Sunday, 4 August 2013

Elementary Politics: Right versus Left, or God versus Satan

The historically-minded amongst us are likely to point to the French Revolution of 1789 in order to explain the origins of the left-right distinction in politics: in the post-1789 French national assemby, the supporters of the Ancien Régime were seated to the president's right, whereas the supporters of the Revolution were seated to his left.

The left-right distinction in politics is actually primordial in origin; it stems from those pre-historic times when the metaphysical categories of good and evil had a bearing on the everyday life of men and women. The first leftist was Satan. The ultimate sin of Satan was not unspeakable cruelty; what brought about his fall from grace was his act of disobedience. Satan challenged the established order, he questioned the wisdom of God's decrees, and for this act of bravery he was cast out of heaven. The most moving and human account of Satan's disobedience is to be found in the holy book of the Muslims. After God had created man, he asked all the angels and jinns to prostrate themselves before his new creation. Everyone did as God commanded, with the exception of Satan. When God asked Satan why he was not prostrating himself, Satan replied, "Why should I prostrate myself unto a mortal whom thou hast created out of potter's clay of black mud altered?" It is almost as if Satan was anticipating all the follies of man and the countless miseries this creature of God would wreak upon earth.

Satan challenged God's way of ordering the universe, and as prone as the human mind, both the primitive and the modern, is to interpreting the world with recourse to binary opposites, Satan came to signify cosmic chaos. The binary pair of order versus chaos is perhaps the most fundamental. Every man, from the wisest to the dumbest, wants the world to make sense; he has a way of ordering the world around him, and whatever contradicts this order is seen as signifying chaos. But Satan, it should be remembered, was no instigator of chaos; he had his own way of ordering the world.

Chaos may well be a deplorable state of affairs, but the catalogue of perversities attributed to Satan is the invention of the religious authorities. When Catherine of Siena, this deranged woman, now counted amongst the saints of the Roman-Catholic Church, was having her visions of human beings engaging in the vilest acts of debauchery, she attributed these visions to the machinations of Satan. It never occured to Catherine of Siena that her own frail and impressionable mind might be the cause of her hallucinations. For lengthy periods of time, Catherine of Siena's only source of nutrition would be the Holy Communion and with a view to curbing her inordinate desires she would engage in acts of self-flagellation. No wonder that this repressed and anorectic lady was susceptible to hallucinations, no wonder that she saw Satan behind every corner, and no wonder that she championed the the cause of the Roman-Catholic crusades against the Muslims, the Jews, and the Orthodox Christians.

A binary thinking from which moral precepts are deduced is a disease not only of the Western mind; it is an intellectual disease to be encountered in every part of the world in which the three semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have taken root. Christianity and Islam, it should be remembered, have inherited their basic theological concepts from Judaism, whereas Judaism, for its part, has inherited these selfsame theological concepts from the Persian religion of Zoroaster. The historical root cause of this intellectual disease being the religion of Zoroaster was identified as such by Nietzsche. In Nietzsche's famous work Also Sprach Zarathustra, the founder of this religion returns to the world of mortals in order to atone for his folly. Zoroaster was the one who had infected the human mind with the concepts of good and evil; therefore it was only fitting that he should return to recant his teaching. And this he did by declaring death of God. What Nietzsche had accomplished was no more than an act of poetic justice, but Nietzsche's endeavours to uncover the causes of all our intellectual diseases should be lauded on a par with the most revolutionary discoveries in the fields of the natural sciences.

My studies of Nietzsche have enabled me to identify the following genealogies of the political traditions of Right and Left:

Right: This political tradition is sacerdotal by nature and may therefore, mythologically speaking, be seen as hailing from God himself. This is a common sense tradition, which, by observing the iron laws of nature, where the stronger forces prevail over the weaker, seeks to imitate these laws in the ordering of the human relations. This political tradition is crude, it is tribalistic, it is fatalistic, and most important of all: it is practical; after all: what works for the beast in the jungle, works just as well for men. Free market economy, imperialism, eugenics, racial segregation, and slavery are but the laws of the jungle being applied to the human condition. The crudest representatives of this tradition justify this way of ordering things as being in conformity with the laws of nature which have been instituted by the God Almigthy himself; to question the customary way of ordering the world amounts to defying God. Even the sophisticated representatives of this political tradition, Edmund Burke being a case in point, seek refuge in a mystical world of custom. The finest representative of this political tradition, the German jurist Carl Schmitt, a man whom I truly admire, makes no secret of the fact that politics is ultimately a secularised form of theology. Schmitt's distinction of friend and foe in politics is in fact a translation into modern political idiom of the ancient theological concepts of good and evil. "Après moi, le déluge" was much more than the lamentation of a French king who knew that his end was nigh. This lamentation bespeaks an apocalpytic way of perceiving the world: if the prevalent order is disrupted by its enemies, the gates of hell will burst open. The political tradition of the Right cannot do without enemies, both internal and external. Yesterday one had a fifth column of Jews in cahoots with international communism, whereas today one has a fifth column of Muslim immigrants-cum-terrorists in cahoots with the cultural Marxists. This is theology at work.

Left: This political tradition is counter-sacerdotal by nature and may therefore, mythologically speaking, be seen as hailing from Satan himself. This tradition is not without its ancient-historical
prototypes, but in its modern form it is initiated by Kant and it reaches its pinnacle in the philosophy of Karl Marx. Kant's highest achievement was his having demonstrated - and decidedly so - that the traditional modes of ordering the world are woefully inadequate. With great clarity Kant showed how tribalist prejudices marr human thinking. In his exposition of the antinomies he explained how two diametrically opposed propositions regarding the origin of the world could both be equally right. If both be equally right, then what is it that prompts man to dogmatically adhere to proposition A rather than B or B rather than A? Kant's answer is that an inherent provincialism prompts man to act in such a manner. "It is a manifestly absurd thing", says Kant, "to expect to be enlightened by reason and yet to prescribe for it beforehand on which side it should incline." Marx's philosophy is a continuation of the process set in motion by Kant. Kant laid bare the provincialism of human thought, whereas Marx showed how it affected the economic and social relations existing between men. Marx made it clear that the superstructure of a society, its ideals and its myths, served to consolidate the hegemony of the ruling classes.

The Western inclination to viewing the world along theological-dualistic lines is far from being universal. In this regard we have a great deal to learn from the ancient Hindus. The Hindu Goddess Kali encompasses both good and evil, thus rendering Satan superfluous. Hinduism also makes the distinction between right and left; the former signifies religious orthodoxy, whereas the latter signifies religious heterodoxy. The important point is that Hinduism acknowledges the validity of the left path or heterodoxy as a viable means to deliverance. The ancient Hindus displayed a level of theological-philosophical sophistication which was not reached by the West until the times of Kant.

The persistence of the political tradition of the Right goes to show that habits of old cannot be done away with. There is a direct line of continuity between the primitive caveman and the modern conservative. According to Schopenhauer, insanity is a rupture to the narrative chain conferring meaning on the world. The political Right's battle against the Left is not only a struggle for the preservation of a quasi-theological narrative; it is also a struggle for the preservation of one's sanity.