PATRIOTISM, THE THIRD RACE, THE THIRD WORLD WAR
BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
The Third World War on Terrorism declared by President George W. Bush was no doubt patriotic in the sense it was motivated by “love of one’s country.” The Bush rhetoric, mimicked by the U.S. Congress and the majority of Americans, is jingoistic. Moreover, the Bush administration was blatantly war-mongering; indeed, it came into existence as a continuation of the previous Bush administration’s mongering of war on Iraq. However, the administration’s attempt to associate the war with Christianity, i.e. as a holy war under god or a war somehow defending the Christian faith, was politically motivated, self-serving rhetoric. President Bush did not represent fundamental Christianity although he and other “well-meaning” people may have been deluded into thinking they did. Fundamentally, the president represented the secular economic interests of the wealthy, beginning with those of his own family, whose domestic and offshore corporate wheeling and dealing and political machinations are well known.
The more property one owns the more he will love his country and need its police force to defend his holdings. And those who hold much less may very well agree with him, but not for religious reasons. President Bush’s effort to identify the political-economic interests of the United States with the religious interest in god would be absurd unless one equated religion with the political theology of secular private capitalism. As far as most faithful and unfaithful people are concerned, the World Trade Center was not a spiritual temple nor was the Pentagon. Although some Muslims and Christians insisted they were are involved in a religious conflict of crusade versus jihad, and that president Bush was a Christian fanatic behind the scenes, we think not: the issue was material not spiritual.
On Independence Day 2002, President Bush said patriotism is a “living faith.” The god of Christianity must be really dead then, or the president had lost touch with his Christian roots, for faith in nations is anathema to original Christianity. Therefore, not only was the patriotism of the Bush administration war-mongering and jingoistic, it had an anti-Christian agenda as well. Patriotism as “living faith” worships the primitive land-god of fear and hate rather than the man-god of love and forgiveness.
To advance this thesis, we refer to Edward Westermarck’s The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1917). He discusses the Stoic cosmopolitan philosophy of a universal or world state, then states:
“But the Roman ideal of patriotism, with its utter disregard for the foreign nations, was not opposed by philosophy alone: it met with an even more formidable antagonism in the new religion. The Christian and the Stoic rejected it on different grounds: while the Stoic felt himself as a citizen of the world, the Christian felt himself as a citizen of heaven, to whom this planet was only a place of exile… Indeed, in the whole Roman Empire there were no men who entire lacked patriotism as the early Christians. They had no affection for Judea, they soon forgot Galilee, they cared nothing for the glory of Greece and Rome. When the judges asked them which was their country they said in answer, ‘I am a Christian.'”
However, “Christianity was not hostile to the state.” He notes the scriptural injunction to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to obey the authorities as god’s ministers, and cites Tertullian: “… but the emperor should be obeyed only so long as his commands do not conflict with the law of God – a Christian ought rather to suffer like Daniel in the lion’s den than sin against his religion, and nothing is more entire foreign to him than affairs of State.”
Of course religious people differ as to the true nature and the right applications of the laws of their god. The early Christians were generally opposed to killing, and rejected military service. Origen would not have Christians serve in the imperial armies, but he approved of Judith murdering Holofernes, hence he condoned tyrannicide. War was further justified in defense of the faith. Clement condemned war as contrary to the faith. In the West, militarism and bloodshed was altogether abjured. Lactantius took the injunction “Thou shalt do no murder” in its absolute sense, drawing no distinction between criminal “murder” and legal “killing.”
“For when God forbids killing, He not only prohibits us from free-booting, which is not permitted even by public laws, but He also advises that those things also, which are regarded as lawful among men, should not be done. So, neither will it be permitted a just man, whose service is justice herself, to enter military service, nor can he accuse anyone of a capital crime, because there is no difference whether you kill a man with a sword or word, since the killing itself is prohibited. Therefore, in this command of God, no exception whatsoever must be made. It is always wrong to kill a man whom God has intended to be a sacrosanct creature.” And, “One of the greatest reasons for which Christianity was considered a civil offense was this, that the Christians refused to take part in state wars.” (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, translated by Sister Mary Francis McDonald, O.P., in The Fathers of the Church, Catholic University of America Press: Washington)
However, Professor Latourette of Yale arrives at a different conclusion after examining the records: “For years many Christians regarded service in the army as inconsistent with their profession. Some held that for them all bloodshed, whether as soldiers or executioners, was unlawful. At one stage in history the powerful Church of Alexandria seems to have looked askance upon the reception of soldiers into the membership and to have regarded enlistment in the army as permissible in only in exceptional circumstances. Tertullian argued against Christians taking part in the army, on the ground that such service brought one under another master than Christ, that it was out of accord with the Christian obligation to the family, that it involved taking the sword, and that it made necessary inflicting punishment, when to a Christian was forbidden all revenge… To most Christians, however, at least in the first three centuries, the ethical problem involved in military service was not an issue. Jew and slaves were legally disqualified from membership in the legions and, therefore, such Christians as were drawn from these groups were ineligible. The state could nearly always obtain as many soldiers as it wished through voluntary enlistment without recourse to conscription. Then, too, as time passed, the legions were filled chiefly with barbarians from the fringes of the Empire, where Christianity was late in obtaining a large following. After Christianity was adopted by the state, the Church expected those of its members who served in the army to remain there.” (Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, Volume II, The First Five Centuries, New York: Harper, 1932)
Thus people disagree on whether or not militarism was an issue; if it was not, considerable discourse on the non-issue had still been handed down to us from antiquity. Christians did agree on practicing the Jewish virtues, especially those of the Pharisees: caring for orphans and for the sick, giving alms to the poor, visiting prisoners, burying the dead, and loving their brethren. And they agreed their god, the Creator and Lawgiver, was the one and only god for humankind. Early Christianity had no class discrimination or castes and outcastes; it was a universal religion recognizing everyone including laborers and slaves as brothers. Christians were “a third race”, an “antisocial” or alternate society opposed to both Jew and Roman in its obsession with personal salvation – a feature which made it popular. Calamities and hardships visited upon the Greco-Roman world were blamed on the Christian refusal to recognize the national gods. Christians were adjudged guilty of high treason, punishable by death. They could recant and be spared, or persist and be given to the beasts – those who were Roman citizens could be mercifully beheaded. The persecution of the “criminals” in those trying days when works proved faith, served to strengthen their bond:
“Every Christian rejected with contempt the superstitions of his family, his city, and his province. The whole body of Christians unanimously refused to hold any communion with the gods of Rome, the empire, and of mankind.” Also, “The personal guilt which every Christian had contracted in thus preferring his private sentiment to the national religion was aggravated by a very high degree by the number and union of the criminals.” Furthermore, “The new converts seemed to renounce their family and country, that they might connect themselves in an indissoluble bond of union with a peculiar society, which everywhere assumed a different character from the rest of mankind.” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of he Roman Empire)
W.H.C. Frend’s The Rise of Christianity affirms fundamental Christianity’s antipathy to patriotism. Whereas Romans identified religion with the state, Christians separated politics from religion, hence they were atheists, traitors who were wont to declare: “I do not recognize the empire of this world. Rather, I serve that god whom no man has seen.” Therefore they must be punished, for their refusal to participate in religious nationalism made them responsible for the wrath of the gods. Christian martyrs refused to pledge allegiance to emperor or to empire. The martyr Polycarp said, “If you vainly suppose that I will swear by the genius of Caesar… you are ignorant who I am… Listen plainly… I am a Christian.” (No doubt Polycarp would also refuse to pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of American, and to the Republic for which it stands, or to its Commander-in-Chief).
Whereas Westermarck’s stated, “Christianity was not hostile to the State,” Frend provides information that for some Christians it was a religion of protest. For instance, the convert Peregrinus Proteus, famous for committing suicide by throwing himself onto a pyre at the Olympian games, had made several absurd attempts to stir up trouble between Greeks and Romans, and was at one point expelled from the empire for insulting the emperor. But he was a “backslider”, reverting to Cynicism. Therefore consider the convert Tatian (fl. 160). Tatian despised what he perceived as the emptiness, pride and injustices of the Greco-Roman world, which at the time was enjoying unprecedented peace and prosperity: “I reject your legislation, for there should be common polity for all,” declared Tatian.
Christian, Cynic and Stoic were all disgusted by the luxurious corruption of good times; Christianity waited for troubled times to flourish. Celsus considered the Christians a revolutionary cult bent on subverting the establishment; he said Jesus was an impudent quack who learned magic in Egypt. In his view, Christianity was an illegal association, an introverted sect solely interested in its own members, having the blind faith conducive to revolt. As for Christian rejection of the things of this world, Lucian explained: “Their first lawgivers persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another, after the have transgressed once and for all by denying the Greek gods, by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately, and consider them common property….”
Eventually troubled times fell upon the empire, Christians were gladdened by the opportunities provided for their church to flourish; Constantine took up the cause for reasons of his own; the state become Christianity’s friend instead of foe. Alas, thus far a new religion has required state force to become a world religion instead of sinking into obscurity. Constantine’s son Constantius took up the cross where his father left off. Not only did zealous Christians pray for the troops, they exhorted them to do their duty under god and inspired them to bloodshed. The Eastern and Western bishops argued over the fine points of the Christian creed, those points being symbolic of their regional political differences. The Eastern Caesar would force a particular creed upon the whole empire; he wanted to be pope as well as emperor, just as the old pharaohs were gods incarnate, a Jesus and a Christ at once. Thus the schism in attitudes, and the Eastern and Western churches evolved from the difference – the separation was a bloody one.
Whether historically informed people are religious or not, they understand the importance of separating church and state. The separation releases each from the embrace that tends to hamper them both if not destroy one or the other. After all, which cult, if any cult at all, would the state favor? Which creed, if any creed at all, would be the official creed? Would it be, for instance, the cult and creed of right-wing fundamentalists politically represented by born-again Christian George W. Bush? But he does not represent all Christians, nor does Christianity represent all people. In fact, the exclusiveness of a cult and its creed is bigotry – bigots are those who swear “By God” to justify their own opinions.
To those of other “bigoted” (by god) persuasions, Christians appear on the whole to be a “bigoted” Jewish cult. The ancient Romans, tolerant of 40,000 gods, saw them as such. But the most radical bigots have certain virtues in common, and we should know what they are. For instance, still today a few Christians recognize that genuine fundamental Christianity is hostile to much of our commercial activity and thought. These few remnants of the true faith still have hope for the brotherhood of the whole human race under a single father. They believe war is an outrageous crime against humanity. They know courageous Christians (faithful Christians) can no more burn incense to the modern nation or take oaths of allegiance to flags under national gods than could the early Christian pledge allegiance to Roman gods and the empire those gods stood for. There is no true faith when a “one and only god” is exchanged for many gods and then the religious go on to make war against each other to see which nation is most favored by the “one and only god.” How absurd, immoral and repugnant that is to fundamental Christianity; behind its lip-service to god is the barbarian standard: “My country right or wrong.”
Of course the barbarian standard is a national idol or an emblem of god – a term with a barbarian origin. J.B. Bury recounts what happened in the fourth century when triumphant Christianity lost their grip over a certain German frontier: “With the exodus of bishop Wulfilas and his company, Christianity had not died out in Gothland, and the pagan chiefs, especially one of the most prominent, named Athanaric, were intent upon killing it. It made them indignant to see men of their folk withholding sacrifices from the national gods, insulting the images, even burning the sacred groves. And to the blood of martyrs flowed in Dacia. A religious test was instituted. On feast days statues were carried around the wooden dwellings in every village, and whosoever refused to worship was burned alive. You may read about this persecution in the Acts of the Martyr Saint Sabas, which preserve a general picture of its character.” (J.B. Bury, The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians)
Now, then, modern patriotism is nationalistic and appears to be a relatively new social phenomenon associated with the rise of nationalism coincident to the rebellions against the authority of the Church and its anointed princes. But loyalty to one’s own native group or “nation” as well as dissidence is older than the hills of Rome. Edward Westermarck recapitulated patriotism in The Origin and Development of Moral Ideals:
“The citizens of Alexander’s huge empire had in a way become citizen of the world…. There is also an obvious connection between the cosmopolitan idea and the Stoic system in general. According to the Stoics, human society has for its basis the identity of reason in individuals; hence we have no ground for limiting this society to a single nation…. The Roman ideal of patriotism, with its utter disregard of foreign nations….met with a formidable antagonist… The Christian felt himself as a citizen of heaven…. There were no men who so entirely lacked patriotism as the early Christians…. The Church became a positive enemy of national interests. In the seventeenth century a Jesuit general called patriotism ‘a plague with the most certain death of Christian love.’
“With the fall of the Roman Empire patriotism died out in Europe and remained extinct for centuries…. In the Middle Ages ‘his country’ meant little more than the neighborhood in which he lived. Kingdoms existed but no nations. The first duty of vassal was to his lord…. The cause of a distressed lady was in many instances preferable to that of the country to which he belonged…. In the code of Chivalry, true patriotism had there no place at all…. It is strange yet undeniable that no trace of this feeling displayed itself in the medieval history of France before the English wars…. To make use of the native dialect was a sign of ignorance, and to place worldly interests above the claims of the Church was impious…. In England the nation feeling developed earlier than on the Continent, no doubt owing to her insular position…. In France the development of the national feeling was closely connected with the strengthening of the royal power and its gradual victory over feudalism….
“The key-note of the great movement which led to the Revolution was the liberty and equality of the individual, not the glory or welfare of the nation. Men were looked upon as members of the human race rather than as citizens of any particular country…. According to Voltaire patriotism is composed of self-love and prejudice, and only too often makes us the enemies of our fellow men…. Lessing writes… ‘Love of Fatherland (is) at best an heroical weakness’ … Gradually the interest in other countries grew to be more selfish; the attempt to emancipate was absorbed in the desire to subjugate…. When Napoleon introduced French administration in the countries…the resistance was popular…and it was national…. It was stirred by the feeling of national rather than political unity; it was the protest of race over race…. The French people were regarded by it (the resistance) as an ethnological, not as a historic unit…. Ever since, the racial feeling has been the most vigorous force, and has gradually become a true danger to humanity….”
Leo Tolstoy defined patriotism as the principle that justifies the training of wholesale murderers. The wholesale man-killing trade requires more and better equipment than that required for the making of such necessities of life as shoes, clothing, and houses. And the murderous occupation guarantees far better returns and greater glory than that obtained by the average workingman.
Gustave Hervé called patriotism a superstition – one far more injurious, brutal, and inhumane than religion. Religious superstition originated in man’s inability to explain natural phenomena. That is, when primitive man heard thunder and saw lightning, he could not account for either; therefore he concluded that there must be a force greater than himself operating behind the scenes. Similarly, he assumed there existed a supernatural force in rain and various other natural phenomena. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a network of deliberate lies and falsehoods; patriotic superstition robs man of his self-respect and dignity, vastly increasing his arrogance and conceit.
Emma Goldman, the great anarcho-communist who averred that patriotism is “a menace to liberty,” liked to quote Dr. Johnson as saying, “Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels.” Incidentally, Dr. Johnson did not use the term, “resort”. Rather, the word “refuge” is what appears in Boswell’s entry of Friday, 7 April 1775:
“Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. I maintained that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged (not by Johnson) to name one, I mentioned and eminent person (Burke) whom we all greatly admired. Johnson: ‘Sir, I do not say that he is NOT honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest. Were he to accept a place from this ministry, he would lose that character of firmness which he has, and might be turned out of place in a year. This ministry is neither stable, nor grateful to their friends, as Sir Robert Walpole was, so that he may think it more in his interest to take his chance of his party coming in.”
When taken in context, the famous quote does not support the argument that patriotism per se is a menace to liberty, at least not as strongly as Emma Goldman and others wanted it to. Yet, even when the forceful maxim is watered down by the text, we remain wary of anyone who wraps himself in the flag lest we sink in his ship. As Rochefauld cynically said, after experiencing the absurd Wars of the Fronde, “Virtues are lost in self-interest as rivers are lost in the sea.”(Maximes)
When Dr. Johnson spoke of the patriotic refuge, many Englishmen had good cause to openly distrust patriotism and to have malice for government and its alleged justice: the sacrifice of lives and property under patriotism’s bloody banner soon appeared to be for the sordid gain of a few at the expense of many. Yet, in the 1790s, when France’s Revolutionary forces threatened to liberate its neighbors including English subjects from the monarchical patriotism oppressing them, Pitt’s government successfully cracked down on civil liberties – dissenters were driven underground. British patriotism was back in vogue with a vengeance, as was the patriotism of other peoples. Patriotism eventually found its object in the People around the Flag instead of the King on his Throne. Whatever the form of sovereignty, whenever a people is threatened by dire circumstances, it often embraces its domestic oppressors in self-defense and roots out anyone who sympathizes with the enemy. As we recall, the greatest English conservative of all time, Burke, led the patriotic English bandwagon against the dissonant dissidence of English radicals, including Christian Dissenters, who were corresponding amicably with their Jacobin brethren in France. The United States chimed in across the Atlantic: a number of English radicals were idolized.
More than a century prior, just after the English civil wars of the 1640’s, Thomas Hobbes rendered his opinion on malicious dissent, considering it to be a high crime:
“It belongeth to the Office of the Soveraign, to make a right application of Punishments and Rewards. And seeing the end of punishment is not revenge, and discharging of choler; but correction, either of the offender, or of others by his example; the severest Punishments are to be inflicted for those Crimes, that are of the most Danger to the Publique; such as those which proceed from malice to the Government established; those that spring from contempt of Justice; those that provoke Indignation in the Multitude…”
Hobbes believed rebellion was frequently caused by the reading of political and liberal books. Young men are misled by the classic accounts of popular uprisings and wars successfully waged by ancient democracies. They wrongly attribute the successful exploits to the form of government rather than to the imitation of particular strong men. “From the reading, I say, of such books, men have undertaken to kill their Kings, because the Greek and Latine writers, in their books, make it lawfull, and laudable, for any man so to do; provided before he do it, he call him Tyrant.”
No doubt Hobbes would have approved of William Pitt’s crackdown on dissidence in the 1790s, and he might have recommended severer measures, for, after all, as he wrote elsewhere in Leviathan:
“For the Lawes of Nature (as Justice, Equity, Modesty, Mercy, and in summe) doing to other, as wee would be done to,) of themselves, without the terrour of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our naturall Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the like. And Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.”
The American colonists begged to disagree, not so much with the form of the tyranny but with its exercise from afar: some thinkers see the American Revolution not so much as a revolution but as a changing of the guard resulting in local autonomy under an elected king, aristocratic senate, and house of commoners. Gustave Le Bon commented on institutional conservatism of some revolutionaries:
“They may be desirous, it is true, of changing the names of their institutions, and to obtain those changes they accomplish at times even violent revolutions, but the essence of these institutions is too much the expression of the hereditary needs of the race for them not invariably to abide by it. There incessant mobility only exerts its influence on quite superficial matters. In fact, they possess conservative instincts as indestructible as those of all primitive beings.” (Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd)
In any case, the liberty that United States citizens so valiantly wrested from the clutches of British tyranny helped inspire European radicals. And the English radicals were, conversely, much admired in the new United States; they were effectively suppressed by Pitt’s government when England embarked on its long war against Revolutionary France. The English radical movement, driven underground, re-emerged forcefully in 1830; in France, of course, mother of a genuinely democratic revolution, and of one reactionary “terrour” after another designed to enharness liberty unleashed. In retrospect, the war against France denounced by the English radicals seems like a just war: not only had France moved on Holland, but she had declared war on England. As for the sordid gain of scoundrels who take refuge in patriotism; there was plenty of hard-won booty, but only after the nobler principles of patriotism were laid down by loyal lords.
Just what are the noble principles of patriotism? Let us not take our own word for it, but rather turn to Francis W. Coker’s study in the 1934 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.
‘The word patriotism has no precise definition and there are vague and varying ideas as to the psychological springs, historical origins and characteristic manifestations of the sentiment of patriotism. All may agree that patriotism is love of one’s “country.” There is little agreement among equally intelligent and public spirited men as to what is meant by one’s country, who one’s fellow countrymen are, what services and sacrifices one owes them and what sort of social conduct follows naturally from the patriotic attitude… What some have regarded as the most characteristic and ennobling virtue of civilized man, others have execrated as “the passion of fools” or “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Sir Robert Walpole, when he was the active political head of England in the eighteenth century, declared, in referring to the political group opposed to him who called themselves “patriots” that he could create fifty patriots overnight merely by “refusing to grant an unreasonable or insolent demand.” ‘
Professor Coker further observed that patriotism reaches its height in divisiveness and hostility. He reminds us that radical and revolutionary doctrines are antithetical to patriotism; he quotes the Communist Manifesto: “The proletariat has no fatherland.”
Furthermore, Christians fundamentally rejects patriotism in favor of the salvation of all persons – in fact, patriotism is regarded as anti-Christian by many fundamental Christians.
We should add here that fundamental Islam is no lover of nations, and would treat all persons, regardless of nationality, according to one law. All those who are opposed to universal law and order are referred to as “the Party of War.” And of course all monotheistic world religions espouse universal peace for those who nod, bow, bend their knee, or otherwise submit to their one-god – infidels who don’t, as St. Louis said, should be run through with a sword.
Patriotism, whatever its correct definition may be, is hard to put down, and it often takes on a religious tone when it faces and makes an idol or god of death; witness this current regression to religious nationalism or state religion by the administration of the United States government: “Patriotism is a living faith. We love our Motherland, and we love her even more when she is attacked,” said the commander-in-chief on Independence Day 2002, avoiding the Germanic implications of the term “Fatherland.” The asexual term, “Homeland”, was finally settled upon as the most appropriate term. Nonetheless, the President of the United States did say that he consulted a “father” higher than his own “father” for authority to wage a pre-emptive war to destroy a sovereign nation, which plunged its people into chaos, thus returning them to their fundamental faith in Allah.
Setting aside the question of whether or not the so-called Third World War on Terrorism, the highly organized terror led by “this great Nation of Ours”, the “Leader of World Civilization, upon whom an attack is an attack on civilization itself”, is a Just (Holy) War, or whether or not the ultimate goal for which the administration ran for office, the continuation of the war against Iraq, is a sane and righteous agenda, we are correct in saying that the patriotism of the Bush administration is war-mongering and jingoistic. And it is an anti-Christian as well, for patriotism as “living faith” worships the primitive land-god of fear and hate rather than the man-god of love and forgiveness. On the other hand, some Muslims and Christians insist the underlying cause of the antipathy is religious: a continuation of Crusade versus militant jihad on behalf of, purportedly, the same one-god.
Patriotism has its positive side. Coker refers to idealists who have managed to synthesize, at least in their own minds, patriotism and pacifism; thus we find, for instance, a world of states that have a liberal attitude towards their social obligations. Each state would be a responsible member of global society, or a nation subject to international law, and so on. We are familiar with the various ideas proposed, monistic or pluralistic, to achieve world peace and harmony. In all social spheres, we dream of unity in diversity even though it defies the fundamental principle of “rational” logic.
Patriotism involves affection for and loyalty to one’s own group. When writing about “group mind” and “herd psychology”, Freud pointed out that sociologists had derived their theories about the pernicious aspects of collective mental life from the behavior of revolutionary groups, particularly those of the French Revolution. Nevertheless, the researchers admitted that groups, despite their low average intelligence and susceptibility to suggestion, have a potential for ethical conduct surpassing that of any individual taken alone. Loyalty and self-sacrifice, after all, may have worthy goals.
Freud criticized sociologist Gustav Le Bon’s immortal little book, The Crowd
Freud’s negative criticism was itself unoriginal. At least in regards to morality, which always implies mentality, Solomon was right when he said there is nothing new under the Sun. Professional criticism of human behavior presents a scientific or objective facade for praise and blame, and is really an elaboration of subjective prejudices associated with pleasant and unpleasant feelings.
“That the moral concepts are ultimately based on emotions either of indignation or approval is a fact which a certain school of thinkers have in vain attempted to deny,” noted Westermarck.
“A crowd may be guilty of murder, incendiarism, and every kind of crime,” wrote Le Bon, “but it is also capable of very lofty acts of devotion, sacrifice, and disinterestedness, of acts much loftier indeed than those of which the isolated individual is capable. Appeals to sentiments of glory, honour, and patriotism are particularly likely to influence the individual forming part of a crowd, and often to the extent of obtaining from him the sacrifice of his life. History is rich in examples analogous to those furnished by the Crusaders and the volunteers of 1793. Collectivities alone are capable of great disinterestedness and great devotion. How numerous are the crowds that have heroically faced death for beliefs, ideas, and phrases that they scarcely understood!”
The psychologist William McDougal believed groups could be raised to a higher ethical level under certain conditions: a continuous existence (in contrast to a ephemeral crowd); a definite idea of the group’s nature – its composition, capacities and functions; association with other similar but different groups; possession of traditions, customs and habits; possession of a definite structure. In retrospect, however, we might wonder what conditions are sufficiently humane and ethical for the fulfillment of higher aims: consider the worst case of patriotism or fatherism, the Nazis. But conditions are not in themselves human and ethical – only people are humane and ethical. One might say that fatherism and its father-principle is no better than the fuehrers (fathers) at its head; that is, no better than what they have in mind, whether they are conscious of it or not. An intelligent individual might not want to be led by a moronic (foolish) father, or a father who is unconscious of the virtues and vices of his motives.
“Unconscious phenomena play an altogether preponderating part not only in organic life, but also in the operations of the intelligence,” wrote Le Bon. “The conscious life of the mind is of small importance in comparison with its unconscious life. The most subtle analyst, the most acute observer, is scarcely successful in discovering more than a very small number of the unconscious motives that determine his conduct. Our conscious acts are the outcome of unconscious substratum created in the mind in the main by hereditary influences.”
Le Bon dwelled on the fact that when individuals come together as a crowd, the crowd has an average mind, a mind of its own, one of low intelligence: “From the intellectual view an abyss may exist between a great mathematician and his boot maker, but from the point of view of character the difference is most often slight or non-existent.” Hence we might expect that a democratic-republican assembly of experts from different walks of life might be best to direct vital public affairs; but Le Bon lowers that expectation: “(The) fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high degree of intelligence. The decisions affecting matters of general interest come to by an assembly of men of distinction, but specialists in different walks of life, are not sensibly superior to the decisions that would be adopted by a gathering of imbeciles…. In crowds it is stupidity and mother-wit that is accumulated.”
Most interesting is Le Bon’s assertion that crowds are lousy witnesses subject to a heightened suggestibility which can lead to collective hallucinations: “Their collective observations are as erroneous as possible…. most often they merely represent the illusion of an individual who, by a process of contagion, had influenced his fellows. Facts proving that the most utter mistrust of the evidence of crowds is advisable might be multiplied to any extent.”
Said facts are accumulating to this day. For instance, the interpretation of the “evidence” and the “facts” used to justify the inevitable Second Bush War against Iraq was faulty, as was the trust placed in the Great White Father, His Vice President of War, His Cabinet, His Intelligence Agencies, His Congressional Court, and His People’s Intuition. War was a foregone conclusion the day He was elected. After 9/11, collective fear turned to rage and lust for revenge. Thanks to presidential guidance of base instinct, fearful self-defense was converted to belligerent offense: retaliation was diverted to a target with greater spoils for the power elite, who had their contracts drafted long before the war began.
“The violence of the feelings of crowds is always increased, especially in heterogeneous crowds, by all sense of responsibility,” reads The Crowd, “An orator wishing to move a crowd must make an abusive use of violent affirmations. To exaggerate, to affirm, to resort to repetitions, and never to prove anything by reasoning are methods of argument well known to speakers at public meetings.”
The lone wolves who howl warnings are shouted down: “Being in doubt as to what constitutes truth or error, and having, on the other hand, a clear nothing of its strength, a crowd is disposed to give authoritative effect to its inspiration as it is intolerant,” Le Bon observed. “An individual may accept contradiction and discussion; a crowd will never do so. At public meetings the slightest contradiction on the part of an orator is immediately received with howls of fury and violent invective, soon followed by blows and expulsion should the orator stick to his point.”
Our blows and expulsions and secret investigations and interrogations are more subtle and civilized today, our legal mass murders are more “humane”, but we are just as vicious. If patriotism can be a good thing for nations and the world, we had better cultivate better fathers at home.