True, you are singly each a crafty soul,
But all together make one empty fool.
– Solon of Athens (630-560 BC), Recorded in Plutarch's Lives.
There is a good reason why this article is being released now as opposed to on the anniversary of the Capitol riots that took place last year - namely because I have become stupefied by frustration over the death of intellect that occurs whenever a hoard of political dopes begin clamoring over January 6th. However, I think there is a sane option to take upon escaping the frustration and obscurity of all this babbling. To me it seems that there are ideologues on all sides of this issue who are inculcating a muddled social discourse only to further confuse and divide American citizens.
It is important to first explain what I mean when I use the term ideologue. I do not mean one who has an ideology. We all have ideologies; we all have values; and we all subscribe to narratives through which we view the world. What I mean by ideologue is one who is possessed by ideology. Ideologues believe that the world is a spectacularly simple place and that their ideology is a one-size-fits-all solution to the world’s ailments. This could be manifested in one who thinks that all issues can be reduced to racism, class inequalities, or climate change.
It could also become apparent with one who thinks that the answer to all of society’s problems is the “free market,” with their response to questions about pressing cultural and political ills being “just privatize it” or “just reduce the size of government.” The word ideologue in fact is first used pejoratively by Napoleon Bonaparte (idéologue in french) to describe his more liberal critics that dreamed of an idealized (and therefore simple) France, wishing to restore the principles of the revolution – and, might I add, seeming to forget the fact that those principles produced Napoleon in the first place. But the problem is that the world is quite the opposite of simple, and politics is a precarious ordeal. I myself have to pay deep attention to what I think, for I have caught myself becoming too ideological on more than one occasion. I would like to repeat once more that I am not speaking of people who have ideologies - we cannot escape having ideologies. We hear far too often those who proclaim to be “a-political,” who “don’t have an agenda” and “are working solely for the interest of the country.” Even if it were possible to be "against ideology" (which it is not), this would, in turn, itself become an ideology. It is evocative of the postmodernists (like Lyotard and Foucault) who claimed to take an incredulous position towards all meta-narratives. The problem is, though, that claiming to have no meta-narrative is itself a meta-narrative. You cannot escape them. You are not some god detached from your human body and perspective that is capable of seeing the objective world for “what it is.” So spare me the philosophical and political gestures.
Now, I say all of this because I think ideologues are corrupting our discourse around January 6th. There are those who claim that this was tantamount to the bombings on Pearl Harbor and the attacks on September 11th, and even go as far as to insinuate that it was equivalent to our Civil War. I am hard-pressed to find a word in our vernacular worthy enough to describe the absurdity of such claims. It is simply appalling, revolting, and entirely embarrassing to watch the President and Vice President of the United States disrespect some of the most tragic events in our history. The only explanation for such bombastry is that these claims come from ideologues possessed by their politics.
However, politicians on the left are not the only ones possessed by politics. Their equivalents are those who claim that January 6th was merely a practice in tourism. Now, I say “equivalent” in respect to the equivalency in ideological absurdity that both the right and left display. I am in no way claiming that what those on the right have said is equivalent to claiming January 6th was as bad as Pearl Harbor. But while the former is wrong and the latter is inexcusable, both statements come from ideologues.
January 6th was at first a protest where thousands gathered to simply hear Trump speak and protest the election, while a few – perhaps hundreds – had malice on their minds. The most pressing issue, however, is that once the march towards the Capitol began, thousands were caught up in the deplorable plans of those malevolent few. The protest then quickly decayed into a mob, and then into a riot. I do not like using the term insurrection, because if it was one, it was quite a pathetic one; especially considering the fact that the Congress proceeded to convene hours after the ruckus ended. So those on the right who point out that the left is overreacting are entirely correct in doing so. The problem for those on the right, however, is that many will then take the opposite extreme and act as if these riots were nothing. This is where one decays into an ideologue. It most certainly was not nothing. It was an assault, not on “our democracy,” but on the very institutions that filter democracy and allow for our democratic institutions to exist (though, might I add, that have become far too democratic). There was a nasty attack on the Capitol Hill Police who stood outside the Capitol; and there were potentially some men with abhorrent intentions, shouting “hang Mike Pence,” erecting gallows, and running around with zip tie handcuffs. Would they have done so if given the chance? I do not know. Therefore, I will take them at their word. So, to think that this was nothing to scoff at is wholly incorrect.
Images Showing the Contrast between Jan 6 and BLM in Kenosha the Summer Before.
Jan 6 Image is in the Public Domain
Kenosha Image by Hungryogrephotos on Flickr | CC0 1.0
There are many on the right who quite rightly point out the left’s hypocrisy in their analysis (if you can call it that) of the BLM riots and the Capitol riot. The answer, though, is not to turn around and partake in such hypocrisy and negligence. January 6th was the product of lethargic rhetorical games played by President Trump; and if you refuse to acknowledge that, you are becoming possessed by your politics.
I am afraid January 6th was, alongside the BLM riots of 2020, merely a symptom of a deeper malady in our nation. What we saw was the germ of populism feeding on a spirit of rebellion that seems to be lurking in the shadows of our society. It is a disease that breeds civil unrest in our commonwealth and debauches the body politic of the United States – one I am deeply troubled by.
I will close with the wise words of Solon, the great Athenian statesman and poet, who was lamenting the state of Athens after it had fallen prey to the demagoguery of Pisistratus, recorded in Plutarch’s Lives:
If now you suffer, do not blame the Powers,
For they are good, and all the fault was ours.
All the strongholds you put into his hands,
And now his slaves must do what he commands.
This populist spring must be tamed and this spirit of rebellion quelled immediately. It seriously frightens me, for republics are ruined by such things (think back to Rome and the Gracchi brothers). It is precisely what the wiser among our Founders feared. As George Washington said in a letter to John Jay, “Perfection falls not to the share of mortals.” Our political institutions were built with this mortal imperfection in mind, and intemperate, furious passions like those displayed on January 6th threaten to destroy them. The fault is not in our institutional powers; the fault is sadly ours. //
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