Is there a correlation between utilitarianism and totalitarianism?

From "Is there a correlation between utilitarianism and totalitarianism?" Quora A2A.

I'm sorry but this question does not make sense to me. Utilitarian ethics are based on consequences: what makes everyone equally happy. If happiness in a given society is contingent on individual and collective freedoms, then that society can't be governed in a totalitarian fashion. I suppose you could revert to the "benevolent dictator" argument, but that's not a natural consequence of utilitarian ethics, it's a consequence of emerging socioeconomic and educational development; i.e. immature civic institutions, poor education and little experience with democracy. So utilitarian approaches that judge the efficacy of any form of governance based on outcomes (including maximized liberty) would understandably moderate any attempt to inhibit liberty - which is of course the central controlling feature of totalitarianism. In other words, the desired consequence of liberty moderates the means of governing. It's sort of like asking "If you take ice cream away from people, will they eat less ice cream?" Unless people hate ice cream (i.e. liberty) and it makes them miserable, there would be no reason for ice cream to be taken away using any method of utilitarian governance.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Eybi Sulam: "Thing is, "what makes everyone equally happy" doesn't exist. A policy might make some happy while others very frustrated. If the "utilitarian" government is convinced that it is "good", it will press to implement in regardless of the public opinion and this might go to the extreme: totalitarianism if the government believes it knows the best."

I'm sorry but I still think you are missing the point. What is liberty? That is what you need to define. If liberty means democratic consensus, then everyone will agree on "what makes everyone equally happy" and using utilitarian ethics in this case sustains maximum liberty for all. If it only means a democratic plurality, then just over half the people will be "equally happy." If liberty means that a few powerful corporations decide what makes people happy, then that is a plutocracy. If it means whatever makes a dictatorial elite happy, then it is totalitarianism. You keep talking about "a policy" or "government" without defining how polices and governance are derived in your assertion. That is where you need to begin. Otherwise you are just making "government" the bogeyman in the closet - an irrational, inchoate fear. This makes your leap from utilitarian ethics to totalitarianism via deprivation of liberty is a straw man's argument; you are conflating things that don't logically correspond - at least not until you define the method by which "policies" and "government" are derived and function.

I hope this was helpful.


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