Community and Political Thought Today

By Peter Augustine Lawler; Dale McConkey | Go to book overview

13
The Experience of Totalitarianism and the Recovery of Nature: Reflections on Philosophy and Community in the Thought of Solzhenitsyn, Havel, and Strauss

DANIEL J. MAHONEY

Totalitarianism, the central political phenomenon of the twentieth century, began in 1914 with the guns of August and ended definitively with the collapse of Soviet authority between 1987 and 1991. However, the mainstream of American social science has stubbornly resisted the legitimacy of the category of totalitarianism. They dismiss it as an unscientific term of cold-war opprobrium or, quite rightly, note that in practice no "so-called" totalitarian regime, not even during the worst period of Stalinist or Nazi terror, ever succeeded in establishing total control over society or the recesses of the human mind.

But these objections miss the essential point. The concept of totalitarianism long predated the Cold War, and the best analysts of totalitarian rule have understood that the aspirations toward total domination of the individual and civil society were a consequence of a more fundamental ideological determination to create a different "logic" of social life.1 Raymond Aron, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Václav Havel, Alain Besançon, and Leszek Kolakowski have all located the wellspring of totalitarianism in the phenomenon of ideology.

The totalitarian regimes were above all ideocracies, despotisms characterized by the project for the ideological reconstitution of man and the world. These analysts have all freely made a judgment that the social sciences with their aspirations to value-neutrality and their commitment to methodological asceticism (that is, to silence about human nature or human ends) are unable to make: they have judged ideology to be mistaken in its object because, in the decisive respects, it is anti-natural. They have judged ideology in its aspirations and consequences to be a lie. This lie is not to be confused with ordinary or "Machiavellian" lies

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