Scapegoating is as old a tactic as political power itself, and a vital tool in the perpetuation of political, economic and social privilege. James Madison, the Father of the US Constitution, expressed a great truism about state power when he described its fundamental role as being to defend ‘the minority of the opulent from the majority.’ What Madison neglected to mention was that the defense of the minority of the opulent against the majority tended to entrench and exacerbate social and economic inequality. This in turn precipitated social chaos as inequality and disorder exacerbated social and class conflict, threatening the stability of the system as a whole.
Faced with this situation, the minority of the opulent required some mechanism or other to neutralize social conflict and ensure stability without having to address its root causes in the defense of their economic and social privileges from economic democracy and social justice. They needed to be able to establish and maintain a state of peace without justice, a state long understood to be synonymous with tyranny. Whether the tyranny concerned was that of an individual autocrat, or a class of them, the same problem remained; what the minority of the opulent needed in effect was an ideological safety valve to take the pressure away of actually existing social conflicts and tensions and divert them onto a scapegoat, onto one or another ideological punching bag for the shortcomings of a society devoted to maintaining the minority of the opulent in the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed. Continue reading →
From the confines of Jerusalem and from the city of Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth and has repeatedly been brought to our ears; namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race wholly alienated from God, a generation that set not their heart alight and whose spirit was not steadfast with God, violently invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire. They have led away a part of the captives into their own country, and a part have they have killed by cruel tortures. They have either destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of their own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. The kingdom of the Greeks is now dismembered by them and has been deprived of territory so vast in extent that it could be traversed in two months’ time . . .
. . . Let those who have formerly been accustomed to contend wickedly in private warfare against the faithful fight against the infidel, and bring to a victorious end the war which ought already to have been begun. Let those who have hitherto been robbers now become soldiers. Let those who have formerly contended against their brothers and relatives now fight against the barbarians as they ought . . .
. . . Most beloved brethren, today is manifest in you what the Lord says in the Gospel, `Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’; for unless God had been present in your spirits, all of you would not have uttered the same cry; since, although the cry issued from numerous mouths, yet the origin of the cry as one. Therefore I say to you that God, who implanted is in your breasts, has drawn it forth from you. Let that then be your war cry in combats, because it is given to you by God. When an armed attack is made upon the enemy, this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God: ‘It is the will of God! It is the will of God!’ [Deus vult! Deus Vult!]
– Pope Urban II, 1095, according to the chronichlers Robert the Monk and Fulcher of Chartres. In the eleventh century the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I was losing ground to Muslim armies and appealed to Pope Urban II for support to reconquer the Holy Lands for the Empire. Urban II obliged by whipping up fears of the heathen infidels and hatred of their supposed transgressions against the One True God, inciting men to kill in the name of ‘love thy enemy.’ The Crusades lasted three centuries.
Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.