Monday, June 17, 2024

Liberal Politics and Totalitarianism


Liberal Politics and Totalitarianism

Peter Schultz


                  Tim Weiner in his book Enemies on J. Edgar Hoover asserted that “Hoover conflated communism with … homosexuality.” Which led me to wonder: Why or how would anyone conflate a kind of politics with a kind of sexuality? What was going on in the mind of Hoover that led him to conflate communism with homosexuality? What did Hoover perceive to be the connection? It just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.


                  But then I wondered: Apparently, Hoover perceived both communism and homosexuality as deviant forms of human behavior because Hoover thought there was a natural order by which humans should live, both politically and sexually. And communism and homosexuality violated that order and, hence, both were deviant and should be stamped out.


                  But did Hoover appreciate the implications of his views? That is, because he was focused on communism and homosexuality, he failed to see that, by his views, the challenge, the human problem was not communism or homosexuality but was deviance. That is, it is deviance that needs to be stamped out and once stamping out deviance is the political project, the consequences, the political consequences are immense. In his ignorance of what he was actually about, Hoover didn’t realize that his project, both political and sexual, was as totalitarian as the projects of Stalin and Hitler because stamping out deviance requires total control. So, while it is accurate to label Hoover a racist and a homophobe, his even grander failing was his totalitarianism. He was, in principle, no different than Stalin or Hitler.


                  This points to the fact that within Hoover’s politics – and classical liberal politics as well –  is the temptation of totalitarianism. That totalitarianism might be more or less mild, or more or less harsh, but still, it is totalitarianism. Tocqueville called it “soft despotism,” while Aldous Huxley called it the “Brave New World” – and perhaps what Bush called “the New World Order” is related to such totalitarianism.


                  And I may add: While Hoover may have helped to defeat communism, to win the Cold War, as Weiner implies, he was incapable, given his most basic political principles, of defeating totalitarianism. In fact, given his most basic political principles, he facilitated totalitarianism. Once the political project is understood as stamping out deviance, the attraction of totalitarianism is almost irresistible, whether deviance be understood as communism, homosexuality, Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, crime, drugs, or poverty. And so, totalitarianism will re-appear again and again in allegedly liberal, democratic orders, disguised as a “Cold War,” a war on terror, a war on crime, on drugs, on poverty, on communism, on covid, etc. The totalitarian temptation, coeval with political life, is embedded in modern, liberal, democratic politics.



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