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Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility

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There is an old adage which states that you do not know how big a tree is until you try and cut it down. Today, as cultural forces slowly destroy it, we are beginning to understand that the same thing can be said about personal responsibility.

Society no longer believes that people ought to bear their suffering with dignity and grace. Rather, it now believes that the problems of the individual ought to be made the problems of the community. Individual problems are no longer the consequence of individual decisions, but come as the result of race, gender, class, and so forth.

The result of this move towards collective responsibility has been the invention of victim culture. According to this culture, non-whites are the victims of racism and white privilege, women are the victims of the patriarchy, homosexuals are the victims of a heteronormative society.

The 20th century is a perfect example of what happens when responsibility is taken from the hands of the individual and placed in the hands of the mob. The twin evils of communism and Nazism – which blamed the problems of the individual on economic and racial factors, respectively – led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Furthermore, such ideologies led otherwise decent individuals to commit acts of unspeakable violence. Whilst observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a former SS soldier who had been one of the architects of the Holocaust, the writer, Hannah Arendt was struck by the “banality of evil” that had characterised German war atrocities. Arendt noted that the men who conspired to commit genocide were not raving lunatics foaming at the mouth, but rather dull individuals inspired to commit evil due to a sense of duty to a toxic and corrupt ideology.

The Bolsheviks taught the Russian people that their misfortune had been caused by the wealthy. And that the wealth was gained through theft and exploitation. Likewise, the Nazis convinced the German people that their problems could be blamed on the Jews. It is not difficult to see how this philosophy led, step by step, to the gulags and the concentration camps.

The same thing is happening today. The only difference is that those who play it have become more sophisticated. Today people are encouraged to identify with identity groups ranked by so-called social privilege. Then they are taught to despise those with more social privilege than them.

Under this philosophy, crime is not caused by the actions of the individual, but by social forces like poverty, racism, and upbringing. Advocates claim that women should not be forced to take responsibility for their sexual behaviour by allowing them to essentially murder their unborn children. Sexually transmitted diseases like HIV is caused by homophobia rather than immoral and socially irresponsible behaviour. And alcoholism and drug addiction are treated as a disease rather than a behaviour the addict is supposed to take responsibility for. The list is endless.

Personal responsibility helps us take control of our lives. It means that the individual can take a certain amount of control over his own life even when the obstacles he is facing seem insurmountable.

No one, least of all me, is going to argue that individuals don’t face hardships that are not their fault. What I am going to argue, however, is that other people will respect you more if you take responsibility for your problems, especially if those problems are not your fault. Charity for aids sufferers, the impoverished, or reformed criminals is all perfectly acceptable. But we only make their plight worse by taking their personal responsibility from them.

Responsibility justifies a person’s life and helps them find meaning in their suffering. Central to the Christian faith is the idea that individuals are duty bound to bear their suffering with dignity and grace and to struggle towards being a good person. To force a man to take responsibility for himself is to treat him as one of God’s creations.

You cannot be free if other people have to take responsibility for your decisions. When you take responsibility from the hands of the individual you tarnish his soul and steal his freedom.

Freedom from responsibility is slavery, not freedom. Freedom is the ability to make decisions according to the dictates of own’s own conscience and live with the consequences of that decision. Freedom means having the choice to engage in the kind immoral behaviour that leads to an unwanted pregnancy or AIDS. What it does not do is absolve you from responsibility for those actions. Slavery disguised as kindness and compassion is still slavery.

CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS

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Next Monday will mark fifty-five years since the Cuban Missile Crisis. For thirteen days, the world held its collective breath as tensions between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics reached boiling point. Whoever averted the crisis would be glorified in the annals of history, whoever escalated it would be responsible for the annihilation of life on earth.

Our story begins in July, 1962, when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (1926 – 2016) and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894 – 1971) came to a secret agreement to deter another US-backed invasion attempt (the US had previously backed the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, and were planning another invasion called ‘Operation Mongoose’) by planting nuclear missiles on Cuban soil. On September 4th, routine surveillance flights discovered the general build-up of Soviet arms, including Soviet IL-28 bombers. President John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963) issued a public warning against the introduction of offensive weapons in Cuba.

Another surveillance flight on October 14th discovered the existence of medium-range and immediate range ballistic nuclear weapons in Cuba. President Kennedy met with his advisors to discuss options and direct a course of action. Opinions seemed to be divided between sending strong warnings to Cuba and the Soviet Union and using airstrikes to eliminate the threat followed by an immediate invasion. Kennedy chose a third option. He would use the navy to ‘quarantine Cuba’ – a word used to legally distinguish the action from a blockade (an act of war).

kennedy-khrushchev-pKennedy then sent a letter to Khrushchev stating that the US would not tolerate offensive weapons in Cuba and demanded the immediate dismantling of the sites and the return of the missiles to the Soviet Union. Finally, Kennedy appeared on national television to explain the crisis and its potential global consequences to the American people. Directly echoing the Monroe doctrine, he told the American people: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” The Joint Chief of Staff then declared a military readiness level of DEFCON 3.

On October 23rd, Khrushchev replied to Kennedy’s letter claiming that the quarantining of Cuba was an act of aggression and that he had ordered Soviet ships to proceed to the island. When another US reconnaissance flight reported that the Cuban missile sites were nearing operational readiness, the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded by upgrading military readiness to DEFCON 2. War involving Strategic Air Command was imminent.

On October 26th, Kennedy complained to his advisors that it appeared only military action could remove the missiles from Cuba. Nevertheless, he continued to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That afternoon, ABC News correspondent, John Scali (1918 – 1995), informed the White House that he had been approached by a Soviet agent who had suggested that the Soviets were prepared to remove their missiles from Cuba if the US promised not to proceed with an invasion. The White House scrambled to determine the validity of this offer. Later that evening, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a long, emotional message which raised the spectre of nuclear holocaust and suggested a resolution similar to that of the Soviet agent: “if there is no intention to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie the knot. We are ready for this.”

Hope was short-lived. The next day Khrushchev sent Kennedy another message demanding the US remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey as a part of any resolution. That same day, a U2 Spy Plane was shot down over Cuba.

Kennedy and his advisors now planned for an immediate invasion of Cuba. Nevertheless, slim hopes for a diplomatic resolution remained. It was decided to respond the Khrushchev’s first message. In his message, Kennedy suggested possible steps towards the removal of the missiles from Cuba, suggested the whole business take place under UN supervision, and promised the US would not invade Cuba. Meanwhile, Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925 – 1968) met secretly with the Soviet Ambassador to America, Anatoly Dobrynin (1919 – 2010). Attorney General Kennedy indicated that the US was prepared to remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey but that it could not be part of any public resolution.

On the morning of October 28th, Khrushchev issued a public statement. The Soviet missiles stationed in Cuba would be dismantled and returned to the Soviet Union. The United States continued its quarantine of Cuba until the missiles had been removed, and withdrew its Navy on November 20th. In April 1963, the US removed its Jupiter missiles from Turkey. The world breathed a sigh of relief.

The Cuban Missile Crisis symbolises both the terrifying spectre of nuclear holocaust, and the power of diplomacy in resolving differences. By forming an intolerable situation, the presence of nuclear weapons forced Kennedy and Khrushchev to favour diplomatic, rather than militaristic, resolutions. In the final conclusion, it must be acknowledged that nuclear weapons, and the knowledge and technology to produce them, will always exist. The answer, therefore, cannot be to rid the world of nuclear weapons but learn to live peacefully in a world that has them.

A CRITIQUE OF GLOBALISM

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Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, has stated that disagreeing with globalism is like disagreeing with “the laws of gravity.” Similarly, new French President, Emmanuel Macron, another supporter of globalism, wishes to deregulate France’s ailing industry and boost freedom of movement and trade. Donald Trump’s election to the US Presidency, and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, however, have challenged the presumed supremacy of globalism as a political force.

The roots of globalism can be traced back to the 2nd Century BC when the formation of the Silk Road facilitated the trade of silk, wool, silver, and gold between Europe and China. It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that the idea gathered momentum. Following the Second World War, world power was to be split between America, representing the capitalist west, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, representing the communist east. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America took it upon herself to create an undivided, democratic, and peaceful Europe.

Of course, the aim for an undivided Europe, indeed an undivided world, existed long before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1944. Allied delegates, met at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to establish an economic system based on open markets and free trade. Their idea gathered momentum. Today, the Monetary Fund, World Bank, and, the World Trade Centre all exist to unite the various national economies of the world into a single, global economy.

In 1950, the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, proposed pooling Western Europe’s coal and steel producing countries together. Originally, Schuman’s objective had been to unite France with the Federal Republic of Germany. In the end, however, the Treaty of Paris would unite Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in the European Coal and Steel Community. By 1957, the Treaty of Rome had been used to create the European Economic Community.

Globalism is an ideology which seeks to form a world where nations base their economic and foreign policies on global, rather than national, interests. It can be viewed as a blanket term for various phenomena: the pursuit of classical liberal and free market policies on the world stage, Western dominance over the political, cultural, and economic spheres, the proliferation of new technologies, and global integration.

John Lennon’s Imagine, speaking of ‘no countries’, ‘no religion’, and a ‘brotherhood of man’, acts as an almost perfect anthem for globalism. Your individual views on globalism, however, will depend largely on your personal definition of a nation. If you support globalism it is likely you believe a nation to be little more than a geographical location. If you are a nationalist, however, it is likely you believe a nation to be the accumulation of its history, culture, and traditions.

Supporters of John Lennon’s political ideology seem to suffer from a form of self-loathing. European heritage and culture are not seen as something worth celebrating, but as something to be dismissed. And it appears to be working: decades of anti-nationalist, anti-Western policies have stripped many European nations of their historical and cultural identities. In the UK, there have been calls to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes – an important, yet controversial figure. In other countries, certain areas are have become so rife with ethnic violence they are considered ‘no-go’ zones.

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Perhaps, it is the result of “white man’s burden”, Rudyard Kipling’s prophetic 1899 poem about the West’s perceived obligation to improve the lot of non-westerners. Today, many white, middle-class elites echo Kipling’s sentiments by believing that it to be their duty to save the world. These people are told at charity events, at protests, at their universities, and by their media of their obligation to their ‘fellow man.’ When it comes to immigration, they believe it to be their responsibility to save the wretched peoples of the world by importing them, and their problems, to the West.

By contrast, nationalism champions the idea that nations, as defined by a common language, ethnicity, or culture, have the right to form communities based on a shared history and/or a common destiny. The phenomenon can be described as consisting of patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts, an extreme form or patriotism characterised by feelings of national superiority, or as the advocacy of political independence. It is primarily driven by two factors. First, feelings of nationhood among members of a nation-state, and, two, the actions of a state in trying to achieve or sustain self-determination. In simplest terms, nationalism constitutes a form of human identity.

One cannot become a citizen of a nation merely by living there. Citizenship arises from the sharing of a common culture, tradition, and history. As American writer Alan Wolfe observed: “behind every citizen lies a graveyard.” The sociologist Emile Durkheim believed people to be united by their families, their religion, and their culture. In Suicide: a Study in Sociology, Durkheim surmises:

“It is not true, then, that human activity can be released from all restraint. Nothing in the world can enjoy such a privilege. All existence being a part of the universe is relative to the remainder; its nature and method of manifestation accordingly depend not only on itself but on other beings, who consequently restrain and regulate it. Here there are only differences of degree and form between the mineral realm and the thinking person.’ Man’s characteristic privilege is that the bond he accepts is not physical but moral; that is, social. He is governed not by a material environment brutally imposed on him, but by a conscience superior to his own, the superiority of which he feels.” – Suicide: a Study in Sociology (pg. 277)

Globalism has primarily manifested itself through economic means. In the economic sense, globalism began in the late 19th, early 20th centuries with the invention of the locomotive, the motor-car, the steamship, and the telegraph. Prior to the industrial revolution, a great deal of economic output was restricted to certain countries. China and India combined produced an economic output of fifty-percent, whilst Western Europe produced an economic output of eighteen percent. It was the industrial revolution of the 19th century, and the dramatic growth of industrial productivity, which caused Western Europe’s economic output to double. Today, we experience the consequences of globalism every time we enter a McDonalds Restaurant, call someone on our mobile phones, or use the internet.

Philip Lower, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, told a group of businessmen and women at the Sydney Opera House that Australia was “committed to an open international order.” Similarly, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Amartya Sen, argued that globalisation had “enriched the world scientifically and culturally, and benefited many people economically as well.” It is certainly true that globalisation has facilitated the sharing of technological, cultural, and scientific advances between nations. However, as some economists, like Joseph Stiglitz and Ha-Joon Chang, have pointed out: globalisation can also have the effect of increasing rather than reducing inequality. In 2007, the International Monetary Fund admitted that investment in the foreign capital of developing countries and the introduction of new technologies has had the effect of increasing levels of inequality.  Countries with larger populations, lower working and living standards, more advanced technology, or a combination of all three, are in a better position to compete than countries that lack these factors.

The underlying fact is that globalism has economic consequences. Under globalisation, there is little to no restrictions on the movement of goods, capital, services, people, technology, and information. Among the things championed by economic globalisation is the cross-border division of labour. Different countries become responsible different forms of labour.

The United Nations has unrealistically asserted globalism to be the key to ending poverty in the 21st Century. The Global Policy Forum, an organisation which acts as an independent policy watchdog of the United Nations, has suggested that imposition of global taxes as a means of achieving this reality. These include taxes on carbon emissions to slow climate change, taxes on currency trading to ‘dampen instability in the foreign exchange markets’, and taxes to support major initiatives like reducing poverty and hunger, increasing access to education, and fighting preventable diseases.

In one sense, the battle between globalism and nationalism can be seen as a battle between ideology and realism. Globalism appears committed to creating a ‘brotherhood of man.’ Nationalism, on the other hand, reminds us that culture and nationality form an integral part of human identity, and informs us they are sentiments worth protecting. The true value of globalism and nationalism come not from their opposition, but from how they can be made to work together. Globalism has the economic benefit of allowing countries to develop their economies through global trade. It is not beneficial, however, when it devolves into open-border policies, global taxes, or attacks on a nation’s culture or sovereignty. Nationalism, by the same token, has the benefit of providing people with a national and cultural identity, as well as the benefits and protections of citizenship. Nationalism fails when it becomes so fanatical it leads to xenophobia or war. The answer, therefore, is not to forsake one for the other, but to reconcile the two.

THE DEATH OF GOD

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This week for our theological article, we will be examining Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844 – 1900) infamous statement, “God is dead.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (pronounced ‘knee-cha’) was born in Röcken, near Leipzig, on October 15th, 1944. His father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813 – 1849), was a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and his mother was Franziska Oehler (1826 – 1897). The Nietzsche family quickly grew to include a daughter, Elisabeth (1846 – 1935), and another son, Ludwig Joseph (1848 – 1850). Unfortunately, the family would be beset by tragedy. In 1849, when Nietzsche was five-years-old, Karl Nietzsche would suffer a devastating brain haemorrhage and die. Then, as if to rub in salt in their wounds, the infant Ludwig Joseph, would die unexpectedly shortly after.

Nietzsche was educated at the prestigious Schulpforta school near Naumburg. There he received an education in theology, classical languages, and the humanities. After graduating, young Nietzsche attended the University of Bonn before moving to the University of Leipzig. During his time there, Nietzsche became acquainted with the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) whose work, the World as Will and Representation (1818), would have a tremendous influence. Then, aged only twenty-four, Nietzsche was awarded the position of professor of Greek language and Literature at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He had never written a doctoral dissertation.

Nietzsche left academia briefly to serve as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). He was discharged due to poor health. Nietzsche returned to Basel where he came acquainted with the cultural historian, Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1897), and the composer, Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883). Wagner’s influence on Nietzsche can most readily be seen in the Birth of Tragedy.

During the late 1870s, Nietzsche became increasingly beset with debilitating health problems: digestive problems, poor eyesight, and migraines. He was forced to spend months off work, and eventually agreed to retire with a modest pension. Nietzsche was only thirty-four years old.

From there, Nietzsche devoted the rest of his life to the study and writing of philosophy. Between 1870 and 1889, Nietzsche wrote nineteen books, including: The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873), Human, All Too Human (1878), the Gay Science (1882), Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Twilight of the Idols (1888), Ecce Homo (1888), and the Will to Power (1901, technically unpublished manuscripts published by his sister, Elisabeth).

In 1889, in Turin Italy, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown after seeing a horse being flogged in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. In the following days, Nietzsche sent a series of ‘madness letters’ to Cosimo Wagner (1837 – 1930) and Jacob Burckhardt in which he signed his name ‘Dionysos’, claimed to be ‘the crucified one’, and asserted that he was the creator of the world. It was quickly agreed that Nietzsche should be brought back to Basel. There he was incarcerated in a clinic in Jena.

In 1890, Nietzsche’s mother, Franziska, brought him home to Naumburg where she looked after him until her death in 1897. From there, Nietzsche was cared for by his sister, Elisabeth, in Weimar. He died on August 25th, 1900 at the age of fifty-five.

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The statement, “God is dead” is Nietzsche’s most memorable and provocative statement. (Of course, he wasn’t the first one to coin the term. That was Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856). Nietzsche merely philosophised it). It first appeared in the Gay Science in a fable entitled, the Parable of the Madman. In the parable, the madman asks, ‘where is God?’, only to be informed that God had been killed by man:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderer of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe the blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves?”

Of course, Nietzsche wasn’t talking about the literal death of God (he was, after all, an atheist). Instead, he was referring to the death of the concept or idea of God. The statement was meant as a reference to the decline of traditional and metaphysical doctrines that had dominated European thought and culture for centuries.

Nietzsche observed, correctly, that western morality was predicated on the presumption of the truth of Judeo-Christian values. Christianity had become infused in European culture and thought. Philosophers and scientists like Copernicus (1473 – 1543), René Descartes (1596 – 1650), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), George Berkeley (1685 – 1753), Saint Augustine (354-430AD), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), and more were all deeply influenced by their belief in God. Culturally, Handel’s (1685 – 1759) Messiah, Da Vinci’s (1452 – 1519) the Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s (1475 – 1564) Statue of David are all infused with religious themes.

The decline of Christianity’s supremacy in society began with the Enlightenment. Science replaced scripture. During this time, the belief in a universe governed by God was replaced by governance through the laws of physics, the divine right to rule was replaced with rule by consent, and morality no longer had to emanate from a loving and omniscient God.

The legacy of the Enlightenment, Nietzsche rightly observed, was that Christianity lost its central place in Western culture. (Of course, it can also be argued that Christianity’s central doctrines and tenets have been so absorbed by society people no longer recognise their influence). Science, replete with its elaborate depictions of physical reality, ultimately replaced religious truth.

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Nietzsche’s assertion is often seen as a triumphal or victorious statement. However, analysis reveals that Nietzsche did not necessarily see the death of God as a good thing. He recognised that as society moved closer to secularisation, the order and meaning religion gave to society would fall by the wayside. People would no longer base their lives on their religious beliefs, but on other factors. Their lives would not be grounded in anything. As Nietzsche wrote in the Twilight of the Idols:

“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”

Nietzsche believed the solution to the problem would be to create our own, individual values. Christian morality (derided by Nietzsche as ‘slave morality’) would be replaced by ‘master morality.’ Human beings would strive to become Übermensches or overmen.

The problem with Nietzsche’s suggestion is that it is virtually impossible to keep society ordered when everyone’s values are different. Furthermore, as Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) points out, it is impossible for us to create our own values. Most of us can’t keep our new year’s resolutions, let alone create a value system that will bring order to society.

Nietzsche, along with Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881), predicted that the 20th Century would be characterised either by apocalyptic nihilism or equally apocalyptic ideological totalitarianism. In the end, the world experienced both. The wake of the Great War (1914 – 1918) saw Europe plagued by communism, fascism, Nazism, and quasi-religious nationalism. In Russia, communism, through which a person’s value was derived from his labour, arose under the Bolsheviks. In Italy, fascism, through which a person’s value was derived from his nationality, arose under Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945). In Germany, Nazism, through which a person’s value was derived from his race, arose under Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945). All of these systems attempted to give people’s lives meaning by replacing the state with God.

In the end, the 20th Century would be the deadliest and most destructive in human history. The legacy of two world wars, nuclear weapons, communism, and fascism has been millions of painful and unnecessary deaths. This is what we get when we remove God from society: needless pain and suffering.

MILLENNIALS LOVE SOCIALISM, HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS

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Fifty-three percent of Americans under the age of thirty-five believe socialism is a good idea, with a further forty-five percent admitting they’d support an openly-socialist Presidential candidate, a 2016 report from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has found.

The report, entitled Generation Perceptions, concluded that many millennials lacked a basic understanding of socialism and were completely unaware of its impact on history. Many of those surveyed failed to identify key socialist figures, including Joseph Stalin (18%), Karl Marx (32%), and Mao Zedong (42%).

The implementation of socialism has led to the imposition of crime, terror, torture, famine, mass deportations, and massacres.  Despite this, only twenty-percent of millennials, and only twelve-percent of Gen X, was able to correctly identify the number of people killed by communism (around ninety-four million).

Much of this unawareness stems from an education system which fails to educate students on the realities of history. Those who wish to educate themselves on this subject should read the Black Book of Communism and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.