Thursday, February 7, 2008

I haven't forgotten about my project

The one I signed onto publicly, in this blog. To challenge my basic stance in this world.

I've spent quite a bit of the last year musing about the nature of authority, and authoritarians. Authoritarians aren't necessarily those who wield power; some are submissive and loyal to it.

Authoritarians stake a claim on 'Rightness'--that they represent and are champions of 'the Right Way'. This "right way" is the ability to adhere to a certain code and tradition that is imposed from the outside. To the extent that one is unable to conform, one is Wrong. Will power is the strength to maintain conformity to the Right Way and is considered a measure of one's moral character.

I dutifully did my best to conform. And to all appearances I was doing a pretty good job of it. I was compliant, obedient. I was a born again Christian. But slowly over the years grew in me a novel idea (for me): a notion that Authority instead of being imposed from without could organically grow from within. That the notion of authority-imposed could be replaced with a kind of responsive awareness. For years I assumed that was the 'devil' attempting to lure me away from the Right Way and I redoubled my efforts to be loyal to the Code.

Nationalism is a key feature of the Code. A sort of aggressive nationalism which assumes that we Americans somehow carry a legitimacy as a people that others don't possess and thus we can exempt ourselves from standards we hold other peoples to; that we have a 'mission' that is God-given and increases our legitimacy. We are told to 'love' our country. To question the practices of the powerful in this country resembles disloyalty and therefore is considered disloyal.

Podhoretz's book (World War IV/The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism) is grounded firmly in this kind of nationalism. It has an internal logic that's convincing from it's own internal viewpoint.

To attempt to balance this somewhat, or at least place nationalism in a larger context I'm also reading "America Right or Wrong/An Anatomy of American Nationalism" by Anatol Lieven. He points out that nearly every nation has seen itself as somehow exceptional, and as having a mission. National identity was a characteristic of old-world imperial Europe and particularly of conservative elements of those socieities. He posits that having endured the destruction and devastation of WWII many of these older countries have tempered their nationalism somewhat, having experienced first-hand the end result.

So the project proceeds, but slowly. I interrupt it periodically with the books I'm reading for my book reading group. February's is "Any Human Heart" by William Boyd.

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