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Herbert Marcuse on modern totalitarianism


In chapter four of his book One-Dimensional Man, published in 1964, Herbert Marcuse gave a remarkably accurate definition of the modern totalitarianism in Western societies:

              The fact that the prevailing mode of freedom is servitude, and that the prevailing mode of equality is superimposed inequality is barred from expression by the closed definition of these concepts in terms of the powers which shape the respective universe of discourse. The result is the familiar Orwellian language ("peace is war" and "war is peace," etc. ), which is by no means that of terroristic totalitarianism only. Nor is it any less Orwellian if the contradiction is not made explicit in the sentence hut is enclosed in the noun. That a political party which works for the defense and growth of capitalism is called "Socialist, " and a despotic government "democratic," and a rigged election "free" are familiar linguistic-and political-features which long predate Orwell.

           Relatively new is the general acceptance of these lies by public and private opinion, the suppression of their monstrous content. The spread and the effectiveness of this language testify to the triumph of society over the contradictions which it contains; they are reproduced without exploding the social system. And it is the outspoken, blatant contradiction which is made into a device of speech and publicity. The syntax of abridgment proclaims the reconciliation of opposites by welding them together in a firm and familiar structure.

Today, as the false promises of capitalism start to collapse, we are witnessing growing inequality, economic instability and uncertainty, frequent financial crises, degeneration of the social state, poverty.

So, are we witnessing the collapse of the general acceptance of these lies by public and private opinion?

And does this totalitarianism starts to become more direct and obvious, using other pretexts (e.g. terrorism, economic competition, etc.)?

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