Knowing/Not Knowing, and the Demagogue

In a previous post I quoted a passage from Luhmann’s Systems Theory of Religion:

The observer God had offered a security of orientation that was nearly unequalled. . . . He had guaranteed that everything that exists could be known (if not always by human beings). Not knowing was thus an anthropological (if not humanistic) idea; it was not a metaphysical one. In other words, we did not have to count on non-knowledge [Nichtwissen] being a condition for the possibility of knowledge or on efforts to know being able to result in still more ignorance. (130)

Knowing is always obtained at the price of not knowing; that is to say, a blind spot is always created whenever anything is indicated because we cannot indicate everything at the same time. This means that finite beings cannot know everything. Knowledge and ignorance must come together. Knowing/not knowing is an inescapable two-side form.


This relates to what I’ve written previously about the sovereign or cult leader. The rule of not knowing in order to know does not apply to the cult leader, or he and his followers don’t accept it. Thus, the cult leader assumes the position of God–the being that observes everything at once–past, present, and future. The cult leader is treated at the subject supposed to know, the Lacanian Big Other. He allegedly has access to knowledge that the average person is barred from. The cult leader portrays himself as a person who knows everything. Furthermore, he seemingly never experiences anxiety or fear because he always knows what’s coming in the future. He is completely unflappable. If he shows anger, that is just to make a point, to show righteous indignation; it doesn’t mean he has lost his temper.

This is precisely the appeal of Donald Trump. With his smug, arrogant persona, he has attracted millions of followers. He’s made all that money, they say, so he must have some kind of secret knowledge. He knows how things work and he can fix any problem. He’s not like the rest of us. Such a person will never apologize or acknowledge any significant mistake or error in judgment because that would undermine the all-knowing fantasy.


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