Power and Immortality

The dream entertained by men of a totalitarian mind is an illusion that will quickly dissipate, if not during their lifetimes then very shortly thereafter. For all such men are craving immortality, as indeed we all are, but their peculiar notion of everlasting life entails creating a society so all-encompassing in its centralized control — which is to say under their personal control — that it functions in practice as though they themselves were effectively making all the decisions for every human being in their midst, and perhaps throughout the world, in perpetuity.

That last condition — perpetuity — is in fact the core of the dream. It is not enough that such complete control, reducing every other man to a mere cell of one’s own nervous system or appendage of one’s own body, be achieved in the short span of the totalitarian’s own physical lifetime. For what satisfaction would there be in such a temporally limited outcome to warrant all the difficulty and danger inherent in pursuing such a grand scheme? The hope, clearly, is that this control will continue indefinitely — that some measure of immortality will be realized through the projection into an unlimited future of all the systems and mechanisms of social organization that the ruler is straining to establish during his lifetime. So perfect and alternative-obliterating must this apparatus of his dream world be. In this regard, the totalitarian, true to his more traditional description as a paternalist, is emotionally akin to a father who seeks to micromanage his child’s developmental process so as to predetermine the child’s adult trajectory, according to his preferred plans, as though intending to expand and prolong his own life by so thoroughly possessing and subsuming the child’s.

This corrupt intention, however, is doomed to failure. In the case of the micromanaging parent, the product of such smothering “love” can be nothing but a child made small, cowardly, passively obedient, and festering with bitter resentment toward more confident men — or else (less often) one made rebellious and spiteful, ready to reject and discard his over-controlling father at the first opportunity. Likewise with those who seek to play parent to the world, i.e., who seek ownership of their fellow men through legislative and regulatory constraint, through propaganda and pogrom, and through alternately arousing and mollifying men’s passions. Contrary to their hopes, they can only gain exactly what they seek in practice: constrained people, which is to say small, unaccomplished, cowardly men, full of self-loathing projected outward, and doomed to live and die in bitter, slavish obscurity.

The truer (i.e., more fruitful) type of “power-seekers,” who pursue their immortality in socially energizing and life-expanding ways, will always outlive those whose lust finds its fulfillment in the construction of political and spiritual cages in which to constrain the energy and initiative of their fellow men. Plato’s Ideas, Shakespeare’s English, and Bach’s polyphony have sent ripples through human nature itself, effecting alterations and enhancements of society and thought that continue to resonate in the soul’s depths today, centuries after these men shuffled off their respective mortal coils. Meanwhile, Napoleon’s aura survived briefly in diminished form thanks to nineteenth century German philosophy’s taste for mythologizing global power lust; yet he is little but a chapter in the history books today. Stalin was passé with everyone but Che Guevara and a few other small-time communist killers — mere punks and thugs — before his body was even cold, and the “ideal state” he created was already in irreversible decline on every level by the time his idolater Guevara had executed his first Cuban dissenters. Hitler, within barely a few years of his reign over the most influential and “advanced” nation of the era, and of his impressively expansive attempt to subdue the entire human race, had already been catalogued and shelved as our era’s foremost popular symbol of national madness, and a revolting caricature of hatred unhinged. And for all the apparent exception one might wish to cite in the case of Maoist China, where communism continues to reign, the fact is that it is now increasingly the face of Xi Jinping, not Mao Zedong, that adorns the walls of the new urban digital slave state which has supplanted Mao’s failed “cultural revolution” slaughterhouse.

As for our milquetoast totalitarians of “the free world” today, John Dewey’s spawn — the administrative state pragmatists of the “democratic socialist” mold — they are already dispersed among the ashes of history, even while they live. They will be nothing at all by the time their graves are dug, and less than nothing after that. For they will not even leave behind a dark legacy of evil ideas to infect the minds of a few weak people in subsequent generations. They will leave only corrupt laws, rotting sinews, and a few bones. Analogously, we may note that no one remembers the hundreds of democratic jurors who voted to execute Socrates, whereas Socrates himself, in spite of his execution — or rather in large measure because of it — has remained a seminal and transcendent figure in world history to this day, due to the serious young men of rebellious spirit whom he influenced with his subtle and nuanced critique of all political dreaming, including and especially that of democratic men. 

From the preceding, we may infer that practical influence over others is divisible into its expansive and contractive forms. The great thinkers, artists, and liberators of all kinds comprise the expansive group, which means those whose lives or works measurably expand the souls of other men, thereby broadening the range or depth of human possibility in general. The contractive group, on the other hand, is most perfectly represented by the totalitarian minds, those who in principles seek to shrink human possibilities in the name of subordinating others to themselves — as though believing their own souls alone to be more than equal to the varied and collected potential abiding naturally in all other men to the extent these others remain free to develop that potential. To state the fact most directly — a fact obvious to all but the totalitarian men themselves, due to the essential blindness that gives rise to their distorted aspirations — mankind in general will live on, at least through its children and its productive efforts, whereas the man who seeks to squeeze the race into the machinery of his private imagination will die out more quickly than anyone else. His own children and underlings will be ashamed of their association with him and live in hiding; all others, to the extent they remain worthy of being called human, will spit on his grave.

And even that is only the half of it. For the immortality these self-important masterminds seek so ineffectively is not to be found at all by way of mere societal influence, which is the only method such petty controllers can conceive. Thus, while the totalitarians will fail so miserably on their own standard compared to the great writers and artists of civilization, in truth even the most successful on this scale will themselves eventually be lost in the mists of forever. The reason, and the key to the ultimate unimportance — not to mention childishness — of those who lust for restrictive control over mankind, is straightforward enough: The goal we all seek, though most of us do so unknowingly, is not an “earthly” or temporal goal at all, but rather one essentially immune to the vicissitudes of time, and in that respect we may say that the goal is not only unreachable in practice by the totalitarians, but antithetical to their very existence. 

Good men have an effect on practical human reality to be sure, but even that effect, no matter how great, is in the end only a byproduct or reflection of their souls’ higher wanderings, which always follow private and invisible paths. The worst men, by contrast, are earthbound through and through, in the sense of devoting their entire store of energy to a fantasy of never-ending temporality that they hope may be achieved through the elimination of all possible rivals to their influence. For such beings, there is no private and invisible path, but only increasing desperation and lunging after material ends that are unachievable, and the incomplete structures of which will be crumbling around them even as their eyes survey their surroundings for the last time.

As for the thinkers who inspire and buttress these totalitarian dreams with the illiberal weavings of their cobweb minds — Hegel, Marx, Dewey, and their ilk — their legacy fares slightly better than that of their practical political progeny, if we may consider serving as textbook writers for multiple generations of mass oppression and the diminution of mankind to be in any sense a better fate. Strictly speaking, it might be truer to say that these thinkers would have been better off, in ultimate effect, had they been forgotten by the side of the road in their own lifetimes, much like the tyrannies to which they have provided moral support and theoretical rationalization.

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