We in Western societies naively imagine we would never descend into Totalitarianism, because such systems are unmistakably evil and we are undeniably good. Not only would we immediately recognise it, but our moral goodness and inestimable courage would see to it that we stopped it before it ever took root.
In reality, however, such systems never arise vowing to deliver evil, but always promising to do good. The Bolsheviks were apparently redressing the plight of the workers against their bourgeois oppressors. The National Socialists were of course restoring the pride of Germany after the ignominies of Versailles and hyperinflation. The theme connecting all such systems is that those propagating them are the self-proclaimed saviours of society, dealing with the problem and the enemy which they themselves have defined, and presenting the cause to the masses not as outright evil, but rather unmitigated good.
In our smugness, we imagine that we could never go along with such systems because we would see from early on the evil intent and — because we’re not evil — would oppose it with all our might. Yet our ability to oppose such a system does not depend on our ability to see the evil from the comfort of our armchairs decades after it reached its hideous fullness. Rather, it depends on our ability to spot Totalitarianism in its fledgling form in our day, and on summoning the courage and resolve to stand against it here and now.