Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Totalitarian Hyperbole

The cover of the current issue of Reason (not yet online) contains the subtitle, "The totalitarian implications of public health." By contrast, the subtitle of last month's cover story used the word "authoritarian," as in "The frightening mind of an authoritarian maverick."

I don't think it's purely semantic to argue that "totalitarian," as used today, is facile and hyperbolic, and, as such, diminishes real totalitarianism—of the Stalin, Hitler, Mao variety.

Say what you will about socialized medicine—or even conscription or the terrorist surveillance program—but do you really think they amount to the idea that you "should be totally subject to an absolute state authority"?

Let's be clear: nothing in America today compares to the systematic murder and enslavement of tens of millions of people, engineered by tyrants unconstrained by checks or balances and utterly dismissive of democracy.

Accordingly, let's reserve "totalitarian"—like references to the Holocaust, Nazis and tsunamis—for the real thing, and instead partake of the richness of the English language with words like "dictatorial," "authoritarian," "tyrannical," "despotic" and "autocratic."