Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Who Shall Deliver Us?

From one of the Peter Jackson films, I guess, in somebody's Tumblr.

Shorter David Brooks, "Vladimir Putin, the Most Influential Man in the World", New York Times, 3 April 2018:
Vladimir Putin is the most influential human being on the planet today. He has established himself as one pole in the great global debate of the era, the debate between authoritarianism and democracy. And who's the opposite pole, the single leader of the global liberal democratic camp? I can't think of a name.
I don't know, maybe if you're lamenting the lack of a single man we can look up to as the commanding embodiment of our aspirations toward "faith in the capacities of individual citizens" and "loyalty to a constitution, a creed, and a set of democratic norms" rather than to "a person.... [t]he man himself", you could be doing it wrong.

It's time for a little Lord of the Rings reference, I think, because the trilogy really does illustrate in a precise way how a war of "liberalism" against authoritarianism is conducted, not by setting up a rival authority figure, but by mobilizing everybody in our amazing diversity, humans and hobbits, Elves and Dwarves, wizards, and ambulatory trees. Heroes are needed, and even a king, but not the king of everybody, just of the Dúnedain or Elf-Friends of Arnor and Gondor (who themselves represent a kind of anciently pluralist tradition, the men who are friends with Elves, which Aragorn doubles down on when he marries Arwen). And intellectuals too, of course, but not like Saruman, succumbing himself to the simplicity of authoritarianism. That's something David Brooks should watch out for. Longing for a Real Leader is going to the other side.

One of the great things about Gandalf, incidentally, is his appreciation of the requirements of identity politics: his understanding that groups have interests that can conflict—Elves vs. Dwarves have real issues with an ecological foundation—, and patience in allowing them to talk it out, even though the ancient history can get very annoying and sound pointless. That's another thing David Brooks needs to learn. Nationhood politics, the insistence that we all have the same interest inside our borders and constant demands for internal unity, leads to war, or at the least Putinism. Ethnic-cultural-moral politics, transcending and overlapping borders, leads to negotiation and balance. In information theory, difference is what yields meaning, and in political and religious life the suppression of difference is what leads to the loss of meaning that Brooks is always upset about.

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