Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Grand Inquisitor; 'Freedom' and Terrorism

"As a good number of commentators have noted in recent years, the opposition, now canonical in the public language of many governments, between the "freedom" of the North Atlantic cultural milieu and the nightmare of terrorism and fundamentalism that exists outside this enclave is more and more vacuous. Freedom as a designation for maximal consumer choice (including the consumerizing of public service and personal care) combined with an economic jeu sans frontieres is an indifferent rallying point for moral conviction, conviction about the goodness or justice rather than simply the comfort of a society. ... Faced with a global ideology of resentment, as wholly modern in its formation as is western secularism, an ideology equally determined to end history in its preferred way for the sake of an absolutely manifest social good, our rhetoric of defending freedom does not make a very persuasive showing.

One of the things that makes Ivan's Inquisitor such a perennially haunting figure is that his voice is clearly audible on both sides of the current global conflict. He is both the manager of a universal market in guaranteed security and comfort for a diminished human soul and the violent enforcer of a system beyond dialogue and change. And we may feel a similar unease at the way in which the profiles of terror are sketched in Devils: the selfless fanatic and the solipsistic libertarian are pushed together, at the mercy of anyone with the material and communicative resources to manipulate them. Repeatedly, he [Dostoevsky] insists to his readers that this is what a world without icons, without presence, will mean."
Rowan Williams, Dostoevsky; Language, Faith and Fiction

The Grand Inquisitor, a famous passage in Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov, presents us with a conflict between heroic freedom and comfortable enslavement. You can read it here (Book 5, Chapter 5; p221 of the pdf)

The Grand Inquisitor throws into stark relief the incoherence of the modern notion of freedom post-Enlightenment. The Islamists know that the West's talk of freedom is empty, based as it is on a system of absolute abasement before the gods of the marketplace. We have chosen comfortable enslavement rather than freedom, or freedom to choose between many different products:

“The world says: "You have needs -- satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don't hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more." This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”
(Karamazov again)

The problem is that freedom in the west today is actually freedom-from, in which case it is a value that is founded on a negative, on a repudiation of something else, and thus, is at the outset a reactive rather than an active quality. The act of liberation that our ideals of freedom are founded on was actually itself a violent and reactive act. It was a tearing-away of state from religion in the revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Rather than any more of my own poor rambling, I shall leave here some links to articles which expand on this last point.

This blog post by Artur Rosman on how The ‘Wars of Religion’ were actually ‘Wars of the Birth of the Nation-State.’

Over at Gornahoor, Cologero continues his defence of Tradition with his usual acuity: "One use of intelligence, or rational thought, is to determine how best to achieve a goal. This is instrumental intelligence. True intelligence, however, is to know what goals to aim for."

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