Wednesday 1 May 2024

War and totalitarianism

When Orwell's 1984 was written, there seemed to be an obvious relationship between war and totalitarianism - such that (apparent) perpetual war was a condition of the continued domination of the leadership class. 

My understanding is that this was a transitional reality - true only insofar as religion retainrd a residual power to motivate. Only when the motivation for war could be assumed, and in a strong "state" - could it be inferred that war would tend to lead to the totalitarian goals of omni-surveillance and micro-regulation. 

Yet, in the long-term sufficient national motivation has turned-out to depend on a strong national religion. And since religion as a primary motivator has disappeared from all modern industrial states (excepting the Fire Nation); there is no compelling reason why war would necessarily lead to an advance in actual totalitarianism. 

(And indeed, totalitarianism per se is an atheist ideology; so that the presence of a strongly motivating religion means that the increase in social organization and reduction in individual freedoms etc. becomes more of the nature of theocracy; than totalitarianism. But, being an atheist, Orwell failed to distinguish between totalitarianism and a genuine theocracy.) 

Indeed, in the absence of significant and positive national motivation; there are good reasons to suppose the opposite would happen: i.e. that war will nowadays lead to the collapse of effective totalitarianism with a progressive break-down of hierarchy, coordination, and control

Here-and-now: war leads to more chaos - not to an increase of imposed-order. 

This is because the situation of national war is ripe for corruption - for manipulation, exploitation, theft, sabotage. Strategic and coordinated prosecution of the inter-national war will will be overwhelmed by the much more immediate incentives of an intra-national war of each against all. 

Even when there are explicit, long-termist, positive national goals such as survival or conquest; even when there is a genuine external threat - the proximate human and institutional motivation will be to distort and misuse these goals as a rationale for selfish short-termism. 

And without religion, the tendency over time is that proximate motives will be the strongest. 

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