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"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

Criminal nations 14/24
     The first reality: the way of the criminal

Some of history’s most compelling stories are those of entire societies slipping from some level of rule of law down to government by fear, conducted by gangs.

Germany is the recent example most familiar to us today. The nation in which Hitler rose to power was not an ignorant country compared with the America of today, and many educated people saw through Hitler from the start. But fear was widespread, and many people, thinking like criminals, thought that he was useful to their immediate self-interest. Some sort of change was needed, and if he didn’t work out, they believed, he would be easy to remove.

They were impotent when, within six months of being named Chancellor, he moved quickly to change long-standing institutions. His power grab was breathtakingly bold. He eliminated virtually all opposition to his rule, taking over the labor unions, persuading the parliament to suspend its own powers, arresting known communists and removing Jews from civil service.

Before long, the only significant institution left to resist him was the German Evangelical Church. After failing to have one of his followers elected as bishop, he forcibly took over church headquarters and placed his man, Ludwig Müller, in power. He then engineered a church election to put leaders who were sympathetic to National Socialism in positions throughout the churches.

The new governing body of the church passed rulings banning Jews or persons married to Jews from holding church office, and requiring all pastors to take loyalty oaths to the Führer. This led Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others to form the Pastors’ Emergency League, joined by nearly half the pastors in Germany. The members agreed to be bound only to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church offered the only sustained and significant opposition to him.

Hitler continued to turn the screws down on the leaders of organized religion, however, and most of them submitted out of fear. After only three years, in August of 1936, only a few hundred pastors out of nearly 18,000 dared to read a proclamation from their pulpits critical of Hitler’s programs. Over the next few months, seven hundred pastors were arrested. Some were sent to the camps, but most were released after a few days or weeks. It was enough. They got the message. They were afraid.

I wish an examination of how entire societies become criminal was a standard part of every American child’s education. It proceeds through an inversion of traditional morality. Contemplating his guards while imprisoned in the Gulag, Alexander Solzhenitsyn saw that people seldom allowed evil to take away their freedom without first transforming themselves, making good seem bad and bad seem good. Such transformations are startling easy when people are afraid.

“To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good,” Solzhenitsyn said. “It is in the nature of the human being to seek justification for his actions.” He went on to say that it is ideology that helps the evildoer “make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations.”

After decades of progressive decadence, we are today we moving into a period of social unrest. In many places people already fear leaving their homes at night. At dusk, city parks go vacant, given over to the lawless. Car rental agencies remove their decals from vehicles, attempting to make tourists less likely to fall victim to “hunters” who prey on travelers. Hospital emergency rooms are crowded with patients who have been shot with high-powered weapons, and EMT’s and fireman receive training on how to avoid being killed while trying to help.

Even organizations that think of themselves as morally engaged are drawn into the ecology of war. The murder of a physician who performs abortions, done in the name of the sanctity of life, illustrates the confused desperation that awaits those who choose to fight.

The education press regularly issues ominous warnings that we are in danger of losing the race for wealth, and across the land school administrators and teachers dutifully pass on the warnings to our children. “Be afraid,” is the underlying dogma in much official teaching premised on the belief that education is mainly about prevailing in a competition for money. Beyond a certain point, this becomes a doctrine of war, and it is folly.

Societies of fear may consist of a few dozen nomadic warriors or an they can extend into empires as ravenously vast as ancient Persia. In societies of fear, alliances form based on mutual self-interest. Oaths of allegiance are common. The virtues of cunning, strength, and loyalty are pre-eminent, and revenge is a key motivating principle.

People living at this level act out of personal passion, getting what they want because they can get it, without much regard for those they don’t need or fear. The main way of controlling others is to instill fear in them. Promises are given in the form of threats. The paradigmatic relationship is that between master and slave. A short tour of the more partisan blogs of both the right and the left will make it clear how far advanced this reality is.

Fortunately, the choice of pure selfishness is still rare among us. When people believe in something better, and speak in support of it, the kingdom of fear begins to erode. Better laws establish themselves, and fear recedes as evidence accumulates that we live in a moral universe in which we have the power and the right to make ourselves at home.

Large societies governed by fear, whether they are growing or decaying, always include some features of a higher reality: that created by law. 


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

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