The totalitarian states of the Twentieth century, whether of national socialist (Nazi and Fascist) or international socialist (Communist) ambitions, were aiming to control almost every aspect of life from the top down; to bring about by force of law and government what I describe in The Great Divide as “the triumph of the Will over Nature.” The Germans called this process Gleichschaltung, or “bringing into line.” In other words, they wanted to organize, or bring into line by force the naturally different lives of millions of different private citizens according to a single totalizing vision of the good society. The great irony of the political history of the West is that whether as expressed by Nazism, Communism, or Fascism, all these totalitarian movements, as the late political philosopher Michael Oakeshott put it, were the “ungracious children” of modern democracy. Caesar, as have all dictators since, waited breathlessly for the roar of the crowd, as do modern democratic leaders for the roar of the polls.
In the deepest sense, then, the WWII confrontation between the “Free” World and the totalitarian world, was in fact a confrontation of the West with itself. In the end, those defiantly totalizing systems were largely defeated in the Western European theatre (though they simmer, still, the current bastion of communism being located in our university faculties). But this left all liberal-democratic regimes (themselves already launched on a disturbingly similar, if slower, and softer path to state-guaranteed perfection), faced with a common ultimate question: “How can we equalize, subsidize, control, and guarantee by force of law (by the Will of the State), more equal conditions of life for all (as those totalitarian states were trying to do), and still call ourselves ‘free’?” “Divide and conquer” would be the answer.
How It Was Done
The first step was the conceptual division of the democratic body politic into a private body and a public body, each with its own justifying ideology. There would be more freedom of individual will for all things personal and private — especially those having to do with sex and the personal body, such as abortion rights, easy divorce, homosexual rights, contraception rights, transgender rights, pornography rights, gay marriage (and soon euthanasia rights), and more, made available to all equally in the name of freedom, many of them subsidized, or free of charge. Along with this would come the astonishing imagery of virtually unlimited, uncensored sex, with all the perversities of choice, available for streaming into billions of homes and hotels by cable, satellite, and the Internet. We, the people, have never been so free, was the subliminal message.
But at the same time, in most once-free and minimally-regulated democracies, and with astonishing speed, there would be the newly-aggressive exercise of a pervasive public Will — a new and vast public body funded by massively-increased taxation and permanent public debt, extending the tentacles of State into a myriad of formerly private properties, social, artistic, and athletic activities, and commercial operations, while positioning the State as the generous benefactor, regulator, and protector of all, equally. Equally!
The result is that the typical citizen of a modern democracy (especially political “liberals”, but also many political “conservatives”) now lives in all private matters like the ideal libertarian, who demands complete individual freedom with respect to things private, personal, sexual, and moral as he or she can imagine and defend as compliant with not harming others. But with respect to all things public, is similar to the socialist who reaches reflexively for government solutions and support of as many social and economic goods and services as the state has deemed it feasible to provide. “What is the government going to do about this?” is today the most common citizen question.
So although historically, libertarians and socialists have always despised each other’s ideologies – each was developed specifically to oppose the other — the two have been successfully fused beyond the dreams of even the most ambitious social planner, into a hybrid system, or synthesis* that is part libertarian, and part socialist, with a very clear dividing barrier between the private and public domains in which each operates, the simple physical counterpart of which is … your skin.
The end result is our novel regime-type — “libertarian-socialism” — a fusion of opposites that has become pervasive in the Western world in an astonishingly short period of time. To achieve it the unspoken trade offered as a lure was the understanding that the people would not bemoan their diminished real political, property, and economic freedoms, nor the permeation of their lives by high taxation and minute regulation, if they were allowed more sexual and bodily freedoms and pleasures in exchange. It was a Faustian deal offered by the State: Give me your liberty, and I will give you all the pleasures of the body.
Libertarian-socialism is now a homogenized regime-type throughout the West, a new trans-ethnic, trans-national form as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola and the cell-phone, that by way of erotic seduction (offering all the private pleasures and freedoms of the flesh) and a policy trade-off (promising an equality of public goods and services in exchange for submission to hyper-regulation and the reaping of a bountiful tax harvest), is so conducive to the growth of bureaucratic Statism that many of these regimes have already become what I would call “Tripartite States.” These are states in which one third of the people work to create wealth, one third (when we include all full-time and part-time employees, and permanent government contracts) are employed by government at some level, and one third receive significant annual income or benefits in kind from government. Once this final stage of the democratic mutation is reached there can be no return except from eventual catastrophic decline, for in the voting booth, sooner or later, the last two segments will always gang up on the first – Two wolves and a sheep, debating what to have for dinner!
** [Hegel argued that all reality unfolds “dialectically.” There is a state of affairs called a thesis that generates its own opposite, an anti-thesis. A struggle then ensues between these opposites for dominance. The struggle is resolved when a synthesis is worked out which becomes the new reality (and therefore a new thesis), and the dialectical process continues. On this model, the political longing for a maximum of individual freedom (once called classical liberalism, but now called libertarianism in North America; and simply “liberalism” in Europe) is the thesis, the different forms of socialism are the antithesis, and libertarian-socialism is the synthesis. My use of the term “libertarian-socialism” in this book is to be distinguished from the same term used by anarchists who suffer from the utopian political fantasy that it is possible to combine socialism of any kind (beyond a fund-raising dinner) with individual freedom.]