The Power of Folly

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are entering a dangerous time and while we hold out hope that our new President will be a wise and judicious executive, his words and actions after his election give us little hope of that.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, “Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government.” We are about to see just how those strong prejudices in the ill-formed mind of our President-Elect will do to our Republic, and the actions of his already powerful friends and lackeys jockeying for position in the incoming Trump administration. Tuchman wrote, “Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all passions.” One can already see how this is likely to play out over the coming months and years.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who openly opposed Hitler and his policies in an age when the bulk of German Christians either threw their wholehearted allegiance behind Hitler, or simply did nothing. Bonhoeffer wrote about the violence of Nazi power, and how it, like other brazen displays of power produces outbursts of folly. He noted:

“If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that certain human capacities, intellectual capacities for instance, become stunted of destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and…give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves.”

Our Republic and democracy is a brilliantly engineered system of government. It has a certain resiliency, but ultimately it is a fragile thing, one can look at our own history and the history of other republics with democratic institutions to see just how fragile it is.  To survive it depends on educated citizens to recognize the dangers of demagogues who rely on the folly others to gain power, but in this case we have failed to do that. If we are not careful we very well may see the institutions of our country used to destroy the foundations of our form of government.

We stand at a precipice and in the coming months and years it will be incumbent on people who value the proposition that of our Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that “all men are created equal” to do all that we can to hinder the march of folly that our newly elected President and Congress are about to embark upon. W.H. Auden penned the verse in his poem September 1, 1939:

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

 

We are going to be pummeled by an Orwellian disinformation campaign and it is terribly important that we continually speak the truth, for the truth may well be the only weapon that will remain at our side. As Winston Churchill wrote:

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police … yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

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