Ideas are the continuation of war by other means.
In this paraphrased reversal of Clausewitz’s dictum, I stand firmly in the tradition of Nietzschean genealogy. Ideology and its messengers are the sophisticated brutality of civilization. Ideology is less dangerous in its word-form, but show me an ideology that doesn’t saturate material culture, that doesn’t guide behavior and become another tool of imperialism. Words are the way for those without weapons; words shape the will without the need for weapons. Ideology is sophisticated brutality.
And there is no way around this, although I do think (of course I do) that some ideology is superior. Pluralism and humanism are ideologies, even as they offer themselves as “transcendent” options. I cannot just promote dialogue over ideology, as if dialogue itself were not an ideology. So, there, I’m staking a claim-- that the ideology of dialogue is superior. I’ll be honest, ok, and own my imperialism-- that the world will be better off if everyone came to my side, that I think that the values behind the dialogical ideology should win, should vanquish (silence?) the values and voices promoting whatever would oppose dialogue. (Of course, this comes with the implication that ideologies which deny dialogue should be vanquished also-- any ideologies which assumes the inhumanity of some part of the human population).
So, do I get any moral superiority for this? If I say “Don’t punch Nazis; convert Nazis,” am I better? I exchange physical violence for ideological imperialism. I won’t deny that it sounds much better. But I want to focus, for now at least, on the condescension involved here, the same condescension in Socrates’ claim that all evil is simply ignorance.
If all evil is ignorance, then no person is my mortal enemy-- only a wrong idea can drive a person to kill me. It follows, then, that any enemy is one enlightenment away, one conversion away, from being safe, from becoming my kind. The first issue I see in this is that it puts me and my kind at the top of the enlightenment pyramid-- a claim to position that’s pretentious, presumptuous, and surely tainted with its own ignorance. The second issue, related to the first, is that it places responsibility for “the problem” entirely on my enemy, rather than seeing the problem as arising from the fallen state of all humanity, or at least from the dynamic between me and my enemy. I’m a therapist, dammit! It’s not that people are problems; it’s much more likely that people are hurt, and relationships are broken.
It’s funny though, that even with the above critiques, I still hold on to my belief of having ideological superiority. In my head, I can hear myself taking in the critiques above and making them into a lesson about tact. If I am to convert my enemy, I should approach them with vulnerability as armor, to show myself as willing to change so that they are similarly inspired, to approach them as if the dynamic is the problem, and through this relational tact change them. I suppose, however, that this is still more virtuous-- if I act vulnerable and open, I could easily trick myself as well into vulnerability and openness.
What am I getting at here? What do I want myself and the reader to take away from this? I think the main sentiment is that it’s important to acknowledge, affirm, and yet also feel a little embarrassed by our desire for power. Even if you are righteous, do not believe that your righteousness is your only god; know that even now you are driven (at least in part) by power. Every ideology is also a weapon. It’s good to aim for righteousness, but know that even that can become toxic.
And maybe this, then, as a bigger conclusion-- that the veil of ignorance hangs over all of us, and that even if one enlightenment is all it would take, no side among us is in the position to do all of the enlightening.