Humility is not a peculiar habit of self-effacement...it is self-less respect for reality, and one of the most difficult and central of all virtues - Iris Murdoch in The Sovereignty of Good (1970) ///
Pain make man think. Thought make man wise. Wisdom make life endurable - Sakini, in The Tea House of the August Moon (John Patrick (1953)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Book review: Inquisition: The Reign of Fear
The life-impulse can exist without fascism, but fascism cannot exist without the life-impulse. Fascism is the vampire leeched to the body of the living, the impulse to murder given free rein, when love calls for fulfilment in spring. Wilhelm Reich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933) Inquisition: The Reign of Fearby Toby Green Reviewed by Ian Pindar
Fear and fascism
In 1506 a miraculous light was seen on one of the crucifixes in a Dominican monastery in Portugal. Crowds gathered to marvel at it, but when one man suggested it looked a bit as if a candle had been placed behind the image of Christ he was dragged into the street by his hair, beaten, kicked and burnt by an angry mob. He was a converso, a descendant of Jews who had converted to Christianity, and as Toby Green explains in this powerful study of intolerance, the conversos were the first group to be scapegoated by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.
The Inquisition was about power, not religion, says Green. The papacy was actually a moderating influence on the Iberian monarchs, who needed to create a fictitious enemy within to channel the forces of popular unrest away from the throne. After the conversos their attention turned to the moriscos, descendants of Muslims who were forced to convert to Christianity.
Just as Arthur Miller used the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 to comment on McCarthyite America, so in this book Green appears to be using the Inquisition to comment obliquely on the "war on terror". He makes no explicit comparison, leaving the parallels to speak for themselves. "There was little dialogue any longer," he writes, observing the growing separation of the Christian and morisco communities in 16th-century Spain. "Propaganda was winning ... Thus soon even reasonable Christians believed in the archetype of the seditious crypto-Muslim and came to believe that these fanatics had to be stopped before they could succeed in their plan of destroying the nation and its way of life."
Fear is the key to the Inquisition. It was all about creating a climate of collective terror. "Successfully embedded," writes Green, "this fear can always be invoked, in the name of the war of good against evil, against targets that pose an economic or political challenge." The inquisitorial authorities co-opted the theatre of religion precisely in order to cultivate fear. The auto-da-fé or "trial of faith" was designed to terrorise the audience as much as the heretics who were "relaxed" (burnt at the stake) during the ceremony.
Green argues persuasively that the Inquisition's vast bureaucratic reach into the private lives of its citizens makes it a forerunner of the modern totalitarian state, while its obsession with limpieza de sangre or "purity of blood" is an awful forewarning of fascism. He doesn't shy away from the fact that the masses themselves were complicit in supporting persecution. It was a masterstroke of the Inquisition to legitimise gossip as a religious duty, creating an entire network of informants and a "society of vigilance". A recurrent theme in the book is the betrayal of family: unscrupulous citizens denouncing their irritating in-laws and prisoners under torture denouncing spouses, parents, siblings, friends and lovers. Here is the survival instinct in its basest form, as Orwell understood.
Green sees "the psychological drama of the Inquisition" as a tension within us all between tolerance and intolerance, "the impulse of love and the impulse of destruction". As Wilhelm Reich observes in The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933): "The life-impulse can exist without fascism, but fascism cannot exist without the life-impulse. Fascism is the vampire leeched to the body of the living, the impulse to murder given free rein, when love calls for fulfilment in spring."