The Power of the Powerless: Part 2, Ritual Legitimation

Having described ideology as the metaphysical and spiritual glue that holds power structures together, Václav Havel goes on in his essay “The Power of the Powerless” to describe how power becomes depersonalized. This is key. When power becomes depersonalized it is robbed of its human and moral element. No one is to blame. No one is in charge. The status quo seems automatic and inevitable, the only logical and conceivable outcome.

Oppression has become routine.

Havel describes two features of the depersonalized spirituality that characterizes and inhabits power structures.

First, ideology—the spirituality of the power—gives the power a sort of a unconscious, inevitable and automatic nature. People aren't making real human choices within power structures. They are, rather, behaving automatically, submitting to the norms, policies, procedures, rules, culture, tradition and expectations of the power structure. They are often, quite simply, doing their jobs.

This creates an impersonal bureaucratic inevitability. As Havel describes, there is a "blind automatism which drives the system."

This dehumanizes the power, extracts the human and moral element. In the power system "automatism is far more powerful that the will of any individual." Human conscience and autonomy become trapped and suppressed within the system:
[A]utomatism, with its enormous inertia, will triumph sooner or later, as either the individual will be ejected by the power structure like a foreign organism, or he or she will be compelled to resign his or her individuality gradually, once again blending with the automatism and becoming its servant, almost indistinguishable from those who preceded him or her and those who will follow.
This illustrates a second aspect regarding the impersonal nature of power. Beyond the impersonal, distributed and automatic execution of power, we see how the spiritual nature of power allows the power structure to persist over time as human servants come and go, live and die. As Havel notes:
If ideology is the principal guarantee of the inner consistency of power, it becomes at the same time an increasingly important guarantee of its continuity...power is passed on from person to person, from clique to clique, from generation to generation in an essentially more regular is ritual legitimation, the ability to rely on ritual, to fulfill and use it, to allow oneself, as it were, to be borne aloft by it.
Summarizing, all this goes to reinforce why spiritual warfare is not against "flesh and blood." As Havel describes, power is anonymous, dehumanized and bridges human generations. The real battle is against "something that transcends the physical aspects of power."

In short, spiritual warfare is spiritual. The clash is not between “flesh and blood” but between rival spiritualties and rival objects of worship. The battle is not between human bodies but between truth and illusion.

At root ideology is a tool of deception aimed at “legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side.” Ideology is “a veil behind which human beings can hide their own ‘fallen existence’, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo.”

Ideology is the secular religion we imbibe, the “ideological excuse” that is given so that we might reconcile ourselves to a dehumanizing and demoralizing status quo.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply