Because of their incredibly strong desire to separate themselves from respectable society—the establishment as 1960s rebels would call it—the true believers of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and following in Europe, inculcated a desire for cruelty. They were driven by a desire for cruelty. That desire fueled their passion.
Lately I have been rewatching the mob of Trumpsters on Capitol Hill on January 6th and have noticed the same phenomenon. The similarities to the older totalitarian mobs are astonishing. As Hannah Arendt said in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism in which she described the insurrectionists of the 1930s and 1940s:
“They read not Darwin but the Marquis de Sade. If they believed at all in universal laws, they certainly did not particularly care to conform to them. To them, violence, power, cruelty, power, were the supreme capacities of men who definitely lost their place in the universe and were much too proud to long for a power theory that would safely bring them back and reintegrate into the world. They were satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”
That applied to Nazi mobs and Communist mobs. I think it also applied to modern American Trump inspired mobs.
Watching the rioters on Capitol Hill on January 6th of 2021 I was struck by how much fun they were having. It was obviously a blast for them. Literally a blast. It was probably one of the most exciting days of their lives. Running down the corridors of the Capitol in search of Mike Pence chanting that they would hang him and Nancy Pelosi was incredibly exciting for them. They were filled with passion. Arendt mentioned in her book how the older rebels has a “yearning for violence.” Arendt had said how the revolutionaries experienced
“the self-willed immersion in the suprahuman forces of destruction seemed to be a salvation from the automatic identification with pre-established functions in society and their utter banality…”
They were finally loosed from the chains of mediocrity. As Arendt said about the older rebellions,
“What proved so attractive was that terrorism had become a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism which used bombs to express oneself, which watched delightedly the publicity given to resounding deeds and was absolutely willing to pay the price of life for having succeeded in forcing the recognition of one’s existence on the normal strata of society. It was still the same spirit and the same game which made Goebbels, long before the eventual defeat of the Nazis, in case of defeat, would know how to slam the door behind them and not be forgotten for centuries.”
Many have been surprised by the fact that Donald Trump could attract support from elites as well as those who had been humbled by globalization. How was that possible?
First, as Hannah Arendt said, “The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in past forced their way into it.” Next, Arendt also said this about earlier insurrectionists: “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability.” The elite wanted to see the cruelty of the mob in action. It was the same on January 6th 2021. The lust for cruelty can be surprising powerful.
Anyone who unleashes these powerful and uncontrollable emotions must be prepared for the unholy explosion that is likely to follow. Trump was prepared for that. Some of his followers were not, for they abandoned him. It is now being determined how many others are prepared to enjoy the train wreck too.