The end of the road to serfdom

Hayek, in “The Road to Serfdom” predicted the welfare regulatory state must inevitably become the totalitarian terror state.

Observe:  We have arrived. America is now a totalitarian terror state.

In 1992 I visited Cuba.  Thereafter, I argued it was a totalitarian state, because when I asked certain questions some people fled, fearing that merely hearing the question would result in them being punished for the thoughts it might elicit, and others answered furtively.

Yesterday, I asked someone very close to me a question apt to have a politically incorrect answer (I cannot identify him further, for he swore me to secrecy)

He looked around furtively.  We were on top of a hill overlooking the Coral Sea in a semi rural area, the other side of the world from his workplace.  He lowered his voice.  He then proceeded to utter a series of politically correct platitudes, with gestures and grimaces reversing their meaning, his grimaces implying the opposite of the ostensible meaning, the same sort of communication coded against possible eavesdroppers and hidden microphones that I encountered in Cuba, where they would swear loyalty to communism, while making a gesture of their throats being cut.

Like Havel’s green grocer, the truth would destroy his career.

This is the behavior that in 1992 I saw in Cuba and thereafter used as evidence that Cuba was a totalitarian state, a state of omnipresent fear.

So if Cuba was totalitarian in 1992, America is totalitarian in 2010.   We have arrived at the end of Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”.

In America, unlike Soviet Russia, we don’t send dissidents to Alaska, and although lots of American psychiatrists are eager to diagnose political deviation as mental illness and treat it with electroshock and lobotomy as they do in Cuba, government has as yet declined to employ them in this capacity.  But what government does do is ensure that political deviation blights your career.  If a company knowingly employs political deviants, it is apt to be sued by quasi governmental organization for a “hostile work environment”, in which lawsuit, no evidence will be presented of anyone saying unkind things to those for which the work environment was supposedly hostile, but evidence will be presented that employees had subversive thoughts – often evidence that they expressed subversive thoughts far from their workplace, as perhaps on a hill overlooking the Coral sea the other side of the world from his workplace – so the company will be punished, for failure to punish subversive thoughts.

Hayek, in “The Road to Serfdom”, argued that regulatory welfare state must inevitably become totalitarian.  Lo and behold, totalitarianism has arrived.  Most people, everyone with some position in society, everyone with something that could be taken away from them, are very, very frightened.

And what is totalitarianism?  Hayek’s totalitarianism seems to be pretty much Havel’s totalitarianism, and here is Havel on totalitarianism:

The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!”

Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

I think I can safely assume that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and the carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be.

If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.

Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone.

The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.”

This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?

Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,’ he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth.

The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?”

Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the façade of something high. And that something is ideology.

As Bruce Charlton points out:

If you go into an institutional environment – a government office, a school or college, a hospital or doctor’s surgery, a museum, public transportation – and you observe posters adorning the walls on politically-correct topics such as diversity, fair trade, global warming, approved victim groups, third world aid – remember Havel’s essay, and that the correct translation of such posters is as follows:

“I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient”

Such posters are a coded admission of submission to ideology – except in the rare instance where they advertise genuine corruption by ideology.

The frequency of such posters nowadays, compared with a generation ago, is a quantitative measure of the progress of totalitarian government.

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15 Responses to “The end of the road to serfdom”

  1. Absolutely brilliant.

    It’s hard for me to imagine that things were not always thus. I’m 26. I grew up fighting the cultural war from grade school through college campus, and ultimately learned that the pressure they could bring to bear was greater than I was able to endure. I left the country.

    How can we distinguish between the cost of holding a contrary opinion in any age, and today’s totalitarian terror state?

    I have some ideas… PC administrative pressure from institutions, Cathedral press shaming, conscienceless zealots sending death threats, riotous aggressive protesters, your own family and social network turning against you, and unemployability as you alluded to.

    I guess I find it hard to imagine a time when such pressures didn’t exist. Not that I regard this as proof of anything.

    • jim says:

      I am somewhat older. To me, this sort of thing is startling and extraordinary – a change so dramatic and swift as to be almost unthinkable.

      • I will take your word on it then.

        To be clear, though… is it just that your positions have become taboo, or that what is widely held to be true is now taboo? Have the enforcement mechanisms really increased?

        For example, could not adultery and racial equalitarianism and communism have met with similar discouragement in other eras?

        If I understand you correctly, it is both. What people widely believe in secret is now taboo to speak, and taboo enforcement has become more fierce, systematic and pervasive. Consequently, hypocritical submission to taboo has infected the soul of the common man, corrupting the nation. This is the sign of the totalitarian terror state.

        So the disbelief of the common man is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

        • jim says:

          “For example, could not adultery and racial equalitarianism and communism have met with similar discouragement in other eras?”

          How far back to you want to go? The intellectuals and academia were substantially communist even before Marxism. We saw political correctness about race in becoming dominant in 1890, affirmative action for women in 1910, and if was not yet dangerous to notice that these women were being elevated beyond their ability on the basis of gender, it was unfashionable and indelicate to notice. The change in my lifetime is not the dominance of these positions, which have long been dominant in the state, the civil service, (the state department has always been full of commies) and academia, but that doubting them has become markedly more dangerous. Adultery, divorce, and incest have been the height of fashion in the trendy set since Lord Byron, but for a long time, the old fuddy duddies insisted that marriage could not be casually and unilaterally dissolved on a whim. Eventually easy and unilateral divorce was imposed from above on a reluctant majority in the same fashion as homosexual marriage is now being imposed.

          • This sort of evolution of social mores would make for fascinating reading if you decided to do a full post on it.

            I think you are right that this signals the turning point.

            The question becomes, what’s next?

            Perhaps we can look to Europe for our answer: whites waking up to the failure of a multicultural society, cynicism undermining feminism’s gains.

            But this is only part of the picture… what happens to the state with the coming economic crash? Is more socialism or less on the horizon?

            • jim says:

              “what happens to the state with the coming economic crash? Is more socialism or less on the horizon”

              Collapse is inherently unpredictable. Since 1992 or so, I have been predicting collapse in 2025 or so, but do not promise that collapse will be an improvement.

              Hanson observes that the third world majority in California vote and collect welfare, but do not obey regulations. I would hope that the collapse results in the first world minority ceasing to pay taxes or obey regulations, and causes voting to become largely irrelevant, but worse outcomes are possible. By and large, affirmative action tends to overreach, and this overeach leads to civil war or genocide, as in Rwanda and Sri Lanka. In Rwanda, civil war corrected genocide and affirmative action, resulting in a restoration of the pre-colonial status quo (Tutsi rule), a good outcome accomplished at intolerably great cost.

              The culture of the rulers becomes ever more extreme, and ever more isolated from the culture of the ruled. I would like to predict that this will inexorably lead to them losing power, but in practice such isolation is seldom in itself cause of loss of power. What is however likely to lose them power is that their culture is self hating, defeatist, and contemptuous of reality and empiricism.

              However, that the unworthy elite is likely to lose power does not necessarily imply that the worthy will gain it.

          • Hum. Very interesting. Thanks for the intelligent answer.

    • Wanker says:

      You should watch the first season of ‘Mad Men’. It will give you some flavor of what things were like before the Big Change.

      And travel outside the Anglosphere. The way things are in America is not necissarily so.

      • Thx, I’ve seen Mad Men, it was interesting.

        I went to China. Not perhaps the most inspiring transition possible, in terms of departure from totalitarianism.

        The reaction here to questioning the taboo is different… either indifference or genuine hurt anger.

        If the US is a soft totalitarian terror state, China is a hard totalitarian propaganda state. The difference: the American commoner’s social hypocrisy is cowardice, the Chinese commoner’s ideological hypocrisy is brainwashing.

        I find non-equalitarian brainwashed national socialists better company than equalist hypocritical cowards. It is easier to avoid the topic of national greatness than it is to avoid the entire fabric of social analysis.

  2. brutalfuckingmurder says:

    Actually in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc they were no longer sending people to Siberia, etc., so much by the 1960’s and certainly not by the 1980’s. You just lost your job, were ostracized, etc.; in other words, pretty much the same thing that happens in the US, maybe done a bit more formally, and maybe with some actual jailtime for the worst offenders (already the case in Western Europe). So aside from the prosperity of the West, there is little difference when it comes to civil rights.

    • Ah… now THAT puts things in perspective for me.

      My life abroad has expanded into me saying things that I could/would never have said in America. I suspected I was already past the point of no return. After reading that, I have no desire to return.

      Even my loved ones there… are infected by a slave mentality of fear… that they will try to place on me in the name of morality.

      It’s a perversion. I don’t want to see it.

      At the same time, perhaps Homer McDonald’s excellent “How to Stop your Divorce” has something to say he. He says, “You only want. You don’t need.” Letting go of my need for friends and family to be other than frightened slaves might be the answer.

    • jim says:

      Mostly true – but while you were unlikely to go to Siberia, it was still possible. What was more apt to happen was that you would be diagnosed as mentally ill.

      So while Russia in the 1980s was pretty similar to the US today, in that the main force of repression was ostracism and loss of job, but in Russia you could also quite possibly get your brains reamed out, which so far is not happening here, even though the shrinks here eagerly propose it from time to time.

  3. Bill says:

    I’ve been trying out this meme lately as well but not finding many buyers. The other interesting aspect to the totalitarianism is the required adulation. For employees, it is pretty much OK to just shut up, but for managers it is necessary loudly to sing the praises of diversity and loudly to condemn whites, their societies, and any emergent sense of pride among them.

    • jim says:

      You mean, people tell you that “of course we are not totalitarian”?

      Telling people we are totalitarian, is like telling people in a communist country that they are severely unequal.

      Another symptom of totalitarianism is the way history gets rewritten from time to time,manifesting the fact that academia is not one thousand voices, but, like Winston Smith’s Ministry of Truth, a thousand megaphones connected to one microphone

      • Bill says:

        Yes, they tell me that. When I point to James Watson, they endorse what was done to him and act mystified that I think this is relevant to the question of totalitarianism. I have not decided yet whether I think they are lying — nobody does the throat-slitting thing around me. Maybe I’m not trustworthy enough. I do have a big mouth.

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