I would like to share a short excerpt from The Quest for Community by Robert Nisbet, courtesy of the ISI newsletter that I received today. Written in 1953, Nisbet examined the early twentieth century—a distillation of monstrous modern political programs—and analyzed the essence of totalitarian regimes. His words remain relevant in our age of late stage terminal liberalism.
There are two central elements of totalitarianism: the first is the existence of the masses; the second is the ideology, in its most extreme form, of the political community.
Neither can be fully described apart from its relation to the other, for the two exist always, in modern society, in sensitive interaction with each other. What works toward the creation of the masses works also toward the establishment of the omnicompetent, absolute State. And everything that augments the power and influence of the State in its relation to the individual serves also to increase the scope of the masses.
The masses are fundamental to the establishment of totalitarian society. On this point all serious students of the subject, from Peter Drucker to Hannah Arendt are agreed.
“Masses,” writes Dr. Arendt, “are not held together by consciousness of common interest, and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties, or municipal governments, or professional organizations, or trade unions.”
The essence of the masses, however, does not lie in the mere fact of numbers. It is not the quantitative but the qualitative aspect that is essential. A population may be vast, as is that of India, and yet, by reason of the stability of its social organization, be far removed from the condition of massdom.
What is crucial in the formation of the masses is the atomization of all social and cultural relationships within which human beings gain their normal sense of membership in society. The mass is an aggregate of individuals who are insecure, basically lonely, and ground down, either through decree or historical circumstance, into mere particles of social dust. Within the mass all ordinary relationships and authorities seem devoid of institutional function and psychological meaning. Worse, such relationships and authorities come to seem positively hostile; in them the individual can find not security but despair. “The despair of the masses,” concludes Peter Drucker, “is the key to the understanding of fascism. No ‘revolt of the mob,’ no ‘triumphs of unscrupulous propaganda,’ but stark despair caused by the breakdown of the old order and the absence of a new one.”
When the masses, in considerable number, already exist, as the consequence of historical forces, half the work of the totalitarian leader has been done for him. What remains but to complete, where necessary, the work of history, and to grind down into atomic particles all remaining evidences of association and social authority? What remains, then, but to rescue the masses from their loneliness, their hopelessness and despair, by leading them into the Promised Land of the absolute, redemptive State? The process is not too difficult, or even too violent, providing the masses have already been created in significant size by processes that have destroyed or diminished the social relationships and cultural values by which human beings normally live and in which they gain not merely their sense of order but their desire for freedom.
But where the masses do not already exist in great numbers, and where, through the accident of quick seizure of power, the totalitarian mentality comes into ascendancy, then it becomes necessary to create the masses: to do through the most ruthless force and in the shortest possible time the work that has been done in other areas by the operation of past processes.
Here is where the most shocking acts of totalitarianism become manifest—not in its attitude toward the already existing masses, but toward those human beings, still closely related by village, church, family, or labor union, and whose very relationships separate them from the indispensable condition of massdom. Such relationships must be ruthlessly destroyed. If they cannot be destroyed easily and inexpensively by propaganda and intimidation, they must be destroyed by all the techniques of the torture chamber, by enforced separation of loved ones, by the systematic obliteration of legal identities, by killing, and by the removal of large segments of a population to labor camps.
The violence and the horrors of Soviet Russia, in many ways greater perhaps even than those of Nazi Germany, have arisen from the fact that in Russia, down to the beginnings of the First World War, the masses scarcely existed. The ancient relationships of class, family, village, and association were nearly as strong as they had been in medieval times. Only in small areas of Russia were these relationships dissolving and the masses beginning to emerge.
The political inertia of the large majority of the Russian people under the Czars, the relative impotence of postwar government, and the general state of disorganization in the cities made it not too difficult for the disciplined Communists to capture power in 1917. But the consolidation of that power was quite a different problem. The realization of what Marx had called “the vast association of the whole nation” called for drastic steps—for the rapid industrialization of rural areas, for eradication of political opposition, and for the extreme centralization of power which alone could make these and other steps possible.
But, of far greater import, this realization also called for a change in the very structure of the people, its values, incentives, motivations, and allegiances. The new Communism could not thrive on popular values and relationships inherited through the ages. If the classless society was to be created, it was necessary to destroy not only old classes but old associations of any type. It was necessary, as Stalin saw the problem, to accomplish in a short time the atomization and dislocation that had been proceeding in Western countries for generations.
Hence, beginning in the nineteen-twenties, the destruction of all traditional associations, the liquidation of old statuses. Hence also the conversion of professional and occupational associations into administrative arms of the government. The hopes of older Russian intellectuals, who had supposed that socialism in Russia might be founded upon the communal institutions of the peasantry, supplemented by the emerging workers’ organizations in the cities, were proved fatuous. For the new rulers of Russia realized that the kind of power requisite to the establishment of the Marxian order could not long exist if any competing associations and authorities were allowed to remain. The vast association of the nation, which Marx had prophesied, could come into being only through the most absolute and extensive central political power. And, for the establishment and maintenance of this power, the creation of the undifferentiated, unattached, atomized mass was indispensable.
We may regard totalitarianism as a process of the annihilation of individuality, but, in more fundamental terms, it is the annihilation, first, of those social relationships within which individuality develops. It is not the extermination of individuals that is ultimately desired by totalitarian rulers, for individuals in the largest number are needed by the new order. What is desired is the extermination of those social relationships which, by their autonomous existence, must always constitute a barrier to the achievement of the absolute political community.
The individual alone is powerless. Individual will and memory, apart from the reinforcement of associative tradition, are weak and ephemeral. How well the totalitarian rulers know this. Even constitutional guarantees and organic laws dim to popular vision when the social and cultural identities of persons become atomized, when the reality of freedom and order in the small areas of society becomes obscure.
The prime object of totalitarian government thus becomes the incessant destruction of all evidences of spontaneous, autonomous association. For, with this social atomization, must go also a diminution of intensity and a final flickering out of political values that interpose themselves between freedom and despotism.
Brilliant and perceptive. Indeed, tyranny is a jealous god and won’t tolerate any other devotions—or even other beings. All must be leveled and integrated . . . vollständig angehoben according to the vanity of liberated, enlightened man. The vulgar rendition is more vivid and direct: resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., died in April earlier this year at the age of 91. He was one of those remarkable old Jesuits who joined the Order before the time of rebellion. There are some like him left, and I have been fortunate to know a few. Recently, Fr. “Z.” (Zuhlsdorf) pondered how horrid a victory hell had with the corruption of the Society of Jesus, echoing ancient Latin wisdom, corruptio optimi pessima. It has been a profound loss, and it sickens and angers me to see the Order’s universities decay into soul-perverting whorehouses of ugliness and irrationality.
When I visited Rome, I knew that I had to visit the Chiesa del Gesù, the Jesuits’ mother church. I walked around, paid my respects to the relics, and waited to witness the show in the Ignatian chapel. A young novice struck up a conversation with me and learnt that I was Jesuit-educated. He then took me on a private tour of the Collegio del Gesù, including the historic rooms where Ignatius lived, prayed, and wrote. I hope that the fellow and his cohorts eventually restore the Society to its former sanity. For Christians, there is always hope (even for Jesuits).
Below, you may watch Fr. Schall’s final lecture at Georgetown University on the occasion of his retirement, titled “The Final Gladness” after a passage from Belloc. Listening to Fr. Schall reminds me how grateful I am of my own Jesuit education . . . and how I wish that such opportunity endure for future students whose souls spark with wonder.
May his memory be eternal!
As I was rebuilding a pond wall today, I thought of another element behind why many people hate Trump so much—so much more than we should expect in reaction to his actual governing. We know that many folks find him distasteful and lacking in class. Sure, but why would that trigger such hatred—why not simply some eye rolling and dismissive remarks? It then struck me that these people find Trump guilty of sacrilege; he has committed abomination in his presidential duties. Leftists in general and some patriotic Americans on the right understand democratic politics in a religious, sacrosanct way. So, when Trump scandalizes them by boorish behavior mixed with politics, he commits acts that merit a good burning at the stake. Many (most?) American right-wingers (correctly) see democratic politics as a circus, and we delight when the clowns drop the pretense and act the part. For the people who see the Popular Will as the closest thing to a divine instrument that they can imagine, however, Trump is a blasphemer and a heretic. Let him be anathema!
In Crisis Magazine, Anthony Esolen has responded to James Martin, S.J. of America Magazine and to his pontifical attempts to ferry Sodom across the Tiber. I recommend his jeremiad, “Open Your Eyes, Father Martin.” Esolen is always worth reading, and this rebuke serves as a suitable brevem coram Deo against the Sexual Revolution.
Greetings and happy summertime! I have not written lately, but be assured that my fingernails are black with fine dirt as I toil the soil. Well, that is fantasy. They are actually encrusted with clay, but let me indulge my fancy in pretending that my little plot of heaven consists of easy loam.
I was moved to share John C. Wright’s post today about his son’s experience of injustice by possessed leftists: “In Small and in Large.” Readers of a thumotic bent will feed their inner lions, no doubt. I have read Mr. Wright’s blog since I first heard him at Doxacon not that many years ago. You may read about my enthusiastic discovery of this fine chap and his wife in my review of the convention, “Doxacon Eidomenos.” I wish the young Wright all the best, and I am saddened to think about how many millions of children undergo similar unpleasantries these days across the West. Social injustice is a mighty factory for nascent reactionaries.
Over the past decade, I feel as though I have come to understand the Weimar Republic and how its social decay facilitated the rise of the Third Reich. As I have written before, these fools have no idea of the crop they are sowing—and it will be far more terrible, I fear, than what happened in the 1930s. The National Socialists took advantage of decent Germans’ disgust at what had befallen their homeland, and they were somewhat restrained by a highly civilized and moral population. Imagine what an opportunist could do today with the savage post-Christian masses and the frighteningly more powerful state made possible by technological advances. Widespread, profound repentance—or a catastrophe that forces us to change—is the only thing that will keep the perverse pendulum of human stupidity from swinging wildly again in our unregulated age. Dies veniet.
I hope that you are having a beneficial Lenten period. Myself, I love this time of year. The weather and landscape are not yet consistently pleasant, but the spring breeze carries with it the promise of approaching joy. It is like one’s last day of work or class before a vacation—the entire trip awaits, and there isn’t any thought to how much time remains until one returns to the everyday grind.
Today is the fourth anniversary of Lawrence Auster’s death. I often wonder what he would have written about the passing scene. How would he have commented on the presidential campaign? And on Trump? One of Auster’s chief public policy interests—the West’s transformation due to Third World immigration—has finally entered the public debate . . . decades after he published The Path to National Suicide: An Essay on Immigration and Multiculturalism. How would he have responded to this rise in awareness—and to Merkel’s disastrous handling of Europe’s invasion, which, as the expression goes, alerted the frog that it was being boiled alive? Would his opinion of Ann Coulter have improved given her championing the cause? What would the latter day convert to the Roman communion have had to say about Francis? Would he have seen a spark of vitality in the “dead isle” after the Brexit vote? It’s a pity (for us) that we haven’t been able to read his daily miscellany of insights into life and philippics against the abominations of the age—along with occasional curmudgeonly complaints about public figures. Memory eternal!
Happy Cheesefare Week! May your last days before Lent bring you Havarti, Gouda, and sharp white Cheddar! Maybe even some Stilton for kindred spirits who are into that sort of thing.
You may be interested in a recent comment thread on one of Kristor Lawson’s Orthosphere posts, “Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Person versus Entity.” In it, I pose several questions to Kristor and attempt to work through a tangle or two, including whether the divine ideas are created or uncreated and how we might interpret the Beatific Vision from an Orthodox perspective. Kristor characteristically offers delightful insights, including a fascinating reflection of the miracles of Jesus and the proper (unfallen) faculties of a human being. Last but not least, one of Kristor’s replies led me to the etymological origin of Shrove Tuesday.
Like Father Abraham in Sodom, Kristor and his family might be the presence that has kept the Bay area from destruction in recent years—they and that remarkable temple on Geary Boulevard. Many blessings to him! And may the prayers of Saint John lead the people of that beautiful city to sanity and repentance.
This week has been interesting. I have supported Trump as president since the very beginning. To quote Ann Coulter, he had me at “Mexican rapist.” Of course, Trump is far from ideal, but what can we expect in a democratic regime? Nonetheless, the widespread reaction from many of my fellow citizens to the future Trump administration has given me pause.
Since Wednesday morning, I have been reading editorials claiming that the new Trumpenreich will involve American Cossacks (rednecks, I suppose) knocking on the doors of “globalists” in the middle of the night and whisking them off to internment camps in Idaho, rounding up and frog marching (or shall we say, “Pepe skipping”) illegal aliens to the Rio Grande, thenceforth banishing them from the land of the free and the home of the brave, and handing over every public institution of advanced learning to the local chapter of the John Birch Society to clean out the tenured progressives (pinkos) and to reform the curriculum to celebrate the oppressive white patriarchy (Western Civ.). Some immigrants of color worry about the closing of mosques or at least their infiltration by federal counter-terrorism intelligence. Hollywood celebrities opine that Trump’s immigration policies might be covertly designed to Make America White Again. Obese womyn in leather with facial and skin mutilations and unnaturally colored cropped hair croak about how Trump will roll back feminist gains and reinstate a 1950s Donna Reed nightmare—unadulterated image of rape culture and misogyny that she was.
Reflecting upon their concerns and anticipations, and then rationally considering the openly stated goals and highly probable actions of Trump’s administration, I find myself feeling dispirited about the huge disconnect. Yet, we must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. So, I wish Trump all the best. Even if he cannot be the American Pinochet, or even the Yankee Salazar, he may begin the project of destroying Americans’ leftist shackles. Godspeed, Mr. Trump.
Should anyone else feel the blues coming on for similar reasons, it might be therapeutic to fantasize about DJT’s handling of the media as depicted in “A Canard of a Crusade.”
O there was joy throughout the land,
And all the court was filled with glee;
The Knight has caught the Nightingale,
That dwelt within the linden tree.
I hope that you are enjoying a lovely October.
Public affairs in our degenerate society are cause for dismay, but I read a stirring account today of what the men of the West can be in “The Siege of Sziget, 1566” on Nobility.org. I was previously ignorant of this battle. In 1566, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (whose lovely Süleymaniye mosque I visited in Constantinople) set off to settle political matters in Hungary, during which campaign the Croatian noble Nikola Šubić Zrinski caused him some annoyance. To deal with Zrinski and to open a path to Vienna, Suleiman directed his massive 100,000+ man army to take the towns and fortress of Szigetvár, defended by Zrinski and only a few thousand Hungarian and Croatian men. Zrinski’s forces defended the fortress for over a month. On the night before the final assault, the sultan died (of natural causes) and never saw the castle taken. The following day—the last day of the seige—when the Ottomans were about to break through, Zrinski opened the gates, mortared the Turkish forces, and charged. Zrinski died during this counterstrike, and the Turks overtook the castle. However, Zrinski had prepared the castle as a trap, having instructed his men to blow up the place by lighting the gunpowder stores once the Turks had invaded. And so it happened.
Read the linked account or look up other articles about the siege. The story is so wonderfully heroic that I doubted its veracity, but it appears to be true. The episode had to have served as an inspiration for the defense of Helm’s Deep—either for Tolkien in the original or for Jackson’s interpreting the story on film. Superb. Ban Zrinski, may his memory be eternal.
By the way, the Süleymaniye mosque was completed the following year, and the great sultan never beheld it in its full splendor. Of course, I cheer for the Christian defenders of Europe, and I would gladly see the old imperial capital returned to Christendom, with majestic liturgies served in the Church of Holy Wisdom and an Orthodox emperor on the throne, but I still acknowledge the merits of the Ottoman Empire. We expect the Persians to maintain an impressive civilization, even under the Mohammedan yoke, because that is what they have always done. The Turks, however, went from being martial nomads to creating one of history’s high culture civilizations. Yes, yes, they conquered more culturally advanced folks and adopted their ways—but they did adopt their ways. The Ottomans employed Greek Christians in Anatolia, whereas more savage tribes would have slit their throats. Quite in contrast to the idiocy that we sometimes hear today, cultural appropriation is commendable when men improve themselves by learning the knowledge of others. Anyway, kudos all around in this story—awe inspiring bravery by Zrinski and his men and the impressive ambition and alexandrine vision of Suleiman.