Resistance and Fundamentalism (The War of Art by Steven Pressfield)


The artist and the fundamentalist both confront 
the same issue, the mystery of their existence as 
individuals. Each asks the same questions: Who am I? 
Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? 

At more primitive stages of evolution, humanity didn't 
have to deal with such questions. In the states of savagery, of 
barbarism, in nomadic culture, medieval society, in the tribe 
and the clan, one's position was fixed by the commandments 
of the community. It was only with the advent of modernity 
(starting with the ancient Greeks), with the birth of freedom 
and of the individual, that such matters ascended to the fore. 

These are not easy questions. Who am I? Why am I here? 
They're not easy because the human being isn't wired to 
function as an individual. We're wired tribally, to act as part 
of a group. Our psyches are programmed by millions of 
years of hunter- gatherer evolution. We know what the clan 
is; we know how to fit into the band and the tribe. What 
we don't know is how to be alone. We don't know how 
to be free individuals. 

The artist and the fundamentalist arise from societies at 
differing stages of development. The artist is the advanced 
model. His culture possesses affluence, stability, enough 
excess of resource to permit the luxury of self-examination. 
The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He 
is lucky. He was born in the right place. He has a core of self- 
confidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress 
and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, 
however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world. 

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, 
humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out 
there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The 
word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, 
be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx. 

Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the 
conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning 
ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as 
Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captiv- 
ity, as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the 
American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the 
Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. 
In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish 
without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic 
fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair 
and possesses the same tremendous and potent appeal. 

What exactly is this despair? It is the despair of freedom. 
The dislocation and emasculation experienced by the individ- 
ual cut free from the familiar and comforting structures of 
the tribe and the clan, the village and the family. 
It is the state of modern life. 

The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered 
individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot 
stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he 
retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory 
days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and 
himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to 
basics. To fundamentals. 

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is 
no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that 
the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is 
inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he 
builds, his schools and networks of organization, are 
dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself. 

But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for 
the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to 
which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the 
artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He 
experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the 
fundamentalist is the call of the Evil One, seeking to seduce 
him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with 
Satan, whom he loves as he loves death. Is it coincidence that 
the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center frequented 
strip clubs during their training, or that they conceived of 
their reward as a squadron of virgin brides and the license to 
ravish them in the fleshpots of heaven? The fundamentalist 
hates and fears women because he sees them as vessels of 
Satan, temptresses like Delilah who seduced Samson 
from his power. 

To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamen- 
talist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred 
texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the 
process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks 
forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks 
backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he 
and all have fallen. 

The humanist believes that humankind, as indi- 
viduals, is called upon to co-create the world with God. 
This is why he values human life so highly. In his view, 
things do progress, life does evolve; each individual 
has value, at least potentially, in advancing this cause. 
The fundamentalist cannot conceive of this. In his 
society, dissent is not just crime but apostasy; it is heresy, 
transgression against God Himself. 

When fundamentalism wins, the world enters a dark age. 
Yet still I can't condemn one who is drawn to this philosophy. 
I consider my own inner journey, the advantages I've had of 
education, affluence, family support, health, and the blind 
good luck to be born American, and still I have learned to 
exist as an autonomous individual, if indeed I have, only by 
a whisker, and at a cost I would hate to have to reckon up. 

It may be that the human race is not ready for freedom. 
The air of liberty may be too rarefied for us to breathe. 
Certainly I wouldn't be writing this book, on this subject, if 
living with freedom were easy. The paradox seems to be, as 
Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual 
is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those 
who will not govern themselves are condemned to find 
masters to govern over them.