Words Create Worlds. Part 3
“Words create worlds.” These are the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, here is the full quote, remembered by his daughter, Susannah Heschel:
“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world. He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda. Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child. They must be used very carefully. Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[i]
Remembering the Past & Learning from History
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)[ii]
Are we witnessing a rise of fascism and totalitarianism? Many say we are, and it is worth looking at what these words mean and if they apply to our current situation, which Rebecca Solnit calls a linguistic crisis.[iii]
Are we justified in using such a strong word as “fascism” for the language and ideas that are being tossed about under the guise of a resurgent nationalism? The Director of the McMaster Centre for Research in the Public Interest, Henry Giroux, believes so.
“I have no apologies whatsoever for using the word fascist politics. And I think that people who are afraid to do that become complicit with the very politics they condemn. Because if you can’t learn from history, then it seems to me that you end up in the dark,” (Henry Giroux).[iv]
In this next installment of the Words Create Worlds series, we will turn to the work of two American authors who warn us against a global movement into fascism. Both authors have familial roots in the persecution of the Jewish people during the holocaust and the Soviet take over of Eastern Europe after World War II. We will first discuss former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s book, Fascism: A Warning. Then we will turn to Yale professor, Stanley Jordan’s book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. I do not intend this to be polemical, partisan politics, but rather to objectively document the current resurgence of fascistic rhetoric, in the United States and globally, in light of the history of fascism in the 20th Century.
Follow the link for the full article, pages 58-69.
[i] Life Between the Trees blog.
[ii] “‘Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It.’ Really?” Nicholas Clairmont, Big Think, 7/31/13, https://bigthink.com/the-proverbial-skeptic/those-who-do-not-learn-history-doomed-to-repeat-it-really
[iii] Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018, pg 4.
[iv] “Henry Giroux: Will Trump’s Deliberate Racist Rhetoric Lead Us to Fascism?” Interview with Marc Steiner, Big Think, 7/18/19. https://truthout.org/video/trumps-racist-rhetoric-is-deliberate-will-it-lead-us-to-fascism/
Can one believe in the existence of good and evil and not have a “us vs. them” mentality? This is a great article, but I struggle with the idea of “being one” with Trump. The closest I can get to it is viewing his narcissism and ignorance with understanding and compassion and to know that I have those qualities within myself.
I think it is possible to believe in good and evil and to not have an us vs them mentality – in fact the mentality of us vs them may be the very thing that makes evil possible. This is why Stanley Jordan wrote, “The most telling symptom of fascist politics is division. It aims to separate a population into an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’” (xvi).
Carl G. Jung, while not mentioned in this post on fascism, lived through World Wars I & II and spent a lot of time thinking about how entire nations willingly give over power to dictators. Jung’s concept of the shadow is that we all have evil within us and that the way that we grow is to recognize our own shadow. This does not mean that we do not resist or oppose evil, it just means that we recognize that we all have it within us and we choose to support the good.
Jung saw that our unowned shadow gets projected out on to others and can even get played out collectively by nations. The whole nation bears responsibility for supporting fascism and totalitarianism.
While we have a moral responsibility to resist evil in the outer world, we also have a moral responsibility to become familiar with our own evil, our own shadow. Speaking of evil, Jung wrote,
“He does not deny that terrible things have happened and still go on happening, but it is always ‘others’ who do them…Man has done these things; I am a man, who has his share of human nature; therefore I am guilty with the rest…None of us stands outside humanity’s black collective shadow…this negligence [of one’s own capability of evil] is the best means of making him an instrument of evil…[which can] lead to projection of the unrecognized evil into the ‘other.’” (Para 572, “The Undiscovered Self” in Civilization in Transition, Collected Works, X).
Jung’s proposed antidote for evil is personal growth and personal responsibility in the individual – individuation.
The us vs them mentality is what makes possible the existence of evil, because it allows one to project off one’s own shadow on another and to dehumanize them. As tempting as it is to hate another, will not be solved by dehumanizing the “other.” The current rise of fascism and totalitarianism in society is a consequence of seeing the self as all good and the other as all bad and this leads to a justification to treat others as less than human.
I’m also reminded of a quote from JRR Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Tolkien fought in World War I and also knew something about collective madness. When Frodo says he wishes the ring had never come to him, Gandalf replies:
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” (JRR Tolkien)
Enlightening. Thanks for this response. I’m grateful for the time you took to create such a thoughtful reply.