Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Army of Unalterable Law

Leon Fink has written a column for the Newsobserver in which he notes the awe-some feeling of joy and empowerment at the Grant Park celebration of Mr. Obama's victory:
For the first time I could remember, the power of a crowd seemed not merely unthreatening but positively intoxicating: We each felt connected to a power larger than ourselves and envisioned the world a better place than it is.

While this rally may have been much of what its supporters make it out to be--a democratic/Democratic moment of a new hope and a hope for new change--it is also an instance of a collectivist mentality that can have its malign, mobocratic effects. Mr. Obama's election seems to have reflected the hopes and aspirations of many who otherwise felt powerless. His election may yet provide substantive results to the good of the republic, but the election was also the product of a slick campaign, well-organized and heavily funded, well compromised and carefully worded. Mr. Obama's/Mr. Axelrod's strategy was simple and understandable: not to lose.

I believe my critique and words of caution ought to be well-heeded. Yet I cannot help recalling William Blake's admonition that

The questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to reply
And that

If the sun and moon should doubt
They'd immediately go out
There is hope, and there is realism. Hope, carried to an extreme and placed in an idol (be that idol a drug, a lover, or a politician), can descend into vicious fanaticism and self-righteous pride. Realism, carried to an extreme and placed in the idol of an immutable disbelief in the efficacy of action to improve society and to help others, can descend into a despairing cynicism and self-satisfied pride. I don't mean to go Ariostotelian on anyone, but either extreme is dangerous, and should we adhere to either too assiduously, our foot "shall slide in due time."

To throw yet another allusion and mixed metaphor into this hodgepodge, I might say that in such reflections on the Grant Park rally as provided by Mr. Fink, even a proto-cynic like myself can feel like the antagonist in George Meredith's sonnet, "Lucifer in Starlight". In that poem, Lucifer decides to take a trip away from his kingdom (the earth, the world) and when he attains the lower reaches of heaven,

....he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

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