FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Manichaeanism on the March!

by Gary Leupp

War talk is comforting because it renders the choices apparently stark and the options superficially clear. The idea that this [“war on terrorism,”] is a Manichaean struggle between our forces of democracy and good and their forces of fanaticism and evil is a consolation and an inspiration.

London Observer, September 16, 2001

The arrogance that marked the latest Manichaean pronouncement of the U.S. President, George W. Bush, alleging an “axis of evil” on the international stage has justifiably produced a backlash of adverse reactions.

The Hindu, February 4, 2002

President Bush is serious about his Manichaean formulation of the war on terror-“either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2002

Bush’s Manichaean approach to the post-Sept. 11 crisis has its virtues, but whether it will hold up as a sensible way to deal with as complicated an international problem as the United States has ever faced remains to be seen.

New York Times, April 6, 2002

?

simplicity is a genuine virtue in, for example, mobilizing a nation for war. It was quite effective for a while when Bush declared, after Sept. 11, that we were engaged in a Manichaean struggle with a single overarching enemy called terrorism.

Michael Kinsley, April 18, 2002

People all over the world are calling the Bush administration “Manichaean.” Since Manichaeanism isn’t taught in our high schools, I thought it might be a good idea to put these references into some context.

Once upon a time in the land of Persia (Iran-a great country which has contributed immensely to human civilization)-there lived a man named Mani. Mani probably lived from 215 to 276, in a complicated religious environment. Zoroastrianism was the longstanding state religion; Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism were also vying for influence in Iran’s Sassanid Empire. Mani tried to pull them all together into a new, universal religion. (Religious syncretism was common in Iran, where Bahai also originated.). He proclaimed himself a prophet, in a line including Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus. His eclectic teaching quickly spread like wildfire into Syria, Europe (as far as Spain) and China. It was the state religion of the Uighur Empire in the 12th century. Most Catholics don’t know it, but St. Augustine (who lived in North Africa) was a Manichaean for a decade before he embraced Christianity in 386. Mani’s doctrine became the third world religion, after Buddhism and Christianity, spread by missionaries up and down the Silk Road, until it was stymied by repression in Europe, and official opposition in China, and the rise of Islam in southwest Asia. It pretty much disappeared by the ninth century—a world faith that failed.

And why did it fail? In part, because it was so simplistic. Mani saw the world as a battleground in which Good/Light and Evil/Darkness existed in eternal conflict. No gray areas for him. From the beginning, there had been a Realm of Light (in the north), ruled by the Father of Greatness; and the Realm of Darkness (in the south), ruled by the Prince of Darkness (representing smoke, fire, storm, mud and darkness). (Some may observe that this term also applies to a contemporary political figure, but I don’t want to digress.) These two existed in a state of perpetual warfare until the Father sent Jesus the Radiant, who then awakened Adam, the first man, and the first in a long line of prophets including Zoroaster, Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Paul, and Mani himself. At the end of time, there will be a great war, after which Jesus will return. The world, will implode, setting off a conflagration that, burning for 1468 years, will constitute the final victory of Light.

Again, this doctrine pretty much died out over a thousand years ago, but there are some New Agers, and some in Washington inclined to what the French foreign minister has called simplisme, who seem really, really into it.

Gary Leupp is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program. He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail