Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Totalitarianism and Externalities
The extent to which an ideology claims that behavior creates externalities can be viewed as a measure of the extent to which the ideology is totalitarian. Merriam-Webster defines externality as something that is external or that involves a secondary consequence, such as pollution. The perception of externalities arises when behavior is viewed as eroding public morals or being immoral or that activity that is private harms society at large. Hence, in the extreme, communism views private economic contracts as being exploitive, hence harmful and immoral. Theocracies view dissenting religions as immoral, hence threatening the state, and this works both ways: the commitment to secular humanism views religious belief as threatening its moral assumptions, hence threatening its version of the state.
Once a claim is made that a private behavior creates externalities, the solution is enhancement and centralization of state control, i.e., increasing totalitarianism. Merriam-Webster defines totalitarian as:
a : of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy : authoritarian, dictatorial; especially : despotic
b : of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (such as censorship and terrorism)
2 a : advocating or characteristic of totalitarianism
b : completely regulated by the state especially as an aid to national mobilization in an emergency
c : exercising autocratic powers
In other words, there is a tradeoff between the claim that behaviors are externalities and the claim that we have a right to engage in the behavior, that is, that we are free. The claim that behaviors create externalities is equivalent to the claim that totalitarianism needs to be increased.
A quantitative measure can be derived that gauges the extent to which a given ideology is totalitarian. A list of characteristic behaviors and the extent to which the ideology claims that they create externalities and are not purely individualistic and private can be scored and weighted. A totalitarian score can be created to compare ideologies, such as those of the Democrats and Republicans, as to how totalitarian they are.
To what degree are today’s American political parties totalitarian? With respect to Merriam-Webster’s definition (a), both parties have increasing opted for centralized control and the rejection of federalism and states’ rights. Democrats do so based on the history of racial discrimination, while Republicans do so based on economic efficiency. As well, Americans have been increasingly susceptible to authoritarian leadership during the past century.
With respect to (b), we also see increasing subordination of the individual to the state. Mental health regulation, child protection regulation, environmental regulation, substance abuse regulation, minimum wage regulation, and workplace regulation increasingly subordinate Americans’ lives to the state and strictly control the life and productive capacity of the nation by coercive measures, including terror.
Hence, the democratic process increasingly results in totalitarianism. In the past 10 years both parties’ presidents have used executive orders to exercise autocratic powers, and Congress seems to consider its powers unlimited.
To operationalize the concept of totalitarianism, we may consider the extent to which the state regulates or controls a list of specific personal behaviors, for example consumption, production, economic activity, recreational activity, sexual activity, and the extent to which it views such activities as externalities.