Originally penned six years after the Second World War, Hannah Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism speaks to us today with uncanny clarity.
In Chapter Nine of the book, today considered as a tour de force in the study of totalitarian governments following the rule of Adolf Hitler, German philosopher Arendt puts into perspective what the future may hold for humanity under a modern-day tyranny:
“Once they had left their homeland, they remained homeless, once they had left their state, they remained stateless; once they had been deprived of their human rights, they were rightless, the scum of the earth. Nothing which was being done, no matter how stupid, no matter how many people knew and foretold the consequences, could be undone or prevented. Every event had the finality of a last judgment, a judgment passed neither by God nor by the devil, but looked rather like the expression of some unredeemably stupid fatality” (Arendt, Hannah, “Chapter Nine: The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man,” The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1968, Harcourt, Inc., originally published 1951 by Schocken Books, p. 267).
These words, written a little over 70 years ago, bear an eerie resemblance to what we are seeing in much of the world today.
History tells us that totalitarian governments use a three-fold strategy against their enemies: first, to render them homeless through war and displacement (stripped of familial security, comforts, and privileges) and, after homelessness, force them into a state of statelessness (human displacement, meaning without the protection and succor of laws) and, thereafter, to finally render them without rights and the benefits of due process, by and large rejected by their own governments and society.
Think of the youngest in a herd. In order for predators to enjoy their catch for the day, first the target will have to be separated from its family, thereafter the protection of its community. By pushing the target out of the boundaries of the herd’s protection, it ends up as food for wily predators.
Totalitarian governments use the same efficiently deadly strategy.
In the course of singling out their targets—especially those who’d speak out and stand against the wiles of power—these prey must first be displaced, snatched from the safety of the family and the whole community–and their laws–thereby rendering them weak, in a panic, and without means for or access to any kind of assistance.
Before we proceed, it’s important to note that in order for totalitarian governments to pull off their plans for domination, they must first sow fear. Terror is tyranny’s most potent weapon.
However, they must do this without incurring the ire of the international comity of nations. Thus, the sort of terror sown by most authoritarian governments requires the branding of a group of people as society’s enemies. Not just any group of people. They search for those least likely to incur sympathy from the public.
This gives tyrants justification for their crimes, and the means to sow terror in ways that can be tolerated — if not fully accepted—by society.
Consider the Jews of Hitler’s day, those people considered to be the enemy of Germany. His “Final Solution” included the full-scale annihilation of Jews–by the millions–using the gas chambers.
What about the present-day Rohingya displaced by persecution, rape and mass murder in Myanmar, or the Syrians fighting for their right to live in a war not of their own making? Take a close look at Palestinians being driven out of their homes and lands by Israel, or the “drug addicts” murdered in Duterte’s “tokhang” dispensation.
There is no shortage of actual targets. A despot needs only to scan the horizon for possible prey. Real or imagined makes no difference. The idea is to sow wholesale terror to keep possible resistance at bay.
I’m not the type of person who suffers from “apophenia,” the tendency to see patterns in random data. However, recent developments in the world prove quite uncanny for this humble observer.
I have mentioned the Rohingya, Syrians, and the Palestinians—peoples whose status in the world now can’t even be remotely described as “nations.” If these displacements and attempts at genocide persist, these people will be no more than scattered remnants of what once were nations, if at all any of them survive the ordeal.
For us Filipinos, it seems displacement and the move to render us stateless come in more subtle forms.
Recently, social media was abuzz about the rumored 200,000 mainland Chinese flocking into Metro Manila. A Manila Bulletin report pegged the beginning of the exodus of Chinese ‘migrants’ into the country sometime early fourth quarter of 2016, just months after Rodrigo Duterte assumed power.
Apparently, tourists these Chinese are not. The same report said the sudden influx jazzed up what was otherwise a lackadaisical Philippine properties and real estate industry.
This needs no further explanation. The Chinese are allegedly buying Philippine land and parcels of property left and right, to the consternation of a Constitution that restricts foreigners from fully owning real estate in the country. For reasons yet to be divulged, the Chinese are reportedly amassing land and property from under our noses.
While it may be difficult at this point to prove this claim by way of evidence, the information is too consistent to be ignored. Months before the news hit the headlines, I was already told about these developments by several reliable sources.
Add to this the supposed hauling of black sand from neighboring provinces, allegedly used to build islands and edifices in the disputed West Philippine Sea, and statements from the President saying “China won’t let me get ousted.” People are beginning to fear what could be the inevitable: the selling of our nation piece by wanton piece to the highest bidder.
Article XII, Section 2 of the Philippine Constitution clearly forbids this: “All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens. Such agreements may be for a period not exceeding twenty-five years, renewable for not more than twenty-five years, and under such terms and conditions as may be provided by law. In cases of water rights for irrigation, water supply fisheries, or industrial uses other than the development of water power, beneficial use may be the measure and limit of the grant.”
In a government that is by the people and for the people, we are the State.
Allow me to end with a quote by the master of dystopian fiction, journalist and novelist George Orwell: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”
The future Orwell spoke of in his celebrated novel has arrived. Should we simply sit by and watch it happen? G