Totalitarianism–2000

Hardness

The characteristics of a Totalitarian system that make it possible for large groups of people to be first dehumanized and consequently slaughtered are the ones that replace a persons individual morality with the state’s. The first thing to note is how much the state could influence the individual’s personal ideas and beliefs. Belief in Stalin and the ideal communist society gave one the excuse that all these atrocities were for the greater good. This, and the fact that going against the grain was likely to get someone killed are the more superficial influences on the average person. Rational self-interest and belief in the communist system may explain why people asked to commit horrible acts did so, but does not explain why so many of the people committing these acts were almost unaffected by them. “This man who was responsible for one of the most devastating evils in the history of humanity stood before the court a profoundly mediocre, indeed common, human being” (Todorov p.124). Such is the case of Stalin’s close advisor whose wife was killed by Stalin while he said nothing and did nothing. Faith in the party and in its leaders does not by itself lead to the kind of mass abandonment of morality that ended in genocide during the Nazi and Soviet regimes.

The large-scale dehumanization under these regimes was made possible largely from the average person’s own morality being replaced by the morality of the state. The individual’s ideas about murder, betrayal, and sympathy are replaced by the values of the ruling party through fear of the enemy of the state and most importantly, a war mentality. The totalitarian view is obsessed with defending itself against the enemy, be it an internal or external one. The idea that “The obligation to destroy an internal enemy of the state, Eicke said, is in no way different from the obligation to kill your adversary on the battlefield” (Todorov p.127) makes the people of the state into soldiers and thus promotes the betrayal of anyone not totally on board with the system. This also erases any sympathy for the enemy, even if the enemy is in this case, a neighbor.

These “enemies” were further dehumanized by their confinement and treatment by the state, making it even easier for the individual to kill them or just turn a blind eye. One prominent moral idea that the state tried to eradicate from public consciousness was sympathy for the victims. This was done by promoting hardness and indifference through jokes about murder and cold pragmatic language about death, “Addressee relocated to the cemetery” (Glover p.259). The victims or what the state would probably call traitors were not just made into animals, but extremely dangerous ones. They were dangerous to the cause of attaining of the perfect communist society and they were most dangerous to anyone who helped them or even knew about them. Rational self-interest was what let people pretend not to see but it was the strongly imposed values of the state and the idea that the state was infallible that allowed people to turn a blind eye to the nature of their own actions.

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