Tag Archive for: WokeTyranny

How Individuals Enable Tyranny

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

It is easy to think the roots of tyranny lie outside of ourselves, but perhaps we are looking too far away.

In Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a Czech refugee living in Paris joins a protest march against the 1968 Soviet invasion of her homeland. To her surprise, the refugee could not bring herself to shout with the other protesters and soon left the rally. Her French friends didn’t understand her reluctance. The refugee silently mused that her friends could never understand that “behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching by with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison.”

Beware of groups marching in lockstep, even for a seemingly good cause, Kundera warns.

In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill pointed us in a similar direction when he observed a tyranny as terrible as any imposed by “public authorities.” Mill called it the “tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling.”

Mill described “the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them.” Mill counseled, “individual independence” protected from “encroachment” from the tyranny of the majority “is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.”

The tyranny of societal mandates, Mill warned, can be “more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, … it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.”

On Liberty was published in 1859. Sadly, the tendency Mill described is all-too-common among individuals living in 2023 who believe “their feelings… are better than reasons, and render reasons unnecessary.”

Often such “feelings” are based on the prevailing orthodoxy disseminated by The New York Times, NPR, and other such media outlets.

Worse, feelings-driven individuals up the ante and demand others conform. Mill explained, “The practical principle which guides them to their opinions on the regulation of human conduct, is the feeling in each person’s mind that everybody should be required to act as he, and those with whom he sympathises, would like them to act.”

Others may share your feelings and preferences. Yet, Mill reasoned, even when shared, individual preferences are not elevated to a guide for living for others:

No one, indeed, acknowledges to himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but an opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person’s preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people’s liking instead of one.

Here is Mill’s bottom line: “[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Your feelings, your opinions, your sense of what is good for you, your sense of what will make you happier “is not a sufficient warrant” to interfere with the individual sovereignty of any one else.

Mill was unequivocal about the wrongness of silencing dissenting voices: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

There has never been a dystopian novel, nor a totalitarian society, where freedom of speech was not suppressed.

The haunting question is why do so many enable totalitarians by demanding others conform to their personal feelings?

Mill taught us how to resign as an enabler of tyranny. Our feelings about an issue, no matter how widely shared, are never justification for coercing others or censoring competing views. Mill wrote, “All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.” He argued that suppressors of other views “have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty.”

Those who believe they should impose their opinions on others are probably not reading this essay. Among them are people who act as though they are infallible.

Hearing Mill’s arguments, some readers may see they silence themselves, believing their opinions are socially unacceptable. When we remain silent we co-create “collective illusions” which Todd Rose wrote are “social lies” occurring “in situations where a majority of individuals in a group privately reject a particular opinion, but they go along with it because they (incorrectly) assume that most other people accept it.”

Rose explained, “We often conform because we’re afraid of being embarrassed. Our stress levels rise at the thought of being mocked or viewed as incompetent, and when that happens, the fear-based part of the brain takes over.”

The choice to remain silent, to self-censor, is connected to the erroneous belief that by going along with the majority our “personal responsibility for our decisions” is diffused, “making it easier to bear mistakes.”

A person who values liberty understands the high costs of assuaging feelings by eschewing responsibility.

Václav Havel was a Czech playwright, dissident, and the first president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism. In his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” Havel explored the dynamics of mindlessly going along with prevailing sentiments. A grocery manager places in his shop window a sign: “Workers of the world, unite!” Havel revealed the manager placed the sign, not out of real support for the slogan, but to avoid “trouble” and “to get along in life.” No big deal, the manager may think: “It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee [me] a relatively tranquil life ‘in harmony with society.’”

Havel’s shop manager hopes his sign signals, “I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.”

Havel wrote his essay in 1978. Could Havel have imagined that virtue signaling would be the norm in the West in 2023?

Had the sign read “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” Havel reasoned, the grocer would not eagerly degrade his “dignity” by signaling his fear.

“Ideology,” Havel wrote, “is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them.”

Havel revealed a purpose in adopting an ideology you do not believe in: you can live under the “illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe.”

Havel called this a “post-totalitarian system,” filled with “hypocrisy and lies,” in which “the lack of free expression [is claimed to be] the highest form of freedom.”

Havel was clear: to prop up hypocrisy and lies, we must behave as though we believe the lies. Individuals, he wrote, “confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.”

Havel kindled hope as he ended his essay: “The real question is whether the brighter future is really always so distant. What if, on the contrary, it has been here for a long time already, and only our own blindness and weakness has prevented us from seeing it around us and within us, and kept us from developing it?”

Mill, Havel, and Kundera all point us to a terrible truth: our moral weakness, desire to evade responsibility, and illusion that the majority makes right have led us down the slippery slope of forfeiting our freedom.

How do we respond to those working to undermine human rights? The solution is simple, but not without personal costs. Stop lying, stop degrading yourself, stop pretending to believe what you don’t, and resign from the role as an enabler of tyranny.

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This article was published by AIER, American Institute for Economic Research and is reproduced with permission.

DeSantis Goes to War

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

On election night, I was half-watching Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s victory remarks when something quite extraordinary and encouraging caught my attention. DeSantis evoked Churchill’s “fighting on the beaches” speech, in which Churchill stirred the resolve and patriotism of the British people in anticipation of the invasion of their homeland by the Nazis. DeSantis, of course, was not warning against Nazism: he was warning against wokeism, which he was implicitly equating with Nazism. I had never heard a national political figure treat wokeism with such (deserved) gravity.

Before rephrasing Churchill, DeSantis said:

States and cities governed by leftist politicians have seen crime skyrocket. They’ve seen their taxpayers abused, they’ve seen medical authoritarianism imposed, and they’ve seen American principles discarded. The woke agenda has caused millions of Americans to leave these jurisdictions for greener pastures.

People do not uproot themselves and leave the rhythms of home “for light and transient causes.” These people are not coming to Florida just for the weather. They are fleeing the woke regime of blue America—an abusive, lawless, totalitarian regime which is waging war against American principles and the American way of life.

DeSantis continued:

Now, this great exodus of Americans, for those folks, Florida, for so many of them, has served as the promised land. We have embraced freedom. We have maintained law and order. We have protected the rights of parents. We have respected our taxpayers, and we reject woke ideology. We fight the woke in the legislature. We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.

In evoking Churchill’s speech, DeSantis lets us know that the woke regime is bearing down on America. In the urgent cadences of war, DeSantis tells us that America will not survive unless she defeats the woke regime. He believes this regime is so evil and powerful that he can, without bathos, compare it to the Nazi regime.

Some Unsolicited Advice

DeSantis has made a good start. He has told us that we are at war with a deadly regime, the woke regime. You cannot win a war unless you know you are in one.

But at some point soon, he must go further. He must show a voting majority of Americans that wokeism is the challenge of our generation, as Nazism was the challenge of the WWII generation and Communism for two generations thereafter.

And he must back up his claim. He has given us at least one piece of substantial evidence: in large numbers, people are fleeing their homes. Still, we need more. We shall not address the problem with the right strategies and people or the necessary resolve until we believe the country’s life truly is at stake. DeSantis needs to put America on a war footing.

In today’s environment, where there is a keen and deepening generalized awareness of danger, I think there is a hunger for a reasoned account of that danger. DeSantis’s most important role—the role of any statesman who is to rise to the historic challenge of this crisis—is to give such an account, one that calls a morally indifferent nation back to the principles of the founding.

So far as I can tell, there is no national Republican elected official who fully understands the threat except for Trump and DeSantis. The national figure not in politics who best gets it probably is Tucker Carlson. Night after night, in artful, insightful monologues, Carlson flays some aspect of the woke regime. He is the best we have, but he is not going to lead a major political movement. For that we need a statesman. That could well be DeSantis. And so I presume to offer him advice he hasn’t asked for:

He should make defeating wokeism his central purpose, with the goal of making it the central purpose of the Republican Party (which currently has no central purpose). Presumably DeSantis will run for the presidency. But even if he doesn’t, his first goal should be the mobilization of America. He should make anti-wokeism (and its opposite, pro-Americanism) the theme of the next Republican administration, whether it is his administration or not.

To develop an anti-woke (pro-American) agenda, DeSantis must first help us understand the woke regime, the woke way of life. He must explain that this way of life cannot possibly coexist with the American way of life. The two regimes have utterly irreconcilable understandings of a just society.

For the American regime, a just society is one in which free men and women pursue happiness according to their abilities and according to nature. Such a society is one where merit rules. For the woke regime, on the other hand, a just society is one where the regime imposes identity group quotas based on victimhood rankings. Such a regime makes war on merit.

It’s one regime or the other. You can’t offer admission to college (or anything else) according to group quotas and, at the same time, offer admission according to merit. I suggest DeSantis frame the debate accordingly: the merit regime vs. the group quota regime (or simply, merit vs. group quotas).

DeSantis should be very clear: woke revolutionaries attempt not to improve our culture, or remake aspects of it, but to destroy it or lead us to destroy it ourselves—not partially but completely. Like (crazed) revolutionaries everywhere, they believe the world must be purified, no matter the cost.

But DeSantis should not overestimate the threat either. The woke regime is a totalitarian regime in the making. Our side is outgunned almost everywhere, but there is still room to maneuver. America is not yet a one-party state; we still have some open communication channels; our intelligence agencies can (conceivably) be reformed; wokeness in the military can probably be reversed by a strong president, and businesses (one must hope!) will come around if they see America gaining the upper hand on woke tyranny. Even in education, where the woke revolutionaries have us tied to a chair, our hands are still free.

In addition to a framing, we need a simple theory or model of the woke regime: its composition, its goals, and the means for achieving those goals. Without a model we cannot anticipate where the woke revolutionaries are going next, and so we are always playing whack-a-mole, each new woke initiative catching us by surprise.

DeSantis might use the 2020 riots as an example of the woke regime in action. Radicals, intellectuals, media, businesses, Democratic politicians, and the criminal justice system conspired to create mayhem. They ignited, justified, hid, funded, fanned the flames of, and freed the rioters. There is no overarching organization. There is some informal coordination among players, but mostly the regime is a revolutionary cabal of the anti-American elite, who want us to believe they are liberating innocent victims.

The objective of the woke regime—group quotas—requires the woke revolutionaries to make Americans deeply ashamed of their past, thereby making them inclined to trade in the merit regime for the group quota regime. This requires a big lie. Every totalitarian regime has one. The woke regime’s big lie is that America is systemically racist and about to be overrun by racists, a.k.a. Trump voters. (That Trump voters are racist is, regrettably, a view also held by many neoconservatives.)

DeSantis should call this the “Big Lie” and, like Trump, dismiss it without apology or qualification. DeSantis should explain that the phony white guilt of the elite is killing the rest of us, black and white, that racism is low on the list of problems confronting black citizens, and, as Frederick Douglass counseled, the way to help blacks is to encourage them to help themselves.

DeSantis must tell Republicans they should forget about defending themselves against charges of “racism” (it cannot be done). Instead Republicans need to explain that the central problem facing the nation is not racism, but the trumped-up charges of racism that hound us from morning to night. The goal of conservatives should be, as David Azerrad has pointed out, “not to solve the race problem but to prevent the race problem from crushing the country.”

DeSantis needs to explain that the doctrinaire egalitarianism of wokesism denies the natural differences in abilities among people and so is evil. DeSantis should say just that: “evil.” Although the elite will cringe, as it did when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “evil,” most Americans will find it both bracing and reassuring.

In addition to telling lies, the woke revolutionaries must, as most everyone knows by now, censor anyone who challenges the lies. In a totalitarian regime there can be no space for dissent. This requires, among many other things, erasing from memory totalitarian regimes and their evil. DeSantis gets it. To his great credit, he signed a bill last year that requires the teaching of “communism and totalitarianism.”

Republicans recognize the Big Lie, censorship, and the corruption of education, but like many pieces of the woke regime, these are not usually seen as part of the larger woke strategy. We see the pieces but not always the picture. That’s DeSantis’s role: to put the pieces together.

DeSantis should make us understand all the woke regime’s actions through this totalitarian lens. Take, for example, Biden’s decision to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. The woke revolutionaries tell us this has to do with climate change, but it is difficult to see how destroying American energy independence can be other than part of an attempt to destroy America. Whether done with conscious intent or simply allowed to happen, the result is the same.

Or take open borders. We usher in millions of illegal immigrants, distribute them around the country, encourage them not to assimilate, and sometimes even allow them to vote. This too is an attempt to destroy our country with the additional benefit for the woke revolutionaries of swelling Democratic voting rolls. Another example is the breaking of the country into identity groups (tribes), each competing for the highest ranking in the victimhood sweepstakes. This will almost certainly lead to tribal warfare. When has it not?

Yes, Republican politicians usually object to such policies. But they don’t generally identify and denounce them as parts of the woke strategy for destroying our country. Unless they do, we will lose our country without even a fight.

A Time for Statesmanship

DeSantis should help us follow the logic of wokeism. For example, if we know group quotas for innocent victims is the goal of the woke regime, then we know that the woke revolutionaries need to bring the black prison population (currently about 33 percent of the total prison population) more in line with blacks’ percentage of the overall population (13 percent). That is the purpose of defunding the police and failing to prosecute certain crimes and other criminal justice “reforms.” For the most part, people with common sense—in particular black Americans who must endure the consequences in their own neighborhoods—see these things simply as very stupid ideas. But DeSantis should keep reminding us that wokeism is not a jumble of stupid ideas but a coherent set of stupid ideas in the service of the group quota regime, one that is completely at odds with the merit regime.

And DeSantis should help us anticipate the woke revolutionaries’ next steps. In the case of prison population, the next step might be disparate sentencing, where blacks get lighter sentences than whites for the same offense, or perhaps the elimination of prison altogether. As loopy as these ideas sound, they are logical extensions of woke theory. Moreover, each has been talked about by leading woke revolutionary intellectuals like Ibram X. Kendi. Sometimes all we have to do is listen.

Very importantly, DeSantis must keep reminding us that war requires different strategies than peace time. War is not a time for trying to persuade the independents, reach across the aisle, or even reach out to the Republican accommodationists. DeSantis knows the best way to get these groups on board is not to woo them but to win the war. He knows as well that any concessions made to the woke revolutionaries will be pocketed, not reciprocated—something even Trump may have failed to fully appreciate.

War also requires different personnel. Trump, an almost unthinkable option at any other time in American history, was the right man for these times, and may still be the right man. Trump was a great war time president. DeSantis must help us understand that Trump’s flaws were not—perhaps are still not—disqualifying.

The easy way out for Republicans, and the temptation for DeSantis, will be to say Trump’s policies were good, but not the rest of him. I think this assessment of Trump is wrong. As I have written elsewhere, Trump advanced many important policies, but the “rest of him” is where one finds the virtues that have inspired a movement. His willingness to fight, his abundant courage, strength, independence, optimism, confidence in America, and absence of white guilt are examples of virtues that made him both effective and dear to patriotic Americans. DeSantis should resist his advisors who tell him he should not speak well of Trump. Now is the time for statesmanship.

And when the Republican establishment dismisses the Trump movement as “populist,” DeSantis should demur and explain to that establishment that when the elite undermines the American way of life, and the voices of ordinary people cannot be heard, populism is not only healthy but vital. Trump’s populist base has just what the Republican Party lacks: purpose, the passion that can match the ideological zeal of the woke revolutionaries, optimism, and confidence in itself and the country. And the base doesn’t have what the party has altogether too much of: white guilt. Trump’s base is a fighting force we cannot afford to lose.

In his election night victory speech DeSantis imagined that he, like Churchill, was a great leader fighting the forces of evil. If DeSantis is to actually follow Churchill (and Lincoln), he must be magnanimous, as they were. Voters will rally to magnanimity coupled with courage and resolution.

DeSantis’s immediate goal is to make America vs. the woke regime (merit vs. group quotas) the central theme of American political discourse. Perhaps that begins with a speech. Like Churchill and Lincoln, DeSantis should appeal to our patriotism in order to stir our resolve. We are still a patriotic people. Where patriotism has waned, I suspect its embers would burst into flames. DeSantis must remind us we are part of a noble and honorable tradition. He must call attention to the great successes of our past. In doing so he reminds us that we are still capable of greatness. As in times before, the future of freedom everywhere rests on our shoulders, a fateful burden we carry as the “almost” chosen people. DeSantis must give us hope but not let us forget the possibility of darkness. As a peroration, he cannot improve on Lincoln who faced a crisis not so dissimilar to the one we face today:

LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.

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This article was published by The American Mind and is reproduced with permission.