Read/review the following resources for this activity:
Textbook: Chapter 6, 10
Aristotle defined tyranny as an illegitimate form of government by one individual that tightly controlled every part of life and government. Adolf Hitler is the most notorious tyrant. Using a totalitarian society from the past or present, discuss how the state and its leader attempt to impede citizens from exercising their rights. In your discussion, explain some components of an “ideal citizen,” consequences of voter apathy, and ways the state controls the citizen.
Writing Requirements (APA format)
Length: 1.5-2 pages (not including title page or references page)
12-point Times New Roman font
References page (minimum of 2 scholarly sources)
Chapter 6. The Totalitarian Model: A False Utopia
· 1Define totalitarianism.
· 2Describe the role of ideology in totalitarian states.
· 3Identify the three most infamous totalitarian rulers and how they earned that reputation.
· 4Describe the three developmental stages in the life of a totalitarian state.
· 5Determine the value of studying totalitarianism even though the world’s worst examples of totalitarian rule have passed into the pages of history.
A new and more malignant form of tyranny called totalitarianism reared its ugly head in the twentieth century. The term itself denotes complete domination of a society and its members by tyrannical rulers and imposed beliefs. The totalitarian obsession with control extends beyond the public realm into the private lives of citizens.
Imagine living in a world in which politics is forbidden and everything is political—including work, education, religion, sports, social organizations, and even the family. Neighbors spy on neighbors and children are encouraged to report “disloyal” parents. “Enemies of the people” are exterminated.
Who are these “enemies“? Defined in terms of whole categories or groups within society, they typically encompass hundreds of thousands and even millions of people who are “objectively” counterrevolutionary—for example, Jews and Gypsies (Romany) in Nazi Germany, the bourgeoisie (middle class) and kulaks (rich farmers) in Soviet Russia, and so on. By contrast, authoritarian governments typically seek to maintain political power (rather than to transform society) and more narrowly define political enemies as individuals (not groups) actively engaged in opposing the existing state.
Why study totalitarianism now that the Soviet Union no longer exists? First, communism is not the only possible form of totalitarian state. The examples of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy are reminders that totalitarianism is not a product of one ideology, regime, or ruler. Second, totalitarianism is an integral part of contemporary history. Many who suffered directly at the hands of totalitarian dictators or lost loved ones in Hitler’s Holocaust, Stalin’s Reign of Terror, Mao’s horrific purges, or other more recent instances of totalitarian brutality are still living. The physical and emotional scars of the victims remain even after the tyrants are long gone. Third, totalitarian states demonstrate the risks of idealism gone awry. Based on a millenarian vision of social progress and perfection that cannot be pursued without resort to barbaric measures (and cannot be achieved even then), they all have failed miserably as experiments in utopian nation-building. Finally, as we will see, totalitarianism remains a possibility wherever there is great poverty, injustice, and therefore the potential for violence and turmoil—recent examples include Iran, North Korea, and Burma (Myanmar).
One of the lessons of 9/11 is that extremism remains a fact of political life in the contemporary world. It can take many malignant forms. Terrorism is one; totalitarianism is another. This chapter demonstrates clearly that totalitarianism and terror go hand in hand.
The Essence of Totalitarianism
Violence is at the core of every totalitarian state—at its worst, it assumes the form of indiscriminate mass terror and genocide aimed at whole groups, categories, or classes of people who are labeled enemies, counterrevolutionaries, spies, or saboteurs. Mass mobilization is carried out through a highly regimented and centralized one-party system in the name of an official ideology that functions as a kind of state religion. The state employs a propaganda and censorship apparatus far more sophisticated and effective than that typically found in authoritarian states. As the late sociologist William Kornhauser wrote in a highly acclaimed study, “Totalitarianism is limited only by the need to keep large numbers of people in a state of constant activity controlled by the elite.”*
Totalitarian ideologies promise the advent of a new social order—whether a racially pure “Aryan” society envisioned by Adolf Hitler, or the classless society promised by Lenin and Josef Stalin, or the peasant society in a permanent state of revolution Mao Zedong imagined. All such totalitarian prophets “have exhibited a basic likeness … [in seeking] a higher and unprecedented kind of human existence.”* We can trace the totalitarian leader’s claim of political legitimacy directly to this self-proclaimed aim of creating a new utopian society.*
Totalitarian societies are “thoroughly egalitarian: no social differences will remain; even authority and expertise, from the scientific to the artistic, cannot be tolerated.”* Thus, individualism is rejected and even criminalized. The rights of society are paramount, leaving no room at all for the rights of the individual.
At the heart of this harmonious community lies the concept of a reformulated human nature. The impulse to human perfection was reflected in Lenin’s repeated references to the creation of a “new Soviet man” and in the Nazi assertion that party workers and leaders represented a new type of human being or a new breed of “racially pure” rulers. Mao Zedong displayed a near obsession with something he called rectification—the radical purging of all capitalist tendencies, such as materialism and individualism, at all levels of Chinese society.
The clearest examples of such utopian political orders have been Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union (especially during Stalin’s Reign of Terror), and Maoist China. Other examples in recent history include Pol Pot’s Cambodia (1976–1979) and Mengistu’s Ethiopia (1977–1991), while North Korea is a contemporary case. In the following section we examine the stages in the evolution of totalitarian regimes.
he Revolutionary Stage of Totalitarianism
How do totalitarian movements start? Typically, they emerge from the wreckage of a collapsed or collapsing state. In such turbulent times, a charismatic leader sometimes steps onto the scene. Leadership is crucial to the success of any revolution. In the case of total revolution, leadership is one of five key elements. Ideology, organization, propaganda, and violence are the other four.
Perhaps the most conspicuous trait of total revolution has been reliance on what we may term the cult of leadership. Virtually every such revolution has been identified with—indeed, personified in—the image of a larger-than-life figure. The Russian Revolution had its Lenin, the Third Reich its Hitler, the Chinese Revolution its Mao, Cuba its Castro, and so forth. Each of these leaders became the object of hero worship. Without such a leader, observed Eric Hoffer, “there will be no [mass] movement”:
It was Lenin who forced the flow of events into the channels of the Bolshevik revolution. Had he died in Switzerland or on his way to Russia in 1917, it is almost certain that the other prominent Bolsheviks would have joined a coalition government. The result might have been a more or less liberal republic run chiefly by the bourgeoisie. In the case of Mussolini or Hitler, the evidence is even more decisive: without them there would have been neither a Fascist nor a Nazi movement.*
Revolutionary leaders instinctively understand that the masses possess the raw power to change the world but lack the will and direction. Without a charismatic leader—one who can read their minds, capture their imagination, and win their hearts—there is nothing to act as a catalyst. A leader such as Lenin or Mao, then, is to a mass movement what a detonator is to a bomb.
Whatever the quality of leadership, total revolutions depend in the final analysis on the willingness of converts to engage in extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice in the name of the cause. Such reckless devotion cannot be inspired by rational appeals. It must arise, rather, from the true believer’s blind faith in the absolute truth provided by a comprehensive political doctrine.
Consider what an ideology must do for its followers if it is to be successful:
It must claim scientific authority which gives the believer a conviction of having the exclusive key to all knowledge; it must promise a millennium to be brought about for the chosen race or class by the elect who holds this key; it must identify a host of ogres and demons to be overcome before this happy state is brought about; it must enlist the dynamic of hatred, envy, and fear (whether of class or race) and justify these low passions by the loftiness of its aims.*
The Need for a Scapegoat: Reinterpreting the Past
As a critique of the past, ideology generally focuses on some form of absolute evil to which it can attribute all national (or worldwide) wrongs and social injustices. To the revolutionary ideologue, the true causes of economic recession, inflation, military defeat, official corruption, national humiliation, moral decadence, and other perceived problems are rooted in the mysteries and plots of a rejected past.
If an enemy does not exist, it is necessary to invent one. Usually it is an individual or a group that was already widely feared, hated, or envied. Lenin blamed the plight of workers on money-grubbing capitalists. Hitler blamed Jews and communists for the German loss in World War I and the economic crises that preceded his assumption of power. Mao found his enemy first in wealthy landlords and later in “capitalist roaders.” Clearly, the purpose of these ploys was to focus mass attention on a readily identifiable scapegoat on whose shoulders all the nation’s ills could be placed.
According to Hoffer, “Mass movements can rise and spread without a belief in God, but never without a belief in a devil.”* Hate and prejudice, rather than love and high principle, seem the most effective forces in bringing people together in a common cause.
Revolutionary Struggle: Explaining the Present
As a guide to the present, ideology provides the true believer with keys to a “correct” analysis of the underlying forces at work in contemporary society. Concepts such as class struggle for Marxist-Leninists, Herrenvolk (master race) for the Nazis, and “contradictions” for Mao’s followers were used to explain and predict social reality. Yesterday the enemy was preeminent; today the enemy will be defeated.
Advocates of total revolution believe struggle is the very essence of politics. For Marxist-Leninists, class struggle was the engine of progress in history. For Maoists, struggle was a desirable end in itself; only through the direct experience of revolutionary struggle, they believed, could the masses (and especially the young) learn the true meaning of self-sacrifice. Hitler glorified the struggle for power by proclaiming war to be the supreme test of national greatness. (Revealingly, Hitler outlined his own path to political power in a book titled Mein Kampf, “my struggle.”) Whether the aim is to overthrow monopoly capitalists or to purify a race, revolutionary struggle is always described in terms of good versus evil. It was common for leading Nazis to depict Jews not simply as enemies of the state but as untermenschen (“subhumans”) and, frequently, as insects or lice.* The repeated use of such degrading characterizations dehumanizes the victims; it is a lot easier to justify the extermination of insects than human beings.
Utopia: Foretelling the Future
As a promise of the future, ideology tends to paint a radiant picture of perfect justice and perpetual peace. Marxist-Leninists envisioned this utopia as a classless society, one from which all social and economic inequality would be abolished. Similarly, the Nazi utopia was a society from which all racial “impurities” would be removed through the extermination or enslavement of racial “inferiors.”
Whatever its precise character, the vision of the future always included a radical redistribution of wealth and property. Marxism-Leninism promised to take from the rich (the bourgeoisie) and give to the poor (the proletariat). Hitler made a similar promise when he proclaimed his intention to provide Lebensraum (“living space”) in the east; he would take land from the land-rich but slothful Slavs and give it to the land-poor but industrious Germans.
Marxism is based on a deterministic worldview in which the success of the proletarian revolution is dictated by inflexible “laws” of history. Hitler, too, was an unabashed determinist. In Mein Kampf, he wrote, “Man must realize that a fundamental law of necessity reigns throughout the whole realm of Nature.”* Hitler also frequently ranted about “the iron law of our historical development,” the “march of history,” and the “inner logic of events.” No less than Lenin, Stalin, or Mao, Hitler claimed that he (and the German people, or Volk) had a world-shattering mission to accomplish, and that success was inevitable. He expressed this notion in what is perhaps his most famous (or infamous) pronouncement: “I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker.”*
Ideology and Truth
The past, present, and future as described by a given revolutionary ideology may seem far-fetched or even ludicrous to a disinterested observer. The racial theory put forth by the Nazis utterly lacked historical, sociological, genetic, and moral foundations. By the same token, the economic facet of Hitler’s ideology—the “socialism” in National Socialism—lacked any meaningful content. So watered down was Hitler’s conception of socialism that in the words of one authority, “Anyone genuinely concerned about the people was in Hitler’s eyes a socialist.”*
Why would any sane person embrace such an ideology? First, it appealed to popular prejudices and made them respectable. Second, it was not the message that counted so much as the messenger—the leader’s personal magnetism attracted a following, whether the words made sense or not. Third, certitude was far more important than rectitude. Fourth, ideologues can often get away with absurd allegations and gross falsehoods if they also address real problems faced by ordinary people.
Many Germans recognized the extremist nature of the Nazis’ racial theories but probably believed Hitler would discard such absurdities once the work of unifying the country, reviving the economy, and restoring the nation’s lost honor had been accomplished. By the same token, even if many of Lenin’s followers did not truly believe the workers’ paradise was just around the corner, the Russian peasants did believe in land reform, an end to Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War I, and improvements in nutrition, medical care, and education as promised by Lenin.
Cohesive structure was one of the missing ingredients in pre-twentieth-century rebellions. Most such outbreaks were spontaneous affairs—they burst into flame, occasionally spread, but almost always burned themselves out. The October Revolution, however, was a different story.
Lenin founded the Bolshevik Party more than fourteen years before seizing power in 1917. Admitting only hard-core adherents into the party, Lenin reasoned the czar could be defeated through a long, clandestine struggle led by a small group of disciplined revolutionaries (a “vanguard”) rather than by a large, amorphous mass of unruly malcontents.
To ensure secrecy, discipline, and centralized control, Lenin organized the Bolshevik Party into tiny cells. As the Bolsheviks grew in number and established cells in cities outside St. Petersburg (see “Landmarks in History”), however, intermediate layers of authority became necessary, although the principles of strict party discipline and total subordination of lower levels to higher ones were not relaxed. Factionalism was not tolerated; party members were still expected to place party interests above personal interests at all times. This spirit of self-sacrifice and total commitment to the party was called partiinost.
Unlike its Russian counterpart, the Chinese Revolution was primarily a rural uprising by a mass of discontented peasants. Mao’s most pressing organizational problem was to mold the amorphous peasant mass into an effective military force capable of carrying out a protracted guerrilla war. His success won over many leftists (especially in developing nations) who admired and even imitated Mao’s theory and practice of peasant-based revolution in a poor and benighted rural society.
Landmarks in History The October Revolution
In October 1917, the Russian capital of St. Petersburg (also called Petrograd) was in turmoil due to hardships and popular anger caused by the long years of World War I and the bitter capitulation to Germany. The October Revolution was led by Nikolai Lenin and the Bolsheviks, with the backing of the Mensheviks, the Left Socialist revolutionaries, and an assortment of anarchists.
There were actually two revolutions in Russia in 1917. The first, the so-called February Revolution, brought about three dramatic results: the ouster of Czar Nicholas II, the end of the Russian monarchy, and the creation of a power vacuum. Following a failed attempt by Aleksandr Kerensky to form a Western-style parliamentary democracy, Lenin and Trotsky masterminded a power seizure in the capital in October. This move had a dual character—half popular uprising and half coup d’état.
In fact, the revolution did spread, and it was fomented by Lenin’s Bolsheviks. However, it was not entirely, or even mainly, a proletarian revolution of the kind Marx had imagined. Instead, it included disaffected soldiers and sailors, as well as land-hungry peasants. Russia did not have an extensive industrial labor force in 1917. It was still primarily a peasant society with an agrarian economy. Moreover, the “revolution” in St. Petersburg was actually led by Leon Trotsky, not Lenin.
Nonetheless, Lenin was the prime mover. His role in creating a conspiratorial organization, orchestrating events between February and October 1917, and inspiring the masses made him the undisputed leader of the revolutionary Soviet state—so much so that St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad three days after Lenin’s death in 1924. The name was changed back to St. Petersburg in September 1991, shortly before the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.
Mao’s long march to power contrasts with Hitler’s quixotic rise in Germany, which started with a violent, abortive coup in the early 1920s and culminated in a kind of constitutional coup d’état in the 1930s. A compliant organization in the form of the Nazi Party was crucial to Hitler’s ultimate success. Hitler made extensive use of brute force to intimidate his opposition, but he also created numerous party-controlled clubs and associations. The Hitler Youth, a Nazi women’s league, a Nazi workers’ organization, a Nazi student league, and various other academic and social organizations gave the Nazis considerable political power even before Hitler took over the reins of government. Later, under an innocuous-sounding policy called Gleichschaltung (“coordination”), he destroyed virtually all preexisting social organizations and substituted Nazi associations in their place. Partly for this reason, Hitler’s promises and threats carried great weight throughout German society. Like all modern revolutionaries, Hitler understood the value of a carefully constructed revolutionary organization.
As more people have become engaged in modern political life, propaganda—the dissemination of information based on falsehoods and half-truths designed to advance an ideological cause—has become a potent political weapon.* To be successful, as Hitler noted, propaganda must address the masses exclusively; hence, “its effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect.”*
An avid student of the science of propaganda, Hitler proposed that “all propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those to whom it is addressed.” Hence, “the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be…. Effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand.” Given these premises, it follows that the “very first axiom of all propagandist activity [is] the basically subjective and one-sided attitude it must take toward every question it deals with.”* And the bigger the lie, the better.
Hitler theorized that the success of any propaganda campaign depends on the propagandist’s understanding of the “primitive sentiments” of the popular masses. Propaganda cannot have multiple shadings: Concepts and “facts” must be presented to the public as true or false, right or wrong, black or white. In Mein Kampf, Hitler heaped high praise on British propaganda efforts in World War I and expressed contempt for German propaganda, which he faulted for not painting the world in stark black-and-white terms.
Unlike Hitler, who was a highly effective orator, Lenin was a master pamphleteer and polemicist who relied most heavily on the written word. In the infancy of his movement, Lenin’s chief weapon was the underground newspaper. Endowed with such names as “The Spark” and “Forward,” these propaganda tabloids were printed clandestinely or smuggled into the capital, St. Petersburg, in false-bottom briefcases.
The fifth and final characteristic of totalitarian revolution is the use of violence and terror as accepted instruments of political policy. According to the Nazi theorist Eugene Hadamovsky, “Propaganda and violence are never contradictions. Use of violence can be part of the propaganda.”* Assassinations and kidnappings, indiscriminate bombings, and sabotage are all part of the totalitarian tool box. Sabotage is designed to disrupt production, transportation, and communications systems; terror is aimed at a greater, pervasive sense of insecurity (see Chapter 15).
State terror—violence perpetrated by the government—has played a prominent role in mass movements of both the Right and the Left. The notorious “combat groups” (fasci di combattimento) Italian Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini formed shortly after World War I provide a striking example. After attempts to woo the working class away from the Socialist Party failed, Mussolini began to cultivate the middle classes and seek financing from wealthy industrialists and big landowners. One of the more novel forms of terror the fascists devised was the punitive expedition, in which armed bands conducted raids against defenseless communities. The local police would often cooperate by looking the other way.
Mussolini’s aim was threefold:
· to create an artificial atmosphere of crisis;
to demonstrate that the state was no longer capable of providing law-abiding, taxpaying citizens with protection from unprovoked attacks on their persons and property; and
to prod an increasingly fearful, desperate, and fragmented citizenry to turn for refuge and order to the very same political movement that was deliberately exacerbating the problem.
The Nazis in Germany used the same sort of tactics. The similarities between this kind of organized violence and plain gangsterism are obvious—the crucial difference has to do with ends rather than means: Gangsters seek to gain control over lucrative (and often illegal) businesses, not to overthrow the government.
The Consolidation of Power
Once the old order has been overthrown or fatally discredited, the totalitarian leadership can operate from a solid power base within the government. The next task it faces is to eliminate any competing political parties and factions. The final step in the consolidation process is the elimination of all those within the party who pose a real or potential danger to the totalitarian leader. At this stage, Machiavelli’s advice is especially valuable: “One ought not to say to someone whom one wants to kill, ‘Give me your gun, I want to kill you with it,’ but merely, ‘Give me your gun,’ for once you have the gun in your hand, you can satisfy your desire.”*
Eliminating Opposition Parties
Any opposition group, no matter how small or ineffectual, poses a potential danger to the ruler. By the same token, the mere existence of political opponents inhibits the kind of radical change mandated by the movement’s ideology.
In dealing with rival political parties, Lenin famously employed salami tactics *—the practice of marginalizing or eliminating opposition by slicing it into pieces and playing one group off against the other. Thus, after the new Constituent Assembly (legislature) was elected, Lenin exploited an already existing division in the dominant Socialist Revolutionary Party by forming an alliance with its left wing. This alliance enabled Lenin to move against the party’s more moderate wing, as well as against other rightist parties.
Lenin also repressed Russia’s huge peasant population. The lack of peasant support for the Bolshevik regime became a particularly acute problem during the civil war (1918–1920), when foodstuffs and other basic necessities were extremely scarce. In response, Lenin “instituted in the villages a ‘civil war within a civil war’ by setting poor peasants against those who were less poor,”* thereby helping to undermine the political opposition.
Hitler employed a different strategy. Bolstered by his Nazi Party’s steadily growing popularity in the polls (thanks to a formidable following of true believers), his superb oratorical skills, and a special group of shock troops known as storm troopers, he played a waiting game. Once in office, he gradually expanded his authority, first by gaining passage of new emergency powers and suspending civil liberties. Only then did he move to shut down all opposition parties. Hitler thus used the charade of legality to destroy his opponents politically before using the power of the state to destroy them physically.
Purging Real or Imagined Rivals Within the Party
Political purges involve removing opponents from the party leadership or from positions of power, or rounding up whole (often fictitious) categories of people (“bourgeois capitalists” or “enemies of the people”) but not necessarily killing them. Arresting people you don’t trust and either imprisoning or exiling them can be just as effective as killing them—and ostensibly more civilized. In carrying out purges, totalitarian governments almost invariably accuse their victims of subversive activity or treason—a convenient rationale for eliminating individuals who are perceived as threats or political liabilities.* Thus, Hitler turned on Ernst Röhm and other party members who had been instrumental in the Nazis’ rise to power; on the Führer’s orders, the Röhm faction was murdered in June 1934. Blaming the whole incident on his political enemies, Hitler used the Röhm purge to solidify his popular support and give credence to his fear-mongering propaganda.
Purges played an even bigger role in the consolidation of power in the Soviet Union. In 1921, thousands of trade unionists and sailors, formerly the backbone of the Bolsheviks’ popular support, were murdered by the secret police when they demanded free trade unions and elections. Next, Lenin purged the so-called Workers’ Opposition faction of his own Bolshevik party, which demanded worker self-management of industry. Lenin pronounced the group guilty of “factionalism” and accused it of endangering both the party and the revolution. The members of the Workers’ Opposition group were expelled from the party but not murdered.
Such relatively mild actions were not characteristic of Lenin’s successor, Joseph Stalin, who, as the head of the Soviet Communist Party (1924–1953), did not hesitate to murder those whom he perceived to be his political enemies. How Stalin gathered total power in his hands is a textbook example of cutthroat power politics. He shrewdly adapted Lenin’s salami tactics. However, whereas Lenin set rival parties against each other, Stalin set rivals within his own party—virtually all the great Bolshevik heroes of the October Revolution—against each other. Stalin purged and eventually murdered virtually the entire top party leadership after Lenin’s death in 1924.
Creating a Monolithic Society
The totalitarian state stops at nothing short of total control over the economy, the arts, the military, the schools, the government—every aspect of society. As Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945) remarked, “The revolution we have made is a total revolution…. It is completely irrelevant what means it uses.”* Ironically, the golden society at the end of the utopian rainbow is incompatible with intellectual freedom. Thus, one Nazi official asked this rhetorical question: “If the brains of all university professors were put at one end of the scale and the brains of the Führer at the other, which end, do you think, would tip?”*
Total control requires total loyalty. During the Nazi era, even in small towns, any magistrates and petty officials who had not publicly supported the Nazis were removed from power. Simultaneously, numerous “enemies of the people” were identified and punished by the brutal Gestapo or secret police.* The effectiveness of these terror tactics helps explain why there was so little overt resistance to the Nazi takeover, but it does not tell the whole story. Cowardice, apathy, and self-interest played important roles as well. A true story told by a German refugee who had been on the faculty of the prestigious University of Frankfurt speaks directly to this point.* Following the appointment of a Nazi commissar at the university, every professor and graduate assistant was summoned for an important faculty meeting:
The new Nazi commissar … immediately announced that Jews would be forbidden to enter university premises and would be dismissed without salary on March 15…. Then he launched into a tirade of abuse, fifth, and four-letter words such as had been heard rarely even in the barracks and never before in academia. He pointed his finger at one department chairman after another and said, “You either do what I tell you or we’ll put you into a concentration camp.” There was silence when he finished; everybody waited for the distinguished biochemist-physiologist.
The great liberal got up, cleared his throat, and said, “Very interesting, Mr. Commissar, and in some respects very illuminating; but one point I didn’t get too clearly. Will there be more money for research in Physiology?” The meeting broke up shortly thereafter with the commissar assuring the scholars that indeed there would be plenty of money for “racially pure science.”*
The English philosopher Edmund Burke is reported to have said, “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” Indeed.
The Transformation of Society
The transformation stage generally coincides with the regime’s assumption of control over the economy and requires active government planning and intervention.* In justifying the drive for a new social order, totalitarian regimes typically blame everything that is wrong with the country on counterrevolutionaries, spies, and saboteurs.
Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski, two respected students of this subject, have identified six characteristics shared by all totalitarian governments:
an official ideology;
a single, hierarchical party;
a secret police;
a tightly controlled armed forces;
a media monopoly; and
central control over the economy.*
These characteristics derive from the main features and functions of the revolutionary movement we have discussed (leadership, ideology, organization, propaganda, and violence), now redirected to the state’s day-to-day administration and transformation.
The attempted transformation of the state follows a predetermined ideological path, with some concessions to pragmatism where necessary. But practicality is rarely of prime importance for the total tyrant bent on transformation. Examples from the political careers of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao illustrate this point.
The Soviet Union under Stalin
In 1928, having defeated his political rivals, Stalin stood poised to launch his drive to collectivize and industrialize the Soviet economy. His first Five-Year Plan for the Soviet economy (1928–1932) marked the beginning of a cataclysm. Over the next ten years, millions of innocent people were killed or sent to labor camps, and a whole class of relatively well-to-do landholders, the kulaks, ceased to exist. In addition, the whole pattern of Soviet agricultural production was radically reshaped.
To understand why Stalin would inflict so much suffering on the Soviet farm population, we must first understand the role of ideology in totalitarian systems. Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan, which instituted a highly centralized economic system designed to foster rapid development of the Soviet economy, was motivated by a lust for power. However, Stalin was also committed to creating an advanced industrial society based on collective, rather than capitalist, principles. The way to accomplish this remarkable feat in the shortest possible time, Stalin reasoned, was to invest massively in heavy industry while squeezing every last drop of profit from agriculture, the traditional foundation of the Russian economy.
Private ownership of farmland, animals, and implements would have to be eliminated and farming “collectivized.” Under Stalin’s collectivization plan, most agricultural production took place in large cooperative units known as kolkhozy (collective farms), whose members shared whatever income was left after making compulsory deliveries to the state, or in sovkhozy (state farms), whose laborers received wages.
One of the most ruthless dictators of the twentieth century, Joseph Stalin (1879–1954) moved away from the Soviet model of an international communist revolution proposed by Marx and Lenin to focus on “socialism in one country.” In pursuit of his aims, Stalin committed mass murders on a grand scale and enslaved millions in a vast system of gulags (forced-labor camps). It’s amazing, even shocking given what we now know about Stalin, that he was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1942.
Soviet agriculture was collectivized to underwrite Soviet industrialization. Through a massive transfer of resources from farms to cities, Stalin believed industrial production could double or even triple during the period of the first Five-Year Plan. But doing so would necessitate crushing all pockets of rural resistance, herding the peasants into collective farms, and imposing a draconian system of “tax” collections, or compulsory deliveries of scarce food supplies to the state in order to feed the growing army of industrial workers and to pay for imported capital goods.
One reason the plan failed was the excessive and indiscriminate brutality Stalin employed. Stories spread through the countryside of how Stalin’s agents had machine-gunned whole villages. Many Russian peasants deliberately burned their crops and killed their cattle rather than cooperate with Stalin’s requisition squads. Despite an all-out national effort, industrial production grew only slightly, if at all. In the meantime, famine depopulated the countryside.
Stalin made no apologies and no policy adjustments. Instead, he fabricated statistics, which no one dared question, to “prove” that real progress was being made. In the words of one expert, “The Stalin regime was ruthlessly consistent: All facts that did not agree, or were likely to disagree, with the official fiction—data on crop yields, criminality, true incidences of ‘counterrevolutionary’ activities … were treated as nonfacts.”*
In 1934, as the death toll mounted and the first Five-Year Plan came to an unspectacular end, the Soviet dictator declared he had uncovered a far-reaching conspiracy, orchestrated by foreign agents and counterrevolutionaries, to resurrect capitalism in Soviet Russia. This conspiracy theory gained credibility when Sergei Kirov, the dynamic young leader of the Leningrad party organization, was assassinated in December 1934. Harsh reprisals, numerous arrests, phony trials, summary executions, and large-scale deportations followed. Many of the victims were loosely identified as members of a fabricated conspiracy called the Leningrad Center. The alleged plot furnished Stalin with the pretext for a purge of Lenin’s original circle of revolutionary leaders, the so-called Old Bolsheviks.
During the first phase of the Great Terror (January 1934 to April 1936)—also known as the Great Purge—Communist Party membership fell by nearly 800,000, or approximately 25%. The Soviet press denounced these ex-communicants as “wreckers, spies, diversionists, and murderers sheltering behind the party card and disguised as Bolsheviks.”*
Landmarks in History The Great Purge
Between 1934 and 1938, Stalin ordered most of the Soviet political and military elite executed as enemies of the state, including:
· 1,100 delegates to the 17th Party Congress (more than half)
· 70% of the 139-member Party Central Committee
· 3 of 5 Soviet marshals (the highest-ranking generals)
· 14 of 26 army commanders
· All 8 admirals
· 60 of 67 corps commanders
· Half the 397 brigade commanders
· All but 5 of the 81 top-ranking political commissars
The second phase of the Stalin purges (1936–1938) was highlighted by the infamous show trials, in which the Old Bolsheviks, along with many other top-ranking party leaders, were placed on public trial and forced to make outrageous “confessions.” The trials represented only the tip of the iceberg (see “Landmarks in History”).
Nor were the rank-and-file workers spared. Throughout the mid- to late 1930s, Stalin collectivized the Soviet labor force by means of forced-draft or conscript labor. Work units were structured and regimented along military lines. This policy gave birth to the so-called gulag archipelago, a network of draconian slave-labor camps maintained and operated by the Soviet secret police where social and political undesirables were forced to live. Through the gulag system, railroads, canals, and dams were constructed in remote and inaccessible areas where workers would not voluntarily go. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the celebrated dissident writer who chronicled life in the labor camps, estimated that they held as many as twelve million prisoners at any given time, perhaps half of them political prisoners. “As some departed beneath the sod,” he noted, “the Machine kept bringing in replacements.”*
At the close of 1938, Stalin stood alone at the top. Industrial development had been spurred, but the Soviet Union was anything but a worker’s paradise. Terror had brought about great political changes, with many luminaries from the pages of Soviet Communist Party history uncovered as traitors and placed on public trial. The list of the accused read like an honor roll of the October Revolution. The military high command had been sacked, the party rank and file cleansed of all political impurities, and the “toiling masses” reduced to a new level of industrial serfdom. Although he ruled until his death in 1953, Stalin (and the legacy of Stalinism) would be identified, above all, with the bloody purges of the 1930s.
Germany under Hitler
The overriding theme of National Socialist (Nazi) Party ideology during the Third Reich (1933–1945) was the elimination of the Jews and other “social undesirables” and the ascendency of the “Aryan” race—a fiction that nonetheless obsessed Hitler and his followers. Through Nazi ideology and propaganda, the German people came to accept the persecution of the Jews, the necessity of eventual war, and the radical transformation of society. Every aspect of German life became politicized. Dissident artists, journalists, and academicians were silenced. New state organs, including the Reich chambers for literature, press, broadcasting, theater, music, and fine arts, were created for the primary purpose of censoring or quelling potentially “dangerous” forms of written or artistic expression.
In the realm of music, German folk tunes were exalted over “decadent” modern music and classical music written by composers of Jewish lineage, such as Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler. Modern art was likewise condemned, and the works of virtually every well-known contemporary artist were banned. Literature under the Nazi regime fared no better. According to one chronicler of the Third Reich, “Blacklists were compiled ceaselessly and literary histories were revised…. The ‘cleansing’ of libraries and bookstores presented some problems, but the destruction and self-destruction of German literature was achieved within a matter of months through the substitution of second- and third-rate scribblers for first-rate writers and by inhibiting contacts with the outside.”*
The Nazi attack on the arts was indicative of the lengths to which Hitler would go to ensure that Nazi values were propagated. But perhaps no part of German life more vividly demonstrated Hitler’s commitment to a new future than the Nazi school system. As Bracher pointed out, “While National Socialism could substitute little more than ideology and second-rate imitators for the literature and art it expelled or destroyed, its main efforts from the very outset were directed toward the most important instruments of totalitarian policy: propaganda and education.”*
Nazi educational policy was implemented in three principal ways. To begin with, educators and school administrators who were suspected of opposing Hitler, Nazism, or Nazi educational “reform” were promptly removed from their positions. Then all academic subjects were infused with ideological content reflecting Hitler’s anti-Semitic racial theories. History became “racial history,” biology was transformed into “racial biology,” and so on. Finally, the Nazis established special schools to train a future party elite, including military leaders, party officials, and government administrators. Students were assigned to these schools according to age group and career orientation. The Adolf Hitler Schools, to cite one example, taught 12- to 18-year-old students who wished to become high party functionaries. In general, all special schools taught certain basic core courses (such as racial history and biology) and emphasized military drill (for example, the training of the infamous Hitler Youth).
The Nazi educational program turned out to be all too successful. In the judgment of one authority, “Just as teachers and parents capitulated to the pressures of the regime, so on the whole did the indoctrination of the young succeed. The young, who were receptive to heroic legends and black-and-white oversimplifications, were handed over to the stupendous shows of the regime.”* Education of the young was reinforced by carefully planned pomp and ceremony: “From earliest childhood, they were exposed to flag raisings, parades, nationwide broadcasts in the schools, hikes, and camps.”* Indoctrination and propaganda, not terror, became the instruments by which the children of the Third Reich were initiated into the new order.
The overriding theme of Nazi Party ideology was the elimination of the Jews and other “social undesirables” and the subsequent creation of a “racially pure” Aryan nation. Between 1933 and 1945, at least six million European Jews plus countless others perished in Nazi death camps. The entrance to the infamous Auschwitz death camp is pictured here. The sign above the gate reads, “Work makes you free.”
Mass indoctrination combined with a preexisting anti-Semitism made it possible for Hitler to carry out the murderous racial policies that culminated in the Holocaust. After seizing power, Hitler implemented his anti-Jewish policy in stages, each more radical than the one before.* First came the attempt to define who precisely was and was not a Jew. Then the regime launched a systematic campaign to isolate Jews from the mainstream of German life and to expropriate their property. Next all Jews who had not fled the country between 1933 and 1938 were forcibly removed from German society and sent to the infamous concentration camps. This mass deportation presaged the fourth and final step—genocide.
Hitler’s maniacal obsession was ultimately his undoing. Even on the brink of defeat, Hitler continued to divert resources needed to prosecute the war to the Final Solution (the liquidation of the Jews). In the end, some six million European Jews plus countless others, including the mentally ill, physically disabled, Soviet prisoners of war, gay men, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witness members, and Polish intellectuals, as well as many Polish Roman Catholics, were annihilated.
China under Mao
Mao Zedong’s rise to power in China is an epic example of revolutionary struggle—a true mass movement in a poor, peasant-dominated society. For more than twenty years (1927–1949), Mao waged a bitter “war of national liberation” against the Kuomintang, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, as well as against the Japanese during World War II. In the mid-1930s, Mao was one of the leaders of the legendary Long March, a 6,000-mile trek, during which his ragtag band of guerrillas repeatedly evaded capture or annihilation by the numerically superior and better-equipped forces of Chiang’s Nationalist army. By 1949, when Mao finally won the last decisive battle and assumed command of the Chinese nation, Mao had been waging class war in the name of the Chinese masses for more than two decades.
Mao prided himself not only on his revolutionary exploits but also on his political thought. In time, the “thoughts of Chairman Mao,” compiled in his pocket-sized little Red Book, of which millions of copies were printed and mass distributed, attained the status of holy scripture in Chinese society. His vision of a new, classless state and of the exemplary communist cadres and comrades who would typify this morally reeducated society inspired the radical policies that have become known collectively as Maoism.
Although Mao’s worldview was undoubtedly shaped by the basic tenets of Marxism, 1920s China was a preindustrial society without a true proletarian (industrial-worker) class or a “monopoly capitalist” class of the kind Marx had described in Das Kapital. The bane of China’s peasant masses was not factory bosses but greedy landlords and bureaucratic officials preoccupied with the preservation of the status quo and of their own power and privilege. If the oppressed majority were to be liberated, those in power would have to be overthrown. To accomplish such a historic mission, Mao believed, violent revolution “from below” was an unavoidable necessity. “Political power,” he wrote, “grows out of the barrel of a gun.”*
As part of his adaptation of Marxism, Mao glorified the Chinese peasants—whom he described as “poor and blank”—as models of communist virtue because they had never been corrupted by “bourgeois materialism” and big-city decadence. Mao thus made the peasantry (not the proletariat) the cornerstone of his visionary utopian society.
Once in power, Mao turned China into a kind of social laboratory. The first step included campaigns to eradicate specific evils such as individualism and bourgeois materialism by “reeducating” the masses or exterminating undesirable social elements (landlords, counterrevolutionaries, and “bandits”). Accompanying mass reeducation was a sweeping land reform program culminating in the wholesale collectivization of Chinese agriculture. This bitter pill was administered with massive doses of propaganda, as well as brute force. In the early 1950s, a major push to industrialize China along Stalinist lines was also launched.
Alternating periods of freedom and repression marked Mao’s rule. In 1956, for example, he announced the beginning of the Hundred Flowers campaign, which promised a relaxation of strict social discipline. As a high-ranking party official put it at the time, “The Chinese Communist party advocates [that] one hundred flowers bloom for literary works and one hundred schools contend in the scientific field . . . to promote the freedom of independent thinking, freedom of debate, freedom of creation and criticism, freedom of expressing one’s own opinions.”* What followed probably caught Mao by surprise. Public protests and anti-party demonstrations occurred at Beijing University and other campuses. Strikes and scattered riots, even isolated physical attacks on party officials, occurred in various parts of the country.
Instead of a hundred flowers, thousands of “poisonous weeds” had grown in the Chinese garden. The incipient rebellion was rapidly suppressed in a brutal “anti-rightist” crackdown. The official party newspaper, People’s Daily, announced the whole Hundred Flowers campaign had been a ploy to lure the enemies of the state into the open.
In retrospect, the Hundred Flowers episode was a mere warm-up for Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1957–1960)—a spectacular but ill-conceived attempt to catapult China onto the stage of “full communism” by means of mass mobilization. Mao set out to prove that anything is possible, and that subjective factors like human will can triumph over objective conditions such as poverty, illiteracy, and external dependency. Put differently, the idea “was to take advantage of China’s rural backwardness and manpower surplus by realizing the Maoist faith that ideological incentives could get economic results, that a new spirit could unlock hitherto untapped sources of human energy without the use of material incentives.”* Thus did Mao’s brand of “Marxism” stand Marx on his head.
es could get economic results, that a new spirit could unlock hitherto untapped sources of human energy without the use of material incentives.”* Thus did Mao’s brand of “Marxism” stand Marx on his head.
Many peasants for a time ate in large mess halls. All labor was to be controlled. Everyone was to work twenty-eight days of the month, while children went into day nurseries. This would bring large-scale efficiency to the village and get all its labor, including its womanpower, into full employment.*
Why were the unprecedented measures associated with Mao’s grandiose concept instituted? According to China scholar John King Fairbank, “The result, it was hoped, would be agricultural cities with the peasants proletarianized and uprooted from their own land”—with an overall view toward giving the state increased control over labor resources and changing the peasants’ attitudes.*
The Great Leap Forward was a colossal failure with disastrous consequences for the Chinese people, including severe crop failures and food shortages. But Mao was undeterred. After a brief period of retrenchment, he launched a second “revolution from above.” From 1966 to 1969, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution shook Chinese society to its very foundations. In the first stage, designed to wash away all that was “decadent” in Chinese life, Mao closed all schools and urged his youthful followers, called the Red Guards, to storm the bastions of entrenched privilege and bureaucratic authority. Millions of Maoist youths obligingly went on a rampage throughout the country for many weeks. This phase of the revolution accomplished its intended purpose, as the Red Guards “smashed most of the Republic’s bureaucratic institutions” and “invalidated [the government’s] authority and expertise.”* Officials were dragged out and put on public display to be ridiculed and humiliated, accompanied by purges and summary executions; temples and historical treasures lay in ruins, as did the party, government, and armed forces.
The second stage of the Cultural Revolution called for positive action to replace the previous order with a new and better one. Unfortunately, the economy and society, especially in urban areas, had been severely disrupted. Factories and schools, shut down by marauding Red Guards, did not reopen for months or even years.
The ultimate cost of the Cultural Revolution is incalculable. One fact, however, is clear: Mao’s unrelenting efforts to prove that human nature is infinitely malleable—and society, therefore, infinitely perfectible—foundered on the rocky shores of political reality, not to mention the folly of eliminating a whole generation of educated citizens. His death in 1976 closed a unique chapter in the political history of the modern world.
The Human Cost of Totalitarianism
Totalitarian regimes present a stark contrast between ends and means—diabolical deeds in pursuit of utopian dreams. The death camps of Nazi Germany and the labor camps of Stalinist Russia stand as the essence of twentieth-century totalitarianism.
All told, the three revolutions featured in this chapter—Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Maoist China—caused at least one hundred million civilian deaths by most estimates.* The number defies imagination; but these estimates, which include World War II casualties, are quite plausible and may actually be low.* War-related deaths in the European theater during World War II numbered “about six million for Germany and Austria, 20 million for the Soviet Union, and about 10 million for all other European countries, for a total of about 36 million.”* Hitler’s Final Solution was estimated to have resulted in the deaths of an estimated five to six million European Jews, not to mention an indeterminate number of non-Jews whom Hitler considered “social undesirables.” All in all, perhaps forty-two million people died directly or indirectly as a result of Hitler’s policies.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath were hardly less costly in terms of human life. Between 1918 and 1923, approximately three million Soviet citizens died of typhus, typhoid, dysentery, and cholera, and about nine million more disappeared, probably victims of the terrible famine that scourged the country in the early 1920s. Many perished in a severe drought in 1920–1921, but others died of direct or indirect political causes.
In the late 1920s, during Stalin’s titanic industrialization drive, the kulaks were annihilated as a class. In addition, another killer famine—at least partially self-inflicted—occurred in the early 1930s. When deaths associated with the early stages of collectivization are combined with deaths brought on by famine, the mortality figures range in the millions for the period from 1929 to 1934.
But the worst was yet to come. After 1934, Stalin’s purges directly claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and led to the premature deaths of some two million “class enemies” in Siberian forced-labor camps. Nor did the end of the great purges in 1938 stop the political hemorrhaging that, together with World War II, drained Soviet society of so much of its vitality. Millions of labor camp inmates died between 1938 and 1950 due to the inhumane treatment and harsh conditions they had to endure on a daily basis.
The human cost of the revolution in Maoist China exceeds that of Stalinist Russia. Between the time of the communist takeover in 1949 and the Great Leap Forward in 1957, several mass campaigns were launched to combat allegedly counterrevolutionary forces. After the Chinese Communist takeover, the land reform program cost the lives of several million “landlords” and rich peasants between 1949 and 1952. Other campaigns against counterrevolutionaries in the early 1950s cost another million and a half lives. Periodic anti-rightist campaigns and collectivization of agriculture after 1953 also took a toll.* According to scholar C. W. Cassinelli,
Accurate information is not available—and often even informed guesses are lacking—on the cost of the first decade [emphasis supplied] of the People’s Republic. An estimate of twelve million lives is modest but reasonable.*
These figures do not include deaths caused by hardship and privation, most notably those traceable to the dislocations that accompanied the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s.
The Cultural Revolution (1966–1969) was another bloody episode in Chinese history, although firm estimates of the number of casualties are impossible to make. A much heavier toll was probably taken by the Chinese gulag system. As many as fifteen million may have perished as a direct result of inhumanly harsh labor camp conditions. When Cassinelli tallied the total number of politically related deaths, including “another million from miscellaneous causes,” he arrived at the astonishing figure of “about 33.5 million.”* Though unverifiable, this number is consistent with the available evidence. The mere fact that it is not implausible speaks volumes.
Totalitarian regimes typically refuse to concede that any goal, no matter how visionary or perverse, is beyond political reach. The compulsion to validate this gross misconception may help explain the pathological violence that marks totalitarian rule.
The Sanguinary Imitators
Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, and Mao’s China are the best-known examples of totalitarianism, but not the only ones. A surprising number of dictatorships have tried to copy or imitate totalitarianism’s Big Three. Incredibly, one went to even greater extremes to purge society than either Stalin or Mao did, and in this case, to which we now turn, the tyrant committed genocide against his own nation.
Pol Pot governed Cambodia (renamed Kampuchea) from 1975 to 1979.* He and his followers sought to create a radically new society, based on the rustic and Spartan life of peasant cadres. All vestiges of the old order—everything from the calendar to the family—were eradicated. Pol Pot proclaimed 1978 “Year Zero,” which turned out to be grotesquely appropriate, for at the end of his brief rule, some two million Cambodians (of a population of 7.5 million) would be dead—the victims of purges, starvation, or persecution.
Another example of totalitarian rulers is Ethiopia’s Colonel Mengistu, who ruled from the mid-1970s until 1991.* Mengistu attempted to reorganize the nation by physically relocating its people into regimented population and refugee centers for the purposes of permitting intensive governmental surveillance as well as encouraging systematic propaganda and indoctrination. His efforts destroyed the nation’s agriculture, and a killer famine resulted. Although the West made efforts to feed the starving children of Ethiopia, their government appeared curiously detached. While his people went hungry, Mengistu staged lavish military parades, sold wheat to neighboring nations, and used the money he received to buy weapons. In May 1991, with his regime under siege by a coalition of rebel forces, Mengistu fled the country.
North Korea is the last Soviet-style totalitarian state still in existence. Kim Il-sung ruled over the Hermit Kingdom (so named for the nation’s self-imposed isolation from the outside world) until his death in July 1994. He was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il, who ruled from 1994 to 2011 as a brutal and lunatic tyrant bent on building nuclear weapons and indifferent to the suffering and starvation of his own people. The second Kim’s claim to rule was hereditary—his father not only founded North Korea’s totalitarian dictatorship after World War II but also established a ruling dynasty.
Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea the same way his father did—by perpetuating a personality cult similar to those once perpetrated in Russia by Joseph Stalin or in China by Mao Zedong. In a bizarre twist, when his father died, Kim Jong-il made him (the father) president for eternity. North Korean propagandists ascribe to Kim (the son) the authorship of a thousand books while he was a college student. When Kim Jong-il died in 2011, he was succeeded by (guess who) his son, Kim Jong-un.
North Korea maintains a huge army, entrenched along the 38th parallel that divides Korea, and poses a standing threat to South Korea, a close ally of the United States since the Korean War (1950–1953). That major war was started when northern Korea invaded the south, a fact that continues to shape Western perceptions of North Korea today. The war ended in a draw and without a peace treaty.
In stark contrast to the prosperous south, North Korea remains one of the poorest countries on earth. Malnutrition and even starvation threaten the population—children in North Korea are, on average, considerably shorter and weigh less than children of the same age in South Korea. North Koreans are not allowed to have contact with South Koreans, including family members.
After 9/11, President Bush declared North Korea to be part of an “axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran. North Korea again found itself in the international spotlight when the late Kim Jong Il Jong-il defied the Bush administration’s demand for a “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” halt to its nuclear weapons program. U.S. relations with North Korea did not greatly improve in the ensuing years. A preoccupation with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a deepening recession in the wake of the U.S. financial crisis in 2008–2009, led President Obama, like his predecessor, to seek an accommodation with Pyongyang (the capital).
North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006 and in April 2009 attempted to launch a long-range missile, but the test failed. Pyongyang is also thought to have stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. North Korea’s extreme self-isolation and secrecy make it impossible for the outside world to know where the country is headed, what the leadership is thinking, or even who’s in charge. So if the Hermit Kingdom does have a nuclear “gun,” nobody knows for sure whose finger is on the trigger.
Under the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini (1979–1989), Iran displayed most of the elements associated with totalitarian rule: an attempt to transform society; a dictatorship that demanded abject loyalty, obedience, and self-sacrifice; an all-encompassing creed that rationalized, explained, and justified arbitrary rule; press censorship; and secret police, show trials, summary executions, and holy wars.
Eventually, no aspect of life in Iran lay outside governmental control. Teachers, textbooks, education, entertainment, the legal system, even courtship and sexual mores were made to conform to fundamental Islamic beliefs. The regime declared war on civil servants, intellectuals, professional and entrepreneurial elements of the middle class, and all others who had endorsed modern Western ways and culture.
After Khomeini’s death, his successors relaxed some of the strict moral and social controls but maintained a rigidly theocratic police state fiercely opposed to the West and, in particular, to the U.S. presence in neighboring Iraq and the Persian Gulf. In addition, Tehran launched a major nuclear research and development program, raising a general alarm in the international community and causing the United States to orchestrate a global campaign to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons.
When President Obama assumed office, he quickly attempted to break the diplomatic impasse with Iran. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama had roundly criticized President Bush for refusing to engage in direct talks with Tehran. In early 2009, the new administration expressed a willingness to meet with Iran “without preconditions.” In April 2009, then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared in a televised speech, “We have prepared a package that can be the basis to resolve Iran’s nuclear problem. It will be offered to the West soon.”* In 2015, the world was still waiting—and hoping—for that promise to bear fruit.
The Iranian case demonstrates three important points. First, totalitarian regimes, like democracies and traditional dictatorships, can share a single essence and assume many different guises. Second, although totalitarian regimes appear to be rigid and unchanging on the outside, they are, in fact, not impervious to change on the inside. Third, in the modern world of the twenty-first century, totalitarian regimes cannot succeed economically in isolation—that is, without access to global markets, the latest technological advances, and sources of investment capital.
Ironically, as totalitarianism disappeared in Russia and Eastern Europe, it reared its ugly head in Afghanistan—a country the Soviet Union had invaded in 1979. It is generally accepted that the protracted and costly conflict in Afghanistan hastened the demise of the totalitarian Soviet state. It turned out to be Moscow’s Vietnam, but with more dire consequences.
In the 1990s, totalitarianism in a different guise arose from the ashes of the war that had ravaged Afghanistan during the previous decade. That regime—the Taliban—captured the world’s attention after September 2001 because the mastermind behind the 9/11 operation, the actual perpetrators, and the organization that carried it out were all based in Afghanistan. The Taliban was providing sanctuary for Osama bin Laden, who had set up training camps for his stateless “army.”
But the Taliban was not just harboring a terrorist organization; it was itself a terrorist organization—a full-blown totalitarian regime complete with a single all-powerful ruling clique, harsh and arbitrary laws, kangaroo courts, predictable (guilty) verdicts, summary executions turned into public spectacles, severely restricted personal freedoms, closed borders, and a captive population. Afghans were not allowed to emigrate or travel abroad. Girls were not allowed to go to school. Boys were not allowed to fly kites. Women had no rights, had to be completely covered in public, and could not work outside the home. Wife beating, no matter how severe, was not a crime—not even when the victim died.
After more than three decades of political upheaval, economic paralysis, and inconclusive civil war, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest of the least developed states in the world. None of the turmoil, however, has fundamentally changed the traditional structure and culture of Afghan society, which raises a serious question about outside intervention and whether revolutionary change is ever possible unless it comes from within.
Twilight of Totalitarianism?
Hitler boasted that his would be a thousand-year empire, but it lasted less than a decade. In fact, in stark contrast to the great autocratic empires of ancient history, totalitarian regimes are short-lived. They tend to burst on the scene like a meteor and burn out. Why might that be?
Fatal wars with other nations, such as Hitler’s defeat by the Allies in World War II, can bring a sudden end to totalitarian states. The death of a particularly charismatic or successful ruler—Mao or Stalin, for instance—can precipitate an extended downward spiral. Drab, indistinguishable successors who rule by coercion and terror rather than by consent may undermine the economic efficiency, moral vitality, and political idealism on which legitimate political power ultimately rests. Thus, the collapse of the Soviet Union was preceded by both a prolonged period of economic disintegration and a widespread loss of faith in the regime and its political ideals; a period of “totalitarianism in decline.”*
The Peoples’ Republic of China, to cite a key example, has morphed into a one-party authoritarian system with a transitional economy falling somewhere between a Soviet-style command economy and a Western-style market economy—a hybrid form sometimes called state capitalism. Iran after Khomeini remains a theocracy with limited personal freedoms, but it cannot in fairness be called totalitarian. North Korea alone still qualifies as unambiguously totalitarian. The totalitarian regimes in Kampuchea and Ethiopia are long gone—only the scars and bitter legacies remain.
In sum, the best thing about the worst regimes in today’s world is that they tend to be short-lived. Unfortunately, totalitarian tyrants need only a little time to do a lot of damage.
Totalitarian states attempt to realize a utopian vision and create a new political order. Like authoritarian states, totalitarian states are nondemocratic. Yet these two regime types differ in several important respects. In particular, totalitarian regimes seek total control over all aspects of their citizens’ lives and demand active participation, rather than passive acquiescence, on the part of the citizenry.
The three major totalitarian states of the past century—Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Maoist China—appear to have gone through several distinct stages of development. The first stage coincides with a period of violent revolution. The five major elements necessary for a successful revolution are charismatic leadership, ideology, organization, propaganda, and violence. During the second stage, power in the hands of the totalitarian ruler is consolidated, opposition parties are eliminated, the party faithful are put in charge, and real or imagined rivals within the party are killed.
The third stage attempts to bring about the total transformation of society. In the Soviet Union, Stalin launched this effort in 1928 with the first Five-Year Plan. In Nazi Germany, Hitler’s goal of “racial purification” provided the rationale for a totalitarian drive that culminated in World War II and the Holocaust. In Maoist China, the first attempt to transform Chinese society, the Great Leap Forward, failed miserably in the late 1950s and was followed by the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
The human costs of totalitarianism have been staggering. Actual numbers cannot be verified, but even the roughest estimates suggest the totalitarian experiments of the twentieth century brought death or appalling hardship to many millions of people.
Totalitarian states appear in many guises, and there is no guarantee new ones will not emerge in the future. Indeed, the ousted Taliban regime in Afghanistan qualified as a new form of totalitarianism that used a perverted form of Islam as a political ideology.
Chapter 10. Political Socialization: The Making of a Citizen
· 1Describe the model citizen in democratic theory and explain the concept.
· 2Define socialization and explain the relevance of this concept in the study of politics.
· 3Explain how a disparate population of individuals and groups (families, clans, and tribes) can be forged into a cohesive society.
· 4Demonstrate how socialization affects political behavior and analyze what happens when socialization fails.
· 5Characterize the role of television and the Internet in influencing people’s political beliefs and behavior, and evaluate their impact on the quality of citizenship in contemporary society.
The year is 1932. The Soviet Union is suffering a severe shortage of food, and millions go hungry. Joseph Stalin, leader of the Communist Party and head of the Soviet government, has undertaken a vast reordering of Soviet agriculture that eliminates a whole class of landholders (the kulaks) and collectivizes all farmland. Henceforth, every farm and all farm products belong to the state. To deter theft of what is now considered state property, the Soviet government enacts a law prohibiting individual farmers from appropriating any grain for their own private use. Acting under this law, a young boy reports his father to the authorities for concealing grain. The father is shot for stealing state property. Soon after, the boy is killed by a group of peasants, led by his uncle, who are outraged that he would betray his own father. The government, taking a radically different view of the affair, extols the boy as a patriotic martyr.
Stalin considered the little boy in this story a model citizen, a hero. How citizenship is defined says a lot about a government and the philosophy or ideology that underpins it.
The Good Citizen
Stalin’s celebration of a child’s act of betrayal as heroic points to a distinction Aristotle originally made: The good citizen is defined by laws, regimes, and rulers, but the moral fiber (and universal characteristics) of a good person is fixed, and it transcends the expectations of any particular political regime.*
Good citizenship includes behaving in accordance with the rules, norms, and expectations of our own state and society. Thus, the actual requirements vary widely. A good citizen in Soviet Russia of the 1930s was a person whose first loyalty was to the Communist Party. The test of good citizenship in a totalitarian state is this: Are you willing to subordinate all personal convictions and even family loyalties to the dictates of political authority, and to follow the dictator’s whims no matter where they may lead? In marked contrast are the standards of citizenship in constitutional democracies, which prize and protect freedom of conscience and speech.
Where the requirements of the abstract good citizen—always defined by the state—come into conflict with the moral compass of actual citizens, and where the state seeks to obscure or obliterate the difference between the two, a serious problem arises in both theory and practice. At what point do people cease to be real citizens and become mere cogs in a machine—unthinking and unfeeling subjects or even slaves? Do we obey the state, or the dictates of our own conscience?
This question gained renewed relevance in the United States when captured “illegal combatants” were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques”—an Orwellian euphemism for torture—during the Bush administration’s war on terror following the 9/11 attacks. One prisoner was waterboarded 183 times (strapped to a board with towels wrapped around his head while water was poured slowly onto the towels until he smothered).* Other harsh interrogation methods were also used.
Politics and Pop Culture Zero Dark Thirty
The New York Times called the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty “a national Rorschach test on the divisive subject of torture.” Jessica Chastain plays the starring role as “Maya,” a brilliant young CIA analyst who is obsessed with al Qaeda and hunting Osama bin Laden. Maya is assigned to an office in Pakistan where she’s introduced to the netherworld of unconventional warfare and CIA black-site torture. At first, she’s uncomfortable with what she learns, but she soon sets aside her reservations. Her intensity is pathological. She follows every lead, pursues every possibility, and never lets up or backs down. In her extreme commitment to defeating the enemy, she’s the anti-terrorist equivalent of a terrorist. In the end, her tenacity pays off.
The film realistically portrays the CIA’s brutal methods used to interrogate al Qaeda prisoners. It drew harsh criticism from certain quarters for suggesting that waterboarding and other forms of torture graphically depicted in the film helped track down Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan by special ops airborne commandos in May 2011. Critics of the war on terror argue that torture is not only illegal and immoral but also ineffectual—that is, it doesn’t work.
One question left unasked is whether Maya acted honorably. Arguably public servants ought to set a good example for us as private citizens. Maya may be a model intelligence analyst, but she is hardly a model citizen.
· We now know for certain that beginning in 2002 the U.S. Government sanctioned the use of torture in the war on terror. Can anyone in any position of authority who orders the use of torture be justified in so doing? Can anyone who carries out such an order—or collaborates with those who do—be a good citizen? Is it ever right to obey orders that are wrong—that is, illegal and (or) immoral? Think about it.
(Hint: There were massive student demonstrations against the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. Historians often point to these protests as a major factor in forcing the United States to end the war. Consider whether those students were troublemakers or good citizens. Here are a few relevant facts: Over 58,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Vietnam War and another 150,000 were wounded, many severely. More than 33,000 battlefield fatalities were young men of college age (21 or younger). Of these, over 14,000 were 20 years old (more than any other age group). Most were drafted into the army. We lost the war and Congress abolished the draft in 1973.)
The Third Geneva Convention (1949), to which the United States is a party, outlaws torture, as does the U.S. Code (Title 18, Chapter 113C). In addition, torture is a gross violation of the moral code we are taught to observe in our everyday lives from earliest childhood. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama denounced torture and the use of “extraordinary” methods and procedures in the war on terror. As president, he ordered an end to waterboarding but, to the dismay of his critics on the left, failed to close the Guantanamo Bay (“Gitmo”) detention camp.
President Obama’s decision to sign the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) disappointed and angered many of his erstwhile supporters, not least because he had threatened to veto it. “The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” he said. “In particular, I have … serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” Few friends of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights—in particular the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments—were placated.
In January, 2010, members of a group called Witness Against Torture, wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods, staged a protest in Washington, D.C., and called on the Obama Administration to close down the Guantanamo detention camp. At the end of 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a damning report on the U.S. Government’s post-9/11 anti-terror program, in particular, the CIA’s extralegal detention of suspects and brutal interrogation methods. The report’s release led to a new round of human rights protests at home and abroad and raised new doubts about the efficacy and morality of U.S. anti-terror policies.
Throughout history, people of diverse moral character have claimed to be models of good citizenship. The relationship between the moral character of citizens and different forms of government underscores Aristotle’s observation that the true measure of a political system is the kind of citizen it produces. According to this view, a good state is one whose model citizen is also a good person; a bad state is one whose model citizen obeys orders without regard for questions of good or evil. Simple though this formulation may sound, it offers striking insights into the relationship between governments and citizens, including, for example, the fact that we cannot divorce civic virtue or public morality from our personal integrity or private morality.
It is little wonder that different political systems embrace different definitions of citizenship. In many authoritarian states, people can be classified as citizens only in the narrowest sense of the word—that is, they reside within the territory of a certain state and are subject to its laws. The relationship between state and citizen is a one-way street. Ordinary citizens have no voice in deciding who rules or how, or even whether they have a vote. In general, the government leaves them alone as long as they acquiesce in the system.
By contrast, in totalitarian states, where the government seeks to transform society and create a new kind of citizen, people are compelled to participate in the political system, but popular participation is meaningless because it is not voluntary and stresses duties without corresponding rights. Loyalty and zealotry form the core of good citizenship in such states, and citizens may be forced to carry out orders they find morally repugnant.
In democratic societies, people define citizenship very differently. In elementary school, the good citizenship award typically goes to a pupil who sets a good example, respects others, plays by the rules, and hands in assignments on time. Adults practice good citizenship by taking civic obligations seriously, obeying the laws, paying taxes, and voting regularly, among other things. In a democracy, the definition of good citizenship is found in the laws, but the legislators who write the laws are freely elected by the people—in other words, a true republic at its best erases (or at the very least eases) the tension between citizenship and moral conscience.
Fringe right-wing opponents of Barack Obama have claimed that he was not born in the United States and therefore is not eligible under the Constitution to serve as president. The so-called Birthers refused to drop this spurious objection to his presidency even after Obama published this official long-form birth certificate proving that he was, in fact, born in the state of Hawaii.
Many individuals, including civil libertarians, emphasize that the essence of citizenship lies in individual rights or personal liberties. Citizenship in the United States requires little in the form of duties and obligations, and affords its beneficiaries an enviable array of opportunities (hence, the steady flow of immigrants into the United States, compared with the trickle of U.S. citizens emigrating to other countries). According to the Fourteenth Amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Note that citizens of the United States are distinguished from aliens not on the basis of how they act or what they have done but simply on the basis of birthplace—to be born in the United States is to be a U.S. citizen. Moreover, the presumption is once a citizen, always a citizen, barring some extraordinary misdeed (such as treason) or a voluntary renunciation of citizenship.
A Classical View
The minimalist view of citizenship described in the “Ideas and Politics” feature may provide a convenient way of distinguishing citizens from aliens (foreigners), but it does not do justice to a time-honored concept in Western civilization. To the ancient Greeks, the concept of citizenship was only partly related to accidents of birth and political geography; rather, responsible and selfless participation in the public affairs of the community formed the vital core of citizenship. Aristotle held that a citizen “shares in the administration of justice and in the holding of office.”* The Athens of Aristotle’s time was a small political society, or city-state, that at any given time accorded a proportionately large number of citizens significant decision-making power (women and slaves were excluded). Citizenship was the exalted vehicle through which public-spirited and properly educated free men could rule over, and in turn be ruled by, other free men and thereby advance civic virtue, public order, and the common good.
In eighteenth-century Europe, the Greek ideal reemerged in a modified form. Citizen became a term applicable to those who claimed the right to petition or sue the government. Citizens were distinguished from slaves, who had no claims or rights and were regarded as chattel (property). Citizens also differed from subjects, whose first and foremost legal obligation was to show loyalty to and obey the sovereign. According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), citizens, as opposed to slaves or subjects, possessed constitutional freedom – that is, the right to obey only laws to which they consented. Kant also contended that citizens possessed a civil equality, which relieved them of any obligation by law or custom to recognize a superior moral authority, and political independence, meaning a person’s political status stemmed from fundamental rights rather than from the will of another.* No longer were citizens to be ruled arbitrarily by the state.
Ideas and Politics Military Conscription: Democracy, Duty, and the Draft
Apart from paying taxes and obeying laws, citizens in the United States have few obligations to anyone or anything but themselves. One big obligation for males of a certain age—namely, military service—ended in the wake of the Vietnam War as a result of the backlash against the Selective Service System (often called “the draft”), which many considered unfair. Although males over the age of 18 are still required to register for the draft, the practice of military conscription in the United States ended in 1973, with the establishment of an all-volunteer military.
Defenders of an all-volunteer military argue that it is more professional and proficient, that willing recruits are likely to make better soldiers than are conscripts, and that the military provides excellent opportunities for young men and women from minority and low-income groups to acquire the self-confidence, discipline, and technical skills that can lead to high-paying jobs in the civilian economy.
Many veterans of past U.S. wars, among others, decry the ending of the draft. Others advocate making at least one year of national service mandatory for young adults who do not enlist in the armed forces. Supporters of the draft stress that military service builds character, teaches teamwork, and inculcates important moral values such as honor, duty, self-discipline, respect for authority, and courage.
Some who argue for bringing back the draft do so on the surprising ground that it would make war less likely. Why? Because voters are often apathetic when an issue does not affect them directly and are too easily swayed when patriotism is invoked—as it always is in war. This issue resurfaced in 2003 when President George W. Bush, in effect, declared a “presidential war”—defined as the use of force outside the United States without a formal declaration of war by Congress as required under the Constitution—on Iraq.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-595]
After the unpopular Vietnam War, the United States abolished the draft in favor of an all-volunteer armed forces.
· Was President Bush justified in ordering U.S. troops to invade a country that did not directly threaten and could not attack the United States? Is it fair to ask the sons and daughters of minorities and the low-income families to fight our wars, while the rich are called upon to make no such sacrifices? Why not reinstitute the draft or at least a universal national service of some sort? Think about it.
(Hint: Google “The Argument: Should America Reinstate the Draft?” and read the opposing opinions of Congressman Charles Rangel and Professor James Lacey.)
Republican government came the closest to this ideal of citizenship. In the final analysis, as Kant and other eighteenth-century thinkers recognized, the freedom and dignity of the individual inherent in the concept of citizenship could flourish only under a republican government, and such a government could function only if its rank-and-file members understood and discharged the responsibilities of citizenship.
One distinguishing feature of the modern era is the extension of citizenship. In the United States, for instance, it took many years for racial minorities, women, and individuals without property to gain the right to vote and the right to protection under the law in the exercise of their civil rights. Yet, as the number of citizens (and of people in general) has risen, effective political participation for individuals has often become more difficult. It is one thing for society to embrace ideas such as citizenship for all and equal rights in theory; it is quite another to provide the civic education and social development necessary to make the ideal of a society of political equals a practical reality.
Political Culture: Defining the Good
The Greek view of what constituted the good citizen was a reflection of the way the Greeks defined the word good. Every language in the world has a word meaning “good,” and it is arguably the most important word in any language. But every language is embedded in a culture, and no two cultures are identical. We are all products of the culture into which we are born. From our earliest infancy, and long before we know how to read or write, we learn to talk.
Along with the language, we also learn about our environment, which includes both tangible and intangible things. Among the most important intangibles are values—that is, what our parents or other guardians say is “good” or “bad.” In the process of learning the difference between good and bad (picking up our toys is “good” and not eating our vegetables is “bad”), we also learn about right and wrong. Crossing the line from “good” and “bad” in word and deed to “right” and “wrong” in thought and sentiment is a giant step across a great chasm—it is the difference between outward behavior and inner motives, beliefs, and desires. Culture, in the sense that anthropology and political science use the word, is all about established norms, customs, and traditions—in other words, how society defines right and wrong and about what “the good life,” or the word good itself, means in a given place and time. There is no universally accepted definition of “the good life” in this world for the simple reason that there is no universal culture.
Culture has many meanings. Here we are interested primarily in the aspects of culture that are related to politics—what scholars often call political culture. Political culture encompasses the prevailing moral values, beliefs, and myths people live by and are willing to die for. It also includes the collective memory of a society—the history we learn about in grade school; what we come to know about our leaders, about crises we have survived as a nation, and about wars we have fought. Virtually anything and everything that shapes our shared perceptions of reality is part of our political culture. This collective memory and these shared perceptions differ depending on the specifics of geography, climate, terrain, and other physical circumstances, as well as certain accidental factors—for example, the presence or absence of hostile and aggressive neighbors.
Small nations often have a history of being subjugated by powerful neighbors. Island peoples, such as the British and the Japanese, have a history that differs in fundamental ways from landlocked nations, owing to the absence of shared borders. The success of the thirteen American colonies in breaking away from the British Empire, as well as the United States’ historic isolationism, would not have been possible without the benevolent presence of two great oceans. Clearly geography matters.
Religion plays a major role in shaping political cultures. We cannot understand Western civilization without reference to Roman Catholicism, the Reformation, and Christianity. By the same token, Islam forms the moral core of life in the Arab Middle East, as well as in much of South, Central, and Southeast Asia (see Figure 10.1). The same is true of Hinduism in India; Buddhism in Cambodia, Tibet, and Thailand; Taoism and Confucianism in China and other Asian countries; and Shinto, as well as Buddhism, in Japan. Even where secularization has eroded religious beliefs (as in the West), the stamp of religion on political culture is both undeniable and indelible (see “Ideas and Politics”).
We are often bemused, perplexed, or outraged by the reactions and perceptions of others. We wonder what they must be thinking. How could anyone, for example, condone the actions of terrorists whose victims are often innocent bystanders? We tend to assume that anyone with extreme views is ignorant, misguided, or even depraved. In fact, however, profound differences in perception, outlook, and behavior can often be traced to differences in national history, personal experience, and political culture.
Ideas and Politics The Tao and the Clash of Civilizations
In his provocative little book The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1947), C. S. Lewis argued that “the Tao” could be found in civilizations, cultures, and religions the world over. Taoism originated in China in ancient times. The Tao is “the way”—the source of all knowledge about nature and truth, the key to inner peace and social harmony. Lewis noted that this type of metaphysical reasoning and the moral values it fostered are found in religions and ethical systems all over the world. He cites many “Illustrations of the Tao” drawn “from such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional historian.”
Lewis makes a powerful case for humanistic education—that is, for teaching people to love truth and justice. Learning to love truth and justice, Lewis suggested, is the key to civil society, because people are not simply rational beings and do not naturally behave according to reason. It is necessary, therefore, that society finds ways to link human emotions with positive attitudes and good acts, which brings us back to the Tao. What Lewis called the Tao teaches respect for authority, humility, honesty, charity, generosity, and so forth—in short, the way to live in harmony with oneself, others, and nature.
Political culture cannot be distilled from moral and religious teachings alone; indeed, politics is not what Lewis’s book is about. But his views on the role of public education in developing a sense of right and wrong—a civic culture that supports democratic processes and institutions—have significant implications for students of politics.
The late Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington wrote a best-selling book in the mid-1990s titled The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. The book’s thesis highlights the prevalence and intensity of faith-based politics in today’s world. Indeed, the nexus between education and values, the province of religion and morality, remains an important question—one involving a global battle for the hearts and minds of people with little understanding of international politics.
· Historians, political theorists, and social scientists of all types often make a distinction between the proximate and root causes of dramatic events such as wars and revolutions. We focus on war and revolution in later chapters, but the distinction between surface and deep-seated factors can be applied to everyday politics—and everyday life—as well. How we react to events is important, but how we see the world is even more important. Why? Think about it.
(Hint: Ask yourself where your own ideas about the greatest values in life come from. To a greater extent than most of us realize, what we are is inseparable from where we are—and where we were born. Try to imagine what you would think of Jews and/or Christians if you had been born in a Palestinian refugee camp or lived in Gaza. Now reverse the example: Imagine what you would think of Arabs and/or Muslims if you were Jewish.)
A political culture is like a filter for our personal experiences—without it we lack any common interpretation of reality. Without a shared reality, we lack the basis for a community or society.
We can study political culture in several different ways. We can look at its sources in society (geography, climate, history, religion, and the like), at its manifestations (attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and prejudices), or at its effects (actions and public policies). As is often the case, however, the closer we look, the more complicated the picture becomes.*
Another way to think about political culture is in terms of one national political culture and many regional and local political subcultures. College students have an opportunity to research this question themselves by simply engaging classmates from different states or regions of the country—and from different countries—in conversations about growing up. Comparing your own upbringing with those of others from different backgrounds can be both fun and enlightening.
In the next section, we look at the ingenious ways societies sow the seeds of political culture. Consider this: are our ideas about “first things” (good and bad, right and wrong) really our ideas at all—or were they implanted at a young age, long before we had any idea of them?
Political Socialization: Forming Citizens
Though we can dispute the proper definition of citizenship, most people agree that good citizens are made, not born. Children grow up to be responsible citizens through the interplay of various influences and institutions—including family, religion, school, peer groups, the mass media, and the law. The process of being conditioned to think and behave in a socially acceptable manner is called socialization.
Every self-sustaining society inculcates in its citizens certain basic values necessary to establish and perpetuate a political order. Even as staunch an individualist as the British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) acknowledged that the sense of citizen loyalty or allegiance “may vary in its objects and is not confined to any particular form of government; but whether in a democracy or in a monarchy its essence is always … that there be in the constitution of the state something which is settled, something permanent, and not to be called into question; something which, by general agreement, has a right to be where it is, and to be secure against disturbance, whatever else may change.”*
Political socialization is the process whereby citizens develop the values, attitudes, beliefs, and opinions that enable them to support the political system.* This process begins with the family.
The family exerts the first and most important influence on the formation of individual values. Different political regimes view the family in different ways. Some governments support and nurture the family; others choose to remain indifferent toward it; a few seek to undermine it and regard the love and loyalty that flow from family ties as subversive to the state. Despite these varying reactions, all governments recognize the importance of the family in the socialization process.
Even nations that publicly proclaim the value of the traditional family, however, may not be able to ensure its success in society. The number of children living in single-parent households in the United States, for example, has risen dramatically since the 1960s due to rising divorce rates, changes in sexual mores, teenage pregnancies, and other social changes. Whereas in 1980 single-parent households constituted 19.5% of the total, that figure had risen to 29.5% by 2008. Another sign of the times: In 2009, 7.8 million children lived with at least one grandparent, a 64% increase since 1991, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released in mid-2011.
Poverty and lack of education are major causes of divorce. Moreover, the problem is self-perpetuating. Studies confirm that children raised in single-parent families are at greater risk than those in two-parent families to drop out of school, to become involved with crime and illegal drugs, to be unemployed (or underemployed) and poor, and to have failed marriages and personal relationships as adults—a vicious cycle.* Of course, single-parent families are often successful, and many children raised by single parents become well-adjusted adults. Indeed, if one parent is physically or emotionally abusive, it is often better for a child to be nurtured (and protected) only by the parent who is not.
Children are first socialized at home, within the family structure, learning what is and what is not permissible, with rewards and punishment to reinforce daily behavior. In this manner, parents make the obligations of children to the family and to others clear. Slowly, children become citizens of the family, often with clearly defined responsibilities and occasionally with rights or privileges. Parents emphasize moral ground rules, even if they don’t always specify the reasons for them (“Do it because I said so”). Trust, cooperation, self-esteem, respect for others, and empathy, each rooted in family relations, bear on the behavioral and moral development of individuals.*
Where discipline is lacking and parents are overly permissive, children are given rights and privileges with few if any responsibilities. In such cases, socialization is impeded to the extent it fails to produce behaviors conducive to social harmony, civility and civic duty, or leads to narcissism, self-promotion, and a tendency to exploit others.
The family also helps determine the direction the ultimate political socialization of children takes and how successful it will be. Party orientation and even affiliation often derive from the family, especially when both parents belong to the same party. In the United States, about 70% of children whose parents both have the same party affiliation favor that party too.* In addition, the family exerts a powerful influence on religious persuasion, which tends to correlate highly with party affiliation, as well as with certain political opinions (fundamentalist Protestants tend to oppose abortion; Jews tend to support Israel; and so on).* However, studies indicate that when it comes to opinions about more abstract political issues, parental influence is quite limited.* As adults, we often find ourselves at odds with our parents’ ideas about politics (among other things), a fact often attributed to “generational” differences.
Social Class and Minority Status
Family interest in politics tends to increase with social standing. Middle- and upper-class children are most likely to become actively engaged in politics; children from lower-class families are typically uninformed about politics and participate less often.* There are many exceptions, however, including Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, Richard Nixon, William Jefferson Clinton, and Barack Obama, all arising from humble origins to become president of the United States.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, current president of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Josephine Baker, the first African American female to star in a major motion picture, are examples of women not born to privilege who rose to great heights. Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis in 1902 and dropped out of school at the age of 12. She is best known as a recording artist and stage performer, but she was decorated for her undercover work in the French Resistance during World War II. When she died in Paris in 1975, she became the first American woman to receive French military honors at her funeral. Condoleezza Rice, born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1954 at a time when blacks were not allowed to have a hamburger at Woolworth’s, became the first black woman (and only the second woman) ever to serve as U.S. Secretary of State (2005–2009).
Minority status can play a significant role in political socialization. Some researchers have found that in the United States, African American children tend to place less trust in government, and to feel less confident of influencing it, than do white children.*
Not surprisingly, such attitudes correlate with political opinions; thus, holding social-class differences constant, black adults in the United States tend to be less conservative than whites on most economic and foreign policy issues, although not on the issue of crime. Politically, though not necessarily socially and culturally, Asian Americans tend to resemble white ethnic groups more closely than black groups, particularly on domestic social issues. Hispanic Americans tend to fall between blacks and whites. However, family socialization and the transmission of political beliefs have exerted an influence on Cuban Americans, who, as a group, tend to be more hard-line conservative, especially on foreign policy questions, than are other Hispanic-American groups, including Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. One reason is that after Cubans fled to the United States at the time of the Cuban Revolution, Cuban leader Fidel Castro confiscated their property and persecuted family members they had left behind.
Gender and Politics
Like class and race, gender differences can be important independent correlates of political behavior and opinions. In the United States, the so-called gender gap—differences in the ways men and women think and vote in the aggregate—has gotten a lot of attention in recent decades. For instance, in the 1992 general elections, Bill Clinton won the women’s vote by 8 points, but won the men’s vote by only 3. Women thus helped a challenger defeat a sitting president. In 1996, the gender gap was even bigger. In 2008, women favored Barack Obama over John McCain by a wide margin despite the fact that McCain’s running mate was a woman, Sarah Palin. But that number does not tell the whole story: in all, 8 million more women voted for Obama than for McCain, and women voters accounted for 53% of all the votes cast. Obama thus received a double boost from women voters—a larger percentage of a bigger vote. The pattern is different in congressional races, however, where the gender gap is seldom apparent.
Some researchers tie gender differences to early family experiences and expectations; others contend there are innate differences in the way men and women develop moral and political awareness. One theory postulates that due to some combination of socialization and biology, women—as mothers and primary caregivers for children—tend to develop a moral and political perspective that emphasizes compassion and the protection of human life.* An alternate theory holds that gender-based political differences are rooted in some women’s later life experiences.* For example, working women who have been paid less than men doing the same job are likely to vote for a party or candidate that stresses fairness and equal rights.
One important political difference between the sexes revolves around the government’s use of force. Women tend to be more reluctant to support war, more opposed to capital punishment, and more inclined to support gun control. Women also tend to give more support to social welfare programs intended to help families, the working poor, and the economically disadvantaged. These differences help explain why the gender gap has aided Democrats in recent years. We turn now to a factor that has greatly aided Republicans in recent times.
Either the church or the state may present itself as the true source of moral authority, which makes religion particularly important in the socialization process. And just as religion can influence a young person’s developing political opinions, so can politics decisively shape the role of religion within the family and the place it ultimately occupies within the larger political order.
Sometimes religion can legitimize existing practices and lend stability to a society in transition. Hinduism in India, for instance, has proved compatible with changing political institutions. Described by one expert as having “a multi-layered complexity allowing for the existence of many gods, many incarnations, many layers of truth,”* Hinduism has tended, historically, to support the status quo. Even when the status quo allowed systematic discrimination against a lower, “untouchable” class, Hinduism counseled patience and perseverance in anticipation of future lives to come. In other parts of the world, however, religious doctrine has ignited aggressive policies. In Libya and Iran, for instance, Islamic fundamentalism has helped fuel belligerent foreign policies and contributed to a periodic fervor for war.
Religion and politics sometimes conflict. In Nazi Germany, the government steamrolled the Lutheran and Catholic churches. In the former Soviet Union, the regime allowed the historically entrenched Russian Orthodox Church to continue functioning but restricted and monitored its activities, frequently persecuting believers.*
In the United States, religion and politics reinforce one another at a number of levels. Although the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to prohibit government from directly supporting religion, the First Amendment also clearly prohibits government from denying an individual’s free exercise of religion. Religion continues to flourish in the United States. In the mid-1980s, “More than 90 percent of all Americans identify with some religious faith, and on any given Sunday morning more than 40 percent are to be found in church”; furthermore, by “most measurable indices the United States is a more religious country than any European nation except Ireland and Poland.”* But this picture appears to be changing—about 15% of survey respondents in the United States say they have “no religion.”*
The Judeo-Christian tradition continues to be dominant in the United States, yet there is significant diversity within that tradition. Census data show numerous Protestant denominations constitute about 51% of the population (with Baptists constituting the largest groups at about 16%); Roman Catholics, 24%; and Jews, 1.7%. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, both the public reaction and the mass media focused attention on the fact that there is also a Muslim minority in the United States, although it is relatively small (0.6%). There are more Buddhists in the United States than Muslims.
Important political differences correlate with these differences in religious orientation, some even arising from the religious doctrines themselves. Quakers and Mennonites tend to be pacifists, whereas, as previously mentioned, fundamentalist Protestants tend to oppose abortion and Jews generally favor Israel. By the same token, members of black Protestant churches tend to be more politically liberal than are Protestants affiliated with mainstream churches, and members of mainstream churches tend to be more politically liberal than their evangelical Protestant counterparts.
More generally, on a scale measuring political conservatism and liberalism, Protestants tend to be somewhat more conservative than Catholics and much more conservative than Jews. Jews, Catholics, and religiously unaffiliated voters have historically identified more with the Democratic Party, whereas Protestants have leaned toward the Republican Party, though the correlation between religion and party affiliation appeared to be weakening until George W. Bush received 56% of the Protestant vote and Al Gore (the Democratic candidate) only 42% in the 2000 presidential election. (Gore won among Roman Catholic voters, however, with 50% to Bush’s 47%.) In 2010, Roman Catholics joined Protestants in voting Republican in the midterm elections, a shift reflecting the Vatican’s staunch “pro-life” (anti-abortion) position. But in 2012, a majority of Roman Catholics voted for Obama despite a strong pro-choice stance on the part of the church hierarchy. (The literal meaning of the word “hierarchy” is “holy government”).
Religion can be used to edify and elevate as well as divide. Sometimes political leaders draw on religious imagery to unite citizens in a common understanding of the present or point them toward a more noble vision of the future.* For example, the famous U.S. clergyman and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. inspired the nation with his dream of a day “when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’” The tragic assassination of King, like the assassination of Abraham Lincoln a century earlier, helped rally the U.S. people to the cause of racial equality.
The role of religion in U.S. national politics has risen sharply in recent years. As part of his “faith-based initiative,” George W. Bush asked Congress to allow religious organizations to compete for government contracts and grants without a strict separation of religious activities and social service programs.
But it was the shock of September 11, 2001, that changed everything. Suddenly, religion was at the heart of a great menace, namely, international terrorism. The late Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network gave the world a horrifying glimpse of religion’s dark side when they attempted to unite the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims against the “Crusaders” (Christians and Jews) in a jihad, or holy war. Al Qaeda obliterated the distinction between religion and ideology and used Islam as an instrument of war against the West.
Schools play a vital role in civic education. In effect, the state uses schools as instruments of political socialization. Some governments merely prescribe one or two courses in civics or history, require students to salute the flag, and hang a few pictures of national heroes on school walls. Other governments dictate the entire school curriculum, indoctrinate the children with slogans and catch phrases, heavily censor textbooks and library acquisitions, and subject teachers to loyalty tests.
Different regimes inculcate different values. Under some regimes (for example, the Soviet Union in the 1930s), blind obedience to authority is the norm. In others, patriotism is encouraged, but so is the habit of critical and independent thinking. One other key variable is the priority given to education (see “Ideas and Politics”).
Ideas and Politics Confucian vs. Confusion: A Reverence for Education
An international study, published in December 2010, compared students in sixty-five countries representing all different faiths in math, science, and reading. The winner? Confucianism!
China’s Shanghai was at the top of all three lists by a wide margin. The New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof observed, “Three of the next top four performers were also societies with a Confucian legacy of reverence for education: Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.”*
Finland was the only non-Confucian country in the mix. The United States came in 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math.
No less worrying is a study published a month later, in January 2011, reporting that 45% of undergraduates in the United States show almost no gains in learning in the first two years.* The research indicated that colleges don’t make academics a priority, that professors are primarily interested in research, and that students spend 50% less time studying compared with students several decades ago.
Other details in the research: over a third of U.S. students surveyed reported spending no more than five hours per week studying alone (research shows that students who study in groups learn less); half report never taking a course where they wrote more than twenty pages; nearly one-third say they never took a course where they read more than forty pages per week.
· Problems in society are often a product of a particular culture, perhaps one that is changing too fast or one that is too resistant to change. Such problems also are a product of public policy, which may reflect the values of an elite social class or a dominant religious sect. Why are students in the United States—a country with many of the best schools and universities in the world—falling behind students elsewhere in the world? Think about it.
(Hint: Many teachers in the United States blame parents and a certain approach to parenting for many of the problems they encounter in the classroom. To learn more, Google “America education falling behind.” Try it again and add the word “parents.”)
Socialization studies tell us a lot about how children learn civic values in school.* During the elementary school years, children develop positive emotional attachments to key political concepts, such as liberty and democracy and respect for others. Young children also learn to think of the government in terms of an authority figure—a police officer, the president, and so on.
As we mature, cognition comes into play; we begin to grasp abstract concepts such as democracy. During adolescence and early adulthood, our attitudes toward authority often change radically. We cease to obey authority without question. Increasingly, we want to decide things for ourselves—a sentiment readily transferable to the political realm.
High school civics classes are probably less important than the total educational experience.* Lessons and stories on the nation’s history, formal rituals such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, patriotic music, and extracurricular activities like sports, band, debate, and writing for the school newspaper all can convey the importance of responsible participation and working toward a common goal. Electing class officers and participating in student government is typically our first exercise in democracy.
In general, higher education and political participation go hand in hand. Higher education also correlates positively with personal self-confidence and trust in others—personality traits that democratic political systems, based on citizen participation, require.*
In the United States, the college curriculum often represents a blend of vocational training and liberal arts—with the latter, which includes literature, philosophy, science, history, and linguistics, placing great emphasis on the development of critical thinking.* Advocates of the liberal arts stress the importance of education not only for citizenship, but also for leadership. What such an education does, at its best, is produce politically literate adults. Evidence suggests it tends to produce more liberal adults, as well.*
The ideal of liberal education fits easily with constitutional guarantees that protect the right to question authority. It also prepares citizens to do so.* With rare exception, democracies alone tolerate independent thinking and dissent. Recall that the Greek philosopher Socrates was considered subversive and sentenced to death—not for teaching his students what to think but for teaching them how to think.
A peer group can refer either to a group of people who are friends, or to people of similar age and characteristics. The concept of peers itself arises from “the tendency for individuals to identify with groups of people like themselves.”* Peer groups exert considerable influence over our political activities and beliefs, but there has been little research on the influence of peer groups in politics.*
The relationship between gang membership and the development of antisocial attitudes by adolescent male lawbreakers, for example, is a matter of more than academic interest. Studies indicate that gang membership and teenage crime are linked. According to one study, peers and gangs “can affect the value a person assigns to the rewards of crime (by adding the approval of colleagues to the perceived value of the loot or the direct gratification of the act).”* But it’s still not clear whether gangs cause teenagers to commit crimes or attract teenagers predisposed to criminal behavior in the first place. In all probability, the answer is both.
Psychologically, peer groups satisfy our need for approval. Peer groups are often formed voluntarily and informally, but organizations such as the Girl Scouts, the Young Democrats, or a high school journalism club are also peer groups. As such, they also satisfy the same need for approval and a sense of belonging, one totalitarian tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao deftly exploited (see Chapter 6).
The state can create peer-group structures for youth, as well as adults. These involuntary associations are typically designed to infuse ideological fervor and abject loyalty into young hearts and minds. Under the Nazi Party, for example, German life was organized through an elaborate network of state controlled associations of peers to ensure that every German would, in time, adopt correct political attitudes and be properly socialized into the new Nazi order. Similarly, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union created an all-encompassing set of centrally controlled peer organizations in the guise of clubs and civic associations.
In liberal democracies, the state plays a role in the socialization process but does not control it. Peer groups form naturally and civic associations are independent of the state.
The Mass Media and Internet
The media and Internet also play a significant role in political socialization. In nondemocratic states, the mass media—that is, television, radio, newspapers, and large-circulation magazines—are almost always owned or controlled by the state, and the Internet is monitored and websites the government finds objectionable are often blocked (as in China, North Korea, and Iran). Even some democratic governments monopolize radio and television broadcasting (as in Denmark) or own and operate television networks (as in Great Britain) but strive to ensure fairness and objectivity.
The Internet is especially crucial in shaping attitudes now because young people generally have a high level of computer skills and spend more hours each day on the Internet than watching TV. For American youth between the ages of 12 and 24, one recent study found that in “daily time spent,” the Internet soared from 10% in 2000 to 30% in 2010. The same respondents reported watching TV almost as much, but spending almost no time reading newspapers and magazines.*
Television is still popular most everywhere in the world, of course, even in some strict Islamic societies, where the state now uses this otherwise “decadent” source of Western pop culture to inculcate Islamic moral values. Thus, in Saudi Arabia, a traditional monarchy, state-owned television holds an annual “Miss Beautiful Morals” pageant that is the exact opposite of our beauty pageants—the physical appearance of the contestants is irrelevant (in fact, they are covered from head to foot). Rather, the winner is the contestant who is judged to have the most devotion and respect for her parents.*
Ideas and Politics Free Speech: The FCC vs. FOX Television
The late comedian George Carlin created a sensation when he did a stand-up routine about the “seven dirty words” you cannot say on television. That routine secured Carlin’s place as one of the most famous nightclub and television comedians in recent U.S. history. But it was more than a knee-slapping shtick; it was also political satire at its most biting, for Carlin was raising a serious question: Does the state’s action in restricting indecent speech on television violate the citizen’s right to free speech?
For several decades, the FCC’s restrictions on indecent speech allowed a fleeting swear word or curse word—that is, so long as it was not repeated. In 2003, the FCC changed the rule to make even a fleeting indecent word impermissible, and to impose severe penalties in the form of steep fines for violations. FOX TV then sued the FCC, and in November 2008, the case came before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The issue was determining whether the FCC provided an adequate explanation, or instead acted arbitrarily and capriciously, in changing its policy regarding televised use of isolated expletives considered indecent under federal law. The Court narrowly backed the FCC in a 2009 ruling, but sent it back to the court of appeals for further consideration of the First Amendment question. It remains unclear whether and under what conditions the state can censor speech on radio and television, much less the Internet.
· Does the state’s action in restricting indecent speech on television violate the citizen’s right to free speech? Think about it.
(Hint: Do not shout “fire” in a crowded theater.)
In the United States, where the mass media are privately owned, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates radio and television. FCC rules are designed to discourage ideas, attitudes, or behavior the agency considers undesirable or unhealthy. For example, certain words cannot be uttered on television in the United States (see “Ideas and Politics”), full nudity is banned from 6:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and broadcasters are not permitted to air commercials for cigarettes.
The FCC is also charged with promoting and preserving media competition, but in December 2007, it lifted the so-called cross-ownership ban in the twenty largest U.S. markets. Radio and television broadcasters are now allowed to own newspapers as well. Critics contend that consolidation of the media has greatly harmed competition and undermined the quality of news and the diversity of views available to the public.
The Internet and television have become critical sources of information as U.S. adults read fewer newspapers and attend fewer political party functions.* The high cost of television advertising—and, therefore, of running for office—adversely affects the quality of campaigns and candidates (see Table 10.1) The same is true of the content. Attack ads are often intentionally unfair, misleading, and manipulative (see “Ideas and Politics: Opposition Research”). They typically impugn the character and motives of the other candidate and deliberately misrepresent his or her voting record.
Campaign spending by candidates, parties, and outside groups hit a record high of $7 billion in 2012. The figures in the chart below do not include over two billion dollars independently donated by outside groups on behalf of candidates, issues, and partisan causes. Altogether, candidates spent $3.2 billion; parties spent $2 billion; and outside political committees accounted for another $2.1 billion. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to raising the aggregate limits corporations and wealthy individuals are allowed to contribute to political campaigns.
An Incomplete Picture of Spending in 2012 E(US$)
SOURCES: Open Secrets.Org at http://www.opensecrets.org/overview/index.php and POLITICO at http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/7-billion-spent-on-2012-campaign-fec-says-87051.html.
How news is presented, particularly on television, is important. Fairness and objectivity are vital. Some conservative critics contend that television news shows a liberal bias. The media’s emphasis on rumor and innuendo—as well as the ranting of popular media personalities on both the right and left—has blurred the line between sensationalism and straight news.
One view holds that media consolidation (especially for radio and newspapers) is leading to homogenized news, keyed to conservative audiences and corporate agendas. Critics fear the daily news will reflect right-wing biases while also becoming more and more like tabloid journalism or mind-numbing entertainment.
There is no denying that radio and television media are often superficial and sensationalistic. Television coverage of election campaigns, for example, stresses candidates’ attempts to gain strategic advantage instead of focusing on issues and policy differences. One mainstream political scientist argues, “the United States cannot have a sensible campaign as long as it is built around the news media.”*
Television executives know that conflict and confrontation are entertaining and that, as a rule, bad news makes good ratings. For this reason also, television almost always emphasizes the “horse race” aspect of presidential elections, dwelling on who is ahead, who gained, and who lost because of this gaffe or that revelation. The networks all want to be the first to call every contest. The race becomes an end in itself, and the “product” (where the candidates stand on the issues) takes a back seat to the process.
In one study of network news coverage between 1968 and 1988, the average length of presidential quotations shrank from 45 seconds to 9 seconds—truncated sound bites.* The old form of coverage—a short setup and a relatively long presidential comment—was reversed. By the late 1980s, reporters were regularly upstaging the president, commenting on his comments rather than letting him speak for himself. The ratio of paid political ads to political news has also shifted dramatically. In 2006, a study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that “local newscasts in seven Midwest markets aired 4 minutes, 24 seconds of paid political ads during the typical 30-minute broadcast while dedicating an average of 1 minute, 43 seconds to election news coverage.”* In-depth analysis, critics say, has become a casualty of Madison Avenue marketing techniques, the Nielsen ratings, and outright manipulation by highly paid professionals—political gurus, media consultants, and spin doctors (public relations specialists).
Ideas and Politics Opposition Research
Increasingly, the mass media broadcast negative political advertisements. These ads may or may not be entirely truthful, but they are often very effective. Sometimes viewed as a kind of political ambush, they are the product of extensive research into the backgrounds of political opponents and are aired at strategic times during the campaign. The Internet has made this kind of dirty work much easier for those who do it. Dirt diggers can request (and often obtain) telephone records, credit checks, and court records. Opposition research—or “oppo”—is a multimillion-dollar business employing investigators, consultants, lawyers, pollsters, and media experts.
Go to a website operated by Investigative Research Specialists, LLC touting “The Opposition Research Handbook” to get a better idea of what these for-profit dirt-dealing firms actually do ( http://researchops.com/ or simply Google “research ops”).
· What’s wrong with digging up dirt on politicians and wannabe politicians? What’s right about it? What good can it do? What harm? Think about it.
(Hint: Ask yourself whether you have ever done anything you wouldn’t want your parents or teachers or friends to know about or whether someone you know once got caught—or got away with—cheating on a test but regrets having done it and is basically a good person.)
SOURCE: Michele Norris, “Opposition Research: Know Thine Enemies,” National Public Radio (NPR), All Things Considered, February 6, 2007.
In short, a drift toward tabloid journalism and the use of the airways as a vehicle for propaganda have severely compromised the integrity of television news reporting and talk radio. This type of coverage, pandering to prurience and prejudice, increasingly crowds out honest attempts to fulfill the vital “news and information” function of the mass media.* To make matters worse, newspapers—long the main source of information on current events for most citizens—are rapidly losing readership (see “Ideas and Politics”).
Consumers are also to blame for the state of the news. The news is “dumbed down” and entertaining because that is what attracts the largest number of viewers. Knowing the average viewer has a short attention span, television news directors spotlight the razzle-dazzle of video technology, flashy computer graphics, fast-paced interviews, and rapidly changing stories, locations, and camera angles. After a hard day’s work, most viewers are not in the mood for an in-depth story or analysis that confuses, upsets, or makes them think too much. The problem is that the most important political issues tend to do all three.
The media’s tendency to focus on negative news serves as a reminder that freedom of speech and criticism of the government are protected rights in liberal democracies. Indeed, the content and quality of the daily news in any given country is one indicator of how much freedom exists there. Where criticism of the government is allowed, freedom is usually the norm. In the final analysis, the mass media in democratic states are both gauge and guarantor of individual freedom.
deas and Politics Media Consolidation
Who needs newspapers or media competition? Either Congress or the FCC are asleep at the switch—or they are looking the other way. The facts speak for themselves:
· In early 2009, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer shut its printing presses after 146 years in business; two weeks later, the Rocky Mountain News folded. The Tucson Citizen suffered the same fate.
· Daily print circulation dropped from a peak of 62 million circa 1990 to around 49 million two decades later. Online readership has risen faster, to almost 75 million people and 3.7 billion page views in January 2009, according to Nielsen Online.
· In 1950, the total daily paid circulation relative to the number of households in the United States was 120%; by 2010, this figure had dropped to under 40%; similarly, total daily circulation of national dailies in the United States fell from just under 60% in 1995 to well below 40% in 2010.
· In the middle of the twentieth century, 80% of all newspapers were independently owned. By 2004, more than 7,000 cities and towns had no locally owned newspaper.
· There are 2,500 book publishers in the United States, but five giant companies produce most of the revenue; two retail chains (Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com) accounted for well over half of all retail book sales in the United States in 2008.
· Four major companies account for half the movie business.
· Six companies account for at least 90% of all domestic music sales, and Apple (iTunes) became the biggest single U.S. music retailer in 2008 (19%), beating out Walmart (15%) for the first time.
· The 1996 Telecommunications Act doubled the number of local radio stations a single company can operate and removed all limits on how many one company can own nationwide; a single company—Clear Channel Communications—owns more than 1,200 radio stations.
· By one count, the forty-five top-rated talk radio shows ran 310 hours of conservative talk to a mere five hours that were not patently right wing.
· Visiting Stalinist Russia during the Cold War with a group of my very own students, our Intourist guide proudly announced that the Soviet Union had more newspapers than we have in the United States. “Yes,” I replied, “and less news.” Why do you suppose Soviet tour guides emphasized the quantity of newspapers available to Soviet citizens to visitors from the West? Do Western governments also sometimes use facts and statistics to deceive rather than to enlighten or inform the public? Think about it.
(Hint: Many Americans who remember what television network news was like in the days of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite now decry what they believe to be a decline in the quality of nightly news broadcasts, as well as newspapers. CNN was once the “go to” source for breaking world news. Compare CNN today with the BBC.)
SOURCE: NOW with Bill Moyers on PBS, February 13, 2004, http://www.pbs.org, and author’s updates from various Internet databases.
The law plays an important role in socialization. Some laws are designed to promote public order (by having cars drive on the right side of the street, for example). Other laws prohibit violent or antisocial behavior in society, such as murder, false advertising, theft, and racial discrimination. Equally important, the very idea of “law and order” is ingrained in us at an early age and the “rule of law” is an essential feature of liberal democracy. Thus, the law conditions our behavior in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Socialization and Political Behavior
Fortunately, most citizens who participate in the political process choose, most of the time, to do so legally.
Most of us participate in politics in largely symbolic, passive, or ritualistic ways—for example, by attending a political rally, responding to a political poll, watching a candidate on television, or putting a bumper sticker on our cars. Some volunteer on political campaigns (witness the huge volunteer “army” that helped Barack Obama get elected in 2008) or join liberal public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union, or MoveOn.Org, or conservative ones such as the National Right to Life Committee, the National Taxpayers Union, or the Christian Coalition. Others participate in political protests of one kind of another.
Even during the turbulent Vietnam War era, however, only 2% of U.S. citizens surveyed believed violence was justified to achieve political aims.* Support for milder forms of protest is much higher, but this support falls off sharply as the action in question approaches the line between legal and illegal behavior. In general, protests, mass marches, and street demonstrations are far less common in the United States today than in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
Some illegal acts—in particular, those classified as civil disobedience—are intended to stir a nation’s conscience. Taking his cue from Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. advocated civil disobedience in the struggle for racial equality in the 1960s. Civil disobedience stresses nonviolence and encourages demonstrators to accept the consequences of breaking the law, including arrest and detention.
Whether a particular form of illegal political behavior is morally wrong depends on the context—and the beholder. Where people are victimized by government or by a dominant class or ethnic group, the moral basis for law and authority often erodes. Even in the United States, illegal forms of political behavior have not always been considered “un-American.” Agitating for independence from Great Britain in colonial times, for example, was treasonous. Had the American Revolution failed, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, among other leaders of the revolt, would probably have gone to the gallows.
Before the Civil War, the “underground railroad” that helped fugitive slaves escape bondage was a clear violation of federal law by many otherwise law-abiding citizens, especially in northern states like Massachusetts and New York. The underground railroad could not have existed without a network of activists who considered slavery a desecration of a “higher law,” nor could these activists have themselves escaped prosecution without the cooperation of family, friends, and neighbors.
That the legal system does not always serve the cause of justice is, in fact, a kind of cliché even in the United States, where most people express a strong belief in the rule of law. It’s the theme of popular books, movies, and television shows. Thus, for example, in the popular TV series Person of Interest, a billionaire computer genius and a former Green Beret and CIA field officer who have lost faith in the system go outside the law to protect intended victims from violent crimes that fall outside the government’s narrow definition of a terrorist threat.
But, of course, illegal political behavior—sabotage, assassinations, and terrorist acts—aimed at elected officials and legitimate governments cannot be tolerated. Examples of such acts are all too common even in stable democracies. The attack on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona, in early 2011 resulting in the death of six people, including a 9-year-old girl, is a recent case in point.
When Political Socialization Fails
A nation’s political culture reflects the fundamental values its people hold dear. These values need not be entirely consistent and may even conflict at times. Nor will day-to-day political beliefs and actions of individual citizens always conform to the ideals people hold dear in the abstract.* But a steady state requires an established political culture consisting of shared values. In democracies, these values set a very high standard—too high, in fact, to be fully attainable. And yet the standard is kept at the forefront, and it is the striving for a perfection never achieved that, in many ways, defines democracy and distinguishes it from its alternatives.
In the United States, private values correlate highly with key public (or civic) values.* Accordingly, U.S. adults generally profess a strong belief in basic liberal values: personal freedom, political equality, private ownership of property, and religious tolerance. Not only are these values expressed in the nation’s fundamental documents and writings, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Federalist Papers, but they are also instilled in U.S. youth by a variety of socialization strategies.
In other democratic societies, the process of socialization works the same way and serves the same purposes. But the expression of such core values as liberty, equality, security, prosperity, and justice (see Chapter 13), as well as the precise content and balance among them, vary significantly from one country to another. In Europe, “equality” is more often about class-consciousness than civil rights. As a result, the state provides a much wider range of social services (including guaranteed universal health care) than in the United States. By the same token, love of liberty in Europe does not impede the police in criminal investigations the way it often does in the United States, nor does it entail the right of private citizens to own deadly weapons.
When a multiethnic nation fails to politically socialize large numbers of citizens as members of a single community—in effect, a new nation—the consequences are far-reaching. If there are multiple communities, there will be multiple processes going on and multiple political cultures being perpetuated. Members of the various subnational communities will not be successfully integrated into the political system, and they will not share the norms, rules, and laws of the society.
Some citizens may never become fully socialized politically. A state’s failure to socialize its citizens may result from its unequal or unfair treatment of them. Citizens may then become angry, cynical, or embittered, or they may even turn to crime or revolution. In extreme cases of unjust, tyrannical government, citizens’ “crimes” may be viewed as actions taken justifiably. Thus, while the failure of political socialization is always detrimental to the government in power, the moral and political implications of that failure are not always as easy to evaluate.
Different governments treat the concept of citizenship in different ways. All states demand adherence to the rules (laws), of course, and most treat birth in, or naturalization into, the political order as a requirement of citizenship. In democratic states, the concept of citizenship is also tied to the ideas of equality and liberty, as well as to meaningful participation in politics, such as voting in periodic elections. This ideal of democratic citizenship dates back to the ancient Greek city-states, which were small enough to permit direct democracy (self-representation of enfranchised adults through public assemblies and plebiscites).
Political socialization is the process whereby citizens develop the values, attitudes, beliefs, and opinions that enable them to relate to and function within the political system. Specific influences on the developing citizen include the family, religion, public education, the mass media, the law, peer groups, and key political values. Political socialization is of paramount importance; if a nation fails to socialize its citizenry on a large-scale basis, its political stability can be endangered.
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