A worker in New York cleans up a vandalized statue of President George Washington on June 29.
Czesław Miłosz, a future Nobel Prize-winning poet who had just defected from Poland, began work in 1951 on a book called “The Captive Mind.” Even as Stalinist totalitarianism tightened its grip on Eastern Europe, many Western European intellectuals lauded the brave new world of Soviet communism as a model for overcoming “bourgeois forces,” which in their view had caused World War II. Living in Paris, Miłosz wrote his book, which was published in 1953, to warn the West of what happens to the human mind and soul in a totalitarian system.
Miłosz knew from experience, having lived through the Communist takeover, how totalitarianism strips men and women of their liberty, transforming them into “affirmative cogs” in service of the state and obliterating what had taken centuries of Western political development to achieve. Totalitarianism not only enslaved people physically but crippled their spirit. It did so by replacing ordinary human language, in which words signify things in the outside world, with ideologically sanctioned language, in which words signify the dominant party’s ever-changing ideas of what is and is not true.
Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, nationwide protests, which quickly turned to riots, have been hijacked by the neo-Marxist left, morphing into an all-out assault on American cities and institutions. This assault is underpinned by an audacious attempt to rewrite history that turns specific past events into weapons not only to overpower political opponents but also to recast all of American history as a litany of racial transgressions.
The radicals have turned race into a lens through which to view the country’s history, and not simply because they are obsessed with race. They have done so because it allows them to identify and separate those groups that deserve affirmation, in their view, and those that do not. What is taking place is the resegregation of America, the endpoint of which will be the rejection of everything the civil-rights movement stood for.
What is driving the radical protesters and rioters—who are enabled and manipulated by the “digital intelligentsia” in the press and an expanding segment of the political and business classes—is contempt for the freedom of anyone who fails to comport with their image of a just society. In authoritarian systems those in power seek to proscribe certain forms of political speech and social activity. Totalitarians claim unconditional authority to reach deep into each person’s conscience. They prescribe an interpretation of the world and dictate the language with which citizens are permitted to express that interpretation. Authoritarian regimes leave largely untouched the private civic sphere of human activity; totalitarians destroy traditional value systems and reorder the culture. That is why they are harder to overthrow.
The ill-named progressivism that has inspired shrill demands to dismantle police forces and destroy statues is only a small manifestation of a massive project aimed at the re-education of the American population. The goal of this project is to negate the story of the American republic and replace it with a tale anchored exclusively in race categories and narratives of oppression. The nature of this exercise, with its sledgehammer rhetoric that obliterates complexities in favor of one-dimensional “correct” interpretations, is as close to Marxist agitprop as one can get.