A wave of populism and majoritarianism seems to be engulfing the world. “Strong” men with demagogic tendencies armed with the latest and effective propaganda tools are sprouting in combat against values like truth, reason, freedom and justice across the globe. In these ruthless assaults on pillars of civilisation, seeds of resentments and divisions are planted that lead to unsavoury outcomes. The year 2018 became the thirteenth consecutive one in which Freedom House (a US-based think tank) reported a consistent decline in global freedom (and this was before events such as the Capitol Riots, strengthened multicultural tensions in EU post-COVID, and severe economic deprivation of third-world countries). Needless to say, the dire present circumstances warrant activism for civilisational values that are constantly under vehement attacks. Staying true to the above mentioned spirit of reason and rationality, it is elementary to develop an understanding of some defining characteristics that fuel the ills of populism and majoritarianism.
A study of some of history’s worst tyrants and demagogues has led me to define the most basic and central characteristic of enemies of freedom as “an aversion to truth; an affluence for propaganda.” Both factors go hand-in-hand. The aversion manifests itself in the following ideological temperaments: dogmatic and/or relativist (usually both). The essence of this aversion is captured well in Hitler’s following words, “The national State will look upon science (pursuit of truth) as a means for increasing national pride. Not only world history, but also the history of civilisation, must be taught from this point of view.” It is also worth noting that the ideas of thinkers like Carlyle and Fichte, that ultimately culminated in German Nazism, had relativist contours.
Once the idea of pursuing an objective truth is successfully defeated, the path is clear for propagandists to begin their dirty work. Modern tools like digital social networks, hardwired to feed into confirmation biases, happen unsurprisingly to be a favoured tool of such malefactors. Consequently, we can observe how social media was pressed ruthlessly into the service of politically motivated conspiracy theories that further a far-right narrative (some contemporary examples include “Love Jihad” in India and the White Supremacist concept of a “Great Replacement” from New Zealand to USA). What the equation lacks now is a context or a script for the propaganda to take place.
“Foreign conspiracy! External enemies! International plots jealous of your greatness”; this is the main sales pitch used by populist demagogues across time and space. Time-in and time-out, enemies of civilisation have preyed on the callousness of the masses to instill fears of an alien enemy relentlessly conspiring against the great people of the nation. This sales pitch strikes a chord particularly well among people who feel a sense of defeat, resentment or self-pity. For instance, the humiliated post-WW1 Germans were eager to believe that an international Jewish conspiracy was hatched against them. In a similar way, the predominantly white support-base of “Great Replacement” that had to make large social power concessions over past decades are easily convinced that migrants from foreign lands are conspiring to completely eradicate them. And, of course, fear of Muslims is easily instilled in nationalist Hindus who believe that Muslims first ruled over them, and then ripped what they see as their homeland into two, by making a separate country.
Two observations about this. First, the stories of a foreign conspiracy are usually a heap of lies. The Aryan race myth of Hitler had no truth to it. And there is no evidence in support of the claim that the “crisis of mass migration” would “ultimately result in complete racial and cultural replacement of European people,” and a quick Google search fetches all the data needed to put to rest the imaginative conspiracy theory of Love Jihad. However, none of it matters, as the idea of perusing objective truth has already been abandoned. Hence, the defenders of reason and critical faculties stand with their heads bowed as barbarian ideas armed with untruths rush into the open gates of acceptance by the masses. As Orwell sketched it in his novel 1984 which lays bare the naked fabrics of tyranny, it is essential for a heretical threat like Goldstein to come up on the screen for the audience to gasp and throw objects at it in disgust, before the Big Brother can make an appearance to bring a sense of urgent rescue and relief.
As the conspiracies are accepted at face value, fear and resentments ensue. The supposed gravity of the grand conspiracy then warrants taking a tough stance towards dissenters and hence, anyone who even remotely questions the narrative of a foreign threat is flooded with accusations of treason and there is widespread backlash. The masses, infested with unjustified fears, feel that it is a moral obligation of the highest order to castigate dissent and the results may include censorship, social bullying and targeted pogroms or witch-hunting against voices of dissent. Unsurprisingly, these frontal attacks on various freedoms are easily justified and explained away by seemingly just causes such as honour, patriotism, sovereignty or security of the state.
In the end, history and literature teach us that when a macho-man raises poorly argued alarms over foreign conspiracies and manages to get attention for it, it must be a significant cause of concern for those interested in values like truth, reason, freedom and justice.
I would not lie to the reader by pretending to end on an optimistic note. The issue at hand is not of a single individual. In a sane society, no one would bat an eye to anyone making such fallacious claims. But if there is a popular reaction to such stimulus, it is indicative of deeply entrenched cultural, social and ideological issues that cannot be done away with in a single day, week, year or even a decade for that matter. However, dissent must never die: for as long as there is even a single unafraid voice for freedom and reason, it is enough to induce fear in the hearts of those selling fear wholesale.
I would wish anyone embarked on this endeavour the very best of luck.