It's easy to get bored of political writing. It usually takes the form of airbrushed policy hackwork that you could as easily read on a FAQ or on Wikipedia, or someplace else where you don't have to endure subscription nags or the pretense of topicality. Happily, “Obama, Shaman” by Michael Knox Beran is just the opposite: a piece of unintentional art whose hypotheses reveal so much about the psyche of the author that the subject itself practically vanishes.
Beran wastes little time in getting to the basis for his anxiety. He compares Sen. Barack Obama to a rock star, Adonis, a superhuman, and Percival of Arthurian legend, and ascribes to popular belief the notion that Obama possesses miraculous healing powers. “It is a sign of growing maturity in a people,” he concludes, when they acknowledge “a residue of pain in existence” that cannot be cured. There is an undeniable pathos in Beran’s juxtaposition of Obama’s popular heroism with his own declaration of inalterable pain. Obama claims to be a “panacea,” but Beran knows his own disease is incurable.
No, Beran accepts his own pain and urges us to accept ours. He characterizes modernity as possessing the "childish dream of an anodyne world," crediting to this dream the philosophies of Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler, and tracing its beginnings to Machiavelli’s resentment of modern capitalism. Beran argues that Machiavelli wrote The Prince and other works in order to sabotage and undermine the growth of capitalist society. Machiavelli's prince is a "demiurge" possessing "demonic virtù," this latter a superhuman quality that enables a leader to overcome self-seeking and look to the common good. It's clear "virtù" is the part of the story that bothers Beran the most. He returns to the word again and again. Nor does "demiurge" appear to have been a haphazard choice; the Gnostic Cathars believed in a blind, evil creator-god by that name. To many of those sects, earthly good was inherently suspect - the guise under which the Lord of the World comes to steal our worship. Beran echoes the idea: exhortations to virtue are temptations to damn ourselves by pride, out of the folly that earthly suffering can be diminished.
Moreover, he argues that as a category, virtù is exclusively the territory of the charismatic demagogue. It is a claim that demagogues must make, otherwise the masses would realize that political will is a symptom of utopian delusion and reject princes' prescriptions. Machiavelli sought to assist the demagogue by working to overturn older morality, inducing the masses to forget or willfully ignore our "fallen condition" and succumb to the belief in superhumans. According to Beran, he did so by writing a story in which he humanized the devil and made him ultimately ineffectual. The importance of this literary reversal: by regarding archetypal villainy through the lens of virtù, he lulls us with the false belief that evil itself is curable by empathy. He describes how Machiavelli’s Belfegor was imitated by Voltaire, Diderot, Balzac, Shaw and Goethe. The popularity of such depictions is taken as a stark reflection of Europe’s moral decay, and likely a precursor to its widespread acceptance of socialist philosophies.
The free-associative final half is a masterpiece of escalating anxiety. Beran connects Obama with Oprah Winfrey, the "matriarch" of a "talk-show culture" oriented around deceptive images of redemption and dialogue. In one illustration, Winfrey is shown lounging atop a stack of books like an idol, wearing a negligee and reading in a provocative pose while nearby an aproned Obama pushes a cart full of babies. Like rock stars, Adonises and Percivals, Obama masquerades as a heroic figure but is in truth subservient, the sum total of matriarchal ideals projected onto a male mannequin. That's because virtù, like all other utopian fantasies, is believed to originate with women. Beran shows that where in the past, leadership charisma was associated with "authority," "muscular strength" and "testosterone," Obama is instead "nurturant" and "metrosexual" – a demagogue appropriate to an "age of sagging sperm counts." The message is clear: it is on the back of this placid beast that the Whore of Baby Bust arrives to be worshipped.
Moreover, Beran invites us to share his fears about the incompatibility of Obama’s "relativism" with the Founding Fathers' visions. These, he argues, were rooted in traditional morality, itself rooted in the idea that earthly suffering cannot be changed – the American constitution, he tells us, is shaped by a bedrock belief in original sin. He further connects America’s resilience with literal belief in the devil, which remains even after faith in God wanes. Now, we are pursuing "false gods," Beran tells us, but hope is to be found in our faith in the devil's evil and the irascible shoddiness of our condition. That certainty is the lifeline floating in the disastrous landscape that Beran shows us: no matter how charismatic a faggot we crown, America knows – as did the Founding Fathers – that we were born deserving of "the painful limitations of our condition." We suffer by the design of a supreme Father, a design which will continue to frustrate our hubris even if we join Barack Obama in mincing displays of weakness on television. Our pride, like the targets painted onto the supplicating masses in the first illustration, marks us out to a God whose hostility is implacable. Punishment is coming. Like pain, it cannot be avoided.