SAO PAULO — One of the biggest lies in modern politics is the belief that freedom is a universally-shared passion. It isn't. Freedom implies a burden of responsibility not everyone is willing to bear. In this school of thought, I believe Thomas Hobbes was right: People fear violence, scarcity and death. The majority, therefore, wishes for security, not freedom.
Totalitarian experiments of the 20th century proved this. It is worth remembering that fascism and Nazism both enjoyed support from the masses. Was that because they defended individual liberties? Of course not. After the ruins of World War I, and the devastating consequences of the Great Depression, there was a tragic longing for security among Europeans even if that meant, as indeed it did, the suspension of liberal democracy.
The same goes for Communism or, to be more precise, the end of Communism. The thirst for freedom only became pressing once the illusion of security disappeared. The utopia of a world without hunger, without exploitation, without fear, was nowhere to be found. To put it in absurd terms, if Communism had guaranteed the material comfort it had promised its followers, the issues of liberties would never have become a priority.
That's why I praise Holly Case's essay "The New Authoritarians' on the always brilliant aeon.com. In it, the history professor from Brown University tries to understand the new authoritarianism embodied by Putin, Erdogan and Órban.
What about freedom, I hear you ask.
Case makes a brilliant observation: Old authoritarianism wanted to achieve a "new man," a brutal effort that, due to its idealistic nature, led to equally brutal cruelties that eventually condemned these utopias to self-destruction.
The 20th century was made up of "labor camps," mass propaganda, cults of personality and other bloody fantasies aimed at elevating the proletariat to truly Homeric heights.
New authoritarianism, on the other hand, isn't interested in creating "new men." It's happy with both the state and people abiding by the "social contract" with their respective cynicism: The state guaranteeing the essentials in life, and with individuals staying away from the sordid world of politics. What about freedom, I hear you ask. Dear reader, did you not read what I wrote at the beginning?
Holly Case's diagnosis is spot on. But it's missing a conclusion. The new authoritarianism is more likely to succeed than the old one. And that's precisely because of the absence of totalitarian vocations such as the creation of a "new man."
Having abandoned this utopian ambition, authoritarianism in the 21st century is already on its way to working.