Idealism and Terror

When one thinks of idealism, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi comes to mind. Moral and spiritual giants who stand for ideals that make the world a better place. We think of Idealism as good in the face of evil, or of ideals lifting us up from the dirt of reality, purifying life from its toxins. Ah, but there lies the fatal flaw in idealism itself.

George Will’s Washington Post opinion piece “A Murderer’s Warped Idealism” looks afresh at idealism and evil, not just evil masquerading as idealism, but idealism as a source and form of evil itself.

Will’s commentary zooms in on Adolf Eichmann, executed at midnight 1961 for his role in the German State’s systematic extermination of 6,000,000 Jews. During the trial in Jerusalem Eichmann minimized his role in the Holocaust, presenting himself as a thoughtless functionary carrying out the orders of his superiors.

Referring to newly discovered writings by Eichmann which form the backbone of a new book by German philosopher Bettina Stangneth, Will writes:

Before he donned his miniaturizing mask in Jerusalem, Eichmann proclaimed that he did what he did in the service of idealism. This supposedly “thoughtless” man’s devotion to ideas was such that, Stangneth says, he “was still composing his last lines when they came to take him to the gallows.” (Bolding added by Views from the Edge)

Eichmann and Hitler were not without ideas or ideals. They were not thoughtless. Nor were they irrational, as those who believe that reason can sea us believe. They were idealists who sought to lift up a super race, burning away the world’s impurities as their deranged hearts conceived of them.

The late Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B. shone a different light on idealism and the remedy for human madness. He put it this way in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of the we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

We are, says Moore, “conscious animals scared of our animality and seeking to ennoble ourselves.”

Eichmann, Himmler, and Hitler were idealists. Nationalist extremists are idealists. Racial and religious extremists are idealists. ISIL is idealist. American exceptionalism is idealist. Whether behind the banner of the State, or of religion, gender, ideology, scientism, or rationalism – idealistic terrorism lives to rid the world of evil as its adherents understand it, projecting evil as “the other” while fleeing “the sore point” that we conscious animals seek to avoid.

Only the God who meets us at the sore point of our shared animality can save us from fantasies. In his last book, Remembered Bliss ((Lapwing Publications: 2014), Dom Sebastian told the reader, “I’m ninety-six, and for most of my life I’ve been a monk. My life as a monk has been, for the most part, the search for God as real.” RIP.




12 thoughts on “Idealism and Terror

    • Dennis, Moore was a rare thinker and poet. At times there are whole paragraphs where one scratches the head asking what in the world he is saying, wondering whether he had an editor. Then one os these little gems pop off the page like manna in the wilderness.

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  1. Pingback: Idealism and Terror | From Sandy Knob

    • Yes, there is no more powerful enemy than moralism. It’s wonderful to be “right” but “being right” (as one’s own self or group conceived it) is the achilles heel. Even the best ideals – a world free of racism, sexism, or homophobia, for example – can become evil when it is self-congratulatory and self-absorbing, forgetting one’s own earlier or continuing prejudices and capacity for hatred.


    • We are all in flight from the sore point, it seems to me. Even the best ideals can become the escape from the sore point. Question: to what extent is the capacity to forgive grounded in having spend time in one’s own sore point? Those who learn to forgive are they to whom much has been forgiven. In other words, the best forgivers are the ones who have screwed up a LOT and have come to see “the other” in themselves. Yes?


      • Hmmm. I’m not so sure I’d accept that hypothesis about forgiveness, though of course there are many ways to arrive at the goal. Maybe I’d agree more if we took out the part about having screwed up and focused on those who “have come to see “the other” in themselves.”


        • Mona, I may have over-reached on the forgiveness statement, but I would still argue for the truth of it for the following reason. The “sore point” that causes us to paint “the other” outside ourselves is unconscious fear and denial of our mortality, the seedbed of evil itself. That fearful self builds walls around itself, projecting the fear onto others who are different in ways that threaten one’s own constructed images of the self and the world.

          When the self “sins” – as the self conceives of it – and has to acknowledge it because of social norms/pressure or because of the need for psychic integration, the person comes closer to the sore point. Draws closer to the source that produces evil – the knowledge that I am not the center of the universe, that I am not God, I am part of a mortal species that can only survive, and whose members can only thrive psychically, morally, and spiritually by practicing forgiveness of the enemy. That’s a lot of gibberish, I’m afraid. Let me know what you think.


  2. WOW!!!! Idealism IS, as a word neutral, as is it’s root, ideal.. Thus idealistic is often used as a negative. like expecting the impossible. I especially like this phrase. “We are, says Moore, “conscious animals scared of our animality and seeking to ennoble ourselves.”. Much to think of in this piece.


    • Thank you, Karin. It’s taken three days to finish this piece. Moore’s statement about Our refusal to accept our animality struck me like an aurora borealis when I first read it. It’s been lighting up my world ever since. It connects, or so it seems to me, with Lynn White’s history of science and technology – the subjugation of real science (the search for what is ‘real’) to technology (the manipulation of reality). White wrote that the origin of the problem is religious (the biblical assertion of the human right to dominion over all living things), and so is the solution (a more realistic and humble way of living collaboratively in the web of nature).


      • Yes, we really do tend to think of ourselves as the “Cat’s Pajama’s”, do we not? “Walk humbly with your Lord>” is not in many people’s vocabulary, is it. Maybe we are more like cats on hot tin roofs, without the sense to jump off. Blinded by our self importance to reality.


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