Blog Post

Character Fundamentalism

In a radio interview with Dan Rodricks last week, I used the term "character fundamentalism" to indicate a kind of thinking that, while not explicitly religious, was nevertheless fundamentalist and iniquitous to a functioning democracy. The idea behind character fundamentalism is that behind the everyday appearances of wealth, poverty, education or lack thereof, each individual expresses a core character that defines him or her and ultimately determines success or failure in life.

My point in bringing this up was to argue that whether or not the Republicans currently dominating US politics are religious is far less of a concern than the extent to which they are guided by this ideology. It is this ideology, for instance, that underlies the refusal to compromise one iota over increasing government revenue in the face of massive unemployment and record deficits. While they attempt to package that resistance in economic theory, there are no economists of worth who give any credence to that theory. The true reason is much more evident in the refreshing honesty of Herman Cain, who argues simply, and to thunderous applause at the Republican debates, that the unemployed are responsible for their own lot. 

William Egginton's picture

William Egginton is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches on Spanish and Latin American literature, literary theory, and the relation between literature and philosophy. He is the author of How the World Became a Stage (2003), Perversity and Ethics (2006), A Wrinkle in History (2007), The Philosopher's Desire (2007), The Theater of Truth (2010), and In Defense of Religious Moderation (2011). He is also co-editor with Mike Sandbothe of The Pragmatic Turn in Philosophy (2004), translator of Lisa Block de Behar's Borges, the Passion of an Endless Quotation (2003, 2nd edition 2014), and co-editor with David E. Johnson of Thinking With Borges (2009). His most recent book is The Man Who Invented Fiction: How Cervantes Ushered In the Modern World (2016).