• Alexander M. Wegner

Fanaticism, Lethargy, and a Politics of Hope

(C) Matt Kelley

OUR WOLRD RESEMBLES A BOWL OF PORRIDGE; it lacks contrast, thus is deprived of nuance, and prone to numb the minds of its observers through apparent homogeneity. Ideas no longer evoke passion, or prompt enthusiastic discourse among those who subscribe to, and strive to uphold them. Ever since the Enlightenment, and especially in the aftermath of the devastation induced by consecutive World Wars, rationality populates the souls of most. Men who navigate their world predominantly guided by thought–consciously insensitive to indications of the heart–are prone to take what is for granted, unable to visualize history as a construct. A world so configured, is one determined by habits, and inevitably soaked in lethargy; it is a world stabilized by reason, but vulnerable to passion.

The prevalent ascent of an Islamic Caliphate on Iraqi and Syrian soil is but a manifestation of contemporary culture. Man has come to be a stranger to himself, and is estranged from his neighbor. Employing the manifold material means at his disposal, man is well aware of what unfolds in foreign lands, and is swift to lament and denounce distant horrors. The sheep-like existence he endures at work, the anonymity and indifference he encounters on his commute thereto, and the convenient but hollow modus vivendi by which he abides, have deprived him of his agency. Man is but a variable in the delicate web of life, which reason has steadily reduced to an equation.

A utopian Caliphate, arguably, is the offspring of these very cultural phenomena. Indeed, rage is an inevitable byproduct of lethargy; illusory aspirations are the consequence of perceived political incapacity; whereas the former is symptomatic of the marginalization induced by a politics that has come to be tailored to the dictates of public opinion, the latter attests to an evermore rampant alienation from the world as it is. Among those lured into the abyss of a Caliphate are certainly steadfast believers–faithful in the potency of religion employed as an instrument, not the enigma to which it alludes–but are most likely to be lost souls, desperate for a sense of origin and belonging. The prospect of a Caliphate captivates their–hard to distract–attention, empowers their imagination, and endows them with the agency that man has forgone.

Fanaticism fuels this monstrous enterprise, but is juxtaposed to the Caliphate it ought to bring forth. A successor to the Prophet Muhammad would undoubtedly be a man of genuine faith. The faithful, in turn, would recognize his own incapacity to realize divine will in the world of man; whereas reason enables and allows man to loom ever-larger, faith renders man modest, regardless of his means. Fanaticism, thus, is idolatry; it presupposes that man worships himself, and utilizes commandment in his petty interest.

Prevalent cultural phenomena–estrangement, anonymity, indifference and hollow cosmopolitanism–coupled with a persistent longing for equality, even at the expense of liberty, will sustain and enhance fanaticism–as perilous ideology–eroding the liberal project. Curiously, the evil that the Valkyries deployed by a Lucifer, dubbed Caliph, embody, are but the crooked offspring to which Enlightenment thought gave birth; it is the march from divine to humane creation, and the denouncing of the always-already prevalent mysteries of being that prompt man to turn to himself and the promises of false prophets–deceivingly clothed–not to his neighbor, tradition, and culture reference.

The potential, perhaps even imminent, expedition into the heart of darkness that is to be undertaken by the United States and its allies may treat, but cannot cure, the disease that afflicts their adversaries. Similarly, neither the Peshmerga nor the PKK (or Kurdish Workers’ Party) can defeat those determined to sculpture a Caliphate from what has come to be hardly more than dust. Liberal hegemons and the forces–whether national or foreign–that are deployed in their service, cannot succeed in the absence of homegrown improvement. Thus, it will not be a politics of might, grounded in ideals, but a politics of hope, rooted in conceptions of the world as it is, that promises to reform the liberal project. Fanatics are unlikely to be cured by anything other than their own demise; fanaticism, in contrast, can be prevented and, if all has else been exhausted, preempted.

While modern man, tragically, is unlikely to seek guidance in what has occurred–though he would be well advised to do just that–he may draw inspiration from what is to come. In the course of forthcoming decades, world population will swell to an estimated 9 billion, up to an anticipated 10 billion by the end of the century; thereafter, it is likely to gradually decline, given that improvement is prone to lower fertility rates. Natural resources, meanwhile, will gradually be depleted, rendering the sustenance of highly populated societies difficult; regardless, scientific progress may grant relief, by yielding pathways that cannot yet be thought of. The climate, moreover, is expected to alter; yet the particulars of transformed climate, though frequently speculated, are not yet known; crises that climate may prompt, are best adapted to, rather than already prepared for.

Those who dare to raise their sight, so to attain an image of what may be forthcoming, will with ease realize that the survival of our kind–which really is no more certain than that of our predecessors–is contingent upon intact and intimate social relations. These will, arguably, form the foundation for the utilization of evermore sophisticated material means, and the truly daunting extent of corresponding responsibility. This responsibility in turn presupposes the kind of modesty that religiosity necessitates, and is best suited to cultivate. Whereas modest men may never attain the peak, but merely come to rest in its proximity, proud men will rush toward it, only to find themselves deformed at the foot of the mountain, falling evermore short of the peak, whenever ascending anew.

Force will prove to be an impotent antidote to the fanaticism that an ascending Caliphate demands and nurtures; it may temporarily root out fanatics, but it will not defeat the ideology that has elevated them, and that is prone to lure others to foreign lands. Needed is a politics of hope, one that springs forth from the family, extends to the community, and engulfs the nation. A politics of hope that draws neighbors toward one another, and empowers politicians to foster the Good, is a politics that plants the seed of progress.

Without the great revelations, epics and philosophies as part of our natural vision, there is nothing to see out there, and eventually little left inside. –Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

©2019 by Alexander M. Wegner