The Blind Leading the Blind, illustration for ‘The Life of Christ’, c.1886-94 by Tissot, James Jacques Joseph (1836-1902); watercolour and gouache on paperboard; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, USA.
Is America a now nation of “the blind leading the blind?” This post will present some evidences from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jacques Ellul, and Donald Bloesch, that seem to demonstrate that our “guided democracy” amounts to “the bind leading the blind.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Of Folly” and American politicians:
In the winter of 1942-3 Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a short essay called “Of Folly.” He ended that essay with a question regarding the aspirations of politicians. He wrote,
“What matters in the long run is whether our rulers hope to gain more from the folly of men, or from their independence of judgement and their shrewdness of mind.”
The whole world learned which method the German rulers aspired to gain from.
Following is much of the original essay “Of Folly.” What he wrote is extremely relevant to the American political situation:
“The impression we derive is that folly is acquired rather than congenital; it is acquired in certain circumstances where men make fools of themselves or allow others to make fools of them. We observe further that folly is less common in the unsociable or the solitary than in individuals or groups who are inclined or condemned to sociability. From this it would appear that folly is a sociological problem rather than one of psychology. It is a special form of the operation of historical circumstances upon men, a psychological by-product of definite external factors. On closer inspection it would seem that any violent revolution, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind. Indeed, it would seem to be almost a law of psychology and sociology. The power of one needs the folly of the other. It is not that certain aptitudes of men, intellectual aptitudes for instance, become stunted or destroyed. Rather, the upsurge of power is so terrific that it deprives men of an independent judgement, and they give up trying–more or less unconsciously–to assess the new state of affairs for themselves. The fool can often be stubborn, but this must not mislead us into thinking he is independent. One feels somehow, especially in conversation with him, that it is impossible to talk to the man himself, to talk to him personally. Instead, one is confronted with a series of slogans watchwords, and the like, which have acquired power over him. He is under a curse, he is blinded, his very humanity is being prostituted and exploited.
But there is a grain of consolation in these reflections on human folly. There is no reason for us to think that the majority of men are fools under all circumstances. What matters in the long run is whether our rulers hope to gain more from the folly of men, or from their independence of judgement and their shrewdness of mind.”
(From “Letters and Papers from Prison,” Section 1, “After Ten Years,” which Bonhoeffer wrote while imprisoned by the Nazi regime. He was executed just before the end of the war.)
Jacques Ellul and the susceptibility of the people toward folly:
“It is wrong to assume that the highly informed citizen is more capable. Rather, he is drowned in current events, thus becoming an easy prey for propaganda and the very symbol of the political illusion.” (Quoted in “Freedom for Obedience” by Donald Bloesch, p. 248)
Donald Bloesch on America’s current political struggle:
Donald Bloesch reveals the context of the current political struggle in America, in which Bonhoeffer’s question and Ellul’s observation, seem to present a foregone conclusion:
“With the dissipation of the doctrine of original sin and the erosion of the sense of a divine ruler over the nations, there has been an upsurge in sentiment for radical egalitarianism or participatory democracy in which democratic consensus is seen as the measure of moral and religious truth. A democracy that does not have to give an account to a higher law or power is likely to construct God in its own image and to sanction only that kind of morality conducive to social cohesion and stability. The general will of collectivity replaces the sovereign will of God as the overarching criterion for national life. Those ideologies that sanctify and crown cultural achievement will be rewarded, whereas voices that call into question cultural norms and goals will either be ignored or silenced.
Such a scenario is more than a lugubrious variant of the Orwellian theme. It stems from a grim recognition of the ominous signs around us. We live today in a climate of rising nationalism and ethnocentrism. The myth of manifest destiny united with a fixation on technological growth is preparing the way for a new authoritarianism that seeks to use public opinion to sanctify cultural and national goals. In this climate pluralism no longer means tolerance for a wide variety of opinion but intolerance of any particularist claim to truth that calls into question the reliability of the democratic consensus or the sovereignty of the general will.
Democracy can only be a Christian option when it is acutely aware of the limitations of human power and authority and when it is motivated by a vision that transcends as well as negates human culture. If it falls under the spell of either radical egalitarian ideologies or nationalistic mythologies, it drifts from its metaphysical moorings and may well sink under the pressure of an emerging totalitarian ethos. (Bloesch, p. 277)
In a footnote Bloesch points out that “Rousseau is the inventor of what has come to be known as “guided democracy.” It seems that an American “guided democracy” is much further progressed nearly 25 years after Bloesch wrote these things.
To summarize, we have much evidence that the people of America can easily fall into “folly.” We also have much evidence that for “guided democracy” politicians, gaining from this folly is the operating method of their political agenda. It seems obvious that in both cases, the citizen and the politician, are blind, and as Jesus said,
“If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
Comments, questions, critiques are always welcome.
Do you agree that we are a “guided democracy”? Is America epitomized by the “blind leading the blind”?
What say ye?
Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.