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.


Tell It to the Marine: No Draft, “Limited” or Otherwise

1780 caricature of a press gang. Author Unknown. Public Domain.
1780 caricature of a press gang. Author Unknown. Public Domain.

“Today,” Lt. Colonel Joe Plenzler (USMC, retired) writes at, “the military needs only about 160,000 youth from an eligible population of 30 million to meet its recruitment needs. But after two decades of war — both of which ended unsuccessfully — and low unemployment, many experts believe the all-volunteer force has reached a breaking point.”

Plenzler suggests a “limited” military draft to make up for recruitment quota shortfalls. “We should have our military recruiters sign up new troops for 11 months out of the year,” he writes, “and then have the Selective Service draft the delta between the military’s needs and the total number recruited.”

As a practical matter, Plenzler’s proposal “solves” an artificial problem that needn’t and shouldn’t exist. The US armed forces are far too large and far too expensive if their purpose is “national defense.” If they were cut by 90%, the risk of a significant foreign attack on the US would remain the same as now — virtually non-existent, and mostly a matter of air and missile defense. Stop trying to rule the world militarily. “Problem” solved.

As a legal matter, the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution remains the Supreme Law of the Land: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” While the government and its courts have a long history of ignoring that unambiguous ban on conscription.

Which brings us to the most important consideration: Where Plenzler’s proposal falls on the moral axis.

The aforementioned 13th Amendment, while obviously applicable to military conscription, was proposed and ratified on the premise of outlawing chattel slavery.

Plenzler suggests returning to that evil and immoral practice: “We should hire cotton pickers 11 months out of the year,  then enslave as many additional people as needed to get the crop in.”

Three swings (practical, legal, and moral), three misses. If policy proposals are like baseball, Plenzler strikes out.

Unfortunately, policy proposals aren’t like baseball. The same awful ideas come back around periodically, and no matter how many times they strike out they never get cut from the team. Occasionally they get a base hit — and we get an extended military debacle like the war in Vietnam.

No matter how many turns at bat we allow it, a bad idea remains a bad idea. And Plenzler is preaching an irredeemably evil idea.

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.


Kennedy: For Free or Not For Free?

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (right), before he was the family outcast. Public domain.

“RFK Jr., You’re No JFK” proclaims John Turres in The Wetumpka Herald (August 1). Although “early on, Kennedy was getting a lot of attention and even support, because, well, he’s a Kennedy, and that’s what the family label gets,” Turres doubts that the halo effect will last as Democratic voters find out more about how Robert Francis Kennedy Jr. substantially differs from his uncle John Fitzgerald Kennedy — and, for that matter, Robert F. Kennedy père.

The “Kennedy for me” of JFK’s campaign promised to be “not so doggoned seasoned that he won’t try something new.” In the current decade, new (or even lightly used) tricks are viewed as a menace to the gerontocratic order. As Andy Page noted in a 2021 letter to The Wall Street Journal, few Democrats would still join JFK in championing “the mobility and flow of risk capital from static to more dynamic situations.”

Even radical leftists chide the 69-year-old junior Kennedy’s lack of enthusiasm for reviving similarly senior-citizen-aged programs. Current Affairs magazine’s Lily Sánchez and Nathan J. Robinson berate RFK Jr. for substituting a “delusional faith in the free market” for a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and “the general policies of social uplift that progressives support.”

Sánchez and Robinson consider RFK Jr.’s description of the economy as combining “a cushy socialism for the rich and this kind of brutal, merciless capitalism for the poor” a too-little-too-late “mimic[ry of Bernie] Sanders’ language of class antagonism.” They should know better, since they are aware that such “language of the populist outsider” draws from Noam Chomsky — who has traced his own view that “the state is there to provide security and support to the interests of the privileged and powerful sectors in society while the rest of the population is left to experience the brutal reality of capitalism” back to Adam Smith. It was the precedent of “bourgeois economists” who shared Smith’s laissez-faire convictions that led Karl Marx to acknowledge in an 1852 letter that “I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them.”

Sánchez and Robinson view “the profit motive of the pharmaceutical, health insurance, and other related industries” as the root of their dysfunction — when in fact it is their scrupulous restraint of trade that enables them to reap revenue while ill-serving the public. (RFK Jr.’s claim that “some corporations don’t want free markets … they want profits” actually underestimates how antagonistic market competition is to corporate profit.) Rediscovering how class privilege springs from political power would do more to undermine it than dusting off FDR’s New Deal — or JFK’s New Frontier.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “Kennedy: For free or not for free?” by Joel Schlosberg, The Wilson, North Carolina Times, August 3, 2023
  2. Kennedy: For free or not for free?” by Joel Schlosberg, The Enterprise [Williamston, North Carolina], August 3, 2023
  3. Kennedy: For free or not for free?” by Joel Schlosberg, The Johnstonian News [Smithfield, North Carolina], August 3, 2023
  4. Kennedy: For free or not for free?” by Joel Schlosberg, The Butner-Creedmoor News [Creedmoor, North Carolina], August 3, 2023
  5. “Kennedy: For free or not for free?” by Joel Schlosberg, The Wake Weekly [Wake Forest, North Carolina], August 3, 2023
  6. “Kennedy: For free or not for free?” by Joel Schlosberg, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman [Wasilla, Alaska], August 3, 2023
  7. Kennedy: For Free or Not For Free?” by Joel Schlosberg, Newton, Iowa Daily News, August 8, 2023
  8. “Kennedy: For Free or Not For Free?” by Joel Schlosberg, The News [Kingstree, South Carolina], August 9, 2023