The Worst Are Full of Passionate Intensity


By Joe Campbell
October 28th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. – or Lew Rockwell – has decided that this election calls for non-participation. “[T]here is no lesser of two evils,” he says. “There is socialism or fascism.” We will – by boycotting the vote – instill fear in our leaders that they are “ruling us without our consent.”

I expect little better from Lew Rockwell, a man who saw fit to promote racism in the service of a libertarian ideology. (I do not blame libertarianism for it’s promoters, but I can fault the individuals who used explicit race-baiting as Rockwell did.) What disturbs me about this opinion piece is in part it’s resonance – as demonstrated by it’s support on reddit. But what bothers me more is that it seems rooted in the same tendency to demonize opponents, the same desire to re-make the world in the service of ideology, the same rejection of pragmatism, the same denigration of “the masses,” as other ideologies from Communism to neoconservatism.

For the sake of clarity, Rockwell, rejects any truths too subtle to fit into a propagandist slogan – and so – Obama becomes a socialist, and McCain a fascist.

There are real problems with voting and our financial system and the centralization of power that Rockwell touches on – and for a libertarian citizen, neither candidate offers a clear libertarian policy vision. Each seems to offer government encroachment in different areas of life. But a libertarian philosophy does not necessarily lead to this theology of dueling evils that Rockwell invokes – in which we presume only our own innocence and purity while we attack anyone with power or who might gain power as inherently corrupt. There is a healthy skepticism needed about power and the powerful – but Rockwell goes beyond this.

He is one of those who is certain, full of passionate intensity. Which is why he can see Obama and McCain as two competing evils – and why he must simplify their pragmatic politics into two ideologies of certainty: fascism and socialism. But his appeal here is insidious – it is not just to those who share his certainties but to the uncertain. He calls on us to reject all alternatives in favor of … nothing – justifying this with the flimsy excuse that by shunning the political process we may have a psychological effect on the politicians.

My duty as a citizen, my duty as a political being, is to inform myself and to vote and then to participate in governance. It is an abdication of this duty to throw up my hands, moved by an old man’s bitterness at repeated defeat and disappointment, and to despair.

To be a grown-up in this world, to be a citizen, means to act even when the alternatives are only dimly understood – for we can only dimly understand our world.

We live in a complex environment where every action has unintended consequences – and the right path is rarely clear. By failing to act, we enable those whose secular or religious theology leads them to certainty to monopolize power and drag us from one extreme to another, as we have often seen in the past thirty years in America.

Which is why I will vote on November 4th.