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"Have you ever felt that you could do a lot more for this planet if only given the chance in a real group with common interests, common goals and…The greatest leader on this planet!!"

-From a Sea-Org flyer, 1971


           Understanding Scientology, as with any movement, requires analysis of its leadership characteristics. The orientation of leadership within Scientology and within Arendt’s theories on totalitarianism show how closely the two are often related. Leadership refers to how the leader of a movement thinks, behaves, and conceives of his or her relationship with the group. It is also about how the group member acts and feels concerning the leader. In many ways, L. Ron Hubbard has been the dominant leader of Scientology. Yet, after his death, Scientology did not crumble or disappear. The cult is now under the leadership of David Miscavige, a long-time Scientologist known for his temper and ruthlessness.30 Many of the examples used within this essay will refer to leadership under Hubbard, as there is simply more information available on him. Miscavige, who has headed Scientology for the last twelve years, differs in some respects from Hubbard’s leadership style, yet has retained the fundamental characteristics employed by Hubbard.

           Studying Scientology, it becomes increasingly clear that Hubbard's "discoveries" were merely re-hashed versions of earlier psychological or scientific theories. Arendt also recognized this quality in the totalitarian leader. She writes that the leader is distinguished by "the simple-minded purposefulness with which he chooses those elements from existing ideologies which are best fitted to become the fundaments of another, entirely fictitious world."31 Much of early Dianetics should seem familiar to anyone who has seriously studied psychology and computer science. Dianetics incorporated a number of ideas from psychology: engrams32, aberrations33, the subconscious, "charge,"34 the value of talk therapy, some rules of therapist behavior. None of these ideas were original or unique to Hubbard. He simply re-phrased them and claimed them as his own. Hubbard added in some half-understood concepts from Korzybski's General Semantics (the "semantic reaction A=A") and Eniac-era computer technology (clear, key-in, bank, erasure, electronic files).

           Also interesting was what Hubbard discarded from his sources- any uncertainty about how the mind worked. According to Hubbard, the mind consisted of two compartments, the analytic mind35 and the reactive mind, and their natures were fully known. The fundamental model of the "mind" on which all of Dianetics is based includes a division of the mind into a "bad [reactive] mind" and a "good [analytic] mind." One could re-file everything (as if the mind was a computer) from the bad mind into the good mind and then "erase" the bad one, like a software program. There was no more uncertainty about what the "mind" was, claimed Hubbard- he had discovered all there was to know. Hubbard never backed-up his claims of success with actual evidence. Furthermore, there was no need to prove the workability of the hypotheses. This astounding simplicity utilized in the creation of Dianetics was the basis for the "fictitious world" of which Arendt speaks. By appropriating already existing theories from various ideologies, while claiming them as his own faultless ideas, Hubbard had begun building the foundation for the totalitarian movement that would follow.

           One of the major distinctive traits of the totalitarian leader is that he or she can never admit an error. Arendt writes that "The chief qualification of the mass leader has become unending infallibility."36 Whatever the leader says, no matter how absurd, his words are always right and correct. There are no "mistakes" on the part of the leader, only the failure of the group member to adequately engage in the leader's instructions.

           This theory holds true when applied to Hubbard and Scientology. During my study of Hubbard's Scientology audio tape series37, I was struck by the number of times Ron expressed uncertainty about any of the subjects he discussed: Zero. There was not a single "maybe" in any of his lectures. Hubbard claimed that "Dianetics is terribly, terribly simple. You can only mess it up by complicating it."38 Scientology is 100% workable, he said. The only reason Scientology sometimes appears not to work is because people are either altering it or not doing it exactly as Hubbard says. Hubbard could make no error- he was infallible. No one was permitted to challenge the validity of his methods since within the ideological structure of Scientology, it would be the equivalent of admitting personal failure.

           In addition, the totalitarian leader has a distinct relationship with the group member, whereby the member becomes a sort of miniature clone of the leader. To Arendt, this means that "every functionary is not only appointed by the leader but is his walking embodiment, and every order is supposed to emanate from this one ever-present source."39 The members act on account of the leader, while the leader remains infallible. Thus, any mistake "can only be a fraud: the impersonation of the Leader by an imposter."40 Through this identification with the leader, the member builds a sense of pride and loyalty toward the leader. That is, unless they are unlucky enough to make a mistake. In that case, in order to correct his own errors, the leader must liquidate those who carried out his own orders.41 The multiplication of these mini-leaders also results in the feeling of being constantly watched or supervised from all angles of the organization.

           The nature of Hubbard's leadership in Scientology has displayed traits indicating an unsettling similarity to Arendt's theories of totalitarianism. During Hubbard's years on the Sea Org boat, the aging Commodore was able to construct a world virtually of his own creation. One part of this was a rather bizarre new element called the "Commodore's Messenger Organization."42 The CMO was an elite unit made up of children who were the offspring of committed Scientologists. The children acted as messengers, with the original function of serving Hubbard by relaying his verbal orders to crew and students on board. The messengers were mainly pubescent girls who eventually came to be widely feared little monsters.43 It was the greatest possible honor to be selected as a messenger, and the girls vied for the position. In their cute uniforms, they were trained to deliver Hubbard's orders using his exact words and tone of voice. If the Commodore had a temper and was bellowing abuse, the messenger would scuttle off and yell the same abuse at the offender. No one dared to disobey a messenger, for she was vested with the authority of Hubbard's leadership.

           The example of the CMO serves to show how closely Hubbard's leadership comes to the totalitarian model. Hubbard's messengers were the "walking embodiment" of their leader. However, the messengers were composed of an elite group, while the same rules did not necessarily apply for the majority of Scientologists. When mistakes were made by other Scientologists on board the Sea Org, they were not "liquidated," but humiliated.44 Often times, these mistakes were due to Hubbard's picky habits and temperamental moods. In these cases, the member was certainly taking the blame for Hubbard's own errors, while it is uncertain whether he or she was acting in leader's name.

           Loyalty on the part of the member is of equal importance for the totalitarian leader. A sense of duty or loyalty toward the leader is necessary because without it, the movement could not function. As Arendt notes about the Nazi Party, "The mutual loyalty of the Leader and the people" was the principle "on which the Reich rested."45 To capture such sentiment, the totalitarian movement requires "concentrated obedience, undivided by any attempt to understand what one is doing."46 This builds loyalty toward the group as a whole as well. Through reviewing the literature of ex-Scientologists, I noticed that many of them mention this mentality of obedience when referring to their personal experiences in Scientology. Many spoke of feeling encouraged not to think about what they were doing, but instead to concentrate only on the specific action involved. For example, the following excerpt comes from a former Scientologist regarding what he felt his duty to be: "I had a few incipient doubts come up, but I didn't think about it too much. My job, as I saw it then, was to understand what to DO, to do it, and to observe for myself what happened. Only what you observe for yourself is true for you. I had to reserve judgement on anything I hadn't yet 'observed,' whether or not it was true."47 This obedience to Hubbard's techniques indicates the same emphasis on loyalty for the leader referenced by Arendt. Concentration solely on Scientology technique produces a mentality whereby one is directed to ignore independent thoughts. Another former member writes about what she understood to be her role as a dedicated Scientologist: "Stop wavering and apply the tech[nique] exactly in all areas of life. Look inward; all failures stem from your own dereliction of your basic duty to apply the tech[nique] precisely. The only right path is the path of loyalty to Ron."48

           Such unreasoning loyalty, once established, obliterates critical thinking not only in respect to the leader, but about the group as a whole. The result is an organization where it becomes nearly inconceivable for the member to violate the leader's orders. Arendt noted that according to Adolf Eichmann "such behavior was impossible." It was "unthinkable."49 In Scientology, for those who have become dedicated to the movement, the notion of disobedience is likewise, unimaginable. Combined with a sense of duty toward an infallible leader and single-minded obedience to his techniques, Scientologists are well on their way to totalitarianism.

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Copyright 1999 Laura Kay Fuller. It was her Senior Thesis at University of California, Santa Cruz (CA), in 1999. Duplication is not allowed in any form without written approval from the author. Operation Clambake will forward any letters to the author.

  1. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 333.
  2. Information on David Miscavige comes from Jon Atack's A Piece of Blue Sky and Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah.
  3. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 362.
  4. Engram: "A moment of greater or lesser 'unconsciousness' on the part of the analytic mind which permits the reactive mind to record the content of the moment." Basically, an engram is a painful past experience stored by the unconscious mind in times of stress. It is defined by Dorland's Medical Dictionary as "lasting mark or trace." (Corydon, Messiah or Madman?, p. 396, Miller, Bare-Faced Messiah, p. 151).
  5. Aberration, as defined by Hubbard, was a constraint imposed on the brain by physical or emotional harm. (Miller, p. 154).
  6. The idea of past, submerged memories containing an emotional electronic "charge" that can possibly be contacted and released. Retaining charge can affect the subject adversely.
  7. The object of Dianetics is to clear the reactive (bad) mind, so that the analytic (good) mind could function, like the optimum computer, at full efficiency. Consequentially, the individual's IQ would rise dramatically, he would be freed of all psychological and psychosomatic illnesses and his memory would improve to the point of total recall. (Miller, p. 154).
  8. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 348.
  9. Hubbard, Dianetics Lecture Series, 1978, Engram Chain Running, 1963.
  10. Hubbard, Engram Chain Running. Arendt notes that the official handbook for the Hitler Youth program emphasized that Nazi ideology is "clear, simple, and definite, so that every comrade can understand and cooperate in their solution." (Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 348).
  11. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 374.
  12. Ibid., p. 375.
  13. Ibid., p. 375.
  14. Information on the CMO comes from Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah.
  15. Time and space unfortunately do not permit me to examine this aspect of Scientology further. However, the girl messengers' obedience to Hubbard strongly suggests the keeping a dominant gender order, at least within the Sea Org. There is also a voyeuristic and arguably sexual element to the girls' roles in relation toward Hubbard.
  16. Punishments for mistakes included having to jump overboard off the huge boat, wear a gray rag tied around the arm, or simply be screamed at by another Scientologist. Later in my thesis, I will discuss a more severe form of punishment, the RPF.
  17. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 374.
  18. Ibid., p. 324.
  19. The author wishes to remain anonymous, Operation Clambake, available from
  20. Pignotti, Monica, My Nine Lives in Scientology, p. 174.
  21. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, p. 92. Adolf Eichmann was a prominent German Nazi war criminal and leader who headed the Jewish extermination campaign.

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