The Inception of American Totalitarianism
R. A. Childs, Jr.
(The Individualist, “Spotlighting the News”; June 1970 [volume 2, number 5])

”Totalitarianism is distinguished from other forms of statism by the fact that the totalitarians attempt to pry into every nook and cranny of the individual’s life, leaving nothing private, nothing sacred, nothing uncontrolled. In America today we are witnessing a perhaps unique historical phenomenon — the onset of totalitarianism without dictatorship.” — Jarret B. Wollstein

“We have seen all to clearly that there are men — now in power in this country — who do not respect dissent, who cannot cope with turmoil, and who believe that the people of America are ready to support repression as long as it is done with a quiet voice and a business suit.” — Mayor John V. Lindsay, New York City.

Evasion of principles is apparently a favorite American pastime. Never before in the history of this country has repression appeared quite so quickly or casually. Repression has existed, but it is usually called forth by some “emergency” — always with the state at the root of things. Today, middle-class America is ruined by the cult of mediocrity; everything, even blatant moves toward totalitarianism, is done with a certain stale blandness. Only when events are made coherent by reason can the fog of political rhetoric be pierced and seemingly unconnected events linked together showing the underlying themes. Meanwhile, the American people act like political “positivists,” seeing no event connected with any other, no principles underlying recent events, no trends, nothing except a concrete “today.” Evading the necessity of developing rational values, principles, commitments to an ideology, they are quickly coming face to face with the quip of the Thomist Etienne Gilson: “Philosophy always buries its undertakers.”

What is going on, and what does it imply?

The American government is moving on a wide variety of fronts to take actions and establish precedents for future actions, which is resulting in the establishment of a totalitarian state.

What is the evidence?

[Breaker quote for The Inception of Tyranny: Piercing the political fog]

First, the government is moving to crack down on dissent of all forms. Students used to be expelled and suspended from classes only for unusual acts of violence. Now, the state educational system is being used to punish peaceful demonstrators as well. Time magazine (March 30) reported on the re-election of conservative Ronald Reagan: “This month, when he began his campaign for re-election, six out of his seven days on the stump were marred by youth demonstrations.... Four students were arrested and promptly suspended from classes. Reagan applauded: ‘This is the type of swift action that I believe will be instrumental in solving this kind of thing.’ He later called the protestors ‘cowardly fascist bands,’ adding: ‘Our system can work, and they are damned well going to find out that it will work.’”

Work for what? Reagan did not discuss, but the answer is beginning to become clear: work to repress those too “dull” to see that Reagan and others like him are really pursuing liberty.

According to Newsweek (April 13), the federal government too has and is taking actions to “curtail even peaceable dissent outside the White House.” Only outside the White House? With the Chicago 8 having been convicted under fog-riddled federal laws which in effect make having a certain opinion or intent (whether or not it is carried out) a crime, the federal government is moving to apply the law to other individuals. The first step was the indictment of 12 members of the militant SDS Weathermen. In general, Newsweek states, “the administration has no hesitancy at all about moving full force against those dissidents it judges to be extremist — those, that is, who move beyond rhetoric to revolutionary action.” But what is “revolutionary action”? Apparently, any action which has as its aim the radical change of American political life. The Weathermen were not indicted for the acts of violence which they did in fact commit last October in Chicago: they were already under indictment by local authorities for these actual “crimes.” [Breaker quote: Read to Me ad]They were indicted because they hold certain views, and because these views are becoming more and more predominant among their peers. “Each of the twelve defendants was charged both with conspiring to violate the anti-riot law [not actually violating it, but merely conspiring to violate it?] — a count on which all of the Chicago 7 were acquitted — and with committing one or more of the 40 overt acts, ranging from making speeches and passing out leaflets to assaulting Chicago officials.” This means practically speaking, that now anyone can be arrested for crossing a state line to say anything to anybody, since (a) a conspiracy is merely any secret agreement, and (b) it is obviously impossible to prove someone’s “intent,” which means that the defendant must in effect prove his innocence. The prosecution can cite a speech by someone attacking some aspect of the government, cite the fact that he appeared in some state for a demonstration, cite any violence which might have gone on (not necessarily involving him), and say to the defendant: “Prove that you didn’t have an intent to commit acts of violence. Prove that you weren’t part of conspiracy.”

At least freedom of the press is still secure. Or is it? Not quite. UPI reported on April 14th that the government had instituted court martial proceedings against naval serviceman Robert Priest, for running an “underground newspaper” critical of the policies of the government, for being critical of the government, and thus undermining the “morale” of the service. Thus, free speech and freedom of the press do not apply to servicemen, who may even be inducted into the service against their will.

Also, the government has been pursuing, with full steam, the legal “right” to force newsmen to divulge their confidential sources of material, to force them to turn their news files over to the government when called upon by “big brother.” The government is attempting to usurp the power to order newsmen into court with their sources at any time for any reason, subpoenaing the records of any and all of them. Newsmen have already been forced to testify at hearings, to produce films of interviews with dissenters for the use of state prosecutors. How long can journalists willing to report the “other side” hold out if they are intimidated by threats of blatant coercion like this? What will the effect be?

But the government isn’t relying on this alone to obtain information and manage the news. Not willing to wait for newsmen who can be intimidated, the federal government is apparently going to the source. Typical of Nixon administration policy, Newsweek reports, is “the assertion of broad new wiretapping powers...” (April 13).

Under the guise of catching drug users before they have a chance to dispose of drugs, the government has passed numerous “no-knock entry” laws, permitting the cops to break into a house without warning. This sets a precedent for the federal government which has already existed and been used as such by state and local governments. One can safely guess that before long drugs may not even be necessary as a rationalization for such invasions of privacy.

Not only can the government now break into homes and listen in on telephone calls, it can open mail to and from other countries, without the owners’ consent. It was reported by the news services in a little-noticed item that the Postmaster General of the United States authorized the Department of the Treasury to open first-class international mail if they so desire. Why? Because this would enable the IRS and other departments to obtain additional information on overseas bank accounts, silver holdings, and the like. Noticing that just a few months ago the U.S. Government obtained the permission of the Swiss government, for the first time in history, to examine American accounts in Swiss banks, one can conclude that the looters are getting desperate in this area, too.

Apparently these bald-faced totalitarian efforts have not been enough. Book burning and forced labor have been instituted as well. During the first week in April, it was announced on Maryland radio (WGAY) that the county board in Montgomery County is setting up a committee to check school texts, screening them, to make sure that the contents are not offensive to racial minorities. Some books are already being considered to be withdrawn from libraries on this account. If racial minorities, why not other interest groups? Why not merely offensive to the “public interest,” or, as was the excuse in the prosecution of naval serviceman Roger Priest, that certain things might, if generally known, “undermine the morale” of the American public? Of such policies are memory holes made.

[Breaker quote for The Inception of Tyranny: A parody of Atlas Shrugged]If precedents are being set here, other areas are not being neglected. Seeing that many labor disputes are arising which they cannot handle, the Administration of Richard Nixon has instituted a policy of forced labor — not the draft, but in civilian work. The policy begins with the forced settlement of labor disputes, something U.S. News has unblushingly called a form of “modified compulsion.” In the case of the recent railroad disputes, U.S. News has reported that “Nixon had asked Congress to order final settlement of the dispute by law” (April 13). On April 20, U.S. News reported that “President Nixon, as far back as February 27th, sent Congress a proposed law aimed at preventing stoppages in any transportation industry.” The Nixon legislation is called (!!) “The Emergency Public Interest Protection Act of 1970” and would empower a three-man panel to choose between the final positions of the employers and the unions. This would then be forced upon both. In one labor dispute, the Sheet Metal Workers rejected a pact agreed to by fellow unions, and Congress ordered the pact put into effect.

In the recent air controllers dispute, during which employees were “calling in sick” to avoid breaking a law forbidding them to strike, the federal government ordered men to report to court-appointed doctors, and then ordered those found “healthy” to report back to work. Previously, this sort of thing was called slavery, but with the advent of the “newspeak,” it is merely protecting the public interest. As if this parody of both Atlas Shrugged and 1984 were not enough, the FCC moved into the picture, to enact a proposal aimed at “redistributing” control over the news media in a more “democratic” way.

Seeing that most of the policies of newspapers, radio, and television stations are “liberal,” the administration of Richard the Repressive has struck back through the machinery of the FCC, led by such conservatives as Dean Burch. The FCC is pushing a couple of new proposals and rulings, Newsweek (April 6) reports: a new “one-to-a-customer” ruling places an immediate freeze on the acquisition of a new radio or television station by a broadcaster already owning one in a city; a further proposal, as Newsweek says, “covers considerably more ground. If it should ultimately go into effect [the owner of] any newspaper or television stations in the same city would be given a five-year deadline to divest himself of the station or the newspaper. The proposal would also limit a single owner to either one television station or one AM-FM combination in the same urban area.” This sounds like something out of Atlas Shrugged, too, and the political hacks aren’t kidding.

Another tactic of the administration is to innoculously put forward positions which “somebody” holds, portraying them as a “bit extreme” and “unacceptable,” and then to propose something based on precisely the same principle, only to a lesser extent. Thus, Newsweek (April 13) reports that “Maryland Democrat Joseph D. Tydings, who is becoming the Senate’s expert on population growth, plans a campaign to educate fellow legislators and the public on the subject. Tydings is concerned that some of the more extreme population-control ideas — such as compulsory sterilization of any couple after the birth of two children — will cause a backlash that will hurt the educational, voluntary approach that he favors.” Who is proposing that the government legislate birth? No answer. Does Tydings object to the principle of compulsory sterilization, or merely object to the proposal because of the “backlash” it may produce against his own supposedly more “voluntary” legislative efforts?

The point is that the government is now actually willing to control practically every part of a person’s life in order to ensure its own power and stability. Is the above all? Not a chance. Let's take a couple of peeks into the future.

Recent scientific research on rats has developed a chemical which produces radical changes in their behavior. Injecting the chemical in a portion of the brains of various rats, scientists found that what they called “pacifist” rats could almost immediately be made into killer rats — violent, raging, animals which will kill mice on sight. Time magazine (March 30) reported that “If such violence could be unleashed chemically, researchers reasoned, it might also be chemically contained.” Experimenting with different drugs, they found one which would do almost the opposite. Injected into a killer rat’s brain, it produces almost instant pacifists. Though several things have yet to be cleared up, Time reports that “the results could lead to similar experiments with other species. If the killer instinct can be chemically controlled in a creature as complex as the rodent, some day such aggressiveness may well be tamed in man. Indeed, among those who are apparently interested in that research: The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.” This is frankly nothing to be laughed at. If the FDA can order cyclamates taken out of foods, and HEW [Health, Education, and Welfare, the precursor of later cabinet offices —RN] can order fluoride put into water supplies, then why can’t the government start pushing one drug or the other at us, depending on whether they think we are too rambunctious, dissident, and downright disrespectful of authority, needing to be “toned down” a bit, or too passive in the midst of one of their holy wars, needing to be riled up into the heat of bloodlust? Since these moral monsters have decided, time and time again, that they and they alone shall decide what is to our best interests, what is to stop them from chemically “programing” our emotional and psychological states as much as they can, from cradle to state-designed grave? Far-fetched? Not at all.

In its April 20th issue, Newsweek reported on the heights that the Orwellian mentality has reached among our benevolent “protectors.” In its zeal to stamp out crime and civil disobedience, the administration of Richard M. Nixon has come forth with a clutch of controversial remedies, ranging from the ‘preventive detention’ of habitual criminals in the District of Columbia, and the ‘no-knock’ provision of the pending Drug Abuse bill. Then last week, it was revealed that the President and his advisers were considering a still more drastic proposal — the mass administration of psychological tests to detect children apt to become anti-social, and even the establishing of special camps for retraining teen-agers” [my emphasis].

[Breaker quote for The Inception of Tyranny: Time to fight for our ideals with all the intensity we can musterThis scheme is the creation of the mind (I use the term loosely) of Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, a physician who has had personal contact with Nixon. The good doctor submitted his plan to the White House at the request of the President, and it was then forwarded to the Department of HEW. Bubbling with Orwellian doublethink and newspeak the report is aimed at nipping private crime (the report said nothing about crimes perpetrated by the government) in the bud, it goes straight to the root of things: the potentially criminal mind of the child. “Every child between the ages of 6 and 8, according to Hutschnecker’s plan,” reports Newsweek, “would take a battery of psychological tests designed to detect mental disturbance or propensity for anti-social behavior. The youngest such children would be helped in federally supported day-care clinics and receive guidance counseling to direct them into more constructive pursuits.” The final recommendation of the doctor’s report was the establishing of literal concentration camps for incorrigible teen-age boys who are either criminally inclined, according to the psychological tests used by the state-psychological hacks, or have ”anti-social tendencies.” *

There are, of course, problems with this, admits the good doctor. Like what? Well, modern psychological tests run sometimes several hours and can cost as much as $150. So the doctor is devising a test which consists of eighteen pictures, which a child is shown, and the results of which are fed into a computer. This new test could be given in just a few minutes, and the child’s future life decided accordingly, by computers and bureaucrats working hand in hand. “We could test the total child population in two or three months,” he says. And who knows where we might go from there...

For the moment, at least, the proposal has been rather quietly put aside. For the moment. Not on morals grounds, not as the raving of a Nazi-lunatic, but as being just a little too impractical and visionary. So that proposal stands not as a solution for today, but then, tomorrow is just around the corner. The technology of the state increases daily.

Any comment alongside this monstrous proposal is almost irrelevant. The fact that such a thing can be soberly proposed, considered, debated, the fact that the proponent of such a blatantly Communistic, Nazi program is treated with respect, rather than ridden out of town on a rail, or thrown out with the other garbage, is so frightening, so terrifying, that there is literally nothing we, as moralists, as libertarians, as men who care for our lives and our futures, can do except to fight like hell against the approaching nightmare. It is time to quit treating liberty and justice, reason and life on this earth, as idle curiosities and parlor-chair gossip. It is time to fight for our ideals with all the intensity our minds can muster. It is time to stop regarding totalitarianism as a floating abstraction which “can’t happen here.”

* Editor’s note: In a 1998 letter to the New York Times, Austrian-born Hutschnecker claimed that the term “camp” in his report was distorted. He said that his use of it derived from the summer he spent as a doctor in a children’s camp in the United States in 1936, which he experienced as a “pastoral” setting.

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