Traditionalism, Liberalism and Neo-Nazism In the Current Political Space

Binary Theory of Totalitarianism: Validity Limits

Aleksandr Shchipkov

< previous part
 | 
contents
 | 
next part >

In the post-war decades, the term "fascism" has undergone a notable transformation. It was associated with the desire to dissolve this concept in a more general and much less specific concept ("totalitarianism"). For a time, the theory of two totalitarianisms was considered popular. However, today this legacy of the Cold War era, created through the efforts of Hannah Arendt and Karl Popper, is obviously obsolete and should be revised.

Such a revision has become unavoidable as fascism revived in Europe. Doubtful theoretical constructs have been driven out by the rampageous obviousness: neo-fascism is a real threat; "totalitarianism" is just a term that means almost nothing.

The theory of two totalitarianisms (fascism and communism; the left-wing forces knew this theory as a "binary") was raised to the rank of a political standard as soon as it emerged. This doctrine appeared to be extremely popular. Actual art exhibitions, such as the sensational "Berlin – Moscow", were dedicated to it. The main author of the theory is Hannah Arendt. The theses written by Arendt are accompanied by the unique views of philosopher Karl Popper, who divided human societies into two types: "open" and "closed" (there was talk of the culture of political relations, but a country's place in the global economic system was neglected) and referred to the Platonic philosophy in his study of Hitlerism. According to Popper "Plato was the first political ideologist, who thought in the language of classes and invented concentration camps." [18, p. 1]

In her work The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Hannah Arendt writes "Today, we are aware of only two authentic forms of a totalitarian state: the dictatorship of National Socialism after 1938 and the dictatorship of Bolshevism after 1930. These forms of state are much different from any kind of dictatorial, despotic or tyrannical government. Even though they are the result of continuous development of party dictatorships, their essential totalitarian qualities are new and not derivable from single-party dictatorships." [6, p. 545]

Arendt tried to draw the line between totalitarianism and "simple despotisms" or "simple dictatorships". However, the reference to the only fact that "essentially totalitarian qualities are new and not derivable" from the former government practices raises a lot of questions. It resembles the language of theosophy rather than the speech of a historian. However, it is commonly known that Arendt was not a professional historian.

Totalitarian ideology, according to Arendt, is different in that it focuses on a single theory (whether it be a theory of national origin or a theory of class struggle) and derives all social disciplines from this theory: philosophy, politics, history, and even theology. Political universalism can be assessed in different ways; however, it appeared as early as the Middle Ages (the ancient world is left aside). From then on, it occurred repeatedly in various forms. For example, should the natural rights of the liberal theory not be universal? What about Neo-Freudianism? What about any religious fundamentalism? In this case, the "totality" (universalism) of the theory can hardly serve as a criterion of its pernicious essence. Some other important criterion is obviously missed or replaced here.

Arendt emphasizes: "It is obvious that racism is the main ideological weapon of imperialism. However, many scientists, as if they are afraid to enter the path of commonplace truth, prefer the false interpretation of racism as a kind of exaggerated nationalism. Many valuable scientific works, especially French, demonstrating the very special nature of racism and its tendency towards the destruction of the national political body, usually remain out of sigh." [6, p. 232]

In other words, Arendt hesitates to argue directly with the fact that racism is an inevitable attribute of liberal capitalism. At the same time, she replaces the concept of racism (and fascism) with the more general one – "totalitarianism". Then, based on those "essentially new totalitarian qualities" (new both in relation to the already mentioned "despotisms and dictatorships" and, apparently, to the colonial racism), she allocates two totalitarianisms as a special political phenomenon. This phenomenon has nothing in common with the liberal capitalist roots of European racism. With the help of logical manipulations, totalitarianism turns into some ahistorical phenomenon that emerged like a jack-in-the-box.

This raises the natural question – why did she introduce the third concept in the presence of such definitions as "communism" and "fascism" (any of them could and had to be the subject of moral appraisals) if this concept took up a metaposition in relation to the first two and neutralized their specific characters? Perhaps the reason was the intention to get away from historical specifics.

The fate of the concept of racism is no less interesting given that racism is nothing more than a synonym for "fascism". At first, Arendt acknowledges the most important fact: "Racism denies the equality of people arisen from the Judeo-Christian perception of a person "after the image and likeness of God" [Genesis 1:26]." [6, c. 546] But then she introduces an amazing typology. According to Arendt, racism (read: fascism) is divided into two types – the racism of superiority and the racism of envy. The racism of superiority was ... ideologically justified by the care of "inferior race" ("white man's burden"). The racism of envy, according to Arendt, unites the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, in particular, Russia and Germany. It is based on the superiority theory rather than on the specific experience as the racism of superiority.

Using concrete examples should probably clear up the absence of centuries-old practices of colonization. However, racism already existed at the very beginning of the colonial era. Therefore, it is quite obvious that the so-called "German totalitarianism" was just a classical Western colonial racism. To be honest, it was delayed a bit (because of the territorial fragmentation of German Länder (states)) and therefore was late for the colonial division. It is because of this historic delay that Hitler had to transfer all the colonial practices from the outskirts of the world (where they were considered something natural) into Europe, where the same methods were considered shocking. There lies the mystery of totalitarian "horrors". The secret is in the self-applicability.

As for Russia, Arendt simply confuses the idea of Slavic unification – quite controversial, but links no comparisons to oppression and colonization. Arendt did not take into account the fact that Russia, being a semi-peripheral country in the global economic and political system, was an empire (in relation to the eastern and southern areas) and a colony of Western economic elites. In other words, it was both a colonizer and a victim of colonization. When speaking of Russia, it is necessary to consider two contrary practices simultaneously.

However, Arendt did not do that. Apparently, she wanted to explain somehow the obvious unprofitability and disfavor of the second type of racism. She writes: "The racism of envy promised the moral benefit of absolute superiority, complete understanding and involvement in all human affairs rather than the material benefits a planter could get from his black slaves (or a metropolis could get from its colonies)." [6, p. 92]

Does this mean that the superiority of "ordinary" racism is not absolute? How are "complete understanding and involvement" related to the methods of colonization? Against the wish of the author, you can come to the opposite conclusion: colonialism in its usual sense was impossible in an ideocratic state without a national idea (the Soviet Union or Austria-Hungary (by virtue of its multinationality)), because racism was also impossible there. Austria-Hungary dissipated due to the abovementioned specific feature. The USSR fastened its multinational "patchwork quilt" with the idea of socialism and equality for some time. However, Turkey, being more authoritarian, set out to recast its multicultural diversity into a single "Anatolian" format and still exists up to now. Arendt did not come to such conclusions.

Of course, we should say a few words about the author's methodology. It is interesting that Arendt brings forward psychological arguments rather than economic, trying to make them a part of the political concept. Arendt describes national objectives and interests in terms of psychological patterns. The division of nations into "arrogant" and "envious" raises a lot of questions and, quite possibly, contains its own grains of cultural racism.

To sum it up, it should be noted that the examples of Russia and Germany show that the concept of two totalitarianisms by Hannah Arendt, as well as the concept of two racisms, are ill-structured. They are obviously superfluous in relation to real historical events. Apparently, these concepts were imposed by the ideology of the Cold War, which was a small wonder in 1951 (the year of The Origins of Totalitarianism) and even in 1981. However, it is not completely clear why Arendt's modern followers revive the concept of two totalitarianisms in all seriousness.

Of course, moving along the path of forced theoretical arguments, we can raise the problem of three totalitarianisms – a system in which global liberalism is a generating matrix, Nazism is its ideological center, and communism is an artificial alternative subordinated to the parent unit. However, this complication and congestion of the theoretical construction indicate its weak explanatory power. The concept requires additional theoretical support which is inefficient and therefore useless.

Today, significant discrepancies in the comprehension of ideological correspondences between liberalism, fascism and communism can be observed. The first two are infinitely close to each other and are very closely related. If communism is a pocket-sized "alternative" to liberalism, then Nazism is the most important component and a deep base of the liberal doctrine itself. Liberalism and fascism have a common moral ground: the war of all against all, a total competition. Practically speaking, the transfer of this principle from the economic sphere to the cultural, ethnic and social sphere and back changes nothing. That is why the neoliberal establishment seeks to bring such social institutions as religion, family, gender relations to a common market standard (hence, the forced secularization, juvenile technologies and legalization of same-sex marriages). Quite the totalitarian practice.

The obsolete and considerably parascientific theory of two totalitarianisms still has its adherents among the liberal intelligentsia in Russia in the environment prone to consider itself as an intellectual class. However, the "intellectualism" never prevented this social group from being interested in pseudoscientific concepts, for example, by Helena Blavatsky or Ron Hubbard.

In order to analyze the regression of the political consciousness in the 20th century, we have to withdraw from the concept of totalitarianism and re-address the issue of fascism, which is a more precise concept describing historical events both in the past and, unfortunately, present time.