Author Aldous Huxley once said, “A thoroughly scientific dictatorship will never be overthrown.”
Even as we try to battle the COVID-19 pestilence, we may be contracting a more dangerous virus — hygienic fascism. This involves a process when our political leaders defer to a handful of “experts,” amid what Dr. Joseph Ladopo, an associate professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, describes as an atmosphere of “COVID-19-induced terror.”
Ideologically, hygienic fascism is neither right nor left, nor is it simply a matter of taking necessary precautions. It is about imposing, over a long period of time, highly draconian regulations based on certain assumptions about public health. In large part, it regards science not so much as a search for knowledge but as revealed “truth” with definitive “answers.” Anyone opposed to the conventional stratagem, including recognized professionals, are largely banished as mindless Trumpistas, ignoramuses, or worse. Experience may show that debate and diversity of choices serve the public’s health and general well-being better than unchallenged rule by a few, largely unaccountable individuals.
The track record of the “experts” over the past few months has been dreadful. There must be an accounting for their errors, and steps must be taken to ensure that they are not repeated.
Plus, more from Kotkin:
The current pandemic builds on a political tradition with origins in the writings of early 19th century philosopher Henry St. Simon. The French aristocrat considered scientists to be “superior to all other men” and the natural leaders of society. Such ideas later informed many progressives in that century, including H.G. Wells’s idea of a new elite that would replace democracy with “a higher organism,” which he called “the New Republic.”
Contrary to the idea of Italy’s “Black Shirts” as being mere mindless brutes, science-fueled “futurism” constituted a critical part of the Italian fascist mythology, offering the prospect of merging the elements of “science and faith.” In the 1920s, Benito Mussolini was widely considered not a buffoon but, as the London Times suggested, a leader of a “spiritual revolution” uniting his historically fractious nation. Hitler’s regime, his armaments minister Albert Speer claimed, was the first dictatorship of a fully modern industrial state that used “instruments of technology” to impose a single ideology on its populace. Speer identified himself as the “the top representative of technocracy” that “used all its know-how in an assault on humanity.”
Communists took a similar tack, espousing what they called “scientific socialism.” Lenin specifically wished to eradicate the last vestiges of “individualism” with the kind of conditioning perfected for dogs by Russian scientist I.P. Pavlov on Soviet workers and factories. These same ideas later were adopted by China, where the notion of rule by an educated elite — “an aristocracy of intellect” — has deep historical roots.
They’re popular here, too, so that the people who think of themselves as smart can ignore the people they want to ignore anyway.