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Totalitarianism: What is it? Part 2/2

Updated: 4 days ago

Interview with Ariane Bilheran, PhD - Part 2: the Desmet/Breggin controversy; the question of responsibility; the concept of delusional contagion, and more.

We are living a "war" against the human being, against our human rights, against the population... we have no choice but to resist and protect the sacred dimension of the human being

This is the second part of our interview with Ariane Bilheran, PhD, philosopher, clinical psychologist, doctor in psychopathology and author. The French version can be found here. You will find the first part at these links in English and in French.


According to American psychiatrist Peter Breggin, we would be the "prey” of a series of excessively influential individuals and possibly, for some, psychopaths, who aim to control the future of the world. What’s your thinking about this?

Of course, there is a clique of (extremely rich) plutocrats who have intended to impose their agenda on human beings whom they often consider to be parasites (too numerous, polluters, virus carriers, etc.). They do not hide from it: the texts and the declarations exist in the open air.

I have already established a kind of psychological mapping of the profiles in power in totalitarian times. Schematically, we could say that the perverts pull the strings in the shadows, the paranoiacs elaborate the "program" of control, and the psychopaths perform the lower tasks. It's kind of a ball of narcissistic disorders!

Let me add that, although paranoia is classified as psychosis because it is a delirium of persecution that presents the appearance of reason, I have been defending the idea for years of the penalization of these profiles, because they know very well that they do harm. The intention to harm is characterized, it is legitimized: clearly, the paranoiac says he is authorized to persecute because he (wrongly) considers himself persecuted.

Today, we are swimming in full paranoiac delirium under the open sky: the confusion of the borders between human and animal with the chimeras, the confusion of the sexes, the confusion of generations, the confusion of the machine and man with transhumanism, the man who thinks he is God instead of God, not to mention the delusional hypochondria, the permanent harassment, etc. What we are experiencing is in the register of paranoia.

To read: my book “Psychopathologie de la paranoïa” (The psychopathology of paranoia).

Another author who has received a lot of attention is Mathias Desmet from Belgium, and his theory of totalitarianism that he calls "mass formation"? What are your thoughts?

I think that the merit of Mathias Desmet's work is to draw attention to the nature of totalitarian indoctrination which, quite simply, drives people crazy, and leads them to act as if they were in a cult, to commit acts and deliver speeches that they would never have committed or pronounced in other circumstances.

This is the proper of delusional certainty. For example, I heard people who were very "good in all respects", very human and empathetic before this crisis, clearly wishing for the denial of health care to certain categories of the population, or even calling for more child abuse. It is this precise point that Mathias Desmet is trying to explain, it seems to me, by talking about "mass formation” or "mass formation psychosis.”

According to Breggin, Desmet's theory is not credible. It would make the population responsible for the psychosis of which they would also be victims. What’s your take on this?

From my point of view, I think that the question of responsibility is fundamental, and it is one that we must imperatively and quickly tackle.

It seems obvious to me that those who have knowingly put in place dangerous, abusive and sometimes deadly measures, in the name of "health", using manipulation on a massive scale, need to be criminally responsible for their actions. They know what they are doing, there is no doubt about their sadism and their cynicism, especially since they claim it publicly, in many instances.

Hannah Arendt once said that, the higher one rises in the hierarchy of the totalitarian system, the more cynicism is characterized.

Moreover, and I would like to insist on this, although I am talking about paranoiac psychosis, I would like to say that for me the thinking head of the totalitarian system, which can be a consortium of individuals, is a sum of paranoiac and perverse pathologies.

On the legal level, perversion cannot be exempted from criminal responsibility because there is no delirium involved. I have been campaigning for years for the criminal responsibility of paranoiac psychoses, because even if in delirium, the harassment of others is "legitimized" by the feeling of persecution ("I harass him because he wants to hurt me”). In the reality of the psychic experience of the paranoiac, the intention to harm is clearly assumed, with duration and repetition in the targeting of the victim.

Some individuals are completely victims of what is happening, and have not caused any damage to others. But this is not the case for everyone in the population.

The totalitarian drift has indeed allowed and even encouraged dangerous and transgressive behaviors, by giving illegitimate power to people who seized it.

When, for example, as I was told, nurses vaccinating pregnant women said "it passes or it breaks", they were aware of causing a risk of abortion, so they knew that their action had a possibly harmful outcome.

Concretely: who should be held responsible?

It is a delicate philosophical reflection that we must carry out regarding this segment of the population, which is both the victim of manipulations and the author of transgressive acts. I think that the two criteria that should never be discarded are the intention to harm, and the awareness of the consequences of one's actions.

To consider that we, as adult citizens, would only be victims, is infantilizing and is not fair. We are part of a system in which everyone has a share of responsibilities, just as we also have a responsibility if we let things happen, if we don't object, if we don't inform ourselves.

However, this does not mean that we would be guilty in the same way as those who sadistically and cynically deploy a totalitarian program on the population. Because we cannot dismiss the gigantic undertaking of mass propaganda, among other things.

It is also necessary to determine the degree of responsibility according to the professions. I haven't had time to follow the whole debate in detail, but it seems to me that there is a paradox in the accusation made against Desmet: if the population is under "mass psychosis", it is therefore under delirium. This means, from the point of view of classical Criminal Law, that he is exempt from any responsibility because being under hypnosis. Performing acts under hypnosis, especially in the context of a mass psychosis, is likely to make the individual irresponsible from a legal point of view.

In my opinion, Desmet does not make the population feel guilty if he makes them a victim of mass psychosis. On the contrary! Indeed, I think that he could insist more on the existence of a clique of plutocratic "plotters", but again, if only this clique had existed and if no one had obeyed, the totalitarian drift would never have taken place. So we come back to the question of the manipulation of the masses, to what it generates at the psychic level — what I call "delusional contagion" - through paranoiac delirium.

We also come back to the question of establishing the various responsibilities according to criteria that cannot be the simple exemption from responsibility on the grounds of not knowing, or of having been manipulated.

It was understood, it seems to me, at the end of Nazism, that simple blind obedience to orders could not be considered as a factor of exemption from responsibility. There is a duty of disobedience in certain circumstances.

I think it is essential to clarify all this as much as possible. I am also at work with the lawyer Virginie de Araujo-Recchia to establish all these nuances. It is a common study between the philosophy of Law and the Law, which is essential to do, and we must think about it now, in order to avoid new injustices, future revenge, or arbitrary trials. Civilization must be rebuilt according to the fundamental principles of Law. That's my point of view.

Can you explain to us the concept, to which you subscribe, of "delusional contagion”? What are the parallels with what is observed in cults?

If an adult is under the influence of a cult that pushes him to commit crimes, who is responsible? The cult that pushed him to commit the crime but didn't commit it? Or the adult who committed the crime? The current totalitarian drift, by causing traumatic shocks on the psyche of individuals, and by inciting hatred, through the mass media, leads to a loss of empathy in individuals.

In short, the more someone is psychically confronted with violence, the less he is able to protect himself, and the more he will develop what is called in psychology a "disaffection", a loss of emotions. This leads to automated behaviors to channel one's own anxiety, as well as identification with one's tormentor, of whom the individual will become the "spokesman" and the executor. There is then no more to feel or to reflect. What remains is applying "protocols" in a robotic way.

This is what the totalitarian drift invites: to this psychic regression, which transforms a large part of the population into executors who no longer reflect on the consequences of their actions, who are no longer capable of critical thinking or empathy towards other human beings, if they do not share their points of view or simply disagree.

For example, some have stated, about those health workers who have said "no" to the false choice between free and informed consent on their body and their right to work (and secure their means of subsistence): "it is well done for them", or "let them die".

In this situation, the individual clearly no longer knows what he is saying, and does not realize the load of hatred and intolerance that his own speech conveys. He becomes devoid of any empathy for this other person who, simply, does not think like him and has another vision of this crisis. Having said it, it remains essential to have debates about this.

You have made comparisons between the current era and older times. Does “the human nature” and “the art of power,” from the Romans to the current rulers, passing through Machiavelli, do not change?

What does interest me personally are the invariants of human nature. I do not believe that we have evolved from the point of view of human psychology.

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