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10 December 2018

Power, Persecution, and Peril

I was listening to segment on a podcast episode about the mythology of Chanukah. Specifically, it pointed out that the story gave an important framing and narrative to right-wing Zionists in Israel.[1] "We are--and have always--been a people under attack! We must fight!" It reminded me a lot of what I had written extensively about before regarding Evangelicals and Republicans (see here, here, and here). Why this narrative, though? Why do the strong need to tell a story about themselves being weak?

Before the modern era (i.e. pre-1517), the powerful definitely saw no need to justify power. Power was self-evidently good, and power was the ends. There was no need in this world to deign to appear weak. Modernism, however, changed these norms. With the rise of individualism and democracy, power became suspect. It was not as if power went away; it still worked as it had before. Suddenly, though, the powerful needed a way to couch their power within the new modernist sensibilities. Power, if it appears baldly, is risked. If one's power is too obvious, it can be stripped away. To protect and consolidate power, the powerful must ironically paint themselves as persecuted. To do otherwise is to imperil their power. In other words, the first must make it at least appear as if they are the last.

Take for example the current Republican Party that, though controlling all three branches of the federal government (not to mention many state governments), still campaigns on the idea that Democrats were not just a threat but somehow magically able to enact and block policy as they saw fit.

Take for example the annual "War on Christmas" rhetoric that gets ginned up this time of year. Evangelicals, who enjoy widespread cultural and structural advantage in the United States (not to mention numbers), are somehow restricted from saying the words "Merry Christmas" in public.

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[1] To be clear, Diasporic Jews have been and in many ways still are persecuted. The same cannot be said of Israeli Jews. Just ask Marc Lamont Hill.