We are Standing at the Gates of Authoritarian Hell

The state of Wisconsin is attempting to remove a person from society for defending himself. This is terrifying. Equally terrifying is how many people can’t see this for what it is. But we know why they can’t see it, and this gives us a fighting chance to turn back to freedom.

As Erich Fromm explains in Escape from Freedom, written in the context of fascistic terror, the authoritarian personality is not only the possession of the tyrant. The authoritarian personality is the possession of all those who assent to tyranny. Authoritarian regimes depends on popular support.

Title page of Erich Fromm’s 1941 Escape from Freedom

It will not have escaped readers of this blog this reality—that those who believe Rittenhouse had no right to defend himself from aggression are mostly the same people who believe you have no right to refuse vaccination free of any consequence other than putting yourself at statistically greater likelihood of more severe illness. This is an appeal to the exclusive power of the state to defend you from harm, whether from personal aggression or from a virus.

These are largely the same group of people who believe that children should be able to make decisions about their bodies not only without parental consent but without the parents even knowing what their children are doing with respect to the most intimate aspects of their lives, decisions that could permanently alter them, harmful and damaging decisions made with the immature and reckless mind of a child.

The authoritarian desires to make the state the parent. The state monopolizes the use of force in order to leave powerless the citizens who, in a republic, organize the state to represent and protect individual and familial liberty and rights and interests, in order to make the individual from cradle-to-grave dependent on the state for everything.

To want this is to want to be a slave. As Fromm put it, it is an impulse to escape from freedom. They may be loud and obnoxious, but their bravado betrays a truth: these are weak people who want to be told what to think, what to say, what to do, how to live.

These are the same people who believe parents have no right to stop the indoctrination of their children in preachments that presume all white people are in possession of a privilege deriving from pervasive white supremacy, a supposed privilege that presumes without evidence, or by defining into appearance, the existence of systemic racism.

It is characteristic of the authoritarian personality to suppose unseen forces controlling the fate of people, forces from which the state claims to defend and save the individual in order to justify its control over the population.

We are at a conjectural moment in history. This is an inflection point. Either we save the republic for all of humanity or we cross the threshold into authoritarian hell and lose everything.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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