Various notable individuals have lauded Guevara as a hero; for example, Nelson Mandela referred to him as "an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom",while Jean-Paul Sartre described him as "not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age". Others who have expressed their admiration include authors Graham Greene, who remarked that Guevara "represented the idea of gallantry, chivalry, and adventure", and Susan Sontag, who supposed that "[Che's] goal was nothing less than the cause of humanity itself." ... Praise has been reflected throughout the political spectrum, with the libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard extolling Guevara as a "heroic figure", lamenting after his death that "more than any man of our epoch or even of our century, [Che] was the living embodiment of the principle of revolution", while journalist Christopher Hitchens commented that "[Che's] death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time, he was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do—fought and died for his beliefs. (Source)
Steinbeck's East of Eden is a study of two personality types that define, I think in a profound way, a basic polarity that defines our human nature--the Cain and Abel archetypes. As I discuss in my post on this theme, neither is morally superior to the other, the Cain type often gets a bad rap because he's a little too comfortable with his 'falleness', the Abel type is an idealist, and seems 'morally superior' compared to the Cain types. But he isn't because he has an extraordinarily difficult time dealing with the world as it is, and there is no virtue in that, and it's a failure that often leads to destructive behaviors that are far more damaging than the larcenies and lies of Cain types, who just want to enjoy life and get along.
Cain types accept the world on its own terms and are averse to making moral judgments. They are people stuck in Kierkegaard's aesthetic stage. They live for enjoyment, and rules, laws, moral restrictions are not taken seriously. This can have a naive or immature good-old-boy character, where the person lives unconsciously according to basic impulses defined by fear and desire. Or it can be more calculated, when it's all about winning and losing, about calculation, about never giving anything without expecting something in return. Sometimes Cain types are manipulators: they feel no compunction about lying and cheating because they see rules as something other people made up that don't apply to them. Other Cain types accept that rules are necessary as part of the social contract, but have no sense or respect of their 'spirit', and like the clever lawyer, game the system to their advantage. Cain types thrive on Wall Street. Abel types cannot, unless they've become complete cynics. Cain types in France in 1940 shrugged his shoulders and did what was necessary to get along with the Nazis. Abel types joined the resistance.
Each Cain type has a suppressed Abel, and each Abel has a suppressed Cain, and the challenge for each is to call that part of themselves out of the shadows and to integrate it into his personality. This is for me anyway, the meaning of the gospel admonition to become shrewd as serpents and guileless as doves. The first part of that admonition is for the Abels, and the second part for Cains. To effect the integration is to achieve a kind of greatness. Every Hal needs his Falstaff, and every FDR his Eleanor. But the goal is the same for all of us--to integrate both parts, the part of us that is attuned to heaven, and the part that is attuned to the earth. The movies and literature are replete with stories of how bad boys or girls have their inner Abel awakened in encounters with Abel types. That's Cal's story in East of Eden.
But Aron's story is one of an Abel type who fails. Abel types go sour if they cannot effect this integration. Hitchens is a good example. Mao is another. People you meet who are deeply cynical, who have drug dependency problems, or who become Jacobins are mostly Abel types who have made a bad adaptation to the 'real world' once they learn about its ugliness. Their cynicism is a simplistic rejection of the ideals they once held because the world as it is had the effrontery not to conform to the way they thought it should be, so their ideals must be delusions. Their drug dependency is an escape from an ugly world they cannot abide to the degree that it contradicts the ideal world in their imagination. Their revolutionary zeal is a causa sui project to violently remake the world according to the template of its ideal they have for it in their minds.
Of these three responses, the Jacobinism is forgivable in the young because at least it's an attempt to deal with the world, and in doing so the better chance to come to accept it without giving into it. Both Mandela and Che were Jacobins in their twenties. Che died one, Mandela didn't. The difference? Mandela went to prison, and Che went to Bolivia.
Mandela is a prodigy of the Abel type who did effect the integration of dove with serpent. That's what makes him a great man, a great soul. Che is someone who I don't think did, but might have had he lived longer. He had the potential to become a great soul.
In October I rewatched The Motorcycle Diaries and saw for the first time Che, the two-part film by Stephen Soderberg. The Ernesto Guevara of The Motorcyle Diaries is well named. He is a classic Abel type who pairs up with Alberto, a classic, pleasure-seeking Cain type--his Hal to Alberto's Falstaff. Ernesto was never a sophomoric, college b.s.-session idealist. There is something big about Che. He has great, compassionate soul written all over him, but he was rigid, perhaps even compulsive, which is typical of extreme Abel types. In Soderberg's Che, he contrasts with Fidel, who is more practical, more human. Che was successful in Cuba because he had Fidel; Che failed in Africa and Bolivia because he didn't. He had a very hard time dealing with their political realities and the frailties of the people he sought to help. He lacked patience and could barely control his contempt for anyone who was not motivated by the same ideals and willingness to sacrifice as he. He needed Fidel (or Alberto) to bring him down to earth.
Mandela and Che were very similar types. Both great souls, both as young men willing to take up arms to fight injustices at a time when Cold War paranoia made them enemies of the American government. We Americans were more sympathetic to Mandela because his fight was more overtly against the racism of apartheid, which we can understand from our own historical experience. Che was, and is, harder for Americans to embrace because of his Marxist ideology, and because economic injustice is abstract for Americans, and racism is not. But it should be noted that while apartheid has been abolished in South Africa, the economic immiseration of most Blacks there has not been.
So I think the main difference between Che and Mandela lies in that Mandela went to prison, and Che went to Bolivia. I suspect Mandela's imprisonment provided the context for his 'integration', for the Abel in him to develop a compassion that was stronger than his outrage at the world's egregious injustices, for him to accept the world as it was, and yet not to give up his ideals. My sense of Che is that had he spent time in prison, it might have given him the chance to effect a similar kind of integration. He needed more time and perspective.