Editor’s note: The essay below by Daniel Greenfield won one of two runner-up $500 prizes for our essay contest launched on April 5, 2013: “Inside Every Liberal is a Totalitarian Screaming to Get Out.” The winner of the $1,000 first-place prize was N. A. Halkides (see his essay here). The other runner-up prize went to Oleg Atbashian (see his essay here).
There is a characteristic feature to tyranny. It isn’t the scowling faces of armed guards or the rusting metal of barbed wire fences. It isn’t the black cars of the secret police or the prison camps surrounded by wastelands of snow.
The defining characteristic of tyranny is the diversion of power from the people to the unelected elite. The elite can claim to be inspired by Allah or Marx; it can act in the name of racial purity or universal workers compensation or both. The details don’t matter, because in all instances, tyranny derives its justification from the superiority of the rulers and the inferiority of the people.
The left launched two revolutions. One was the hard revolution of bombs and assassinations by those who did not have the time or patience to wait for the long march through the institutions of the state. This revolution was born quickly and died quickly. It killed millions and choking on their blood it died by stages, losing its ideas and then its power, until there were only a few old men and women in shawls clinging to red velvet portraits of Stalin.
But there was also the soft revolution that was slow and subtle. It was a revolution of laws, rather than bombs. It did not concern itself with 5-year-plans but with 50-year-plans. It proceeded by increments, raising the temperature so very gradually that the free world did not realize it was cooked until it could smell its own burning flesh.
The revolutions of the east failed. They rose quickly in fire and fury and only ashes and statues remain. But the revolutions of the west have been underway for generations in countries where millions of men and women go about their business without realizing what is taking place around them.
When H.G. Wells met with Lenin in 1920, he wrote, “Our essential difference, the difference of the Collectivist and Marxist, the question whether the social revolution is, in its extremity, necessary, whether it is necessary to overthrow one social and economic system completely before the new one can begin.”
Lenin demanded a revolution that would directly attack the capitalist system, but Wells believed that, “through a vast sustained educational campaign the existing Capitalist system could be civilized into a Collectivist world system.”
That educational campaign is the soft tyranny we see all around us. The educational campaign is a nanny state in which we are forever being educated by our betters for our own good.
The nanny state has a short term purpose and a long term purpose. Its short term purpose is to educate us out of our selfish freedom of choice. Its long term purpose is to incrementally “civilize” or “evolve” a free people into collectivism through smaller measures undertaken in the name of the public good.
Instead of a single explosive burst of revolution, instead of terrorists rushing in with guns in hand, instead of bombs exploding and assassins gunning down public officials, there is the slow creep of laws that remake attitudes and accomplish the same purpose not in a day or a year… but over the decades.
Instead of one great revolution, there are a million smaller revolutions stripped of overt ideology and pretending to serve the public good.
Health care is nationalized. Gun control is implemented. Education is centralized. Environmental panic is used to enforce rationing. The successful are taught to be ashamed of their success. They are taught that they didn’t build that. The state did.
The new bureaucratic collectivism sets out to control the most minor habits of every man, woman and child. People are told to spy on their neighbors. Children are taught to report the politically incorrect habits of their parents. The media asserts that all property and even children belong to the state.
Each of these is a miniature revolution. A string of these revolutions over time transforms the soft tyranny into a hard tyranny.
The nanny state is outwardly benevolent and inwardly ruthless. Instead of a Big Brother who must be feared and worshiped, it puts forward a Big Sister who shames and controls you for your own good. But the difference never goes deeper than the mask that tyranny wears. Like the difference between Lenin and H.G. Wells, it is only a matter of the speed at which tyranny arrives.
The hard tyranny of the red revolutions and the soft tyranny of the bureaucratic collectivists both agree on the fundamental premise of tyranny.
A century before Bloomberg’s soda war, Theodore Roosevelt stood in New York City’s Carnegie Hall and delivered one of his most famous speeches, which began with the words, “The great fundamental issue now before the Republican party and before our people can be stated briefly. It is: Are the American people fit to govern themselves, to rule themselves, to control themselves?”
The answer of the liberal technocrats, the Bloombergs and Obamas, is a chorus of jeers. They make it clear with their policies that they believe that the American people are unfit to govern themselves in matters great or small.
If the American is unfit to be trusted with a soda cup or a gun or a lawn dart or any of a thousand other things taken away from him for his own good, then how can he be trusted with the ballot box?
That mistrust, more than any single abuse, reveals the scowling tyrant behind the smiling face, the Lenin in every H.G. Wells, the totalitarian face behind every liberal mask. The soft totalitarianism of the public interest technocracy is a tyranny that seeks to destroy the rule of the people and replace it with the rule of the left.
The creeping pace of the soft revolution forces the inner totalitarian to practice some discretion, mummifying his tyrannical aspirations in the embalming fluid of political correctness, but no flood of words can conceal the inner contempt behind the false benevolence of the tyrant who makes policies that deprive the people of their freedom for their own good.
“I believe the majority of the plain people of the United States will, day in and day out, make fewer mistakes in governing themselves than any smaller class or body of men, no matter what their training, will make in trying to govern them,” Theodore Roosevelt said.
The hard revolutions showed the truth of his words when the red kingdoms fell and the soft revolutions are showing us the truth of his words as the nanny cities and states falter economically and fall.
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