The Violence Inherent in the System…

The Violence Inherent in the System… June 3, 2010

In my opinion, what runs through that hodge-podge of peculiar and inconsistent beliefs that characterizes American “conservatism” is a theology of violence. On one level, there is of course the derivative Calvinist dualism that divides the world into friend or enemy, loyalist or traitor, freedom-lover or terrorist, patriot or socialist. And the other, of course, to is be destroyed. On another level, there is a liberal social contractarian that restricts basic human rights to those within the perimeter of the social contract – and liberalism is the reigning philosophy of the American right. And on another level still, there is consequentialism – the notion that all acts should be evaluated solely on their consequences. Of course, this moral relativism embraces social contractarian as the consequences that matter are only the consequences to our preferred side, and violence against those excluded can be readily defended, even relished.

Mostly, this violence is rhetorical, which feeds through into an apocalyptic political strategy. Sometimes, this violence is literal. It can come in the form of a belief in the transformative power of bloodshed – destroying “jihadism” with firepower, bringing “freedom” from the barrel of a gun. It is endemic. Violence is celebrated throughout popular culture, from the mythic frontiersman to the newest video game. War is celebrated, the military is glorified, the “manly man” put on a pedestal. And of course, these “strong men” can fend for themselves, do not need any help from others, and are not obliged to help others. It’s the individualism, stupid, and if you invade my space, I’ll punch your nose!

Taking the individual autonomy underpinning liberalism and Hobbes’s social contract to absurd limits, these “conservatives” elevate the virtue of gun ownership to defend oneself against both other individuals and the state. If they cross you, shoot them.

Consequentialism? The American nuclear bombings of Japan are justified because they saved lives. Torture is justified because it saves lives. War is justified because it saves lives (we are fighting them there so they don’t come here!). This is why the relativism inherent in consequentialism is so pernicious. The collective punishment of a people can be defended if they are not “our” people. They are not part of the liberal social contract. Torture and unjust imprisonment is fine for those beyond the protections of American citizenship. Against the “other”, violence is defensible, legitimate, even virtuous.

And of course, Israel is on “our side”. It is after all a democracy, full of white people who speak excellent English, with a culture of “manly virtue”, and fighting the same “terrorists” as Americans. Add into the mix the twisted evangelical dispensationalist theology that ties the second coming of Christ to secular Jewish nationalism (Palin, anyone?). The result? Evident.

If you look at other “Catholic” blogs, you will see this understated support for violence on full display. In the current context, you will see all kinds of defenses for Israel’s actions, defenses that mirror the old justification for the Iraq war. Hamas is out to destroy Israel. The blockade keeps Israel safe. I’ve even seen one commenter argue Gazans must be lazy, since 80 percent of them are on humanitarian food aid – liberalism meets militarism! The fact that Israel prohibits exports, strictly controls what can enter the territory, and that 90 percent of factories are not operating is clearly beside the point…

And so, while you can read about the obnoxious statements of Hamas ad nauseam, you will hear little about the equally repulsive statements of the Israeli leadership. You will hear little about Avigdor Lieberman, the current foreign minister of Israel. This is the man who, in his younger days, associated with the terrorist Kach group. This is the man who repeatedly talks about the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel and the execution of Arab members of the Knesset. This is the man who once spoke of busing thousands of released Palestinian prisoners to the Dead Sea to drown them. This is the man who thinks that Putin in Chechnya is a role model for how Israel should deal with Palestine. This is the man who suggested that the Americans had the right approach in Japan. And this is the man behind the collective punishment of 1.5 million human beings, people made in the image and likeness of God, in Gaza. But it’s not a matter of consistency, it’s a matter of whose side you are on.

When you read some prominent right-wing bloggers and pundits, it can be frightening. With dialed-up testosterone levels, they embrace military strength and a knee-jerk codpiece diplomacy. The theology underpinned by violence is on full and frightening display. With many Catholic bloggers, this is less evident, but it is there all the same. There is one in particular who likes to quote and link to a person called Robert Stacey McCain, who had this to say about Palestine: “Swear to God, if they ever want a Gentile prime minister, my first order would be to deploy the IDF in a north-south line, facing east. My second order would be “forward march” and the order to halt would not be given until it was time for the troops to rinse their bayonets in the Jordan. After a brief rest halt, the order “about face” would be given, and the next halt would be at the Mediterranean coast“. I quote this not because the blogger in question agrees with this statement (I’m sure he doesn’t), but to show that this kind of discourse is perfectly acceptable and mainstream.

For sure, the blood-lust of the American right is reflected in the Catholic blogosphere. And here’s the irony – these very same people are among the staunchest defenders of the unborn. They fail to grasp that abortion is wrong because it is an act of violence against an innocent person. Violence. They fail to grasp that the defenders of abortion argue that the unborn are excluded from the social contract that would respect their right to life and dignity, and that the economic welfare of the mother might justify the termination of the pregnancy. In other words, abortion is justified by an all-to-ready acceptance of violence, especially if it takes place out of public view, and is defended on both social contractarian and consequentialist grounds. Sound familiar? It should. And the conclusion is pellucid, is it not?

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