Posts Tagged ‘Activist Style of Politics’

Cameron’s Totalitarian Tweet

May 16, 2015

I’m not on Twitter, and this comes from word of mouth, as I remember it. It may not be entirely accurate. Nevertheless, if even the slightest gist of it is accurate, then it’s one of the most ominous and frightening things a British politician has said in recent years.

Mike from Vox Political last night read out to me a tweet from David Cameron, in which the Prime Minister announced that the state of affairs, in which people were allowed to get on with their business, provided they broke no law, had gone on for too long. The chilling implication was that it needed to be curtailed.

One of the most basic, fundamental principles of political freedom is the rule of law, under which the citizen should be allowed to do or think what he or she pleases without interference by the state, as long this doesn’t contravene any legislation. This is so basic to western ideas of traditional liberty, that I honestly couldn’t see how any British politician could make a statement like this, unless it was in the context of combatting extremist ideologies, such as radical, violent Islamism. I wondered if Cameron had uttered this as part of the government’s campaign to protect British children from radicalisation through a counter-campaign against the propaganda of groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda.

But no. Cameron was not merely discussing the radical threat of extremist ideologies peddled by Islamist terrorist organisations. He was speaking generally, in order to justify the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. And in so doing he had expressed the fundamental principle behind the great totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

What made Fascism and Communism modern dictatorships, what distinguished them from the despotisms, absolute monarchies and dictatorships of previous centuries, was that they called for the active support, involvement and approval of their citizens. We were taught at College that they differed from ancient Rome, for example, in that the streets could be empty when the emperor or dictator drove through it in his chariot. All that mattered was the supreme ruler’s safety.

This wasn’t totally true, as the Roman emperors put on a series of spectacles in order to win popularity with the masses, and to demonstrate the power of the Roman state. It was Nero competed as a charioteer at the circus, and why he entered the Greek cultural festivals in the south of Italy as a bard and harpist. He was also careful to make sure he had his own claque in the audience, to give them their cue when to give their master the massive applause he demanded.

Nevertheless, the statement is largely true. The traditional, Conservative, medieval and early modern view of political freedom considered that the monarch should have absolute power. This was partly justified on the grounds that the head of state needed the widest range of action and powers available in cases of national emergency. In the 16th century this was compounded with the notion that a monarch’s subjects had no right to resist his authority, although they could flee persecution from a tyrant.

Nevertheless, in England it was felt that law emanated from the king in parliament. Only the two acting together could properly government the kingdom. It was also felt that while the king possessed absolute power, in practice he should give his subjects the greatest possible degree of personal freedom and so interfere as little as possible in their affairs.

Charles I said as he was about to be executed that he had done everything he could to preserve his subjects’ freedom, but government was no business of theirs. By the standards of the Liberal view of political freedom, this is nonsensical. Liberal political theory, following John Locke, considers that political freedom consists of the citizens being allowed to make their own laws through the election of their governors. Under the older, Conservative view, Charles’ statement made perfect sense. Even if the king acted alone, purely on his own account, without the constraints of parliamentary government, he could still preserve and serve his people’s freedom through actually passing as little legislation as possible, and allowing them to get on with their own business.

This changed with the French Revolution and the emergence of the activist style of politics. The nation consisted of those who actively supported the regime and its ideological programme. This meant that every citizens was required to give their absolute support to the government. Thus in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia, the individual had to join the party’s organisations, which permeated into every aspect of society. Hitler declared that citizens shouldn’t be left alone, not even in a cribbage club.

Cameron’s demand that it simply wasn’t sufficient that ordinary Brits should be allowed to get on with their lives, so long as they obey the law, takes him well into the ideological territory of the totalitarians. He and his Lib Dem enablers have already established ‘secret courts’ to try those accused of crimes, the details of which are too sensitive for the press and general public to know. This has largely been justified under the pretext of preserving national security from the threat of terrorism. Previous governments have tried to prevent certain details from being presented as evidence in open court, and the identity of vital witnesses from being revealed, on the grounds that they were gathered by and were members of the intelligence services. The publication of such evidence, or the intelligence operatives involved, would seriously compromise national security and weaken the government’s ability to counter the threat of further terrorism.

Cameron, however, has gone far beyond that. This is no longer about national security. This is about drumming up and enforcing absolute support and unquestioning obedience for the Conservatives and their programme. Not to give your support, to maintain that people have a fundamental right to freedom of belief and expression, now appears to make you an enemy of the British state, at least as Cameron now conceives it.

Centuries of traditional British freedoms are under threat, even those predating the formal establishment of democracy. Cameron and his minions must be stopped from scrapping the Human Rights Act. If he succeeds, it’ll mean the beginning of a Tory despotism similar to that of the Fascist states of the 20th century. Remember, Hitler too stated that private industry needed strong, authoritarian personal rule, and Mussolini declared that Fascism consisted fully embraced the free trade economics of the Manchester school.