The modern road to totalitarianism : The Tribune India

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The modern road to totalitarianism

A new era of violent passion overwhelms the contemporary world.

The modern road to totalitarianism

Cruel cut: Madeleine Albright (L) calls fascism a past wound that had almost healed, but Trump's election has 'ripped off the bandage' photos: AFP, Reuters



Shelley Walia

A new era of violent passion overwhelms the contemporary world. The Holocaust, the mountains of literature on Nazism, are subjected to obliviousness impelling the return of economic and political fascism. It is thriving not only in autocratic nations but in democracies blemished by rabid racist dogmas akin to intolerance and xenophobia. Madeleine Albright, with her experience as US ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State, reminds humanity to not overlook its lessons in history but to collectively focus on a new peaceful world of coexistence and egalitarianism.

Her book, indeed, becomes decisive to the examination of the fascist turn in human history that we are witness to. Telling truth about history and ensuring a radical transformation in pedagogical practice will guarantee conscientious generations to celebrate and affirm the self in the face of the nightmare of coldblooded economics and pervasive sectarianism.

Time is apt to apprehend a civilisational crisis of ignorance and hatred, economic inconsistency and the stifling of basic human rights. The agent of truth, at such a juncture, can only be the university and the media that can empower the public to defy neoliberalism with its innate schemes of fabrication and wilful insensitivity to the disadvantaged millions. Albright’s book amplifies this struggle of coming to terms with a fascist world through an unremitting confidence in the doggedness of democratic values. Alternative societal measures must evolve to combat a fascist world.

Returning to Nazism, historian Friedrich Meinecke, in his book, The German Catastrophe, underscores the Nazi fixation with economic advancement as the impelling cause behind the rise the Third Reich which smothered the all organisations of art and culture. As advocated by Meinecke, the antidote to an era of fascism could be “the creation of ‘Goethe communities’ devoted to the celebration of the great poet and other literary figures, accompanied by the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms.” The “bloody, proto-totalitarian excesses” of the Third Reich could only be countered by a widespread cultural revolution.

Albright’s book is scholarly, well-meaning and inspirational in its objective to combat anti-liberal political tendencies of fascism and threats of populism. Unassuming, resolute and commanding in its rendition of a human catastrophe, the book draws attention to Donald Trump, the elephant on the rampage in the room, who “has systematically degraded political discourse in the United States, shown an astonishing disregard for facts, libelled his predecessor, threatened to ‘lock up’ political rivals, bullied members of his own administration, referred to mainstream journalists as ‘the enemy of the American people,’ spread falsehoods about the integrity of the U.S. electoral process, touted mindlessly nationalistic economic and trade policies and nurtured a paranoid bigotry toward the followers of one of the world’s most foremost religions.” The contemporary world is indeed a spectator to a widespread demolition of democratic institutions.

Here lies the equation of tyranny with the scheme of propagating irrationality and ultra-nationalism, hankering for power and deep-seated animosity. The idea is geared to dousing the spark of literary and artistic creativity, the essential cultural agencies of a civil society. As Albright defines, “A fascist is someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have.”

Albright is a true believer in the institutions of democracy, underpinned by the love of truth, beauty, friendship, justice and compassion, values that enable humanity to eradicate the sweeping fascist thinking. She is qualified to speak and write on the subject with her experience and pain of a victim of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939, when Hitler’s war machine “pushed Europe to the threshold of a second world war”. She escaped with her parents to London only to return after the capitulation of the Nazis. But the stay in Czechoslovakia was short-lived with the country falling to the communists. The family escaped as exiles to the US where as a young girl, Albright began to adapt to a life of freedom, to a culture of comic books, “bubble gum”and a high school club that actively engaged in discussions on international affairs, Gandhi and Tito.

Specialising in the Eastern European Studies, she wrote and thought deeply on totalitarian regimes and the “Orwellian nightmare”, “of whole countries living behind barbed wires”. And finally, with the end of communist rule in Czechoslovakia and the fall of the Berlin Wall in June 1989, she optimistically began to sense “that democracy had aced its severest test” especially with the liberation of Ukraine, Caucasus, the Baltics and Central Asia. Nelson Mandela, too, became the embodiment of liberation, “engendering hopes of regional renaissance”.

But this was to be short-lived; the ominous note that Albright strikes in the return of fascism counters the buoyancy she had experienced listening to the writer Vaclav Havel, former President of Czechoslovakia. He spoke about a future when Europe would inch towards unification when the powerful would no longer suppress the weak. The uplifting vision has sadly faded. Democracy is once again under threat and “people in positions of power undermine public confidence in elections, the courts, and the media”. This is a global scenario for which she squarely blames Donald Trump. In Albright’s words: “If we think of Fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab.”

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