Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Since we are putting as many balls in the air as possible this morning, I wanted to note the odd coincidence that, when I mentioned the achievements of FDR, I didn't realize I had his words from November 4, 1938, and apropos of my topic, available. Lewis Lapham's latest "Notebook" entry supplied them (not yet, sadly, available on-line):

But I venture the challenging statment that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, then Faschism and Communism, aided, unconsciously perhaps, by old-line Tory Republicanism, will grow in strength in our land.
It makes one realize that more than a few Tories in Britain supported Hitler and his aims both before, and even during, the war. But that is another matter.

Of equal interest, especially after DAS's comments, were Mr. Lapham's observations based on Umberto Eco's essay "Ur-Fascism," published in the New York Review of Books in 1995 (available on-line, but, alas, only for a fee.) Eco's most salient observation, per Mr. Lapham, has to do with the axioms of fascism he derives:

The truth is revealed once and only once.

Parliamentary democracy is by definition rotten because it doesn't represent the voice of the people, which is that of the sublime leader.

Doctrine outpoints reason, and science is always suspect.

Critical thought is the province of degenerate intellectuals, who betray the culture and subvert traditional values.

The national identity is provided by the nation's enemies.

Argument is tantamount to treason.

Perpetually at war, the state must govern with the instruments of fear.

Citizens do not act; they play the supporting role of "the people" in the grand opera that is the state.
Mr. Lapham elaborates on four points derived from this axioms: In America today, "[w]e don't have to burn any books" (no one reads anything worth reading); "We don't have to disturb, terrorize, or plunder the bourgeouisie" (we all work for the betterment of the corporation: "As surely as the loyal fascist knew that it was his duty to serve the state, the true American knows that it is his duty to protect the brand." We never get far from the question of the kingdom.); "We don't have to gag the press or seize the radio stations" (need anymore be said about that, here?); "We don't have to murder the intelligentsia." (They know who pays their bills). (all quotes and citations from Lewis Lapham, "Notebook," Harper's Magazine, Vol. 311, No. 1865, October 2005, pp. 7-9)

I could comment on the axioms from a Christian point of view: is the revelation once and for all, or continuing? Which raises the important soteriological question: is the Kingdom here and now, or is it coming? And is it coming by our efforts, or is it present and we need only recognize it (a wholly different kind of effort)? Is our identity provided by our enemies ("Satan" and his "minions")? Or is it provided by God, who invites us all to the table to buy wine without money, and food without price? Even in the question of Christian worship itself (a very insider question, I know) and issues of ecclesiology (which I still promise to eventually return to): do the worshippers act? Or do they play the supporting role of audience to the pastor's proclamations? (In more particular terms: is leitourgia the work of the people, or of the professionals?) And the question of burning books: well, as Mr. Lapham points out, "we don't bear the burden of an educated citizenry," as Nazi Germany did. At the turn of the 20th century, mail-order lessons in koine Greek were a thriving business in America, as people struggled to read the New Testament in it's original tongue. Today, not only are they not interested in the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr or Rudolf Bultmann, the church itself is afraid to try to educate them, in large part because the congregations are so resistant to being educated. It isn't just the pastors who have so quickly forgotten the giants just gone, like Niebuhr. Tillich, Bultmann, and Barth, or anxiously ignored the more recent work of liberation theologians and New Testament scholars.

Well, now I digress. Still, politics and religion continue to make for uncomfortable bed-fellows in this country. So perhaps it's not so far off-base to recognize that what indicts the institutional church, indicts democracy as well. There is perhaps something to be learned from that.

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