Huntington, Dostoyevsky: Moments of vision

 Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington

Literature Today Stanely Mushava

Mankind is caught up in a frenzied gyre whereby “lots of ideas that are always there and yet suddenly become new” and revitalise the constant of self-destruction. As in our day, rejection of God precedes mental disease flaunted with arrogance. One of the possessed boasts: “I pray to everything. You see the spider crawling on the wall, I look at it and thank it for crawling.”

The fault lines at the centre of 21st century conflict are ideology which does not affirm humanity and religion which does not acknowledge God.

On that degenerate arena, fewer actors know that the poorest way to be rich is to be driven by money and the worst moral blackout is pursuit of power for its own sake.

Dominance becomes religious duty, money becomes the incarnation of God, and the love of power is packaged as the power of love.

The whole show is “confused wrong, apt”, to invoke T.S. Eliot, as power systems tear compassion of culture, humanity out of ideology and God out of religion.

Occasionally, writers have been able to detach themselves from the thought circuit of their time and break down trends to their logical implications.

Such a vocation is a league apart, distinguished by mystic aptitude and critical precision and magnifying what everyone else takes for granted.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The proponents, whom Malcolm Muggeridge calls God’s spies, follow strands others consider negligible and establish something of essence and effect.

Two works of staggering genius, “Demons” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and “The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of the World Order” by Samuel Huntington, belong to this order.

Dostoyevsky, a Russian novelist with a prophetic mantle, and Huntington, an American political scientist, reproachable for his liaisons with power but useful for his insight into it, converge from distinct settings and prefigure the world caving into cultural fault lines.

Reading between the headlines, one can hardly fault Huntington’s prediction, made towards the close of the last century, that conflict in post-Cold War world would be culturally motivated.

Huntington primed culture, chiefly religion, as the dominant source of conflict and drew battle lines of the future on the fault lines between civilisations.

“The Clash of Civilisations” rolls away as false, immoral, duplicitous and dangerous, therefore unsustainable, the idea of the universality of Western culture.

As the self-interested and self-appointed global policemanship of the West is coming to an end, forever discredited by the blood of Third World civilians crying out from the ground against it, the emerging world is characterised by tragedies of its own, chiefly ethnic conflict and religious clashes.

“The dangerous clashes of the future are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance and Sinic assertiveness,” Huntington writes. Needless to say, the political scientist has the headlines in his portfolio, definitely on the first two fronts.

Syria has become the washbasin of civilisational conflict but trouble spots also dapple the world map, with Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria plunged into religiously and ethnically motivated conflict, to say nothing of the Middle East in detail.

For Huntington, as much as flags still count, so do cultural symbols with increasing significance, “including crosses, crescents, and even head coverings, because culture counts, and cultural identity is what is meaningful to most people”.

Religion’s bloodied trail in the corridors of power provokes tough questions about the moral qualities of faith, compromises occasioned by political meddling and what sort of sanctuary the world needs from the escalating crises.

Huntington, principally absorbed by the theatre rather than thebackstage, does not undertake such anatomies, at least to atheological layer.

While religion is primed among the shape-shifters of the 21st century, a complex show is at play whereby powerful interests, including political and economic, fall back on centres of cohesion which antedate and surpass national boundaries and modern ideologies, to maximise their appeal.

Dostoyevsky, a Christian clairvoyant yet to be matched in world literature, weighs in with a narrative equal to the multiple strands at play.

“Demons” is a response to the nihilist ferment and counter-religious attitudes emerging during the author’s time and is regarded as an accurate prophecy of the chaos which followed the institutionalisation of atheism in his country.

The plot has all the elements of a modern broadsheet, political murder, terrorism, secularist memes, group psychology, suicide and child abuse but it reaches deeper: Dostoyevsky’s psychologically penetrating characterisation shines a searching light into the depths of the human heart.

The main characters, Pyotor Verkhovensky and Nikolai Stravrogin, are youths of destructive creativity who go about inciting support and destroying lives for a new cause.

In reality, their alternative for the establishment is the supremacy of the individual, the dominion of self over others – an ideological drift particularly at home in the 21st century.

For Dostoyevsky, there are no easy dichotomies in the gathering darkness. Organised religion and secularism have equal capacity for evil. The essential problem is the duplicity and destructive tendency of the human heart.

Reaching into our day, since the parties to the clash of civilisations are confederacies of interest, the remaking of the world order involves not just the resurgence but also the redefinition of religion from divinity and humanity to political expediency.

Religion, therefore, is recording headway in the corridors of power not so much as a wave of spiritual regeneration but as an instrument of political organisation.

Dostoyevsky’s work references elapsed atrocities, particularly the Inquisition, but, unlike feverish iconoclasts, acknowledges that the wrong is in the abuse not the essence of religion.

He processes the consequences for mankind of rejecting God as a figment of fantasy and fashioning in His stead gods of a secularcharacter: human ism, hedonism, nihilism, materialism and, lately, scientism.

The human tendency to worship goes beyond religion. When the French revolutionaries do away with the Christian God, they literally bow down to the Goddess of Reason in His stead.

Despots of the post-colony, the golden calf in the wilderness, wonders of the constellation and other icons have been stuffed into the God-shaped vacuum of man’s heart with terrible implica- tions.

Dostoyevsky takes a pre-emptory strike on fundamentalism, both secular and religious: “In that day that if you have the guillotine in the foreground of your programme and are so enthusiastic about it too, it is simply because nothing is easier than cutting off heads, and nothing is harder than to have an idea.”

One of the characters is analogous to modern systems which do not notice their people’s poverty but are proud of showing expensive weapons.

Mankind is caught up in a frenzied gyre whereby “lots of ideas that are always there and yet suddenly become new” and revitalise the constant of self-destruction.

As in our day, rejection of God precedes mental disease flaunted with arrogance. One of the possessed boasts: “I pray to everything. You see the spider crawling on the wall, I look at it and thank it for crawling.”

Nikolai, before turning to nihilism believed in a national god, one of the many gods now drawing the world to the clash of civilisations: “If a great people does not believe that the truth is only to be found initself alone (in itself alone and in it exclusively); if it does not believe that it alone is fit and destined to raise up and save all the rest by its truth, it would at once sink into being ethnographical material, and not a great people.”

“Demons” anticipates “The Clash of Civilisations” behind gods shaped by the nations: “Every people is only a people so long as it has its own god and excludes all other gods on earth irreconcilably; so long as it believes that by its god it will conquer and drive out of the world all other gods.”

Dostoyevsky slams the violent universalism of the Papacy: “Rome proclaimed Christ subject to the third temptation of the devil.

“Announcing to all the world that Christ without an earthly kingdom cannot hold his ground upon earth, Catholicism by so doing proclaimed Antichrist and ruined the whole Western world,” one of the characters says.

In staking a claim in the corridors of power and arming to expand their worldly turf, religious fundamentalists and universalists deny Christ who was the victim rather the agent of violence; who maintained that His kingdom was not of the world. They reject truth for dogma and deny God for self-interest.

Scientism, now being flaunted in jihadist fashion by the new atheists, notably Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, as the idea to end all ideas, is faulted as morally unsustainable as it cannot distinguish between right and wrong.

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