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Vacillation as Strength. Feuerbach, Kierkegaard, and Trump

March 23, 2016




There’s  residual association in the public imagination between consistency and strength.  Margaret Thatcher was regarded as a “strong leader” (unfortunately – I wish she’d had a few more debilitating vices) because she refused to U-turn.  The Lady was not for turning (unfortunately).

But it seems there’s a different definition of strength that’s based on exactly the opposite – on radical inconsistency.  Donald Trump can say he’s pro-torture and murdering families to get votes – then deny he’s pro torture when he’s told that he’s offending the first and defining principles of the US constitution, and then go all pro-torture again to get some more votes.  He’s made all sorts of political statements which pretty much contradict each other.


Well, this is where we need the theologians…

I was thinking of those Kierkegaard and Feuerbach, those opposed defining polls of nineteenth-century religious speculation.  Feuerbach developed a trajectory of secular morality by reducing Deity to attributes – suggesting that what is important is not the worship of a Divine Person – but a celebratory extrapolation of those moral qualities attributed to that Divine Person.  In the sentence “God is…” the important thing is the Predicate rather than the Subject.  Kierkegaard, on the other hand, had earlier developed the scary concept of the “teleological suspension of the ethical” when considering the question of the God’s testing of Abraham by demanding the sacrifice of Isaac.  Kierkegaard posited the idea that the “is”ness of God might over-ride the Goodness of God – that absolute faith in an absolute Being might suspend adherence to those values and attributes traditionally associated with this Being.  In the sentence “God is…” the important thing is the Subject rather than the Predicate in other words.

I mention these two philosophers because the Abrahamic religions do not just assert an Almighty God – they also insist that the God is governed (or self-governed) by Law – that the Creator of the Universe is, predictable insofar as S/he is the same forever.   Is Divine omnipotence limited (or compromised?) by Rule of Law?  This is the sort of thing that theologians love – and with good reason.  Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam broadly agree, however, that God is not to be regarded as an arbitrary tyrant, but that God’s attributes are knowable, are reliable, are consistent.  Otherwise “loving” God means nothing more than pure abjection in the face of tyranny.

Vacillation or inconsistency is only a negative quality in a leader if both leader and followers preserve a shared concept of rule of law, if the leader is followed for certain attributes other than power itself.  If people agree to stick a fork in their brains, disable their moral and critical intelligence and proclaim a monosyllable like “Trump” as an emblem of transformative strength that ignores whys and wherefores – then inconsistency is fine.  Trump himself doubtless despises the Judeao-Christian God as a “low-energy loser”.  A consummate aristocrat who has always believed that money defines meaning, Trump feels that (unlike Yahweh) he is under no obligation to be consistent, or demonstrate consistent attributes.  Trump is immensely rich, and therefore his words mean whatever they want them to mean whenever he uses or abuses them.

Pure demagoguery depends on the ability to get people to put loyalty to a person, an institution or a party above and apart from any loyalty to the attributes of that person, institution or party.  George Orwell understood this well enough when he described how in 1984, totalitarian edicts contradict preceding edicts as a matter of principle.

Trump thinks he is better than God because God chisels stuff in stone tablets.  And he regards his most loyal supporters with unreserved and barely disguised contempt.



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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    ForFeuerbach’s Birthday…

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