News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Cornel West on America's Nihilism

Friday, December 23, 2005

Cornel West on America's Nihilism

Philosopher and religious thinker Cornel West provides a succinct analysis of the neoconservative agenda for America, as well as a definitive critique of what he calls paternalistic nihilism in the Democratic party.

In his recent book, Does Democracy Matter?, West describes the typically paternal nihilist John Kerry:

For West, this nihilistic paternalism animates the politics of Democratic Party. These are the types who get into politics to do good, become part of the elite, and then end up supporting the status quo. Like this Grand Inquisitor, they decide to “wor[k] within the corrupted system, paternally deceiving the public, shielding them from the terrible burden of the mandates of the truth.” It is this type of imbalanced compromise that helps explain why someone like 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry presented such a twisted and contorted stance on the Iraq war. Kerry argued: It was a mistake, but I would vote it for again; we should withdraw, but raise troop levels to get the job done and only withdraw in the future. Using West’s framework, Kerry is a paternalistic nihilist who could neither support war and its evangelical idea that might is right, nor oppose it publicly with thoughts that, like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, he must keep to himself. Kerry’s biography almost fits this portrait too well, for Kerry himself was a Vietnam veteran who became an outspoken anti-war activist and at one point threw a handful of United States military medals of honor into the Potomac. By the time he was a presidential candidate, his days of impolitic gestures and remarks were long gone. Anyway, a paternalistic nihilistic resigns himself: “Better not to rock the boat with pipe dreams of a radical transformation of society.”
I have written about this paternalism in my review of the movie Walker. What is wrong with this paternalism? Its nihilism rests in its inability to recognize the true source of its motives and behavior. Believing that it has the solutions to the problems of suffering, it thinks it can organize a better life based on a plan originating in some Reason existing above and beyond the realities in front of its face. Self-deluding, it thereby thinks it acts innocently while its results cause catastrophic evil for those who "receive" its beneficence.

No comments: