Wednesday, June 18, 2003
The Interregnum Revisited by Copeland Morris
--Lewis H. Lapham (From NOTEBOOK, the demonstration effect, Harper's Magazine, June 2003)
Conscience is blunted by silence. And corruption is swift to advance in American public opinion, through an unapologetic indifference to lies. "Disasters sent by the gods cut short our follies in a flash", Robert Fagles writes, in his translation of Antigone. And under the shameful circumstances, reluctant citizens may admit that the Bush Administration has lost all respectability, and has been evasive, mendacious, and incapable of moderation. It does not escape the public mind that there has been ballot tampering, judicial connivance, invisibility of suspects under detention, and a war in Iraq which was made possible by cynical misrepresentations to Congress and the people. This White House has now become both transparent and sinister; and it stands to reason that catastrophe is its best friend, that havoc on the heads of immigrants and the hijacking of our personal lives into databases are only a few of its trespasses.
The Interregnum is an essential concept: a political term familiar to Roman Antiquity. It describes an interval of time when the legitimacy of government has broken down.It may be a metaphor in our present situation; otherwise it could be a long, dark night for many of us. Moral validation is absurd if it makes fanatics of us. But it can happen here. We can stumble if we are unwary. In more ways than one, it's possible to repeat the history that has not been learned. We are potentially Roman and we should admit that much. Like them we might contemplate a regime that has passed away and nervously await the legitimacy of government, as it returns to us. We don't want to mourn the loss of our Republic or feel ashamed when we consider the moral incoherence of preventative war. Dissenting voices will seem more poignant in retrospect if we fail to hear them now. Unspeakable recognition occurs most clearly at the instant when The Interregnum is understood as real.