News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Reprint from 2/28/06: Xtians Hijack US Constitution

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Reprint from 2/28/06: Xtians Hijack US Constitution

Part of the debate leading up to the ratification of the constitution was answering what role the landed gentry and moneyed classes played in controlling the inherent anarchy posed by the restless and unpredictable lower classes of farmers, petty bourgeoisie, and landless citizens. .

This changed after the Civil War with the rise of the robber Barons and industrialization. Then the concern became not simply embodying the ethic of an “enlightened” elite but the interests of capital and its accumulation within the hands of a few.

Plato and Aristotle thought that an elite group must controlling the anarchic elements within the polis. Plato talked about a class of philosopher kings, Aristotle about aristocrats who maintained control via education and adherence to traditional values. Those in power have the task of continually convincing those out of power that the (to borrow the terminology of Walter Lippmann) insiders represent the desires and interests of the outsiders.

After the decline of feudalism and the power of the Catholic Church in Western Europe, Renaissance thinkers resurrected this notion of an elite class that based its ideology on Plato’s and Aristotle’s ethical frameworks. Based on these assumptions, the Humanists developed an educational system that trained future generations in these ideas.

In modern times, the notion of an elite that has access to the basic principles that explain human needs and behavior came under attack first by the Cartesian-inspired sciences and then by the Hegelian-inspired variants, including Marx. Marx labored under the notion that a mass movement, embodied by the working classes, could well up from below and take over the reins of control.

Lenin’s realization that the working classes had neither the will, time, nor perhaps inclination to rebel against the ruling class led him to formulate the theory of an avant-garde elite whose purpose it was both to rouse the sleeping working class giant to its historical mission and to lead that revolution until the day when Marx’s dictatorship of the Proletariat would become historically viable. Hitler’s own thinking built on Lenin’s ideas. For Hitler and the fascists, however, the party would never give up the reins of control and the working class was replaced by the German race.

In a recent blog posting, Glenn Greenwald discusses aspects of President Bush’s notions of executive power. While I think that Glenn is right in his discussion, I don’t think he goes far enough in understanding the historical and social backdrop to Bush et al’s thinking. Bush is the tip of an iceberg whose unseen bulk includes, on one hand, Christian fundamentalists and, on the other hand, neoconservatives.

The neoconservatives take their ideological lead from Leo Strauss. Strauss’ political philosophy builds on Plato and Machiavelli, as well as Lenin. Recognizing the truth to Lenin’s thought but with quite different purposes at hand, Strauss believed that the main threat to western culture and civilization was democracy. As such, he thought that a well-disciplined cadre or avant-garde must take over the reins of control in the US and guide it to taking power—otherwise, the threat of democracy would overwhelm all that western civilization manifests.

The conservative Xtian fundamentalists have a similar concern. Viewed from the decline of what Soren Kierkegaard called Christendom, modern evangelicals in the US have reacted to the what they perceive as the decline of traditional values by establishing itself as a force in contemporary US politics. Seeing modern relativism and secular culture as threats to its hegemonic hold on the spiritual lives of Americans, evangelical leaders see themselves as the vanguard in an effort to establish the supremacy of Xtian culture and civilization.

What this rather protracted but cursory survey shows is the following: a highly motivated group of elites, believing in their own moral righteousness and predestination believe that they must stem what they perceive as mortal threats to western civilization. Whether inspired by religious or philosophical assumptions, they share the presumption that America is sliding down a slippery slope towards moral anarchy and political anomie.

Given this background, I suggest that President Bush’s belief that all political power is vested in the executive branch is simply an outgrowth of the idea that 1) the US has lost its moral bearings, 2) an elite group, enlightened to the true meaning of America’s mission and values must lead the degenerate masses, and 3) this elite must usurp power for itself since even the people’s representatives are disposed to curry favor with the electorate and give in to its whims.

Placing little trust and regard for either the people or their elected representatives, Bush and his cohorts want to institutionalize the idea that the multi-headed hydra of democracy must be brought to heel under the control and direction of a supreme, ethically righteous authority.

I do not believe that moral regeneration is vested in any one group. Following Socrates, I think that ethics begins within the individual and it is only after I gain self-knowledge. This knowledge is not the same as the scientific or other methodological knowledge. It transcends the vagaries of relative ends and means. Once someone attains this level of self-knowledge s/he can then begin to live out the truly ethical life. The difficulty of this task is borne out by the fact that Socrates was still working on it when he was compelled to commit suicide when he was well past 70 years old.

Until individuals begin to tear themselves from the social milieu and gain some distance from the environmental, biological, and psychological factors that determine their actions they cannot hope to live a life that is truly ethical. The lie of both the neoconservative and conservative Xtian ideology is that they preach that it’s through a culture that I can learn to be ethical.

Socrates’ effort shows that every culture and social construct will ultimately compromise on what is truly ethical. As Socrates’ dialog with those leaders and powerful Athenian gentlemen showed, virtue cannot be taught. It is only through some form of ethical revolution at the subjective level which brings about moral regeneration.

The Xtians, for their part, believe that the Xtian conversion experience is tantamount to this Socratic revolution. Once individuals have gained this experience they then group with others who have experienced this conversion and form the core at the heart of Xtian civilization.

The presuppositions here, again, are that it’s through a culture or social ethos that I gain access to that transcendent power that brings salvation. I assert that this presupposition is simply another form of religion acting as mask for political and cultural hegemony of those already in power.

The true Christian view, I suggest, is that salvation is a personal and individual event. It cannot be manufactured by any social or cultural system—whether it espouses so-called Judeo-Xtian doctrines or not. Indeed, as early Christians such as Tertullian and Origen wrote, the true Christian ethos is invariably antagonistic to every form of hegemonic civlizational construct.

A true cynic or Socratic response will always oppose every effort at establishing an American empire or a Xtian theocracy. This includes not only those groups who promote such ideas but also the figure-heads who knowingly or unknowingly support such efforts.

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