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January 6 and the Possessive White Male

Summary:
Although there is much more to be learned about the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, the motives of the participants can be gleaned from their own statements. Like far-right movements everywhere today, the insurrectionists were driven by resentment of others’ emancipation. PRINCETON – The investigation by the US House Select Committee on January 6 is still a long way from establishing a comprehensive record of the assault on the Capitol last year, so one should resist facile generalizations about the insurrectionists. Ideally, the committee will uncover sufficient evidence to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice for the lead conspirators, not just the foot soldiers.

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Although there is much more to be learned about the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, the motives of the participants can be gleaned from their own statements. Like far-right movements everywhere today, the insurrectionists were driven by resentment of others’ emancipation.

PRINCETON – The investigation by the US House Select Committee on January 6 is still a long way from establishing a comprehensive record of the assault on the Capitol last year, so one should resist facile generalizations about the insurrectionists. Ideally, the committee will uncover sufficient evidence to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice for the lead conspirators, not just the foot soldiers.

Still, some basic statements about the rioters seem uncontroversial. For example, we know that many of those who attacked the seat of American democracy saw themselves as staunch defenders of the US Constitution. Did they simply have their facts wrong?

One key to understanding the event lies in a phenomenon that characterizes far-right parties and movements across countries: the promise of restoring privileged status to white men who think that women, nature, and the machinery of democracy ultimately belong to them. The Capitol was “taken” by assailants who displayed an astonishing sense of entitlement, chanting slogans like, “Whose house? Our house!” Observers who remarked that the insurrectionists behaved almost like tourists misinterpreted what they saw. Tourists – especially God-fearing conservative ones – generally do not illegally seize, deface, defecate in, or outright destroy the sites they visit.

A deeper insight into the day’s events comes from the German philosopher Eva von Redecker. Inspired by the medical phenomena of phantom pain and phantom limbs, she recently coined the term “phantom possession” to make sense of our era’s new authoritarianism.

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