Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, published a book entitled, Fascism: A Warning (London: William Collins, 2018). She was eleven when she escaped from Czechoslovakia with her parents and two siblings. She lost “three grandparents, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins … among the millions of Jews who had died in the ultimate act of Fascism – the Holocaust” (Madeleine Albright, Fascism: A Warning, London: William Collins, 2018, 2). Albright offers many insights that are wise and practical. For example: “I find it impossible to be coldly analytical on the subject of migrants and refugees, and I cannot respect politicians who try to win votes by kindling hatred” (Op cit, 185).
We human beings are anxious animals. To allay our anxiety we fabricate worlds – both public and private – where we feel in control. This often involves reducing reality to simple black and white issues. When the fabricated world is threatened our existential anxiety is awakened. We are then capable of irrational even absurd and sometimes violent behaviours. This is our instinct for fascism emerging. This instinct can be observed at work within the many ideologies – from the right and the left – at play in the world today. That includes the Church. The ideologues typically mask the anxiety with pious, righteous, high sounding language. The real issue remains the instinct for fascism.
How well we deal with this instinct for fascism – both as a society and as individuals – will determine our responses to many of the most critical questions facing the human family now. One of them is the issue of “otherness”. Madeleine Albright implies this in her observation concerning migrants and refugees. The question arises: Given that we do need control, how and where do we find the control? There is no simple answer to that question. However, today’s feast reminds us of an essential part of a Christian response.
Today is Palm Sunday. The Passion Narrative is proclaimed. We celebrate the revelation of God who is vulnerable: “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter …” (Isaiah 53:7). You and I and all people are made in the image and likeness of this God. What does that say about our being human? What might it suggest about how we can deal with our existential anxiety and the instinct for fascism?
Rowan Williams writes: “ ….. it is in the cross that we see the revelation of what it is that characterises God’s personal being, and so what is also possible for us: the cross reveals personality as ‘kenotic’. …. the renunciation of existing-for-oneself is our most authentically personal act and so also our most Godlike act” (Rowan Williams, Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology, edited by Mike Higton, London: SCM Press, 2007, 14). And so, an obvious characteristic of the truly human will be “the absence of self-assertive, self-interested ‘individualism’” for these absences “are the fundamental notes of personal existence at its source, in God” (Ibid).
The devil appeals precisely to these traits, as it were calling them forth from the dark depths of our psyches – and thus activating the instinct for fascism: “you will be like gods” (Genesis 3:5). The best antidote is surrender to God, abandonment to his love, trust in his ways.