My March 2017 column for The Echo
Conspiracies of Men and God
by Frank DeMarco
In conspiracies, as in politics, there are no final victories.
Notice, this is not to say that conspiracies never succeed. Often enough, they do, in whole or in part. Often enough, their effects are disastrous. Nobody who lived through the aftermath of the murder – and the subsequent cover-up of the murder – of John F. Kennedy needs instruction on just how disastrous the effects can be.
But not even the most successful conspiracy can control life.
I know that’s what we fear. In our worst nightmares, we see ourselves entering the dystopias of 1984 or Brave New World. God knows, we see enough signs around us that we are on a slippery slope, and sliding faster and faster. Our feelings are screaming to us that we may be in the last days of the republic.
Well, maybe so. But maybe not. Often enough, strong feelings are less a natural reaction to events than a reflection of our fears. Fear often throws shadows on our nighttime walls, shadows that may be mistaken for reality. It is one thing to know, as a general rule, that conspiracies do sometimes occur, and do sometimes succeed. It is a very different thing to know whether this or that specific allegation is true. Feeling something strongly is not proof that our feelings are correct.
Here’s something to consider. Even if our worst fears are correct, the consequences that follow will be vastly different from what anyone on any side desires or predicts.
For many years, I intended to write a novel showing that people are always conspiring, but that even when a specific conspiracies succeeds, unanticipated effects follow. I was going to call it Conspiracies of Men and God, to express the fact that life is always larger than our ability to master it.
Consider the remarkable career of Charles de Gaulle. When you read his wartime memoirs, what stands out is that, from 1940 onward, his career might be looked at as an example of a benign conspiracy. Beginning alone, with no official position, no army, no treasury, in five years he rebuilt the essentials of the French state. He did it by knowing what needed to be done, and feeling his way toward the means to do it. But the point is, he was no one-man-band. In order to do what needed to be done, he had to attract others to his standard, and had to find necessary resources.
But even that miraculously successful conspiracy – call it that – could only go so far. After the war, politics as usual resumed, and he recognized that his choices were only three: to become a dictator, which would be self-defeating; to allow himself to be coopted into the system, which would destroy the moral authority he had accumulated in five years of struggle, or to retire until his country might call him again, which, in 1958, it did. This man who had rebuilt a state could mold circumstances only so far.
Or, on the other hand, consider the complementary career of Adolf Hitler, the head of a very successful malign conspiracy which took over a state, for a while threatened to take over the world, and then brought itself and Europe into ruin. He was not a one-man-band either. His henchmen, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, etc., planned and executed the takeover of the German state, then, in six years, sowed the wind that first overshadowed all of Europe, and then, in another six years, reaped the whirlwind.
These creatures of hatred knew how to whistle up the demons that lurked in the hearts of the German people following their dreadful sufferings of the two decades following 1914. Once in control of the German state, they whistled up demons in the countries around them, demons whose shrieks evoked fear and trembling. And then Hitler’s conspiracy, like de Gaulle’s, found itself unable to impose itself upon the world.
(Unlike de Gaulle’s conspiracy, Hitler’s evil called forth the forces that would destroy it. I sometimes think that the worst effect of evil is that it calls forth forces that will destroy it. If Hitler had never existed, would we be living in the shadow of the atomic bomb?)
These are dark times, and nobody knows if this is the darkness of midnight or the darkness before the dawn. That there are conspiracies being woven around us seems clear enough, but no one alive can see what the net effect of so many contending efforts will be.
But no matter who dark things get, sooner or later daylight always returns. And no matter how strong the forces of evil, or even of good for that matter, it is worth remembering that nobody ever succeeds in bending all of life to their design.