After the end of the Cold War there was a period when pundits and commentators were talking about 'Civil Society', and how this was what distinguished free societies from totalitariian societies.
I came across this idea in Ernest Gellner - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Gellner.
Civil Society refers to the forms of social organization between the state and the individual: the church and individual churches; the professions, guilds and trades unions; schools; and also voluntary clubs and societies.
This level of society was inevitably either eliminated or infiltrated and enlisted by totalitarian governments.
Yet - in spite of such self-awareness of the importance of Civil Society - in the past twenty years the institutions of Civil Society in Britain have either dwindled into insignificance or else been corrupted and enlisted into the state.
In my personal experinece, this has happened to the medical profession (which was one of the most powerful and independent professions) and to the universities. Both are now branches of the civil administration. A private library of which I am a member, the Literary and Philosophical Society, has also fallen: and it now pursues government driven ideologies in pursuit of state subsidies.
The societies emerging from the Soviet Union were aware that the suppression of Civil Society had been one of the ways in which the citizens were made helpless, and were enslaved; and that the vacuum created by the destruction of civil society would make it difficult for the post-totalitarian societies to become viable.
There is a functional aspect to this - a society which lacks organization at a small scale will be very difficult to order at a national scale - which is why early societies were segmentary (like feudalism), built of many autonomous and self-sufficient units.
But there is a spiritual aspect as well. In traditional society, a person feels membership of a variety of groups: perhaps a church, a job, a club. When stable and autonomous, such institutions evoke loyalty and love. Participation in these institutions creates a lot of the 'meaning of life'.
So why have they dwindled, or been hollowed out into shells of dishonest propaganda?
Two factors at least.
One is that distraction has become the major coping mechanism of secular life.
Instead of losing oneself in participation in civil society, one loses oneself in relentless distraction via the mass media, mass communications systems, portable music, images, narratives, news and other stimuli.
The other is that Civil Society has been systematically subverted by the state: by bureaucratic regulation, by taxation, by subsidy and coercively.
In a nutshell, this is because the ruling elite are mostly secular socialists (or communist atheists, to put it bluntly!). The West was too stable for revolution to succeed, but the policy of Fabian gradualism - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabian_Society - which aimed to introduce communism graduallly, incrementally, by means of the normal system of 'democratic' government, has succeeded almost completely.
Fabian socialism is the dominant form, and the validity of Fabian socialism is inculcated and enforced by education, media, government propaganda (via the civil administration) and by the remaining shells of Civil Society.
The implication seems to be that the elite is self-corrupted to the point of being hermetically-sealed from reality, hence unreformable.
Presumably this means that when the Western system implodes from incoherence and self-hatred (or is sufficiently weakened such as to be taken over by outside or alien powers), and radical change comes, such change will involve wholesale replacment of the current secular intellectual elite - despite the massive loss of expertise that this will entail.
Misrule by the intellectual elite on a massive and unprecedented scale - the consequences of which are systematically invisible to the intellectual elite, but apparent to those outside the elite or immune to their propaganda - will tend to lead to the biggest anti-intellectual backlash in history; simply as a matter of social survival. A chilling prospect, for all readers of this blog...
So, assuming the theorists of Civil Society were correct - we in the West are now living in what, by definition, amounts to a totalitarian society.
But hardly anybody has noticed.
Because we swim in an ideology which apparently renders our situation inescapable, because the ideology represents weakness, chaos and self-loathing as moral progress.
The fact that intellectuals have barely noticed such a rapid, albeit incremental, imposition of a totalitarian system is a damning indictment of... something-or-another.