Edited by Stephen P. Banks
Chapter 5: Organizational Totalitarianism and the Voices of Dissent
Howard F. Stein INTRODUCTION Corporate executives – no less than national leaders – use language in an eﬀort to manage (which most commonly means to control) dissent. Their tactics include denying, constraining, subverting, transforming, quashing and discrediting challenges that oppose orthodox ideologies and policies. Dissent management by leaders is a central activity in creating and maintaining totalitarian workplace management styles. I shall argue that language does not independently stamp out dissent. Rather it is the instrument and medium of the heavy boot that tramples thinking itself. The viewpoint I bring to my analysis of totalitarian discourses in organizations is that of a psychoanalytically oriented anthropologist who gains insights into workplace dynamics through day-to-day work as an ethnographer in medical and other settings, and as someone engaged in action research. In this chapter I ﬁrst discuss how totalitarianism ﬁnds expression in American culture. I then identify core psychological features of totalitarianism, and I conclude by oﬀering three vignettes to illustrate these processes. TOTALITARIANISM AMERICAN-STYLE Fascism traditionally has been viewed as a nationalist ideology. For instance, Richard Falk deﬁnes historical fascism as ‘the convergence of military and economic power of an ultranationalist ideology that views its enemies – internally and externally – as evil and subject to extermination or extreme punishment’ (quoted in MacKinnon, 2003). Not all totalitarian forms, however, look alike ideologically, although ultimately they act alike. Just as during the Cold War communist and socialist ideology was largely tailored by the nation in which it was adopted, the same is true...
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