always “somebody else” who makes the decisions. Remember, individual responsibility can feel like a crushing burden … The attraction of a totalitarian system, which has had a powerful allure for many, has its roots in a fear of freedom and responsibility. This explain the popularity of authoritarian regimes (which is Erich Fromm’s thesis in Escape from Freedom). None of this is new; Boethius had the right idea long ago when he spoke of “voluntary servitude.” (13)

The following will be some extended quotes from Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom (Holt 1969).

On the Individual’s Desire to Be Part of the Collective

The mechanisms we shall discuss…are mechanisms of escape, which result from the insecurity of the isolated individual.

Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside himself as a completely separate entity, two courses are open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to “positive freedom,” he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous, and intellectual capacities, he can thus become one again with man, nature, and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course open to him is to fall back, to give up his freedom, and to try to overcome his aloneness by eliminating the gap that has arisen between his individual self and the world. [Again, consider radical environmentalism.] […]

The first mechanism of escape from freedom I am going to deal with is the tendency to give up the independence of one’s own individual self and to fuse one’s self with somebody or something outside of oneself in order to acquire the strength the individual self is lacking. Or, to put it in different words, seek for new, “secondary bonds” as a substitute for the primary bonds which have been lost [parental bonds, e.g.].

The more distinct forms of this mechanism are to be found in the striving for submission and domination, or, as we would rather put it, in the masochistic and sadistic strivings as they exist in varying degrees in normal and neurotic persons respectively. We shall first describe these tendencies and then try to show that both of them are an escape from unbearable aloneness.

The most frequent forms in which masochistic strivings appear are feelings of inferiority, powerlessness, individual insignificance. The analysis of persons who are obsessed by these feelings show that, while they consciously complain about these feelings and want to get rid of them, unconsciously some power within themselves drives them to feel inferior or insignificant. Their feelings are more than realizations of actual shortcomings and weaknesses (although they are usually rationalized as though they were); these persons show a tendency to belittle themselves, to make themselves weak, and not to master things. Quite regularly these people show a marked dependence on powers outside of themselves, on other people, or institutions, or nature. They tend not to assert themselves, not to do what they want, but to submit to the factual or alleged orders of these outside forces. Often they are quite incapable of experiencing the feeling “I want” or “I am.” Life, as a whole, is felt by them as something overwhelmingly powerful, which they cannot master or control. […] (139-141)

Sadistic tendencies for obvious reasons are usually less conscious and more rationalized than the socially more harmless masochistic trends. [I dispute this point. ed.] Often they are entirely covered up by reaction formations of overgoodness and overconcern for others. Some of the most frequent rationalizations are the following: “I rule over you because I know what is best for you, and it is in your own interest that you should follow me without opposition.” Or…”I have done so much for you, and now I am entitled to take from you what I want.” (143)

What allows the “sadistic” rulers to dominate “masochistic” followers, if we may extend Fromm’s somewhat simplistic terminology? If we may synthesize what we have learned so far, it appears to be a “rootlessness” in the population that springs from familial or other institutional dislocation and causes certain individuals to be prone to joining collectivist movements.

In order to facilitate this institutional destruction, a wholesale obliteration of attachments to pre-existing values and morality is required. This is best accomplished not through direct assault, which leads to resistance, but by indirect means.

In society, this is most subtly accomplished by promoting value relativism, and in the bureaucracy, through the philosophy of pragmatism. Both have a tendency to erode the notions of right and wrong, good and evil. Those who “cling” to such outdated “Manichean” notions are considered dogmatic, reactionary rubes.

On the Contributory Effects of Command Economy on Alienation

Even more subtle than this moral subversion, and little discussed outside of Austrian school literature, are the effects of central bank-led inflationary policy on society. Many people do not realize that the inflation of the money supply by a central bank is quintessentially Marxian stratagem.

Easy credit policies contribute to the sense of “rootlessness” in a society by artificially subsidizing unsustainable lifestyles, which tends to prolong a childish mentality. The disbursement of federal loans to students, and the acceptance of students into universities with little regards to merit or ability to repay the loan, also have a contributing effect to certain youths’ prolonged sense of anomie, alienation, and mental fugue.

These sensations are “logically” ascribed by their professors as a consequence of a monolithic “capitalism,” which takes on an insidious and all-pervasive quality in the minds of the blossoming anti-capitalists.

Now, the education system itself, from inception to completion, is a systematic attempt to cause rebellion against parental authority and the values of American society, be they Christian-based or otherwise.

As the marketplace is distorted, manipulated, and perverted by government, through incentivization of non-productive behavior and rewarding failing businesses and banks with taxpayer (that is, coerced) funding, that very same marketplace is blamed for failing “the needs of society” (of course, a marketplace is by its very nature dedicated to serving the wants and needs of individuals in society).

As the inflationary monetary policy subsidizes profligate lifestyles in our youth, it also subsidizes inefficient or unnecessary businesses. This “malinvestment” causes structural distortion of the economy, laying am unstable foundation on which the government keeps building its house of cards through expansionary monetary policy.

As the collapses come more often, and are more catastrophic in scale and scope, the demand for further government propping up becomes greater, and the howling of the pseudo-intellectual socialists becomes louder.

The youth are all-too-willing at this point to cede control over their lives to the government; and in fact, circumstances seem to dictate that this is necessary.

Meanwhile, in the middle class, the devaluation of the dollar through inflationary policy causes meeting the household ends to become more and more difficult.

Not only in retrospect was the sexual revolution a product of the Frankfurt School’s advocation of rebellion, it was probably necessary for the nuclear family to absorb the increasing burden of maintaining the “American lifestyle.”

This was an all-too-convenient economic reality for socialists entrenched in the education system, who would gladly take up the role of molding the “blank-slated” minds of America’s youth into intellectually docile servants of the “all-caring” state.

F.A. Hayek on the Mental Malleability of True Believers in Totalitarian States

A certain mental malleability (or what Evan Sayet has referred to as “indiscriminate discriminateness”) has been instilled through the public education system and colleges in the minds of the youth of the nation, and continues to be instilled to this day.

One of the most famous Austrian economists of the twentieth century to expound on the mass psychology of totalitarianism is F.A. Hayek. Below we will survey an extended passage from his masterwork The Road to Serfdom, which links value relativism and the emotional fervor that is ratcheted up in totalitarian states:

It would, however, be highly unjust to regard the masses of the totalitarian people as devoid of moral fervor because they give unstinted support to a system which to us seems a denial of most moral values. For the great majority of them the opposite is probably true: the intensity of the moral emotions behind a movement like that of National Socialism or communism can probably be compared only to those of the great religious movements of history. Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarian regimes which horrify us follow of necessity. From the collectivist standpoint intolerance and brutal suppression of dissent, the complete disregard of the life and happiness of the individual, are essential and unavoidable consequences of this basic premise, and the collectivist can admit this and at the same time claim that his system is superior to one in which the “selfish” interests of the individual are allowed to obstruct the full realization of the ends the community pursues. When German philosophers again and again represent the striving for personal happiness as itself immoral and only the fulfillment of an imposed duty as praiseworthy [See Kant’s categorical imperative. Ed.], they are perfecly sincere, however difficult this may be to understand for those who have been brought up in a different tradition.

Where there is one common all-overriding end, there is no room for any general morals or rules. […] There is always in the eyes of the collectivist a greater goal which these acts serve and which to him justifies them because the pursuit of the common end of society can know no limits in any rights or values of any individual.

But while for the mass of the citizens of the totalitarian state it is often unselfish devotion to an ideal [See Ayn Rand’s discussion of “altruism.” ed.], although one repellent to us, which makes them approve and even perform such deeds, this cannot be pleaded for those who guide its policy. To be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, it is not enough that a man should be prepared actively to break every moral rule he has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for him. Since it is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own. They must, above all, be unreservedly committed to the person of the leader; but next to this the most important thing is that they should be completely unprincipled and literally capable of anything. They must have no ideals of their own which they want to realize; no ideas about right or wrong which might interfere with the intentions of the leader. […] The only tastes which are satisfied are the taste for power as such and the pleasure of being obeyed and being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful machine to which everything else must give way. Yet while there is little that is likely to induce men who are good by our standards to aspire to leading positions in the totalitarian machine, and much to deter them, there will be special opportunities for the ruthless and unscrupulous. (168-169)

The nexus between the rulers and those who actually desire to be ruled is thus complex and not easily reducible. While it may seem that the state desires true believers who are ideologically driven, what is even more crucial is that these people are amoral and pay little regard to history, are easily manipulable and have no real wills of their own.

The slew of false promises and lies needed for totalitarians to capture a free state requires a moral pliability on the part of the majority, as well as a short memory and attention span. The onslaught of media distractions and perpetual entertainment in the culture, as well as the mind-numbing repetition of music and the aesthetic absurdity of “art,” plays into the state’s necessity for indiscriminate, apathetic, or otherwise easily led individuals.

Those able to survive the state’s war of attrition on sanity and self-interest find themselves marginalized, decried, and smeared. It is a lonely place in a totalitarian regime for the remaining sane.

Yet for the state a mass movement is eventually needed in the final stages to make a push for the overthrow of the pre-existing order of organized liberty. Useful myths, such as we see with the manmade climate change religion, are concocted and penetrate every sphere of social life. Private property and privacy itself are eventually undermined, so that there is nowhere left for a rational man to “live in truth.”

The great brainwashing begins, and the rise of the “true believers” ensues. We shall quote from Jamie Glazov’s United in Hate, which pulls heavily from the work of social scientist Eric Hoffer called The True Believer in the passage below.

On the Path from Value Relativism to True Believer

The believer’s totalitarian journey begins with an acute sense of alienation from his own society – an alienation to which he is, himself, completely blind. In denial about the character flaws that prevent him from bonding with his own people, the believer has convinced himself that there is something profoundly wrong with his society – and that it can be fixed without any negative trade-offs. He fantasizes about building a perfect society where he will, finally, fit in. As Eric Hoffer put it in his classic The True Believer, people with a sense of fulfillment think it is a good world and would like to conserve it as it is, while the frustrated favor radical change.”

A key ingredient of this paradigm is that the believer has failed to establish real and lasting interpersonal relationships or internalized any values that help him find meaning in life. Suffering from a spiritual emptiness, of which he himself is not cognizant, the believer forces non-spiritual solutions onto his spiritual problems. He exacerbates this dysfunction by trying to satisfy his every material need, which the great benefits of modernity and capitalism allow – but the more luxuries he manages to acquire, the more desperate he becomes. We saw this with the counterculture leftists of the sixties and seventies, and we see it with the radical leftists of today. Convinced that it is incumbent upon society, and not him, to imbue his life with purpose, the believer becomes indignant; he scapegoats society – and ends up despising and rejecting it.

Just like religious folk, the believer espouses a faith, but his is a secular one. He too searches for personal redemption – but of an earthly variety. The progressive faith, therefore, is a secular religion. And this is why socialism’s dynamics constitute a mutated carbon copy of Judeo-Christian imagery. Socialism’s secular utopian vision includes a fall from an ideal collective brotherhood, followed by a journey through the valley of oppression and injustice, and then ultimately a road toward redemption.

In rejecting his own society, the believer spurns the values of democracy and individual freedom, which are anathema to him, since he has miserably failed to cope with both the challenges they pose and the possibilities they offer. Tortured by his personal alienation, which is accompanied by feelings of self-loathing, the believer craves a fairy-tale world where no individuality exists, and where human estrangement is thus impossible. The believer fantasizes about how his own individuality and self will be submerged into the collective whole. Hoffer illuminates this yearning, noting that a mass movement:

[A]ppeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the passion for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation. People who see their lives as irredeemably spoiled cannot find a worthwhile purpose in self-advancement. They look on self-interest as something tainted and evil; something unclean and unlucky…Their innermost craving is for a new life – a rebirth – or failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause. [End inset quote.]

As history has tragically recorded, this “holy cause” follows a road that leads not to earthly paradise, but rather to an earthly hell in all of its manifestations. (6-7)

Preliminary Conclusion

To synthesize what we have read so far, America, and its animating ideal of freedom, is an anchor to which many of us are tethered; while leftist true believers see this grounded sentimentality as an impediment to releasing their Stalinist red balloons to carry them to collectivist paradise.

Thus the leftist seeks to cut all meaningful ties for those standing in the way of their collectivist dreams, to force others to be just as alienated and as disenchanted as they are, and subsequently, just as desperate.

Presiding over these hapless and miserable creatures are supposed philosopher-kings, who patronize their meager existences. It is not until the American people are at the knees of the totalitarian rulers, begging for table scraps from the dining halls of the self-appointed philosopher-kings, that the elitist left will truly be happy.

The danger for us American patriots is to react to this untethering of “America” in our mental universe by retreating to a stable and predictable cadre who effectively replaces this former mental tie.

While moral support is important, especially in perilous times, we must confront in ourselves that it is sometimes more difficult (and made even more difficult by “political correctness”) to confront our would-be enslavers.

Yet that is what we must do, to remain engaged and to assault the left morally and philosophically, so even if for social reasons they retrench into shameful lies disconnected from reality and are thus more limited in their broader popular appeal.

Even if we cannot reach the true believer, we must reach out to those self-described moderates and independents who believe the left is simply filled with misguided but “well-intentioned” dreamers, and disabuse them of this false conception.

Historical Implications

Therefore we close with the classic text on how “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” The Road to Serfdom, which puts the present shift from freedom to tyranny in the long view of history:

Hayek on the Historical Significance of the Socialist Program

The crucial point of which our people are still so little aware is, however, not merely the magnitude of the changes which have taken place during the last generation but the fact that they mean a complete change in the direction of our ideas and social order. For at least twenty five years before the specter of totalitarianism became a real threat, we had progressively been moving away from the basic ideas on which Western civilization had been built. That this movement on which we have entered with such high hopes and ambitions should have brought us face to face with the totalitarian horror has come as a profound shock to this generation, which still refuses to connect the two facts. Yet this development merely confirms the warnings of the fathers of the liberal philosophy which we still profess. We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which the personal and political freedom has never existed in the past. Although we had been warned by some of the greatest political thinkers of the nineteenth century, by Tocqueville and Lord Acton, that socialism means slavery, we have steadily moved in the direction of socialism. And now that we have seen a new form of slavery arise before our eyes, we have completely forgotten the warning that it scarcely occurs to us that the two things may be connected.

How sharp a break not only with the recent past but with the whole evolution of Western civilization the modern trend toward socialism means becomes clear if we consider it not merely against the background of the nineteenth century but in a longer historical perspective. We are rapidly abandoning not the views merely of Cobden and Bright, of Adam Smith and Hume, or even Locke and Milton, but one of the salient characteristics of Western civilization as it has grown from the foundations laid by Christianity and the Greeks and Romans. Not merely nineteenth- and -eighteenth century liberalism, but the basic individualism inherited by us from Erasmus and Montaigne, from Cicero and Tacitus, Pericles and Thucydides, is progressively relinquished. (67-68)


There is more at stake here, on these sacred grounds of freedom, than the potential loss of the American Dream. All of Western Civilization truly hangs in the balance, waiting for us defenders of life, liberty and property to counter the totalitarian true believers with the same tenacity and fervor as they draw upon to effectively wage war on us.

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  1. Very well written information. It will be helpful to everyone who utilizes it, including yours truly :). Keep doing what you are doing – for sure i will check out more posts.

  2. The author will never understand Arendt’s excellent book because she was talking about the right wing’s descent into totalitarianism. It’s uncomfortable to recognize yourself in that context.

    1. Why don’t you go ahead and operationalize that for me? How do American conservatives, who are for limited government and individualism, become totalitarians? I look forward to that answer, which I’m sure will never appear.

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