Book Review: The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet

The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet

Chelsea Green Publishing

White River Junction, Vermont, USA 2022, 231 pages

(also available on Amazon)

The Psychology of Totalitarianism is a new book by Mattias Desmet, a professor of clinical psychology at Ghent University in Belgium, outlining his theory of “mass formation”, especially with respect to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In The Psychology of Totalitarianism, Desmet deconstructs the societal conditions that allow this collective psychosis to take hold. By looking at our current situation and identifying the phenomenon of “mass formation”—a type of collective hypnosis—he clearly illustrates how close we are to surrendering to totalitarian regimes.

Desmet describes the world in the clutches of mass formation, a dangerous, collective type of hypnosis, as we bear witness to loneliness, free-floating anxiety, and fear giving way to censorship, loss of privacy, and surrendered freedoms. It is all the result of a singular, focused crisis narrative that forbids dissident views and relies on destructive “group thinking”. Desmet then describes how the path to dystopia starts with the isolation of people and the breakdown of social bonds combined with a lack of meaning in life. This leads to free-floating anxiety and aggression. From this state, mass formation occurs when the group is led to identify an object of anxiety and a strategy for relieving it. These circumstances bring these hypnotized individuals back together into a mass with an exhilarating sense of communal striving for the “common good”. This all requires suppression of alternative views, and limited focused attention, to the exclusion of many aspects of reality.

Thus, with detailed analyses, examples, and results from years of research, Desmet lays out the steps that lead toward Mass Formation, including: - An overall sense of loneliness and lack of social connections and bonds - A lack of meaning—unsatisfying, meaningless jobs that don’t offer purpose - Free-floating anxiety and discontent that arises from loneliness and lack of meaning - Manifestation of frustration and aggression from anxiety - Emergence of a consistent narrative from government officials, mass media, etc., that exploits and channels frustration and anxiety.

In addition to a psychological perspective of Mass Formation, Desmet builds on the socio-political psychological views of Gustave Le Bon, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Hannah Arendt’s essential work on totalitarianism - The Origins of Totalitarianism. Desmet offers an in-depth critique of the cultural “groupthink” that existed prior to the pandemic and advanced during the Covid “pandemic”. He cautions against the dangers of our current societal landscape, media manipulation and censorship, and reliance on controlling technologies. He offers simple solutions, both individual and collective, to prevent the willing sacrifice of our freedoms. “We can honor the right to freedom of expression and the right to self-determination without feeling threatened by each other,” Desmet writes. “But there is a point where we must stop losing ourselves in the crowd to experience meaning and connection. That is the point where the winter of totalitarianism gives way to a spring of life.”

According to Desmet, totalitarianism is not a coincidence and forms from a set of unique circumstances. It arises from a collective Mass Formation that has followed a predictable script throughout history. Its formation gained strength and speed as technology advanced with each generation, from the Jacobins of the French Revolution to the Nazis, Stalinists, and Maoist Red Guard. Governments, mass media, and other Deep State forces use fear, loneliness, and isolation to demoralize populations and exert control, persuading large groups of people to act against their own interests, always with destructive results.

“Alternative voices are stigmatized by a veritable Ministry of Truth, which is crowded with “fact checkers.” Freedom of speech is curtailed by various forms of censorship and self-censorship; people’s right to self-determination is infringed upon by coercive vaccination strategies, which impose heretofore unthinkable social exclusion and segregation upon society.”

The book is well written and translated into easily readable English by Els Vanbrabant. A few sections are a bit dry and academic, but overall, the English version is clear and interesting with no hint that it is translated other than the frequent references to Belgium and Belgians. It includes an index and references. The book details the differences between a dictatorship and a totalitarian state. One clearly sees what has been underway in the last 2 years. Reading this will help one combat the march toward totalitarianism. In short, this is an excellent book on the current global situation regarding the “Covid pandemic”, the Great Reset, and the seemingly psychotic state of a large portion of the world’s population.

~ Review compiled by Dr. James Odell ~