Is there reason to be concerned that our treasured democracy is in danger?
Did Kurt Friedrich Gödel see something in 1947 that is coming to be in our contemporary political and cultural circumstance? And how is it that we do not have an accurate rendition of what he discovered?
On December 5, 1947, Einstein and Morgenstern accompanied Gödel to his U.S. citizenship exam, where they acted as witnesses. Gödel had confided in them that he had discovered an inconsistency in the U.S. Constitution that could allow the U.S. to become a dictatorship; this has since been dubbed Gödel's Loophole. Einstein and Morgenstern were concerned that their friend's unpredictable behavior might jeopardize his application. The judge turned out to be Phillip Forman, who knew Einstein and had administered the oath at Einstein's own citizenship hearing. Everything went smoothly until Forman happened to ask Gödel if he thought a dictatorship like the Nazi regime could happen in the U.S. Gödel then started to explain his discovery to Forman. Forman understood what was going on, cut Gödel off, and moved the hearing on to other questions and a routine conclusion. (Kurt Friedrich Gödel --wikipedia)
Kurt Gödel saw something in the US Constitution that would, eventually, allow fascism and dictatorship to replace democracy here.
At the courthouse, witnesses would normally remain outside of the room during a citizenship examination, but because Einstein, a celebrity, was involved, and because the judge, Phillip Forman, had administered the oath of citizenship to Einstein, all three men were invited in. In the course of the examination, Forman asked Gödel what the government of Austria was, to which he replied: "It was a republic, but the constitution was such that it finally was changed into a dictatorship." The judge commented that this could not happen in the U.S., and Gödel responded "Oh, yes, I can prove it," but the judge declined to pursue the matter. (Gödel's Loophole --wikipedia)].
We seem to sneer at the imbecility of some members of both federal and state legislators and judicial appointees. We laugh at the absurdity of their antics as they peck and chip away at the foundations of this edifice of democracy, separation of powers, integrity of oversight, and vigilance of the populace for the smooth correctives built into the structure of democracy honoring "we the people."
My view, from living in the northeastern-most state of the contiguous United States, is a little blurry.
As much as I'd prefer to leave the monitoring and adjustment of democracy to the elected and appointed members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government, I'm becoming wary and doubtful that the underlying stability of our system is solid.
I can attribute my wariness to advancing age. Maybe affected by regular visits with the dying and periodic sitting with those just dead and awaiting funeral personnel. Also Fridays and Mondays in prison conversing about all manner of things -- from philosophy and poetry to depression and bi-polar suffering. Maybe, volunteering as a patient visitor at local hospital (awaiting re-engagement following covid-19 hiatus) reminding me of the fragility of the human body and species. Or, truth be told, it just might be the melancholic and phlegmatic state of personality walking about in my shoes looking at the attachments and distractions of a wealth and celebrity-driven sociological construct of so much emulation to the right and left of us.
What about Qoheleth?
I have always wanted to see the look on Qoheleth’s face. An innovative thespian on a spiritual quest recently gave me that chance.
A colleague from the theater department at my university had told me that someone was doing a monologue of Ecclesiastes at a local fringe festival. I was excited in a way that betrays my particular nerdiness about this topic. I bought a ticket to Meaningless and sat up front, eagerly waiting to finally meet the sage, whom I had been studying for so many years, in person.
As a scholar of Ecclesiastes, I tend to refer to the book by its Hebrew title, which comes from the name of its purported speaker and author, Qoheleth, and means something like “assembler,” “teacher,” or “philosopher.” I can talk to you for a whole semester about text-critical issues, historical context, translation dilemmas, literary analysis, and debates over dating. That’s not what this show was about. Instead, it immersed me in the mysterious beauty of this harshly realistic book.
pedia)[Notes 1] Ecclesiastes as a one-man show --In Meaningless, Rodney Brazil brings Qoheleth to life. by Lisa M. Wolfe in the March 2023 issue, Published on January 25, 2023 The Christian Century,
Is the meaninglessness, the vanity, of human existence, something not just a trope belonging to Sartre, Camus, Beckett and Ionesco?
One of the biggest scholarly debates about Ecclesiastes in the past 40 years has been the translation of Qoheleth’s theme word hevel. Ever since Jerome translated the book in the fourth century, the predominant rendering of hevel has been vanitas (Latin) and its derivative “vanity” (English). But what does this mean in 21st-century English? Many of us will internally cue Carly Simon’s hilariously biting lyric, “You’re so vain / You probably think this song is about you.” Or perhaps we’ll envision that piece of furniture called a vanity, with drawers and a mirror. While vanity in these senses is relevant for Qoheleth, neither comes close to the nuances of hevel in the book. Brazil’s play, with its title Meaningless taken directly from the New Living Translation, unwittingly joins this scholarly discussion about how best to translate hevel.
One of the first academic monographs I read was Michael V. Fox’s 1989 Qohelet and His Contradictions. As someone only beginning to engage with biblical scholarship, I found it fascinating and influential, to say the least. Fox’s central thesis is that the book’s contradictions are internal to one author, not the result of multiple voices—something Brazil personifies in his one-man show. Beyond that, Fox makes a case to translate hevel as “absurd” or “absurdity,” depending on the context. He relates this translation to Albert Camus’s idea that the absurd involves disjunction between what should be logically joined. For me, this accurately reflects how Qoheleth uses hevel: to describe work that produces no gain, unsatisfied longing to know the right times of life, a failed test of pleasure, an unfulfilled need for justice. (--Wolfe, ibid)
Don't get me wrong -- we live in a fine country with values, if distributed fairly and equally, that are beneficial and ennobling. But, still, vigilance demands we watch out for the connivers, the grifters, the swindlers, the autocrats, the liars, the scammers, the criminal elite whose goal is to consolidate power, control, and divisiveness into their solipsistic hands and lure their deluded, convinced, and sanctimonious followers into the wake of their luxury cruise.
What did the brilliant logician Gödel see that he reported to Einstein, Morgenstern, and Foram on 5dec47 as he committed to American citizenship?
What do we see in 2023?
And, importantly, what are we committed to these days in our ambivalent observation of our theatrical absurdity?