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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Naomi Wolf on Creeping Totalitarianism

We in America are used to a democratic social contract in which there is agreement about the rules of the game: When Congress demands an answer, for instance, the president does not simply refuse to pick up the phone. So we keep being startled when the steps of the democratic interplay are ignored: "He can't do that!" It's time to notice that they are playing a different game altogether....

What has happened in the past is that at a certain point in a weakening democracy, would-be dictators pretend that everything is as it should be but simply stop responding to the will of the people and the representatives. While the nation is trying to grapple with this interim period, then such leaders deploy sudden unexpected changes that assertively upend Parliamentary protocols and expectations.

At this point, the speed of these moves itself is disorienting: It takes people some time to figure out what has happened. (In a very moving scene, Italian legislators were still frantically trying to engage in standard political negotiations with Mussolini - even as he simply waited for them to realize that the time for negotiating was over.) That psychological hangover - that delay in "getting it" - is a very dangerous time. This is the moment when action is most necessary, and this is the moment when the window is closing.

In Italy and Germany, legislators kept believing that they were still engaged in the negotiated dance of democracy - even as the militaristic march of dictatorship had already begun.

At a point in both Mussolini's and Hitler's takeovers, citizens witnessed a stunning series of quickly escalating pronunciamentos or faits accomplis. After each leader made his bids for power beyond what the Italian Parliament and the German Reichstag allowed him, each abruptly started to claim all kinds of new rights that were extraparliamentary: the right unilaterally to go to war, to annex territory, to veto existing laws, or to overrule the judiciary.

"I am not a dictator," said Hitler in 1936. "I have only simplified democracy."

At this stage, shock follows shock so quickly that the civil society institutions start to reel. At this point, in weaker democracies than ours, the police forces and the army are negotiated with. In any late shift, the final stage is the establishment of government by emergency decree or actual martial law and the leader's assertion - usually using the law to defend this assertion - that he is above the law, or that he is the law: the decider. -- Naomi Wolf, "The End of America", pp. 144- 145, published 2007

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