On the other side, we have people like me and Tom Vonk who see things extremely differently. The real difference probably boils down to the fact that Tom and I know in quite some detail how the totalitarian societies actually worked – while Mike and Gene just don't have a clue. So they're the happy frogs that are cooked in the gradually boiling water – according to a frog recipe that has been tried many times and at many places in the world's history.
The main misconception believed by Mike, Gene, and every chronic apologist for the decline of the Western civilization is the following thesis:
Democracy only starts to fail when the institution calling itself "the government" (as sketched in the constitution) comprehensibly declares the civil rights or freedoms or democracy to be abolished and starts to behave as if these principles no longer exist.I think that you may find places where Mike, Gene, and others write an equivalent sentence – whose naivity matches that of a 3-year-old kid or at most the 9-year-old Hurvínek (the boy on the photograph, born in Pilsen in the 1920s; the comparison to Hurvínek is a Czech idiom for naivity).
Well, the reality is completely different:
Every real-world totalitarian system formally keeps as many institutions, tenets, laws, and legal principles of the free and democratic society as it can. It just suppresses them in practice – it renders them totally irrelevant by circumventing them, especially through newly added organizations that become much more important than the constitutionally regulated ones.Why do the totalitarian politicians behave in this way? Even without the experience with Nazism or communism, a good brain should be enough for you to find the answer: They would be shooting themselves in the foot if they formally abolished these rules.
They would be looking less legitimate, free, or democratic in the eyes of the third parties which could threaten the survival of their regime. Why would they be doing such a thing that is harmful for them if they can totally avoid it?
And it is obvious that when the political conditions are enough to bury freedom and democracy, they can always avoid such a formal abolition of the principles of freedom and democracy. OK, so let us look at the Nazi and communist examples.
First, the Weimar Constitution. You know, the German Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was problematic for many reasons but it had its civilized Weimar Constitution. Here is the full text in English. Among other things, the constitution mentions the verb "elect" or related words 39 times.
Hitler became the universal leader in 1933. Did he abolish the constitution of the hated, inflationary, weak Weimar regime? Not at all. The constitution remained formally in place between 1933-1945, the dozen of years in which the 1,000-year empire existed. There just wasn't any reason to abolish it. One of the institutions that a democratic constitution such as the Weimar one establishes is the so-called Parliament – here called the "Reichstag" – whose members "represent the entire nation".
We are led to a nice question: Did Nazi Germany have the Parliament? You bet, Reichstag still existed in Nazi Germany. It was better than ever before because its votes were unanimous. In total, the "lawmakers" gathered 20 times and unanimously rubber stamped Adolf Hitler's actions.
Did the German public have the courage to mock these reliable allies of Adolf Hitler? You bet. The Reichstag was nicknamed the "teuerste Gesangsverein Deutschlands" (the most expensive singing club in Germany) because they were frequently singing the Nazi German anthem, with the melody stolen from my old homeland. So of course, people weren't completely stupid and they realized it was a farce – and because everyone did, it was impossible (and unjustified to try) to ban the expression of this sentiment. This farce ended in 1942 when the Reichstag gathered for the last time. But even after that moment, the institution formally existed and the constitution was formally in place.
The constitution also postulated the existence of the government. Indeed, Nazi Germany still had a government as envisioned by its democratic Weimar Constitution. All the democratic rules were formally in place. On top of that, in a parallel way, there was another "improvement" of the German society, the Führerprinzip – all the power comes hierarchically from the top, from the Führer. The citizens still had the freedom to dispute the actions of the government but some non-government organizations or the elected officials (who were obliged to be NSDAP members by 1939) could use their power to send such a citizen to a concentration camp, too. And believe me, this scenario wasn't just a possibility, it was an everyday practice.
So the Weimar democratic system co-existed with new structures that actually became much more important. The complicated mechanisms that normally lead to the elections of the lawmakers were rendered irrelevant because the Reichstag was just a totally predictable, expensive singing club. The decisions were made by Hitler or people chosen by Hitler or people chosen by people chosen by Hitler, and so on, and if decisions were made collectively, the decisive collectives were groups of NSDAP officials.
Was the government as such responsible for the violations of the civil rights in Nazi Germany? Not really. The government as the idealized underlying structure was exactly as nice, peaceful, and democratic as the constitution envisioned. On top of that, however, the members also had some other links – such as the NSDAP membership (again, mandatory since 1939) – which required that they had to be totally obedient to the Führer.
Did it violate the constitution? Not at all. Just read the constitution. There is not a single sentence that would prevent the government members from having sworn the perfect obedience to a Führer. Nazism turned out to be perfectly compatible with the Weimar Constitution. The totalitarianism was just an extra structure that was added on top of the society – and generally celebrated by the propaganda as a huge improvement. A mediocre angry man who rules everything is such a wonderful idea, all journalists were de facto obliged to write – just like the current ones are de facto obliged to write similar crazy comments about the equally angry and equally mediocre Swedish spoiled brat who skips her classes for a year.
The government with this name wasn't ever the first cause of all the inhuman decisions in Nazi Germany. Instead, some of the cruelties were done by groups such as SS, the Schutzschaffel. That was a famous paramilitary organization. Was it run by the German government – the government which is properly labeled by this word and referred to as "the government" by the Weimar Constitution?
Not at all. The SS – just like its predecessor, the SA – had nothing to do with the government. It was a non-government organization (NGO), just like George Soros' NGOs today. It was politically aligned with the NSDAP, a single party whose detailed functioning isn't really constrained by the Weimar Constitution. So the SS was just some private entity, like the Open Society Foundation or Facebook.
Now, if you want to scream at me because I "dared" to compare these nice neo-Marxist companies and NGOs to the Nazi ones, let me assure you that communists screamed at me when I compared their organizations to the Nazi ones, too – and, previously, the Nazis screamed at people who dared to compare the Nazi and communist organizations as well, for reasons that are "opposite" but in the general sense identical, too.
SA or SS is just the most famous example. Dozens of similar NGOs operated in Nazi Germany. One-half of them were downright inhuman. A predecessor of the Norwegian Barnevernet was known as the Lebensborn which encouraged Aryan girls to get pregnant and treated the infants as property of the Reich, in order to increase the birth rate. That was also an NGO founded as a branch of the SS.
All these debatable organizations were obviously "private" in the sense that they weren't among the official institutions described by the Weimar Constitution. The Weimar Constitution simply didn't describe any programs to artificially breed extra Aryan kids or run concentration camps so of course all these extra structures had to be "just some private organizations" from the constitutional viewpoint. They were still running Nazi Germany.
Gestapo, the secret police, has done a lot of terror, even in Czechia. It was founded by Herman Göring. He was the chairman of the expensive singing club and, since 1933 when he founded Gestapo, also the prime minister of Prussia. He consolidated some previously existing units in Prussia – which really followed Prussian laws, not the laws of the whole Germany – and soon afterwards, the Gestapo was intertwined with the SS, the previously discussed NGO. It didn't matter whether Gestapo was created in the spirit of the Prussian or German Constitution. What mattered is that the Führer has approved it.
Another beauty: the Volksliste. That was also an NGO, created as a department of the NSDAP. It was organizing the German-like minorities at the occupied territory and allowing them to be registered as German-like (often inventing a previously non-existent ethnic group for the census), in order to naturally claim that Germany deserves to have many of these territories. Again, there is not a word about the Volksliste in the Weimar Constitution.
And I could go on and on and on. Pretty much all the power belonged to and all the evil in Nazi Germany was done by the NGOs. The underlying Weimar Constitution still existed, still maintained the democratic institutions, and they were pretty much nicely behaved. They just became irrelevant because a completely different, "private" set of organizations has overshadowed them!
You can see, one symptom that something sick is going on is that the individual party, NSDAP, suddenly had lots of these wings and departments – paramilitary, demographic departments, social services etc. – that should "normally" be managed by the government as described in the democratic constitution. In the totalitarian countries, these roles are hijacked by someone else – typically organized within the single party in the one-party system. And this party may make the decisions directly because it gains the control over all the old institutions by the appropriate pressure. Why would it ever formally abolish the democratic institutions? They're totally harmless, innocent, and irrelevant.
Completely analogous comments apply to communism. I could go over all the Soviet communist organizations. NKVD was just the interior ministry of the Leninist and Stalinist Russia – they created it out of the Tsarist Russia's ministry by renaming it because they couldn't really invent anything new. But something has changed. What changed was where the power came from.
So enlightened people, and temporarily the elections, decided about the minister who was in charge of the ministry. Under the Soviet Union, the NKVD wasn't led by a "minister" but by a "commissar", also known as a politruk (acronym for a political leader). A commissar is almost the same thing as a minister but not quite. A minister is chosen by some sensible procedure while the commissar is appointed by the eternally ruling party, ideally by Lenin or Stalin in person.
The point is that whatever a constitution would say about the ministries is rendered totally irrelevant because the actual issues are being decided at a different place than at the "ministry as described in the constitution". The party controlled the interior directly so it could decide whether it wanted to formally keep someone called the "minister" or not. It's clearly just a detail.
Concerning commissars, by the way, I recently encountered some fanatical EU advocates who insisted that I wouldn't use the word "commissar" for the members of the European Commission – the EU's "counterpart" of a government with the ministers. But you know, they are the same thing that is called commissars. Almost all languages have a single word. In Czech, we have "komisař" for the politruks both in the Soviet and European Unions.
In English, it's being claimed that there are two different words, "commissar" and "commissary" (well, really three, the third is "commissioner"). The former is basically a Soviet one while the latter is non-Soviet official whose job may be described by the same words. The implicit suggestion of the two words is that a "commissar" is bad while a "commissary" is good. But this very concept is nothing than a proof of the totally indefensible anti-Russian racism. When two people are appointed in analogous ways – from the top, in this case, without any elections – and when they do the same work qualitatively, they need to be called the same, whether they are Russian or not.
So the members of the European Commission are "commissars" in the very same sense as the "commissars" in the Soviet Union. The point is that in both cases, they are just non-democratically appointed replacements for ministers! So whether you like it or not, I will kindly continue to speak and write in "Czech English" where the commissars and commissaries are synonymous because the British or U.S. English where the words are claimed to be different are just a racist slang of the English language that I will not embrace. This very minor linguistic detail may be both a cause and a consequence of the excessive anti-Russian hysteria in the Anglo-Saxon world. Note that the dual terminology for Russians and non-Russians extends to evil oligarchs and nice Soros-like philanthropists, too. ;-/
To return to the third word, the EU Commission members may be called "commissioners" which is "the members of the commission". Other languages don't distinguish that, either. In fact, even the difference between a "commission" and "committee" is lacking beef. For random historical or linguistic reasons, some groups of this kind are called in one way, others are called in the other way. All of them are still equivalent to the groups of commissars or commissaries or commissioners. They work as a collective, they have minister-like tasks, but they're appointed in a more brute force way than proper ministers.
It's much easier for me to write about the "extra" institutions in the communist Czechoslovakia. So like NSDAP had the SA and then the SS, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia had its own paramilitary organization with the beautiful acronym LM (Lidové milice, People's Militia). They were some workers with rifles who already "existed" before the communist coup – and whose presence in the streets was used as one of the threats during the coup itself. They just became somewhat more "officially looking" when they and their comrades hijacked the total power over Czechoslovakia. But they were still a "private" institution that wasn't regulated by the Czechoslovak constitution.
The communist Czechoslovakia had lots of wonderful added new organizations that were helping to keep the regime. Small kids became "Sparks" (Jiskra), older kids were "Pioneers" (Pionýr), teenagers were expected to become "Socialist Youth Union" members (Svazák – my boycotting of that organization was already an act of dissent), and so on. Similarly, the labor unions were harmonized to the Revolutionary Labor Union Movement (ROH). All these organizations were controlled by the secretariats of the communist party. There were communist-controlled associations for athletes and lots of other things (including communist-controlled "non-communist" parties in the National Front LOL).
None of these details were described by the communist constitution which was still pretty nice and tidy. Well, except for one detail. In 1960, Czechoslovakia (renaming of the "people's democratic" country still called the Czechoslovak Republic to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was one of the decorative changes) adopted a new constitution, replacing the 1948 constitution (the country formally became a federation by a 1969 law, months after the Soviet occupation – the only major 1968 reformist change that was allowed by the Kremlin). Almost all of it still looked decent except for one verse that was breathtaking: Somewhere near the beginning, it explicitly said that the "communist party was the leading political force in the society".
That was of course a sentence that turned the totalitarian, one-party system into a basic constitutional law. Clearly, it was the first thing that needed to be canceled (and folks like me had demanded it before the Velvet Revolution) – and the sentence was dropped from the constitution within less than two weeks after the Velvet Revolution started in November 1989 (and I made a precise prediction of the day on November 20th in the morning, along with the date when Jakeš would resign – quite an unlikely prophesy, I still think).
But all the details about the organizations by which the communist party extended its influence over all parts of the Czechoslovak society and all occupations were obviously "extra added structures" that had nothing to do with the relatively neat and tidy 1960 constitution. The point is that the constitution is almost never violated "explicitly" because it's not needed and it doesn't look nice to do it. The evil is done by the "extra NGOs" that are controlled by one political party only.
And now, assuming that you get this basic point of the history, try to imagine how I feel when Gene and Mike arrive and claim that it's just fine when Silicon Valley or even banks or even the Bristol hospitals start to reject customers or users or clients who are conservative or who oppose mass immigration or fluid genders or the climate hysteria or anything like that. It's the private institutions so it's just so nice when they can harm anyone they want to harm, right? Only the "government" must be tamed.
Give me a break. The misunderstanding of the whole 20th century history that is needed for someone to believe in this thesis is just breathtaking, the required ignorance is nearly limitless. The totalitarian regimes have always worked in the very same way that we are seeing today, too. A bunch of organizations on the same extreme side of the political spectrum gained the actual power over the system by brutally threatening and terrorizing everyone else, they became the de facto government, and what the de iure government as envisioned by the constitution is doing became totally irrelevant. That government either has no power or it isn't the primary source of the power because it's controlled by someone else.
If a nation wants to avoid totalitarianism, it must tame the effective, actual, de facto government (the network of people and institutions that actually have the power to decide about key things at the national or even international level), not just the de iure government!
What the countries of the world that used to be called the West – primarily in Northern America and Western Europe – are doing today is totally analogous to the events that established the Nazi rule in Germany or the Soviet rule in Russia (and beyond) and whoever doesn't see it is a blinded clueless moron. If the rising totalitarianism is supposed to be reversed, the nations of Western Europe and North America must tame the increasingly tightly connected network of Silicon Valley companies, "mainstream" media, lobby groups, deep state, teachers brainwashing kids at all universities, and other parts of this complex that are politically allied with each other and with the same political groups and that are increasingly terrorizing, harassing, and blackmailing everyone else and increasingly circumventing the constitutional order.
And that's the memo.