Posts Tagged ‘Totalitarianism’

Wartime Conference on Science, Philosophy, Religion and Democracy

March 12, 2017

I found a copy of the 1942 book, Science, Philosophy and Religion: Second Symposium, over a decade ago now in a secondhand bookshop in Totnes in Devon. As the above title page states, this comes from a conference on science, philosophy and religion and their relation to the democratic way of life, held in New York in 1942. The conference was held at Columbia University and was the successor to the first symposium, held a year earlier. The book was a collection of papers by leading members of the above disciplines, edited by Lyman Bryson and Louis Finkelstein. These were intended to show how these areas of research and experience supported democracy against the advance of the totalitarian regimes in Europe.

The volume has the following contents

I Democracy’s Challenge to the Scientist, by Caryl P. Haskins;
II Democracy and the Natural Science, Karl F. Herzfeld;
III Some Comments on Science and Faith, Hudson Hoagland;
IV The Comparative Study of Culture of the Purposive Cultivation of Democratic Values, by Margaret Mead;
V The Basis for Faith in Democracy, Max Schoen.
VI Pragmatism, Religion and Education, John L. Childs;
VII Liberal Education and Democracy;
VIII A Philosophy of Democratic Defense, Charles Hartshorne;
IX The Role of Law in a Democracy, Frank E. Horack, Jr.
X Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy;
XI, Empiricism, Religion and Democracy, Charles W. Morris;
XII Philosophical Implications of the Prevalent Conception of Democracy;
XIII The Spiritual Basis of Democracy, by the Princeton Group;
XIV Thomism and Democracy, by Yves R. Simon.
XV Democracy and the Rights of Man, Paul Weiss.
XVI The Stake of Art in the Present Crisis, George Boas.
XVIII An Approach to the Study of History, William G. Constable;
XIX Literature and the Present Crisis, Joseph Wood Krutch.
XX How Long is the Emergency, Mark Van Doren.
XXI Democratic Culture in the Light of Modern Poetry.
XXII Democratic Aspirations in Talmudic Judaism, Ben Zion Bokser.
XXIII Democracy in the Hebrew-Christian Tradition; Old and New Testaments, Millar Burrows;
XXIV Christianity and Democracy from the Point of View of Systematic Christian Theology, Nels F.S. Ferre;
XXV Philosophical Foundations of Religion and Democracy, Willliam O’Meara;
XXVI The Patristic Christian Ethos and Democracy, Albert C. Outler.

There is also a section of addresses. These are

I The Faith and Philosophy of Democratic Government, A.A. Berle, Jr.
II The Function of Law in a Democratic Society, Charles E. Clark.
III The Artist and the Democratic Way of Life, Walter Pach.
IV Democracy in Our Times, M.L. Wilson.
V The Religious Background of Democratic Ideas, Simon Greenberg, Clarence Mannion, Luther A. Weigle.

I’ve dug it out again as I believe very strongly that this symposium and its wisdom is needed again with the current stagnation of democracy and the rise of Trump in America, UKIP in Britain and the parties of the extreme right in Europe. The basis of democracy in the West has been gradually undermined over the last 30-odd years, ever since the election of Thatcher and Reagan. Successive governments in Britain and America have been determined to work for the benefit of rich, corporate paymasters against the poor and middle class. There has been a massive redistribution of wealth upwards, as welfare services have been slashed and outsourced, industries privatised and closed down, and public utilities sold off. As wages have stagnated, the corporate elite have seen their pay grossly inflated. Their taxes have been cut, while those for the poor have actually been increased.

As a result of this concentration on the demands of corporate political donors, recent studies by Harvard University and the Economist have concluded that America is no longer a full democracy. It is a ‘flawed democracy’, or even oligarchy.

At the same time governments in Britain and America have also supported the massive expansion of the surveillance state under the pretext of countering terrorism. At the same time, the rights of workers to strike, and ordinary people to protest, have been curtailed. David Cameron’s Tory administration tried to introduce a series of reforms to block street demonstrations and protests under the guise of preventing residents for suffering the nuisance caused by them.

We also have Tory and Republican administrations that insist that only their view of history should be taught in schools. Michael Gove a few years ago made a ridiculous speech complaining about the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War taught in schools, while the educational authorities in Arizona withdrew studies of slavery and the civil rights movement from the school syllabus. Instead, pupils in that state were to be taught the speeches of Ronald Reagan.

Donald Trump’s administration is overtly anti-immigration, particularly of Latinos and Muslims. It includes members of the Alt Right, like Steve Bannon and Curtis Ellis, who hold bitterly racist views. Many of Trump’s supporters are White supremacists and Nazis. UKIP and Brexit in Britain have also led to an increase in racism and racist violence against ethnic minorities. At the same time, these movements have also promoted hatred towards gays and the transgendered. And similar movements are attempting to take power or increase their gains across Europe, from Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, the Alternative Fuer Deutschland in Germany, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, Jobbik in Hungary, and other extreme right-wing parties in Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia.

Democracy, tolerance, pluralism and the rights of the poor are under threat. The threat in America and western Europe isn’t as overt and violent as it was when the Fascists seized power from the 1920s onwards. But it is there, and desperately needs to be resisted.

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.

Twitter’s Censorship and the Totalitarianism of the DWP’s ‘Brand’

February 7, 2014

jon-woodcock

Jon Woodcock, Brand Manager of the Department of Work and Pensions

I’ve reblogged Tom Pride’s article this morning on his site, Pride’s Purge, about Twitter’s censorship of a parody account satirising the DWP, @UKJCP. This was done at the request of Jon Woodcock, ‘Brand Manager’ at the Department of Work and Pensions. Woodcock wanted the account closed down because

‘it had been set up with the deliberate and malicious intent to devalue and criticise the work of Jobcentre Plus. In addition, there are a number of rude and potentially libellous tweets aimed at UK government, elected politicians and the heads of large private sector organisations who are committed to working with government on reducing unemployment.’

Woodcock appears to be somewhat confused about recent developments in freedom of the press, such as those that have occurred within the last 200 years or so. His pompous statements about the malicious criticism of Jobcentre Plus, and the potential libelling of their collaborators in the private sector recalls nothing so much as the way dissenting journalists in the 18th and 19th centuries were prosecuted for ‘seditious libel’ when satirising or criticising the government of the day and its ministers. Robin Day similarly hated the government being sent up. He described the satirical sixties TV show, That Was the Week That Was, which blazed the path now followed by the Not the Nine O’clock News, The News Quiz, Have I Got News For You, Spitting Image and Mock the Week as ‘deplorable’. Woodcock seems to share the same attitude. Presumably he winces every time Michael Portillo shows him his collection of early political cartoons. As his comments show, he does seem to be the type of man who’d like to censor Hogarth, Cruikshank, Gillray et al.

Then there’s the problem of why a government department should require a ‘brand manager’ at all. This is another idea that seems to have come in from general industry management culture. Many companies are extremely jealous about their brand imagery, to the point where they become extremely possessive and intolerant of anybody sending it up, or using the same kind of image as it’s part of general culture. In the 1990s Hollywood produced a film about the Loch Ness Monster. This was all well and good, but the film’s producers then tried to shut down a website about ‘Nessie’, because, as the producer’s of a film about the Loch Ness Monster, they decided that they owned copyright to the creature. Woodcock seems to come from this part of commercial culture.

goebbels

Josef Goebbels: Minister for Public Enlightenment and Brand Manager of the Nazi Party

It is also very like the commercial branding used by Josef Goebbels and the Nazi party. Also back in the 1990s, the SF author William Gibson wrote a novel, in which the central character has such a gift for branding and marketing that they feel physical pain when exposed to products or material, which have a very strong, brand identity. There was some controversy over the book because of a passage, in which the character talks about the Nazis having a very strong brand image. Talking about the book on BBC Radio 4’s arts show, Front Row, Gibson said that the passage was inspired by his own experiences in Vienna. He had been wandering down one of the Austrian capital’s side streets, and came upon a shop selling Nazi memorabilia left over from the Anschluss and the Third Reich. Gibson noted how branded it all was, with every article carrying Nazi insignia, including the notepaper. Unfortunately, Gibson was right. The Third Reich was very careful in the construction of its corporate image and that of its numerous subsections.

From 1930-33 the propaganda section of the Nazi issued detailed instruction regarding the slogans, images and themes that should appear in their posters, leaflets and party papers. The following directions, signed by Goebbels, were issued in preparation for Presidential elections of March-April 1932

‘(a) Reich Propaganda Department to all Gaue and all Gau Propaganda Departments.
… a striking slogan:
Those who want everything to stay as it is vote for Hindenburg. Those who want everything changed vote for Hitler.

(b) Reich Propaganda Department to all Gaue and Gau Propaganda Departments
… Hitler Poster. The Hitler poster depicts a fascinating Hitler head on a completely black background. Subtitle: white on black – ‘Hitler’. In accordance with the Fuhrer’s wish this poster is to be put up only during the final days [of the campaign]. Since experience shows that during the final days there is a variety of coloured posters, this poster with it completely black background will contrast with all the others and will produce a tremendous effect on the masses … .

(c) Reich Propaganda Department
Instructions for the National Socialist Press for the election of the Reich President
1. From Easter Tuesday 29 March until Sunday 10 April inclusive, all National Socialist papers, both daily and weekly, must appear in an enlarged edition with a tripled circulation. Two-thirds of this tripled circulation must be made available, without charge, to the Gau leadership responsible for its area of distribution for propaganda purposes… .
2. From East Tuesday 29 march until Sunday 3 April iniclusive, a special topic must be dealt with every day on the first page of all our papers in a big spread. Tuesday 29 March: Hitler as a man. Wednesday 30 March: hitler as a fighter (gigantic achievements through willpower, etc.). Friday 1 April. Hitler as a statesman-plenty of photos…
3. On Sunday 3 April at noon (end of an Easter truce), the great propaganda journey of the Fuehrer through Germany will start, through which about a million people are to be reached directly through our Fuehrer’s speeches… The press organisation is planned so that four press centres will be set up in Germany, which in turn will pass on immediately any telephone calls to the other papers of their area, whose names have been given them….’

From Nazism 1919-1945 – A Documentary Reader, 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934, edited by J. Noakes and G. Pridham, (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983) 73-4.

And commercial companies were all too willing to exploit Hitler and the Nazis’ powerful brand. After Hitler seized power in 1933 under the Enabling Law, numerous German companies began marketing their products using the Fuehrer’s image. There was even a brand of sardines or smoked mackerel – I forget which – called ‘Gute Adolf’ – ‘Good Adolf’. The Italian Fascists were also no slouches in this direction. The manganello, the club Mussolini’s squadristi used for beating up their enemies, also appeared in advertising and other popular art, sometimes even as baby’s rattles.

These are simply the totalitarian expression of Jon Woodcock’s concern for his department’s brand image, taken to its most grotesque and extreme extent, and similarly used by regimes intolerant of dissent and desperate to compel the masses to give them their absolute and unthinking support.

Woodcock’s and Twitter’s censorship of @UKJCP should be a national scandal. It is, after all, another assault on free speech by a corrupt and intolerant regime that is seeking every opportunity to stifle it through legislation like the gagging laws. It also shows the way corporate branding in the hands of government departments is becoming totalitarian in its scope and basic attitudes.