Civics: New Totalitarianism


So I’m teaching a course on totalitarianism, right? And I kept thinking how outdated it all is. It’s still important to learn because it’s history but the material feels more antiquated and irrelevant than anything discussed in the course on Cervantes.

The repressive state apparatus that polices people into compliance is no longer needed. At the behest and with the aid of corporate giants people police each other into the kind of ideological compliance that traditional totalitarian regimes could only dream of.

In a recent article, a student at Yale unwittingly mimicks the speech patterns and ideas of her peers in the Stalinist USSR. The difference, though, is that she isn’t living in a police state that is conducting a genocide. She isn’t trying to survive in the midst of Stalinist purges. She isn’t coerced into this stance by the fear of being dragged off to a concentration camp in the middle of the night.

The vigilance that this student proposes to exercise isn’t based on the waning power of the neutered state. The surveillance apparatus she wants to use is corporate. And the ultimate goal is to ensure that corporate interests are never opposed.

The wall-to-wall propaganda that characterizes this new totalitarianism isn’t state-sponsored either. It’s disseminated solely through corporate channels. Traditional politicians are squeezed out by TV and social media stars who represent this new form of power. The complete dependence of their popularity on Twitter and Instagram means they will do absolutely anything to avoid being deplatformed. It’s no longer about courting rich donors to donate to your campaign. Now it’s all about being a funny enough clown that attracts hits and likes to enrich the owners of these platforms.

Additional commentary.