Monday, October 22, 2018

Patriots and Propagandists

The lack of historical perspective and context among the general public is not a new problem. It might be at an all-time high today, though I doubt it; the earthly powers-that-be always have practical reasons for sowing confusion, and the spiritual Powers-That-Be even more so.

But even if ahistoricism is not setting some kind of new record, many of us have a legitimate concern that the media narrative currently being pushed on us is profoundly out of step with reality. Labeling modern conservatives “Nazis”, for instance, is either naive or remarkably devious.

Either way, it is politically useful. Not accurate, but useful.

Left and Right

Read your history and it quickly becomes evident Adolf Hitler’s Nazis were fascistic, nationalistic and, well ... leftist. They were not of the political right in any real sense the word has been used for most of my life.

In fact, until very recently, “right” commonly denoted advocacy for conservatism, individualism, the market economy, small government, traditional values, property rights, etc., none of which could be remotely associated with Hitler (with the possible exception of “traditional values”, depending how loosely you define it).

Again, until recently, most Western conservatives would cheerfully accept the designation “right wing”; it certainly beat the alternative. Lately, however, the term “right” has been so successfully associated with swastikas and night rallies that former conservatives are tripping over one another in their hurry to reposition themselves as centrists or even classical liberals.

Fascism and Authoritarianism

Fascism has always been fundamentally authoritarian. Today, when millennials use the word “fascist”, it is primarily the association with authoritarianism they have in view. They don’t want to be dictated to, though some would be happy to do the dictating. For them, “fascism” refers more to the way an ideology is enforced than to the ideology itself. As it is used today, the word “fascist” is more an accusation about methodology than political positioning.

There’s something to that. Hitler’s Germany was certainly hyper-authoritarian, but so were Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China, both communist entities. Communism has already shown itself to be considerably more fascistic than traditional Western conservatism — 100 million dead make the case for its hyper-authoritarianism better than I can. In our universities and streets, socialism is currently doing a fine job of demonstrating that methodologically it comes from much the same hyper-authoritarian headspace.

Socialism and Globalism

Even in today’s corrupted political vernacular, the word “socialism” remains inarguably leftist. Hitler’s Nazis wore their socialism — what we now call “leftism” — right on their sleeves: “Nazi” is short for Nationalsozialistische, which is German for “National Socialist”. Their politics were the politics of envy, and their popularity was in no small measure related to the claim to offer average Germans a more egalitarian economic arrangement than was then available to them. Too bad Germany’s equivalent of the currently-demonized “1%” turned out to be primarily Jewish.

In any case, today’s Far Left exhibits two of the three primary characteristics of Hitler’s Nazis: a fascistic (and increasingly fanatical) socialism. Their use of the term “antifascist” to describe themselves is rich with irony.

If we are paying attention, it should be evident by now that the forces lining up against each other across the West today have less to do with the traditional Left vs. Right paradigm than with the simmering conflict between Globalism and Nationalism. It is only in this single, limited sense — putting its own people first — that the goals of the Western Right can be said to have even a smidgen of commonality with those of Nazism.

In short, used in our modern context, the words “Nazi”, “fascist” and so on are a smokescreen rather than legitimate political categories.

Confusion, Confusion

Hey, we’d all like to find some real Nazis if we could. It would simplify the problem of figuring out who the good guys and bad guys are. My interest here is not to vilify the Left or vindicate the Right, but to point out that our political discourse is muddled and muddied, its terms disconnected from their proper historical usage, and increasingly irrelevant. The language of modern politics has rhetorical value only for the manipulative and the ignorant; for those whipping up propaganda and for those consuming it.

But distinguishing good from evil on the national or international stage is not a new problem. It has always been a difficult exercise. Taking a heavenly perspective on earthly conflicts requires unusual discernment, a quality most of us do not possess.

The Worst of Nations

In the prophet Ezekiel’s day, the lines were just as blurred, or maybe even blurrier. His message to Judah was one of God’s judgment on idolatry and injustice. “The land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence,” he cried. “An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land.”

Who was going to bring about that “end”? Here’s where it gets confusing. God says, “I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses.”

“The worst of nations”? Right. Exactly. God’s remedy for really bad people was to bring a bunch of even worse people to starve them to the point of cannibalism, then stab, loot, burn, rape and pillage them, and finally to exile and humiliate them for decades.

Can you see where even a devout Judean might reasonably be a little confused about who the good guys and the bad guys really were?

Bound in the Skirts of a Robe

In any large-scale conflict, it is naive to put things in terms of “good” or “bad”. Forces on both sides would love that, but it isn’t terribly savvy to let them define our frame of reference.

In fact, the “good” in Judah formed only the merest portion of the population. Devout followers of Jehovah were down to only a tiny handful. We might call them a remnant. When God told Ezekiel how he ought to picture them, it was as a few stray strands of hair bound in the skirts of his robe. Even some of these would be phonies, and would bring further judgment upon Judah. (This actually happened, as described in the final chapters of Jeremiah. Johanan and his men rebelled against God’s commands and ran to Egypt, bringing greater backlash on Judah from the Babylonians. They were “fake remnant”, if you like.)

Good and Bad in Everyone?

Thus, to speak of Israel as “good” and the Babylonians as “bad” would have really been to miss the point. Nationally, Israel was God’s people, though under severe judgment. Individually, some of them were the worst of the worst.

As for the Chaldeans, there were both good and bad to be found there, notwithstanding the dreary heathenism of Babylon. Daniel and his friends prospered in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, and Nebuchadnezzar himself had personal dealings with God (though of the judgment sort). Ultimately, he had this to say about the God of Israel:
“How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.”
That didn’t stop Babylon from taking its richly-deserved heavenly medicine roughly sixty years later, but it does remind us that God deeply cares about people on both sides of our earthly disputes, even as he uses them to further his own agenda. If that example won’t do it for us, we could look at Jonah’s God-given mission to bring repentance to the Assyrians in Nineveh, a heavenly task he could never get his own very patriotic head around.

Choosing Sides

In the present political climate, those who believe in God at all may reasonably wonder exactly where he stands, and whose side he is really on.

The Left’s reframing of Jesus as a “social justice hero”, a redistributionist and a political activist seems to me transparently cynical and phony. Not everything said about him is precisely wrong, but it’s very much in service of their ideology, rather than the other way round. If they could point to some more effective and popular role model to make their case, they would almost certainly do so. Still, I have no doubt there are some very sincere people working against the West right now.

On the Right, some remind us that Christianity is one of the pillars of Western civilization. That’s dead right, despite the occasional bit of academic pushback. Still, if honest efforts to bring that truth to public attention and turn hearts back to the teaching of scripture are ultimately unsuccessful, at least they will be in service of a good cause.

Others on the Right are as cynical as many Leftists. They view Christianity as a useful tool to get them to the sort of social reorganization they would prefer, though they have no personal interest in repentance or a relationship with the God of the Bible. To the extent that rallying under the “Christian banner” is self-serving, it is bound to be precisely as successful as the efforts of the Judeans to obtain a better situation for themselves by running to Egypt rather than accepting Babylonian exile.

Where Does God Stand?

Where does God stand in all this? Probably in much the same place he stood when the Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem. That is to say that he has his people, and he has both eternal and local purposes in view, though they are rarely precisely aligned with the thinking on either side of the walls.

As Christians, before we get too invested in the politics of the day or too concerned about what may be coming down the pipe, we may be wise to direct our energies toward working out why we are in this pickle in the first place.

It is probably not exactly what either the propagandists or the patriots are telling us.

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