by user O'Brien
What is totalitarianism? It is the view that the state should have total control over the lives and activities of its citizens.
What is it not? It is NOT:
1. Racist. Some totalitarian states are or were racist, but racism is not essential to the totalitarian worldview (which is good, because racist states have perpetrated some of humanity's worst crimes, including the Holocaust, the Turkish genocide of Armenians, and so forth).
2. Communist. Again, some totalitarian states are communist, but communism is not essential.
3. Undemocratic. Democracy is a decision procedure -- a way of deciding what policies the state should adopt. Totalitarianism is a view about which policies are good and desirable. Democracy and totalitarianism are perfectly compatible with one another; if an electorate decides that it wants to have totalitarian policies, and votes accordingly, that would be an example of the two institutions co-existing.
Totalitarianism has many advantages, and its disadvantages are overblown. Here are some of the advantages:
1. The state never faces obstacles in doing what needs to be done. Suppose the people are united in their view that a minimum wage should be enacted, to ensure a basic standard of living for all workers. Why should something like a constitution or a legal precedent stand in the way of that? A government with unlimited power can always serve the best interests of its citizens, with minimum delay and frustration.
2. It is easier to ensure justice. Totalitarian states do not face the problem of legal loopholes, of criminals escaping justice on technicalities.
3. People can be protected from the consequences of their actions. Modern society is a complex environment; people are constantly faced with endless choices for which they are poorly prepared. Totalitarian states, by exerting strict control over what choices people may make for themselves, resolve this "paradox of choice". Americans have difficulty saving for their retirements, for example; why should people who have no knowledge of finance be forced to choose investments that they will depend on when they are no longer capable of working? If the state were to step in, though, and guarantee retirement income for all, then people would have fewer things to worry about.
4. Decisions are made by those best suited to make them. Along the same lines: America wastes billions of dollars every year on product liability litigation. Consider Vioxx, a painkiller marketed by Merck. Merck spent $500 million on legal defense in 2006 alone, defending against claims that Vioxx caused heart attacks. This never should have happened; it's terribly wasteful. A totalitarian state could issue regulations and decrees about the exact specifications of drugs, and then use its own power to punish corporations that break the rules. And why are lay juries making decisions about complicated scientific matters? In a totalitarian state, that power would rest with qualified experts with the power to make the rules, instead of people who know nothing about the matter at hand.
There are other advantages to totalitarianism, and I will write about those later, but now I want to defend totalitarianism from some misguided criticisms.
1. "Totalitarianism is bad because it violates freedom of expression." Of course it does do that, since a totalitarian state may ban or punish any expression it sees as being contrary to the public interest, but that is good, not bad! Consider: the American government spends quite a lot of time and money protecting Americans from faulty products -- poorly designed car seats, toys that injure or kill children, tainted food, and all manner of other shoddy goods. Why should it not also protect Americans from faulty ideas? We correctly refuse to trust the marketplace with the health and welfare of our loved ones; if someone were to propose getting rid of the Consumer Product Safety Commission on the grounds that people are capable of determining what products are safe on their own, we would laugh that person out of the room. But why do we permit pernicious and destructive ideas to freely flourish?
2. "Totalitarianism places too much trust in the officials of the state to protect the public interest." Suppose this is true: who else is there? Who else do we trust to protect the public interest? Corporations? That would be silly. The public interest needs a powerful, dynamic institution to further it, and it is far better to trust elected officials and their appointees with that power than money-grubbing corporate drones. Of course any totalitarian state that wants to survive will have to enact extremely strong safeguards against abuse of power. But isn't it better to place power in the hands of those who have public service at heart than among those whose only goal is to earn a profit off of their fellow citizens?
That's my basic defence of totalitarianism. In the weeks ahead I will try to go into more detail, and respond to comments about these arguments.