Totalism

Reading Walter Brueggemann (born 1933) is like standing under a waterfall with a small cup to get a drink of water. I had to look up a word introduced to me (in yesteray’s post) by Brueggemann: “totalism,” which is kin to “authoritarianism” or “totalitarianism.” I plan to use it in lieu of the other two. Totalism is shorter and it moves my mind beyond the political realm.

The longer words describe a dictatorial leadership style, such as Stalin (to the left–a “dictatorship of the proletariat“) or Hitler (to the right–a narcissistic nationalism). But totalism goes beyond the leader to the broader cultural underpinning of communism or fascism, so that the followers themselves tolerate no dissent, as in “hang Mike Pence.” From the Editor’s Preface to Walter Brueggemann’s Tenacious Solidarity, Davis Hankins wrote:

Brueggemann introduces and deploys the concept of a “totalism” … to name the complex, intersectional systems that function to crowd out any possibilities for the biblical ideal that he describes as “tenacious solidarity.” The Bible offers a series of testimonies attesting to various struggles with totalisms internal and external to the communities that created and transmitted its texts. … the Bible provides rich resources for contemporary readers and interpreters wrestling with our own particular totalism.

Brueggemann borrowed the term “totalism” from psychologist Robert Jay Lifton (born 1926). The link below includes a brief introduction to Lifton and a fascinating 2014 video conversation about his work during the Korean War with those who experienced “thought reform.”

Tomorrow: The Brueggemann scavenger hunt leads to two other sources for his understanding of how biblical prophetic faith confronts totalisms.

From “Interview: Robert Jay Lifton on Korean War Psychiatry,” by Marcia Holmes, Hidden Persuaders, August 4, 2015

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