I think that we have to look back at history and realize that most rebels don’t succeed. We remember the ones that do, but they’re the exception. Most people who rise up and rebel against monolithic systems of power get crushed. And that doesn’t mitigate the magnificence of their lives and their resistance. That’s just a reality. You know, if you take that path, the odds are against you. And yet I think it’s the path that we have to take, because rebellion, especially when we face this monolith of corporate power we call radical evil, there is a moral imperative to stand up to that power with the realization that in all likelihood, especially in a prolonged act of resistance, that power will crush us.
Hannah Arendt, I think, grasps this when she looks back on her own resistance to the Nazis. I mean, she leaves the University of Heidelberg and she says that she had to unlearn everything she had been taught by Heidegger in the University to become a moral human being. And then she joins—she was not a Zionist, but she joins a Zionist underground movement to smuggle German Jews to Palestine. She’s eventually picked up by the Gestapo, stripped of her German citizenship, becomes stateless—she was almost killed by the Gestapo—and ends up in France as a stateless person.
But she says, number one, I look back on that time period of my life and I say, thank God that I wasn’t innocent, that to be innocent in a time of radical evil is to be complicit, number one. And number two, she says those who are most effective at resisting or not those who say, we shouldn’t do this, this oughtn’t to be done, but those who say, I can’t. And I think there’s something within the DNA—that’s why rebels are very poor—. Once power is attained, rebels very rarely are able to rule, because they have that inability to compromise. You saw it with Che Guevara. I interviewed Ronnie Kasrils in the book, who founded the armed wing of the ANC with Nelson Mandela and becomes the deputy defense minister under Mandela, and he starts criticizing the corruption, the creation of what would be called the new class among the ANC. And then they fire on the miners who are striking—the largest massacre since the Sharpeville massacre—and he denounces his own party, a party that he spent 30 years underground at the risk of his life fighting for. That’s a rebel.
And Kasrils makes an interesting point in the book. He said, I was a rebel, because he’s white, he’s Jewish, he walks out on his own, he actually literally walks into a township—you’re not, as a white person, allowed to be in a township after ten at night—and he doesn’t go back, and he never goes back. And he said, I was a rebel; Mandela was a revolutionary, in the sense that he didn’t rebel against his own. And I think that’s right.
But I think that rebels are absolutely vital. You know, I use that concept from Reinhold Niebuhr about sublime madness. And Niebuhr writes correctly that in moments of extremity, liberals are a dead force. They’re are too ineffectual, too little emotional, too intellectual in order to propel resistance forward, that you need people who are possessed of that sublime madness.
Those captive to images cast ballots based on how candidates make them feel. They vote for a slogan, a smile, perceived sincerity, and attractiveness, along with the carefully crafted personal narrative of the candidate. It is style and story, not content and fact, that inform mass politics.
.. it's why I don't go on Fox news. I don't go on CNN either, because the most you're ever gonna get is 4 to 6 minutes. And so you have to use the language of easily identifiable clichés in order for the audience to resonate. And if what you're thinking doesn't fit within those clichés, then you become unintelligible. And that of course has now been carried out through the wider culture.
Friends are predetermined; friendship takes place between men and women who possess an intellectual and emotional affinity for each other. But comradeship — that ecstatic bliss that comes with belonging to the crowd in wartime — is within our reach. We can all have comrades. The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not create friendship; it creates comradeship. And those in wartime are deceived about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over, once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why after war we fall into despair.
In friendship there is a deepening of our sense of self. We become, through the friend, more aware of who we are and what we are about; we find ourselves in the eyes of the friend. Friends probe and question and challenge each other to make each of us more complete; with comradeship, the kind that comes to us in patriotic fervor, there is a suppression of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-possession. Comrades lose their identities in wartime for the collective rush of a common cause — a common purpose.
In comradeship there are no demands on the self. This is part of its appeal and one of the reasons we miss it and seek to recreate it. Comradeship allows us to escape the demands on the self that is part of friendship. In wartime when we feel threatened, we no longer face death alone but as a group, and this makes death easier to bear. We ennoble self-sacrifice for the other, for the comrade; in short we begin to worship death. And this is what the god of war demands of us.
Think finally of what it means to die for a friend. It is deliberate and painful; there is no ecstasy. For friends, dying is hard and bitter. The dialogue they have and cherish will perhaps never be recreated. Friends do not, the way comrades do, love death and sacrifice. To friends, the prospect of death is frightening. And this is why friendship or, let me say love, is the most potent enemy of war.