To the Editor:
Passion is often considered to be a virtue in politics. Itís seen as a badge of idealism, a clear repudiation of cynical compromise and deal making. But, alas, it has its darker side.
If youíre ever in Paris, take the Metro up to the gritty northern suburb of Saint Denis. There, in incongruous surroundings, stands the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis, a large medieval church dedicated to the memory of the martyred first bishop of Paris. As old churches go, itís quite impressive. But the main claim to fame is neither its architectural merits nor the provenance of its name, but rather the fact that itís also the royal necropolis of France.
Virtually all kings from the 10th to the 18th centuries were buried there, as were the reinterred remains of several monarchs going back to the 5th century Clovis I. But amongst all the history, thereís something creepy.
While much of the tomb statuary survives, the tombs themselves are empty. During the French Revolution, they were opened and stripped of whatever human remains survived, those remains then being dumped into two large pits.
You donít have to be a sentimentalist or nostalgic royalist to find this unseemly. Itís one thing to take revenge on a contemporary enemy, but quite another to systematically vandalize the graves of people whoíve been dead for centuries.
And Saint Denis wasnít a one-off.
The impulse behind vandalizing the dead was straightforward. It was an attempt to obliterate all tangible relics of what was considered to be an undesirable ancient order.
Rather than putting the past in context as something to be understood and learned from, the motivation was to create a kind of historical amnesia. By seizing control of collective memory, you could shape the future, all the while treating flesh and blood people as malleable clay.
Lest anyone get the impression that the French are being picked on, let it be noted that the 20th century brought examples of much more egregious abuse in the cause of social re-engineering. Think of Maoís Cultural Revolution, or the Khmer Rouge and Year Zero.
The thing about political passion isnít that itís inherently evil, but rather that itís quite susceptible to going very wrong. Human nature is the culprit.
If youíre very passionate about something, it can be relatively easy to go a few steps further and assume that you must be right. Itís no longer your view as opposed to the other personís view, but rather a matter of absolute right versus absolute wrong. And surely absolute wrong doesnít deserve any space in the public square? Instead, it must be stamped out.
Stir in the madness of crowds and the brew becomes particularly toxic. When the adrenalin starts pumping and the thrill of the hunt kicks in, restraint goes out the window. Whether itís lynch mobs, looters or rioting demonstrators, the thirst for excitement takes over.
One shouldnít, of course, brand all political passion with these sins. Itís feasible to be passionate and tolerant at the same time, to feel very strongly about your own position while respecting the right of others to disagree. Still, when it comes to politics thereís a lot to be said for being wary of passion and sticking instead with traditional Canadian bland.
Pat Murphy, Troy Media Corp.