Sunday :: Jan 23, 2005

Messianic Zeal

by Mary

Over on DKos, a gilas girl noted that if Bush's second inaugural speech is compared to the stirring rhetoric of Dr. Martin Luther King, it comes up flat. And Bush's vision for the world is sufficiently overweaning that even solid conservatives were taken aback. It was a much different vision on a much different scale than what was aspired by the Civil Rights Movement.

It is clear that Bush sees himself as the leader of a mass movement on a mission to free the world from the sin of tyranny and socialism. (Despite the fact that his dad and others are poo-pooing the relevance of the speech to actually doing anything about some of the world's worst dictators who are our friends.)

We, in the reality-based world, should be aware that Bush is a mass movement leader as he has bonded the far right fanatics to his side. And as I said before, leaders of mass movements have certain characteristics which I believe we see in Bush and the people surrounding him these days.

That said, it should be noted that mass movements can be either very destructive or very constructive. One of the key pieces of how destructive or constructive a mass movement will be in its active phase is the character of the leader.

Eric Hoffer in his book, The True Believer, defined these two possible outcomes. When a movement is led by someone who has no real conscience, has delusions of omnipotence, and believes the ends justify the means, the movement can turn violent, vicious and frightening. If a movement is led by someone who understands that the means used define the ultimate value of the end, then it can be an inspiring lesson for people, which is how we view the Civil Rights Movement today.

Here was what Hoffer said about the nature and duration of mass movements:

Section 122:

The personality of the leader is probably a crucial factor in determining the nature and duration of a mass movement. Such rare leaders as Lincoln and Gandhi not only try to curb the evil inherent in a mass movement but are willing to put an end to the movement when its objective is more or less realized. They are of the very few in whom "power [has] developed a grandeur and generosity of the soul." Stalin's medieval mind and his tribal ruthlessness were chief factors in the prolonged dynamism of the Communist movement. It is futile to speculate on what the Russian Revolution might have been like had Lenin lived a decade or two longer. One has the impression that he was without that barbarism of the soul so evident in Hitler and Stalin, which, as Heraclitus said, makes our eyes and ears "evil witnesses to the doings of the men." Stalin molded his possible successors in his own image, and the Russian people can probably expect more of the same for the next several decades. Cromwell's death brought the end of the Puritan Revolution, while the death of Robespierre marked the end of the active phase of the French Revolution. Had Hitler died in the middle of the 1930's, Nazism would probably have shown, under the leadership of a Goering, a fundamental change of its course, and the Second World War might have been averted. Yet the sepulcher of Hitler, the founder of a Nazi religion, might perhaps have been a greater evil than all the atrocities, bloodshed and destruction of Hitler's war.

Hoffer wrote his book in 1951, and never saw the Khmer Rouge, nor the Civil Rights Movement, nor our latest messianic leader: GWBush, yet, his observations are still so relevant to what we know about mass movements today.

I think we need to do whatever we can to disspell the allure of Bush's vision by exposing the lies it is built on to all those Americans who are still reachable. Our Democratic leaders must understand they are key to making this happen by opposing the immoral philosophy of torture and the disproportionate violence on the people in Iraq because those actions feed the flames that are being stoked by the rhetoric, the fear of strangers in our midst, and the ugly, ugly war in Iraq.

Mary :: 10:11 PM :: Comments (11) :: Digg It!