Sheep & totalitarians
“In the literal sense, the West triumphed in the Cold War,” wrote Theodore Dalrymple in “The Soviet Way” in Taki's Magazine on May 20. “Nevertheless, a kind of creeping Sovietization has overtaken it as if in revenge.”
Dalrymple, a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal and a retired physician who most recently practiced in a British inner-city hospital and as a prison psychiatrist, explained: “I don't want to exaggerate, or exaggerate much. We don't yet fear the midnight knock on the door, we are still free to go where we like, and we are not obliged to spend much of our lives seeking everyday commodities of which there are perpetual shortages.”
How, then, are we being Sovietized, other than perhaps by Donald Trump's association with Vladimir Putin? The process “is subtle and all the more insidious for that,” stated Dalrymple. The Eastern Bloc's “ubiquitous propaganda was not intended to persuade, much less to inform, but to humiliate; for citizens … had not merely to avoid contradicting it in public, but actually to agree with it in public. Therefore ... the less true and more outrageously false the propaganda was, the better. For to force people to assent to propositions that are outrageously false, on pain of losing their livelihoods or worse, was to ... make them docile, easily manipulated, and complicit in their own enslavement.”
Continued Dalrymple: “Increasingly ... we find ourselves in analogous situations, especially if we ... work for bureaucracies, whether governmental, quasi-governmental, supposedly independent, or commercial. We must not only keep silent about propositions that we find not only false but ridiculous, but assent to them, to ... demonstrate that we are ... on message . The message must never be of our own devising, or indeed attributable to anyone in particular. It must be absurd and unassailable at the same time.”
Dalrymple commended “The Invisible Book” by Sergei Dovlatov, a Russian writer who immigrated to the United States in 1978. “Possessed of a mordant wit, he was not much appreciated by the Brezhnev regime … .” His book “is well worth reading today, not only as a historical document but for what it tells us about our own situation: For ours is a golden age of ambitious mediocrity ... . And such was the underlying principle, never of course articulated, of the Soviet bureaucracy.”
Dalrymple continued: “There is nothing wrong with mediocrity, of course.” The societal crisis strikes when weakness triumphs. “Mediocrity ... is an unavoidable feature of the human condition; it becomes terrible only when ... it is allied to unbridled ambition and the urge to power. Mediocrity ... is harmful only when it wants to dominate.”
Democracy, primarily, is undermined where safety exists only for those who muzzle themselves.
“The kind of person who succeeded in the Soviet Union,” Dalrymple explained, was “either without ability” or “if they had ability and intelligence, they suppressed its exercise for the sake of a quiet and comfortable life. … Theirs was a kind of suffering, endured for the sake of a pension.”
Ralph R. Reiland is associate professor of economics emeritus at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (firstname.lastname@example.org).