Fear and the sacrifice of our freedoms

Geoff Ward
11 min readApr 22, 2023
Professor Mattias Desmet

‘Totalitarianism and technocracy like to present themselves as the pinnacle of rationality and science.’ Prof Mattias Desmet

I’ve already made reference, in two previous articles recently, to the Belgian psychologist Mattias Desmet and his cogent theory of mass formation, but here I want to discuss his indispensable book The Psychology of Totalitarianism (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2022), in which the theory is presented, in more detail.

This is because I feel that The Psychology of Totalitarianism, in its grave implications for the not-too-distant future of the Western world, could be the most important book of the decade in its explanation for the extraordinary state of affairs in which we find ourselves today. Here are links to my previous related articles, ‘Can the West turn the tide of tyranny’ and ‘The god of madness is back with a vengeance’.

Prof Desmet’s basic premise is that we are witnessing the failure of the ‘grand narrative’ of our society, that of mechanistic science, which can be traced back to the seventeenth century and Europe’s scientific revolution, the ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Age of Reason’, following which the nature of the human being came to be reduced to a biological organism.

It’s been a narrative that has ignored the psychological, ethical and symbolic dimensions of human beings, and has had a devastating effect on human relationships, causing people to become isolated from one another and from nature. Scientifically, the mechanistic-materialistic worldview is outdated, but remains virulent and contains within it the very real threat of totalitarianism.

To recap, Prof Desmet is recognised internationally for his theory of mass formation as it applies to the covid-19 phenomenon when whole populations were, in his view, in the grip of a kind of collective hypnosis arising from fear, loneliness and ‘free-floating’ anxiety which attached itself to the event. This gave way to censorship, loss of privacy and surrendered rights and freedoms — all triggered by ‘a singular, focused crisis narrative that forbids dissident views and relies on destructive groupthink’.

With the coronavirus crisis, ‘we have, for the first time in history, reached a point where the entire world population is in the grip of a mass formation…

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Geoff Ward

Writer, journalist, book editor, poet, musician and tutor in literature and creative writing (MA and BA Hons degrees in English literature).