Passing Bull 41 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Folly, Donald Trump, and not a few locals


My compliments to the Commissioner of the NYPD who commented on the call by Senator Cruz ‘to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods.’  The Commissioner said: ‘We don’t need a President that doesn’t respect the values that form the foundation of this country.  There are more than 900 Muslim offices in the NYPD, many of whom also serve in the US military in combat – something that Cruz has never done.’  That is what I expect from New York’s finest – giving the bird to a bumptious Texan senator.

Well, Cruz has gone, tearily enough for a Strong Man, unloved by most, and loathed by those that knew him best in his own party.  If Trump revolts most people, Cruz frightens those best placed to assess him.

The apparent accession of Donald Trump to the position of nominee for the Presidency of the United States will do irreparable damage to the standing of that nation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent many years in Nazi jails before the Nazis hanged him just before the end of the war.  He was a man of ferocious moral courage and an intellect to match that spirit.  In a series of notes headed ‘After Ten Years’ made for New Year in 1943, Bonhoeffer made observations about the state of the nation of Germany – at the beginning of 1943 – and himself.  In the part headed ‘Of folly’, Bonhoeffer made observations that apply word for word to Donald Trump.

‘Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil.  One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force.  Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable.  Against folly we have no defence.  Neither protest nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved – indeed, the fool can counter by criticising them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions.  So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive.  A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous.

If we are to deal adequately with folly, we must try to understand its nature.  This much is certain, that it is a moral rather than an intellectual defect.  There are people who are mentally agile but foolish, and people who are mentally slow but very far from foolish – a discovery that we make to our surprise as a result of particular situations.  We thus get the impression that folly is likely to be, not a congenital defect, but one that is acquired in certain circumstances where people make fools of themselves or allow others to make fools of them.  We notice further that this defect is less common in the unsociable and solitary than in individuals or groups that are inclined or condemned to sociability.  It seems, then, that folly is a sociological rather than a psychological problem, and that it is a special form of the operation of historical circumstances on people, a psychological by-product of definite external factors.  If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of the others.  It is not that certain human capacities, intellectual capacity for instance, become stunted or destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgement, and – more or less unconsciously – give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves.  The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that he is independent.  One feels in fact when talking to him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him.  He is under a spell, he is blinded, his very nature is being misused and exploited.  Having thus become a passive instrument, the fool will be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.  Here lies the danger of a diabolical exploitation that can do irreparable damage to human beings.’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the authority to make those observations, and we have the obligation to listen to them, because he was a man of spellbinding courage and he paid for it very dearly.  On the day that Hitler became Chancellor, Bonhoeffer gave a public address about the dangers of false leaders.  The Gestapo turned off the sound.  Bonhoeffer, a man of God, gave his life to resisting a false leader.

Poet of the month: A D Hope

Easter Hymn

Make no mistake; there will be no forgiveness;

No voice can harm you and no hand will save;

Fenced by the magic of deliberate darkness

You walk on the sharp edges of the wave;


Trouble with soul again the putrefaction

Where Lazarus three days rotten lies content.

Your human tears will be the seed of faction,

Murder the sequel to your sacrament.


The City of God is built like other cities:

Judas negotiates the loans you float;

You will meet Caiaphas upon committees;

You will be glad of Pilate’s casting vote.


Your truest lovers still the foolish virgins,

Your heart will sicken at the marriage feasts

Knowing they watch you from the darkened gardens

Being polite to your official guests.

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