Watching this election made me pull out my copy of "The Origins of Totalitarianism" by Hannah Arendt.
Here is what she wrote about Trump's followers:
“The mob is primarily a group in which the residue of all classes are represented. This makes it easy to mistake the mob for the people, which also comprises all strata of the people. While the people in all great revolutions fight for true representation, the mob will always shout for the “strong man,” the “great leader.” For the mob hates society from which it is excluded, as well as Parliament where it is not represented.” [Origins]
Doesn't that describe what is happening with the Trump movement? The mob, clamoring for a “strong man,” the “great leader” is reminiscent of the crowds that followed Mussolini, or Hitler. Hannah Arendt was referring to the violently anti-semitic Anti-Dreyfusards, but she also was illustrating and generalizing about Totalitarian movements and how they get started.
Finding a Scapegoat
Hannah talks about how plebiscites, which once had been a tool of democracy, in their hands became a tool of those politicians "who rely on the mob" and she notes how at least one of the "more intelligent" Anti-Dreyfusards clamored for a “Republic through plebiscite.”
Like current politicians mistaking the voice of the mob for the voice of the people:
"the voice of the people was the voice of God", and that leaders should "follow that voice shrewdly." [Origins]
Thus such "leaders" rationalize their demagoguery. They lie to the mob, and the mob expects them to repeat those lies and lie some more.
In the case of Late 19th Century France, cynical and perverse politicians used the betrayal of France during the Franco-Prussian war, by members of the High Command of France to the Prussians, to scapegoat Jews for that failure. The High Command, led by the real culprit according to most narratives, produced charges against an innocent Jewish Officer, Dreyfus. And French Politicians used that incident to gin up hate among "the people" against Jews . Much like how our conflict with Violent Muslim extremists is being used to gin up similar hateful fever in modern day France and here at home against Muslims, Sikhs and other foreign residents. To unscrupulous politicians "the people" are the mob and the mob is an opportunity to pick-pocket the crowds. Like Donald Trump steering his campaign donations to his businesses. Unscrupulous and corrupt politicians produce two offspring "fearless leaders" and angry mobs diverted from themselves to cultivated targets.
She describes how "high society and politicians" had produced this "offspring."
"While the mob actually stormed Jewish shops and assailed Jews in the Street, the language of high society made real, passionate violence look like harmless child's play." [Origins pg 107]
And what we now call "the media", and the rest of "high society" encourage these passions producing works designed to encourage what Hillary termed "deplorable behavior."
The Cultivation of Hate
She describes one of these documents;
“The Henry memorial” and proposed solutions: “Jews...to be torn to pieces...” “boiled alive,” “stewed in oil”... “circumcised up to the neck.” [Origins]
One group of French Officers wanted to test out their new machine guns models on them.
“Among the subscribers were more than 1,000 officers, including four generals in active service, and the minister of war, Mercier. The relatively large numbers of intellectuals and even of Jews in the list is surprising. The upper classes knew that the mob was flesh of their flesh and blood of their blood. Even a Jewish Historian of the time, although he'd seen with his own eyes that Jews are no longer safe when the mob rules the street, spoke with secret admiration of the 'great collective movement.”[Origins]
We are seeing similar "fanning of the flames" in the anti-Mexican and anti-Immigrant preachings of "The Donald". Often with some culpability from those who feel immune from the consequences of turning on their brothers.
Nativism Seeking to Eliminate their Targets
“this only shows how deeply most Jews were rooted in a society which was attempting to eliminate them.”[Origins]
The parallels aren't precise, but they are there. Once again there are people who think they can blend in while the mob gets excited and attacks their relatives and kin. Fortunately there are a lot of educated people who still can see what is happening and where this goes. Even some very conservative people like Charles Krauthammer, is finally noticing what an ugly thing the Trump Mob has become.
The target may be Muslims today, or Latin Americans yesterday, but the anti-semitism is there. It is in Bannon's Breitbart, the alt-Right, and it surfaces even in Donald Trump's rhetoric. But even if these mobs spare Jews, blacks, women and Mexicans, for now, they are a menace to Muslim Americans, a menace to Democracy and a menace to all of us. The mob is crying for a fearless leader. And the mob is shouting "Lock her up!", "Lock her Up." The residue of the masses is on the loose again. And the rest of us need to put some ice on this, to nip it in the bud. Or it will burn our country and the world.
Those riffles they carry are meant to be used. The list of targets is long and broad.
To be continued....
- Origins of Totalitarianism:
- PDF Version: https://monoskop.org/images/4/4e/Arendt_Hannah_The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism_1962.pdf
- Buy a Copy: https://www.amazon.com/Origins-Totalitarianism-Hannah-Arendt/dp/0156701537
- Related Posts:
- Authoritarians and Totalitarians
- Truthdig Review
- The Dictator in front of the Mob -- http://holtesthoughts.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-dictator-behindin-front-of-mob.html
- Donald Trump and the Stateless
- Trump's GOP Totalitarian Movement & Propaganda