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CHAT: totalitarianism [was Re: Sexual terminology]

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Monday, December 24, 2001, 21:00
Quoting John Cowan <cowan@...>:

> Thomas R. Wier scripsit: > > You are making one important assumption about concultures: > > that any right-thinking person will make his or her > > conculture according to the kinds of ideals that he > > or she holds. Unlike many people, I am not aiming to > > build an "ideal" universe as a context for conlanging, > > inasmuch as I do not believe that humans usually act out > > on ideals, even if ideals exist. Much the contrary: > > with Phalera I am aiming to build a believeable society, > > where human beings strive after self-interest much as in > > this one, and cloak their self-interest in the phraseology > > of idealism, much as in this one. This means that I > > personally end up disagreeing with lots and lots of > > aspects of Phaleran society, but changing it would break > > [...] I mean, I totally disagree > > with totalitarianism, but totalitarianism of some form > > or another has been *far* more common in human history > > than liberal bourgeois democracy. > > I don't think so, unless you class authoritarian societies with > totalitarian ones. Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, > China under Mao, Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge, are something > qualitatively different from their precedessors and successors. > (There may be others that belong to this list.)
It's true that it depends on how you define totalitarianism, but under only a slightly broader definition of totalitarianism than the one you are using, my statement IMO still holds. Lykourgos' Sparta, e.g., was actually a model against which many modern totalitarian regimes in some sense measured themselves, including Hitler's, who had a fascination with Spartan regimentation. Egypt under the Ptolemies was, if anything, even more totalitarian: every aspect of personal life and the economy was under the direct control of Ptolemaic regulators, everything from how much cattle peasants in a certain region are supposed to raise and how much they are supposed to get per head to which industries are crown monopolies (many were, including olive oil production and glass-blowing). Much less is known about life under the neighboring Seleucid and Antigonid monarchies because Egypt's sands preserve far much more everyday documentation of such state control, but what little we have suggests that there were organized along similar lines. In Mesopotamia, Naram-Sin, the grandson of Sargon the Great, is the first person recorded in history to have deified himself in his own lifetime. Because Agade's state revenues were all in theory linked with temple worship, he assumed for himself absolute control of state finances and with that created a schediasmatocracy: rule by the whim or fancy of the ruler. Most of the states of modern Central Asia are either authoritarian (Kazakhstan under Nazarbayev, Uzbekistan under Karimov) or outright totalitarian (Turkmenistan under Niyazov). So, totalitarian regimes do not seem to be as uncommon as you seem to have suggested. (I do not agree with you that there is a strict qualitative difference between very authoritarian and totalitarian; there is a continuum of oppression.) So, what about liberal democracies? Democracies in general have been rare, but to find one that we can describe as "liberal" would be exceedingly hard. Athens never had that hallmark of modern liberal democracies, namely, institutional checks on the power of the majority to do whatever it wants. During the Peloponnesian War, Athens infamously ordered all the male adult inhabitants of the island of Melos slain, and their women and children enslaved, for nothing more than refusing to side with one of Athens or Sparta. And, let's not forget Socrates. His case was not straightforward, since he was an oligarchical sympathizer, but his charge was trumped up by his political enemies; a more liberal regime would have safe-guards against his execution. Only Rome, of ancient regimes, had anything like such modern safe-guards, but it would be difficult to call Rome a democracy when the voting was institutionally rigged to favor the wealthy and elite (imagine the US electoral college, but based on property instead of geography). Late medieval Italian democracies might count, but they didn't have personal safe-guards either. Today's democracies are very unusual, in that you have *both* wide-scale popular involvement in decision-making, *and* protection for individuals *from* that wide-scale involvement. ===================================================================== Thomas Wier <trwier@...> <> "...koruphàs hetéras hetére:isi prosápto:n / Dept. of Linguistics mú:tho:n mè: teléein atrapòn mían..." University of Chicago "To join together diverse peaks of thought / 1010 E. 59th Street and not complete one road that has no turn" Chicago, IL 60637 Empedocles, _On Nature_, on speculative thinkers


Anton Sherwood <bronto@...>