Sadism and civic impotence

A friend’s homely benediction last week: “Well, now that we’ve solved all the world’s problems . . .”  It was perfect: all we had said had the force of cliches.

We “solve the world’s problems” because we sense we were made to tend our land together. But we have no civic plot to tend. So we talk politics with an open and informed impotence.

We are living out Tocqueville’s warning about a purely representational civic life:

By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again. . . . This rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves . . .1

If citizenship amounts only to voting once a year and staying out of jail, then we’re in jail already, talking about how they should run things on the outside.

The news usually speaks of this enervation, but (applying something like Louise Rosenblatt’s transactional theory of reading) so does reading the news. And Matthew Fox:

Psychoanalyst Karen Horney defines masochism as “I can’tism.” Whenever we say “I can’t,” as in the expression, “I can’t be creative,” or, “I can’t change anything,” or “I can’t be mystical,” we are setting ourselves up for the sins of the sadist, who is always waiting to tell us, “You can’t, but I can.”2

“You can’t, but I can.” Isn’t that what the president has been telling us since he accepted his party’s nomination?

What do the president’s pardons of war criminals say about us?

  1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Norton 2007) at 603 – 604.
  2.  Matthew Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality (1983) at 229.