Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism. Both Italian fascism and German national socialism were intrinsically efforts to submerge all differences of class and group in the single purpose of imperialist aggrandizement. The myths which constituted their philosophy were designed to further that purpose.


Hence the practical outcome of both, however justified, was the totalitarian internal organization of the state. For reasons already explained, the national socialist theory of the racial Volk provided a more adequate philosophy for such a movement than Mussolini’s Hegelianism, but in either case the conclusion was the same.

Government may, indeed must, control every act and every interest of every individual or group in order to use it for enhancing national strength. According to the theory of totalitarianism, therefore, government was not only absolute in its exercise but unlimited in its application. Nothing lay outside its province.

Every interest and value-economic, moral, and cultural -being part of the national resources were to be controlled and utilized by government. Except by permission of government there could be neither political parties, labor unions, industrial or trade associations. Except under its regulation there could be neither manufacture, business, nor work.

Except under its direction there could be neither publication nor public meeting. Education became its tool and in principle religion was also, though neither fascism nor national socialism succeeded in getting more than unwilling acquiescence from the churches.

Leisure and recreation became agencies of propaganda and regimentation. No area of privacy remained that an individual could call his own and no association of individuals which was not subject to political control. Membership in the folk absorbed alike it’s personality, his capacities, and his intimacies.

As a principle of political organization totalitarianism of course implied dictatorship. It rapidly brought about the abolition of German federalism and of local self-government, the virtual destruction of liberal political institutions such as parliaments and an independent judiciary, and the reduction of the suffrage to the level of carefully managed plebiscites.

Political administration became not only all pervasive but monolithic, as national socialists liked to call it, toe implication being that the whole social organization had been reduced ta a system and all its energies directed single-handedly toward national ends. As a matter of fact there was a large amount of fiction in this representation of totalitarianism.

There was of course, absolute concentration of power in the leader, that is, on the highest policy making level. But the leader’s power depended on his personal ascendancy, and the administrative organization by which a policy had to be carried out was in fact a confusion of private empires, private armies, and private intelligence services.

In truth, irresponsible absolutism is incompatible with totalitarian administration; for in the uncertainty of politics, the danger of arbitrary change, and the fear of personal revenge, every man whose position makes him either strong or vulnerable must protect himself against surprise by reserving from the common pool whatever power he has managed to acquire. Thus there is, in the end, no common pool at all.

If this was true on the administrative level, it was doubly true on the constitutional or legal level. National socialist totalitarianism never achieved a rational division of functions in any branch of government, or an organization into governing agencies with legally defined powers that acted predictably according to known rules.

These bureaucratic qualities, which far more than political liberalism had been connoted by German constitutionalism, were in fact destroyed by the rise of national socialism to power. Existing administrative and judicial agencies were left standing but they were infiltrated by party personal often for the express purpose of breaking down their customary procedures.

They were supplemented also by a bewildering array of new agencies that partly took over old duties and partly took on new duties as occasion arose. Hence Goebbels could complain that we are living in a form of state in which jurisdictions are not clearly defined.

As a result German domestic policy completely lacks direction. National socialism in fact completely wrecked the German ideal of a Rechtsstaat, and for this reason its German critics often denied that it was a state at all.

The jumbling of functions and the lack of clear-cut legal relationships were thoroughly characteristic of totalitarianism. Thus, for example, there could never have been any clear constitutional theory of the National Socialist party or of its relation to the government, though it was by law the only party permitted to exist.

Legally the party was a corporation but it was certainly not amenable to any legal or political control, and its acts were indifferently legislative, administrative, and judicial. Similarly the Elite Guard, the Storm Troops  and the Hitler Youth, though they were nominally agents of the party and not of the government, all had legislative and judicial powers and enjoyed extra-legal privileges.

The judiciary, on the other hand, completely lost its independence and security, while at the same time judicial discretion was extended practically without limit. The law itself was made studiously vague, so that all decision became essentially subjective. The penal code was amended in 1935 to permit punishment for any act contrary to sound popular feeling, even though it violated no existing law.

Similarly a journalist might lose his license for publishing anything that confused selfish with common interests, that might weaken the unity of the German people or was offensive to the honor or dignity of a German, that made any person ridiculous, or that was for any reason indecent. Obviously no rational administration of such statutes was possible.

Equality before the law and due process were supplanted by complete administrative discretion. What totalitarianism meant in practice was that any person whose acts were regarded as having political significance was quite without legal protection if the government or the party or one of their many agencies chose to exert its power.

The results were similar in the social and economic structure. Totalitarianism undertook to organize and direct every phase of economic and social life to the exclusion of any area of permitted privacy or voluntary choice. But it is important to observe what this type o organization concretely meant.

First and foremost it meant the destruction of great numbers of organizations that had long existed and that had provided agencies for economic and social activities. Labor unions, trade and commercial and industrial associations, fraternal organizations for social purposes or for adult education or mutual aid which had existed on a voluntary basis and were self-governing, were either wiped out or were taken over and restaffed.

Membership be came virtually or actually compulsory, officers were selected accordion to the leadership principle, and the rules by which they operate were decided not by the membership but by the appointing agency The leadership principle meant everywhere the substitution of personal authority for authority working through regular channels am the substitution of imposed regimentation for self-government.

That result was in a sense paradoxical. For though totalitarian society was organized in a bewildering number of ways and for every conceivable purpose, the individual stood more alone than ever before. He became helpless in the hands of the organizations to which he nominally belonged, and he had virtually nothing to say about their purposes or their management. In spite of national socialist contempt for the atomic individualism of democratic society, totalitarian society was far more genuinely atomic.

The people as a whole became literally the masses and consequently ideal material for propaganda to work on. The distinctive feature of totalitarianism was not organization as such, for every complex society is intricately organized. It was the nature of the organization, the fact that organization was designed to be an agency of regimentation.

In respect to economic organization there was superficially a considerable difference between Italian fascism and German national! socialism. In accord with ideas long familiar in Italian syndicalism, fascism took the form of what was called the corporate state. In Germany the corporate state was talked about in the earlier days of national socialism but was dropped along with the other socialist elements of the party’s program.

The idea of the corporate state was simple and long antedated fascism. It was merely that workers and owners should cooperate for the purpose of increasing production and should negotiate wage contracts rather than resort to strikes or lockouts.

The corporate apparatus was brought into being piecemeal in Italy over a period of fourteen years. It consisted of vertical syndicates of employers and employees in the main branches of the economy organized locally, regionally, and nationally, and of horizontal corporations also uniting both employers and employees in the several industries.

The system headed up in the Chamber of Corporations, which was not created until 1939. In theory the Chamber constituted factional representation by industries on lines long advocated by syndicalists and guild socialists. In theory also the syndicates were autonomous unions of employers and employees for collective bargaining.

In fact, though membership was not compulsory, dues were withheld from the wages of members and non-members alike, and wage contracts were binding on non-members. In Germany the Labor Front was a division of the party and was not organized by  occupations except for administrative purposes.

Membership was compulsory and occupational unions were abolished. Hence the Labor Front made no pretense of collective bargaining; wages were adjusted by labor trustees chosen by the government. Employers trade associations were not destroyed but they were converted into national groups organized according to the leadership principle.

Ostensibly, therefore, the Italian system was one of self-regulation by associations in which employers and employees were equally represented, while the German system was an outright regulation of industry by government. In reality there was little or no difference between the ways in which the two systems worked. Both management and labor lost their freedom of association and independence of action.

The supposed equality of labor and management in the Italian plan was never actual. In both countries ultimate control was in the hands of persons appointed by government (or by the party, which amounted to the same thing) and such persons were in general much closer to management than to labor. In both countries also the general tendency was to increase the size of industrial units and to absorb small independent producers into cartels.

The one substantial benefit that labor received was full employment, but as a whole it got a smaller fraction of the national income. In short, both in its fascist and national socialist form totalitarianism had the characteristics and the tendencies normal to a controlled war economy, which essentially was what it was.

The control which totalitarianism exercised over the economy was extended as a matter of course to the press, to education and scholarship, and to art, indeed to every part of the national culture that might be a factor in the national strength. When Goebbels ministry was created in 1933 it became responsible for all factors influencing the mental life of the nation.

No channel of influence was to be reflected, as Hitler had said, from the child’s primer down to the newspaper, every theater and every movie. Instruction in every subject, including science, was to become a means for the promotion of national pride. And it must reach its culmination in branding, through instinct and reason, the race sense and race feeling into the hearts and brains of the youth.

No boy or girl must leave school without having been led to the ultimate knowledge of the necessity and nature of the purity of the blood.

This was the program as it was projected and as it was carried out, at all levels of the educational system and in all fields of intellectual work. In respect to art an important textbook on law declared.

The totalitarian state does not recognize the separate existence of art. It demands that artists take a positive position towards the state.

Many plans existed for new Teutonic cults to replace Christianity or for purifying it of supposed non-Aryan elements, though for reasons of prudence the government never identified itself with any of these. What Rosenberg called the old vicious freedom of teaching without limitation disappeared from the German universities, to be replaced by true freedom, the freedom to be an organ of the nation’s living strength. Jewish scholars were displaced, faculties and students were organized according to the leadership principle, and the purpose of German higher education became, in accord with national socialist principles, the training of a political elite.

In this respect the typical educational institutions were not the universities but the technical schools and the party leadership-schools. Social studies like history, sociology, and psychology, became substantially branches of propaganda adapted to elaborating and spreading the racial myth. Possibly the apex of absurdity was reached when a treatise on physics declared that science, like every other human product, is racial and conditioned by blood.

It was probably true that ideas as bizarre as Aryan physics did not much affect the professional teaching of science and engineering. Nevertheless they cast a high light on what may well be one of the insoluble dilemmas of totalitarian government. A government that aims at a maximum of military power and also a maximum of intellectual control commits its educational system to a peculiar experiment.

Essentially it has to find out whether it can debauch the social studies and the humanities and yet keep the natural sciences vigorous enough to support the technology. If it fails of the former the government loses its own self-assigned reason for existence; if it fails of the latter it loses the basis of its power.

To combine the two is no doubt possible for a time but whether it can be done permanently is another question. In the case of Germany there is no way to tell how far the loss of Jewish mathematicians and physicists demoralized research that was needed to carry on the war.
Read Related Topics:
1.Fascism and National Socialism
2.Irrationalism: The Philosophic Climate of Opinion
3.Philosophy a Myth
4.Fascism and Hegelianism
5.The Folk, the Elite, and the Leader
6.The Racial Myth
7.Lebensraum
8.National Socialism, Communism, and Democracy

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