Friday, May 8, 2009

Re-appreciating the Significance of Fear: A Discourse on the Conflicting Desires that Mitigate Totalitarianism

Hansley A. Juliano, II AB Political Science: January 13, 2009

The notion of strong and collected leaders has been, for quite long, part of the standing and common perception of what totalitarianism is. The word itself has been quite used interchangeably with the words “tyranny” and “dictatorship,” due to their having the common trait (or image of such a trait) of the condensation of power in a state figurehead reminiscent of the Hobbesian Leviathan’s influence, power and motivations. This is, however, an oversimplification of the dynamics of a totalitarian’s effect on the mindset, the perspectives and the collective consciousness of the people he is governing or oppressing. In retrospect, a totalitarian regime is never established with the people explicitly surrendering their right to the sovereign in the spirit of political maturity and culpability for their actions. We might state, then, that Hannah Arendt’s work entitled The Origins of Totalitarianism exhibits the horrifying potential for encroachment and reduction of human life to mere statistics. For a totalitarian regime to be at the apogee of power and have dominion over the state, a substantive and driving force of fear and apprehension of loss and the desire for accumulation is always maintained and considered paramount.

A novel reading of Arendt’s critique of Karl Marx’s perception of human existence as one driven by perpetual motion posits that it is in this perpetual motion that the origins of totalitarianism are established. The absence of an avenue for pardon and the mending of human relations is a perfect means by which a cycle of hatred is institutionalized. Through the installation of motor at the hub of historical progress, we are no longer able to make sense of our free will and our capability to will or make promises. In depriving ourselves of the avenue to repair and re-establish our broken relationships with others, we deny ourselves the capability of reinvention and thus effectively countering the original purpose of critical thinking: understanding the limitations of our historical situation and working on it to build the ideal community, which in a way lays the foundation for the succeeding philosophy developed by Michel Foucault.

We insist, as mentioned a while ago, that totalitarianism is always brought about by the presence of any substantive amount of fear in losing what most of the entities in state and society have accumulated. This condition is brought about precisely by the pessimistic nature of most established traditional political philosophy; that is, they are always large possibilities for failure, which is in a way vocalized in the Machiavellian notion of fortune as unpredictable and prone to being our adversary. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, however, impresses us with his insistence that being fearful of the tragic consequences of political success will always be counterproductive in the pursuit of building the ideal community. He is aware of the possibility that the Vanguard Party’s actions can lead to totalitarianism, yet he is unfazed. His successor, Josef Stalin, however, was so concerned with this “negative development” that he laboured to force the people of the state into subscribing to his notion of what should be done to prevent the advent of totalitarianism, which ironically led to it precisely.

It is in this light, then, that we try to understand the roots of anti-Semitism through the experience of fear and desire for accumulation. As established, the black propaganda against the Jews was made due to the desire of the bourgeois to undermine their proximity and influence to the ruling classes. Thanks to the peculiar alienation of the Jewish Europeans to the bourgeoisie of their respective countries despite their equal footing in economic power, they became easy targets of “ethnic cleansing.” Their unofficial alliance to the ruling families and classes are preventing the bourgeois from influencing these sovereigns to expand their territories instrumental to the creation of new markets, so as to prevent the saturation of wealth and the eventual dichotomization of classes foretold by the crisis theory of Marxist thought. (Of course, Marx is neither born nor aware of these during the beginning of global colonization, yet the phenomena that occurred fits nicely in his theorization.) This irresponsibility of the bourgeois eventually brought forth the social experimentations carried out by the colonies through the merger of finance capital and monopoly capital, culminating in the experience of Imperialism which burdened most countries in Asia, America and Africa. Such obnoxious conception of “community-building”, which traces its roots from the classical notion of conquest are warped to serve not the people of the conquered communities (which are impossible due to their alienation from the community of the master country), but the unquenchable gluttony of the capitalist class. Cecil Rhodes could have not illustrated this thirst for accumulation better: I would annex the planets if I could.

Verily, these horrific situations could not but stir our spirits into revulsion and the burning desire to exterminate such conditions; more generally, we are likely being invited to act, which is of course consistent with the 11th Thesis of Feuerbach: The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it. The take on Arendt’s conception, however, appears that it would actually be necessary to resist this call to action. This is due to the fact that the context of these societies dichotomizes action and deliberation. To act in the capitalist environment through rebellion, one cannot help but forego thinking for the benefit of accomplishing the actions and the plans for change one has embraced. This, of course, is very counter to the proper political action of elenchus. In fact, there is also the proposition of rejecting Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s absolutization of the classes in the advent of the struggle for change. This absolutization, seeing how it evolved into the heavily-economic and stoic representation of human life in Marx, reduces people to mere statistics who do not have individual stories, who are not and will not be expected to think, but merely to follow. In rejecting this, the pluralization (therefore, the proliferation) of human opinion and thought in political action shall be reinvigorated. Mao Zedong realized it when he once asked for the blooming of the hundred flowers; unfortunately, the fear of losing what has been achieved, despite the fact that what is present is realized much better, stifled it once more.

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