Proponents of soft despotism have long understood that with the proper attention to universal schooling and heightened public sentimentality, it is possible to gain absolute power over the majority of any population if one is patient enough to plant the seeds and cultivate them carefully. However, soft despots have also long understood that there will always be a significant proportion of any population that will remain at least partly resistant to even the best schooling and propagandizing, whether due to rational objection or alternative emotional investments (such as religion or family).
How is one to deal with these outliers? As the absolute authority of government over all aspects of life comes closer to realization, both in practice and in the hearts of the well-trained “citizenry,” there will come a point at which the frustrating nuisance of non-compliance becomes less a necessary condition of democratic tyranny than a problematic anomaly set apart from the regime, which for all its pretenses of taking care of people (hence the “softness”), is ultimately (and increasingly) hellbent on achieving unlimited control for its own sake, both in practice and even more importantly in men’s hearts. It follows that as the regime approaches its goal, the non-compliant minority becomes more of a direct threat to despotic rule, because, now that the government’s incremental advance toward totalitarianism has been bared as the complete denial of all previous notions of governance (private property, self-reliance, community goodwill), no further hint or whisper of any other plausible way of living may be permitted in the public square.
The skeptical, doubtful, or resistant, then, must no longer merely be ignored or grudgingly tolerated, as they once were. They must be broken. They must concede. They must surrender, one way or the other. Hence, in this pivotal time for the maturation (i.e., the hardening) of soft despotism, any honest disagreement about public matters — and all matters are now public — must be recast as dissent, which, if we are to define things precisely, now means nothing else but non-compliance with government-approved truth. Thenceforth dissent, previously regarded as a society’s means of political self-correction, or as the free man’s birthright, or as the impetus to true education and spiritual development by way of dialectic, is reevaluated as a threat to the public welfare. Dissent finally comes to be seen, by default, as an anti-social danger to be stamped out in the name of public health, public safety, the protection of children, or what have you.
Soft despotism remains “soft” only as long as, or to the extent that, dissent, in the sense now in common use — non-compliance with government-approved truth — remains practically possible. This is much less a matter of being forced to obey unjust laws — a condition imposed on every human being on Earth, in every society that has ever existed or ever will — than of being compelled to accept unjustified truths, i.e., of being barred from questioning any declaration coming from official sources, even when, or especially when, those official sources themselves are revising their truths every month. In other words, the concern is not primarily with one’s practical obedience, but with the denial and rejection of one’s own independent mind. The disavowal of one’s right to think, doubt, or object, let alone of the notion that any such unapproved thinking could be beneficial.
Post-script: Mindless mob violence such as the despicable Trump-fomented attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021 does not, and never did, constitute disagreement or dissent. It is merely part of the dispassion play of tyranny’s advance, as opposed factions representing different colors of irrational coercion fight a turf war over what they each illegitimately regard as their territory.