The great authoritarian arms race

A quote circulating, alternately attributed to Lenin and Marx, urges authoritarians:

Blame your enemies for doing what you do.

Whether this was the work of Lenin or a fortune cookie writer in Akron doesn’t matter. Powerful authorities actively use such tactics.

When President Biden delivered his now-famous “Dark Brandon” speech against a blood-red backdrop that authorities might have copied from a Leni Riefenstahl film, it revealed as much about the machinations of the powerful as the depravity of their strategists. Up to this point, the authoritarians were slowly canning us lowly frogs. Now the Politburo simply turned up the heat.

The burner goes click-click.

There is a dark brilliance in demanding “unity” while calling half the country fascist. There is a glorious perversity in labeling voters extremists while ordering the state apparatus—that extraordinary amalgamation of corporate and state power—to censor speech and bully your political enemies. But the real genius is getting half the country into such a frenzy that they’re willing to let the apparatus put the 150 million under their thumb. After all, they’re just cave dwellers. You are the others.

And all in the name of protect democracy.

DVEs and the American Stazi

The groundwork was set back in 2021, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an advisory memo warning that “domestic violent extremists (DVEs), including … anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists, will continue to pose a significant threat to our Hometown.”

Speaking of anti-government/anti-authority extremists, one of America’s founders wrote that the “tree of liberty needs to be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”. Does it matter that today’s anti-authoritarians are often peaceful people who want to tweet their skepticism about state power?

Commenting on the DVE report, DHS Secretary Mayorkas added that “DHS has renewed its commitment to work with our partners at all levels of government, in the private sector and in local communities to combat all forms of terrorism and targeted violence.”

The DHS does not have to be convened by Stazi. Volunteers lined up to “work” with them. Nina “Hide-a-Little-Lie” Jankovicz was just another Apparatus fangirl before she was recruited to run the Ministry of Truth Disinformation Board, which was (and maybe still is) a thing.

Let’s not forget that the FBI raids the homes of voters they don’t like and “works” with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to silence dissenters and brand dissenters as extremists.

The burner goes click-click.

When it comes to branding half of America as extremist/fascist, Team Blue is positively gullible, sometimes bubbly. That means they care about Team Red’s rights just as much as they care about Uyghurs’ rights. Indeed, recent government efforts show further steps towards a Sino-literate America – up to and including a CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency), a monetary panopticon to be launched under the buzzwords: The innocent have nothing to fear.

Those fearful of creeping authoritarianism from the left might be tempted to seek right-wing electoral redemption. But increasingly you will find that the other side is more motivated by vengeance than the protection of any principles or American ideals. This means it’s more likely that Team Red will grab the contraption and reassign it straight back to Team Blue. Far from condemning such moves outright, Team Red will bask in all the glee.

That is, until the pendulum swings back.

negative sum

The current configuration creates incentives for reprisals that are likely to swing back and forth until the apparatus collapses. And that could mean a civil war, leading most of the current Indifferent Center to pick a team.

Thus the nation finds itself drawn into a game-theoretic construction that is unlikely to lead to a good or sane outcome. It’s an arms race over who can be more authoritarian.

The smartest on the bypass will try to tell you otherwise, even those whose work you may have long admired. You have decided that the evidenceTM already requires you to select a team.

I remember the old Nolan chart which, while not a perfect political typology, is more accurate than a left-to-right spectrum. David Nolan added another axis – libertarian to authoritarian – that should add an important dimension to the political landscape.

Unfortunately, the incentives and the culture are like gravitational centers that pull people down. That is, progressives, moderates, and conservatives are becoming increasingly authoritarian. Historically, red shirts and brown shirts hated each other, but both had a lot in common. It is not even clear that these groups are aware of the process. Rather, animus can transform people into what they supposedly detest. That’s definitely happening today. Each side defines itself against its enemy and sides with the angels. They see their tactics as a necessary evil, so they gradually embrace evil.

The burner goes click-click.

Partisan intellectuals on both teams will wiggle their fingers and warn us about “bipartisanism” as if there were a cosmic scoreboard of authoritarianism of which only they are privy. Some even call themselves libertarians. But notice how they scratch themselves after lying down with dogs. They are selective in their outrage. They go along with the blame game and tu quoque. You choose a team.

The Submissive Instinct

Personally, I am fully aware of the impulse to tolerate the growth of authoritarian power rooted in fear and animus. After 9/11 I ignored the warnings about what government surveillance measures like the PATRIOT Act and later the establishment of the new Department of Homeland Security would mean for American civil liberties. I was wrong. In hindsight, I can see that fear and polarization overwhelmed me. I had chosen a team.

The burner went click-click.

Since then, subsequent governments and lawmakers have built on these measures to create what is collectively known today as the Deep State. And I’d been a cheerleader for her rise, despite what I knew about Mission Creep and the march through institutions. Now the Deep State has extended its capabilities to ordinary citizens.

I understand that a few rare events have prompted all of us to voice our concerns about extremist violence against the innocent, from killings in churches and synagogues to clashes between protesters resulting in deaths. To a certain extent we accept that police powers must be used to deal with such threats. But we must remain vigilant, because any police violence that can be used against violent extremists can be used against them labeled violent extremists.

While rare but frightening things do happen from time to time, including mass shootings and out-of-control protests, many of these events are as much a result of ideological polarization and this illiberal arms race as all the evils inherent in ordinary Americans.

It would be a grave mistake to let partisans drag us into something like this:

“It is the state that educates its citizens in civic virtues, gives them a sense of their mission and welds them together in unity.”

A state run by whom? For whose idea of ​​virtue? For what mission? And with what welded unit? still both sides seem to have tacitly accepted Mussolini’s words as they struggle to seize power.

Affective polarization

registered mail reasonwarns Stephanie Slade,

What hasn’t changed—and may even be getting worse—is the problem of affective polarization. Various studies have found that Americans today have significantly more negative feelings toward members of the other party than they have in decades past.

But partisan animosity suits authoritarian elements on both the left and right. Their goal is power, and they have little patience for procedural subtleties that interfere with their exercise. As history teaches, a base riddled with fear and anger is willing to accept almost anything to ensure its own survival. Perhaps even the destruction of the institutions and ideals that make America unique.

Slade is right and she has the data. Anyone who accuses her of “both sidesism” has her head where the sun doesn’t shine.

I am. Now is not the time to “retire the trope of bilateralism.” It’s time for an anti-authoritarian coalition to turn against affective polarization and the urge to choose teams. It’s time we proclaimed authoritarianism wherever it reared its head. And we must do everything in our power to innovate so that there are ways out of this crumbling, top-heavy conflict machine. God forbid that any “side” wins this war. God forbid we slide into civil war as the true authoritarians wait in the shadows while we continue to absorb the spectacle of it all.

The burner goes click-click.

Maximum Limits

Maximum Limits

Get notified about new articles from Max Borders and AIER.