Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Useful idiots

Peter Berger reflects on the phenomenon of "Revolutionaries with American Passports." It would appear that political fundamentalism shares some of the unfortunate characteristics of the religious variety, perhaps particularly "the denial of realities that contradict the ideology."
.... There has been for close to a century a long parade of admirers of socialist tyrannies, all the way back to the Western supporters of the Soviet Union, whom Lenin is reputed to have called “useful idiots.” The Soviet Union was succeeded as tyranny du jour by China, Vietnam, even Communist Albania (upheld by some Western admirers as the last stronghold of true Maoism after the Chinese regime began to show signs of pragmatism). There are two requirements for any regime deemed worthy of admiration: It must claim to be socialist; and it must be vocally anti-American. The degree of bloodshed does not appear to be a relevant criterion. It will either be denied or ideologically justified. For anyone who has faith in reason as a factor in history, there is here a sad and discouraging story. ....

For over fifty years now, cohorts of young, well-educated Americans have become supporters of a long string of bloody revolutions and tyrannical regimes, united by the two traits of socialist ideology and hostility to the United States. What is one to make of this? ....

...I did propose the first theorem of this putatively historic opus: Any identity is better than none. I still think that this proposition can take us quite a long way. It can help explain the continuing dance around the icons of utopian revolution.

For reasons which are not mysterious and which can be analyzed sociologically, modernity undermines taken-for-granted identities. No longer an unavoidable destiny, an individual’s identity increasingly becomes a matter of choice. This can be experienced as a great liberation, especially in its early phases. It can also be experienced as a burden. There is a deep human longing for certainty concerning the things that matter most—among which, as Immanuel Kant classically formulated it, is an answer to the question “Who am I?” As a result, there is a market for any movement that purports to provide a certain identity, one that can be relied upon beyond the precarious products of individual self-construction. That is the great attraction of all totalitarian movements. It is the psychological benefit of all fundamentalisms—religious or secular. The promise is always the same: “Come and join us. And we will give you what you have longed for—you will know who you really are.” The promise is kept—if and as long as the individual adheres to the ideology of the movement. Part of such adherence may be the denial of realities that contradict the ideology. .... [more]
Revolutionaries with American Passports | Religion and Other Curiosities

1 comment:

  1. Kundera has well-named as the "Unbearable Lightness of Being" the burden Berger identifies.


Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.