The Politics Of Nihilism - John Samuel Tieman

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Axar.az presents an article "The Politics Of Nihilism" by John Samuel Tieman.

America's greatest political division is not Republican versus Democrat. America's greatest political division is freedom versus nihilism.

Broadly speaking, in 2000+ years Western civilization came up with three systems of ethics. One is virtue ethics. There are certain characteristics of mind, honesty and prudence for example, that can be cultivated. Think of the Socratic dialogues. In Thomas More's masterpiece, Utopia cultivates virtues that lead its citizens to work on behalf of the public good. Then there's consequentialism. What are the consequences of an action? How much good comes from doing this as opposed to doing that? Does driving the speed limit contribute to a more orderly society? The third is deontology, the study of duty, obligations, norms, and imperatives. Consider Kant's categorical imperative, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Ethical systems are about choice.

Counter-opposed to all that is nihilism. There is a range of nihilistic views. One is the world of the Grand Inquisitor. Many Americans live in that world today. “The Grand Inquisitor” is a story within “The Brothers Karamazov“, a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In brief, it tells of Christ's return. The Grand Inquisitor recognizes Jesus. He arrests Him. In the prison, he berates Jesus. The Inquisitor reminds Jesus of the three temptations He rejected. Satan first asked Jesus to make bread out of stones. He then asked Jesus to throw Himself from the Temple and have angels break His fall. Third, to Jesus Satan offered “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” if Jesus would worship Satan. The Inquisitor thinks Jesus a fool. The Inquisitor says, “There are three Powers, three unique Forces upon earth, capable of conquering forever by charming the conscience of these weak rebels – men – for their own good; and these Forces are: Miracle, Mystery and Authority. Thou hast rejected all the three.” Christ doomed humankind to hunger, emptiness, and insecurity. According to The Inquisitor, Jesus should have filled their bellies, dazzled them with miracles, and promised, once He is given “all the kingdoms”, to solve all problems. The bread would temporarily satisfy them. The miracles would dazzle them with something to adore. By giving up their freedoms to the leader, they'd sacrifice choice but gain the illusion of security. Christ rejected these three temptations. The Grand Inquisitor hated Jesus because Christ doomed humankind to freedom.

Dostoevsky published that novel in 1880. Now let's consider January 6, 2021. After Donald Trump's defeat in the presidential election, a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol Building. There are few greater symbols of a choice, in this case representative democracy than the Capital Building. The mob wanted to thwart our nation's choice for president, a presidential election being perhaps our nation's most profound civic act. Upon what was this insurrection based? It lacked an ideological foundation. Indeed, one driving force was delusion. A majority of voters, eighty million Americans, cast their ballots for Joe Biden. The insurrection was driven by “The Big Lie”, the delusion that a Trump victory was stolen through massive fraud. Other motivations, like white supremacy, Christian nationalism, “America First”, fascism, and “Make America Great Again”, are not ideologies but negations, negations of the immigrant, the person of colour, the foreign national, the non-Christian, even a fact-based assessment of history. Negation itself is a kind of choice, the last choice before darkness. Violence on behalf of negation and delusion, is the most nihilistic act possible.

Trump's nihilistic legacy is, in a sense, incomplete. Instead of filling everyone's belly with bread, he only filled the bellies of the rich. "You all just got a lot richer," Trump told a gathering of the wealthy after his 2017 tax overhaul. There were no miracles during his administration, but there were a vast array of delusions. Remember, for instance, when Trump was going to save us from “the deep state”, an evil ensemble – Democrats, spies, Blacks, Jews, socialists, Muslims, immigrants, criminals, and an international cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles – exercising power both alongside and within the government? Saving us justified Trump's authoritarianism. He even said he should be given three terms as president, the Constitution notwithstanding.

A system of ethics is ultimately about choice. Representative democracy is about choice. If Trump's nihilism is a kind of choice, then it is the last choice before darkness, the last choice that annihilates representative democracy.

2023.06.05 / 09:41
John Samuel Tieman
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