All totalitarian regimes need enemies. More importantly, they need both external and internal enemies. They cannot survive without them. That was one of George Orwell’s many crucially important insights in 1984. It’s been true of every totalitarian regime and it’s true of our present-day soft totalitarianism in the West.
I’ll speak about external enemies in another post. For the moment I’ll concentrate on the question of internal enemies.
Internal enemies are just as important. In 1984 the internal enemy is embodied in one chief villain, the dastardly Emmanuel Goldstein. This was useful for artistic reasons in a novel but in practice the internal enemies in a totalitarian state are more amorphous and more mysterious. For the Soviet communists in the Stalinist era the enemies were revisionists and (especially) Trotskyists. For the Chinese communists the enemies were capitalist roaders. For those who rule us today the enemies are racists, sexists and homophobes. Trotskyists were useful because anybody could turn out to be a Trotskyist. Just as anyone could turn out to be a capitalist roader. You might be a Trotskyist and not even know it! Just as today you might be a racist or a sexist and not know it until suddenly you find yourself the victim of a Two Minute Hate.
The vital thing for the rulers of a totalitarian state is that these enemies should continue to exist. In fact the few remaining dissenters today could easily be silenced completely. They could be suddenly vanished as effectively as the victims of Stalin’s Purges. They would not need to be liquidated – it would be more than sufficient simply to destroy their livelihoods and deny them any means of expressing their dissent, and this could be achieved very easily. But it won’t happen. They will be harassed mercilessly but not destroyed. Emmanuel Goldsteins are much too useful to totalitarians.
At the moment the chief Emmanuel Goldstein is Donald Trump. Trump has been a godsend to our rulers. He has virtually zero chance of gaining the Republican nomination. He presents zero threat to the establishment. But he is so incredibly useful as a focus for hysteria. The kind of hysteria that will justify further repression – more hate speech laws, more restrictions on freedom of speech, more control of the internet. The fact that Trump is a liberal and strongly pro-immigration doesn’t matter. It makes no difference what Emmanuel Goldstein or Donald Trump actually stands for. What matters is what the public can be told that he stands for.
In 1984 the government doesn’t much care what the proles believe. What matters is maintaining discipline in the Party. The Inner Party can be controlled fairly easily, but a small clique is not enough to run a country. Fairly large numbers of bureaucrats, technicians and other functionaries are needed – these make up the Outer Party. People like poor Winston Smith. These are the people who need to be watched. The situation today is similar. Our rulers don’t care too much what the poor think, or what the remnants of working class think. They do care very much what the equivalent of the Outer Party thinks. The equivalent of the Outer Party being journalists, academics, teachers, bureaucrats. These people today can be relied on to a fairly large degree to hold the correct views, but they can’t be trusted completely. Discipline has to be exercised regularly and strictly. Any of these people who display any deviation from the ruling ideology must be brought into line. Show trials (these days usually conducted via Twitter) and purges are necessary. Our form of totalitarianism has now advanced to the point where the main targets of the SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) are other SJWs who are insufficiently zealous or display any sign of independent thought.
This is where a regular supply of Emmanuel Goldsteins is so useful. As long as there exists a handful of evil villainous cishet racist sexist homophobes it is easy to justify ongoing draconian measures of repression and it is easy to maintain iron discipline over the Outer Party members. A small amount of genuine dissent is needed in order to make the threat plausible enough to justify the repression. This genuine dissent is in reality no threat at all – it can be crushed if it ever starts to become dangerous. It’s effectively controlled opposition.
That’s why we still have more than one political party. There’s no real difference between the mainstream political parties in western countries today. One-party rule would scarcely make any difference but a one-party state is obviously totalitarian, so the illusion of multi-party systems must be maintained. That’s controlled opposition. Totalitarianism has become more subtle than it was in Orwell’s day. It is much more effectively cloaked in the outward trappings of democracy. In our society Emmanuel Goldstein would be permitted to run for the highest office in the land. His defeat would be an absolutely certainty but the illusion of freedom and democracy is maintained.
Our leaders have not only absorbed Orwell’s lessons – they have made improvements to the blueprint laid out in 1984. Isn’t progress wonderful?