Book Review: The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet. Part 1

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The first part of Phil Shannon’s exploration of Mattias Desmet’s book ‘The Psychology of Totalitarianism’ available to buy here. Shannon recapitulates the ‘virus hysteria’ to date, introduces the phenomenon of ‘mass formation psychosis’ and the necessary social pre-conditions for its emergence, as well as Desmet’s arguments against the existence of organised conspirators with nefarious motives engineering the phenomenon.


Retrospective Glance at the Covid Panic

‘What the hell was that all about?’ is the question that many of us have been scratching our heads about concerning the insane level of virus hysteria and utter policy madness that gripped elite and popular levels of society for two years over a middling virus with a fatality rate equivalent to an average flu season and which targeted only the very unhealthy/very sick who were already at or beyond average life expectancy.

Yet, for the first time in the history of humanity and our viral companions, there arose an almighty global virus flapdoodle – the Great Covid Panic – as governments ratcheted up the fear levels, turning their duly terrified subjects into hysterical wrecks shrieking ‘save me, Popeye, save me!’ thus allowing heroic protectors to come to the rescue with Perspex screens, sanitiser, temperature guns, high-rotation North-Korean-style ‘public safety announcements’, ‘social distancing’ gospel, mask mantras, test-track-and-trace exhortations, Covid Marshalls sporting Hi-Viz vests, curfews, travel restrictions, border closures, ‘fact-checkers’ and other Thought Police.

All this was bookended by the overture of the almighty lockdown and the crescendo of billions of deltoids being pumped full of experimental, shoddily-tested and liability-free ‘vaccines’ which, nevertheless, somehow managed to be ‘safe and effective’ – a Popeye pharma-spinach enabling us defeat the virus from hell.

They were all theatrical placebos, of course, which the desperate thought would be effective but which did jack squat.  On top of the nocebo effect (where the misplaced fear of the virus turned every sniffle into a life-threatening symptom or where the mere presence of other healthy people sent healthy people scurrying into unhealthy isolation), this created a perfect storm of stupidity which turned society inside out at phenomenal economic, social and political cost.

Ethical boundaries collapsed – medical apartheid, compulsory medical experimentation, and, in Australia, quarantine camps for overseas travellers and remote Aborigines plus a keenness to ‘throw another anti-vaxxer on the barbie, mate’ by sacking them if they didn’t jab up.  The social fabric frayed as people’s livelihoods were put on ice, pleasure was placed in an induced coma, human contact outside your permitted ‘bubble’ was criminalised and a caste of ‘public health’ technocrats was elevated to control all aspects of life right down to the most minute (like disallowing the handshake and the hug).  It was sheer madness, and the virus went ahead and did what all viruses do anyway – spread with Gompertz-curve regularity as naturally-acquired herd immunity got its inevitable act together forcing the virus into unremarkable endemic variants of ever-decreasing virulence.

All the while, as the policy disaster unfolded, there evolved the Good Covid Citizen who developed a blind faith in The Science, treating the daily diet of data, presented with faux precision courtesy of Excel and PowerPoint, as Holy Writ portending a Covid Holocaust unless they adopted an unquestioning obedience to the ever-changing and ludicrous Public Health Orders that circumscribed their lives.  Like trained seals, they duly clapped the ‘health heroes’ in orchestrated displays of public gratitude towards their newly-deified health guardians.  Medical law, unlegislated and unaccountable, ruled the land.

The most amazing, but distressing, thing of all was how almost every man and his dog went along with every iteration of every absurd, contradictory, useless, yet damaging, restriction and mandate, with every superstitious, anti-scientific ritual to wipe out the Beast of Covid.  Often, this meant sacrificing their own personal interests for the ‘common good’, a goal which also meant turning the Covid regimes’ political intolerance of dissidents into snitching on, and estrangement of, their own family members and lifelong friends.

Nowhere is the collective cognitive malfunctioning that engulfed the Covid-obsessive world more evident than with the ‘miracle’ mRNA Covid vaccines, the ‘safe and effective’ (in Covid Newspeak) vaccines for which any and all evidence that they don’t work or are risky is waved away as ‘misinformation’ or ‘adverse reaction by coincidence’ and for which, if the jabbees say that they felt like death after the shot, is really evidence that “it’s working” (‘Heart attacks, blood clots and strokes? That means the vaccine is working!”) or for which, when the jabbed continue to ‘get Covid’, often repeatedly and lingeringly, is evidence that proves it ‘would have been worse without the vaccine’.

None of this new vaccine $cience makes any actual sense to anyone who has not been made mentally ill from the Covid hysteria and there is, certainly, no rational explanation for the desire of so many Covid-terrorised parents to shoot up their kiddies (one in five of whom still say they are “eager” to vaccinate their babies and toddlers) with a dangerous, fraudulently-tested experimental hooch in an age group which faces absolutely zero risk of harm from the virus but which invites potentially serious, and possibly life-long, harm from the vaxx.

Those of us who were not susceptible to the collective Covid freak-out watched on with horrified bemusement as ‘expert’-led panic and government authoritarianism accelerated in a wild policy ride of draconian and often disastrous Public Health Orders which were willingly obeyed by nearly all.  That terrible virus of the mind, fear, which invites tyrannies of all kinds, delivered in spades as people turned to their great protectors in parliaments and the public health establishment to ‘keep us all safe’ – whatever the cost.

How we got here – Professor Mattias Desmet and The Psychology of Totalitarianism

So, why did this Covid craziness take off like a rocket and stay in orbit for so long?  Individual and small group psychology (for example, social conformity, obedience to authority, certain personality traits) can explain, at a molecular level, the psychological processes going on in so many of those who bought into the Great Crusade against Covid cooked up by people we don’t normally care all that much for (politicians, government bureaucrats, preachy journalists) but what, psychologically, was going on at a society-wide, indeed global, level?  Previous viruses have not provoked such global panic resulting in unprecedented lockdowns, stifling mask mandates, the surrender of freedom and the abdication of reason, so why this virus and why now?

Dr. Mattias Desmet, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ghent in Belgium (and practising psychoanalyst), has had a go at an answer – ‘Mass Formation Psychosis’ – in his book The Psychology of Totalitarianism and it fits the Covid phenomenon quite well.

‘Mass formation’ – as old as the hills

‘Mass Formation Psychosis’ is, Desmet proposes, a type of collective hypnosis of a large proportion of the population that mobilises those affected in organised forms of irrational behaviour at odds with objective reality.  It is a type of psychopathology, at the population level, which thrives under, and reinforces, the political phenomenon of totalitarianism.  ‘Mass formation’, he says, is as old as humanity itself – from primitive religions to localised and ephemeral manifestations such as witch-burning or sundry religious manias (including the Crusades) of the mediaeval era, to the more modern cultural-political eruptions of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Cold War McCarthyism and, now, the all-encompassing Coronamania.

In all such instances, whole populations, or significant parts of them, come to believe sheer nonsense and to fervently support the ruling elite which promises a ‘final’ solution to the specified problem.  Hatred, aggression and sometimes violence feature in the psychosis and are directed at designated enemies (witches, Jews, communists, Trotskyist ‘saboteur-wreckers’) whilst receiving social sanction from the highest level.  Those who comprise the ranks of ‘mass formation’ become psychologically invested in what Desmet calls ‘the story’ of the official threat and its resolution (what the more cynical of us call the official ‘Narrative’).

With the Covid Mass Formation Psychosis, the old-fashioned military-political autocracy of the past (led by an out-and-out dictator) has been repurposed into an iatrarchy (technocratic rule by physicians, medical ‘experts’ and ‘public health’ bureaucrats) with a large degree of fanatical support from a heavily propagandised population which has been scared witless by pseudo-scientific indoctrination.  Despite their different external trappings, the common binding glue of both types of tyranny (classic political-military and contemporary medical-bureaucratic) is the generation of fear and it is fear that is the impetus to political tyranny whatever shape that it takes – ‘We demand protection!’.  ‘At any cost!’.  Including the cost of being human, as it turns out.

Social preconditions for Covid Mass Formation Psychosis

A Covid Mass Formation Psychosis didn’t just come out of the blue all because of a run-of-the-mill pathogen over-egged by some slick, fear-mongering PR, however.  The over-the-top mass Covid hysteria had to meet a number of broad societal preconditions for clearing the bar of a genuine Mass Formation Psychosis.  Desmet itemises these as (1) the existence of a widespread state of generalised loneliness and a lack of social connection, (2) a lack of real meaning in people’s lives (especially in their work life), (3) a free-floating anxiety unmoored from a specific cause and (4) unrelieved frustration and aggression resulting from that anxiety.

All these conditions have become chronic in recent years as social atomisation, alienation and ‘anomie’ (lack of purpose or ideals, or a general ideological listlessness), and which have long been the traditional stuff of sociologists and political theorists (including Marx), have deepened with a continuing decline of community bonds and a disengagement with traditional institutions and practices.  An epidemic of narcissistic and isolating screentime has made for further degradation of real-life human connection.  Desmet says that these trends were given a major boost in recent years with the arrival of a suite of contemporary issues (climate change, terrorism, the weird world of woke, etc.) creating a political mood of fevered social catastrophisation which has in turn prompted a desire for increased state regulation and control over everything we do as a key element of a ‘safetyist’ culture.

This modern social environment was therefore ripe for a massive population mobilisation in an atmosphere of almighty panic about a supposed mega-death event from a stealthy, everywhere-all-at-once killer whose murky origins leant it a fearsome potential for viral malignancy.  Whether it was an escaped novel coronavirus from the (US-funded) bio-warfare labs in China, or a species-hopping (bats and pangolins!) natural virus that thrived in fetid ‘wet markets’, its exotic nature amplified its presumed threat.  This occurred despite SARS-CoV-2 not being, as was known from very early on, so terrifyingly unique that it demanded tough measures which, even if the virus was what it said on the tin, wouldn’t work and even if the measures did work would still fail on cost-benefit grounds and even if they didn’t destroy the economy and did save more lives than they cost would still be unethical because public health mandarins should not get to play god and pick and choose Covid winners (the old already in the prime of their senescence) and losers (working age people and young people with the bulk of their lives ahead of them).

And so the myth of the Great Virus of Death grew wings and rode the updraft of our age-old fear of disease and suffering.  The psychic energy of all the other contextual political hysterias, says Desmet, coalesced into a single-minded focus on a nascent global existential crisis that, unlike its surrounding issues, threatened every single one of us with imminent doom and motivated otherwise disparate individuals to embrace a new community spirit (We’re all in this together!) to mitigate the new hyper-anxiety against an invisible enemy.

The pandemic ‘crisis’ managers who choreographed this new psychologically dysfunctional social force have been central to fuelling the anxiety produced by the fantasy pandemic (and, in the process, basking in their new prestigious position as humanity’s saviours).  Their chief weapons have been an armoury of meaningless, pseudo-objective statistics (Desmet performs an excellent dissection of the deliberate conflation of ‘deaths with’ and ‘deaths from’ Covid, the gigantic ‘cases’ deception and the giant PCR con) plus a “narrowing of the field of attention to one overriding issue” (Covid, Covid, Covid!), a blinkering of vision which is “central to the social-psychological process of mass formation”.

The rank and file of this new Covid Mass Formation Psychosis, who are mesmerised by propaganda, made gullible to indoctrination and enslaved to Covid pseudoscience, were thus duly prepped to sacrifice their own interests, comfort and well-being for the collective good (‘Your Country Needs You!’, ‘Facemasks must be worn here!’,  ‘Get your booster now!’).  They swiftly developed a religious fervour for deliverance by the silver bullets of lockdown and experimental ‘vaccine’, and they display, still, a “radical intolerance” of dissidents who threaten the totalitarisation of behaviour and conformity of ideas about Covid.  These outsiders who do not submit to the Covid crowd are seen as anti-social and undermining the collective, and their free-thinking, rule-scoffing existence threatens to undermine the belief system central to the Covid crowd and against whom it is therefore a moral duty to inform against, abuse in supermarket aisles and generally exclude from life.  That’s how traitors to the collective should be dealt with, by community vigilantes as well as governments – “in all major mass formations”, says Desmet, “those who refuse to participate are typically accused of lacking solidarity and civic responsibility”.

Mass Formation Psychosis is a form of “social hypnosis” not just of the footsoldiers, however, but one where the hypnotist-conductor is also in its grip.  Those Covid managers who are genuinely sincere in their beliefs and rigidly dedicated to their policies are deep in their own spell, and particularly dangerous, because nothing, no empirical, real-world data or scientific knowledge, can get through to them but the weavers of the spell don’t have to necessarily be fanatical believers in the ideological narrative about a deadly virus being bravely held at bay by lockdowns, restrictions and mandates.  Hitler was a true believer in all he said and did but the maskless, partying pollies at No. 10 during lockdown, and their political advisers and maniacal modellers who broke the rules of their own devising, showed that they really didn’t believe in either the exaggerated threat of the virus or the alleged necessity and efficacy of the counter-measures.

Nevertheless, the more tenuous state of belief by the more hypocritical of the Covid ruling caste did not obviate the political imperative of their remaining true to the narrative they concocted and the iron-fisted compliance with its attendant rules they demanded.  At least with these one-rule-for-us-another-for-you political Pharisees, they know the Covid debacle to be based on a fraud and are more likely to roll back the restrictions and ease off the pedal of hysteria when they judge it politically ‘safe’ to do so, as we have seen in most countries now with the Covid True Believers shrinking to a noisy rump and temporarily sidelined.

Calling all conspiracy theorists!

For all those not caught up in it, says Desmet, the Mass Formation Psychosis of Covid can appear so absurd and bewildering, so spookily orchestrated in city after city, state after state, country after country, that the belief can arise that there must be some grand conspiracy behind it all, some cabal of supervillains pulling the strings in the background to further their pet project of ‘transhumanism’, depopulation or some other nefarious Gates/WEF goal.

Desmet does not think this holds water because the hermetic secrecy needed for such plots is not tenable, whilst incompetency amongst the ‘conspirators’, who include many moronic politicians amongst their number, is not exactly in short supply.  For Desmet, the Covid craziness is much more plausibly the result of boringly routine political posturing (‘we must be seen to be doing something; it would be political suicide to just let it rip’) in response to a wild-eyed and hungry-for-power faction of epidemiological modellers egged on and funded by a never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste Big Pharma.  The basic crowd psychology of Mass Formation Psychosis can do the rest.  For Desmet, the why of the global insanity lies in mass psychology not elite conspiracy. 

It was monumentally rank stupidity by public health ‘experts’, and base political instinct by short-sighted governments, rather than an evil plot by Klaus and Bill, which kicked off a contagious mass insanity, says Desmet.  The current easing of Covid restrictions (which post-dates Desmet’s book) also supports the unviability of a secretive plot to reconfigure life on the planet for ever.  ‘Covid’ is being systematically memory-holed, whilst its strictures are being steadily unwound or totally abolished in jurisdiction after jurisdiction and this quiet dialling down of the hysteria reflects a desire by the architects of jerry-built Covid lunacy to move on from their failed project of containment without having to admit to the disastrously witless errors they made and/or to pretend that their panicked policy response was the height of wisdom and that it all worked so splendidly so that everyone can now talk about living in the ‘post-Covid’ world.

If there was some higher purpose to it all, it was not conspiracy but a hubristic belief that their experimental response to the virus, never before tried, could finally unlock the key to get rid of humanity’s viral scourge forever.  Just close things.  Force people to stay apart.  Don’t let them gather.  Shut the schools.  Lock up businesses.  Close the borders.  Cancel sports and concerts.  Then, this ‘thinking’ went, a virus would lose interest, its superpowers wane in the presence of ‘social distancing’ kryptonite and just give up.  It was crank science of the highest order but it did speak to the fevered dreams of a faction of public health ‘experts’ who imagined that an all-wise, technocratic, credentialed, medical elite could re-engineer human behaviour to eliminate all risk of pathogenic infection in the perpetual war between human and virus.

Part 2 coming soon.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet. Part 1

  1. I’m looking forward to getting my copy of Desmet’s book; his interviews have been brilliant.

    I would like to be optimistic about the “current easing of Covid restrictions”, but I see signs here in super-jabbed Vermont that restrictions are going to come back in an instant this fall or winter, which the health authorities will excuse with some mumbo-jumbo about “cases” or “insufficient booster uptake” or something.

    For example, here in my little town, the unjabbed are no longer allowed to attend the summer classical music concerts, which were open to all (without masks!) last summer.

    Then a couple of months ago, a large food co-op in the state capital brought back their mask mandate after a bunch of their jabbed employees got the Dreaded Plague.

    I fear the same boring story will escalate again very soon. Jabs aren’t working? Must do more masking! Masks aren’t working? Must do more boosters! Neither is working? Must require jabs AND masks in indoor spaces! Repeat ad nauseam.

    In other words, I don’t see the mass formation dying down any time soon.

  2. Why are you saying ‘psychosis’? Desmet has been adamant that such terms should not be used.

    And, if you don’t think the conspirators will bring it all back, your brain works differently to mine!!!

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