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Ed Driscoll

‘Microclimates of Totalitarianism’

April 27th, 2014 - 11:41 am

By the 1960s, other than behind the Iron Curtain and their unofficial American outpost at the Frankfurt School, the whole world was California Dreamin’, to coin a phrase. “Young people in the U.S.—in the form of the Psychedelic or Flower Generation—were helping themselves to wild times that were the envy of children all over the world,” Tom Wolfe wrote in his 1976 essay, “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide To America,” reprinted in his Purple Decades anthology:

In short, freedom was in the air like a flock of birds. Just how fascist could it be? This problem led to perhaps the greatest Adjectival Catch Up of all times: Herbert Marcuse’s doctrine of “repressive tolerance.” Other countries had real repression? Well, we had the obverse, repressive tolerance. This was an insidious system through which the government granted meaningless personal freedoms in order to narcotize the pain of class repression, which only socialism could cure. Beautiful! Well-nigh flawless!

So how’s that “repressive tolerance” working out today? Well, it’s making everyone in America as miserable as Marcuse and the gang were, which might actually put the tiniest smiles on their faces, as they trundle along in their charcoal gray flannel suits down in Socialist Hell. Which brings us, at last, to Theodore Dalrymple’s column this weekend:

One of the reasons our society appears less tolerant than it ought to be, and why so many people are now afraid to speak their mind in so many situations, is that a spirit of puritanism of opinion is abroad. This puritanism is not puritanical in the old sense. On the contrary, it is inclined to attach itself to libertinism. But it wants to send to Coventry all those who think that the removal of restraints on conduct is not necessarily a good thing. It brands them as ipso facto bigots (as, of course, some but not all of them will be), and is prepared to punish them, so far as is possible, for holding the wrong opinions.

Thus are created what one might call microclimates of totalitarianism in which people live in fear: fear of losing their jobs, fear of social ostracism for having said or even thought the wrong thing.

This is a problem that is neither of the government’s making nor susceptible to solution by government. (Indeed, government action can only exacerbate it.) The problem lies in the human heart—in its lust for power and thirst for domination, in its pride in its own goodness.

Tolerance is a habit of the heart that is acquired by self-restraint and not merely through a set of political arrangements. If we are not tolerant of those with whom we disagree, we are not tolerant. After all, it takes no great tolerance to tolerate those who agree with us. Insofar as our societies remain tolerant, it is not because the people who compose it are tolerant. It is because they are not politically powerful enough to impose their views on everyone else.

The new puritans, viewing themselves as tolerant, would be prepared to repress the intolerant—by definition, those with whom they disagree. Thus does repressive tolerance come to have a real meaning in our time. As Herbert Marcuse’s favorite philosopher, Hegel, said: The owl of Minerva takes wing at dusk.

And thanks in large part to the Marcuse and the rest of the Frankfurt School, wintry nighttime is descending rapidly, where there had once been carefree California sun:

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“Young people in the U.S.—in the form of the Psychedelic or Flower Generation—were helping themselves to wild times that were the envy of children all over the world,”

Yes, and look where it got them - bitter, aged, cynical, arrogant, foul-mouthed, lying, manipulative elitists, so sure in the purity of the decrepit 1960s ideals that they must force them onto all of us. Because they're always right.

Little children with machine guns.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
"where even liberal Google employees aren't safe from having their buses attacked by those even further to the left who want what they have"

Chickens coming home to roast. May they all live in interesting times.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
The despoiling attitude of those who bring their dysfunctions with them into areas where society is prospering dates at least as far back in the U.S. as the 19th Century utopians who attempted to change the culture of the major East Coast cities built on trade and mercantilism (the ideas were around before then, but the vast expanse of undeveloped America meant the phrase "If you don't like it here, move" was easy to implement).

If you put people into an area who are perpetually miserable unless they're able to tell everyone else what to do and can employ the politics of envy to get their way, sooner or later you end up with current day California, where even liberal Google employees aren't safe from having their buses attacked by those even further to the left who want what they have, but without putting out the physical or intellectual effort.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (25)
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I note a sort of contradiction, going only by the author's presentation.

Both the 60's people whom the author sort of lauds and the repressive Leftists got rid of all legal - and to a large extent social - moral constraints., as the author points out. Of course, once the Leftists won that battle, they came up with new moral constraints, completely different and sometimes antithetical to the old ones.

30's Hollywood was under censorship, thank Heaven, although they occasionally seemed to push libertinism on the sly.

And I sincerely doubt any of the Founders would have approved of many things that today aren't even up for discussion.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Leave it to the leftists to create an orwellian term like repressive tolerance. It is also ironic that the left constantly takes shots at the reiligious right for their supposed dour puritan like intolerance, when now it is the left that is actually the most intolerant when it comes to speech they dont like. But like the left always does it is cloaked in deceptive orwellian language, masquerading as a desire for tolerance and diversity.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is all too reminiscent of China's "Cultural Revolution" - in which hundreds of millions suffered. They too had rituals where people had to confess their political bad thoughts, or be cast out. A Brandon Eich there would have been shot, unless he recanted all wrong thoughts and underwent a long period of penance.

Today, in the US, we have thought police relentlessly searching for thought crime. One day, the Nevada rancher turns out to be a racist (at least, in the edited comments of the New York Times). Today, it's a sports team owner. Tomorrow, who knows. The purpose of the thought police isn't to eradicate bad thoughts - it's to constantly make examples of those who oppose their new masters - just like in the Cultural Revolution, the actual purpose of which was to keep Mao in power.

If it isn't racism, then it's some form of sexism. The feminist movement has so constricted modern speech and thought that men fear to enroll in college (as shown by enrollment and completion rates). Innocent comments are now "micro-aggression." And heaven (oops, we can't mention that) help fraternities! If they didn't exist, the feminists would have to invent them! Again, all in service of enhancing the power of the thought police.

And so it goes. Marriage "equality" - a mathematical oxymoron.

You can't debate rational policy regarding the environment without being labeled a "denier." Professors and other calls for you to be imprisoned for these views. Fora (such as Redditt) are closed to your views.

And on it goes... who knows what the throught police will discover in their quest for reasons to oppress?
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Left unsaid in this post is that the Frankfurt people, just like the Hollywood moguls, were Central European Jews.
The reason this is interesting is: why did 2 groups of people with similar background react so differently to the Californian environment?
The most likely answer is that both the movie moguls and the Frankfurt people were self selected groups. The former chose to move to California, the latter had to do so.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Weren't the Hollywood people Eastern Europeans, not Central Europeans? Huge difference.

But just like in the case of Allan Bloom versus the Multiculturalists (*), you had two sets of Jews fighting each other, both pushing some sort of vision growing out of the Christian or post-Christian world - bit none of these visions were Jewish(**), although the anti-Semites continue to claim this.

(*) This from a Commentary article I can no longer find.
(**) A friend pointed out to me that if you went by the movies of golden-age Hollywood to determine their ethnic groups, you would have assumed they were Catholic, based on the heroes.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
America has two mothers: The Plymouth Colony and New Amsterdam. The former gave birth to the Patrician outlook, Academia and Media. The latter to American freedom and the Bill of Rights (originally from the United Provinces). An American put back in time to New Amsterdam would feel materially deprived, and perhaps bombarded by odors. If put back in time to the Plymouth Colony, they would be scared witless because of correctness.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
“repressive tolerance” reminds me of the Brazilian guy I knew who said he thought Brazil was more free than the US because he could legally drink a beer on a public street in Brazil.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
He might have a point!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I hate to be boring, but utopianists are an American phenomenon. We had the space to actually try various types of communes. Brook Farm, where Louisa May Alcott was raised for a while is one such place. Americans would write about their experience, and then send the letters to Europe for their theorists to chew over.

Occasionally, they'd send a theorist to try and build a commune. I mean, we had all sorts of "ideal" societies already in place- Boston, Massachusetts, with it's "city on a hill" founding, the Amana pietists, the Quakers and Philadelphia.

The non- religious ones just failed all over the place. Louisa May Alcott's father is an example of failure. It's why she had to write to eat.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Illinois in Lincoln's time also had all sorts of communes, many religions, some secular. These (both) were the sort who became Abolitionists. It also got us Oberlin College.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
From what I could tell, her father was crazy. He kept leaving relatively comfortable environments for worse ones. When he hit North Dakota (and the big blizzard) he couldn't find any place worse...
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
The brand of malice that is born from the combination of fear and envy is one of the nastiest in the human toolbox.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
"If I could go back in a time machine, I would go back to kick these malcontents in their shins.”

Can I say it again? I miss Andrew!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I find "interesting" that Google, Apple, etc. have not "muscled their way through" the various City Councils in the cities of Silicon Valley to get building height restrictions lifted so high rise condos & apartments can be built close to their campuses thus "reducing their carbon footprint" & eliminating the need for buses to go all the way to SF & Oakland to pick up employees...jus sayin'.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
They probably don't want buildings blocking their own views....
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
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