cover image The Psychology of Totalitarianism

The Psychology of Totalitarianism

Mattias Desmet. Chelsea Green, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-64502-172-8

Clinical psychology professor Desmet (Lacan’s Logic of Subjectivity) delivers a dubious examination of “the psychological roots of totalitarianism.” Describing totalitarianism as the “logical consequence” of a “delusional belief in the omnipotence of human rationality,” Desmet discusses the concept of “mass formation,” a phenomenon in which individuals willingly sacrifice their own freedom for an amorphous collective good. He traces the “mechanistic ideology” behind totalitarianism from the Enlightenment through 19th-century imperialism and “the emergence of Nazism and Stalinism” to the rise of the climate movement and Covid-19 lockdowns. According to Desmet, public health measures to combat the spread of Covid exist on a continuum of ever-worsening social crises in which the citizenry actively choose security provided by technocrats over personal agency. He spends much of the book arguing against the conventional narrative of Covid, suggesting that it is no more dangerous than the seasonal flu and that death counts associated with the disease are overstated because they include deaths caused by underlying conditions. Though Desmet makes some intriguing points about how technological advances and the “war on terror” have undermined privacy rights, his historical analogies are disingenuous and his warnings about “subcutaneous sensors,” “synthetic wombs,” and other “technocratic medical experiment[s]” are alarmist. This provocation misfires. (June)