Scotland’s burgeoning totalitarian democracy
It is rare, said Hume in his essay on press freedom, that we suddenly lose our freedom. A kind of nibbling process gets us used to our loss, so that soon we don’t remember what we lost. I was recently reminded of this process in a surprising place, namely in a French book on the evils of reinforced concrete called Béton by Anselm Jappe, a German professor of philosophy teaching in France.
He mentions that in 1962 some radical philosophers suggested that one day chasing and hanging the architects might be a good thing. (The author also mentions that Disraeli hinted at the same thing in his novel Tancred, even before the architects really started their crusade to make the world too ugly and to make it uniformly terrible.) Professor Jappe adds succinctly: “Today one could don’t say that – it would be an excuse for violence! ‘
Literality is thus the enemy of freedom of expression and also represents a worrying loss of intellectual sophistication. But in any case, the attachment to freedom of expression as an ideal seems to have lost much of its importance in the western world, since it is a desideratum by virtue has been replaced, moreover, by virtue of a peculiar but easily attainable kind, not that of doing well, but thinking and expressing the right thoughts. The proven correct thoughts that can change in an instant are those that coincide with the moral excitement of the moment.
The loss of freedom of expression as a political asset is evident in the official documents accompanying the Scottish Government’s proposed bill on hate crimes and public disturbance. “There is no place for hatred in Scotland,” claims one of those documents, as if not just controlling illegal emotional behavior, but controlling emotions themselves was a government’s business. Perhaps one day the Scottish government will not propose a two-minute hate like it did in 1984, but a two-minute love when citizens have to collectively and publicly express their love for someone or something that was previously despised.
Come back, Queen Elizabeth I, who famously said: “I have no desire to make windows into the souls of men”! What a regression in understanding we are now suffering!
Legislative Minister Houmza Yousef said he would consider banning behavior that expresses antipathy, aversion, ridicule or insult – but only of certain protected groups, of course. The rich, for example, would not be a protected group, although hatred of the rich has likely caused more mass murders than virtually any other hatred in the 20th century. There is even an economic interpretation of the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994: and there is certainly documentary evidence that the killers often enjoyed, even if they did not, the appropriation of the economic fortunes of their comparatively wealthy neighbors were forced to kill in the beginning by the conscious desire for prey.
Antipathy, aversion, ridicule and insult are, of course, normal phenomena of human expression and, moreover, are often justified. Without them, expressions of more favorable attitudes would probably not be possible either, for without the possibility of expressing their opposites they would mean nothing. Even when considering banning such normal human reactions, an alarmingly totalitarian mindset reveals itself, all the more when combined with the Scottish Government’s desire that people should report so-called hate crimes to the police. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia seem to be their role models.
It may be wrong or lazy to call what is happening in Scotland incipient fascism. Not everything is a repetition of the past, and the new or the current is sometimes sui generis. However, the category of totalitarianism is broad enough to capture the new Scottish reality.
In publicizing his proposals, the Scottish Minister said: “The fight against hate crime is central to building a safer, stronger and more inclusive Scotland that we all want to see – free from hate, prejudice, discrimination and bigotry.” Apart from my aversion to people who already want to “rebuild” old nations, it is striking in Mr. Yousef’s list of desiderata that no freedom is mentioned, with the exception of the implicit freedom of the state to repress or punish opinions it is not approved or allowed, even in the privacy of the home. It would not be an exaggeration to say that what Scotland “builds” is a totalitarian building. It is all the more depressing that this is happening with the support and approval of a large part of the population: an example of totalitarian democracy at work.
To prove this, one can cite the list of “Impact Assessments” previously prepared by the Scottish Government from its bill, namely the impact on:
Children’s rights and wellbeing
Local government and sustainable development
There is not a single word about the most obvious and important possible impact, at least when a free society is desired, namely that on freedom of expression.
As if all of this was not enough, there is an unmistakable tendency in modern societies to allow the offended person to be the sole judge of the existence of the crime of which they are alleged or even witnessed. Reason or objective evidence does not come into play. What matters is how people feel. You will be bullied if you say you feel bullied. You are offended when you say that you are offended. You will not be respected if you say that you don’t feel respected. You will be discriminated against if you say that you feel discriminated against. and so on.
Trying to eliminate antipathy, aversion, ridicule, and insult to the human heart and mind is a task that makes Sisyphus seem like an afternoon stroll: exactly the kind of task that authoritarian governments love, for it gives them the opportunity to themselves to interfere ever more closely with the lives of their subjects. Hate is hydra-headed, the job never gets done, it grows with its elimination, or rather as the government tries to eradicate it. Failure is the greatest achievement because it always requires more of it, which is control over society.
It may be wrong or lazy to call what is happening in Scotland incipient fascism. Not everything is a repetition of the past, and the new or the current is sometimes sui generis. The category of totalitarianism, however, is broad enough to capture the new Scottish reality – which, incidentally, is only marginally worse than in other countries that have also lost their taste for freedom and whose culture is now moving towards tyranny.