The Underpinnings of Canada’s Civic Religion

The Underpinnings of Canada’s Civic Religion

by

Howard Adelman

Last week in Ottawa, I attended an interfaith conference called, “Our Whole Society: Religion and Citizenship at Canada’s 150th.” My talk, indeed the panel I was on, addressed the issue of immigration and refugees. A short report on my talk can be found in Peter Stockland’s article, “How Faith Fosters Civility,” in the magazine, Convivium, 19 May 2017:  https://www.convivium.ca/articles/how-faith-fosters-civility. I will elaborate on the talk I gave in a subsequent blog.

There are five in this series:

  1. Underpinnings
  2. Undercutting and Reinforcing
  3. Democratic Deficit
  4. Political Communication
  5. Canada’s Civic Religion

In this blog, I want to deal with the presumptions underpinning my observations of Canada’s civic religion. If you are disinterested in philosophical grounding, skip this blog. In subsequent blogs in the series, I will point to the conclusions of various communication sciences to indicate why the values of Canada’s civic religion, as best articulated in interfaith dialogue, will not save Canada from the disaster afflicting America. Only then will I provide a more comprehensive articulation of the norms of that civic religion and offer a critique.

The term “civic religion” may seem inherently contradictory. After all, we live in the Western world where there is a strict separation of religion and the state. Civic, in the sense used here, refers to civic duties of citizens of a state. Thus, we have a moral duty to vote, not as an inherent belief of one’s religion, but as a member of a democratic polity. Civic duties are about this world. Religious duties are often conceived to be about the world to come or about the transcendental power of a divine being that manifests itself in different beliefs and practices and, indeed, worship. Reason is purportedly the language of politics; faith is the language of religion. That religion has values which are used to inform conduct in this world. However, it is precisely this separation of the religious and secular worlds that is in play.

Immanuel Kant wrote that his efforts were undertaken to define the boundaries of reason and of knowledge to make room for faith. But his perspective shifted over his period of intellectual development. After the peak of his intellectual output for which he is best known, his voluminous three Critiques, published between 1787 and 1790, propounded the view in the preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason that, “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.” Subsequently, his definition of limits to reason and knowledge to make room for faith began to make room for a more subversive position. He asserted that religion was and had to be rational and had to provide the foundations of our values. Religion permeated civil and political society to constitute the core values of a society. God emerged from this intellectual journey as immanent rather than transcendent. This series of blogs is an exploration of how this took place in Canada.

There are many reasons offered for this shift, including non-rational ones, such as his resentment against the Prussian Junkers under Frederick William II for attempting to censor his writings on religion – Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. There were also cultural influences – his initial pietism stressing biblical study and moral behaviour, but later rejection of the side of pietism that celebrated external religious displays. His inherited Enlightenment convictions concerning the rule of reason led first to his rejection of creationism, and later his rejection of the belief that religion, and even science as a pursuit rather than a method, could be founded on reason alone. He became convinced that a rationally-based religion was not possible; religion was a matter of non-rational faith and had to retreat to make room for the universal truths of Newtonian science as he pursued the goal of rooting science in reason alone independent of an omniscient and perfect divine being. Finally, there was also the influence of Hume’s scepticism that rooted both religious faith and even scientific pursuits on habits forged by history and culture.

How are the dimensions of reason and empiricism, as well as reason and faith, reconciled? As he articulated his doctrine in his triad of great books, the Critiques, the reconciliation lay in the necessary preconditions for both faith and reason, of both empirical (the premise of causation) and deductive methods. For all were rooted in the necessary conditions for any thinking as revealed in his unique transcendental method that allowed for faith outside but ethical behaviour within the bounds of reason. Scientific reason, moral behaviour and practical judgement, even as they relied on experiential input, were all based fundamentally on a priori premises that were universally valid and a precondition of any thought whatsoever.

What emerged was the development of an ethical religion. For an adherent, it did not matter whether one was a Jew or a Lutheran. Both could worship the same God in defence of the same set of values that were themselves as universal as any religious creed. Establishment Jews in large numbers in Germany – the Polanyi, the Stern, the Baum families, abut whom I have been writing – converted to Lutheranism to practice the common ethical moralism of German society, ignoring entirely the deep roots of antisemitism in the writings of Martin Luther, the founder of that church. Of course, conversion also was opportunistic since the formal rules often banned Jews from taking up professorships in universities at one time. Karl Polanyi would develop an ethical economics, Fritz Stern an ethical history of Germany, Gregory Baum an ethical sociology and theology. Kant had introduced a seismic revolution for both Christianity and Judaism to allow both to live on the surface in imperfect harmony.

The superficiality of that harmony was revealed by Hegel and was ripped asunder by Friedrich Nietzsche. Emil Fackenheim, in The Religious Dimensions of Hegel’s Thought, pointed out that Hegel’s central critique of Kant was that the latter had failed, and failed absolutely, to reconcile faith and reason. And not just in thought, but in political and religious institutions. Kant facilitated mindblindness. Revolutionary forces were underway and Kant provided a rationale that allowed a positive ethical external religion to provide a cover that left the dynamics of ecstasy and action as well as the enthusiastic creative energy of spirit behind. Life throbbed. Kant only offered lifeless thought.

Hegel showed that philosophy, rather than being divorced from history in abstract thought, was, and had to be, understood as thoroughly rooted in context. Time and space were not abstract dimensions of sensibility and thought, but the experiential realities from which even barren thought arose. History was about resolving incongruences, not just the abstract ones at the core of Kantianism. History was about desire and passion, about power and economic needs, and, in the end, about conflict between old, outmoded institutions and the demands (and shortcomings) of the new. Philosophy was historical, not ahistorical. Further, life and philosophy were inherently religious as will become clear by the end of this series of blogs. And the comprehending activity of religion had itself to be critiqued and comprehended. The absolute was with us in every age and time and we comprehend the divine and the shortcomings of our comprehension through the examination of the absolutes of our time.

All our gods, all our absolutes, have failed and must be resurrected anew for each period. Judaism, unlike the Christianity of Kant’s Prussia or the Weimar Republic over a century later, understood that all these gods were different aspects of the one God that revealed himself in history while Christianity was a repeated effort to flee that insight, to flee its basic foundation, in favour of Greek abstract and ahistorical thought and theology. In reality, God descends, becomes immanent and sacrifices Himself in different modes in different times. Those who dub this as a progressive transformation are blind to the destructive forces let loose by the process of transformation as we experience at each stage the death of god and are required to go through a period of suffering and sacrifice.

In Hegel’s time, and in our own almost universally, man has once again repeated the ultimate sin, the sin of idolatry, the sin of narcissism, the sin of regarding and worshipping himself as divine. The alternative to the vision of an omniscient and omnipotent god need not be worship of the self and the ability of the individual to engage in self-realization and self-transformation. The latter sin and that idolatry, as well as the cover up for it, must be observed in the particulars of our time and the thought in which and through which history is understood and reflected. What we must search for and uncover is the partiality of all thought. Every attempt to comprehend it all will be doomed to be shattered as much as we may have faith in its overarching vision. Spirit itself as revealed in time is always partial and explains why we can never see and confront the face of God head on.

At the very beginning of the nineteenth century, Hegel defended twelve theses at a formal Disputation to earn his right to offer university lectures. The problem of philosophy was not the search for eternal and infinite wisdom, but the effort to reconcile the vision of the perfect with the reality of the imperfect, insisting that Kant had become frozen in carrying through the radicalism of Hume’s scepticism and had carried rational philosophy to a dead end by finding an absolute in itself, and becoming uncritical of itself.

In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the last section follows the section on Spirit with a portion on Religion, that discusses how we manifest our abstract religious beliefs and values in everyday life. Consciousness is institutionalized. And consciousness is merely the reflection of and reflection into human experience. Morality that is certain of itself becomes the distillation of that religious consciousness.

If Marx became the anti-Hegel by sacrificing religion in worship of the material realm, Nietzsche became the anti-Hegel by sacrificing religion to save spirit. Nietzsche’s enemy was Christianity, that element of and phase of Judaism that failed to recover from its exile in Babylon and return. Instead, Judaism turned inwards and became frightened. Nietzsche challenged the retreat into oneself in favour of the transvaluation of values, in favour of radical inversion of morality managed solely by the heroic individual. Instead, he opted to return to a form of paganism as he expressed in Ecce Homo, the need to develop a new breed of men, an elite, not one that led the workers of the world in revolt, but ones dedicated to taking humanity to a higher level. The premise, which challenged both the Judeo-Christian precepts and Kantian morality, was a denial, not simply as Hegel contended that humans were unequal in different ways at different times in their spiritual epic journey, but that salvation, as Marx insisted, depended on an avant-garde, an elite that led humanity into transforming itself fundamentally.

In Nietzsche’s view, Judaism once embraced this spirit of conquest, this consciousness of the necessity of power, both over others and to transform oneself, and the joy and hope to be found therein. But that spirit of self-transformation had been lost with rabbinic Judaism and its turn inward to legalism and with Christianity in the absolute submission of man in service of a divine Other. It was then that Jews sold themselves short and sold out to legalism and were sold out in turn and subsequently became the victims of persecution of those who rejected the rule of law in favour of suffering and sacrifice and the need of a scapegoat to escape that outcome for themselves. Diaspora Jews, who could and were in a position to save humanity and resurrect the life spirit according to Friedrich Nietzsche, largely cowered in fear and accommodated themselves to the dominating force of authority instead of expressing their historical dynamism by returning to nature, by returning to their roots in the land to once again become the strongest and toughest people on earth. Nietzsche did not live to see the rise of Zionism.

How were humans to accomplish this? Not by receding from history in service to the eternal and not by accommodating the dominant ethos of the status quo. Nor by expressing resentment concerning a disillusioned secular world, a world that had lost its sense of enchantment and awe to find deliverance either in the ecstatic escape of unreason or an escape into reason, individualism, self-making and self-overcoming.

Hitler declared, and Donald Trump now concurs, that, “The national government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. Christianity is the foundation of our national morality and the family the basis of national life.” Hitler and Trump offered a mystical brew of pseudo-religion and purported self-interest that would soon reveal itself as the interest of the few and the deception and seduction of the many. What we need to examine is how, following Hegel, the dialectic of history has come to be interpreted pragmatically in the form of a set of overriding Kantian values for our time, and how that set of values, while inspiring high moral accomplishments, also blinds us the weaknesses of our own position as we are appalled at the values that we see articulated by Hitler copycats.

In Hegel’s time, it meant that Protestant clergy remained hostile to the truly liberal state as well as to Jews who refused to convert. Today, it means that this clergy embraces the values of the liberal state as well as their Jewish brethren. They have thrown overboard the doctrine of supersession in favour of shared beliefs, not only with Judaism, but with all other faiths. Some commentators believe that Democrats believe that all American Democrats need to do is copy Canadians and articulate the core values of the American civic religion in terms of historical connections and metaphors that touch their constituents.

An examination, first of our underlying nature and of various sciences, especially those involving communication, will try to show why that will not work (tomorrow), while, in the final blog in this series, a critique of Canadian interfaith values will try to delineate the shortcomings in terms of the population they do not reach and the declining power and efficaciousness of the civic religion of Canada.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

History Matters

History Matters

by

Howard Adelman

There is an irony that I find, one which Friedrich Nietzsche failed to address when he wrote his short book, The Use and Abuse of History. History is subject to severe abuse when agents wish to rewrite history. It does not matter whether one is writing heroic history and acclaiming that the glorious record of the past has produced the wonders of the present that will guarantee a magnificent future (progressive/heroic history) or whether one has a dystopic view of the immediate past and puts forth an argument that the past betrayed an idyllic beginning so that the course of history needs to be radically altered otherwise the current trajectory will carry a nation into the dustbin of history (dystopic history).

There are two other possible pure patterns, only one of which can be found in frequent practice. Unlike the two models of history above running from an idyllic past either to a heroic or dystopic future, one possible model traces history directly from a heroic past without blemish to a heroic future. I can think of no concrete practice that follows this pattern. However, I do find histories written in terms of an immoral past which continues to corrupt events leading to the horrors of the present and to future shock – unless, of course, we lift up our moral game. This is not simply an historical account to which values are applied, but a historical record molded and cast in terms of the ethical format applied to the case. In this case, ‘corrupt” has a double irony, both applied to the record offered and to the moral mold applied to interpreting history.

The four patterns of history, which are not patterns of actual history, can be represented as follows, the first having no cases so it is listed first and separately:

Nil Examples of Heroic History: Heroic Past to Heroic Present

Actual Examples

  1. Heroic History: from Idyllic Past to Heroic Present
  2. Dystopic History: from Idyllic Past to Dystopic Present
  3. Corrupt History: from Horrific Past to Dystopic Present

Yesterday, Donald Trump once again gave witness that he was a member of the dystopic school of abusers of history. He ran on a slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which carried the message that America was once a great nation, that it had seriously declined, but could be saved and restored to greatness once again. To make that case, he has repeatedly deformed the immediate past, whether he was making claims about individuals – Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. – or whether he was making a general statement about a collectivity – Blacks live in decrepit crime-ridden neighbourhoods. He did not say that rundown and crime ridden neighbourhoods were often populated by Blacks and Hispanics – itself somewhat of a distortion since the opioid epidemic is currently flourishing in small town white America.

However, yesterday he made a counterfactual claim about the past when America was not so great, when America had deteriorated into civil war.  In an interview with Salena Zito of the Washington Examiner, when referring to the portrait of Andrew Jackson that hangs on the wall of his office, he posited the thesis that the Civil War would not have happened if Andrew Jackson had been president in the 1850s rather than two decades earlier. This was a Republican president denouncing the founding president of his party (Abraham Lincoln) for being an inadequate leader and one who helped bring about the civil war that ravaged America just over a century and a half ago. The edited transcript reads as follows:

[Jackson] was a swashbuckler. But when his wife died, did you know he visited her grave every day? I visited her grave actually, because I was in Tennessee…had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. And he was really angry that — he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

Even though this is a counterfactual hypothesis about an alternative path that history could have followed, the speculation entailed several historical falsehoods – about Frederick Douglass and about a non-existent Civil War battle. In the above quote, there are the claims about Jackson’s character: he was a swashbuckler, very tough but with a big heart. This is a matter of interpretation, and certainly apparently outlandish with respect to Jackson having a “big heart” considering his initiative at ethnic cleaning of the Cherokee and other tribes in the incident known as the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern U.S. to the western plains. However, to assert, in absolute certainty, that, had Jackson been in the presidency, there would have been no Civil War is an exercise in dogmatic retrospective futurology when the one lesson history teaches is that, if the path of history is notoriously difficult to predict, retrospectively rewriting the past in terms of a specific alternative is a virtual impossibility.

The statement that Jackson “saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War” and said, “There’s no reason for this (my italics)” is also preposterously and demonstrably false. Jackson died in 1845, sixteen years before the war started. Further, if anything, Jackson helped set the groundwork for the Civil War when South Carolina threatened to secede – the first state to make such a threat – not over slavery, but over the new tariffs Jackson had imposed as a mercantilist opposed to free trade. The export of the products of South Carolina were very adversely affected. But when has Donald Trump ever been stymied by the realities of history?

Last week, in an interview he opined that, “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever. So we’re looking at that, and we’re also looking at the potential of going to Saudi Arabia.” Other than the difficulty of trying to decipher precisely what this statement means – is he suggesting that he is looking towards the Saudi plan to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? – the claim that “there is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and Palestinians” goes even further than utopian progressivists in Scandinavia and elsewhere who argue that the explanation for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that Europe decided to resolve its “Jewish problem” by exporting that so-called problem to the Middle East.

The latter is known as the “Dumping Thesis.” The problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back to European antisemitism. The later version of the dumping thesis was that Europe, because of guilt over the Shoah, supported the creation of Israel. Europe displaced its Jewish problem by supporting Zionism and the movement of Jews from Europe to the Middle East.

I was reminded of this thesis when Gregory Baum very recently sent me his memoir called, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway. (I will review the book, specifically its marriage of Augustinian and liberation theology, in a future blog.) I first met Gregory in 1955. I was hitching a ride at the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Bathurst to the University of Toronto where I was enrolled in the premedical program. Gregory was driving his beaten-up old Volkswagen from the Augustinian monastery in Marylake in King City north of Toronto off Keele Street. The thousand acres once belonged to the estate of Sir Henry Pellatt who built Casa Loma, a current popular tourist attraction two blocks from my home for the past fifty years. Gregory was a priest. He lived in the monastery at Marylake. By the time we reached the university, we had become friends.

Gregory is a beautiful man truly with a great heart. His broad smile lights up a room and he credits his “inner smile” to the warmth and love of his mother, on the one hand, and his “blindness” to the horrors of the world on the other hand. He was born in Berlin fifteen years before my mother gave birth to me in Toronto. His family had been prosperous industrialists in Germany and his father, a nominal Protestant, died when he was a year old because of the aftereffects of wounds he suffered as a German army officer in WWI. Gregory’s father had in part been responsible for the gas attacks on the allied forces and had received the Iron Cross. He had also been an assistant to Dr. Fritz Haber, also a nominal Protestant, but of Jewish origin. Haber received a Nobel Prize in 1919, awarded in 1918, for his innovations in chemistry, in particular, “the synthesis of ammonia from its elements.” He was also the inventor of the cyanide-based gas, Zyklon B, used in the extermination camps in the Shoah.

Though Gregory’s grandparents on both sides had been Jewish, he had been raised celebrating Christmas and Easter in an avowedly secular home. German culture had been the religion of his family. However, when Hitler came to power, he was designated as a Jew because his mother and grandparents were Jewish, but he escaped Germany with his step-father who had international business connections, first to Britain, where he was part of the children’s transport. Subsequently, he was interned with many other German Jews in Canada during the early years of the war where he became a close friend of Emil Fackenheim who supervised my MA thesis on Hegel and Nietzsche.

As students, we shared the anecdote that Rabbi Fackenheim had been responsible for converting Gregory Baum to Catholicism because Emil had introduced Gregory to the Mediaeval Institute at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. Gregory’s memoir destroyed that ironic anecdote for me, but it was true that his education in the Canadian internment camp for “German citizens”, from which he was released in 1942, woke up his intellectual probing.

Gregory Baum was baptized in 1946 and would go on to become a leading figure in the Catholic Church in liberation theology. He was a seminal figure in Vatican II initiated by Pope John XXIII that convened between 1962 and 1965 when it was closed by Pope Paul VI, who was a participant, but subsequently systematically set out to subvert many of its reformist measures, though not its call for holy renewal or the introduction of vernacular languages in the church services. Gregory was a peritus, a mavin serving as theological adviser at the Ecumenical Secretariat.

In 1976, Gregory was forced to resign from the priesthood and the Augustinian Order, but for awhile remained a professor of sociology at St. Michael’s College before he moved to Montreal and McGill University. It was during that period that we had a long argument in my home study near Casa Loma. He and Cranford Pratt, who passed away last year, along with John Burbidge (a fellow Hegelian and member of the Toronto Hegelian group with myself) and William Dunphy, had authored a pamphlet entitled, “Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation in the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Christian Perspective.” None of them were either historians or philosophers of history. Cran and Gregory had come over to my study to discuss a draft they had written and had forwarded to me and to get my reaction. The argument we had did not change their minds. They did not change mine.

The central debate concerned their contention that Europe had a prime responsibility for the Israeli-Arab conflict and had dumped its problem with the Jews on the Palestinians in the Middle East. When I read his memoir, I was sorry to learn that in all these years he had never corrected what I considered to be major historical and factual errors in the Pamphlet that he and Cran Pratt had come to discuss back in the seventies.

Tomorrow, I will analyze Gregory Baum’s version of Israeli history. While Trump offered us a dystopic view of the American past, Gregory offered the world a horrific account of Israeli history. He wrote corrupt history. Both Trump and Baum interpreted history with a cavalier approach to historical facts.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Is Donald Trump a Fascist? Part II

Is Donald Trump a Fascist? Part II

by

Howard Adelman

Trump doesn’t believe in tradition. He does not believe in science. He does not believe in thinking. So what does he believe in? Well, he doesn’t believe in dissent – “Throw him out.” He believes in “Me”. BELIEVE ME is his motto as he claims to be the voice of the frustrated middle class stalled or even dropping down in the competitive climb upwards of the modern age. He believes in manipulating the aggravations and exasperations of the discontented and the infuriated to build a movement founded in resentment. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, the politics of resentment is built on a foundation of feeling powerless and seeing oneself as a victim of the actions of others. Trump targets elites who he claims live off the avails of politics – and, as he openly admits, he should know because he personally preyed upon and used that self-serving politics of the elite. He is the epitome of the glaring inequities in wealth and taking advantage of the tax code to pay as little tax as legally possible – which can be very little. He is the epitome of privilege. And he became the voice of the disintegration of the Republican Party that increasingly relied on vitriolic, uncompromising take no-prisoners rhetoric. He showed that he could do it better than any of the rest of his competitors.

When violence assaults us daily and appears both immovable and persistent, precisely at a time when political rhetoric is most needed that is temperate and cool, it is easy to stoke the coals of burning resentment into a wildfire that is as unstable and unpredictable as that which destroyed a good part of Fort McMurray this past spring. Resentment erupts like a volcano, and once the lava starts to flow profusely, it is virtually impossible to stop. One only prays that the quantity present will not be in such profuse proportions that it will destroy civilization as we know it.

But the resentment was there. Donald Trump did not manufacture it. Bernie Sanders tapped into the same vein of those who feel powerless, who feel exploited, who feel that they have become outsiders in a country in which they previously constituted the core of the American dream both in their status and in their values. They have become bitter and unloving and may now be immune to the Democratic Party appeal to hope and love and positive thinking and a deep belief that everyone can benefit from a rising tide. They certainly have not.

It is because of the politics of resentment that a famous journalist less than one hundred years ago in the first half of the twentieth century, H.I. Mencken, had such a jaundiced view of the voting public and recognized the appeal of fear-mongering to a populace full of repressed anger, those whom Mencken disparagingly referred to as the booboisie in contrast to the bourgeoisie, to the gullible public wide open to the appeal of a verbal soothsayer who sews fear and paints a picture of an apocalypse that so conforms to their inner feelings about self and the state of the world. Mencken understood the politics of resentment because he had read Friedrich Nietzsche and even wrote about him. Mencken knew a mountebank when he saw one because Mencken had the same dismissive temperament but, in comparison, excelled in the art of dissing. Politicians were mainly swindlers or oafs. Most voters had a herd mentality, were incapable of rational thought and looked totally ready to be led to the slaughter by the first “shepherd” who came along, the first savior who promised a form of salvation as he led them on a death march.

Donald Trump replaced the crusading and corrupt evangelist preachers of a former era so it is no real surprise that he can appeal to the evangelical crowd in spite of his blaring non-Christian values. His appeal to evangelicals is more powerful than that of Ted Cruz because he taps into a deeper core of hatred and resentment. For far deeper than the love of mankind, Mencken argued, was the hatred for “one’s betters,” the intense distaste for privilege. What better one to lead them than a Moses who grew up as an outsider in that realm of privilege and came down from that mountain to lead them into the wilderness by depicting the elites as exploiters and enslavers, as abusers and misusers, so that even the surrounding other nations get painted with the same brush as misled idolaters climbing upward at their expense. In the mind of the populist, the moral uplift of the Democratic Convention can be regarded as so much bunkum.

What Trump had going for him is that, like Mencken who dissed democracy without limit, Trump too has a sense of glee in the whole affair. A good part of him regards the whole exercise as an effort in stirring up amusement, as an opportunity to bathe in his own cussing and cursing, as an opportunity for whimsical and irreverent expression disguised as thinking. For Trump, all declarations of truths are simply fictions, simply fabrications, simply illusions, and he is as capable of contributing as any trained scientist. He is a post-modern man indifferent to the gap between conception and sensibility. So, of course, the fact that the truth-checkers can find as much as twenty-five outright lies in his speech to the Republican Convention, the fact that he utters explicit falsehoods at an average of two or three a day, is totally irrelevant. Correction is totally irrelevant and its uselessness proves that the whole idea of truth is itself an invention of the devil. The neo-liberal cosmopolitan dream is just as much a deceit as nativism and protectionism, but at least the latter will allegedly benefit those who have been abandoned and left behind.

Why, Donald asks, should one believe Hillary? She has been a major contributor to the neo-liberal internationalist fraud, but now claims to love you, to care for you, that she will introduce protective measures that will reverse the downward drift. Believe her and you can believe me, Trump proclaims, and you can believe me much more because I recognize your hatred and resentment and do not engage in the fraudulent appeal to love.

No more apathy. We need to create an army that rebels against the elites Trump cries out. I know you are frightened, Trump tells them. I recognize that you feel imperiled. I recognize that you have been pushed into a corner of apathy and acquiescence. Well it is time to open every window and shout, “We won’t take it anymore,” and make the walls of Jericho come crashing down. Did I rise by sincerity or by sin? Did I rise by believing in, “We the people?” I exemplify the exposure of the lie and that is why I am best to lead you, supposedly to the land of milk and honey, but, in reality, into the wilderness. That is why you, the vulnerable, can count on me as your voice. NOT because I feel what you do, but because I express what you feel and I epitomize and understand the manipulation to which you have been subjected. I will lead you to drowning the rich and the ostentatious in a sea of reeds. So do not be surprised that they resent me. Do not be surprised that my class and my peers turn against me. For at heart I am an outsider who has risen into their ranks and have now set out to destroy the royal order.

We the people? Self-government? Self-legislation? Are you kidding? This is the very guise on which the rich and the powerful have acquired their wealth and accumulated their power. Respect the other? Conduct yourself with dignity? No. Rebel and throw mud in their faces. Problem solving? Pragmatism? Political policy debates? These are all cover-ups for a renewed power grab. The winners teach falsifiability only to repress real and deep criticism. Trust us because we know we err, they pronounce. Does Trump say that he knows we cannot always achieve what we promise? Does Trump announce that he knows that we are fallible? No. No more. Trust me, not that collective brew of liars and thieves. Trust me because I am a liar and a thief and know the ropes. Only I can lead you out of slavery to a system built on lies. I know idolatry when I see it because I have made the mass of my wealth by building those idols.

Education, social interaction, discussion and debate – these are all frauds and if you expect me to beat Hillary Clinton under such a rigged system, you have to think again. But you won’t. You are too deeply immersed in your false vision of a land of milk and honey for all. I can deliver that land because I truly understand that you cannot simply nip the elites at the tips of their fingers and their ears. You have to drown them. You have to destroy them. You have to seize their wealth and power even as you offer them more tax breaks to limit the use of their money in opposing you. That is my route to leading you to paradise. And it will be built on the power and energy erupting from your deep resentment. And on my recognition and cultivation of that resentment. I deserve to lead you because I refuse to be a patrician but am not a plebian but myself come from the monied aristocracy. I have demonstrated I can lead you by conquering the bastion of the patricians, the Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln and the pretense that all men are born equal as the cover for increasing inequality and repression. I can lead you because I am strong and recognize your weakness. That is why you need and can count of me as a charismatic ruler. With your help, I and only I am capable of seizing that power. Believe me.

And count on this. Hillary promises to beat the Islamic fanatics as they grow in strength and in their destructiveness. But Hillary does not – nor do even our establishment generals – recognize that you already possess the tools to do so. For any battle waged with fanatics cannot be won with rational calculation, clever strategies and well thought-out plans. For this is where we the people come in. The people must offer a counter-martyrdom, a willingness to die for an alternate cause, a willingness to set aside fine distinctions between loyal Muslims and extremism, a willingness to brand the whole lot of them as extremist.

And this is where Donald Trump fails as a fascist. He is unwilling to spell out that need for self-sacrifice, the need for martyrdom, that this is perceived as a fight to the finish, not only one in which the other must not be left with one soldier standing, but by a willingness to sacrifice the whole herd in the cause of fighting the alien Others. Trump lacks the insight of Jean Jacques Rousseau that what is required is a general will to oppose both common sense on the one hand and total and absolute common insensitivity on the other hand. For those are the two parties really engaged in battle.

That is why I appeal to your nativism, Trump might explain, why I elevate our national identity into a cult, why I trace our origins to our membership in the same country and pinpoint outliers as enemies, why I paint a portrait of a conspiracy, a deliberate plan, to keep you oppressed, why it is an international plot rather than one attributable to Russia or China, let alone North Korea and Turkey. That is why xenophobia is not to be discarded but embraced. You feel besieged because you are besieged by a cosmopolitan conspiracy of globalization. And in league with Muslims, a far better target for Americans than Jews. Like Leon Trotsky, like Mao Zeduog of the cultural revolution, revolution, revolt and the enhancing the belief that the other are truly revolting, requires a permanent commitment, a permanent revolution. A campaign had to be forged on breaking one’s teeth by biting the air and regarding human flesh as disposable and ready to be sacrificed as a scorched-earth burnt offering.

So is Trump a fascist? Certainly ha has many of the traits. Certainly there is a family resemblance between himself and Putin, between himself and Erdoğan, between himself and Mussolini, between himself and Hitler. But it is only a family resemblance. Donald Trump is on the same range of leaders in the politics of resentment, but he is at the other extreme from Hitler, though he shares none of Hitler’s traits, but some of the characteristics of those who mediate between Hitler and himself and increasingly carry a bit more of Trump’s character the closer they stand shoulder to shoulder with him. In the serial and uninterrupted series of decreasing similarities between Trump and Hitler, we find the suspicions of fascism, but as we near the Trump terminus, the core elements are missing. That is why we may be prone to labeling Trump as a fascist, but also why he is not one and why, in labeling him that way as a slogan rather than as a conclusion of empirical analysis and critique, we lose by falling onto the same practice of false labeling which is his forte.

The reality, in the end, is that Donald Trump lacks enough of the qualities to make him a true fascistic leader.

With the help of Alex Zisman