Grand Inquisitor Revisited
By D.A. Blyler
shall deceive them again. That deception will be our suffering,
for we shall be forced to lie." Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
The Brother's Karamozov
Over the past six weeks a growing weariness has appeared
on the faces of the Bush Administration. Donald Rumsfeld,
the one-time robust Secretary of Defense, has become a gray
shell of his former self, his age of 72 years catching up
with him seemingly overnight. Colin Powell, who never looked
jubilant in his role of Secretary of Sate, bears now an absent
look as though his mind already has leaped forward to the
time when he'll pen his memoirs and wipe his conscience clean;
while CIA Director George Tenet simply buckled under the enormous
weight of the burden.
Only Vice President Dick Cheney, his sneering upper lip forever
fixed, still exudes a steely resolve, but it is a dispassionate
one and speaks more to the neo-Conservative agenda that Cheney
manages than a moral sense of purpose. And it is into this
lugubrious sea, without a rudder or compass, that George W.
Bush has been set adrift.
Every time the President steps up to the podium these days
one wonders if this is when the boom will drop and the breakdown
occur. Never a talented public speaker, Bush's awkwardness
now is often underpinned by an indescribable sadness, even
while raising money among the Republican faithful or rallying
the troops. And who can't help but feel a little sorry for
the President, who, while having made a striking figure in
his green flight suit on the USS Abraham Lincoln a year ago,
is clearly out of his element in carrying out the will of
the Cheney/Rove/Wolfowitz cabal?
Surely, the President hardly could have expected to be called
upon personally to lie so often and so frequently. But with
recent events in Iraq demanding press conferences, an annoying
job requirement that in the past he had so religiously avoided,
the weight of the deception is clearly pressing down on George
Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevky wrote provocatively on
this burden of conscience, though in a different context,
a century ago in his masterwork The Brothers Karamozov.
In a famous portion of the novel referred to as "The Legend
of the Grand Inquisitor," Karamazov brother Ivan tells
his brother Alyosha that the Church knowingly lies to the
people and distorts Christ's teachings out of moral rectitude,
out of charity to all those too weak to carry the burden of
free choice; that mankind does not wish the freedom to decide
for themselves what is good and evil but long forever to be
Speed forward one hundred years and we see the Bush administration's
evangelists, a menacing cluster of born-again Christians,
reinventing this argument under the auspices of the War in
Iraq and the fight against terrorism.
From the Iraq/al Qaeda connection and weapons of mass destruction
to the "handful" of soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib prison
abuse scandal, Bush and company have heaped lie upon lie in
a methodical attempt to ease the conscience of American citizens
and shore up the belief that the power they placed in their
hands was the right thing to do - all the while finding an
eager accomplice in the media, who are finally (as acknowledged
by the New York Times) owning up to the fact that they
failed in rigorously questioning the administration's arguments
for an Iraq invasion and its relentless efforts to paint the
war as a fight to retain America's freedoms while systematically
eroding those very freedoms through an overzealous Justice
Department and the little-understood Patriot Act.
Dostoyevky's Grand Inquisitor explained the tactic this
way: "we shall persuade them that they will only become free
when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us."
And that the public will surrender these freedoms happily
in exchange for releasing them from the anxiety and responsibility
of having to make moral decisions for themselves. Likewise,
the Bush team persuaded the American public and sleeping media
(through a cunning combination of flag-waving patriotism and
dissimulation of facts) to forfeit their conscience to the
But, like the fictional Grand Inquisitor, they never expected
the freight of lies to become so oppressive, and that freedom
purchased any other way except by free choice is a hollow
and short lived victory at best.
D.A. Blyler's essays have appeared at Salon.com, The Nation
newspaper in Bangkok, and other international publications.
He is the author of the expatriate novel Steffi's Club. You
can visit his website at http://www.geocities.com/dablyler/page.html.