Pol­i­tics: Fragility, fear and guilt

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THE dif­fer­ence, per­haps, be­tween the power of Man and that of the gods is glory. Gods are not just pow­er­ful but they are also sup­posed to be per­fect and in­fal­li­ble. And so are they glo­ri­ous. Kings and queens of the earth can be all pow­er­ful and even mighty but they can­not achieve glory be­cause they are men and women that are not holy. From the bib­li­cal book of 1 Sa­muel we learn that once upon a time kings be­came kings and ruled by di­vine anoint­ment.

As di­vine ap­pointees and anointed ones kings be­came in­vi­o­lable. Kings came to be ad­dressed as “Your Ex­cel­lency,” “Your Mag­nif­i­cence” and “Your Em­i­nence” be­cause they as God’s cho­sen ones re­flected part of his per­fec­tion and glory. In Africa kings were also rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the an­ces­tors and am­bas­sadors of the cre­ator on earth. One of the cap­i­tal achieve­ments of the French Rev­o­lu­tion was to nul­lify the idea of the di­vine right of kings and ex­pose them as fal­li­ble hu­man be­ings that were not per­fect and whose power needed to be checked.

The whole idea of democ­racy has its scaf­fold­ing and ful­crum in the be­lief that no sin­gle hu­man be­ing or a group of them should hold power that is not checked or bri­dled, lest the power is as it fre­quently hap­pens, abused. Democ­racy as a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem has its roots in the dis­trust of lead­ers as hu­man be­ings and in the need to get pop­u­la­tions to over­see and hold to ac­count their cho­sen rulers. For the rea­son that they are not per­fect hu­man be­ings, lead­ers may not only run short of glory but must not be trusted with ab­so­lute power.

“To God be the Glory” is a re­li­gious dic­tum that em­pha­sises that no mat­ter how ex­cel­lent and suc­cess­ful an in­di­vid­ual may be they still can­not claim glory which is only at­trib­ut­able to God. The wis­dom is that what­ever ex­cel­lence hu­man be­ings may re­flect and show on earth, the glory of it all still be­longs to God. Only God’s power and God’s jus­tice can be trusted to be true, fair and glo­ri­ous. What this foun­da­tional wis­dom means to pol­i­tics and what lessons it holds for po­lit­i­cal the­ory and prac­tice is the ob­jec­tive of my short ar­ti­cle to­day.

The im­por­tance of in­no­cence

For the rea­son that they are fal­li­ble and without glory, hu­man be­ings are frag­ile and vul­ner­a­ble be­ings that are bereft of per­fec­tion. In a way, the first wis­dom about be­ing truly hu­man might the ad­mis­sion that one is not and can­not be per­fect. The ad­mis­sion that one is guilty of im­per­fec­tion and be­ing hu­man is the first step, in reli­gion and in pol­i­tics, to­wards in­no­cence.

That one is nat­u­rally and orig­i­nally a sin­ner is a cen­tral bap­tismal doc­trine of not only Chris­tian­ity and other Abra­hamic faiths but al­most all reli­gions un­der the sun. Ju­daism, Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity as Abra­hamic reli­gions put se­ri­ous in­vest­ment in in­no­cence as a hu­man qual­ity that must not only be val­ued but must be pro­tected and if pos­si­ble re­warded. In­no­cence, the­o­log­i­cally and pos­si­bly po­lit­i­cally, does not mean the to­tal ab­sence of guilt but the pres­ence of knowl­edge and ad­mis­sion that one is not per­fect, not a god, but a frag­ile man or woman.

One of the most spec­tac­u­lar ex­changes be­tween a hu­man be­ing and God in the Bible is the di­a­logue over guilt and in­no­cence be­tween Abra­ham and God. Abra­ham coura­geously de­bated God into a prom­ise that if there were only a few peo­ple that were in­no­cent in the whole of Sodom and Go­mor­rah the two sin­ful cities would be spared de­struc­tion. For the sake of a few in­no­cent peo­ple per­fect di­vine jus­tice com­mands that even the many guilty will be saved, that is how im­por­tant in­no­cence is, it can even save guilt.

In a clas­sic state­ment of ju­rispru­dence that has be­come an im­por­tant learn­ing point in law schools world­wide, the Bri­tish jurist Wil­liam Black­stone said “bet­ter that ten guilty peo­ple es­cape, than one in­no­cent suf­fer.” This dic­tum has be­come what is called the “Black­stone ra­tio.” Just like the God and Abra­ham ex­change, the Black­stone Ra­tio puts so much weight in in­no­cence to the ex­tent that many guilty peo­ple may be spared pun­ish­ment to pro­tect a few or one in­no­cent per­son.

Ar­guably, the ful­crum and scaf­fold­ing of the mod­ern le­gal and jus­tice sys­tem are more about the pro­tec­tion of in­no­cence than the pun­ish­ment of guilt. Left to im­per­fect and vengeful hu­man be­ings law and jus­tice might just be de­gen­er­ated into tools of re­venge, pun­ish­ment and per­se­cu­tion of the pow­er­less by the pow­er­ful. The start­ing point of true jus­tice there­fore, might be the pro­tec­tion of in­no­cence. The clos­est state to glory that hu­man be­ings can achieve is to be in­no­cent and just. Where God is glo­ri­ous Man must be in­no­cent and where God is holy Man must take care to be right­eous. We can ar­gue, there­fore, at this junc­ture that the strong­est and most demo­cratic and just form of power and mode of pol­i­tics un­der the sun is that which pro­tects and se­cures the in­no­cent. It might be the very def­i­ni­tion of evil to sub­ject the in­no­cent to harm, pain, mis­ery and suf­fer­ing, at law and in reli­gion, and in pol­i­tics proper.

Com­mu­ni­ties, so­ci­eties and na­tions can be judged for their worth on the ba­sis of what treat­ment they give to their in­no­cent and vul­ner­a­ble. Kind and gen­er­ous treat­ment of the guilty is called mercy and it is a di­vine virtue, when Man does not only treat justly the in­no­cent but shows the guilty some mercy he ap­proaches the very sta­tus of the gods. For­giv­ing even those that have not apol­o­gised makes Man a true minigod.

The fragility of men and women

The oth­er­wise colo­nial dic­tum that “pol­i­tics is a dirty game” is a crim­i­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the lack of ho­li­ness in pol­i­tics. Pow­er­ful lead­ers must ap­proach ho­li­ness by be­ing fair, just and pro­tec­tive of in­no­cence and the in­no­cent. World his­tory has taught us that, be­cause of their hu­man im­per­fec­tion, some of the most pow­er­ful lead­ers un­der the sun have been frag­ile and vul­ner­a­ble souls. In an in­ter­est­ing ar­ti­cle that I re­cently came across: “Why Tyrants go too far?” Betty Glad un­masks the in­ter­est­ing truths about how some of the world’s tough­est men have been cow­ards and in­se­cure hu­man be­ings that cre­atively cov­ered their fragility be­hind cru­elty, tough-talk and evil.

Psy­chol­o­gists, so­ci­ol­o­gists and philoso­phers have over time ob­served that be­hind the dra­matic and even spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mances of pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial peo­ple of­ten there are con­cealed weak­nesses, in­se­cu­ri­ties and true fragility. The psy­chopath in the view of the psy­chol­o­gist, the so­ciopath in the un­der­stand­ing of a so­ci­ol­o­gist and maybe the sophist in the per­cep­tion of the philoso­pher may af­ter all be that evil, harm­ful or dan­ger­ous per­son that is also sick and in need of help.

These most times sick and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple now and again find them­selves in po­si­tions where they are celebri­ties and role mod­els or lead­ers of pow­er­ful na­tions like the USA that is presently en­joy­ing the in­ter­est­ing lead­er­ship of one Don­ald John Trump. When a frag­ile and maybe also sick per­son finds power all sorts of mor­bidi­ties, evil and cru­el­ties may be­come pos­si­ble. It is ex­actly for that rea­son that lead­ers must, ev­ery­where in the world, be watched closely and be con­trolled us­ing in­sti­tu­tions, struc­tures and sys­tems that keep power and the abuse of it in check.

The fear and the guilt of man

That “the guilty are afraid, they run when no one chases them” is not only a bib­li­cal tru­ism but also a po­lit­i­cal wis­dom. The com­bi­na­tion of guilt and fear is, the world over and through­out his­tory, a recipe for dis­as­trous pol­i­tics. In­ter­est­ingly, some of the most feared peo­ple in the world, con­querors, despots and em­pire builders have been peo­ple that are driven not by power and am­bi­tion but fear. Most pow­er­ful peo­ple that out­wardly and daily ap­pear to love power are in­stead peo­ple that fear pow­er­less­ness. Some men and women, I ob­serve, are driven to power by weak­ness and fear of their fragility and vul­ner­a­bil­ity. The love for power and the fear of pow­er­less­ness might be much closer to each other more than we re­alise. A fear­ful per­son who cov­ers his or her fear be­hind the need to be feared is a very dan­ger­ous per­son, es­pe­cially when they have power in their hands.

The rea­son why Frantz Fanon called “shame a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sen­ti­ment” is that when a morally strong per­son be­comes guilty of any­thing they most likely have the emo­tional and men­tal stamina to feel and ad­mit shame. The feel­ing and ad­mis­sion of shame leads to cor­rec­tion of the wrong that has been done or the in­sur­ance that it will not be re­peated. But when an in­se­cure and frag­ile per­son­al­ity be­comes guilty of a sin in reli­gion, a crime at law or some im­moral­ity in ethics, they most likely do not have the emo­tional and men­tal dura­bil­ity to ad­mit and own up.

In­stead they blame oth­ers, God and even the devil for their own crimes. They be­come de­nial­ist and can end up com­mit­ting fur­ther and much more se­ri­ous crimes to cover up and try to si­lence their pre­vi­ous of­fence. So many dis­as­ters in world his­tory and world pol­i­tics were caused and com­mit­ted by fear­ful and guilty peo­ple that are frag­ile and vul­ner­a­ble in­side them­selves. Re­searchers in pol­i­tics, phi­los­o­phy and psy­chol­ogy have au­thor­i­ta­tively es­tab­lished that such mon­strosi­ties as Hitler and Stalin were faulty and frag­ile hu­man be­ings from their child­hoods to their ma­ture in­san­i­ties of cru­elty and evil. So dan­ger­ous are frag­ile, fear­ful and guilty peo­ple, es­pe­cially in power pol­i­tics. It be­comes im­por­tant, for that rea­son, that po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy and law find and keeps so­lu­tions for the prob­lem of frag­ile, fear­ful and guilty peo­ple in the vo­ca­tion of world and lo­cal pol­i­tics.

The mea­sure of all good

power and pol­i­tics

In prac­tice pol­i­tics as an oc­cu­pa­tion or even a pro­fes­sion, or a vo­ca­tion, is an arena of con­flict and con­tes­ta­tion. It is only in pol­i­tics, and maybe in law once in a while, that the truth is not al­ways true. Politi­cians and their sup­port­ers and op­po­nents al­most al­ways have dif­fer­ent ver­sions of their dif­fer­ent truths. Pol­i­tics is the arena where there can­not be any one truth but there are truths. So what is the truth and jus­tice of pol­i­tics? How can pol­i­tics be true and just? And who un­der the sun is go­ing to be a truth­ful and just politi­cian in a world where the same politi­cian is a saint for some and a mon­ster for oth­ers in the same coun­try or even vil­lage. It is not sur­pris­ing that it is in pol­i­tics that such strange con­cepts as that of the “post-truth” and “al­ter­na­tive facts” have emerged. Pol­i­tics re­sents truth and jus­tice as much as truth and jus­tice sus­pect pol­i­tics, al­ways.

My sub­mis­sion, from a phi­los­o­phy and pol­i­tics of lib­er­a­tion per­spec­tive, is that true, just and lib­er­at­ing pol­i­tics is that which ac­knowl­edges the guilt of man, does not pre­tend to glory and pro­tects in­no­cence and un­der­stands guilt. Good and lib­er­at­ing power is that which loves and fears in­no­cence and the in­no­cent, I think. I think that is what Christ meant when he was ad­ver­tis­ing his king­dom; it is in­no­cent chil­dren to whom the king­dom be­longed, and it is the meek and hum­ble that would in­herit the earth. Jus­tice, lib­er­a­tion and there­fore true power be­longs to the peace of the in­no­cent. All power and pol­i­tics that pun­ishes the in­no­cent and re­wards the evil is un­just power if it is not sa­tanic.

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