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The mob, fear and the new totalitarianism


THE recent violent attacks on Kellie-Jay Keen and Riley Gaines for speaking up for sex-based rights including single sex spaces and female only sports have been met with horror and incomprehension across social media and wider society. However, on closer examination these activists and their violent actions are understandable if viewed in the context of the mob, as envisaged by Hannah Arendt, the most famous political thinker of the 20th century. What we are witnessing is the use of the mob by the ruling class to bring about a totalitarian regime and usher in an era of digital feudalism where the masses are exploited by a rich and powerful class and stripped of all agency and wealth.

Hannah Arendt’s seminal work The Origins of Totalitarianism explains how the power of the mob was harnessed in the 20th century to bring about totalitarian regimes. The mob is drawn from all sections of society but incorporates those who are traditionally excluded. The mob detests society but does not have specific goals except to enjoy the moral superiority conveyed upon its members by their creators whose ideals they reflect. This explains why those drawn to the mob are usually bored by conventional party politics and their violence is made to look benign by their creators and supporters. A recent example would be the ‘fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting’ strapline which accompanied CNN reporting of Wisconsin protests with burning vehicles in the background. 

The mob is portrayed as the voice of the masses because its members are drawn from all sections of society, but this is false. These movements may use democratic or non-democratic means to achieve their goal which is to destroy democratic freedom, and mob leaders may be transformed into national figures such as Greta Thunberg or Dylan Mulvaney by the ruling class, but the mob always hungers for the strong man or leader.

According to Hannah Arendt, the mob is a by-product of the capitalist system and created by the ruling class to further the expansion of capitalism. Today, capitalism has largely run out of new markets as we reach peak consumerisation and market saturation via globalisation. Capitalism pushes the boundaries of commodification of what was previously sacrosanct: mothers and their babies through surrogacy, enforced medical interventions through vaccine mandates, and development of new products such as carbon offsetting. Capitalism is essentially eating itself. Often there is convergence between the mob’s agenda and that of corporate companies. The conflicts of interests involved in the Covid-19 vaccination programme are well documented but there are large and powerful corporations that benefit from the medicalisation of gender dysphoria and climate change. Meanwhile, the endorsement and promotion of Black Lives Matter, the talk of reparations and the defenestration of Lady Susan Hussey by mainstream media is an attempt to bring black and Asian people fully into an exploitative capitalist system whilst giving the pretence of benevolence.

Essentially the ruling class are bringing about fundamental social, economic and political change and using the mob to that end. In the twentieth century the cracks associated with the traditional class system in European societies such as the UK, irreverently lampooned by John Cleese and the two Ronnies was cemented by nationalism, according to Arendt. But the current elite requires the destruction of the prevailing class system and nationalism, leading to further atomisation of the individual and the impoverishment and disempowerment of all but a few wealthy individuals. Indeed atomisation, an essential ingredient of totalitarianism, is actively pursued and is likely a contributory factor to declining mental health and family breakdown. The substance misuse, mental health and homelessness crisis affecting the US and elsewhere are but collateral damage from this new form of totalitarianism and hence why it is tolerated and even promoted as a valid lifestyle option. Neoliberalism heralds freewill and individualism as values of liberation but the narrow pursuit of self-gratification has led to marriage and family breakdown, and collapse of neighbourhood and community solidarity. This totalitarianism represents a vicious cycle that serves to undermine the bonds of love, kinship and friendship. Without irony, the UK government has introduced a Minister for Loneliness and loneliness as a concept has been medicalised in healthcare literature.

Fear too plays an important role in bringing about a new totalitarianism. The use of fear to drive lockdowns, vaccine mandates, the suspension of human rights, rule of law and democracy and the incalculable damage this caused was brilliantly articulated in Laura Dodsworth’s book A State of Fear. The mob is a vital tool for targeting critics and dissenters. The mainstream media’s coverage of consultant anaesthetist Steve James’s challenge to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid on vaccine mandates contained clear calls of action to the mob. Andrew Bridgen MP received similar treatment from the Conservative Party when he was left isolated in the House of Commons chamber whle speaking on harms caused by the Covid-19 vaccination, and was incorrectly smeared as an anti-Semite. Dissidents are not just cancelled, they run the real risk of the wrath of the mob and actual physical violence.  The message is clear: the mob will be let loose on those who challenge the powerful and stand in the way of their goals.

In my book Care in the Iron Cage  I outline how historically elites courted the endorsement of religious authorities to justify their capitalist exploits including slavey, colonialism, child labour, and warfare. In today’s secular world they have been able to cast aside such inconveniencies and adopted rational efficiency and bureaucratic expansion to secure further transfer of wealth and power from public to private hands. The introduction of targets in the caring professions was a major contributory factor to poor care and neglect at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. In both cases, caring professionals were directed to meet organisational targets rather than care for hospital patients or vulnerable children. The elites are unencumbered by faith or fear of God’s wrath and pursue all manner of riches without moral or ethical concerns save for public relations and marketing exercises to prove their righteousness.

Propaganda and censorship are important tools in creating and maintaining totalitarian regimes. The BBC launched the Trusted News Initiative in 2020 and a long list of media organisations signed up to challenge vaccine disinformation. The late Queen, trade unions, healthcare regulatory bodies and religious authorities were recruited to promote the Covid-19 vaccinations. Concerns about the sanctity of life of the unborn and use of aborted foetal cell lines in the production of some of the vaccines was dispensed with by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Hannah Arendt notes how ‘gullibility and cynicism’ were important features of mob thinking, eventually requiring the masses to swing between accepting the most outrageous lies as fact even in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary, and retreating back into cynicism rather than losing faith in leadership. Essentially the media coverage of Covid-19 pandemic mirrored George Orwell’s 1984: ‘The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.’

In sum, we are witnessing the ushering of a new form of corporate totalitarianism which represents capitalism’s search for further markets and is resulting in the transfer of power and wealth from the masses to a small class of individuals. Hannah Arendt’s work provides useful insights into this new totalitarianism including the use of the mob to drive fear and isolation, and the role of propaganda in forcing the masses to accept that 2 + 2 really is 5.

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Dr Rowena Slope
Dr Rowena Slope
Dr Rowena Slope PG Dip RGN MRES PhD is a senior lecturer in adult nursing. Her website is here, Dr Rowena Slope and her substack is here.

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