Nice Totalitarianism

A few weeks ago I wrote a passage simply in order to get my thoughts in order on the way the world is turning. Here it is:

Our modern state ideology, our political correctness, appears to be three-pronged, like the devil’s fork or trident.

The first prong is climate change, its inevitability: carbon emission, global warming, rising sea levels and the need to do something about them.

The second prong is the pandemic, the necessity of dealing with a virus by the negative measures of lockdown, masks, distancing and the positive measures of vaccines and other, somewhat belated, treatments.

The third prong is wokery, or the requirement that we adopt the set of miscellaneous views about ‘Gay’, ‘Women’, ‘Race’ and ‘Trans’ which Douglas Murray has itemised in The Madness of Crowds.

Evidently, great minds think alike, and some great minds organise their thoughts more quickly than other great minds. For after writing the above I saw that Will Jones in an excellent article for the Daily Sceptic entitled “The Unholy Trinity of Social Control” had been the first to see that these three forces have to be assembled into a triad. He called them Covid, Climate Change and CRT (or Critical Race Theory). I admire the alliteration, though I think we might have to sacrifice some it so as not to emphasise the issue of race too much. Here I will call them CLIMATE, COVID and WOKERY. However, the three, whatever one calls them, must be so obvious to all of us that we should applaud Jones for having not only named them but put them together.

Let me try to take the thought a bit further.

We need to recognise that these are three elements of what we should probably call NICE TOTALITARIANISM. The words ‘social control’ do not quite capture the total significance of what is being put forward by our governments. Every government ever in the history of the world has believed in some measure of social control. To some extent, we define government in terms of its achievement of social control – though this, of course, may be minimally or maximally interpreted. The reason I prefer the phrase ‘nice totalitarianism’ is that it captures the fact that the control now, if not maximal, is a lot closer to maximal than anyone would have expected a few years ago. But there is another reason I prefer it: and this is because it captures the distinctively Western, or specifically, in our case, British, tonality of this totalitarianism: the fact that it is nice.

We are being nice, through ‘saving the planet’ (by sitting down on a busy road or sightseeing wind turbines), ‘making oppressed people feel included and secure’ (by tossing a statue into the sea or signing a petition) and ‘preventing Covid deaths’ (by wearing a mask or getting vaccinated). Who would not want to do those things?

But Jones is right. These are being used as instruments by our governments. Our own Government is like a boxer with three fists, getting us punch drunk by hitting us first one way and then the other, and, if we are still standing, knocking us out with the third. This is a spectacular combination because each of the problems exists on a wholly different scale.

  • COVID is on a microscopic scale.
  • CLIMATE is on a planetary scale.
  • WOKERY is on a social scale.

Notice that each of these three deals with an invisible enemy: a virus, an entire change to our ultimate physical situation, and, well, words. (Perhaps another way of characterising our current politics would be to say that it is ‘invisible stick and stones – and words’.) But each of the enemies poses a different sort of threat.

COVID is the name of the threat: it threatens us as individuals, threatening us with suffering and an early death, though our response to it has been interestingly not only collective but coercive. Let us call the response to this threat FAUCISM. (We need a name for the response, to cover the myriad of non-pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical interventions. Anthony Fauci’s name may stand for the whole enterprise, as he is more internationally famous than our own Chris Whitty or Patrick Vallance, as well as more determined and more obviously compromised: and he has become the object of a cult in the United States at least.)

CLIMATE is the name of another threat: it threatens us as a collective, again threatening us with suffering and possibly the death of an entire species or set of species; and so a collective response is urged. Let us call this response GRETAISM. (Again, we need a name for the response, and Greta Thunberg is the perfect embodiment of the righteous innocence which we are meant to emulate and expect to attain in agreeing to do something about this problem. Al Gore was only ever an inconvenient exponent of his inconvenient truth.)

WOKERY is somewhat different, as it is not the name of a threat but a name, a somewhat scornful but useful name, for the response to a supposed threat. This threat is not physical, but ideological. Let us call the threat PRIVILEGISM, for want of a better word: it certainly captures the fact that what wokeists want to achieve is that everyone who is privileged for some reason, whether biological, cultural or historical, should acknowledge their privilege, express remorse for it, and pay for it, most obviously by ritually abasing themselves in front of the less privileged.

This third theme is different from the other two themes, as it is much more tentative. FAUCISM and GRETAISM are attempts to harness science for the sake of sentiment and social control, for the sake of nice totalitarianism; whereas WOKERY refuses to bother with science at all – even comes into conflict with science (as, for the moment, only stand-up comedians are willing to point out). So the language of the first two prongs of the trident is supposedly objective, whereas the language of the last prong is subjective: even though it is a subjectivity which is being imposed on everyone by force or shame or pillory. It should also be said that WOKERY is a lot less focused than the other two, because the enemy is not a fate but a condition, and this condition – of perpetuating stereotypes, exclusion and privilege, of being mired in individually unconscious and collectively institutional bias – is so evidently a matter of interpretation, and, more than that, takes so many different forms, that it is hard to associate it with one particular figure. It lacks a Fauci or a Greta, despite the occasional brief meteor-like efflorescence of a Caitlin Jenner or Meghan Markle.

What I am saying is that these are the three leading elements of our current state ideology. Politicians in Britain now routinely genuflect to all three. In reaction to COVID the success of FAUCISM has been unheralded (consider for the hundredth time the famous comment to the Times by Neil Ferguson that he could hardly believe that the British would fall for Chinese methods), and now the administrative class is exploring how to use FAUCISM to push the GRETAIST agenda. Again, WOKERY is more subtle, and attritional, as it advances on many fronts, not just one. Curriculums are ‘decolonised’; institutions like the National Trust and Cambridge University strike moral attitudes; comedians and journalists and the occasional head of state are ‘cancelled’ for hate speech; academics identify themselves with slash-marked ‘pronouns’; Don Quixote is still out there fighting windmills.

This state ideology is our own version of the sort of totalitarian ideology we associate with China and some older regimes. It is totalitarian; yet it is nice.

In form it is TOTALITARIAN. That is to say, it is a secular religion: it is flowing into the fissures in the rock of our civilisation as Christianity has receded. One could even say that it is the sand and water which is finally fracking out the last residues of Christianity. Our civilisation is increasingly coming to resemble historic Chinese civilisation. In the press, China is the geopolitical enemy. But now chinoiserie is the enemy within. This is no exaggeration. I think the last century and a half has seen a great change in the structure of society. We have seen the rise of an elite which is not clerical – Oxford and Cambridge were highly clerical until the late nineteenth century – but secular. Moreover, we have seen a system of secular education emerge that is far more extensive than anyone could have imagined in the nineteenth century. In the 1880s a few thousand men went to Oxford and Cambridge every year. Now, since 2020 or so, half of those who leave school – boys and girls – go to university. Half of the population has a higher education. But since most of this half of the population is actually unsuited to academic education (which is no fault of theirs), we do not have a nation of Aristotles and Einsteins. The old liberal distinction between education and indoctrination has been obliterated. So we have instead a nation of Stakhanovs and Pecksniffs. Bartleby the scrivener now says, “I would prefer to”, because he knows why – he’s had a higher education, you see. The sense of entitlement this creates in this half of the population is only matched by the instinct of compliance it creates. What we have seen emerge in the last 60 years is a vast Mandarin class. Half the population is now willing to join an entitled and likely very inefficient guild of administratively-minded, state-ideologised and corporately-smoothed functionaries and professionals.

But there is a twist, and the twist is that even though this is the case – and though it is very Chinese in form – the content is not what we are familiar with from our studies of totalitarianism at GCSE and A Level. The classic totalitarian regimes were, of course, fascist or communist: they had a singular, monolithic ideology, one which emphasised uniformity. This is the opposite of our totalitarianism. Our totalitarianism is liberal: it is not singular, not monolithic, because it does not emphasise uniformity, but diversity: indeed, it celebrates diversity.

It celebrates diversity in every respect but one. Every sort of diversity – of preference, of association, of lifestyle, of utterance, of fashion, of taste, of belief, of sexuality – is permitted except diversity of opinion about the sacred causes of COVID, CLIMATE and WOKERY. The first two have special status, despite being uniformitarian, because they are matters of ‘science’ and are sanctified by statistical visions of the coming secular apocalypse. One cannot disagree about those. If one disagrees with the first then one is a ‘covidiot’ or part of the ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ or ‘ignorant’. If one disagrees with the second then one is a ‘climate denier’, a ‘conspiracy theorist’ or ‘complacent’. Either way, one is a cause of death. If one disagrees with WOKERY then one is – and this is the most toxic and the most feared – ‘deplorable’, ‘racist’, ‘patriarchal’, ‘transphobic’ and so on. When I say that we cannot have diversity of opinion about diversity, what I mean is that there is a monotonous singularity operating within the system which requires everyone to approve of diversity. It is not possible to express a diverse point of view about this. As is often said, all forms of diversity are acceptable except diversity of political opinion. This is because there is an overwhelming need to make it impossible for traditional uniformitarian ideologies to proselytise: there has to be what we could call a ‘single lock’ which prevents anyone defending anything like a traditional religious position on anything – unless, of course, it is a minority position and thus tolerated under the extension of indulgence to the marginal and oppressed (no matter what contradictions result from this – contradictions such as wokeists defending religious fanaticism).

The twist means that what we have here is NICE TOTALITARIANISM. We have totalitarianism in our state ideology of political correctness which was first glimpsed in the innocent 1990s but has become intensified since around 2010: as mass higher education has coincided with post-industrial work practices and the rise of social mediation by technological means. But this totalitarianism is nice exactly because it has taken the form in the West of the ‘unholy trinity’ or ‘devil’s fork’ of the three great progressive themes of COVID, CLIMATE and WOKERY.

Nice totalitarianism is actually, of course, nasty. It is interventionist, insolent, insinuating, invasive. One of its superheroes is the now famous Captain Hindsight; but he has been joined by his colleagues in the Build Back Better Universe: Modelling-Man, Nurse Prevention and General Censorship. Politicians talk about Zero Covid and Zero Carbon and are likely soon to be talking about Zero Bias (if that is a sufficiently strong term for the combination of zero prejudice, zero privilege and zero hate). Such rhetoric is, as Will Jones has already observed, a rhetoric of absolute justification for an endless, infinite and miscellaneous set of projects. Such rhetoric is sustainable (which means indestructible), alas, because the causes to which it is devoted are unachievable: yet it is imperative that we adopt these causes because they are opposed to hate and death. They enable our rulers to perpetuate a wholly novel form of totalitarian rule, which is armoured by the fact it is for so many reasons nice and is thus hard to argue with in our current abject moral state. We are being outfoxed by the latest Machiavellians.

Things do not look good. The only short term hope is that a culture of secrecy – especially of expressing opinions by secret ballot – survives to allow us to defend traditional and common sense and pagan opinions, including what are now old-fashioned classical liberal opinions. The only long term hope is a revival of Christianity. Either way, given the current condition of state and church and university, it looks as if we are moving into an era in which we will live or die in relation to whether a black market in ideas manages to survive or not.

Dr. James Alexander is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey.

June 2024
Free Speech Union

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