Before clicking on the continuation, evaluate the following propositions
* Tidiness and orderliness are, in themselves, indicative of totalitarianism
* Australia and other Western countries are totalitarian states and likely to become more so
If you regard both statements as being obviously false, then you speak the same language as I do, and use a definition of totalitarianism something like this one from Wikipedia. I’d expect to find claims that these statements are true, if anywhere, on the extreme left (for example, among members of an anarcho-syndicalist commune.)
Yet Abiola Lapite takes the following remark of mine (made regarding Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their sympathetic view of Stalin’s Russia)
Support for tidiness and order may not be remarkably attractive, but is not, in itself, indicative of totalitarianism.
I cannot imagine a more obviously false statement. How can a supposedly intelligent person say such a thing?
Lapite seems sensible enough in general, but I can’t make any sense of this. Does he really mean to say that support for tidiness and order is, in itself, indicative of totalitarianism?
Then Scott Wickstein, who I know to be sane and sensible most of the time, weighs in to the comments thread with the following
I think because the likes of Professor Quiggin never actually feel the consequences of the ideas he champions, he can delude himself into thinking they are not ‘totalitarian’.
He sees a difference between a state order enforced by the secret police on the individual, as opposed to the western method of having a beaurocrat enforcing the state order, with the uniformed police kept well in the background.
There is a difference in the stress levels that such methods induce, but the net result is still the same- the hapless citizen has his life comandeered by the state.
Again, I’ve read this kind of thing from the extreme left, but I’m surprised to see it being asserted by the moderate right.
Wickstein goes on to refer to “soft totalitarianism”, a notion he attributes to Hayek, and described the policies of the Australian Greens (which are, as I’ve observed, an updated version of those traditionally put forward by Labor) as being characterised by such “soft totalitarianism.”
Both Wickstein and Lapite seem to be extending the term “totalitarianism” to mean something like “any government policy I regard as an infringement of my liberty”. Such rhetorical use of extreme terms is damaging both to the language and to civilised debate – it’s the reason we have Godwin’s Law (as it happens, one of my readers has kindly added a subclause in my name which fits the present case pretty well).
As I’ve already indicated, the left is just as guilty of this kind of rhetorical overkill as the right, for example in relation to the term “genocide”. But I can’t see that this is a justification.
fn1. This attribution is, I think, incorrect. AFAIK, this term first came into use during the “political correctness” scare of the 1990s – a Google search suggests it was coined by Steven Marcus in Partisan Review. This was silly, and was ably refuted by Andrew Norton