Friday, October 31, 2008

"Obama and the Politics of Crowds"

This piece from yesterday's WSJ, "Obama and the Politics of Crowds" is one of the best long-view things I've seen in a while. I've been reading Eric Hoffer's "True Believer" and Hannah Arendt's "Origins of Totalitarianism", and much of what Ajami says here resonates strongly with these Cold War era books, with their clear-eyed view of twentieth century psycho-politics ("psycho" as in psychological, not psychopathic, although one could be forgiven for making the assumption).

Karl Lowith, a student of Martin Heidegger, long ago tagged Marxism as essentially a Christian heresy in his book, Meaning in History. Attempts to posit an end of history outside of Christian eschatological categories inevitably take on the religious connotations that come with those categories and symbols. The unholy alliance of Christianity and Marxism that is Black Liberation Theology, for instance, is one expression of this strange hybrid. The total, life-long commitment shown by many adherents of the hard left bears witness to the religious quality of their devotion, and to the deliberately inculcated "imminent transcendence" of bringing heaven down to earth. Think of "Dear Leader"Kim Jong Mentally Il of North Korea and his captive herd of worshippers. A world closed to the transcendent is a violent one, with no mercy, no grace.

But all forms of fascism are also in this category; rebellion against transcendence, and a violent propensity for the imminent here and now, mixed with a usurping messiah figure, as Ajami discusses, typify what we know of fascist movements: Hitler, of course, and Mussolini, but also Juan Peron, Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and and a whole host of other South American dictators (what is it about South America and dictators?). Crowds--as distinguished from audiences-- are not rational; an orator cannot reason with them, but a skillful demagogue can produce images that substitute for thought.

Hope. Change. We are the change we have been waiting for. Fill in the blank with your own dream...while standing next to ten thousand others projecting their own images and dreams onto the One.

It's no real comfort to know that they would come down off this drunk after the election to find he is nothing like their conjured image. And though that would be Obama's problem at that point, we would all be sharing the hangover.

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