[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Gregory Desilet info at gregorydesilet.com
Fri Oct 31 21:08:09 EDT 2014


Good response, Lee. You raise an insightful question here: “In your approach to these religious texts that you believe authorize Authoritarianism, is there room to acknowledge the ways in which they may, in actual historical practice, provide the means to resist and de-legitimize Authoritarianism?”

The examples you give from the Biblical tradition seem to be on point but I find them troubling when viewed in the broader context of a cycle. Certainly divine communications, as you say, can inspire resistance to Authoritarianism, but there are many ways to resist authority and I would view the Biblical examples you give as examples of Authoritarianism vs. Authoritarianism. It is more like a way of combating authority with a “higher” authority, like fighting fire with a greater fire. Or to borrow Lee’s citing of the Biblical phrase, “lording it over other people.” My God is stronger than your God.    

But the fire used to fight fire can also spin out of control and end up burning those it was initially meant to save. This was perhaps the import of a lyric from a famous 60s song: “New revolution same as the old revolution.” The revolutions just keep revolving with no real change in the structure of authority. And I would argue, as many have, that it is the structure of authority that is the real problem. When we invest too much authority at the top and make it unaccountable, we are creating the potential for a wildfire. And this is exactly what has happened in the great religious traditions.

Furthermore, as the expression “lording it over others” suggests, Authoritarianism, in the certainty of the rightness of its dictates, opens a structure creating the role of “the enemy”—the one who in Burke’s parlance is “counter-covenant.” The “enemy” becomes the “others” who do not follow the covenant, deny the covenant, or who are not of the same essence as those of the covenant. This structure brings into play all of the themes developed by Burke relating to order, secret, sin, guilt, redemption, sacrifice, scapegoating, victimage, etc.

In support of what I’m saying about Authoritarianism vs. Authoritarianism, Burke argues in RoR that no other structure, essentially different from this, is possible for human community. The only way to go forward peacefully, in Burke’s view, is to work through the human “cult of the kill” tendency by re-directing it through symbolic scapegoating rather than real bloodletting.   

So in answer to Lee’s question I would respond that, yes, religions and religious texts can and do provide ways to resist Authoritarianism but they most certainly do not, on Burke’s account and in my opinion, provide a means for de-legitimizing it. In fact, religion provides the means for escalating the legitimizing process of Authoritarian structure by tying it to a divine source. Monotheism perhaps escalated this process to the nth level, in the all-powerful, all-knowing unitary Godhead. But as Lee points out, Authoritarianism can grow in many different soils and does not require this divine source for its legitimization. Instead, it can be tied to ideas or ideals, in name only, such as Justice, Equality, Freedom—which were clarion calls for Authoritarian political regimes such as 20th century fascism, communism, and totalitarianism.


Greg

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