Posted by jeremy on November 26, 2009 4:51 pm.

This very argument could have been used by an East German citizen in the second half of the twentieth century, and his audience - then, as an American audience receiving a similar message about their country now - would have nodded approvingly. Only when it became possible to look at the workings of the East German dictatorship in hindsight, would this line of reasoning be exposed as intellectually bankrupt.

East Germany called itself a socialist state. The name of the country - the German Democratic Republic - suggested the state protected the rights of its citizens and was governed by their decisions. The voters had power on paper only; decisions unfavorable to the ruling class were made next to impossible due to brutal tactics aimed at dissidents.

The human rights abuses in East Germany were known to the West, and motivated the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which guaranteed, among other things, respect for human rights from the signatories. In response, East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or “Stasi”) massively expanded its informant networks, and refined methods for getting rid of undesirables, particularly a set of Zersetzung (destroying the self) tactics.

A target of Zersetzung would find everyone and every institution in his life turned against him. He would be the subject of damaging rumors. Every aspect of his personal and professional life would be ruined. No individual action could usually be pointed at, but the target would be highly aware that large numbers of people were in on a conspiracy to destroy him.

There would be no recourse for targets. As Funder wrote in Stasiland, “There was no room for a person to defend themselves against the State because all the defense lawyers and all the judges were part of it.”

Even the most obviously sinister aspects of life in the GDR - from the perspective of outsiders - could be explained away to the satisfaction of its citizens. The Berlin Wall was to protect the citizenry. The massive informant networks - the extent of which wasn’t known to the citizen informants - existed to thwart terrorist plots. And so on…

Anyone looking for “proof” that we’re living in a dictatorship is going to have to wait until our government collapses.