The pol­i­tics of ir­ra­tional ide­ol­ogy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Suzanne Fields

Hitler kissed ba­bies and romped play­fully with chil­dren at their birth­day par­ties. He mar­ried his mistress to make her an hon­est wo­man just be­fore the two took poi­son to­gether to avoid cap­ture by the Rus­sians. For an ever so brief mo­ment, the devil wore a hu­man face.

Now we hear that Sad­dam Hus­sein cried like a baby when his FBI in­ter­roga­tor, whom he thought was a friend, bid him farewell. Af­ter a year of tough ques­tion­ing in which Sad­dam con­fessed to the slaugh­ter of thou­sands of Kurd civil­ians, the dic­ta­tor ex­pe­ri­enced a twinge of loss for the man for whom he felt a bond. “When we were say­ing good­bye he started to tear up,” FBI Spe­cial Agent Ge­orge Piro tells jour­nal­ist Ron­ald Kessler for his new book, “The Ter­ror­ist Watch: Inside the Des­per­ate Race to Stop the Next At­tack.” Imag­ine.

In the Ger­man movie “The Lives of Oth­ers,” based on re­search about the Stasi se­cret po­lice in East Ger­many be­fore the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, an agent learned how to dis­cern the dif­fer­ence be­tween those telling the truth to in­ter­roga­tors and try­ing to tell suc­cess­ful lies. The truth tell­ers get an­gry over false ac­cu­sa­tions. The liars, who have much to hide, cry. It shouldn’t sur­prise any­one that cow­ards cry when they get caught.

But even the devil oc­ca­sion­ally lets down his guard. That’s how John Mil­ton saw it in “Par­adise Lost.” When Satan for the first time be­held the beauty of Eve, his evil intelligence evap­o­rated for one brief mo­ment. He felt rap­ture in her pres­ence. Mil­ton wrote that Satan stood “stupidly good.” For many hu­mans, how­ever, the in­ter­play of good and evil isn’t as clear as it could be and is of­ten clouded by an in­tel­lec­tual ar­ro­gance that keeps oth­er­wise in­tel­li­gent men and women from see­ing what’s right in front of their eyes. This was cer­tainly true for the fel­low trav­el­ers among us dur­ing the Stalin years. No mat­ter how many men and women were tor­tured into false con­fes­sions be­hind the Iron Cur­tain, no mat­ter how many men and women sim­ply dis­ap­peared from life and his­tory, Marx­ist apol­o­gists dis­missed the bru­tal­ity as an aber­ra­tion, and be­sides, it was still prefer­able to bour­geois in­di­vid­u­al­ism. Sim­i­lar ir­ra­tional de­fenses are made on be­half of the Is­lamists in the Mid­dle East who bru­tal­ize women, plot the oblit­er­a­tion of Is­rael and who de­prive their own peo­ple of the free­doms of speech and move­ment.

In Tom Stop­pard’s new play on Broad­way, “Rock and Roll,” a char­ac­ter named Max, a pro­fes­sor at Cam­bridge Univer­sity in 1968, re- mains an un­re­con­structed old­school Com­mu­nist. In his re­view in the New York Sun, Ni­cholas Wap­shott com­pares him to our own in­tel­lec­tu­als blinded to­day by tun­nelvi­sion ide­ol­ogy, “trapped in their en­trenched po­si­tions, too proud to ad­mit a mis­take, too closed in their minds to ap­praise the mount­ing ev­i­dence against their case.”

In mod­ern times such blind­ness pro­lif­er­ates among so-called in­tel- lec­tu­als who in­sist on blam­ing Amer­ica first and Ge­orge W. Bush fore­most for ev­ery­thing that goes wrong in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hat­ing the pres­i­dent is as old as the pres­i­dency it­self, pos­si­bly ex­cept­ing the first one. Blame-mon­ger­ing is par­tic­u­larly vir­u­lent to­day, of­ten pre­vent­ing ra­tio­nal dis­cus­sion. “Bush ha­tred com­pels its pro­gres­sive vic­tims — who pride them­selves on their so­phisti- cation and sen­si­tiv­ity to nu­ance — to re­duce com­pli­cated events and mul­ti­lay­ered is­sues to sim­ple mat­ters of good and evil,” writes Peter Berkowitz, pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity School of Law in the Wall Street Jour­nal. “Like all ha­tred in pol­i­tics, Bush-ha­tred blinds to the other sides of the ar­gu­ment, and con­strains the hater to see a mon­ster in­stead of a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent.” Pol­i­tics of­ten res- onates in po­lar­i­ties, but to­day the po­lar­i­ties are in­fused with fa­nat­i­cal loathing that dis­torts ev­ery­thing, en­abling moral preen­ing. Ha­tred be­comes the hand­maiden of il­log­i­cal ar­gu­ment and im­pairs both judg­ment and the pur­suit of creative so­lu­tions. It clouds our hu­man­ity.

In a trans­for­ma­tive scene in “The Lives of Oth­ers,” an evil Stasi agent shares an el­e­va­tor with a lit­tle boy. Just as the door closes the boy’s soc­cer ball rolls be­tween them. As the boy picks it up, he asks the agent if he is a mem­ber of Stasi: “My dad says you’re a bad man who throws peo­ple in jail.” The agent replies with a ques­tion: “What is the name of [. . .]” The au­di­ence tenses, wait­ing for the agent to fin­ish the sen­tence. Like Satan con­fronting Eve, the agent is sud­denly dis­armed by the boy’s pu­rity and in­no­cence. Like Satan con­fronting Eve, he stands “stupidly good.”

Then he fin­ishes the sen­tence with a sur­prise that lacks malev­o­lence. “What is the name of your ball?” Il­lu­mi­na­tion can learn to wear a hu­man face, too.

Suzanne Fields, a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times, is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

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