Smoke filled rooms and inverted totalitarianism

In a previous post I was banging on about a bill that’s now going through parliament that will effectively make peaceful protest unlawful. It’s called the ‘Anti-Social Crime and Policing Bill’. There’s also another quite worrying bill that’s being rushed through parliament which has the jaw-breaking title: ‘The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’. Campaigners against this bill have labelled it ‘the gagging law’, because amongst other things it makes it a criminal offence for charities and other non-party groups (like unions and grass roots organisations) to campaign on political issues in the 12 months before a general election (here). The deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is one of the main proponents of the gagging law. Earlier this year, Clegg was credited with stopping the snooper’s charter, another piece of Orwellian legislation otherwise known as the Communications Data Bill. The Home Seceretary, Theresa May, drafted this bill and if it had passed into law it would have given the government wide ranging powers to monitor and intercept telephone and internet communications. A few months after the snooper’s charter was defeated by Clegg and the Lib-Dems, Mr Snowden came along and revealed that Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had for some time been quite illegally swooping-up just about every form of communication, and it was being done with the full collusion of the telecom and tech companies (here). What Theresa May and the government tried to do with the snooper’s charter was to codify into law something that was already happening. Now, you’d think that what Snowden revealed would have caused a furore; but no, there’s been complete silence from the politicians and the media, and from Mr Clegg. Instead we get weapons of mass distraction in Syria.

As a British ex-pat I’m watching all this from afar, and have a different perspective on things, yet I’m still totally gobsmacked that most people back in Britain don’t seem to realise that the country is not so slowley turning into a fascist police state (and exactly the same thing is happening in America). How can this happen to a ‘civilised’ society? The same question is often asked about Germany in the 1930s, and it’s a difficult one to answer.

When I was a schoolboy, back in the 1970s, various teachers were derided, feared or loved, yet they were all seen by us kids as respectable grown-ups. Sometimes you would be asked by a teacher to give a message to another teacher who was off duty. This meant a visit to the staff room. A timid knock on the door and then you would find yourself in a fug of cigarette smoke, and the realisation that these people were not the same teachers you encountered in the classroom. I’m not saying that the police state stuff in Britain and America is all a conspiracy hatched in smoke filled rooms. It’s way more complicated than that. You can point to things like the political shift to the right since 9/11, egged-on by the corporate controlled media. The globalisation of corporate power and its over influence on governments. The extremely low calibre of politicians thesedays, politicians who pass laws without really understanding the implications of those laws. The general apathy amongst the public when it comes to all things political. More than anything, though, there’s a kind of madness that overcomes a segment of the population, a madness that tips the balance towards totalitarianism.

When it comes to what’s happening in Britain and America, the phrase ‘inverted totalitarianism’ is often used. It is a term coined by the American political philosopher Sheldon Wolin. According to Wolin, there are three main ways in which inverted totalitarianism is the inverted form of classical totalitarianism:

1) Whereas in Nazi Germany the state dominated economic actors, in inverted totalitarianism, corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the United States, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. This is considered “normal” rather than corrupt.

2) While the Nazi regime aimed at the constant political mobilization of the population, with its Nuremberg rallies, Hitler Youth, and so on, inverted totalitarianism aims for the mass of the population to be in a persistent state of political apathy. The only type of political activity expected or desired from the citizenry is voting. Low electoral turnouts are favorably received as an indication that the bulk of the population has given up hope that the government will ever help them.

3) While the Nazis openly mocked democracy, the United States maintains the conceit that it is the model of democracy for the whole world.

Here’s Chris Hedges in 2010 talking about inverted totalitarianism…

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