Book Review: The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet

By Ulrike Granögger

Is it all a big con?

A curious phenomenon called “mass formation” is said to be responsible for the totalitarian power grab of the ruling classes as well as for the mindless acceptance and spineless submission of the greater part of the world’s population to an ever-changing cascade of rules and health care measures.

The anomaly is explained to us by Professor Mattias Desmet of Ghent University, who is introduced as an expert in understanding mass formation psychosis. As such, Prof. Desmet has been invited to and interviewed by numerous channels of the new media and freedom podcasts—from the Joe Rogan Experience to the Corbett Report and Reiner Füllmich’s Corona-Ausschuss.

I have decided to read and review his recently published book… so you don’t have to.

It is perplexing that so many freedom activists are following this theory. Interviews with Dr. Desmet so far have failed to convince me of the theory’s ascendency in explaining the events of the last two years, and reading the book has certainly not helped. On the contrary.

The book presents a simplistic and abridged view of human society and the historical evolution of the modern mind. According to the theory, today’s alleged mass hypnosis originates from the Enlightenment period and its subsequent rationalization of life which, in turn, led to a scientific and industrial revolution. The ensuing mechanistic worldview produced a psychology of isolation and uncertainty in society that laid the groundwork for a deep-rooted “desire for a master” and the need to focus all this “free-floating anxiety” onto an object of fear. Voilà! That is your breeding ground for the major “mass formations” of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin) and of today (coronavirus).

According to Prof. Desmet, the situation is further aggravated by certain stages of “developmental psychology” such as the need for the guiding voice of the parent, and the experience of deep uncertainty when the child’s “why” questions are not fully answered… with the implication being that our society as a whole is stuck in certain childhood phases of development.

This cannot explain, however, why the governments of other societies around the world (think of Arabic countries, or Thailand and Indonesia) imposed the same totalitarian measures over the past two years, even though they hardly followed European intellectual history from the Enlightenment to its modern fragmentation and isolation of the individual.

More disturbingly, the author seems to believe that we all did this to ourselves. There is no plan of any “elites,” there is no conspiracy; in fact, Prof. Desmet declares, those who do not follow the mainstream narrative and who see certain patterns of planning and coordination at play are also under a form of mass formation hypnosis, only following a different illusion. He writes:

“In this state, the confused spectator typically develops an intense need for a simple frame of reference, which allows him to mentally master the complexity, and in which to place and control the anxiety and other intense emotions that arise. An interpretation in terms of a conspiracy meets that need. It reduces the enormous complexity of the phenomenon to a simple frame of reference: All anxiety is linked to one object (a group of people who intentionally deceives, the supposed “elite”) and thereby becomes mentally manageable. All blame can be placed outside oneself…. As such, in a certain sense, conspiracy thinking—the thinking that reduces all world events to one big conspiracy—fulfills the same function as mass formation.” (pp.127-128; emphasis added)

Hence, everybody is under mass formation hypnosis—those who cluelessly believe the TV news anchor, as well as those who are finding clues for conspiratorial planning. However, according to the theory, all we need to do is change our way of thinking about reality, and we will be free!

“The ultimate master is the ideology, not the elite.” (p. 134) “If anything rules from behind the scenes, it’s not so much secret societies, but ideologies. There is a steering and organizing body, but it does not primarily consist of a conspiracy elite that manages the world in a planned and coordinated way, but rather of a typical way of thinking, an ideology … a myth [and not a conspiracy].” (p. 139)

It is not people, agencies, multinationals, or governments who engage in the manipulation and formation of public opinion and behavior, Prof. Desmet says, but the “impersonal” nature (p.131) of the predominant ideology.

“The totalitarian system doesn’t have to be overcome so much as one must somehow survive until it destroys itself.” (p. 143)

In the meantime, we can sit back and practice the “solution” to the totalitarian tendencies we are experiencing— and, according to Prof. Desmet, are actually creating ourselves—and that is to simply change our minds: Going “beyond the mechanistic worldview” that is based on materialism to one that includes “consciousness,” which for the author is essentially psychology. (Chapters 9–11)

Everything in this book leads the reader away from realizing the very personalized control grid that is working on “one person at a time” and prevents them from seeing the action we as individuals can take.

The author quotes the conformity experiment by Solomon Asch* (pp. 98-99) as “proof” for the effect of mass formation. In my opinion, all that Asch’s experiment proves is that it takes seven lying participants to convince one person of an obvious falsehood. That’s how costly the control grid is.

Curiously, in Dr. Desmet’s impressive list of scientific publications, there is not a single one about “mass formation” psychosis or hypnosis. Why he is regarded as an “expert” in the field is not evident. Furthermore, a Google (and DuckDuckGo) search for the keywords “mass formation” in the time period of 1980 to 2019 does not yield one entry of psychology or social history. Up until 2019, “mass formation” appears only in terms of astronomy and the formation of stellar masses…. Is the term made up?

Is it all a big con?

Footnote: * In the Solomon Asch experiment a group of eight participants is asked to identify the two lines of equal length in a set of four. Seven participants are part of the experiment and instructed to choose the wrong line, while one person is the actual test subject. As a result, most of the unwitting participants will follow peer pressure and also choose the wrong answer, against their own judgment.