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popes, presidents, and the people October 22, 2006

Posted by Brad Richert in politics, religion.

This last week has certainly been a historic one for Americans and the rest of the world. The futility of democracy is proving true. Security trumps freedom, and the Republicans in power have fully taken advantage of this. They have been taking advantage of this ever since September 11, 2001. Authors of history books, however, will not write solely on the attacks of September 11th, but of the PATRIOT ACT and of subsequent legislation and actions that political scientists will compare to the events, legislation, and actions of Germany in the 1930’s. The futility of democracy is the theory that admits that democracy will always fail due to intrinsic necessities. The philosophers of social contract theories wrote that we trade in our freedoms for security in the state. This is true for democracies and dictatorships alike. This is why people rarely overthrow dictatorships. This is why Hobbes and many other philosophers supported monarchies over the government. To Hobbes, divine authoritarianism at least held a chance of justice: humans, be it one in power or many, will always fail, but a ruler with divine authority has true credibility.

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing… There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free ‘government’ ought to be trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty. – John Adams, 2nd President of the United States

President Bush II has recently been thinking of himself as a scholar of some sorts, a reader of history and a philosopher of history. The funny thing is, his speeches read like dumbed down versions of European monarchical supporters of the 17th and 18th centuries. The words freedom and liberty are thrown in to justify a pseudo-democratic stance. The upcoming elections are proving to be a challenge for the Republican party and so the rhetoric of security will need to pushed to extremes as it was in the 2004 Presidential election. Freedom and liberty have become relative terms for the Bush administration, mangled to suit the purposes of the neo-monarchists in power. That is what they are: neo-monarchists. The terms neo-fascism and neo-conservatism explain the party’s stance to many who oppose Bush and the Republicans. Yet these terms themselves seem to me empty rhetoric, even if they are true to an extent. The power of language allows us to change words to suit our meanings. Fascism has become a term that liberals use to compare any amount of extremism to the Italian and German fascists no matter the obvious differences, even if those differences are simply those of culture/time gaps – not to mention progression through history, for better or for worse. Conservatism itself has lost all meaning in the United States and many true “small-c” conservatives have turned their back on the Republicans because of it.

What is the root of this new philosophy that has emerged from the minds of Reagan, Bush I & II, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others? When Bush passes a law that eliminates habeas corpus for Americans and non-Americans alike, what is going through his mind? Is it from the mind of someone who wants to truly take the rights away from another, or is it from the mind of someone who actually wants to protect his country in the name of the Divine? Of course liberals will argue for the former and conservatives for the latter, but the reality is that only history will show the answer.

Perhaps a look into modern neo-monarchist support can shed some insight on this emerging movement, as it will certainly not end with the current generation of Republicans just as it did not end with Reagan or with Bush I. Only a modern representation of yesteryear’s power can be shown worthy to explain this new movement. Several days ago Pope Benedict XVI declared that modern western culture is opposed to religion. He condemned utilitarianism, relativism and secularization. Of course the obvious challenge to the Pope is found in switching around his own condemnations. Is it not a problem that religion, at least that of his own, is opposed to western culture. The most obvious opposition to utilitarianism, relativism, and secularization is the same political ideology that the papacy had supported up until the 19th century and instances within the 20th: monarchism. Until Pope Leo XIII, the papacy has generally sided with monarchs over those trying to implement more democratic reforms; Pope Pius IX, by the end of his reign, had even gone so far to declare that the rights of citizens and liberal values represented the triumph of godlessness.

What is it about monarchism that is so tempting? The answer for political leaders is obvious, but it is the people who must put them in that place and keep them there. Even in a society that is ruled by a dictatorship – be it a benevolent monarchist or a tyrannical despot – the people must support the leadership to an extent. In today’s society which sees liberal values being curbed by a President and his Congress, the question is not so obvious because we are wary of calling our leaders kings. Monarchy is tempting because it offers security. In the very least, if we cannot question our leader at least the enemy cannot either. Monarchy is tempting because does away with the hard questions that relativism forces us to face. If relativism is difficult on an individual level, it is impossible on a collective level. Utilitarianism itself is a relative term because of the ambiguity of happiness. One person’s heaven is another’s hell.

So while an archaic institution such as the papacy continues to perpetuate what is inherently anti-democratic positions, there is an echo of such views in the evangelical camp that continues to vote for George W. Bush. Because it is easy. Because it is safe. Because it is comfortable. Because it allows us to stop caring, to stop thinking.

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1. khalidmir - October 22, 2006

Good post. Why do you think people suppport such dictators/tyrants/authoritarian figures though?
I’ve attempted an answer in my post ‘General Z and the Charm of Tyranny‘ , August 6, if you’re interested.

2. brad richert - October 22, 2006

I don’t know if you have ever watched Fox’s TV series, “24”, but it truly defines what I think you nailed in your post (General Z…). Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) is the epitome of what Republicans believe the Bush administration to be (at least when Republicans liked Republicans). Jack Bauer does what is necessary, and what is necessary is what is right. Justice is flawed, and so he must take matters into his own hands. He saves America from nuclear catastrophes through his use of unauthorized torture and is known for ‘not doing things by the book’ (Ie. the law). But when all is said and done, he saves the day: he was right, not just.

I encourage anyone who is interested in the subject to read Khalidmir’s article in the link above.

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