Shklar till Arnstad: ”Get your dates right!”

I sin bok och andra artiklar har Arnstad kritiserat begreppet totalitarianism. Jag tycker begreppet är värt att diskutera. Men Arnstad kritiserar det inte bara på intellektuella grunder, utan hela hans presentation av det präglas av att idén skapades och lanserades i propagandasyften (Arnstad 2013: 27–30). Det konkreta ursprunget till begreppet anger Arnstad är amerikansk underrättelseforskning under 40-talet. Det var denna forskning som sedan blev ett effektivt slagträ under kalla kriget. I en artikel skriver han:

Efter 1945 hade Sovjetunionen ett försprång i propagandan och nådde framgång med budskapet att fascism saknade egen ideologisk identitet; fascism var enbart en våldsam yttring hos kapitalismen. Men under 1950-talet gick väst till motoffensiv genom att i princip använda samma metod, att jämställa fiendens ideologi med fascism. Teoretikernas tanke var att spänna ett gemensamt ideologiskt paraply över kommunism och fascism. Arbetet utfördes av intellektuella som Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, liksom den av Kramár nämnda Hannah Arendt (Arnstad 2014).

Att begreppet var kontroversiellt och utgjorde en analys som ledde i anti-kommunistisk riktning är otvetydigt. Men det gäller att skilja frågor om ett begrepps giltighet från frågan om vilka som tar det i bruk och med vilka syften. Det är dock uppenbart att Arnstad så gärna vill avfärda begreppet totalitarianism att han inte drar sig för att göra en historieskrivning som bara fokuserar på dess roll under kalla krigets propagandakrig och helt felaktigt beskriver dess ursprung. Han förtjänar därför en liten uppläxning av Judith Shklar:

It is important in the history of political ideas to understand the circumstances under which specific conceptions were developed. It is often said that totalitarian government, as an ideal type that embraced the practices of both Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, was the creature of the Cold War. It was, it is charged, a crude effort to transfer the hatred aroused by Nazism to the new enemy, Soviet Communism, and that this was done simply by amalgamating two quite different regimes. As for the uniqueness of their practices, that was just mystique, an ideological plot to integrate the intellectuals into the capitalist order.

There is much to be said for getting one’s dates right. The fact is that the idea of totalitarian rule as a unique and new phenomenon arose among social democrats, who realized that Marxism had nothing to contribute to their understanding of Nazi Germany especially, as well as Soviet Russia, and they did so long before the Cold War, by 1940 to be exact. It was not Djilas, but Rudolf Hilferding who discovered “the new class” just before he was killed in 1941. He then wrote two essays about what he called “state capitalism” and the new buraucratic class that ran it for its own benefit in both the USSR and Nazi Germany.

Socialists found this idea hard to accept. In his Behemoth in 1941, Franz Neumann, still orthodox, rejected Hilferding and insisted that Nazi Germany was a capitalist state and that there was no hope, the regime was omnipotent, and inner resistance futile. In this he was just like Orwell. However, he also asked the crucial question: Was the Third Reich a state at all or was it something else and quite new? After all, it did not have a legal system or rules of legitimization. Clearly the ideal type that Weber had proposed was out of date, and a new and unique formation was recognizable. This was not the old despotism either, as Orwell saw just as clearly. Eventually, Neumann came to accept the primacy of politics and his cry was that of an entire generation of social democrats: “Machiavelli’s theory now becomes really true for the first time”. That was a thought he had long resisted and it came to him entirely out of his growing understanding of the Nazi episode.

Orwell was there before him because he had chosen to speak the truth about Spain, long before the Cold War. Corrupt and inefficient as it was, Hitler’s new order had closed the space between government and civil society. Behemoth had replaced Leviathan. It was obviously so in Soviet Russia as well. […] Orwell helps us recreate the intellectual groans of democratic socialism in its darkest hours when it was compelled to recognize totalitarianism.


  • Arnstad, Henrik, 2013. Älskade fascism. De svartbruna rörelsernas ideologi och historia. Stockholm: Norstedts
  • Arnstad, Henrik, 2014. “Fascismens föränderlighet 1919–2014. De svartbruna rörelserna i ett kontextuellt perspektiv”, Historisk tidskrift, 134(2), s 259–266.
  • Shklar, Judith N., 1998b. “Nineteen Eighty-Four: Should Political Theory Care?”, s 339–352 i Hoffman, Stanley (red), Political Theory and Political Thinkers, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Den ytliga liberala människosynen — och det totalitära alternativet.

Artikeln ‘The Silence in Russian Culture’ publicerades i Foreign Affairs 1957. Isaiah Berlin beskriver där bland annat den intellektuella bakgrunden till den sovjetiska totalitarianismen.

Over a century ago Russian critics denounced European civilization for its lack of understanding. It seemed to them characteristic of the morally desiccated, limited thinkers of the West to maintain that human activities were not all necessarily interconnected with each other – that what a man did as a writer was one thing and what he did as a citizen was another; that a man might be a good chemist and yet maltreat his family or cheat at cards; that a man might compose profound music and yet hold stupid or immoral political views that were no business of the critics or of the public.

This notion of life, according to Russians of almost all shades of opinion, was artificial and shallow and flew to pieces before the deeper insight of the all-embracing view, according to which the life of individuals and the life of their institutions was one and indivisible. Every faculty and element in the individual were in a state of constant interplay; a man could not be one thing as a painter and another as a citizen, honest as a mathematician and false as a husband; it was impossible to draw frontiers between any aspects of human activity, above all between public and private life.

Any attempt to insulate this or that area from the invasion of outside forces was held to be founded upon the radical fallacy of thinking that the true function and purpose of a human being does not penetrate every one of his acts and relationships – or worse still, that men had, as men, no specific function or purpose at all.

It followed that whatever most fully embodies this ultimate total human purpose – the State, according to the Hegelians; an elite of scientists, artists and managers, according to the followers of Saint-Simon or Comte; the Church, according to those who leaned towards ecclesiastical authority; an elected body of persons embodying the popular or national will, according to democrats or nationalists; the class designated by ”history” to free itself and all mankind, according to Socialists and Communists – this central body had a right to invade everything. The very notion of the inviolability of persons, or of areas of life, as an ultimate principle was nothing but an effort to limit, to narrow, to conceal, to shut out the light, to preserve privilege, to protect some portion of ourselves from the universal truth – and therefore the central source of error, weakness and vice.

Isaiah Berlin, ‘The Silence in Russian Culture‘, Foreign Affairs,  Vol. 36, No. 1 (Okt. 1957) , s. 4-5.

Visdom versus historia (kritik av Cambridge-skolan)

No tradition, in Pocock’s view, was in greater need of debunking than that of old-fashioned political theory, the grand narrative from Plato’s philosopher-kings to Marx’s proletarian-dictators articulated by George Sabine and others a generation before Pocock. Reading Sabine as a young man, Pocock was enthralled, soon realizing that ”this was the tradition which it was to be my business to criticize”.

Yet if gaining wisdom from great books is fundamentally unhistorical, perhaps the proper response is to conclude, ”Well, so much the worse for history”.

En Notre Dame-recension (Michael L. Frazer, Harvard University) av J. G. A. Pococks bok Political Thought and History: Essays on Theory and Method.