I grew up under a totalitarian regime I hated. I now live in a country I love. So much more upset I get when the latter starts to resemble the former.
The nature of totalitarianism is often misunderstood. The word typically evokes images of execution cellars, torture chambers and concentration camps. And true enough, totalitarian regimes seldom fail to furnish such visual aids.
But these are their means, not their ends. Their most perfidious – and effective – work is done not with guns, truncheons and barbed wire, but with mass, unremitting propaganda. For totalitarians don’t just want to change politics. They want to change man.
Since we are all sinners, there is always room for change and improvement, that’s for sure. However, such latitude is normally found at the periphery of human nature. Its core remains stubbornly constant, which drives totalitarians up the wall.
They become bitterly disappointed with people, and killing them all begins to sound like an attractive idea. But that happens when totalitarianism reaches its peak. After that, down is the only way to go.
This is the common feature of all totalitarian regimes, but they all differ in the tempo of different phases. The more ambitious and impatient they are, the sooner does the final, violent stage arrive. Thus the Soviet and Chinese communists began to murder people en masse within days: their ontological objectives went so far against human nature that they got frustrated quickly.
By contrast, the Nazis took several years to realise they had to up the scale of their violence. Until then they relied mostly (though not exclusively) on inculcating their Weltanschauung through propaganda and education. To that end they conscripted all the media, educational curricula, public forums – everything they thought could help them change human nature irreversibly.
Totalitarian regimes usually fail, but they never fail, well, totally. Even if they can’t create the New Man, they can still invert the old certitudes. What emerges at the other end is any number of individuals with their moral sense numbed and their brains scoured of independent thought. This does a lasting damage to society, and it always survives the physical demise of the totalitarian regime.
My contention is that all modern regimes, whatever their self-identification, are innately if latently totalitarian, differing only in their means, not their ends. When a modern country identifies itself as a liberal democracy, totalitarians have to proceed more slowly, subtly and surreptitiously than they did in, say, Russia or China. But they do proceed.
Alas, most people miss the early tell-tale signs and, as with tuberculosis, when the symptoms become intolerable, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. One such symptom is a key difference between the demands imposed by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.
The former demand passive acquiescence; the latter, enthusiastic support. They equate passive acceptance with active resistance and punish it accordingly.
This brings us to Oxford University, one of the world’s oldest and most venerable such establishments.
One can detect that it increasingly sees its role not as an educational institution, but as a hatchery of a New Man indoctrinated not just to accept totalitarian tyranny but to promote it with youthful vigour. In that it’s not markedly different from the Soviet universities of my youth.
A case in point is St Hugh’s College, the alma mater of Barbara Castle, Theresa May and Amal Clooney. As if that alone wasn’t enough to besmirch its reputation, St Hugh’s has introduced an unalloyed, clearly enunciated totalitarian agenda. (To be fair, Christ Church, Balliol and Somerville aren’t far behind.)
Students are “expected to make time” to attend the It’s About Race indoctrination event. There they are shown a slide show whose main point is that simply not being a racist is no longer enough. Students must be anti-racists, which presumably means fire-eating BLM activists.
The slides demand a “commitment to action” and ask point-blank: “What is your individual contribution/commitment/pledge to tackle inequality and racism?”
Not having attended the event, I don’t know if the slide show specifies the kind of contribution/commitment/pledge that would be deemed satisfactory. However, my Soviet experience standing me in good stead, I can make a few suggestions.
One contribution/commitment/pledge should be to take part in a BLM riot, or ideally organise one. Merit points may be awarded for each window broken, shop/car/cop set on fire, white pedestrian harassed or, better still, beaten up.
Another contribution/commitment/pledge could be to report to the police anyone making a racist statement, or one that can be interpreted as such. Special attention must be paid to anyone telling jokes that start with “An Irishman, a Jew and a black man walk into a pub…”
Yet another contribution/commitment/pledge could be to abuse verbally, or ideally physically, anyone caught reading such blatantly racist tracts as Huckleberry Finn, Gone With the Wind, The Merchant of Venice, Othello – or any other books failing to win the anti-racists’ approval.
The contribution/commitment/pledge might rate higher marks should such books be then tossed into a public bonfire.
The highest accolades should go to the contribution/commitment/pledge to drag the recalcitrant non-racists among the students and faculty before an anti-racist tribunal and force them to recant publicly, ideally on social media.
You may think I’m taking a bilious mickey, but in fact I’m dead-serious. I simply can’t imagine what other kinds of contribution/commitment/pledge would satisfy the flaming woke conscience of Oxford administration and trustees. I’m open to suggestions though.