Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Real Resistance to Totalitarianism

 There's been a lot of talk about resisting totalitarianism or fascism the past few years; most of it is transparent nonsense. But what does real resistance to totalitarianism look like?

Totalitarianism is the approach to politics that treats the state's authority as not limited by anything but itself; as the saying goes, it is an approach governed by the principle that everything is within the gambit of state power, nothing is outside it, and nothing is against it. Thus the only possible ground of resistance to totalitarianism as such (rather than just preferring your own flavor of totalitarianism to another) has to oppose this. There are only two ways something could fall outside of state authority: you need there to  be some authority either above that of the state or outside it.

(1) Above it: One of the things that is opposed to totalitarianism is the position that there is a higher law. What law can be higher than human law? It has to be either divine positive law, or natural law, or something similar, like a system of rights inherent to human nature or a providential moral order involving moral principles. If the state is not the highest authority, there must be a higher authority than the state, and this must actually be expressed; thus a higher law in some sense.

(2) Outside it: For there to be something outside the authority of the state there has to be some relevant community that is independent of the state and therefore has its own authority. That is, the same people have to be members of multiple independent communities or societies at the same time, in a pluralism of societies. These societies can be various -- families, churches, and the like are the most common ones that people name -- but if you are not members of other societies that have authority and within which you have rights upon which the state cannot trespass, then really, as far as you are concerned, the totalitarian is right about there being nothing outside the state.

Each of these, higher law and social pluralism, is in some way inconsistent with totalitarianism. Strictly speaking, you could accept just one or the other. But there are reasons why you should accept them both if you accept either. If you try to hold that there is a higher law, but no pluralism of societies, then the state is not the highest authority, but there is still nothing outside the state; you seem to still hold that the highest human authority in every matter is the state, so that you are left just demanding that the state enforce the higher law on itself. This is an empty demand; nothing short of God or whatever the higher authority is would really have the authority to say that the state is enforcing it incorrectly. On the other hand, if you accept social pluralism but no higher law, it seems that you have no explanation for why these other societies do not fall under the authority of the state; you are treating it as if it were just a brute fact that they do not.

All modern-style states tend to exhibit totalitarian tendencies, the all-devouring maw of expanding power. The states that do best in resisting this slide are those that at least acknowledge, in at least some practice as well as symbolically, that there is a higher authority than themselves and that other societies of some kind, operating within their jurisdiction, have a right and an authority that is beyond their reach. All others just slide in a totalitarian direction.

Therefore it seems that any real anti-totalitarian position has to acknowledge both a higher law of some kind and a social pluralism of some kind, and any real resistance to totalitarianism would require people actually trying to live their lives on the basis of these. People who claim to offer a serious resistance to totalitarianism while accepting only one of these principles are poseurs; people who claim to do so while accepting neither are outright liars, being (at best) totalitarians of a different stripe.