23 March 2006

A Terrible Love of War

James Hillman's book published in 2004 by the above title is an investigation into war by a Jungian analyst. He explores war with his imagination, which well he might, since by his own admission he has never been in combat. This, however, presents no obstacle because of his experience with combat veterans and survivors and their written accounts. Indeed, he has read widely, and refers liberally to the classics, history both ancient and modern, and the literature of psychology, philosophy and social science. Hillman's book speeds over his sources like an insect called a water-strider speeds over a pond - never penetrating the depths, because it is too light-weight to break the surface tension.

His chapters are entitled

  • War is Normal - meaning that it is ubiquitous in history and geography and that psychologically normal people engage in it
  • War is Inhuman - meaning that war seems to have a transpersonal dynamic all its own. Hillman imagines it as the Greek/Roman war-god Ares/Mars. Indeed Hillman seems to prefer a multiplicity of simple, one-themed gods, rather than a single, complex, multi-faceted God, like that of Christianity.
  • War is Sublime - meaning that war calls us to serve and sacrifice for a cause higher than ourselves, that in conflict we can experience a kind of transcendence.
  • Religion is War - by his own admission an attack on Christianity as being warlike and therefore hypocritical.

    I'll give him this. He makes some interesting points. For example, he claims that Clausewitz had it backwards when he asserted that war is a continuation of politics by other means. Having worked for a political campaign I agree: politics is really a continuation of war by other means. He also states the obvious - in order to have a war, you need an enemy. This point was explored more fully by another psychiatrist, Anthony J. Stevens, in his book, The Roots of War: A Jungian Perspective in which discusses enemy-making as pseudospeciation, the portrayal of the enemy group as less than, or at least other than, human. Stevens also delves into the pervasiveness of war-metaphors in our culture, which Hillman merely decries.

    With regard to his attack on Christianity, Hillman would do well to read Thomas Cahill's Gifts of the Jews: How a Desert Tribe of Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. That is to say, most of what he identifies with Christianity is what Christianity inherited from Judaism. That he attacks it might tempt me to brand him as an anti-Semite, but there is a better designation. I think he may be an Occidentalist, as described by Buruma and Margalit in their book, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, or perhaps a Bourgeoisophobe, to use David Brook's designation.

    All in all, I think much of what Dr. Hillman says in this book is said with more regard for its effect rather than for its accuracy. For example, he quotes a well-known hymn:

    Onward Christian soldiers,
    Marching off to war,

    Sorry, James. It's "Marching as to war," and that makes all the difference. If my impression its statements being made for effect over accuracy is correct, then A Terrible Love of War might fall into the category of discourse studied by Dr. Harry G. Frankfurt in his treatise, On Bullshit.
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