Re: [xmca] Totalitarianism as a Totalizing Construct

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Thu Apr 12 2007 - 20:35:18 PDT

Davids and Mike, timid lurkers:
  There is a serious problem with the word "totalitarianism".. I found the following quick quote in Wikipedia:
    The original meaning of the word [totaltianism] as described by Mussolini and Gentile (G. Gentile & B. Mussolini in "La dottrina del fascismo" 1932) was a society in which the main ideology of the state had influence, if not power, over most of its citizens.
  Admittedly, "most" is a very inaccurate word. Many would assume it is 50%+1 or more(legacy of Rousseau?) but in fact, most highway patrol officers will attest that when 30% of the "citizens" don't follow a law, it can't be enforced. Grounds: speed limits.
  And, if we delve further, or even think about it a little, we will find that the term has been employed as David K. has so correctly directed us to see, is a product of capitalist ideology. After all, Mussolini and Hitler had no problems with capitalist economy, in fact their main supporters were capitalist and their main opponents (including FDR) came from the other camp, with all its varied flags.
  I think it is much more useful to talk of "hegemony" in its original formulation: Antonio Gramsci. A great thinker who Mussolini imprisoned quickly.
  Last night I spent a "smashing" time with a friend who told me he hates all Americans. He himself has no nationality, his father was a Serbian landlord who stuggled against the Nazis during WWII and then had to flee the Red Army because he was a "People's Enemy" being basically a neo-feudal latifundista. He went from Italy (where my friend was born) to Peru, where the great landlord ended up as a miner in the cold barren and poisoned Andean highlands.
   When Yugoslavia disappeared beneath Clinton's bombs, my friend became a stranded Tom Hanks, change airport for Peru, but the same deal: he can't leave, his passport means nothing.
  We spent many beers last night during which I tried to convince him it isn't "Americans" he should be hating (also that hate damages him more than its object) but, it is the fact that capitalism grew freely, unrestrained by previous feudal or Asiatic elites, in the current USA political entity, and that one does need to distinguish the people from the government (another term that should be examined critically), As I argued (for example pointing out that his sister, a native Peruvian, can't stand Peru now and is much happier in Long Beach CA, a destiny she defends by simply ignoring what the U.S. government has done since Hamilton and the Monroe Doctrine. His sister simply turns a deaf ear when her brother points out that the US freely bombed Yugoslavia, land of their papa, defending their actions beneath the pretext that they were fighting whom>?? Oh yeah, those guys the US govt paid to fight the Russians in Afghanistan and who (by some accounts) later turned around
 and bit the master's hand. This is a much more complex situation than what Orwell and Arendt were critiquing when they developed the notion of "totalitarianism".
    (No jaybirds sing in these forests, and any crow like sound should simply be controlled)
  But the bottom line is this: "totalitarian" is an anachronistic term. The recent thread on using security/credit searches for anyone who receives federal money should reveal that Orwell's jacboot and truncheon are no longer the force that blinds and subjects people to interests that control the society. A much more serious term is "hegemony". Read Gramsci, but read Dante and Croce first.
  Paul Dillon

David Preiss <> wrote:
  David Kellogg,

It seems to me that by your note you are implying I am making a contrast
between good and evil. I don't doubt the russians' abilities to perform
gigantic instrumental advances in science as their counterpart westerners did
(however the collapse of their whole political endeavours). What I am just
saying is that I certainly doubt Vygotsy built his career against those

I haven't made any claim also about the nature of the USSR science. I also
share your questioning of western ethnocentricism, which by chance I have been
able to revisit here in many talks in AERA, supposedly global, but performed
by only american or americanized academics.

What I don't have any doubt, though, is that life under Stalin was anything
but good (as it is living under the war on terror). If you think the USSR was
a nice place to think about human nature, well, that's your take on this
issue. We think different and so be it.

David Preiss

Mike Cole escribió:
> For an interesting book on Science in the USSR that covers the Stalinist
> period, I highly recommend Loren Graham's work. It ranges very widely
> across the sciences including physics, biology, and even psychology.
> Fascinating discussion of the polysemy of totalitarianism.
> mike
> On 4/11/07, David Kellogg wrote:
>> Dear David (Preiss):
>> Thanks for your note from busy AERA. Hope you are staying out of the
>> Chicago wind!
>> I went to school in "anti-totalitarian" Chicago when it was a training
>> ground for "los chicago boys", the men who served as quartermasters for
>> General Pinochet. So I guess I don't find the word "totalitarian"
>> particularly helpful, except possibly as a description of how the private
>> sector has laid its clammy hand on every aspect of public life under
>> capitalism or the way in which North Americans assume that their America is
>> America and the way that Westerners assume that their world is the whole
>> world.
>> As a young adult I lived through the "anti-spiritual pollution campaign"
>> and the "campaign against bourgeois liberalization" and of course the
>> movement which is incorrectly described by the totalitarian media in the
>> West as the "Tiananmen Square Democracy movement" (because that is what
>> Western TV screens showed). My wife grew up during the Cultural Revolution
>> (and was a militant participant at age seven). It was not a different world;
>> it was the same one, and people made decisions (including life and death
>> decisions) in much the same way as you do.
>> I also think that the USSR, even under Stalin, can hardly be considered
>> a second or third rate science power (they led the world in space, for
>> example, and were a very close second in atomic energy). When my father
>> visited the USSR in the early sixties, he was astonished to discover that
>> the Russian physicists had read all of his work, and highly embarrassed to
>> admit that he had read none of theirs, even though theirs was available in
>> English and his was not available in Russian. This shouldn't have been so
>> astonishing, given the totalitarian nature of Western intellectual life.
>> David (Kellogg)
>> ---------------------------------
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David D. Preiss Ph.D.
Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Escuela de Psicología.
Av. Vicuña Mackenna 4860.
Macul, Santiago de Chile.
Teléfono: (56-2) 354-4605
Fax: (56-2) 354-4844.
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Received on Thu Apr 12 21:37 PDT 2007

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