Sunday, May 3, 2020

Totalitarianism or Authoritarianism? By Gary North (GETTING OUR DEFINITIONS RIGHT)

Tucker Carlson Is Astonishingly Wrong About Any Looming Threat of Totalitarianism in America
Gary North - May 02, 2020
I am impressed with Tucker Carlson.
I don't watch Fox News, but I watch Carlson's verbal editorials several times a month.
He has a gift for public speaking. He discusses things rationally. He also has a gift for rhetoric. He doesn't just state the facts. He interprets them and then gives people encouragement to resist some of the trends of our day. There are a lot of really bad trends in our day. But, then again, there always are.
Recently, he came up with this term: "flu d'tat." Anyone who could do this is my kind of guy.
He writes his own editorials. No one else could. Then he delivers them verbally.
This video is worth watching. It is worth watching because he skewers some leftists who really deserve to be skewered, including the ever-petulant Mark Zuckerberg. Second, he made a major error that needs to be nipped in the bud.
This is an almost flawless editorial. He showed a clip from the suppressed YouTube video by the physicians. He showed a clip from a YouTube spokeswoman defending the removal of the video. He showed a clip from Zuckerberg on Facebook's suppression of inconvenient ideas.
He did this to present his case that we are facing a totalitarian movement. We have moved to a new phase of American history.
There was a major flaw in this editorial. You may have missed it. This flaw calls his editorial into question. Did you spot it?
The flaw was the man he interviewed. That man has it right. Carlson has it wrong.
The man was polite. He didn't call Carlson's thesis into question. Carlson seemed unaware of the fact that the man was overturning his case for the editorial. His name is Dave Rubin. He has written a book: Don't Burn This Book (2020).
Rubin is a technician. He is trying to set up alternative sources of online communications to challenge YouTube and Facebook. I don't think he's going to be successful in this, but I certainly approve of the attempt. If he can make a profit doing it, so much the better. If he doesn't make a profit, then it's a futile effort.
Rubin did not use the word "totalitarian." He used the word "authoritarian." This distinction may not seem to be important, but, conceptually speaking, it is the heart of the matter.
Carlson kept bringing up the word "totalitarian." This was a mistake. It made for a riveting editorial. It was a persuasive rhetorical term. But it made for bad analysis.
Because Rubin is correct, at the end of the interview, he displayed remarkable optimism. It is this optimism that we should adopt. But, before we do this, I must discuss definitions.
Totalitarianism is a very specific kind of political order. It is an order in which the central government not merely undermines but actively destroys voluntary organizations. These organizations possess legitimacy. People trust them to deliver certain benefits in their lives. These organizations therefore possess authority. They are independent of the central government. The central government has to either destroy them or take them over by force. This is what was done in the Soviet Union. It is what was done in Communist China. It is what is done in North Korea.
In contrast, authoritarians recognize that they need the support of independent organizations. They know that they cannot stamp them out entirely. Therefore, they attempt to influence them indirectly. They may even subsidize them. They grant carrots, but there are sticks attached to the carrots. They buy off the leaders of these decentralized agencies of authority. Sometimes, they outlaw certain activities of these organizations, but they do not attempt to stamp them out. The authoritarian recognizes that he needs the support of decentralized organizations that possess legitimacy.
If you want a familiar example of this, consider tax exemption. It is granted by the Internal Revenue Service. This is a tremendous benefit to nonprofit organizations. Donations are tax-deductible. So, more money comes in for the causes. But, in order to get this grant of exemption, the organizations must not indulge in political activity. They can sometimes lose their tax exemption if they pursue certain policies that are considered politically incorrect by the nation's bipartisan leadership. The threat of the loss of the tax exemption pressures the leaders of these organizations to toe the line on certain issues, but certainly not on all issues. The granting of tax exemption is not a mark of totalitarianism. It is a mark of authoritarianism. There is a difference.
Two generations ago, Hannah Arendt wrote a book: The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). There is a Wikipedia entry on the book. It is one of the most important books of the 20th century. Wikipedia offers an extract, which is representative. She discussed the character and intellect of totalitarian leaders.
Intellectual, spiritual, and artistic initiative is as dangerous to totalitarianism as the gangster initiative of the mob, and both are more dangerous than mere political opposition. The consistent persecution of every higher form of intellectual activity by the new mass leaders springs from more than their natural resentment against everything they cannot understand. Total domination does not allow for free initiative in any field of life, for any activity that is not entirely predictable. Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.
We are not facing people like this. We are facing sophisticated, well-educated, articulate people who are not attempting to stamp out intellectual activity. Rather, they are attempting to co-opt it. They do this by controlling the media. This goes back in American history. It certainly goes back to the origin of the public school movement in the middle of the 19th century.
The totalitarian wants to eliminate any independent source of creativity. Everything must be sacrificed to the state. In the French Revolution, revolutionaries referred to each other as "citizen." Life was all for the state. In the Soviet Union, revolutionaries referred to each other as "comrade." Life was all for the Communist Party.
In 1943, the conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet was just beginning his academic career. He wrote an essay for an academic journal, The Journal of Politics. The essay was on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's influence in Western thought. The title was provocative: "Rousseau and Totalitarianism." I read it in 1969 when I was taking a graduate seminar from him. I wish I had read it in my freshman year in college in 1959. He reprinted it in his book, Tradition and Revolt (1969). The essay is an analysis of Rousseau's concept of the general will. Here is a one-sentence summary of Nisbet's thesis: "There is to be no bond of loyalty, no social affiliation, no interdependence, save that which is embodied in the General Will." He spelled out in detail.
It is, however, in the bearing of Rousseau's General Will upon traditional society that the full sweep of its totalitarian significance becomes manifest. It has been made clear that the object of Rousseau's dislike is society, and the special merit of the state lies in its power to emancipate the individual from traditional society. The relationship among individuals which forms the General Will, and which is the true state, is obviously an exceedingly delicate one. It must be unitary and indivisible for its nature fully to unfold. In short, it must be protected from the operations of extraneous channels of constraint.
This is not what we face today. On the contrary, this is what Americans have never faced. In America and in the colonial world that preceded America, there has been enormous authority for churches, families, businesses, and voluntary societies of all kinds. In 1829, a young Alexis de Tocqueville toured America. He made it clear in his two volumes, Democracy in America, published in 1835 and 1840, that America's reliance on local community associations was a defining feature of the nation.
It is true that the welfare state has undermined this, but there is still enormous strength in American society for independent institutions to which people give loyalty. There is no possibility that America is going to change in this regard until its fundamental outlook is changed. This outlook cannot be changed by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg.
Today, because of the Web, the possibility of establishing anything like a unitary outlook is gone. It is technologically impossible. More than this, it is morally unlikely. The moral strength of America is founded on the concept of personal responsibility, which is then extended to voluntary group responsibility. Americans take care of their own. The welfare state has partially undermined this, and this has produced serious negative social consequences. Black ghettos are examples of this, but so are lower-middle-class racially white ZIP Codes, as described in 2012 by Charles Murray in his remarkable book, Coming Apart. But these trends are tax-financed. Take away the funding, and there is hope of restoration.
An economic crisis will take away the funding.
There is another factor to consider. Every regime in history has always been enforced by low-level, mostly visionless, time-serving bureaucrats. These are the munchkins. Under capitalism, they get hemmed in by organizational rules. The organizations are run in terms of the profit motive. Incompetents may not be eliminated, but they are hemmed in. The more powerful the state, the less that these munchkins are hemmed in. They become almost impossible to eliminate. Their mistakes multiply. Their mistakes also become permanent. Steadily over time, these regimes either disintegrate slowly or else collapse. The classic example of this is the Soviet Union. It simply went out of business on December 25, 1991. There is no revolution. There was no bloodshed. It just ran out of money, hope, and prospects.
Here is an unbreakable law: authoritarian regimes are administered by twits. This law is right up there with Murphy's Law. Murphy's Law operates far more comprehensively in authoritarian regimes than in free-market regimes. Sometimes the twits are allowed to articulate the vision. The two twits who wrote the article that Carlson refers to are examples. But, no matter how great the original vision, no matter how inspiring their long-term goals are initially, authoritarian regimes never escape being administered by twits. Then the regimes disintegrate.
With this in mind, let us return to Carlson's editorial.
Carlson accurately described the policies of opinion suppression by Facebook and YouTube. There is no doubt that, very occasionally, these organizations do suppress ideas that Zuckerberg doesn't agree with. But, as I have pointed out before, the vast volume of videos that are posted on YouTube daily, and the vast numbers of memes and links to articles posted on Facebook, are so overwhelming that not even the algorithms can suppress all of them. They cannot suppress a majority of them. They can barely identify and suppress a few hundred of them. I must admit that the suppression of the Unz Review is an outrage. It is a comprehensive site. The material on the site is unique. It is voluminous. It has representatives from all political standpoints. This is one more example of the lack of judgment of some low-level munchkin at Facebook, a faceless nonentity who wants to exercise power over people of far superior intellect and talent. But that's what munchkins do if you give them power.
Free posting rights to billions of people are a tremendous lure. These two organizations make huge amounts of money by selling advertising. Inherently, they are governed by the free market. The owners want to get richer. This is all a gigantic advertising operation. It's governed by the profit motive.
We have never seen anything comparable to this. These organizations have opened up communications at zero monetary price to users who then can express virtually any opinion.
The amount of crackpottery on YouTube and Facebook vastly overwhelms the amount of tow-the-line political Leftism. Leftists are not good at getting out their message. The crackpots are. So are the odd-balls and eccentrics. In this competition, libertarians and conservatives are the obvious winners. We can now get our messages across to thousands and even millions of viewers and readers. This possibility was not there in 1994, before the graphical user interface browser. It surely was not possible in 1956, when I came into the conservative movement. In 1956, there were only three tiny publishers of conservative books.
Anyone who did not go through this communications transition will find it difficult emotionally to understand and connect with the extraordinary liberation that the Internet has provided to those with unacceptable opinions of all kinds.
This incomparable decentralization has been provided by a handful of mega-communications companies, all of which are run by political liberals. Decentralization is everywhere. We are not moving into totalitarianism. We are moving into the opposite of totalitarianism. There is no possibility that totalitarianism will ever take root in a country that allows Facebook and YouTube to generate their tens of billions of dollars in ad revenue.
Facebook and YouTube don't control us. We control them. Our click-throughs generate their revenues. It is their hope of making money off of us that is the heart, mind, and soul of YouTube and Facebook. Their owners are driven by the lure of money. They are driven by the capitalist goal of profit.
Tucker Carlson is on Fox News because he generates lots of revenue. He is on YouTube because he generates some revenue. This is his protection. This is his covering. Yes, he may get fired, but I doubt that the Left is going to kick him off of YouTube. YouTube wants to make money. It wants people to believe that if they post videos on YouTube, they may make a little money.
My advice is not to let YouTube's algorithm put any advertisements on your videos. Use videos to promote things that are profitable directly to you. That is the best way to make money on YouTube. Use the videos to take viewers to your website, and then charge a subscription to join your website, or sell them something, or persuade them to subscribe to an eletter. If everybody did this, it would destroy YouTube's business model. I'm not recommending that everybody do this. I'm recommending that you do this.
Here are specifics. These are major conceptual errors. At 8:30, he says that the leaders of the movement to suppress our opinions have the mentality of the Communist leaders of China. He called the government totalitarian. He is incorrect. It is authoritarian.
The rulers of China are Communists. There is no question about this. But they are not the Communists that ruled China prior to 1978. They are not followers of Mao Zedong and Zhou En-lai. Under the old Chinese Communist regime, the government executed or starved at least 60 million people, and it was probably closer to 100 million. That country also had nothing of value to export. It was poverty-stricken. It was poverty-stricken precisely because it was totalitarian. It was a vast equivalent of North Korea today.
The Chinese Communists today are authoritarians. They are basically Keynesians with guns. They have an export-driven urban economy. They provide a lot of liberty for businesses to start up. They provide loans from state banks to entrepreneurs. They are using the carrot more than the stick. They do use the stick against certain religious groups: Christians and especially Muslims in the Western provinces. The old Chinese Communist atheism is alive and well at the top of China's government. But it is a conceptual error to call them totalitarians. If they were totalitarians, the country would starve. When the leaders were totalitarians, tens of millions of Chinese did starve.
At 6:41, he referred to Mark Zuckerberg's admission that Facebook removes posts with "harmful misinformation." He said that this phrase is common in "totalitarian regimes." He is incorrect. I have been a student of totalitarian regimes for over 50 years. My book on Marx was published in 1968. (The 1988 edition is posted here.) I have never read a phrase like "harmful misinformation" in a totalitarian nation. Totalitarian regimes send out the secret police who knock at a door, and then take people to a concentration camp or to a prison where they are executed.
What bothers me most is this: At 9:00, he announced: "It's the future." On the contrary, it is not even remotely the future. The statement is rhetorical, not factual. To imagine that totalitarianism is a serious domestic threat to America is to misunderstand America and Americans. To adopt such a view is necessarily to adopt a mentality of defeat and surrender. Carlson is not in favor of surrender, but his rhetoric moves his listeners in that direction.
In contrast was Rubin. At 14:00, he announced: "I'm quite enthused about the world right now." About what? This: "There's a new world coming on the horizon" (14:07). It is a world in people will be able to work where they want because of telecommuting. He offered a 30-second sermon on liberation. He said: "This is still America." Yes, it is. He had admitted that there is a problem with the suppression of information, but he makes it clear that he does not believe that this is a technological imperative, nor does he believe that it is a political imperative.
I'm with Rubin's rhetoric. I'm not with Carlson's rhetoric.
Carlson is rhetorically gifted. He has a great responsibility because of this. He should learn to control his rhetoric. He doesn't need to make outlandish statements that not only cannot be proven, but are out of touch with American history, in order to get his message across. It's especially risky to make such statements, and then interview someone who seems to share his concern, but who announces the opposite vision of where the country is, and what is coming.