Brainwashing, as it is currently understood in the popular culture, is a literary and cinematic device that has made its way into the global imagination as though it were a real thing. It fills the same mythological role once played by demonic possession — a way of explaining how it is that someone apparently has become utterly unlike himself for no obvious reason.

In the same way, there is no such thing as a cult, either, as distinct from ordinary religious groups, authoritarian and highly conformist political factions (meaning all you peons on Twitter), or even diet and exercise fads that take on fanatical qualities. Many years ago, I was at Waco helping to cover the events for which Waco was famous before it was famous for a new kind of cult (the one focused on Chip and Joanna Gaines), and no one then or since has been able to explain to me why those Seventh-Day Adventists were a “cult” but these Seventh-Day Adventists are a Christian denomination. True, the Branch Davidians were a splinter from a splinter who venerated a charismatic teacher, but then so are the Methodists…

Some people thrive in a culture of freedom, opportunity, and individuality. (They are frequently denounced as “globalists,” which is how we spell “Azazello” in 2019.) On the other side of town, some people are terrified by it. That is the real divide in our politics right now, and it is what links the authoritarianism of Senator Warren to the authoritarianism of President Trump. The “individual manqué” of Oakeshott’s analysis will go to great lengths — and accept great lies, even if he has to tell them to himself — in order to be liberated from his liberty and to divest himself of the terrible burden of being responsible for his own soul and his own supper.