Modernity and ideology

Peter Berger’s latest blog post explores why some modern Westerners become advocates for far-left regimes, using the recent example of Hugo Chavez devotee Eva Golinger (taking his cue from this NYT story). He finds parallels in Western advocates of fascism in the 1930s or Western converts to radical Islam today, tracing these ideas to modernity’s dissolution of traditional identities in favor of individually chosen idenitities:

For reasons which are not mysterious and which can be analyzed sociologically, modernity undermines taken-for-granted identities. No longer an unavoidable destiny, an individual’s identity increasingly becomes a matter of choice. This can be experienced as a great liberation, especially in its early phases. It can also be experienced as a burden. There is a deep human longing for certainty concerning the things that matter most—among which, as Immanuel Kant classically formulated it, is an answer to the question “Who am I?” As a result, there is a market for any movement that purports to provide a certain identity, one that can be relied upon beyond the precarious products of individual self-construction. That is the great attraction of all totalitarian movements. It is the psychological benefit of all fundamentalisms—religious or secular. The promise is always the same: “Come and join us. And we will give you what you have longed for—you will know who you really are.” The promise is kept—if and as long as the individual adheres to the ideology of the movement. Part of such adherence may be the denial of realities that contradict the ideology.

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