Saturday, June 02, 2007

Be Afraid, But of Whom?

In his post on the kind of person Americans should elect for the next president, Dr. Reynolds states,

In this next election, we must avoid a person with no community or willingness to live for a cause bigger than self. . . . Sadly, the man controlled by his passions who lives for nothing bigger than self is the goal of much of modern media. Such men are always the most dangerous leaders, especially when their corrupted natures are combined with great gifts. In the next election, I fear the candidate with no center, who has risen too quickly, and who has never lived for a cause greater than himself.

Whether or not he's right about this, I won't say. But the idea we seem to have of a person who has given himself over to "a cause greater than himself" is that he is dangerous precisely because he could be controlled by something other than himself. Weren't the Nazis bad (at least in part) because they were mindless slaves to something -- they had given themselves over to a cause greater than themselves? Weren't the good people in Germany the ones who stood against Hitler -- they stood up for themselves?

Clearly there can be trouble with both positions, but if Reynolds is right, then we're wrong to fear the person who's given over to a cause greater than himself more than the person who lives for himself. The person who lives only for himself is more dangerous than the person who lives for a cause greater than himself. But, at least in the context of a presidential election, we should be less worried about fanaticism than self-indulgence.

Perhaps we might be mixed up about this because we don't know of any causes genuinely greater than ourselves. That is to say, in the case of the Nazis, were they really given over to a cause greater than themselves, or were they merely given over to their passions in a disguised way?

Or perhaps it's because we don't have a good model of how someone could be his own man and at the same time serve a cause greater than himself.

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