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Thoughtless, Ideological Zealotry

“Eichmann participated in the greatest act of evil in world history because of his inability to think critically about his fidelity to a Nazi ideology that he clung to as a source of significance in a lonely and alienating world. Such thoughtless ideological zealotry is, Ardent concludes, the face of evil in the modern world.”
--Roger Berkowitz, from Hannah Arendt: A Brief Biography

I would like to stress his final sentence as it applies to us today: “… thoughtless ideological zealotry is… the face of evil in the modern world.”

It was Hannah Arendt’s contention, after attending the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Israel in 1961, that Eichmann, who administered the transportation of Jews to their deaths during the “final solution,” was not the monster that people believed. He was basically a small, two-dimensional person who refused to think for himself and clung to Nazism to do his thinking for him. This crippled him as a responsible, autonomous, moral being, making him ripe for a movement that was indeed monstrous. And this was, at the time, and remains today, not uncommon.

Ideologies seek to make converts who then look back to them for their words and values. These converts want to be led. They want to identify with liberalism, or conservatism, or socialism, or populism, or a religion, or whatever appeals to their fancy and gives them ready-made answers.

And it’s not just followers. It’s the leaders who rise from their midst, bound by their own mediocrity to the lies that raise them to positions of power. We see small-minded leaders today who represent no principles at all, even the ones that they extoll. Instead, they feed on and reflect the reactionary energy of those who mindlessly yet feverishly follow their animated propaganda, i.e.: their tribal base.

This creates a closed, circular dynamic that gives even the worst ideology a self-perpetuating life of its own. Members believe they are right not because reason supports them, but because of the energy and identity that it gives them.

If today’s Knighthood means anything, it must be a rejection of the unthinking dependency of uncritical reactions. Why? Because it recognizes that we have a choice. We can be responsible people engaged in a life-quest for truth and human progress, as the better part of our nature is inclined -- or, we can condemn ourselves to becoming insignificant cogs in “a lonely,” fear-driven “and alienating world.”

Freedom gives us the opportunity to live autonomously and meaningfully free. It also allows us to surrender our freedom to those who would swallow us in their dark impulses of mind-control. Here we find the current tension between good and evil. Today’s Knighthood must always take the side of personal liberation, not its opposite, which brings about a suppression of conscience.

The choice is ours.





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