[Should I give a trigger warning? Or just ask politely that you point your moralizing guns somewhere else... In general, I seek to tarry with hatreds at least as much as they tarry with us, and for that, these hatreds must be affirmed, not denied or attacked. Just think of this as the difference between removing signs/monuments of oppression vs. keeping them as active reminders and wells of crucial knowledge of hatreds (that perhaps are no longer expressed as such, but are there nonetheless).]
‘Manifest destiny’ may have been coined in the 19th Century, and used to justify colonial expansion in North America, but in fact it’s a far more ancient theological principle, solidified in the Middle Ages of old Europe, and used specifically to attack, if not smite, Jewish chosenness. To Christian (particularly Protestant) eyes, the Jews’ nomadic destitution of millennia constitutes their “manifest destiny,” proving that God had abandoned them. This should not be confused with pagan ideas of the relation between believer and god, for fate still remained there a foreign element: neither god nor believer knew fate in advance nor could influence it in any way. Fate could not be said to have a program; the pagans did not have this idea of (a single, coherent) “providence.”
It was Judaic Monotheism that first sucked ‘fate(/destiny)’ into ‘God’ (I think Schelling talks about this at some point). Making this connection – between ‘Destiny’ and a single will/principle – is one of the special attributes of Monotheism. When it was out of bounds, ‘destiny’ could maintain the coherence of a “thing in itself” – it is “one” like a black hole is “one.” With Monotheism, “destiny” begins an interminable struggle consisting in returning to that state of abstract coherence; struggling, that is, to cohere with itself (the pagans could always just switch idols/gods if one wasn’t, you know, “working”).
Judaic eschatology, however, kept this ‘destiny’ at bay, and the people’s only assurance by God was to survive as discrete ethical examples, scattered amongst the nations; you see, for the Jew it’s really more the absence of disaster than good fortune. Here, any kind of “coherence” in ‘destiny’ simply meant existence. So long as something manifests to a Jew, somewhere, “destiny” has been fulfilled, for they are still there. Salvation of the world was something they could only ever seek passively, by existing as Jews, by being examples (plural) of an ethical community, to be admired, and perhaps imitated, from a distance.
In a Christian setting, however, that is, in an evangelical faith that seeks to actively expand the Judaic good in the entire world, “destiny” ceases to abide by this negative/inhibiting logic and begins to shine its upbeat, proactive light upon the world (like, I don’t know, the spread of good news and the salvation of Mankind – what we call “democratization” and “development”).
This active expansion of Judaism is not philosemitic; we only tend to think that because we, too, possess values sick with Protestant assumption and ethical-metaphysical utilitarianism of maximizing the ‘Good’ in the world. In fact, for an ethics that is non-expansive, for which the beyond/Divine “manifests” as an interruption – rather than a yellow brick road – this strategy to expand and universalize Judaic Monotheism betrays a radical attack on Judaism as such, specifically on the latter’s metaphysical skepticism/isolationism (not accepting Jesus’ comprehensive providence, not accepting that there is no (more) Divine chosenness, and “all are the same”). In a way you could say that the Jews, indeed, are “the change they wish to see in the world,” except they are commanded by God to remain passive and isolated (as a people, not as individuals) on that trajectory.
Really, who likes a passive and self-centered person? Of course, this is a question addressed to our time, to the Protestant in all of us; for the old world mentality, the modified question – “who likes a passive and a self-centered people?” – would elicit the same, normative, reaction. This “protestant spirit,” however, charged with redeeming the world through work (fucking John Locke and Adam Smith will tell you ALL about it), found this unbearable. What kind of God leaves an immutable Law to a small fraction of the Earth’s population and then absconds completely, giving no more prophecy, no game-plan? Only obeying command without understanding (or even given the permission to gain knowledge of) its reason, marks the Jew, in the eyes of late 18th Century “young Hegel,” as a permanent slave with a permanent slave mentality. A slave only follows orders, and remains alien to both the world in which he rents an existence on someone else’s property. Unlike those that incarnate the divine in the world, that take the “spirit of God” and leverage it to Cultivate the Earth (Bildung), to bring Salvation (and then Enlightenment) to all of ‘Mankind’ (Colonization; Aufklärung), here is a people that keep God all to themselves; neither evangelizing nor cultivating/colonizing, they’re just there. It was this passivity that the Protestant spirit negated most forcefully. Here’s young Hegel opining over the destitution of the Jews and “their idea of God” – which he deems the “inactive unity of spirit” –, squaring-off against the 4th Commandment that decrees rest and prayer on the 7th day:
“To slaves [i.e. as the Jews] this rest from work must be welcome, a day of idleness after six days full of labor. But for living men [i.e. as pagans and subsequent Christians], otherwise free, to keep one day in a complete vacuum, in an inactive unity of spirit, to make the time dedicated to God an empty time, and to let this vacuity return so often […]. […] In this thoroughgoing passivity there remained to the Jews, beyond the testification of their servitude, nothing save the sheer empty need of maintaining their physical existence” (‘The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate,’ Early Theological Writings, p. 193-194)
This is what Protestant ideology’s “manifest destiny” looks like when it first goes on the offensive, used as a weapon instead of a shield. A reversal occurs, where “manifest” is subordinated to “destiny.” That’s right. “Manifest destiny” becomes activated; opening, when combined with the ideology of individualism, a nice little slope straight to delusion: if the world is different from my beliefs, I need to work harder to achieve them. If I die trying, well, my failure was never “manifest” to me either”. See? Same tautological force that defended the Jewish people, but made active. Instead of being able to justify everything that happens to me (as it was for the Jew), this force begins to be used to justify everything that I make happens (or not, but then I have the guilt to deal with…).
Now, we must remember that “delusion” here also carries forth a “pioneering” quality that overall did not exist – neither in Paganism, nor in Judaism (delusion lowers chances of survival). This quality also stands behind any kind of vast earthly project, railroads, electricity, roads, telecommunications; behind revolutions and the fight against slavery, behind equal rights movements, behind western democracy, behind capitalism. It’s a mixed bag. It cannot be negated or resisted in a simple way (in order to change something here we need not warriors, but traitors).
As history has shown time and again, this reversal constitutes a wee bit of a slippery slope towards mass delusion, not least in the form of a de facto “White/Christian supremacy” wave of colonizers that insisted on perceiving the Native Americans – who “misinhabited” this new world (fucking Locke) – as the barbarous threat, and dutifully proceed to prevent them from “manifestationing” all over the white man’s destiny. The negative term “prevent” here is key: once a direction is deemed absolute – after “destiny” was converted to Monotheism (everything “manifests” the will of its single, omnipotent and omniscient God) AND Christianly “motivated” – any laggers-behind ought to be brought on board (‘civilized’). Otherwise, if they resist this direction – either in act (e.g. Native Americans) or in principle (Judaism) – they will lose out to “destiny.” History had “manifested” that too, non?
How does the delusion work? Here’s a flippant approximation: If I am the tool of destiny, it is almost like God (the one God that rules all) keeps telling me these people are marked for extinction (yet forbidding me to harm them). And yet, in moments of pressure or enthusiasm – of “self defense” or “discovery” (for the glory of God) – this slippery slope will also allow me to kill. Yes yes, “Thou shalt not kill” was in the ten commandments, but that was the old Law. Once the latter is “fulfilled” (as Christianity is wont to claim), the Law’s “letter” matters less than the Divine “spirit:” no more Laws of behavior! Jesus, this perfect example of ‘the Good’ as such – the same goodness that “inspired” the old Law – had come to show us the living principle behind the stone-dead letters of the Hebrews.
Of course, Jesus never authorizes anyone’s death, and he does preach for non-retaliation and love of enemy. BUT the metaphysical structure, within which he makes sense theologically-philosophically, creates a particular kind of “temptation” here; just like Judas (and the Jews) can be said to have become like Cain, marked by God’s hatred for an inexpungible sin (‘Pride’), yet also said, by several early theologians, to be “off limits” (in terms of persuasion/force). Once the Protestant “individual” takes over, as the basic measure of ‘human(ity)’, “temptation” also serves to protect the metaphysical framework – for all its violent blindness – by claiming this is one sinner who succumbed to temptation. It’s true: God pulled the same trick on Adam and Eve; but at least they got to live without the entire world looking at them as God’s hated creatures that-God-would-have-liked-to-be-gone-but-I-guess-we-just-have-to-wait-for-the-rapture. Only in Catholicism could we still “catch” the Christian spirit doing violence more-or-less in the open; it was Protestantism’s genius to hide all that faith, all that potential for violence and redemption, inside an “individual.” In fact, it is not unlikely that this “individual” is defined precisely with regards to this capacity for “depth” (Nietzsche).
Do you really think that those “individual” mass shooters – who today kill women, Muslims, Jews (and this is just a small sample from this millennium) – are really to bear the full brunt of the blame here? Just like the perverse logic of the “sin eater,” those mass-shooters can very well have thought of themselves as martyrs for a sacred, yet both spiritual and global, cause. After all, they only sacrificed themselves to help “destiny” manifest; and does “destiny” not “show” us that women are sinful tyrants that manipulate and abuse men, that Muslims are fueled by intolerant hatred and want to enslave the world, that Jews manipulate global economy and politics so as to take over the world?
See the slippery slope here? Make the Judaic “manifest destiny” active, add a culture of individual isolation – sola fide steers away from Catholicism’s communal rituals, or even a physical ekklesia really (Protestant pietism wanted it to be an “invisible Church”) –, and then splash-on a dab or two of individualized “manifestations” (i.e. “(fake/social media) news”), and the trap is set. Is it really enough to center the blame on the individual that sprung it? Or is it an ideologically and religiously fueled blindness to the bigger picture?
[Picture credit: Dan Meyers, https://unsplash.com/@dmey503]