Against All Fanaticisms?

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

“The first duty of the philosopher in our world today is to fight against fanaticism under whatever guise it may appear.”

-Gabriel Marcel

Listen to what Marcel is saying here. He is saying that we don’t get to pick which fanaticisms we oppose and which we embrace. He is saying that fanaticism as such must be opposed. Given that every “ism” is a fanaticism” more or less cleverly concealed, are we then to oppose all of them? Must we always be “reasonable”?  Or do some things demand a level of commitment from us that cannot be described as anything less than “fanatical”? If so, then on what ground do we base our triage? How to decide which “isms” to oppose and which to champion? Everyone can agree that the fanaticisms of communism and fascism should  be opposed wherever they present themselves. Many would say that capitalism (especially of the uncontrolled, freebooter variety) should equally be opposed.  But what about those “isms” of which  we approve? What about internationalism? Humanism? And what about that most problematical of fanaticisms, idealism? If these fanaticisms are not also to be opposed, then we need to evolve a “truth test” for good vs. bad fanaticisms, a truth test that by the nature of its structure and content would command assent from any rational moral agent. This truth test would require a lot more rigor than “Well, this fanaticism is nice to people and this fanaticism is mean to people.” That’s  the truth test of the schoolyard, and is useless.

This subject demands an expanded essay in itself. More: it demands a book. Maybe some day when I hit the lottery I’ll have the free time to  write it. 🙂


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  1. but whenever I see the blindspots of others, I hear a little voice in my head asking where mine are. After all, they are blindspots.

    • pfiore8 on September 4, 2008 at 17:38

    that’s why salads are good: a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. gene pools, the more diverse, the better.

    the constitutional convention… my model for getting diverse and competing interests to fashion fabulous and elastic solutions.

    there is and never has been a “one size fits all”

    the process and the journey and learning curve are, in large part, learning to shift gears among the isms. . .

    i don’t believe in absolute truth. or tests for truth of good vs bad anything. to a gal like Gov. Palin, i am the bad thing. the blind one. i understand that. i no longer fight to change her mind or heart. i now fight to hold my ground. my truth. and i fight to see through labels. most, not all, of us are just trying to make a go of it. i don’t want to stand against them, no matter what their label.

    and::: i rely on something older and deeper: when i feel it or hear it or see it or experience it, i know it. like when the eye detects something odd. like Meg Ryan’s lip job. your eyes just know it doesn’t synch up with nature. poor poor meg…………

    thanks for the provocation!

    • Edger on September 4, 2008 at 17:51

    a fanatical crusade against fanaticism?

    Or would we become George Bush the monsters we oppose by doing that?


  2. Well, I guess the question is, how do you cultivate people who aren’t assholes?  I know it sounds trite, but really that’s where it rests for me.  I think you can find sane, not-especially-fanatical adherents of anything that’s been around long enough for whackitude to fall on a binomial distribution, so it clearly isn’t the philosophy itself.  Some philosohies make radicalization easier (fundamentalist religions) and some make it harder (secular humanism, zen…) but you can make a whacker out of anyone if you kill a couple generations of their relatives or starve them half to death or deprive them consistently of some basic element of human dignity and self respect, in ways large or subtle.

    I say worry less about what they think and feed people, shut down wars and cleansings and death squads and systematic murder for political gain; cultivate governments which are responsive.  Push a secular vision of life being, y’know, basically ok and a fine thing to have, no matter who you are or what you were born into.  I would bet that this issue becomes, while not invisible…much less pressing.

  3. I’m inclined to suggest he is, sort of, but it seems to me that one form of “ism” is to suggest that Marcel is stating an absolute truth without questioning it.

  4. “The first duty of the philosopher in our world today is to fight against fanaticism under whatever guise it may appear.”

    -Gabriel Marcel

    Just saying.   😉

    • feline on September 5, 2008 at 08:07


    “Well, this fanaticism is nice to people and this fanaticism is mean to people.”

    I agree that it’s a more complex subject than that, but I certainly think that this test serves a useful purpose.

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