Serfs. The divine right of
kings. Profound ecclesiastical influence in affairs of state.
Crusades. Topics from next semester's survey of medieval history?
If only. Try the U.S. presidential election of 2004.
It's not original to state that the conservative politics of the
George W. Bush version of the Republican Party are regressive. Its
warmongering and its espousal of the proto-totalitarian Patriot Act
are but two examples illustrating this. But it was not until the recent
election cycle played out that it became apparent just how much our
country has regressed under the Bush administration.
In "What is conservatism and what is wrong with it?", his
stellar analysis of conservatism, Philip
E. Agre demonstrates and explains that the goal of conservatives
is, as many have observed, to return us to "the good old days".
However, the good old days that are meant are not the commonly assumed
1950s, when people had respect and moral restraint (that is, Negroes
did not run for the Senate and women asked their husbands how to vote)
but rather the archaic days of inherited hierarchy based on the tradition
of aristocracy. In other words, the Middle Ages.
Let us consider the Middle Ages for a moment. Provincial kings and
feudal lords rule their plots with an impunity supported by their
perceived divine right to rule. Serfs labor for the benefit of the
king, who rewards them by magnanimously allowing them to keep some
of their harvest while he distributes most of what he does not keep
among the lords and earls who keep him in power--men whose support
of the divine right of kings goes only as far as the king's bribes.
Serfs accept this lot because nothing else is available to them--and
if they consider another alternative, the church, which holds dominion
over their souls as surely as the king holds dominion over their bodies,
reminds them that to disobey the king is to disobey God himself. And
numerous of these serfs, fueled by outrage preached from the pulpit
and the emptiness of their servile lives, march off to the Middle
East to kill the infidel or die for their faith while trying.
So where are the serfs in 2004? A serf is one who works for the benefit
of one greater (hierarchically) than himself, receives little benefit
in return, and never thinks to change this condition because he knows
no other way of life and because he has been fed with fear of things
he does not recognize or understand. His isolation makes it impossible
for him to do anything except perpetuate his serfdom. His life is,
in the words of John Locke, "nasty, brutish, and short".
In the 2004 election, President George W. Bush's victory came from
carrying states in the Bible belt, breadbasket, and upper Midwest.
Of the states that Bush carried, only five have a percentage of residents
with a bachelor's degree (or higher) that exceeds the national percentage.
Of the states that Bush carried, only one has an average teacher salary
that exceeds the national average. Of the states that Bush carried,
over half have a percentage of families in poverty that exceeds the
national average. And of the states that Bush carried, nineteen rank
below the average median household income for the three full years
of Bush's presidency. So, who supported George W. Bush for president
in his second attempt? Certainly his corporate lords and earls, their
favor curried by tax breaks for the wealthy and the corporations they
run, supported him, but these people make up a small percentage of
voters. Where did the rest of the support come from? As the statistics
show, the support came from the poorer, less-educated states, states
that obviously did not benefit from his first term in office and seem
no more likely to benefit from another term. Why is it that these
states' residents, in the classic, damnable serf tradition, continued
to hold the hand that held them down? Why did they support a system
that is built against their self-interest?
For the Medieval serf, it was the fear of God and his divine avatar
on earth, the king, that kept him in lockstep with the system that
was killing him. For the modern, downtrodden voter it appears that
the case was much the same. Much as the Roman Catholic church dominated
the mind of the Medieval European, so the largely Protestant, evangelical
coalition of the religious right (along with an activist Catholic
Church), having hijacked "morality" as a term that only
conservative Republicans can use for their own purposes, set the President
up as a veritable hand of God on earth and framed the election in
such a way that a vote for John Kerry seemed equivalent to a vote
for Satan himself. It is well-documented that Bush, and those around
him, including, it now seems, many thousands of voters, see him as
one divinely placed in his position as President, barely distinguishable
from a Medieval king. To wit:
President Bush: "I believe that God wants me to be
White House official Tom Goeglein: "I think President
Bush is God's man at this hour."
George Pataki: "He is one of those men God and fate
somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge."
Christian broadcaster Jane Parshall: "I think that
God picked the right man at the right time for the right purpose."
Gen. William Boykin: "Why is this man in the White
House? The majority of America did not vote for him [in 2000]. He's
in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."
And, most chillingly:
President Bush: "I don't feel like I owe anybody an
What sort of person makes any of these statements, in particular
the last one? Only the kind of person who believes he can do no wrong
because he is the active hand of the Almighty can say this, and the
person who believes he can do no wrong is the most dangerous person
in the world. Nietzsche might have philosophized that the person who
saw himself above good and evil was the Superman, but most of us would
call him "psychopath".
So why the support for someone exhibiting such repellant, Medieval
hubris? Because people believed him. A recent issue of Newsweek
shows a photograph of a young man holding a T-shirt that reads "God
is once again speaking through a Bush." Clever. And terrifying.
There are also documented cases of pamphlets being passed out in the
predominantly less-educated states mentioned above that stated John
Kerry's intent to ban the Bible if he were elected. The fact that
no such intention existed nor, if it were true, could ever pass legal
muster, went, apparently, unexamined. These people were manipulated
because of their faith, and their religious convictions were cynically
twisted to essentially force them into maintaining a system that does
not benefit them. A whopping 76% of evangelicals polled stated that
they had voted for Bush. How many of them had been made to feel that
a vote against Bush was a vote against God? The Bible itself proclaims
the deepest punishment for those who lead innocents astray. The evangelical
Republicans, therefore, should be ashamed and afraid for their souls
after the crap they pulled. Are they? It's difficult to tell beneath
Although the evangelical coalition seems most responsible for setting
Bush up as an earthly messenger of God's own will, the Catholic Church,
particularly important in this election involving Catholic candidate
John Kerry, played a kingmaker role as well. A Vatican spokesman called
the re-election of Bush "a significant step". Toward what,
one must wonder? Toward a return to the good old days of the medieval
church, whose excesses were overlooked and whose political power was
unmatched? A glance at the current state of affairs shows evidence
of other "significant steps" in that direction.
The voters' guide at www.catholic.com
reminds voters that they should "not vote for candidates simply
because they declare themselves to be Catholic". Read that "John
Kerry'. In fairness, I had not visited this site prior to my research
for this article, and the admonition is likely to have been there
for some time. However, its particular poignancy in this election
cannot be denied.
The "Catholic" section of www.georgewbush.com
(there is such a specifically targeted section) shows a picture
of Bush shaking hands with the pope. The Vatican is protective of
the use of the pope's image for light or commercial causes; this is
nothing if not a commercial cause.
Finally, in returning to the catholic.com voters' guide, one finds
a lengthy section on voting one's conscience. What is the conscience
if not one's personal sense of right and wrong? Yet the guide also
states that many Catholics have not "formed their own consciences".
Luckily, the guide is happy to do that for them, reminding Catholics
that a conscience is only worth something if it conforms exactly to
all tenets of Catholic teaching, including five "non-negotiable"
issues, which are, predictably, planks of Dubya's national agenda.
Catholics are explicitly told to be one-issue voters, though this
flies in the face of the "vote your conscience" suggestion.
It is no stretch to see the connection between this and the Medieval
mass delivered entirely in Latin to illiterates who were not encouraged
(nor able) to search for truth or conscience themselves, but to follow
without question whatever the Church said in the vernacular.
So, led by the nose by preachers turned political hacks, the uninformed
and the cowed and the screwed-over were convinced that their souls
depended on not throwing out their divinely-inspired (though apparently
logic-impaired) chief executive, even though the status quo offers
them nothing while it fattens their masters. This is the very definition
of regression. It is the image of the Middle Ages.
The old saw holds that knowledge is power. The Medieval serf had
neither knowledge nor power enough to shape his own life. So learn.
Learn and understand and refuse the yoke when they bring it for you.
Your president and your corporate leaders and your spiritual guides
have played you for fools to consolidate their power and condemn you
to serfdom. Refuse the yoke. Disdain the shackles. They cannot force
serfdom on you unless you let them.
Don't let them. Keep the Middle Ages in the past.