Chuck Colson has a good – in spite of a couple of flaws – column today. He said, in part:
Is totalitarianism the same as communism or fascism?
Well, any ideology can lead to totalitarianism. Totalitarianism simply means that the state—the government—exercises complete control of public and even private life.
So Hitler (a right-wing fanatic) and Stalin (a left-wing fanatic) were little different. One promised a master race, the other a worker’s paradise. But they both erected totalitarian dictatorships, where the state controlled the media, the economy, everything.
Chuck is on the right track in regard to the similarities between Hitler and Stalin. But he misses a key point when he calls Hitler a ‘right-wing fanatic’ and Stalin a ‘left-wing fanatic.’ That terminology, so often glibly used and uncritically accepted, is often left undefined and increases our understanding of the problem little or none. It leaves the impression that the correct, non-totalitarian approach is somewhere in the ‘middle’ between ‘left’ and ‘right.’
In fact, the common element for Hitler and Stalin is collectivism. It is the idea that the individual is of little importance, and the state, the revolution, the society is all-important. Collectivism turns on the idea that society has a right to be whatever ‘it’ wishes, while the wishes of individuals must be sacrificed.
Fascists and Bolsheviks worked toward collectivism by somewhat different routes. As the late Clarence Carson has pointed out, Fascists typically wanted one nation to conqueror the world and create a world-wide collective by that route. Bolshevik communists wanted to spread their revolutionary tactics to all the nations of the world so that national identities would wither away and the world-wide collective would be created by that route.
These were different routes to a common goal – the goal of forcing individuals to serve the collective. When the goal is collectivism, totalitarianism is the only way to get there. People will sometimes join together in voluntary projects, but free society (naturally) requires that the voluntary element be present. Free society will never be total. Individuals will reserve some parts of their lives and their fortunes for their families and for themselves. Collectivists cannot tolerate this, and so totalitarianism is required to force the issue.
Finally, it is not true that any ideology can lead to totalitarianism, as Colson asserts. Perhaps Chuck is assuming that only some social viewpoints are ideologies, but I see no good reason to restrict the term in this fashion. An ideology is simply a set of aims and ideas. Classical liberalism is an ideology which is fundamentally opposed to totalitarianism. So I’m not sure why Chuck makes this claim.
Now, for a little modern-day application. Many of those in power in our government today are self-avowed collectivists. Apart from some countervailing power to thwart them, they will continually push toward totalitarianism in our society. You can see the seeds of it already. It is the only route to collectivism.