By Denise Ferreira da Silva

Thought Police is the name George Orwell gives to the repressive force of Oceania’s totalitarian state. To be sure, totalitarianism is the name given to the juridical entity which, instead of protecting individual freedom, limits it, such as through the prohibition of keeping of a diary and having one’s possessions scanned inside one’s own home, as in the opening scenes of the film version of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

A superficial look at the recent political developments in Britain and the United States, for instance – and the following rise of right-wing nationalist parties elsewhere – has led many to sound the alarm and announce another totalitarian trend. But a more attentive look is needed at how the very structures of the liberal state have been used in the service of non-democratic goals: In Britain, the Brexit referendum returned a result that is more about anti-immigrants and anti-refugees than anti-European Union. In the United States, Donald Trump’s election has unleashed all that we hoped to be left behind, that is, the crudest expressions of racial and sexual violence, including Trump’s own xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, white supremacist, and sexist statements and innuendos. It would be very easy to read this recent trend as a threat to freedom – in particular as it is related to bodily integrity (of women, indigenous, people of color, gays, lesbians, and trans* persons) and freedom of movement (of migrant and refugee populations). These unexpected outcomes have emboldened white supremacist masculinity by seemingly sanctioning violent public acts. Unfortunately, there is something more sinister at work here. 

Donald Trump’s administration, like Theresa May’s in Britain, inherits the security apparatus – that uses nonlethal, but yet harmful tactics (kettling) and weapons (tear gas, rubber bullets) – that the US and other states have assembled since the 1990s, which is designed to curb protests against global capital as well as by those who would also be victims of racial and sexual violence. Definitely, this is not the Thought Police. Nor is totalitarian the best adjective for this way of functioning of the state, as it seems to drop its last liberal shades. How easily and successfully the Brexit victory and Trump’s election used racial discourses tells us that there is nothing new in them. To be sure, we may already be in a political landscape akin to that of the modern colony, in which both, white settler populations and colonial armed forces repressed native and slave populations, through the threat of lawful total violence.

In other words, my bet is that, all of this is an adjustment of Capital. Once again it requires the activation of the colony, that is, the juridical structure whose repressive forces are not designed for protecting freedom but for controlling bodies and protecting territories. 

Look out for next week’s full column ‘The World In: The Policing of Dissent’ 
Each month, this column will address “The World in…” a particular subject to highlight how similar principles of violence and resistance are unfolding in various parts of the world.
Image: Still from ‘Children of Men’ – A foreboding?