Authoritarianism Quotes

Quotes tagged as "authoritarianism" Showing 1-30 of 130
George Orwell
“The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”
George Orwell, The Lost Orwell: Being a Supplement to The Complete Works of George Orwell

Howard Zinn
“I was astonished, bewildered. This was America, a country where, whatever its faults, people could speak, write, assemble, demonstrate without fear. It was in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. We were a democracy...

But I knew it wasn't a dream; there was a painful lump on the side of my head...

The state and its police were not neutral referees in a society of contending interests. They were on the side of the rich and powerful. Free speech? Try it and the police will be there with their horses, their clubs, their guns, to stop you.

From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country--not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society--cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.”
Howard Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

James Madison
“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”
James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison

John W. Dean
“Social conservatism and neoconservatism have revived authoritarian conservatism, and not for the better of conservatism or American democracy. True conservatism is cautious and prudent. Authoritarianism is rash and radical. American democracy has benefited from true conservatism, but authoritarianism offers potentially serious trouble for any democracy.”
John W. Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience

George Orwell
“TWO AND TWO MAKES FIVE”
George Orwell, 1984

Christopher Hitchens
“I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator — that's beyond my conceit. I therefore have no choice but to find something suspect even in the humblest believer. Even the most humane and compassionate of the monotheisms and polytheisms are complicit in this quiet and irrational authoritarianism: they proclaim us, in Fulke Greville's unforgettable line, "Created sick — Commanded to be well." And there are totalitarian insinuations to back this up if its appeal should fail. Christians, for example, declare me redeemed by a human sacrifice that occurred thousands of years before I was born. I didn't ask for it, and would willingly have foregone it, but there it is: I'm claimed and saved whether I wish it or not. And if I refuse the unsolicited gift? Well, there are still some vague mutterings about an eternity of torment for my ingratitude. That is somewhat worse than a Big Brother state, because there could be no hope of its eventually passing away.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian

Glenn Greenwald
“The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they [the government] do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.”
Glenn Greenwald

George Orwell
“Processions, meetings, military parades, lectures, waxwork displays, film shows, telescreen programs all had to be organized; stands had to be erected, effigies built, slogans coined, songs written, rumours circulated, photographs faked.”
George Orwell, 1984

H.L. Mencken
“Off goes the head of the king, and tyranny gives way to freedom. The change seems abysmal. Then, bit by bit, the face of freedom hardens, and by and by it is the old face of tyranny. Then another cycle, and another. But under the play of all these opposites there is something fundamental and permanent — the basic delusion that men may be governed and yet be free.”
H.L. Mencken, The American Credo: A Contribution Toward the Interpretation of the National Mind

Lewis Mumford
“Let us fool ourselves no longer. At the very moment Western nations, threw off the ancient regime of absolute government, operating under a once-divine king, they were restoring this same system in a far more effective form in their technology, reintroducing coercions of a military character no less strict in the organization of a factory than in that of the new drilled, uniformed, and regimented army. During the transitional stages of the last two centuries, the ultimate tendency of this system might b e in doubt, for in many areas there were strong democratic reactions; but with the knitting together of a scientific ideology, itself liberated from theological restrictions or humanistic purposes, authoritarian technics found an instrument at hand that h as now given it absolute command of physical energies of cosmic dimensions. The inventors of nuclear bombs, space rockets, and computers are the pyramid builders of our own age: psychologically inflated by a similar myth of unqualified power, boasting through their science of their increasing omnipotence, if not omniscience, moved by obsessions and compulsions no less irrational than those of earlier absolute systems: particularly the notion that the system itself must be expanded, at whatever eventual co st to life.

Through mechanization, automation, cybernetic direction, this authoritarian technics has at last successfully overcome its most serious weakness: its original dependence upon resistant, sometimes actively disobedient servomechanisms, still human enough to harbor purposes that do not always coincide with those of the system.

Like the earliest form of authoritarian technics, this new technology is marvellously dynamic and productive: its power in every form tends to increase without limits, in quantities that defy assimilation and defeat control, whether we are thinking of the output of scientific knowledge or of industrial assembly lines. To maximize energy, speed, or automation, without reference to the complex conditions that sustain organic life, have become ends in themselves. As with the earliest forms of authoritarian technics, the weight of effort, if one is to judge by national budgets, is toward absolute instruments of destruction, designed for absolutely irrational purposes whose chief by-product would be the mutilation or extermination of the human race. Even Ashurbanipal and Genghis Khan performed their gory operations under normal human limits.

The center of authority in this new system is no longer a visible personality, an all-powerful king: even in totalitarian dictatorships the center now lies in the system itself, invisible but omnipresent: all its human components, even the technical and managerial elite, even the sacred priesthood of science, who alone have access to the secret knowledge by means of which total control is now swiftly being effected, are themselves trapped by the very perfection of the organization they have invented. Like the Pharoahs of the Pyramid Age, these servants of the system identify its goods with their own kind of well-being: as with the divine king, their praise of the system is an act of self-worship; and again like the king, they are in the grip of an irrational compulsion to extend their means of control and expand the scope of their authority. In this new systems-centered collective, this Pentagon of power, there is no visible presence who issues commands: unlike job's God, the new deities cannot be confronted, still less defied. Under the pretext of saving labor, the ultimate end of this technics is to displace life, or rather, to transfer the attributes of life to the machine and the mechanical collective, allowing only so much of the organism to remain as may be controlled and manipulated.”
Lewis Mumford

Christopher Hitchens
“Sooner or later, all talk among foreigners in Pyongyang turns to one imponderable subject. Do the locals really believe what they are told, and do they truly revere Fat Man and Little Boy? I have been a visiting writer in several authoritarian and totalitarian states, and usually the question answers itself. Someone in a café makes an offhand remark. A piece of ironic graffiti is scrawled in the men's room. Some group at the university issues some improvised leaflet. The glacier begins to melt; a joke makes the rounds and the apparently immovable regime suddenly looks vulnerable and absurd. But it's almost impossible to convey the extent to which North Korea just isn't like that. South Koreans who met with long-lost family members after the June rapprochement were thunderstruck at the way their shabby and thin northern relatives extolled Fat Man and Little Boy. Of course, they had been handpicked, but they stuck to their line.

There's a possible reason for the existence of this level of denial, which is backed up by an indescribable degree of surveillance and indoctrination. A North Korean citizen who decided that it was all a lie and a waste would have to face the fact that his life had been a lie and a waste also. The scenes of hysterical grief when Fat Man died were not all feigned; there might be a collective nervous breakdown if it was suddenly announced that the Great Leader had been a verbose and arrogant fraud. Picture, if you will, the abrupt deprogramming of more than 20 million Moonies or Jonestowners, who are suddenly informed that it was all a cruel joke and there's no longer anybody to tell them what to do. There wouldn't be enough Kool-Aid to go round. I often wondered how my guides kept straight faces. The streetlights are turned out all over Pyongyang—which is the most favored city in the country—every night. And the most prominent building on the skyline, in a town committed to hysterical architectural excess, is the Ryugyong Hotel. It's 105 floors high, and from a distance looks like a grotesquely enlarged version of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco (or like a vast and cumbersome missile on a launchpad). The crane at its summit hasn't moved in years; it's a grandiose and incomplete ruin in the making. 'Under construction,' say the guides without a trace of irony. I suppose they just keep two sets of mental books and live with the contradiction for now.”
Christopher Hitchens, Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays

Timothy Snyder
“As observers of totalitarianism such as Victor Klemperer noticed, truth dies in four modes, all of which we have just witnessed.

The first mode is the open hostility to verifiable reality, which takes the form of presenting inventions and lies as if they were facts. The president does this at a high rate and at a fast pace. One attempt during the 2016 campaign to track his utterances found that 78 percent of his factual claims were false. This proportion is so high that it makes the correct assertions seem like unintended oversights on the path toward total fiction. Demeaning the world as it is begins the creation of a fictional counterworld.

The second mode is shamanistic incantation. As Klemperer noted, the fascist style depends upon “endless repetition,” designed to make the fictional plausible and the criminal desirable. The systematic use of nicknames such as “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” displaced certain character traits that might more appropriately have been affixed to the president himself. Yet through blunt repetition over Twitter, our president managed the transformation of individuals into stereotypes that people then spoke aloud. At rallies, the repeated chants of “Build that wall” and “Lock her up” did not describe anything that the president had specific plans to do, but their very grandiosity established a connection between him and his audience.

The next mode is magical thinking, or the open embrace of contradiction. The president’s campaign involved the promises of cutting taxes for everyone, eliminating the national debt, and increasing spending on both social policy and national defense. These promises mutually contradict. It is as if a farmer said he were taking an egg from the henhouse, boiling it whole and serving it to his wife, and also poaching it and serving it to his children, and then returning it to the hen unbroken, and then watching as the chick hatches.

Accepting untruth of this radical kind requires a blatant abandonment of reason. Klemperer’s descriptions of losing friends in Germany in 1933 over the issue of magical thinking ring eerily true today. One of his former students implored him to “abandon yourself to your feelings, and you must always focus on the Führer’s greatness, rather than on the discomfort you are feeling at present.” Twelve years later, after all the atrocities, and at the end of a war that Germany had clearly lost, an amputated soldier told Klemperer that Hitler “has never lied yet. I believe in Hitler.”

The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant. At the end of the war a worker told Klemperer that “understanding is useless, you have to have faith. I believe in the Führer.”
Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Mark Gevisser
“Even if Zuma was to develop the authoritarian impulses of a Mugabe, he would be checked—not least by his own party, which set a continental precedent by ousting Thabo Mbeki in 2007, after it felt he had outstayed his welcome by seeking a third term as party president. The ANC appears to have set itself against that deathtrap of African democracy: the ruler for life.”
Mark Gevisser

Theodor W. Adorno
“If fear and destructiveness are the major emotional sources of fascism, eros belongs mainly to democracy.”
Theodor Adorno

Glenn Greenwald
“Every time I do an interview people ask similar questions, such as "What is the most significant story that you have revealed?" […] There really is only one overarching point that all of these stories have revealed, and that is–and I say this without the slightest bit of hyperbole or melodrama; it's not metaphorical and it's not figurative; it is literally true–that the goal of the NSA and it's five eyes partners in the English speaking world–Canada, New Zealand, Australia and especially the UK–is to eliminate privacy globally, to ensure that there could be no human communications that occur electronically, that evades their surveillance net; they want to make sure that all forms of human communications by telephone or by Internet, and all online activities are collected, monitored, stored and analyzed by that agency and by their allies.

That means, to describe that is to describe a ubiquitous surveillance state; you don't need hyperbole to make that claim, and you do not need to believe me when I say that that's their goal. Document after document within the archive that Edward Snowden provided us declare that to be their goal. They are obsessed with searching out any small little premise of the planet where some form of communications might take place without they being able to invade it.”
Glenn Greenwald

Heinrich Mann
“Wer treten wollte, muß sich treten lassen.”
Heinrich Mann, Der Untertan

Hannah Arendt
“Equality of condition, though it is certainly a basic requirement for justice, is nevertheless among the greatest and most uncertain ventures of modern mankind. The more equal conditions are, the less explanation there is for the differences that actually exist between people; and thus all the more unequal do individuals and groups become. This perplexing consequence came fully to light as soon as equality was no longer seen in terms of an omnipotent being like God or an unavoidable common destiny like death. Whenever equality becomes a mundane fact in itself, without any gauge by which it may be measured or explained, then there is one chance in a hundred that it will be recognized simply as a working principle of a political organization in which otherwise unequal people have equal rights; there are ninety-nine chances that it will be mistaken for an innate quality of every individual, who is “normal” if he is like everybody else and “abnormal” if he happens to be different. This perversion of equality from a political into a social concept is all the more dangerous when a society leaves but little space for special groups and individuals, for then their differences become all the more conspicuous.”
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Christopher Hitchens
“It was sometimes feebly argued, as the political and military war against this enemy ran into difficulties, that it was 'a war without end.' I never saw the point of this plaintive objection. The war against superstition and the totalitarian mentality is an endless war. In protean forms, it is fought and refought in every country and every generation. In bin Ladenism we confront again the awful combination of the highly authoritarian personality with the chaotically nihilist and anarchic one. Temporary victories can be registered against this, but not permanent ones. As Bertold Brecht's character says over the corpse of the terrible Arturo Ui, the bitch that bore him is always in heat. But it is in this struggle that we develop the muscles and sinews that enable us to defend civilization, and the moral courage to name it as something worth fighting for.”
Christopher Hitchens, The Enemy

Wilhelm Reich
“As painful and embarrassing as it may be, the fact remains that we are confronted with a human structure that has been shaped by thousands of years of mechanistic civilization and is expressed in social helplessness and an intense desire for a führer.”
Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

Terry Eagleton
“The liberal state has no view on whether witchcraft is more valuable than all-in wrestling. Like a tactful publican, it has as few opinions as possible. Many liberals suspect passionate convictions are latently authoritarian. But liberalism should surely be a passionate conviction. Liberals are not necessarily lukewarm. Only the more macho leftist suspects that they have no balls. You can be ardently neutral, and fiercely indifferent.”
Terry Eagleton

Timothy Snyder
“When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important. It is hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges. Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor.”
Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Erich Fromm
“The authoritarian character worships the past. What has been, will eternally be. To wish or to work for something that has not yet been before is crime or madness. The miracle of creation—and creation is always a miracle—is outside of his range of emotional experience.”
Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

J.S.B. Morse
“Nothing is more dangerous than an atheist playing God.”
J.S.B. Morse, Gods of Ruin

“That's how the world is arranged: they can take anyone's freedom from him, without a qualm. If we want to take back the freedom which is our birthright—they make us pay with our lives and the lives of all whom we meet on the way.
They can do anything, but we cannot. That's why they are stronger than we.”
Georgi Tenno, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books V-VII

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“If you ever get twenty-five years [imprisonment] for nothing, if you find yourself wearing four number patches on your clothes, holding your hands permanently behind your back, submitting to searches morning and evening, working until you are utterly exhausted, dragged into the cooler whenever someone denounces you, trodden deeper and deeper into the ground—from the hole you're in, the fine words of the great humanists will sound like the chatter of the well-fed and free.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books V-VII

“Flattery is directly proportional to authoritarianism. For this reason, flattery can be said to be one of the main signs of the non-existence of freedom and democracy in the political system. The more "honeyed words", the greater the deprivation of personal liberty.”
Elmar Hussein

“In an authoritarian system, the masses suffer from a guilty conscience even when they insist on their rights before the dictator's eyes.”
Elmar Hussein

Matt Szajer
“Putin was a former KGB intelligence officer who’d been stationed in East Germany at the Dresden headquarters of the Soviet secret service. Putin has said in interviews that he dreamed as a child of becoming a spy for the communist party in foreign lands, and his time in Dresden exceeded his imagination. Not only was he living out his boyhood fantasy, he and his then-wife also enjoyed the perks of a borderline-European existence. Even in communist East Germany, the standard of living was far more comfortable than life in Russia, and the young Putins were climbing KGB social circles, making influential connections, networking a power base.

The present was bright, and the future looked downright luminous.

Then, the Berlin wall fell, and down with it crashed Putin’s world. A few days after the fall, a group of East German protestors gathered at the door of the secret service headquarters building. Putin, fearing the headquarters would be overrun, dialed up a Red Army tank unit stationed nearby to ask for protection. A voice on the other end of the line told him the unit could not do anything without orders from Moscow. And, “Moscow is silent,” the man told Putin.

Putin’s boyhood dream was dissolving before his eyes, and his country was impotent or unwilling to stop it. Putin despised his government’s weakness in the face of threat. It taught him a lesson that would inform his own rule: Power is easily lost when those in power allow it to be taken away.

In Putin’s mind, the Soviet Union’s fatal flaw was not that its authoritarianism was unsustainable but that its leaders were not strong enough or brutal enough to maintain their authority.

The lesson Putin learned was that power must be guarded with vigilance and maintained by any means necessary.”
Matt Szajer, The Trump-Russia Hustle: The Truth about Russia's attack on America & how Donald Trump turned Republicans into Putin's puppets

“No. 2’s infamous opening line is a double gambit: the Village does not really want information, of course, only obedience. (From their point of view, information is an exchange-value, not a use-value). In fact, it is No. 6 who truly wants information: information on who No. 1 is, where the Village really is, which side runs it, and how it might be possible to escape.”
Dennis Redmond, The World is Watching: Video as Multinational Aesthetics, 1968-1995

Heiner Müller zeroed in on this contradiction by noting ascerbically that the main economic activity of the Eastern regimes was always the production of state enemies (in other words, the system produced vast numbers of literate, well-educated workers who could not fail to notice the yawning gap between the ideal of a people’s democracy and the despotism of the one-party state).”
Dennis Redmond, The World is Watching: Video as Multinational Aesthetics, 1968-1995

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