Earlier in the summer, one of my favorite writers, Chris Hedges, offered an incisive and scathing critique of Anti-Enlightenment Christian nationalism in America. And, in light of the ground zero mosque controversy, it seems all the more timely:
Tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement known as the Christian right, have begun to dismantle the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They are creating a theocratic state based on “biblical law,” and shutting out all those they define as the enemy. This movement, veering closer and closer to traditional fascism, seeks to force a recalcitrant world to submit before an imperial America. It champions the eradication of social deviants, beginning with homosexuals, and moving on to immigrants, secular humanists, feminists, Jews, Muslims and those they dismiss as “nominal Christians”—meaning Christians who do not embrace their perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible. Those who defy the mass movement are condemned as posing a threat to the health and hygiene of the country and the family. All will be purged.
And Chris Hedges’s critique of the epistemology of this Anti-Enlightenment Herderian movement is spot on:
Reality is no longer based on the gathering of facts and evidence. It is based on ideology. Facts are altered. Lies become true. Hannah Arendt called it “nihilistic relativism,” although a better phrase might be collective insanity. . . .
The acceptance of mythology as a legitimate alternative to reality is a body blow to the rational, secular state. The destruction of rational and empirically based belief systems is fundamental to the creation of all totalitarian ideologies. Certitude, for those who could not cope with the uncertainty of life, is one of the most powerful appeals of the movement. Dispassionate intellectual inquiry, with its constant readjustments and demand for evidence, threatens certitude. For this reason incertitude must be abolished.
“What convinces masses are not facts,” Arendt wrote in “Origins of Totalitarianism,” “and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated in importance because of the common belief in the masses’ inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important because it convinces them of consistency in time.”
Chris Hedges also sees the American Anti-Enlightenment right as poised, in a crisis, to seize broad political power:
The spark that could set this conflagration ablaze could be lying in the hands of a small Islamic terrorist cell. It could be in the hands of greedy Wall Street speculators who gamble with taxpayer money in the elaborate global system of casino capitalism. The next catastrophic attack, or the next economic meltdown, could be our Reichstag fire. It could be the excuse used by these totalitarian forces, this Christian fascism, to extinguish what remains of our open society.
I think that Chris Hedges has hit the nail on the head. We may be living in Weimar. This is why the Park 51 mosque near ground zero has to be built. Our country is at a crossroads: will we be a Jeffersonian nation grounded in Enlightenment individualism and reason, or a blood and soil Herderite nation led by authoritarian demagogues?
The terrorists who arranged for the smashing of those planes into the Twin Towers did more damage to the country than they perhaps knew, for, a decade out from the event, our country’s net of civil liberties has started to badly fray in response, and Herderite nationalists are jockying for power. From torture to religious freedom to the 14th amendment, suddenly everything is up for grabs.
Here’s the opening stanza to Yeats’s 1921 poem, ‘The Second Coming”:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.