A Threatening Red Sky – Signs of the Creeping Advance of a Totalitarian Impulse. (Part Two)

Nov 1, 2023 by

By Dave Doveton.

““And in the morning (you say), ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening’. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” Matthew 16:3


Mass surveillance.

In Part one I noted that totalitarian regimes restrict personal freedoms and facilitate ever more forms of control over their citizens via the economy, religious and social institutions, education of children and often the judiciary. Mechanisms of control include the media, mass surveillance systems and censorship. Freedom of speech is curtailed along with other personal freedoms such as freedom of movement and freedom of association.

Totalitarian systems employ surveillance as a method of control. In the past, vast networks of informers and bureaucrats kept watch on the populace. Today we have much more sophisticated systems. Governments such as Communist China have already instituted their ‘social credit system’ using such systems. These systems co-opt privately controlled technology companies, especially those which collect our personal information, and those which design and monitor surveillance systems. Surveillance systems are proliferating at an exponential rate – on city streets and squares, in shops, public buildings and private estates. This is in addition to the surveillance which can be undertaken on private citizens via their mobile phones and email communication. Now potentially even within our own homes, our most private spaces, we could be watched. It is now possible to use wi-fi sensing technologies to ascertain where people are in their homes and what they are doing. All homes that have wi-fi would be susceptible to this type of surveillance. [i] Joel Kotkin warns of the developing alliance between western governments and the multinational technology companies:

The fusion of government with large oligopolistic companies, and the technologically-enhanced collection of private information, allow the new autocracies to monitor our lives in ways that Mao, Stalin or Hitler would have envied. A rising tide of money and administrative power defines the rising autocracy. If we as citizens, whatever our political orientation, are not vigilant, our democracy will become an increasingly hollow vessel.” [ii]


Dismissal, Distraction and Deficit in Moral Conscience

The rise of totalitarian power is assisted by at least three factors in society – dismissal of authority and of future consequences, distraction (through technology) and a deficit in moral conscience.

a) Dismissal of Authority:

The roots of totalitarianism have been especially investigated in the works of Hannah Arendt, who had a deeply theological understanding of the process. She points to the loss of confidence in authority in general as a precondition for the rise of totalitarian governments in the 20th century (Hitler and Stalin). Beginning with the family unit, then school, and eventually encompassing the institutions of the culture, authority is broken down – ultimately the state must assume all these authority roles.

 “The rise of fascist, communist and totalitarian movements and the development of the two totalitarian regimes, Stalin’s after 1929 and Hitler’s after 1938, took place against a background of a more or less general, more or less dramatic breakdown of all traditional authorities. Nowhere was this breakdown the direct result of the regimes or movements themselves, but it seemed as though totalitarianism, in the form of regimes as well as of movements, was best fitted to take advantage of a general political and social atmosphere in which the validity of authority itself was radically doubted.[iii]

She further noted that the origin was, “the gradual breakdown of the one form of authority which exists in all historically known societies, the authority of parents over children, of teachers over pupils and, generally of the elders over the young.” “The source of authority in authoritarian (by which she means a system which restricted freedoms as opposed to no political freedom in a totalitarian system) government is always a force external and superior to its own power; it is always this source, this external force which transcends the political realm, from which the authorities derive their “authority,” that is, their legitimacy, and against which their power can be checked.” 


b) Dismissal of Future Consequences:

Arendt also states something many may find surprising – a significant factor in the rise of totalitarianism is the disappearance of hell!

“However that may be, the fact is that the most significant consequence of the secularization of the modern age may well be the elimination from public life, along with religion, of the only political element in traditional religion, the fear of [H]ell. We who had to witness how, during the Hitler and Stalin era, an entirely new and unprecedented criminality, almost unchallenged in the respective countries, was to invade the realm of politics should be the last to underestimate its ‘persuasive’ influence upon the functioning of conscience[iv].”

This insight by Arendt is also the witness of scripture. In Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man’s appeal from hell is rebuffed by Abraham who says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The disbelief in or dismissal of hell as a reality is a consequence of the rejection of authority – in this case the ultimate authority of God and his word.

Since hell is an ultimate metaphysical reality, the disappearance of hell (as Ahrendt puts it) really means that ultimate accountability – and therefore the threat of punishment for immoral actions – is no longer accepted as believable. If there is no transcendent law of the universe as postmodernists believe, then absolute personal autonomy must mean we are the authors of our own destiny. However, in Biblical and theological terms, the purpose of human beings cannot be ascertained apart from the ultimate purpose of God the creator. That ultimate purpose is to worship our creator and have fellowship with him eternally (Westminster Confession). Because there is the possibility of rejection there must be a place for those who do reject God. Thus, there are two possible teloi or ultimate destinations – the eternity of heaven or the eternity of hell.


c) Distraction:

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley predicted that totalitarian systems would be assisted in their rise by the provision of endless distractions and entertainment to the subject population which dull their consciences and lull them into a false sense of security. Contemporary culture is awash with distractions on a scale which would have amazed Stalin and Hitler. Modern technology has given us mind numbing social media, Netflix, and a host of platforms that some believe have even changed human psychology.

The tech oligarchs are creating something similar to what Aldous Huxley called in Brave New World Revisited a ‘scientific caste system.’ There is ‘no good reason,’ Huxley wrote in 1958, that ‘a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.’ It will condition its subjects from the womb so that they ‘grow up to love their servitude’ and ‘never dream of revolution.’ It will maintain a strict social order and provide enough diversion through drugs, sex and videos to keep their artificially narrowed minds occupied and sated.[v]” 

It follows that in a secularized society there is a danger that unbelief and ignorance of Bible truths will spread and have an anesthetizing influence on the general populace. This together with the distractions of multiplying technological diversions makes the task of the church in preaching the truth about heaven, hell, and the gospel of grace even more urgent.


d) Deficit in Moral Conscience:

Ahrendt also turned the Marxist belief that “religion is the opiate of the people” on its head saying,

 “Authentic religion in general and the Christian faith in particular … could never be used as tranquilizers. Modern ideologies, whether political or psychological or social are better fitted to immunize man’s soul against the shocking impact of reality that any traditional religion we know.”[vi]

Only a few weeks ago the world witnessed the hellish pogrom against the Jewish inhabitants of Southern Israel, yet many Western intellectuals persist in finding justifications for the terrible actions of the Salafi jihadists. It seems that they are already numbed by the modern Marxist ideologies of “wokism”, and mesmerized by identity politics which all have a totalitarian underpinning. “Woke” ideology is not, as its adherents would have us believe, support for the marginalized and oppressed, but a radical claim to power that brooks no opposition. Ironically so too does the current brand of jihadist ideology. The extent to which the next generation has imbibed this toxic zeitgeist is illustrated by a recent survey in which a majority of young Americans (under 25) said the Hamas killing of 1200 Israeli civilians was justified by the grievances of Palestinians[vii]. Such attitudes are surely already evidence of a severe deficit in the functioning of moral conscience.

Again, it is clear we need a Church that will present the real saving Gospel of Christ and not some alternative gospel polluted by modern cultural Marxist ideologies.



[i] See https://rubino.substack.com/p/becoming-invisible-part-10-your-wifi

[ii] Joel Kotkin, Welcome to the end of democracy, The Spectator, 8th January 2022.

[iii] Hannah Arendt, Authority in the Twentieth Century, The Review of Politics, Vol. 18, No. 4 (October, 1956), pp. 403-417.

[iv] Hannah Arendt & Jerome Kohn, Between Past and Future, Penguin Putnam Inc, p133.

[v] Joel Kotkin, op. cit.

[vi] Hannah Arendt & Jerome Kohn, Op. cit. p135.

[vii] See https://thehill.com/policy/international/4268117-americans-overwhelmingly-support-israel-in-war-with-hamas-poll/


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