The dehumanization of political adversaries came into sharp focus as an effective weapon during the French Revolution.
The specific insults morph to fit the times, but each insult is designed to have the same effect—to dehumanize and to objectify a group of people in opposition to the dominant group that has seized power and the legal mechanisms of the State.
Here’s a partial list of the defamatory names employed by tyrannical regimes:
1793, France: Enemies of the people. Enemies of the revolution. Girondists. Indulgents. Aristocrats. Criminal Clergy. Criminals against Liberty.
1917, Russia: Bourgeois. Capitalists. Counter-Revolutionaries. Reactionaries. Political deviants. Kulaks. Czarists. Trotskyites. Mental defectives.
1966, China: Class enemies. Landlords. Bad elements. Rightists. Rich peasants. Impure elements. Revisionists.
2016, USA: Deplorables. Racists. Sexists. Homophobes. Xenophobes. Islamophobes. Irredeemables
(I refrained from including Adolf Hitler’s dehumanizing remarks against Jews, Gypsies, Communists, and others because there are still survivors of the Holocaust among us and wounds so deep never heal. But the atrocities and genocide of 1941–45 also started with words—dehumanizing words used against entire groups of people.)
What makes today’s derogatory blanket terms salient and potentially dangerous is that they were intentionally uttered publicly in front of an audience of admirers by Hillary Clinton, who may be elected president of the United States, in possession of all the levers of State power, and that she knowingly used these defamatory, inflammatory, dehumanizing terms to describe en masse tens of millions of American citizens.
There is a vast difference between what an anonymous individual says and what the State says. The examples above are grim reminders of what can happen when those in power, or those who seek it, are celebrated, promoted, and legitimized in their attempts to destroy their political opponents.
In a lifetime of enduring the tyranny of the arbitrarily condemned and surviving to write about it, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn provides stark witness for us all. What he learned in the strife of decades is that no human is irredeemable, neither the jailer nor the prisoner. And that to think otherwise is to condemn us all. In The Gulag Archipelago, he wrote:
“Gradually it was revealed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties. If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and to destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Ron Maxwell is an independent film director and writer best known for his American Civil War epics Gettysburg, Gods and Generals, and Copperhead.