We must now examine a belief from which many who regard the advent of totalitarianism as inevitable derive consolation and which seriously weakens the resistance of many others who would oppose it with all their might if they fully apprehended its nature.
It is the belief that the most repellent features of totalitarian regimes are due to the historical "accident" that they were established by groups of black-guards and thugs.
Surely, it is argued, if in Germany the creation of a totalitarian regime brought the Streichers and Killingers, the Leys and Heines, the Himmlers and Heydrichs to power, this may prove the vicious nature of the German character but not that the rise of such evil is the necessary consequence of a totalitarian system.
Why should it not be possible that the same sort of system, it if be necessary to achieve important social ends, be run by decent people for the collective good of the community?
We must not deceive ourselves into believing that all good people must support democratic processes or will necessarily wish to have a share in the government. Many, no doubt, would rather entrust it to somebody whom they think more competent.
Although this might be unwise, there is nothing bad or dishonorable in approving a dictatorship of the good. Totalitarianism, we can already hear it argued, is a powerful system alike for good and evil, and the purpose for which it will be used depends entirely on the dictators. And those who think that it is not the system we need fear, but the danger that it might be run by bad men, might even be tempted to forestall this danger by seeing that it is established in time by good men.
There are strong reasons for believing that what to us appear the worst features of totalitarian systems are not accidental byproducts but phenomena which totalitarianism is certain to sooner or later produce.
Just as the choice architect who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure.
It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more "successful" in a society tending toward totalitarianism.
Who does not see this has not yet grasped the full width of the gulf which separates totalitarianism from [classical] liberalism, the utter difference between the whole moral atmosphere under collectivism and the essentially individualist nature of Western civilization.
The "moral basis" of collectivism has, of course, been much debated in the past; but what concerns us here is not its moral basis but its moral results. The usual discussions of the ethical aspects of collectivism refer to the question whether collectivism is demanded by existing moral convictions; or what moral convictions would be required if collectivism is to produce the hoped-for results.
Our question, however, is what views are likely to rule it. The interaction between morals and institutions may well have the effect that the "ethics" produced by collectivism will be altogether different from moral notions that have led to the demand for collectivism.
While we are likely to think that, since the desire for a collectivist system springs from high moral motives, such a system must be the breeding ground for the highest virtues, there is, in fact, no reason why any system should necessarily enhance those attitudes which serve the purpose for which it was designed.
The ruling moral views will depend partly on the qualities that will lead individuals to success in a collectivist or totalitarian system and partly on the requirements of the totalitarian machinery.
We must here return for a moment to the position which precedes the suppression of democratic processes and the creation of a totalitarian regime.
In this stage it is the general demand for quick and determined central government action that is the dominating element in the situation, dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic processes which make action for action's sake the goal.
It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough to "get things done" who exercises the greatest appeal.
"Strong" in this sense means not merely a numerical majority - it is the ineffectiveness of parliamentary procedure with which people are dissatisfied. What they will seek is somebody with such solid support as to inspire confidence that he can carry out whatever he wants.
In the Central European countries the socialist parties had familiarized the masses with political organizations of a semi-military character designed to absorb as much as possible of the private life of the members.
All that was wanted to give one group overwhelming power was to carry out the same principle somewhat further, to seek strength not in the assured votes of huge numbers at occasional elections but in the absolute and unreserved support of a smaller but more thoroughly organized body.
The chance of imposing a totalitarian regime on a whole people depends upon the leader's first collecting round him a group which is prepared to voluntarily submit to that totalitarian discipline which they are to impose by force upon the rest.
Although the "socialist" parties had the strength to get anything if they had cared to use force, they were reluctant to do so. They had, without knowing it, set themselves a task which only the ruthless ready to disregard the barriers of accepted morals can execute.
That socialism can be put into practice only by methods which most socialists disapprove is, of course, a lesson learned by many social reformers in the past. The old socialist parties were inhibited by their ideals; they did not possess the ruthlessness required for the performance of their chosen task.
It is characteristic that both in Germany and in Italy the success of fascism was preceded by a refusal of the socialist parties to take over the responsibility of government. They were unwilling to employ the methods to which they had pointed the way.
They still hoped for the miracle of majority's agreeing on a partiular plan for the organization of the whole of society; others had already learned the lesson that in a planned society the question can no longer be on what do a majority of the people agree but what the largest single group is whose members agree sufficiently to mae unified direction of all affairs possible; or, if no such group large enough to enforce its views exists, how it can be created and who will succeed in creating it.
There are three main reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogenous views is not likely to formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society. By our accepted moral standards, the principles on which such a group would be selected will be almost entirely negative.
In the first instance, it is probably true that the higher education and intelligence of individuals become, the more their views and tastes
are differentiated and the less likely they are to agree on a particular hierarchy
It is a corollary of this that if we wish to find a high degree of uniformity
and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral
and intellectual standards where the more primitive and "common" instincts
and tastes prevail.
This does not mean that the majority of people have low
moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values
are very similar are the people with low standards.
It is, as it were, the lowest
common denominator which unites the largest number of a numerous
group is needed, strong enough to impose their views on the values of life
on all the rest, it will never be those with highly differentiated and developed
tastes it will be those who form the "mass" in the derogatory sense of the
term, the least original and independent, who will be able to put the weight of
their numbers behind their particular ideals.
If, however, a potential dictator had to rely entirely on those whose uncomplicated
and primitive instincts happen to be very similar, their number would
scarcely give sufficient weight to their endeavors. He will have to increase their
numbers by converting more to the same simple creed.
Here comes in the second negative principle of selection: he will be able to
obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions
of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.
It will be those
whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions
and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the
It is in connection with the deliberate effort of the skillful demagogue to weld
together a closely coherent and homogeneous body of supporters that the third and perhaps most important negative element of selection enters.
It seems to
be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program — on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off than on any positive task.
The contrast between the "we" and the "they," the
common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient
in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a
policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses.
From their point of view
it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive program. The enemy, whether he be internal, like the "Jew" or the "kulak," or external, seems to be an indispensable requisite in the armory
of a totalitarian leader.
That in Germany it was the Jew who became the enemy until his place was
taken by the "plutocracies" was no less a result of the anti-capitalist resentment
on which the whole movement was based than the selection of the kulak in
In Germany and Austria the Jew had come to be regarded as the representative
of capitalism because a traditional dislike of large classes of the population
for commercial pursuits had left these more readily accessible to a
group that was practically excluded from the more highly esteemed occupations.
It is the old story of the alien race's being admitted only to the less respected
trades and then being hated still more for practicing them. The fact
that German anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism spring from the same root is of
great importance for the understanding of what has happened there, but this is
rarely grasped by foreign observers.
To treat the universal tendency of collectivist policy to become nationalistic
as due entirely to the necessity for securing unhesitating support would be to
neglect another and no less important factor.
It may, indeed, be questioned
whether anyone can realistically conceive of a collectivist program other than
in the service of a limited group, whether collectivism can exist in any form
other than that of some kind of particularism, be it nationalism, racialism, or
The belief in the community of aims and interests with fellow-men
seems to presuppose a greater degree of similarity of outlook and thought than
exists between men merely as human beings. If the other members of one's
group cannot all be personally known, they must at least be of the same kind as
those around us, think and talk in the same way and about the same kind of
things, in order that we may identify ourselves with them.
Collectivism on a
world scale seems to be unthinkable - except in the service of a small ruling
elite. It would certainly raise not only technical but, above all, moral problems
which none of our socialists is willing to face.
If the English proletarian, for instance,
is entitled to an equal share of the income now derived from his country's
capital resources, and of the control of their use, because they are the result
of exploitation, so on the same principle all the Indians would be entitled
not only to the income from but also to the use of a proportional share of the
But what socialists seriously contemplate the equal division of existing capital
resources among the people of the world? They all regard the capital as belonging
not to humanity but to the nation though even within the nation few
would dare to advocate that the richer regions should be deprived of some of "their" capital equipment in order to help the poorer regions. What socialists
proclaim as a duty toward the fellow-members of the existing states they are not
prepared to grant to the foreigner.
From a consistent collectivist point of view
the claims of the "have-not" nations for a new division of the world are entirely
justified - though, if consistently applied, those who demand it most loudly
would lose by it almost as much as the richest nations.
One of the inherent contradictions of the collectivist philosophy is that, while
basing itself on the humanistic morals which individualism has developed, it is
practicable only within a relatively small group.
That socialism so long as it remains
theoretical is internationalist, while as soon as it is put into practice,
whether in Russia or in Germany, it becomes violently nationalist, is one of the
reasons why "liberal socialism" as most people in the Western world imagine it
is purely theoretical, while the practice of socialism is everywhere totalitarian.'
Collectivism has no room for the wide humanitarianism of [classical] liberalism but only
if for the narrow particularism of the totalitarian.
If the "community" or the state are prior to the individual, if they have ends
of their own independent of and superior to those of the individuals, only those
individuals who work for the same ends can be regarded as members of the
It is a necessary consequence of this view that a person is respected
only as a member of the group, that is, only if and in so far as he works for the
recognized common ends, and that he derives his whole dignity only from this
membership and not merely from being a man.
Indeed, the very concepts of
humanity and therefore of any form of internationalism are entirely products
of the individualist view of man, and there can be no place for them in a collectivist system of thought.
Apart from the basic fact that the community of collectivism can extend only
as far as the unity of purpose of the individuals exists or can be created, several contributory factors strengthen the tendency of collectivism to become particularist
Of these, one of the most important is that the desire of
the individual to identify himself with a group is very frequently the result of a
feeling of inferiority and that therefore his want will be satisfied only if membership
of the group confers some superiority over outsiders.
seems, the very fact that these violent instincts which the individual knows he
must curb within the group can be given a free range in the collective action
toward the outsider, becomes a further inducement for merging personality in
that of the group.
There is a profound truth expressed in the title of Reinhold
Niebu's Moral Man and Immoral Society however little we can follow him in the conclusion he draws from his thesis. There is, indeed, as he says elsewhere, "an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical
because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups." To act on
behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which
control their behavior as individuals within the group.
The definitely antagonistic attitude which most planners take toward internationalism
is further explained by the fact that in the existing world all outside
contacts of a group are obstacles to their effectively planning the sphere in
which they can attempt it. It is therefore no accident that, as the editor of one
of the most comprehensive collective studies on planning has discovered to his
chagrin, "most 'planners' are militant nationalists."
The nationalist and imperialist propensities of socialist planners, much more
common than is generally recognized, are not always as flagrant as, for example,
in the case of the Webbs and some of the other early Fabians, with
whom enthusiasm for planning was characteristically combined with the veneration
for the large and powerful political units and a contempt for the small
The historian Elie Halevy, speaking of the Webbs when he first knew
them forty years ago, records that their socialism was profoundly anti-[ classical ]-liberal.
"They did not hate the Tories, indeed they were extraordinarily lenient to
them, but they had no mercy for Gladstonian Liberalism. It was the time of
the Boer War and both the advanced liberals and the men who were beginning
to form the Labour Party had generously sided with the Boers against British Imperialism, in the name of freedom and humanity.
But the two Webbs and
their friend, Bernard Shaw, stood apart. They were ostentatiously imperialistic.
The independence of small nations might mean something to the liberal
individualist. It meant nothing to collectivists like themselves.
I can still hear
Sidney Webb explaining to me that the future belonged to the great administrative
nations, where the officials govern and the police keep order." And elsewhere
Halevy quotes George Bernard Shaw, arguing, about the same time, that "the world is to the big and powerful states by necessity; and the little ones must
come within their border or be crushed out of existence."'
I have quoted at length these passages, which would not surprise one in a description
of the German ancestors of national socialism, because they provide
so characteristic an example of that glorification of power which easily leads
from socialism to nationalism and which profoundly affects the ethical views of
So far as the rights of small nations are concerned, Marx and
Engels were little better than most other consistent collectivists, and the views
occasionally expressed about Czechs or Poles resemble those of contemporary
While to the great individualist social philosophers of the nineteenth century,
to a Lord Acton or a Jacob Burckhardt, down to contemporary socialists, like
Bertrand Russell, who have inherited the liberal tradition, power itself has always appeared the archevil, to the strict collectivist it is a goal in itself.
It is not
only, as Russell has so well described, that the desire to organize social life according
to a unitary plan itself springs largely from a desire for power. It is even
more the outcome of the fact that, in order to achieve their end, collectivists
must create power - power over men wielded by other men of a magnitude
never before known, and that their success will depend on the extent to which
they achieve such power.
This remains true even though many liberal socialists are guided in their endeavors
by the tragic illusion that by depriving private individuals of the power
they possess in an individualist system, and by transferring this power to society,
they can thereby extinguish power.
What all those who argue in this manner
overlook is that, by concentrating power so that it can be used in the service
of a single plan, it is not merely transferred but infinitely heightened; that, by
uniting in the hands of some single body power formerly exercised independently
by many, an amount of power is created infinitely greater than any that
existed before, so much more far-reaching as almost to be different in kind.
is entirely fallacious when it is sometimes argued that the great power exercised
by a central planning board would be "no greater than the power collectively
exercised by private boards of directors."
There is, in a competitive society,
nobody who can exercise even a fraction of the power which a socialist planning
board would possess, and if nobody can consciously use the power, it is just
an abuse of words to assert that it rests with all the capitalists put together.
is merely a play upon words to speak of the "power collectively exercised by private
boards of directors" so long as they do not combine to concerted action - which would, of course, mean the end of competition and the creation of a
To split or decentralize power is necessarily to reduce the absolute amount of power, and the competitive system is the only system designed
to minimize by decentralization the power exercised by man over man.
We have seen before how the separation of economic and political aims is an
essential guaranty of individual freedom and how it is consequently attacked by
To this we must now add that the "substitution of political for
economic power" now so often demanded means necessarily the substitution
of power from which there is no escape for a power which is always limited.
What is called economic power, while it can be an instrument of coercion, is, in
the hands of private individuals, never exclusive or complete power, never
power over the whole life of a person. But centralized as an instrument of political
power it creates a degree of dependence scarcely distinguishable from
From the two central features of every collectivist system, the need for a commonly
accepted system of ends of the group and the all-overriding desire to give
to the group the maximum of power to achieve these ends, grows a definite system
of morals, which on some points coincides and on others violently contrasts
with ours but differs from it in one point which makes it doubtful whether we
can call it morals: that it does not leave the individual conscience free to apply
its own rules and does not even know any general rules which the individual is
required or allowed to observe in all circumstances.
This makes collectivist
morals so different from what we have known as morals that we find it difficult
to discover any principle in them, which they nevertheless possess. The difference of principle is very much the same as that which we have already
considered in connection with the Rule of Law.
Like formal law, the rules
of individualist ethics, however unprecise they may be in many respects, are
general and absolute; they prescribe or prohibit a general type of action irrespective
of whether in the particular instance the ultimate purpose is good or
bad. To cheat or steal, to torture or betray a confidence, is held to be bad, irrespective
of whether or not in the particular instance any harm follows from it.
Neither the fact that in a given instance nobody may be the worse for it, nor any
high purpose for which such an act may have been committed, can alter the
fact that it is bad. Though we may sometimes be forced to choose between different
evils, they remain evils.
The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily
the supreme rule; there is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must
be prepared to do if it serves "the good of the whole," because the "good
raison of the whole" is to him only criterion of what oughto be done.
d'etat, in which collectivist ethics has found its most explicit formulation, knows
no other limit than that set by expediency - the suitability of the particular act for the end in view.
And what the raison d'etat affirms with respect to the relations
between different countries applies equally to the relations between different
individuals within the collectivist state.
There can be no limit to what its
citizen must be prepared to do, no act which his conscience must prevent him
from committing, if it is necessary for an end which the community has set
itself or which his superiors order him to achieve.
The absence of absolute formal rules in collectivist ethics does not, of course,
mean that there are not some useful habits of the individuals which a collectivist
community will encourage and others which it will discourage. Quite the
reverse; it will take a much greater interest in the individual's habits of life than
an individualist community.
To be a useful member of a collectivist society requires
very definite qualities which must be strengthened by constant practice.
The reason why we designate these qualities as "useful habits" and can hardly
describe them as moral virtues is that the individual could never be allowed
to put these rules above any definite orders or to let them become an obstacle to
the achievement of any of the particular aims of his community.
serve, as it were, to fill any gaps which direct orders or the designation of particular
aims may leave, but they can never justify a conflict with the will of the
The differences between the virtues which will continue to be esteemed under
a collectivist system and those which will disappear is well illustrated by a
comparison of the virtues which even their worst enemies admit the Germans,
or rather the "typical Prussian," to possess, and those of which they are commonly
thought lacking and in which the English people, with some justification,
used to pride themselves as excelling.
Few people will deny that the Germans
on the whole are industrious and disciplined, thorough and energetic to
the degree of ruthlessness, conscientious and single-minded in any tasks they
undertake; that they possess a strong sense of order, duty, and strict obedience
to authority; and that they often show great readiness to make personal sacrifices
and great courage in physical danger.
All these make the German an
efficient instrument in carrying out an assigned task, and they have accordingly been carefully nurtured in the old Prussian state and the Prussian dominated Reich.
What the "typical German" is often thought to lack are the
individualist virtues of tolerance and respect for other individuals and their
opinions, of independence of mind and that uprightness of character and readiness
to defend one's own convictions against a superior which the Germans
themselves, usually conscious that they lack it, call "Zivilcourage", of consideration
for the weak and infirm, and of that healthy contempt and dislike of power
which only an old tradition of personal liberty creates.
Deficient they seem also
in most of those little yet so important qualities which facilitate the intercourse between men in a free society: kindliness and a sense of humor, personal
modesty, and respect for the privacy and belief in the good intentions of one's
After what we have already said it will not cause surprise that these individualist
virtues are at the same time eminently social virtues - virtues which
smooth social contacts and which make control from above less necessary and
at the same time more difficult.
They are virtues which flourish wherever the
individualist or commercial type of society has prevailed and which are missing
according as the collectivist or military type of society predominates — a difference
which is, or was, as noticeable between the various regions of Germany
as it has now become of the views which rule in Germany and those characteristic
of the West.
Until recently, at least, in those parts of Germany which
have been longest exposed to the civilizing forces of commerce, the old commercial
towns of the south and west and the Hanse towns, the general moral
concepts were probably much more akin to those of the Western people than
to those which have now become dominant all over Germany.
It would, however, be highly unjust to regard the masses of the totalitarian
people as devoid of moral fervor because they give unstinted support to a system
which to us seems a denial of most moral values.
For the great majority of
them the opposite is probably true: the intensity of the moral emotions behind
a movement like that of National Socialism or communism can probably be
compared only to those of the great religious movements of history.
admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity
called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarian regimes
which horrify us follow of necessity.
From the collectivist standpoint intolerance
and brutal suppression of dissent, the complete disregard of the life and happiness
of the individual, are essential and unavoidable consequences of this basic
premise, and the collectivist can admit this and at the same time claim that his
system is superior to one in which the "selfish" interests of the individual are allowed
to obstruct the full realization of the ends the community pursues.
German philosophers again and again represent the striving for personal happiness
as itself immoral and only the fulfilment of an imposed duty as praiseworthy,
they are perfectly sincere, however difficult this may be to understand
for those who have been brought up in a different tradition.
Where there is one common all-overriding end, there is no room for any general
morals or rules. To a limited extent we ourselves experience this in wartime. But even war and the greatest peril had led in the democratic countries
only to a very moderate approach to totalitarianism, very little setting-aside of
all other values in the service of a single purpose.
But where a few specific ends
dominate the whole of society, it is inevitable that occasionally cruelty may
become a duty; that acts which revolt all our feeling, such as the shooting of
hostages or the killing of the old or sick, should be treated as mere matters of expediency; that the compulsory uprooting and transportation of hundreds
of thousand should become an instrument of policy approved by almost everybody
except the victims; or that suggestions like that of a "conscription of
woman for breeding purposes" can be seriously contemplated.
There is always
in the eyes of the collectivist a greater goal which these acts serve and which to
him justifies them because the pursuit of the common end of society can know
no limits in any rights or values of any individual.
But while for the mass of the citizens of the totalitarian state it is often unselfish
devotion to an ideal, although one that is repellent to us, which makes them
approve and even perform such deeds, this cannot be pleaded for those who
guide its policy.
To be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, it
is not enough that a man should be prepared to accept specious justification of
vile deeds; he must himself be prepared actively to break every moral rule he
has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for him.
is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must
have no moral convictions of their own. They must, above all, be unreservedly
committed to the person of the leader; but next to this the most important thing
is that they should be completely unprincipled and literally capable of everything.
They must have no ideals of their own which they want to realize; no
ideas about right or wrong which might interfere with the intentions of the
There is thus in the positions of power little to attract those who hold
moral beliefs of the kind which in the past have guided the European peoples,
little which could compensate for the distastefulness of many of the particular
tasks, and little opportunity to gratify any more idealistic desires, to recompense
for the undeniable risk, the sacrifice of most of the pleasures of private life and
of personal independence which the posts of great responsibility involve.
only tastes which are satisfied are the taste for power as such and the pleasure
of being obeyed and of being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful
machine to which everything else must give way.
Yet while there is little that is likely to induce men who are good by our standards
to aspire to leading positions in the totalitarian machine, and much to deter
them, there will be special opportunities for the ruthless and unscrupulous.
There will be jobs to be done about the badness of which taken by themselves
nobody has any doubt, but which have to be done in the service of some higher
end, and which have to be executed with the same expertness and efficiency as
And as there will be need for actions which are bad in themselves,
and which all those still influenced by traditional morals will be reluctant to
perform, the readiness to do bad things becomes a path to promotion and
The positions in a totalitarian society in which it is necessary to practice
cruelty and intimidation, deliberate deception and spying, are numerous. Neither
the Gestapo nor the administration of a concentration camp, neither the
Ministry of Propaganda nor the SA or SS, or their Italian or Russian counterparts, are suitable places for the exercise of humanitarian feelings.
Yet it is
through positions like these that the road to the highest positions in the totalitarian
It is only too true when a distinguished American economist
concludes from a similar brief enumeration of the duties of the authorities of
a collectivist state that "they would have to do these things whether they wanted
to or not: and the probability of the people in power being individuals who
would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability
that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whippingmaster
in a slave plantation."
We cannot, however, exhaust this subject here. The problem of the selection
of the leaders is closely bound up with the wide problem of selection according
to the opinions held, or rather according to the readiness with which a person
conforms to an ever changing set of doctrines.
And this leads us to one of the
most characteristic moral features of totalitarianism: its relation to, and its
effect on, all the virtues falling under the general heading of truthfulness. This
is so big a subject that it requires a separate chapter.