There is much amazement over an interview Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a conservative Republican, gave to the Associated Press after his emotional testimony before the U.S. House Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 putsch. After tearfully telling the world about the torrent of vile death threats he and his family received after he refused to falsify the election results in his state to help Donald Trump steal the 2020 election, including harassment of his wife and his dying daughter, and Qanon Trump supporters calling him a pedophile, he told the AP reporter that should the MAGA-tized Republican Party in its wisdom anoint Trump their standard-bearer again in ’24, “I’d vote for him again.”
What can account for this? Only the psychology of voluntary self-enslavement: the mind and the spirit that imprisons itself in the worship of a cult and its Leader. It may fill us with consternation that so many citizens of “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” are now displaying these patterns of belief and action, but history knows countless others who have behaved the same way.
Take Joan of Arc, the martyr to French nationalism. Although the Roman Catholic Church persecuted her after her capture, ultimately indulging in the institutionalized hypocrisy of “handing her over to the secular arm” to be burnt at the stake so that the Vicar of Christ wouldn’t dirty its hands with her blood, she made confession to, and received Communion from, that selfsame Church just before her murder. Or take Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik revolutionary who was key to the Red Army’s victory in the Russian Civil War. Although Josef Stalin prevailed over him in the power struggle that followed the war, ultimately exiling him from the Soviet Union and sending an assassin to take his life, to the end Trotsky remained faithful to the Soviet Communist Party, famously declaring: “None of us desires or is able to dispute the will of the Party. Clearly, the Party is always right…. We can only be right with and by the Party, for history has provided no other way of being in the right.”
Suppose we had a chance to try to “deprogram” Joan, or Trotsky, or the upright Rusty. Now, we might for the sake of argument grant Joan her Christian faith, Trotsky his orthodox Marxism, and Rusty his God-and-country American conservatism, while seeking to persuade them that the Roman Catholic Church, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the Republican Party under Donald Trump, respectively, are unworthy of their continued allegiance. In all three cases, we might demonstrate by irrefutable proofs that the institutions in question are led by men who are betraying the true faith, and are violent, unworthy, and disreputable besides. But we are unlikely to convert any of these people, because the intellectual details of their faith are in every case a mere cover for the emotional pull of loyalty to these institutions that dominate their lives. If they are excommunicated or expelled, they are barred forever from God’s grace or from being on the right side of history, and are sentenced to fall endlessly and friendlessly through the outer darkness. The ex-Communist Milan Kundera of Czechoslovakia imagines, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, those Party members who have kept the faith dancing in a circle to the “metallic voice” of French Communist poet Paul Éluard (1895-1952). The dancers begin to rise magically over the haunted streets of Prague, “and I ran after that voice through the streets in the hope of keeping up with that wonderful wreath of bodies rising above the city, and I realized with anguish in my heart that they were flying like birds and I was falling like a stone, that they had wings and I would never have any.”
Dear reader, when the coroner’s report is written on the late, great United States of America, it will state that the “last, best hope of mankind” was slain just as much by passionate belief as by cynical nihilism.