By Rod Dreher
In 1951, six years after the end of World War II, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, in an attempt to understand how such radical ideologies of both left and right had seized the minds of so many in the 20th century. Arendt’s book used to be a staple in college history and political theory courses. With the end of the Cold War 30 years behind us, who today talks about totalitarianism? Almost no one—and if they do, it’s about Nazism, not communism.
Unsurprisingly, young Americans suffer from profound ignorance of what communism was, and is. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit educational and research organization established by the U.S. Congress, carries out an annual survey of Americans to determine their attitudes toward communism, socialism, and Marxism in general. In 2019, the survey found that a startling number of Americans of the post-Cold War generations have favorable views of left-wing radicalism, and only 57 percent of Millennials believe that the Declaration of Independence offers a better guarantee of “freedom and equality” than The Communist Manifesto.
Some émigrés who grew up in Soviet-dominated societies are sounding the alarm about the West’s dangerous drift into conditions like they once escaped. They feel it in their bones. Reading Arendt in the shadow of the extraordinary rise of identity-politics leftism and the broader crisis of liberal democracy is to confront a deeply unsettling truth: that these refugees from communism may be right.
What does contemporary America have in common with pre-Nazi Germany and pre-Soviet Russia? Arendt’s analysis found a number of social, political, and cultural conditions that tilled the ground for those nations to welcome poisonous ideas.
Loneliness and Social Atomization
Totalitarian movements, said Arendt, are “mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals.” She continues:
What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world, is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the ever-growing masses of our century.
The political theorist wrote those words in the 1950s, a period we look back on as a golden age of community cohesion. Today, loneliness is widely recognized by scientists as a critical social and even medical problem. In the year 2000, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone, an acclaimed study documenting the steep decline of civil society since midcentury and the resulting atomization of America.
Since Putnam’s book, we have experienced the rise of social media networks offering a facsimile of “connection.” Yet we grow ever lonelier and more isolated. It is no coincidence that Millennials and members of Generation Z register much higher rates of loneliness than older Americans, as well as significantly greater support for socialism. It’s as if they aspire to a politics that can replace the community they wish they had.
Sooner or later, loneliness and isolation are bound to have political effects. The masses supporting totalitarian movements, says Arendt, grew “out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness …read more
Via:: American Conservative
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