Totalitarianism

Day Order by W Black

Day Order by W Black

I recently got comments following the posting of Chapter 8 of Into the Unknowable which mention that there is a great similarity between the dystopian parallel future it describes and the novel 1984 by George Orwell.

It’s easy to see where the two imagined dystopias are the same, not to mention the simple fact that I read the book as a child and it’s been an influence on me ever since. Just like Orwell’s imagined world, the political organisation is tri-partite between the forces of Eurasia, Oceania and East Asia (but with different names if similar geographical boundaries).

However, when George Orwell wrote the novel, there was a prevalent view that it was in the nature of political systems to gravitate towards totalitarianism irrespective of their nominal ideology. This is reflected in the novel where the ideology of Oceania is known as English Socialism (Ingsoc) which was precisely the name that best describes Orwell’s political views but was in practice something that contradicted everything that Orwell believed in. The power at the top is diffused amongst the Inner Party which imposes conformity and in which there is a shadowy mythical figure of Big Brother.

The Big Brother of the novel is shown to be merely a figurehead of the Party and that it is the Party itself that wields power. This was the myth most strongly associated with Bolshevism where Stalin always appeared to defer to the ideology of Marxist-Leninism. A similar approach was used by Mao with regards to Chinese Communism, Hitler with National Socialism and now Kim Jong-Un with Juche. 

However, current evidence of all these and many other totalitarian regimes is that rather than these leaders being just figureheads of an ideology (rather like the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church or the Queen is the head of the Church of England), these are almost all absolute dictatorships where the leader is driven by the very process that keeps him in power to ensure that there is no freedom of opinion or action and to impose this very often by a policy of terror most often manifest as purges.

In all these regimes, once the power base is fatally weakened, the whole edifice collapses, but it is primarily maintained for the quite simple reason to stay in power. And also because in almost all cases those who keep power by the most oppressive and cruel means are usually then the subject of pretty gruesome revenge (and normally of being effectively written out of history).

So, my account of these regimes is less about the dominance of an ideology and rather more about the maintenance of a repressive system to keep a very small elite in power.

And that pattern is not just a modern feature of powerful governments but has been common of many societies throughout history, including the Roman Republic, the Mongol Empire and the Normans. And in all these cases, the actions were always justified in terms of religion, national sovereignty and political necessity. of which only the last is likely to have been a genuine reason.

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