During the lead up to the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing, a source called the City Journal, referred to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as “the Madame Defarge of New York.” Madame Defarge is Dicken’s vengeful knitting woman, who seeks to punish the innocent as well as the guilty in A Tale of Two Cities, and it is a remarkable take on where we are in our times. Dicken’s captures the mood of the French revolution and the massacre following. This analogy is apt, we are in many ways repeating steps that have led to bloodshed in the past. I’ve noted on this blog two separate points, the first that we thirst for a justice we cannot achieve on this earth because of human limitations. Secondarily, I noted the issue that modern society gives no room for forgiveness. The repercussion of this is that anger and hate; stored to become bitterness and wrath, are the growing motivational force in American politics.
The thing about modern American anger is it has become an issue in both parties, Conservatives and Republicans have sometimes stated they like the fact that “Trump fights back,” that is, Trump deals with Democratic party members and constituency groups the way democrats have dealt with Republican party members and constituency groups for several decades. That is, Donald Trump exemplifies the political rhetoric of Maxine Waters or Sheila Jackson Lee; this is something that, I think, is often being missed in discussions of Trump’s twitter account; it is unacceptable to argue that some people are human trash, whatever else may be true about the state of our immigration policies, it is equally unacceptable to declare half of Americans to be part of the “basket of deplorables.” As Scripture warns us in Matthew 7:2-3, we will be measured with the measuring stick we use to measure others. This, along with the way he has treated women, and his actions in the Republican primaries are leading reasons why I voted for a third party candidate in the last presidential election. Death threats, doxing, and mobs, and other forms of intimidation have become weapons of choice, Charlottesville, Berkley, Portland and other cities are seeing politically motivated violence; others seek to use mobs to shut down traffic and commerce, often with threatening behavior. Republican Congressmen have been shot at, target by a far-left extremist. The group we once called the alt-right and “antifa” are forming militias, similar to the SA and the KDP aligned Red Front in the 20’s of Germany. Where once, “No Justice, no Peace” was a slogan, hinting and threatening violence, that violence is now a small, but growing reality.
This becomes greater when we consider that this is true in the academy as well. One of the major movements influencing politics and education in discussions of the “politicization of the humanities,” is something known as “critical theory.” Critical theory is an application of an approach to ethics known as a “genealogical approach” which is largely descended from Nietzsche, but has been further adapted by writers such as Fouchault and socialists thinkers. Nietzsche argued that morality was a means for the weak to control the strong (his “ubermensch” which unlike the Nazi adaptation, is not a racial category). That is, to Nietzsche, morality is an illusion, but it can be used as a means to power. Nietzsche was, himself, rather critical of morality, but Fouchault adapted this thought to communist ideas, arguing initially that moral codes are a form of oppression by the strong, and in doing so seems to be making moral pronouncements to make play for his own power. Critical theory has adapted this approach, some recognize that they are themselves not making a moral argument, but they are aiming at destroying whatever they can of western culture and heritage (including Christianity), to build something new. This appears, however, to be lost among others, who do seem to think they are arguing for some type of morality, and fail to appreciate the absurdity of building an ethic from a line of argumentation that denies morality’s existence. Marxist scholars, who impose a view of class warfare on questions of morality and history have had a similar impact. But while critical theory is absurd, it seems to fan the flames of students, who then fan the flames in the streets.
Modern students aren’t arguing for a dispassionate live and let live relativist position, as was the left in the past. Increasingly, students at higher and higher levels believe it is just to use violence to silence speech, usually speech by the right, and increasingly students are in situations where they are intimidating professors about matters of curriculum among other things. The words “Nazi” and “Fascist” are used with less of an eye towards the Nazi and Fascist worldviews, and have become merely a new buzzword to drive people into hysteria.
Some will argue that I am merely picking on the left here, but as I noted before, there is a thread of pragmatism in the Trump age; the group that was called the “alt-right” will adapt these tools as we enter a phase of escalations reminiscent of Clausewitz. Antifa’s use of violence in Berkley and other places has led to the beginnings of “alt right” groups that are presenting themselves in the same light. Groups such as the “Knights of the Alt Right” present themselves as protectors of peaceful protestors, hoping to attack their rivals. Alt-right websites hint at violence, perhaps trying to draw antifa into making moves to hurt them in the press; either way it is the right’s version of “No Justice, No Peace.” Therefore, we will likely see similar protests against controversialists on the left being invited to speak in various venues, on the grounds that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. What the age of Trump proves is that the type of incivility used by left can be used against the left. There will come a point when the response to Republican senators being harassed in restaurants will be the harassment of democratic senators. Both sides have what they believe to be legitimate grievances that can be stoked for votes. What has been sown to the wind, is being reaped by the whirlwind.
We are spiraling towards a civil war that may be unavoidable, we are moving towards a violent clash as mob will be matched by mob. There are steps that can be taken, but only in a bilateral way. Rebuilding civility will require a de-escalation by both sides rather than calls for unilateral rhetorical disarmament as we see now, but I do not see that happening anytime soon. There are philosophically incommensurable differences between the new left and the right, differences that, alone may leave us with the choice between a national split or a civil war. Yet these intellectual differences cannot move forward in a debate or a peaceful secession of states with the current emotionally charged political climate.
But then, when you move into a society that has such a limited understanding of justice that it is vested solely in human beings, can it be any other way? The primal need for justice cannot be adequately met by human beings. And when a worldview has given itself no grounds for forgiveness or mercy, what else can we expect? When government is given the role of God in a worldview, how can we anticipate anything other than a fevered hysteria, appealing to such a fickle deity? In short, the erosion of Christianity is at the heart of the decay of the civil society; we are a post-truth society wallowing in the misery of our human limitations.