Friday, May 26, 2006

Radical redemption

George Galloway hadn't been in the papers for a while, or had reporters cosying up to him, so it had to be only a matter of time. The assassination of Tony Blair "would be entirely logical and explicable, and morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq as Blair did." I can't believe that anyone is truly surprised that he thinks this, or, given his need for the cameras, that he would say it. In any case, the people in whose cause he claims to speak certainly think like that, and come from places where political violence is the source of authority and sovereignty. In this country, where it is not, of course there has to be a loud outcry against even saying such things; it's part of keeping the place relatively decent. But even here you don't have to go far to hear it being said with a little more discretion. The rhetoric of death is normal discourse for certain groups. David T over at Harry's Place talks of a "sort of personality that is attracted to extreme politics" and that joins groups like the SWP/RESPECT or the BNP because they

provide a context for the "legitimate" expression of hatred, violence and bile ... aggressive, macho and grandstanding rhetoric, which has a kind of quasi-pornographic appeal to them.
There's even more to it: the heroism of the role of Defender of the Weak, the David and Goliath scene-making, the Robin Hood romanticism, the irresistible allure of righteousness, of turning all that is wrong into right. David T points to an article in the Times in which Theodore Dalrymple looks at the phenomenon of radicalism from a more fundamental point of view.
I take it as axiomatic first that human existence is always to some extent unsatisfactory, and second by that most, or at least many, men desire transcendence in the sense that they want their lives to have some larger purpose than the flux of day-to-day existence. Shopping and going to the pub are all very well in their way, but for people of larger spirit they are not enough.

Radical politics answers the need for transcendence and provides a plausible, though erroneous, explanation for the existential shortcomings of human existence. It kills two birds with one stone. It gives a transcendent purpose to life, by allowing participants the illusion that they are helping to bring about a life that is completely without dissatisfaction.

The religiosity of Marxists has long been remarked by the non-believers, the doctrine of Marxism being that history has a plan for the redemption of mankind.
I think he has put it into exactly the right context: religion. "I take it as axiomatic first that human existence is always to some extent unsatisfactory." Original Sin is laughed off as silly by most thinking people (expecially the ones who haven't had kids) - but as a doctrine it put a limit on human capabilities, one that crippled from the start any impulse towards Utopia. Then, "men desire transcendence", ie a part in a greater story. What greater story is there than redemption? While this religious idea was confined to the relationship between an individual and his God, the damage it could inflict upon society was generally limited to his immediate surroundings. But Marxism took the "unsatisfactory" in life to be solely the result of immediate circumstances and specific relations, ones that changed over time, and could be changed by the action of people. And redemption for all was no longer to be continually postponed and to occur somewhere else, but was coming and could be hurried on its way. Thus, the disasters we all know about. Thus, a way of thinking, an intellectual pathology that has been with us at least since the French Revolution, and that gathers all of those who cannot be content with the limits inside which we live.

Like Dalrymple, I too thought that the fall of the Wall would be the end of the pathology of revolution, that the immunisation of the West (for it is a Western desease) had finally taken effect. Nope. It just moved on. Of course, we still have clowns like George Galloway, but the mutated and more virulent strain has gone abroad, though it certainly wants to come home again dressed in the flowing robes of the prophets and sporting an excess of growth on the face. Mind, Marx had that, too.

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