The Absurd Reich
Gary Inbinder on the Politics of Demonic Nothingness
Democrats “gotta have faith,” argues former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich, and what’s more, they gotta have an “irrational faith” that we can work together to “create a more just nation and a more just world.”
Writing in Slate magazine’s analysis of our November 2004 election—a forum that tried to figure out why the Democrats lost again—he admits that such a faith is “entirely irrational” because there is little empirical evidence to justify it. It certainly is not the fides caritate formata (faith formed in love) of Scripture. If there is any “love” in the formation of Reich’s faith, it is the “love” of humanity in the abstract that lies at the core of Enlightenment humanism.
He does not advise Democrats to become more religious, because “religion is a personal matter.” He does not want Democrats moving toward Republican positions on “matters of personal morality,” such as opposing homosexual marriage and abortion. Democrats can argue for “fewer abortions” through the wider dissemination of contraceptives to young people, more family planning, and better social services, as long as individual choice is protected.
Reich apparently believes that man lives by bread and circuses alone, that is, by the satisfaction of his material needs and animal desires, and that any spiritual needs may be satisfied by maintaining an “irrational faith” in our ability to use national or transnational organizations to see to it that those material goods are distributed more equitably. As for faith in God, he declared in The American Prospect that “the great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism.” Terrorism he called “a tactic, not a belief.”
The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face.
We can gather a few things from these passages: First, according to Mr. Reich, it appears that giving “priority to life in this world” does not extend to the lives of the unborn; second, “those who believe in science, reason, and logic” must paradoxically have an “irrational faith” in the human capacity for establishing utopian “social justice”; third, traditional Christians and Jews, who repose their faith in something that transcends the human, are the enemies of “modern civilization,” indistinguishable in their beliefs from Islamo-Fascist terrorists.
Reich’s Mere Humans
While musing on Reich’s irrational rationalism, I recalled the philosopher Eric Voegelin’s remark that Christianity has made clear “that man in his mere humanity, without the fides caritate formata, is demonic nothingness.” The “demonic nothingness” of “mere humanity” has wormed its way into both our politics and the existentialism of pop culture.
It is nowhere better expressed than in the popular song, “Is That All There Is?” In the song, the narrator relates the existential detachment and disillusionment he felt with the loss of possessions and pleasures. He describes the loss of comfort, security, and possessions by fire; disappointment in a popular entertainment billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth”; the loss of first love; and finally, the inevitable loss of life itself—responding to each with the question, “Is that all there is?”.
Gary Inbinder is a California attorney who specializes in health-care law. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a J.D. from the University of La Verne (California). His articles have appeared in Humanitas, Quodlibet, and Praesidium.
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