Democracy, Fear, and Vanquishing

“The recent history of Europe confirms that democracies eventually vanquish totalitarianism and fascism.” Jean-Luc Marion

 Jean-Luc Marion wrote in a time of fear. The Enlightened City of Paris had been attacked. Terror struck at the heart of the Western worldview— a free press.

A few Muslims extremists gunned down a dozen or so Parisians at the headquarters of a satirical newspaper. The newspaper had repeatedly been mocking the Prophet Muhammed and the accompanying religion. Did the satire go too far? Did the gunmen not have a sense of humor? Were they legitimately upset at the comics? Could the gunmen not take a joke?

Whatever the gunmen thought, it ended in deaths— their deaths and more deaths. Satire was planted; death was reaped. Blood and gore soaked the pages instead of ink and fonts.

And then… the usual happens.

The world tries to make sense of a tragedy. The world tries to understand how ‘they’ could do such a thing to ‘us’. How could ‘they’ not support a free press? Why could ‘they’ not just look away from the offensive? How could ‘they’ bring death to a newsroom? The West played the victim and vowed to never back down, never surrender.

The epithet above is one scholar’s attempt to find comfort in tragedy. To find solace in grief. To find meaning and purpose in history.

So… a Frenchman takes up an American pen and writes, “The recent history of Europe confirms that democracies eventually vanquish totalitarianism and fascism.”

With the stroke of his pen, he thinks he brings calm to a raging storm. He brings hope to a grieving West. He grabs history by the scruff of her neck and drags her to the court of public opinion. See, ‘we’ are always right. ‘We’ will prevail.

Of course…

Of course, the West is right.

Of course, the god(s) of enlightenment will take the day.

Of course, Free Press will win.

Of course, Democracy will defeat the evils of tyranny and oppression.

Of course, ‘those’ Muslim extremists will never conquer the West and impose its pre-modern notions of morality. Charles Martel is alive in spirit. The Franks will always win against the Islam hordes. The Muslim conquests will end again… not at Tours… but in Paris.

But… wait a moment. Charles Martel was 8th century. Totalitarianism and fascism were 20th century. I’m left to wonder why Jean-Luc Marion critiques Islam via a jab at, presumably, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Soviet Russia. It’s as if nothing can stop Western universals— brownshirts, comrades, or blackshirts. So… is he saying that Islam just doesn’t have the power to shake Europe. Is Marion saying that Islamic extremism is the ‘Junior Varsity’ team to the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini?

I’m not quite sure I understand the logic.


I do know about the boldness of the claim. That Democracy can, will, and has always prevailed in the face of control. The hoi polloi are not the great unwashed. They are salvation to Western-ism. People should be free. Free people choose democracy. Always have. Always will.

People will not live in fear. Democracies thrive in safety and security. Supposedly.

I guess readers must forget that Nazis seized power through the German people. The Red Russians overran the Tsars and Whites. The Fascist blackshirts led a popular coup. Marion either forgot about this history. Or this history didn’t give Marion his desires?

So…What is the role of history?

What comfort can a Whig history ever give?

Is it really comforting to know that history may repeat itself, but democracies win out?

Is it really comforting to be confronted with the prospects of totalitarianism and fascism? But it’s okay, democracy will win out. The big three (France, Britain, and the USA) will unite again and impose democracy.

Marion’s is a bold claim, that democracies will win out. He may only be talking about Europe in this piece, but something universal seems to be lurking behind the scenes.

The fact that democracies win out is not always the case in the world.

This week, we Americans are remembering those horrific events 17 years ago— and the subsequent wars. Melted steel and bodily debris comingled in the ashes of the towers of economic prosperity. Was the world ever the same again?

Subsequently, America spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to establish a democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. America went in as crusaders on a just cause of democracy and freedom? The Middle Eastern people only needed liberating and they would confess the gods of the West: democracy, freedom, and free press.

But what happens when a people don’t really want democracy? What happens when people need more than just freedom? What happens when children are still starving in a free market democracy?

Totalitarianism, fascism, terror arises. Is something innate in us that we humans want to be controlled? By religion? By kings? By tyrants? By fear? By terror? Do we really want to rally behind a big man with a stick (yes, intentionally gendered language given the likes of current world leaders)? We humans might crave power, strength, might more than free press, democracy, and Western ideals.

If given the choice, does the world belong to the ‘people’ or to the ‘strong’ people? Perhaps, ‘we’ Westerners are not too different from the ‘them’ of our fears.

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