In 1791 Haitian slaves rose against their French masters. Like most other revolutions, that one vented many febrile emotions, hatred of the whites prime among them.
Yet there was an interesting twist there. Since a majority of the freed slaves had been baptised, they added a Christian touch to their racial animus. “The whites crucified Jesus,” they chanted. “Let’s kill all whites!”
That was the first uprising I can think of where the concepts of race, collective responsibility and religion came together in one explosive package. But, judging by the current events, not the last.
Though a secular cult has replaced Christianity as a constituent, the other ingredients remain in place. It’s not just Derek Chauvin and his accomplices who are being held responsible for George Floyd’s death, but all white policemen in general – and by extrapolation all whites.
Mocking that sort of thing is easy, and I myself have succumbed to the temptation. Yet it does raise deeper questions than the idiotic chants of a crazed mob can ever pose.
I often talk about the larcenous shift of modernity, akin to looters burning somebody’s house down but moving some of the furniture into their own home.
Thus modernity was brought to life largely – I’d even say mostly – by a revolt against Christianity and the civilisation it had begotten, Christendom. That house was razed in short order, but some of its fixtures, those that looked useful to the victors, were stolen and, after being thoroughly perverted, shifted over to the new residence.
Thus freedom, the centrepiece of Christianity, was repainted into liberty and then licence; equality before God became economic and social levelling, often by violent means; brotherhood of all in Christ became a licence to kill and dispossess those unworthy of secular kinship.
Collective responsibility is one such stolen property, for it used to be essential to the scriptural sources of our civilisation, indeed our civilisation as a whole. The Old Testament story of Adam and Eve gave rise to the Christian, especially Augustinian, theology of original sin.
Roughly speaking, we all bear the onus of responsibility for the sin of defying God committed by our progenitors, and it doesn’t matter whether Adam and Eve were merely a symbol of mankind or its sum total. One way or another, original sin is on all of us.
Yet it isn’t irredeemable. A Jew can cleanse himself by living according to the Law, and a Christian by living in Jesus Christ, who died to redeem mankind of original sin and show a path to eternal salvation.
Thus, for all practical purposes, collective responsibility becomes individual. We can exercise our individual free will and do certain things that will ease our way to life everlasting – or not, if our individual choices are bad.
For a Christian, the greatest individual choice is to accept Jesus Christ, but that option can’t be taken up collectively. Even if a person was unwittingly baptised at birth, the choice to stay faithful in adulthood will always remain individual and free.
One may choose to believe all of this or not, but intrinsically the system is sound on every level – theological, philosophical, logical and practical. Everything within the system, including the notion of collective responsibility, is also sound. Anyone is free not to accept it, but no one can seriously claim the system doesn’t make sense on its own terms.
Not so with collective responsibility, as invoked by modernity in general and particularly the looting mob reinforced by its bien pensant camp followers. Like all metaphysical concepts purloined by modernity, it stops being sound and noble, becoming instead stupid and pernicious.
White skin as such is seen as a sin, and one that can’t really be propitiated, although some have tried and more will do so in future. If a man can decide to identify as a woman and vice versa, why can’t a white person identify as black?
Some have done so, but there’s no evidence that real blacks accept such trans-racialism as anything other than patronising. Many others have been driven by guilt to which they weren’t entitled to march in step with black crowds, wherever they were going.
It can be a civil rights march or a looting expedition or a cross between the two – it really doesn’t matter. Blacks of course see through white guilt and exploit it, which is the natural thing to do. But as often as not they despise such fellow marchers. Turncoats are always despised by both sides.
Unless we talk about original sin and its relation to our salvation, collective responsibility in the secular context is at best disingenuous and at worst idiotic. Usually the two together.
It could be argued that membership in a criminal organisation, such as the SS or the KGB, makes one collectively responsible regardless of any personal wrong-doing. Even that argument isn’t always easy to sustain, what with endless nuances coming into play.
As to insisting that all whites should feel guilty for race crimes committed by evil men, be it slavery or the murder of George Floyd, this sort of thing belongs in the madhouse – or in the smarter salons of Manhattan and Kensington.
When it spills out into the streets, drawing tens of thousands to rallies, peaceful or otherwise, this nonsense is related to its professed cause only tangentially, if at all. At the heart of it lies deep general resentment, a ball of hate bouncing about in the cavernous spiritual emptiness of modern life.