Scotland’s Emerging Totalitarian Democracy

It is rarely, said Hume in his essay on the freedom of the press, that we lose our liberty all at once. A kind of nibbling process accustoms us to our loss, so that, before long, we do not even remember any more what we have lost. I was reminded recently of this process in a surprising location, namely a book in French about the evils of reinforced concrete, titled Béton, by Anselm Jappe, a German professor of philosophy teaching in France.

He mentions that in 1962 some radical philosophers suggested that it might be a good thing one day to hunt down and hang the architects. (The author also mentions that Disraeli hinted at the same thing in his novel, Tancred, even before the architects really got going on their crusade to uglify the world and make it uniformly horrible.)  Professor Jappe adds in lapidary fashion, ‘Today, one could not say this – it would be taken as an apology for violence!’

Thus literal-mindedness is the enemy of freedom of expression, and represents also a disturbing loss of mental sophistication. But in any case, attachment to freedom of expression as an ideal seems to have lost much of its salience in the western world, having been replaced as a desideratum by that of virtue, moreover virtue of a peculiar but easily achievable kind, not that of acting well, but that of thinking and expressing the right thoughts. The certifiably right thoughts, which can change in an instant, are those that are in conformity with the moral enthusiasms of the moment.

The loss of freedom of expression as a political value is clearly exhibited in the official documents about the Scottish government’s proposed Hate Crime and Public Disorder Bill. ‘Hate has no place in Scotland’, claims one of these documents, as if not merely the control of illegal emotional behaviour but the control of emotion itself were the business of a government. Perhaps one day the Scottish government will propose not a Two Minute Hate, as in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but a Two Minute Love, when citizens will be required to express, in unison and in public, their love for someone or something formerly despised.

Come back Queen Elizabeth I, who famously said that ‘I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls’! What a retrogression in understanding do we now suffer!

The government minister in charge of the legislation, Houmza Yousef, said that he would consider outlawing behaviour that expressed antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult – but of course, only of certain protected groups. The rich, for example, would not be a protected group, even though hatred of the rich probably was at the root of more mass killing than practically any other hatred in the 20th century. There is even an economic interpretation of the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutu in Rwanda in 1994: and certainly there is documentary evidence that the killers often rejoiced in the appropriation of their comparatively prosperous neighbours’ economic assets, even if they were not impelled to kill at the outset by the conscious desire for loot.

Antipathy, dislike, ridicule, and insult are, of course, normal phenomena of human expression, and furthermore are often justified. Without them expressions of more favourable attitudes would probably not be possible either, for they would mean nothing without the possibility of expression of their opposites. Even to contemplate outlawing such normal human reactions displays an alarmingly totalitarian mindset, all the more so in combination with the Scottish government’s desire that people should report so-called hate crime to the police. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia seem to be its models.   

It is perhaps wrong, or lazy, to call what is happening in Scotland incipient fascism; not everything is a reprise of the past, and the new or the current is sometimes sui generis. But the category of totalitarianism is sufficiently broad to capture the new Scottish reality.

In publishing his proposals, the Scottish government minister said that ‘confronting hate crime is central to building the safer, stronger and inclusive Scotland that we all want to see – free from hatred, prejudice, discrimination and bigotry.’ Quite apart from my aversion to people who want to ‘build’ nations anew that are already ancient, what is noticeable in Mr Yousef’s list of desiderata is the complete absence of any mention of freedom, except the implied freedom of the state to repress or punish opinions of which it does not approve or permit, even in the privacy of the home. It would not be an exaggeration to say that what Scotland is ‘building’ is a totalitarian edifice. It is all the more depressing that it is doing so with the support and approval of much of the population: an example of totalitarian democracy at work.

Further to prove this, one can cite the list of ‘impact assessments’ that the Scottish government made of its proposed bill beforehand, namely its impact on:

                Business regulation

                Child rights and wellbeing

                Data protection



                Local government and sustainable development

There is not a single word on the most obvious and important possible impact, at least if a free society is desired, namely that on freedom of expression.

As if this were not all enough, there is an unmistakable tendency in modern societies to allow the offended person to be the sole judge of the existence of the offence of which he or she is supposedly the victim, or even merely a witness to. Reason or objective evidence doesn’t come into it, what counts is how people feel. You’re bullied if you say you feel you’re bullied; you’re insulted if you say you feel you’re insulted; you’re disrespected if you say you feel you’re disrespected; you’re discriminated against if you say you feel you’re discriminated against; and so forth.

Trying to eliminate antipathy, dislike, ridicule, and insult from the human heart and mind is a task to make that of Sisyphus seem like an afternoon stroll: precisely the type of task that authoritarian governments love, for it gives them the locus standi to interfere ever more intimately with the lives of their subjects. Hatred is hydra-headed, the task is never done, it grows with its very elimination, or rather the attempts by government at its elimination. Failure is the greatest success, since it requires ever more of the same, namely control over society.

It is perhaps wrong, or lazy, to call what is happening in Scotland incipient fascism; not everything is a reprise of the past, and the new or the current is sometimes sui generis. But the category of totalitarianism is sufficiently broad to capture the new Scottish reality – which is only marginally worse, incidentally, than that in other countries that have also lost their taste for freedom and whose culture now runs in the direction of tyranny.                                

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on January 06, 2021 at 10:26:29 am

The situation was grotesque. On the one hand, every utterance offensive to the Catholic faith, every absence from Mass was punished, the length of women's dresses was prescribed, every banquet considered too opulent was liable to be penalized. On the other hand, arson and murder were perpetrated with impunity on highway and farm.----Michael Kunze, High Road to the Stake

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on January 06, 2021 at 11:38:40 am

The efforts of governments to expand their remit is unsurprising. The acquiescence of the populace to such expansions is, if not surprising, disheartening.

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on January 06, 2021 at 11:46:31 am

These are people who in response to the Catholic medievalism formed not one, but two, Caivinist entities, the adherents of which would kill each other, nov over theological arguments, but over who had control of their body--i,e. Kirk versus Church. The enlightenment occurred when the English had charge, because we do not have a history of Nationalism, rather clan and tribe. It would not surprise me if the differences still divide families--my grandmother was Episcopalian and my wife's grandmother was Presbyterian and the differences still intrude on the relationship. A totalitarian form of governance, puntuated by periods of anarchy, would not surprise me.

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Earl Haehl
on January 06, 2021 at 12:59:01 pm

>"The certifiably right thoughts, which can change in an instant, are those that are in conformity with the moral enthusiasms of the moment."

Fits with the woke-prog-left mantra: 'Everything before yesterday is wrong.' The objective is power--the power to make you conform. They say, "Jump!" And you respond, "How high?"

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on January 06, 2021 at 13:11:22 pm

The never ending cycle of human progress brings us to the Scottish De-lightenment!

Idiocy has escaped it's bounds in the academy and has now leaped over the Atlantic, resting quite comfortably, one assumes in the British Isles, once the birthplace of human political freedom.

With the self-induced debacle in Georgia last night and Ms. Pelosi's new Rules for House Order, we can expect the Senate to now follow suit. Bye, Bye GRANDMA, you hateful wench!

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on January 06, 2021 at 13:17:43 pm

I wonder if Hilary Clinton would be imprisoned for disparaging "a basket of deplorables"

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Richard Wallace
on January 06, 2021 at 13:31:38 pm

Of course that was sarcasm in the form of a rhetorical question. Because as we all know, the "theory" of wokeness has as one of its axioms that for any act or speech to constitute a punishable instance of any "ism," the actor or speaker must belong to a group axiomatically defined to have "power." And, as an additional axiom, the "groups" that have "power" are defined to be, in descending order: white, male, born male, heterosexual, Christian. Membership in any one or more of these groups is the minor premise to the syllogistic conclusion: power vis-a-vis non-members. Which conclusion then serves as the minor premise to the conclusion: punishable instance of an "ism."

It's all worthy of Peter Abelard! Or the casuists. Not sure which is the better analogy.

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on January 06, 2021 at 16:26:11 pm

"Scotland's Emerging Totalitarian Democracy" seems like an appropriate title for a new (small) chapter, one of many necessarily-new chapters, in a much-needed, yet-to-be-written, 2021 edition of Arendt's 1951 "The Origins of Totalitarianism," wherein Nazism and Stalinism were described then as the dominant totalitarian political forces of the 1st half of the 20th century. (The 1951 book on the 20th centuries two dominant forms of totalitarianism was partially updated under the 1997 title, "The Black Book of Communism," but that was really just a tallying of the 20th century's balance sheet in bodies, minus Hitler's contribution to the killing.)

The planet earth is now ruled, not by Nazism and Stalinism, but by two newer, competing forms of totalitarianism, so that Arendt's initial conception needs a major substantive updating. The dominant totalitarianism after the Soviet Union collapsed was Maoist Stalinism, which was the ideological merger in Red China of Nazism and Stalinism. (Russian author Vasily Grossman in "Life and Fate" in 1958 pointed out the shocking insight to the West that Nazism and Stalinism are but two sides of the same coin.) In an unequalled act of verbal irony and bland, nationalizing neologism, the Chinese Communist Party recently re-named its unchanged, old-line brand of Maoist Stalinism and now calls it "Socialism With Chinese Special Characteristics.”

Competing for international power with Maoist Stalinism is an ascendant form of totalitarianism, totalitarian bureaucratic democracy. That is a virulent ideology now blooming and growing like political kudzu in the heretofore democratic republican west of western Europe, the UK, Canada and Australia. Both forms of 21st century totalitarianism, like their Nazi and Stalinist predecessors, compete on the world stage and seek to spread to the point of world dominance.

Totalitarian bureaucratic democracy has now gained full power in the USA and will, if not defeated, destroy America's constitutional democratic republic, its natural law and constitutional rights, religious liberty and religious moral foundation, historical civil and political traditions, and cultural-religious customs of Christianity, Judaism, classical liberalism and Burkean conservatism; destroy competitive markets capitalism, and bring about authoritarian administrative rule by bureaucratically-enforced scientism and woke cultural politics.

It seems that, here in the USA, it's time to re-read Aristotle's "Politics,'' especially Book Five, Christopher Lasch's "Revolt of the Elites," Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood on the ideological origins of the revolution and founding, and Daniel Dreisbach on the Bible's impact on America's founding, and biographies of Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Madison, Marshall and Lincoln. And, yes, the essays about Solzhenitsyn discussed today in L&L's "Books" section.

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on January 06, 2021 at 18:45:51 pm

Superb commentary, Paladin.

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Michael Bond
on January 07, 2021 at 13:06:14 pm

Thank you

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on January 07, 2021 at 20:08:39 pm

The world's first matriarchy. Nothing happens in Scotland without feminist consent.

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Wilima Flyer
on January 06, 2021 at 09:56:39 am

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on January 08, 2021 at 01:10:32 am

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