Friday, 18 August 2017

On the appeal of Fascism - Thoughts on Charlottesville and Deuteronomy

David Runciman, a political scientist at Cambridge, coined the term ‘dictator envy’ to articulate the way in which those who wish to live in a democracy look at a complex problem and wish someone strong and powerful would come along and sort it out. It’s not, said Runciman, that we actually articulate the desire to live in a dictatorship - but we harbour a desire that something or someone could save us the trauma of having to deal with complexity ourselves.
I first came across the phrase ‘dictator envy’ in an 2013 article. I wonder how Runciman reflects on its creation today. It might be that last November the greatest democracy of our age gave in to the desire to have a strong leader ‘just come along and sort it out,’ in the process damning the democratic deficit such a decision left in its wake.
That certainly seems to be the appeal of the Alt-Right/neo-Nazi absurdities witnessed in Charlottesville. ‘They won’t replace us,’ the marchers chanted; prompting liberal voices to pour scorn on the simplicity of their mantra; ‘who’s the “they”?’ ‘Replace as what?’ Scratch the surface of the neo-Nazi rhetoric and it descends into either gross-oversimplification or such a democratic deficit as to terrify anyone who values human equality.
And so to the Torah; ‘If a prophet should appear in your midst, giving you a sign, and the sign, they spoke about, came to pass, if they call you to worship other gods, do not listen to the voice of that prophet.’ (Deuteronomy 13:2-4 abbreviated)
Accept, for a moment, that the Torah’s understanding of, ‘worshipping other gods,’ equates to the greatest of any sin (as Maimonides would wish us to do), and the point becomes clear. When a charismatic leader, or force, appears and seems to capture a moment - don’t listen to that voice when it’s a voice that leads one to a path of sin. Don’t be misled by charisma, apparently accurate prognostication, or even the successes of short-termism. The right and the good thing remains the right and the good thing even if the signs of the moment suggest otherwise.
Now, perhaps, revisit the notion of ‘worshipping other gods.’ An idol is the infinite rendered in finite form, the incomprehensible presented as comprehended. Idols are the simple solutions to the problems of a world we cannot fully understand. This is both the reason idols are wrong - as in doomed to fail, putting aside any moral or faith-based issue with statues of gods - but also the reason idols prove so attractive. Complex solutions to complex problems aren’t as sexy as a simple solution. That doesn’t make the simple solution correct. Indeed it might be that the simple solution can be immediately discounted simply because of its simplicity.
The answer has to be that we train ourselves to resist the appeal of the simple now understood as the idol. The answer, perhaps, lies in allowing ourselves to believe in the radical monotheism of our faith. We believe in a god without form, beyond our ability to control or even comprehend. True monotheism is, or at least, ought to be, a training in an existential humility. Faced with a complex problem, and the problems facing the Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville are the same complex problems that face all us, we need to train ourselves to abstain from the charismatic appeal that calls us towards evil. We need to resist the calls of the false prophet.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...