Some of the attraction to Trump is based on a desire to indulge in evil for its own sake: for the sheer, dark pleasure of releasing humanity’s ugliest urges — and that’s a desire that’s not found only in Trump supporters but in all of us. I got a chance to go into this in depth with Dean Walker, the host of an original and thoughtful video podcast called The Poetry of Predicament. Here’s an excerpt (starting at 27:56), with a transcript:
In the book [Patriots of Two Nations] I talk about the difference between Marx and Freud as a dichotomy that expresses that [the Jungian shadow self] and you can extend that from Freud to Jung. So Marx thought he had discovered the science of history. This is interesting, because this is one of the roots of intolerance on our side of the political spectrum, of liberals, that we often overlook. We overlook this shadow side of ourselves, that there is a form of liberal intolerance and even authoritarianism that we often think we don’t have — that’s the other side that’s like that. We’re all about community, you know, and helping each other, and looking after the vulnerable, etc. But there is a form of liberal intolerance that’s very serious and can get quite, well, extremely dark.
And I think the roots are in the Enlightenment gone mad. There are situations in history where the Enlightenment has gone mad and when the Counter-Enlightenment has gone mad. The Enlightenment gone mad is when you’re hyper-rational and you think rationality explains everything. And Marx thought he had discovered the science of history. This was a trend in German philosophy at the time. And if you think you’ve discovered the science of history and therefore, you know, the science of politics and how government should be organized, you’re on the road to deep intolerance, because anybody who disagrees with you is either wrong or corrupt, right? Those are the only choices. So they have to either be reeducated or stopped, you know, probably through punishment, possibly through death.
And the results of how people interpreted what Marx was saying — Marx, by the way, was also quite an anti-semite, I’m afraid it was quite common back then — but the results are things like the Marxist-Leninist dictatorship in the Soviet Union and the other countries, like Maoist China and Cambodia, and other countries that followed suit, where, in the interests of a theory of how society was supposed to work, horrible crimes were committed and unspeakable cruelties. In the Soviet Union, tens of millions of peasants died and lot of that was because, starting with Lenin, they were trying to convert real-world Russian peasants into theoretical Marxist-Leninist proletarians and people literally died or were imprisoned or tortured in service of that hyper-rationalist, soulless, heartless ideal.
The Counter-Enlightenment gone mad is Nazism, which is an extremely hyper-romantic vision of national destiny descended from what Wagner was talking about. Wagner, in the Ring Cycle, was attempting to express the soul of Germany, of the German people. And it begins with the Rhinemaidens as an image of perfect innocence and joy, guarding the Rheingold, which is the gold of the nation of Germany and is the essential goodness and wealth and power of the German people. And what are they threatened by? The evil dwarf Alberich, who’s a stereotypical Jew. We see that strand throughout history, down to the present day in the United States, with the bigotry we see in the United States, and people talking about Make America Great Again, which is descended straight from that vision of a pure state of national greatness that has to be recovered.
But as you can see, there is just a great deal of darkness waiting there to be tapped. And I mentioned when I launched into this the dichotomy of Marx versus Freud. So Marx is hyper-rationalist, in my view, and his terrible mistake was thinking he had discovered a science of history. Freud came along later. I often wonder what would have happened if Marks had lived a little later and had met Freud, and would it have caused him to rethink things?
Because Marx was also extremely naive about human nature. He thought that the reason people did bad things was because of private property. And if we just removed private property — and there are many liberals who still feel this way, this idea has not gone away — if we only didn’t have capitalism and private property, people wouldn’t be greedy and heartless and cruel to each other. That’s an extremely naive view of human nature, in my view. And in fact, it’s no more sophisticated or aware than any religious viewpoint. It is essentially, I would say, a religious statement of belief, not founded on any understanding of how human beings actually work. And Freud thought Marx was naive.
Freud understood — although he wasn’t right about everything by any means, but he at least intuitively understood — that we have these competing drives towards life and death: Eros and Thanatos. He didn’t use that word, but referring to the death drive, which is the way he described it, there’s something in us that just wants to destroy and hate just for the sheer pleasure of it. And I think Freud was a lot closer to the truth. These horrible things we’ve seen in world history and in American history, with slavery, these awful things we can point to down to the present day, with locking up little Children in cages on the border.
I think that’s what we have to understand, that that’s in us. And the extent to which we think we understand that problem by saying there’s something evil about Trump supporters, for example, or there’s something evil about Trump himself, I think we’re missing the point. There’s something evil in human nature — if we want to use that word, “evil” — that we need to turn towards and recognize and understand, because if we keep casting it out of ourselves and saying it’s only in those other people, we’re just going to keep repeating this cycle.