From Charles Hugh Smith at the Of Two Minds blog, Intolerance and Authoritarianism Accelerate Disunity and Collapse
Scapegoating dissenters only hastens the disunity and disarray that accelerates the final collapse.Authoritarianism is imposed on us, but its sibling intolerance is our own doing. Intolerance and authoritarianism are two sides of the same coin: as intolerance becomes the norm, the intolerant start demanding that the state enforce their intolerance by suppressing their enemies via increasingly heavy-handed authoritarian measures.Intolerance and authoritarianism increase as instability takes hold and living standards decline. In good times, dissent and differences of opinion are not only tolerated but celebrated, as this freedom to hold a variety of beliefs serves to unify society.In bad times, dissent and differences are viewed as mortal threats to the social order. Perhaps there is a human instinct when times become troubled to insist “we must all row together,” i.e. to seek a unity enforced by a rising intolerance that demands more authoritarian action by the state.For example, in wartime, pacifist views that were previously tolerated become criminal offenses.The irony here is this forced conformity doesn’t generate unity–it fractures society into bitterly warring camps as the middle ground vanishes into either/or extremism that sees authoritarianism (in support of our side, of course) as not just justified but essential.Intolerance and authoritarianism undermine and ultimately destroy the unity that was generated by tolerance and a wide variety of beliefs and dissenting views. As our own insecurities increase, we fall all too willingly to the temptation to see others’ recalcitrant refusal to join our camp without reservations as the source of our insecurity.In this mindset of insecurity, the “solution” is to force compliance by any means available so everyone is in our camp. And since some might be hiding the insincerity of their devotion to our righteous cause, the need for an Inquisition becomes pressing, so the insincere or closet traitors can be unmasked and punished.But the Inquisitors themselves inevitably come under suspicion, and an Inquisition of the Inquisitors soon lays waste to those who hubristically held themselves as the arbiters of conformity. There is no way to escape this drive to dissipate insecurity by forcing conformity except the complete collapse of the social, political and economic orders.This is the path to madness and complete social breakdown. But such is the power of insecurity and uncertainty that history records our self-destructive urgency to abandon the middle ground and a diversity of viewpoints and beliefs for the totalitarian uniformity of forced conformity.But once rooted, intolerance knows no bounds and the snake of intolerant authoritarianism ends up eating its own tail. In an era of intolerance, ideological purity is a constantly shifting landscape of quicksand. Those at the top passing judgment on others’ ideological purity soon find their own purity is under attack.Increasingly intolerant, repressive authoritarianism marked the final days of the Roman decline and fall. Rather than face the profound and novel crises directly and unify around the sacrifices needed to resolve the crises favorably, it is so much easier to blame everyone who doesn’t agree with our position as the source of the crises.This is delusional, of course: crises have real-world sources, and scapegoating dissenters only hastens the disunity and disarray that accelerate the final collapse.