Over on The Federalist, Tom Nichols has an fantastic article on the nature of the political class these days titled The New Totalitarians Are Here. One feature of Progressivism is the reformist fervor, something it borrowed from the Second Great American Awakening — a period of explosive religious expression in the mid-1800s — and the abolitionist groups, be it slavery, alcohol, drugs, or “bad” foods. This was combined with the elitist culture of American universities — many of these people trained at German and British universities, where they were exposed to the authoritarian, socialist musings of other rich, educated types. These “experts” desperately wanted to be considered important, have political influence, and be overly-compensated for the privilege.
The movement has always seen people outside of the political or academic class as lesser examples of humankind, a mass of people to be educated, directed, managed, and molded into some perfect form. The problem is that people have a tendency to be — if not unique, at least different enough not to conveniently fit in some categorization scheme. They are often obstinate,can be violent, and many don’t take well to being told what to do. People are messy. This is naturally frustrating to the mind that desires order, obedience, and adulation, and their tendency is to force people to do as they say.
These are authoritarians. However, there is a stripe of authoritarian that is much, much worse…
Simply put, authoritarians merely want obedience, while totalitarians, whose rule is rooted in an ideology, want obedience and conversion. Authoritarians are a dime a dozen; totalitarians are rare. The authoritarians are the guys in charge who want to stay in charge, and don’t much care about you, or what you’re doing, so long as you stay out of their way…[t]otalitarians are a different breed. These are the people who have a plan, who think they see the future more clearly than you or who are convinced they grasp reality in a way that you do not. They don’t serve themselves—or, they don’t serve themselves exclusively—they serve History, or The People, or The Idea, or some other ideological totem that justifies their actions…[t]hey want obedience, of course. But even more, they want their rule, and their belief system, to be accepted and self-sustaining.