Totalitarianism: The Oak is in the Acorn

Benito Mussolini e Adolf Hitler, sem data

“Democrats and corporate media throw around terms like ‘fascism’ and ‘dictatorship,'” Brian C. Joondeph writes at American Thinker, “as a means of stifling discussion of anyone they disagree with. Totalitarianism is another term along those lines, typically associated with tyrants such as Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.”

Unsurprisingly, Joondeph attributes the “real” totalitarian impulse to those same Democrats and corporate media, deploying another buzz phrase to paint former president Donald Trump as the hapless victim of an out-of-control regime: “The party in power has arrested and wants to imprison its political opposition, banana republic-style.”

I’m not here (today, anyway) to argue the validity of the charges Trump faces, but it’s worth noting that as a life-long member of the privileged political class he’s hardly a typical “banana republic justice” victim, and that he’s enjoyed both far more forbearance and far more due process accommodation than one might expect in a banana republic.

Rather, I’m amused by the notion that American totalitarianism is the exclusive province of “Democrats and corporate media.”

The best definition of totalitarianism I’ve found comes from a famous totalitarian, Benito Mussolini, who defined his version of totalitarianism (fascism) this way: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

Mussolini’s description encapsulates the inevitable conclusion of allowing the state to exist. The state is to totalitarianism as the acorn is to the oak — the embryonic form, if you will. If the former lives long enough, it will by its very nature mature into the latter.

While that process raises various ethical questions, it’s not really an ethical question itself. It’s just how organizations enjoying monopolies on the use of force work. As Anthony de Jasay pointed out, the state by its nature “seeks to maximize its discretionary power.”

The discretion involved naturally focuses on the priorities of those in control, whether it be winning the next election, or waging culture war from either side, or even pursuing some actual notional good.

Democrats want to ban “hate speech” and “Russian election interference.” Republicans want to ban “gender ideology” and “Chinese influence operations.” Either way, the  arc of the statist universe bends toward total control.

No amount of power is ever enough. Sooner or later, EVERYTHING becomes a priority. The more control the state has, the more it wants, the more it interprets dissent or even diversity of opinion as an existential threat to its prerogatives, and the more excuses it manufactures for cracking down on them.

Not all states become totalitarian. Some are overthrown first. But both the Democratic and Republican roads, if traveled to their ends, lead to Mussolini’s Rome. We can have freedom, or we can have the state. We can’t have both.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.