The New Renaissance: The Greeks and Humanity

The twin ideas of “uniqueness” and “culture” undergo considerable transformation in the Classical context.

In the common perception, cultures become unique because they are self-contained and as a result understand reality in a distinct fashion. And this distinction serves as a “cultural marker” which creates identity.

A culture, then, is a set of ideas which produces meaning both on the macro and micro levels and as a result cultures are tightly bound with space and time.

This suggests that each culture needs continual affirmation of its own geography and history, its own context, in order to continue to remain viable as the producer of meaning.

Remove this context and a culture becomes meaningless, nothing more than a nostalgic, romanticized construct that individuals cling to in order to garner difference, which is only the quest for exoticism, that is, the postponement of reality.

Can a culture remain viable without context, without its geography and history? This question leads to a very effective critique of social experiments such as multiculturalism and plurality.

And this question also helps explain why most cultures have not been very successful in transplanting themselves into newer contexts, and need the help of political will to even remain viable.

Multiculturalism, for example, first and foremost, is a legal and political configuration (namely, social engineering). It is not the result of human beings living next to each other for a long time. Nor is it the result of communal consent.

Because of its close link with context, a culture either succeeds or it fails, in that a culture is only successful as long as its users need it. Once the need is removed, the culture fails.

No culture is sacrosanct, because each culture is instrumental, pragmatic, and utilitarian, since its primary function is to make sense of contextual reality.

The romantic view imagines culture to be innate – on par with DNA – and therefore untouchable, beyond critique. This sadly has led to nonsensical notions such as “appropriation,” “acculturation,” “assimilation,” which render culture as some monolith that demands respect rather than change.

This is the influence of postmodernism that places plurality, or fragmentation, as the only kind of response possible in a world where nothing exists outside the text, to paraphrase the infamous Jacques Derrida.

Are people made for culture, or is culture made by people? Why should a culture be preserved if it ceases to provide meaning for people, if it becomes uselsss? People change, so must culture.

Why should a culture be preserved by political decree, if it effectively paints people into ideological, even behavioral corners? Should a culture be preserved even if it becomes a prison?

Classical civilization offers us some hope of answering these difficult, yet necessary, questions. And it can do so because from the earliest time a distinct habit of mind developed among the ancient Greeks – a habit that sought to transcend space and time in order to regard the outside world not with condescension or fear – but with curiosity and therefore understanding and acceptance.

This attitude is discernible from the earliest times. Homer does not give the Trojans the worthlessness of an enemy foolishly standing up to the mighty Greeks (we have only to compare, for example the nearly contemporary depictions of the Egyptian pharaoh, Ramses II, as he heroically slays the Libyans, Syrians, Hittites and the Shardana who appear as mere foils for Ramses’ battle prowess. No need for moderation here).

But the Trojans are noble and heroic in equal proportion to the Greeks. Moreover, they consistently show dignity, whereas the Greek heroes often exhibit greed, anger, lust and pride..

Thus, the Trojans are often better than the Greeks, because Homer is not a cheerleader but the first explorer of what human dignity means, a dignity which rises far above petty claims of culture and genes.

In Book VI (253–300) of The Iliad, just before engaging in single combat with Glaucus, who fights for the Trojans, the Greek Diomedes learns that they are both, in fact, friends from long ago, and he plants his spear in the earth as a sign of peace, and the two exchange armor to signify their bond of friendship.

Enmity, difference, is easily transcended by good ideas (here, friendship).

In the Greek dramatists as well, we find characters such as Medea, the Trojan women, and even Lysistrata who actively embody strategies of greater self-reflection – not simply what it means to be Greek – but what it means to be a human being. And more importantly, what it means to be a civilized, dignified human being.

Socrates summarizes this in Plato’s Apology: “Thus, even now I still go around seeking these things, and in accordance with the god, I search after anyone, whether fellow citizen or foreigner, whom I think is wise.”

Dignity alone unites humankind.

There is a need to recognize kinship rather than difference. More interestingly, Plato’s Socrates suggests that for wisdom to be truly wisdom, it must necessarily be universal; it must always be free of space and time. This grants wisdom eternity.

There is also a rather radical suggestion here – that wisdom once discovered should be widely shared; it should not be hoarded as an ethnic heirloom, or worse a racial fetish (which is what multiculturalism promotes).

This is further confirmed and clarified in The Meno, where Socrates states: “all human beings are good in the same way, for by achieving the same goals they become good.”

It is Greeks who first understand that there is a great unity to humanity, in that people are bound by the same pursuit – happiness through virtue.

And in Plato’s Protagoras, this idea finds its fullest exposition when Socrates declares: “I regard you all as kinsmen, familiars, and fellow-citizens — by nature and not by convention; for like is by nature akin to like, while convention, which is a tyrant over human beings, forces many things contrary to nature.”

This is the tyranny of multiculturalism, in that it is legitimized and legalized convention.

The true place of human beings is not in the confines of context (time and space), but more importantly in their participation in universality.

Culture is a convention and this it becomes cruel. It is not nature. And what is said of Diogenes the Cynic serves as a summary of, and a launching point for, the discussion of the Classical concept of universality: “When he was asked where he came from, he replied, ‘I am a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world.’” The word to note is “cosmopolitan” – a citizen of the universe.

Thus, human brings belong to the entire world, not to specific cultures.

A fragment of Antiphon the Sophist reads: “…by nature we are all, both barbarians and Greeks, born to be alike in all respects. We can examine those features of nature that are necessarily in all men and are provided to all to the same degree, and in these respects none of us is distinguished as barbarian or Greek. For we all breathe the air through our mouths and through our nostrils….”

The Eleatic philosophers sought to understand the underlying unity of things despite the infinite variety of forms. This began the first discussion of universalism, which is the transcendent man.

A fragment quotation of Melissus of Samos states something similar: “Now if it is, it must be one.” And further elaboration is given by Empedocles: “The same things become hair and leaves and dense feathers of birds and scales on stout fish.”

Thus, there is an ancient pedigree to universalism, which lead to the Greek discovery of reason, which needs no geography or history to exist. And reason sees the underlying unity of all mankind.

Ideas can only be universal if they are freed from context and therefore become adaptable and adoptable. But are all ideas worthy of such grandeur? No. Only those ideas that yield civilization.

And civilization means just one thing – where the mind, physical ability, and moral virtue are given full and fearless freedom of expression to fashion excellence.

There have, indeed, been many organized societies, which often get called, “civilizations;” yet none of them understood the necessary bond of freedom with excellence, which then could be extended to all human beings.

Only the Greeks were able to arrive at this point, and only the Greeks could then codify this process and spread it in the world, because they first discovered universal ideas.

This was the greatest gift of the ancient Greeks to the world.

The character of Greek ideas (liberty, individuality, reason) is such that it is transformative, wherein rises an awareness of the true contours of civilized life.

How shall “the new Renaissance”come about? Look no further than the ideas contained in ancient Greek works.

Start with Homer, then engage with Plato and Aristotle, the Greek dramatists, and then delve into the Bible (which many, sadly, do not realize is also part of ancient Greek literature).

In these works alone is found the very definition of the good life. The world is a wasteland without them.


The photo shows, “The Acropolis at Athens,” painted in 1846, by Leo von Klenze.

Atheism Is Dead

Modernity may be summarized by one single ideology – relativism, which aggrandizes the individual by valorizing opinions, choices, tastes, preferences and feelings over ideas, while debasing truth, morality, history and religion.

The lure of relativism has three well-honed hooks – scientism and atheism which together demonstrate and gauge the march of progress.

Progressivism claims that things change for the better over time; and therefore, we are wiser and superior than people living fifty or a hundred years ago because we are the recipients of the benefits of progress.

The modernist project therefore becomes a straightforward one – to clear the road for progress by sweeping away everything that will impede it. The supposed result will be the just society, where a harmonious plurality of individuals will enjoy fruits that are as yet unimaginable.

To achieve this, progressivism understands that the political sphere alone can ensure the achievement of this utopia by way of laws that protect group rights, so that no one is left behind. This is the legalization of identity politics.

Progressivism also readily justifies the current war on statues in the US – because the past is perceived as forever flawed, with nothing to teach and therefore useless to preserve. The past is forever benighted and thus wrong.

And old ideas, like statues, also need to be pulled down and trodden underfoot. Newer ideas are better than old ones, progressivism maintains.

All this is indeed a heady siren song.

For relativism, the worst of these useless monuments of the past is the belief in God, which refuses to let truth, morality and history be easily argued away.

However, here relativism employs another strategy – scientism, which was first elaborated by Auguste Comte.

Since modernity is progressive, science is declared the guarantor of all that is right and therefore believable – and only that which is materially provable therefore exists.

Since science cannot prove the existence of God, then God simply does not exist. This is the strength of atheism, which therefore concludes (via the Cambridge philosophers, such as, Bertrand Russell) that questions about the purpose and value of life are nothing but primitive thinking.

Life has no ultimate purpose or value. Life just is, and nothing more.

Therefore, for the materialists, atheism is the only logical position to hold. But this notion has feet of clay.

For example, at a funeral, the bereaved are not asked to contemplate, say, the Pythagorean theorem, nor given to consider the aorist middle of ancient Greek, as means of consolation and comfort for their loss.

If science has all the answers, why is it deficient in the consolation department?

Aristotle understood this perfectly, for he says, “…all law is universal but for some things it is impossible to make a universal statement which is correct.”

It is also the peculiar habit of humans to see themselves as something greater than the sum of their materiality.

But the habit of the Cambridge philosophers to relegate the non-scientific to the primitive continues, and thus atheism is vaunted as enlightenment.

In this view, science is right, and everything else is superstition, ignorance, and stupidity (the useless dross of history), because knowledge is only that which can be proved with certainty.

Thus, with some regularity, a valiant soul musters himself to finally sweep away God as an unnecessary hang-over from a benighted, barbaric past, when human beings were childish in thought and gullible in worldview.

Of course, for this brave soul, the present, which is fully illumined by the clear light of science and leads to progress contains all the answers that human beings will ever need. Such is the blind arrogance of progressivism.

There is but one slight problem here – when God is deemed non-existent, there is only nothingness which replaces it – because up to today humankind has been unable to come up with an enduring paradigm based upon nothingness that might provide both value and meaning to life.

In other words, atheism is unable to provide a moral conscience. As Rémi Brague has cogently asked, if God does not exist, then why should humanity continue to exist?

The truth that few atheists want to deal with, let alone acknowledge, is this – atheism is dead, despite its triumphal declarations. It can never give humans what they need – civilization, which is rooted in morality rather than material causes.

For example, studies show that infants perceive right and wrong, which means that humans possess natural moral law.

Belief in God is the corollary of this law. Therefore, atheism’s view of religion as superstition is false, and its dream-project of disproving God via science is meaningless, and forever bound to fail.

Science can only express quantification by a purpose-specific methodology. If this methodology and its attendant language are extended to other purposes, the result is babble, because meaning vanishes. Science becomes futile, as at a funeral, in the example above.

How can science explain metaphysics when it can only quantify physics?

Further, atheism posits man as an explanation of man. But as Sartre points out man cannot pass sentence on himself, that is, in whom shall reside the power to pronounce that humans can exist?

This means that saying there is no God, is also saying that there is no morality, because Godlessness inevitably leads to the animal-man.

And here is the crux of the problem – how does the animal-man become worthy of anything more than bio-mass?

The only option left for atheism, then, is to declare both God and morality as nonexistent, and to entirely validate man as an animal, driven by instinct to survive and by the will to power. For what is man without morality? Which is to say, what is man without God?

Here atheism can certainly learn from Nietzsche, but this requires courage – because to live beyond good and evil, to be entirely free from God, is only possible through the complete exertion of the animal-man, which can only be made through strength – not moral qualms.

In a truly Godless society, there can no judgement.

To be an animal-man, then, is not a new experiment. It has been attempted before (Hitlerism, Stalinism, Maoism, and so on).

The honest atheist must fully embrace and then extol a morality-free existence for all human animals. To say that humans are somehow something more than animals is to veer into the Godly.

This means no laws, no society, no kindness, no love – just pure instinct.

Such honesty indeed requires great courage.

Of all the atheists, only the Marquis de Sade  was most the honest because as a philosopher he clearly understood what an atheistic life must be – selfishness, even to the point of utter cruelty and depravity, because there are no divine laws that can be transgressed, no one to answer to, no one to lay down morality.

The true, honest atheist must deny moral natural law, and then fully live out its consequences. The term, “sadism” comes from the Marquis’s name.

If atheists are repulsed by this inevitability, then they are affirming that they are not really atheists, but simply rebellious or fashionable, or “cutting edge,” and that atheism for them is nothing more than a preference, a taste, a personal opinion – a matter of social convenience, or group acceptance.

Real atheists must accept what life without God entails – the full affirmation of the animal-man, obeying instincts to the fullest, because every human being is nothing more than bio-mass to manipulate or destroy by the strongest.

The Marquis de Sade, of course, predates Charles Darwin.

So, here lies the challenge for atheists. If they are true to their assertion that there is no God, they must be Sadean. They cannot deny God and then live like perfectly decent Christians, guided by moral compunction. That is simply being a phony.

This is why, historically, atheists have never gathered together and built a civilization, nor created any of the structures that enable civilization to thrive (hospitals, schools, charities).

Atheism was never an heuristic idea – it was simply an expression of dissatisfaction with the normative in society, or at best a critique – and therefore, it was always marginal to human thought.

But why is there a need for atheism in modernity? Why does modernism hate the cultural “hand” that feeds it (namely, Christianity). Why rant against God, and then demand morality (now called, “rights”)?

Since modernity has become thoroughly relativistic (where truth is simply an opinion), the need grows greater to believe (the prospect of emptiness everywhere is destructive).

And this need for belief turns inwards, to the self, which is then deified and duly worshipped (what is popular culture today, if not constant self-worship).

Thus, most modern atheism is only narcissism (it is not Sadean). Christianity negates narcissism by urging the love of the other, and therefore it is despised.

The historian Herbert Butterfield once observed (he should be read more): “…it is not always realised that belief in God gives us greater elasticity of mind, rescuing us from too great subservience to intermediate principles, whether these are related to nationality or ideology or science… Similarly, Christianity is not tied to regimes – not compelled to regard the existing order as the very end of life and the embodiment of all our values.”

Therefore, true atheism is dead because it is anti-human. And very few have the  courage to heed the call of the animal-man and live the Sadean life.


The photo shows, “The Sirens and Ulysses,” painted about 1837, by William Etty.

Humanism And Language

It’s often assumed that the discipline of the Humanities involves anything and everything that cannot properly be classified as a proper science.

It’s also commonly assumed that language is simply a method of communication – so that flapping your arms is the same as speaking. Or, you can draw something, since a picture is worth a thousand words. This is a very rudimentary understanding of language.

Before proceeding any further, it’s best to define our terms so that we don’t get mired in assumptions.

Turning first to language, we need to understand that it is thinking more than it is communication.

The founder of linguistic philosophy (Wilhelm von Humboldt) described language as the expression of thinking, peculiar to a people, even the most primitive of people, those closest to nature, as he puts it.

Thus, communication is only the most basic level of linguistic usage. The most intensive use of language is the generation of ideas.

The philologist Max Mueller extended Humboldt’s analysis when he called language as “the outward form and manifestation of thought.”

And Humboldt further defined language as the medium through which humanity encounters reality: “Man lives with his objects chiefly as language presents them to him.”

The philosopher, Ernst Cassirer, then proceeded to specify language as, first, the symbolic rendering of expressions, and second the engendering of discursive thought; or, in other words, reason.

Thus language is the principle which unfolds complexity in order to produce meaning, or what may be called abstract thought.

In brief, for Cassirer, language is the entelechy of knowledge, that is, only through language can knowledge reach its fullest potential. This obviously means that language has more than a denotative function – it’s extends far beyond communication.

To quote the Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev: “A language is that into which all other languages, and even all other conceivable language structures may be translated. In language, indeed only in such, can the inexpressible be dealt with until such time as it is expressed.”

In other words, language, first and foremost is idea, because it contains all the infinite possibilities of ideas.

Given the intimate association of language with thinking and knowledge – why do we hear teachers referring to it as a “form of communication?” What purpose does this extreme simplification serve?

Can it be that those that teach do not know what they do?

Having briefly defined language, we may do the same for the humanities. Again, we encounter confusion, because the definition often used is simplistic.

The tendency nowadays is to view the Humanities as anything that is not science; and such muddling continues in the so-called “soft sciences” (like anthropology, psychology and sociology).

So, what are the Humanities? In a very straightforward way the Humanities have always meant the study of Greek and Latin – that is, the discipline of the Humanities has always been tied with the learning of language – because it was once believed (now no longer) that by learning a language, in a disciplined and structured fashion, a person became educated and refined.

This once meant that an educated person was one made fit to carry on the work of civilization, because language alone builds the mind, by way of very specific disciplines, starting with grammar, and then proceeding on to literature, philosophy, biography, history, and music. Yes, music, because music once meant thinking (rather than head-banging).

And civilization meant moral freedom – those structures of virtue contained in Hellenism and Judeo-Christianity.

The Humanities, as promulgated by the education industry are so frayed and tattered by identity politics that Heaven only knows what they’ve now become!

The true Humanities must be based upon the understanding that education is only possible through language, since the creation of ideas is uniquely a human activity. This alone can justify the designation of “the Humanities.”

In this way, education used to be about understanding the exercise of moral freedom. Now it has become training for agitprop.

Because education has lost its mooring and become meaningless, it blindly promotes falsehoods as sound pedagogy. The worst being the notion of “learning styles,” and that absurdity known as, “right-brain” and “left-brain” learners.

Study after study has amply demonstrated that there is no such thing as “visual learning” or “auditory learning,” or kinesthetic learning. Nor does the brain function differently in left and right compartments.

And yet, these false notions are popular in educational institutions – and worst of all, entire pedagogies are built around them. Why?

As researchers have recently observed: “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing.”

Disturbing, because students are being taught falsehoods. What does education become when it is founded on pop-psychology?

And yet the popularity of these false views is enormous. They have become rock-solid truths because they are constantly repeated (thank you, Dr. Goebbels!). There is an entire industry that actively promotes this false dogma; careers are built upon it.

Why do teachers follow these falsehoods? Is it that they are useless without them? Or, do they not know any better (far more worrying)?

Studies also tell us that the only way possible for the brain to learn anything is through language.

Thus, the brain is Humanistic. It is built primarily for language, for thought, for ideas. And the world that we live in, the labor that we do, is a function of language, of thought, of ideas. The world that we inhabit is the product of Humanism.

To neglect or confuse Humanism with anything other than language is to deny the importance of thought. Far worse, it is the abandonment of ideas for the tangled jungle of feelings.

But then it’s always easier to teach feelings, rather than ideas. Such is the destruction of the mind, which is on full display in society. Is it any wonder that people now believe that it’s now far more important to feel than to think?


The photo shows, “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha,” by Henryk Siemiradzki, painted in 1886.

Speaking Of Arcadia

I know your minde, and I will satisfie it: neyther will I doo it like a niggardly answerer, going no further then the boundes of the question, but I will discouer vnto you, aswell that wherein my knowledge is common with others, as that which by extraordinarie means is deliuered vnto me: knowing so much in you, though not long acquainted, that I shall find your eares faithfull treasurers.

These are the words of Kalandar, as he begins to describe a magical land called “Arcadia,” in Sir Philip Sidney’s pastoral romance, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia.

The curious history and literary merit of this nearly euphuistic piece of writing (though Sidney might well object to such a summation) are easily and widely known and it would be tedious to launch into a discussion of the same.

However, there is an aspect of this work that has been overlooked, which may be expressed thus: In Sidney’s work, “Arcadia” is a trope for discourse, for conversation, for dialogue.

The post-classical Latin root of the term, “discourse” holds significance here: discursus, “to run hither and thither,” and even “to traverse.” Of course, a conversation without the courage to surmount the ramparts of diverse and opposing thought is little more than self-absorption.

And Kallandar is mindful of this need for courage, as he promises to speak about the wondrous land of Arcadia in an elaborately discursive manner, traversing the full extent of his subject, running up and down the length and breadth of it: “neyther will I doo it like a niggardly answerer, going no further then the boundes of the question.”

But discourse must also have occasion, a place, a centrality, a location, a space. What kind of conversation can possibly exist in a barren landscape – other than one of survival, of complaint? Is it any wonder that the best conversations are had not in the “rag and bone shop” of the office (to borrow from Yeats) – but in those spaces where we seek ease and relaxation (a pub, a café, a restaurant, or out amidst the bright expanse of nature), well-ensconced in the happy company of friends.

Is it not through conversation that we slowly discover the secret architecture of the soul, to paraphrase Paul Valéry?

All these things, is Arcadia, the land fully imagined – for how can we speak if we cannot dream? A conversation is not about necessity, the utterance of needs – rather, it is about love and loss, hope and expectation, desire and disappointment; all those things that make us human.

It is not our skills, our jobs which define us – it is our dreams alone that complete us.

Arcadia, therefore, as an idea, a place where creativity exists, where the heart and soul are nurtured, and where the delight of being fully human extends outwards to become joyful freedom: “for never does the heavenly fire [the soul, or the heart] consent to be imprisoned,” Friedrich Hölderlin reminds us.

Of course, it was Virgil in his Eclogues, who first discerned the intimate connection between an imagined landscape and mankind’s capacity to delight in its own humanity (the idylls of Theocritus are far too self-contained to be seen as proper blueprints for what Virgil accomplishes).

Thus, Virgil’s Arcadia is a place where elegant ideas hold sway, where refined emotions guide desire, and where esthetic expression is next to godliness. The famous words: “Man shall not live by bread alone,” cannot now be avoided.

There is a painting in the Louvre, entitled, “Les bergers d’Arcadie.” It is by Nicolas Poussin, and it shows a group (three shepherds and one shepherdess), all peering in wonderment, at a crumbling tomb they have chanced upon in their bucolic setting.

One of the shepherds is on his knee, tracing out, with his forefinger, a phrase nearly effaced by time. His shadow is cast upon the letters, making them difficult to read (perhaps so that we, like the shepherd, might make an effort to see the writing on the brief wall of the tomb).

This is a clever quotation by Poussin, for it is a subtle reference to Belshazzar’s feast in the book of Daniel, a subject painted by Poussin’s contemporary, Rembrandt. In fact, both these paintings were done in the 1630s.

But the phrase is, of course, also legible to the shepherds, and it has thrown the pastoral group into a reverie, as they seek to unravel its import: “et in Arcadia ego” – and I too in Arcadia.

Much scholarly ink has been spilt in explanation of these four simple Latin words. Do they refer to death, having been written on a tomb? A memento mori – that death persists even in idyllic settings? Or do they refer to the occupant of the tomb who is to be found in paradise.

And to give conspiracy theory its due (a malaise that has direly infected contemporary society, perhaps because said society has chosen to abandon wisdom), Dan Brown and his ilk would read these words as an encoded message left behind by an agent of the Priory of Sion (hapless Poussin being such agent) – the correct sense of the Latin be damned! But the less said about such inanities, the better.

These four simple Latin words tell a greater truth: “and I too in Arcadia” – how can eternity be known without death? And how can any conversation continue that is not also conversant with the ideas of those long gone?

Only in Arcadia, the imagined land, can the dead and the living speak together – and therefore Arcadia is humankind’s dialogue with eternity, wherein beauty is the visible manifestation of harmony, which may be named as reason.

Perhaps the enigmatic phrase suggests completion, as do we all: “et in Arcadia ego quoniam colloquo – “and I too am in Arcadia because I converse.”

A wonder-filled, truthfully spoken word is a faithful treasure to all those who have ears to hear.


The photo shows, “Les bergers d’Arcadie,” painted sometime in 1637 or 1638, by Nicolas Poussin.

The New Launde: How A Venetian Explorer Brought English To North America

The story of how the English language first came to North America is older than the efforts of Henry Hudson or Walter Raleigh, for it goes back to the very first explorations of the New World.

Christopher Columbus’s epic voyage in 1492 brought him to what is now known as the Caribbean. But he was unaware that another continent lay to the north. The discovery of North America would be made only five years later by another Italian, a Venetian by the name of Giovanni Caboto, or to give him his English name, John Cabot.

Cabot’s two voyages to the New World (in 1497 and 1498) were sponsored by the Tudor king of England, Henry VII. Thus Cabot “Englished” North America.

Behind this story, indeed, lies the world of the late Renaissance in which powerful banking families sought ways and means to access the wealth and resources of the Orient; their ventures were fueled by the belief that individual effort can change the world.

In the year 1497, three epic voyages took place:

  • On May 10, Amerigo Vespucci sailed from Cadiz for the New World, following the route set out by Columbus.
  • On May 20, John Cabot sailed from Bristol, intending to find a new route to the Orient.
  • On July 8, Vasco da Gama sailed from Lisbon to seek a sea-route to India.

These expeditions of discovery profoundly changed the world. Because of Vespucci, South America became Spanish and Portuguese. Because of Vasco da Gama, a sea route was established to India; as well, the western half of India became Portuguese (and would remain so until the 1960s). Because of John Cabot, North America became English.

Why is it that all the early explorers were Portuguese or Italian, including Columbus?

The reason is that from the late fourteenth to the early sixteenth centuries, Italy was a dynamo of new ideas – ideas that were backed by the prosperity of its various city-states.

These ideas were generated by men like Fibonacci, Fra Mauro, Toscanelli, Alberti, Martini and Leonardo da Vinci.

The work of these men yielded:

  • The numerical system, which made mathematical calculation easy.
  • The gnomon, which gauged the sun’s rotation (to aid in navigation).
  • The idea that by sailing west one could reach the east.
  • The longitudes and the latitudes.
  • Accurate cartography.

In 1444, Niccolo de’ Conti returned to Venice, with descriptions of China and India as lands of great wealth.

About twelve years earlier, in 1432, a delegation from China had come to Pope Eugene IV, and their descriptions had fired the imagination of Europe – and men like Conti.

In turn, Conti fired the imaginations of men like Ludovico di Varthema and Antonio Pigafetta – and Toscanelli, who first conceived the idea of sailing west in order to get to the east.

Toscanelli wrote his ideas down in a letter and sent it to Columbus, along with a map that he had drawn which detailed what Columbus might find if he were to sail west.

And when Columbus sailed, he indeed had with him both Toscanelli’s map and letter. Thus, it was Toscanelli’s reaction to Conti’s account that established the idea of sailing west to get to the east.

It is within this historical context that Giovanni Caboto first emerges. Venice was an important trading and sea-faring city.

But this importance, more than two centuries old by the time of Caboto, had been eroded because of a pivotal event which occurred in 1453 – the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.

One of the consequences of this fall was the choking off of the old trade routes to the east. Venice was desperate to find another way of trading with China, India, and the Moluccas (now Indonesia).

The sea was the answer – a way had to be found to get to the east by sea. One of the men inspired to find this route was Giovanni Caboto. His early years are a mystery, but he is often heard of in various courts of Europe (Spain, Portugal, and Milan), where he sought support for his idea of finding a sea route to the east. He had no success.

The next time we hear of him, Caboto is in London at the court of the Tudor king, Henry VII. By this time Columbus had found land across the sea – but only in the southern hemisphere. There was uncertainty as to what lay to the north.

But Caboto was certain that there was land to the north of where Columbus made landfall. And here there is some intriguing evidence which accounts for Caboto’s certainty.

He was now living in London, along with his wife and son, and was known as, John Cabot. He was also a frequent visitor to Bristol, in the west of England.

There is evidence to suggest that Bristol sailors knew that there was a huge land mass across the Atlantic, which they called “the newe launde” or the Isle of Brasil – because they regularly sailed there to fish for cod, which were plentiful then off the coasts of what are now the New England states, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

As well, Bristol traded regularly with Iceland and information about “Vinland,” “Markland,” “Helluland,” or “Great Ireland” (the names given to North America by the Vikings who were its first discoverers) was well known. There are also the curious legends of the island of Antillia, and of Madoc, the Welsh prince who sailed off to North America around 1170.

And in 1480, John Jay, the younger, sailed for the Isle of Brasil, and there are also records of Bristol sailors buying large quantities of salt to take on their voyages westwards – to salt cod.

Thus sailors from Bristol had found the New World some ten years before Columbus. Cabot likely knew what he sought, and he might well have believed that what the sailors called the Isle of Brasil was the eastern shore of China, since he believed in the idea of Toscanelli – of sailing west to reach the east.

During this time, as well, there was a “race” by the important European courts of Madrid and Lisbon to establish sovereignty over the New World. London wanted “a piece of the action,” since Henry VII was a usurper king who eagerly sought legitimacy in any form.

Eventually, Cabot found both financiers and the approval of King Henry, and he set sail in 1496. When he sailed, he had convinced the king and his backers that he would find a trade-route to the east.

However, when he set sail from Bristol on his first voyage, he was heading for failure. He had only managed to get financing for one ship, which he called “the Matthew,” after his wife, Mattea.

He was plagued by bad weather and lost his way. The crew grew restless, and food and water began to run low. Finally, he made the painful decision to turn back to Bristol. It was a personal disaster.

But not long afterwards, Cabot convinced his backers and the king to sponsor a second voyage across the Atlantic. Again, he got financing for only a single ship.

This time, however, on June 24, 1497, Cabot reached North America. It is a matter of controversy as to where Cabot first landed – either in present day Newfoundland or Maine.

But regardless of where he landed, his discovery had far-reaching consequences – North America would forever be aligned with English and England, despite later Dutch and French “incursions.” Of course, Cabot still believed that he had landed in China.

The most important source for Cabot’s second voyage is a letter written to Columbus, since Columbus was concerned that Cabot might be intruding into territory that belonged to Spain.

But this was not so – and Cabot claimed the continent of North America in the name of King Henry VII of England. He gave it a literal name – “New found land.”

Thus, on June 24, 1497, English arrived in North America – to stay for good.

When Cabot returned to England, he was given a hero’s welcome, with Henry VII granting him a life-long royal pension. As well, the king agreed to finance a third voyage, with the aid of other rich merchants.

This time, Cabot commanded a fleet of five ships that set sail in May of 1498, laden with trade goods for China – everyone believed that Cabot had finally found a westward sea-route to the Orient.

There is mystery as to what exactly happened next. Two possibilities exist.

First, as is traditionally believed, that Cabot was lost at sea, along with four of the five ships, and that he died at sea.

The second possibility suggests that he might well have returned to England in 1500.

Closely associated with Cabot’s expeditions is the question of how “America” received its name. The answer to this question is not crystal clear either.

Here too there are two schools of thought. One suggests that the name is the result of a swindle by the Florentine explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, in that he managed to hoodwink a group of mapmakers to name the New World after him, through a feminized version of his first name (Amerigo into America).

The second maintains that the continent is named after an English financier of John Cabot, a merchant named Richard Amerike. This school of thought suggests that since Cabot made maps of the eastern coast of North America, from Newfoundland to Maine, he honored his financial backer by naming the land he had found after him.

Thus, Amerike became America. It is known that Cabot’s maps were sent to both Columbus and Vespucci. Was it for this reason that Columbus did not object to the entire New World being called “America?” Nor did Vespucci object, which means that he did carry out any swindle. All this certainly strengthens the second possibility.

All great events have deep consequences. Here are some fruits of Cabot’s accomplishment.

North America became officially English and it is now the largest English-speaking landmass in the world.

This is also supported by linguistic evidence since the English spoken in North America is actually an older version of the language than the version spoken in England today.

North American English preserves fifteenth-sixteenth century English (chiefly that it is rhotic), which was the form current in England at the time of Cabot’s expeditions. Thus, even though Cabot was Italian, he brought English to North America.

Cabot’s son, Sebastian, led a subsequent expedition, followed by another by William Weston. It was Weston’s expedition that brought the first settlement of English-speakers to North America.

The earliest foundation of English North America, then, is the result of a single man and his crew of 20, sailing in a single ship, and discovering land.

In this way, John Cabot forever changed the nature and shape of the world by taking the first step in establishing English-speaking North America.



The photo shows, “The Departure of John and Sebastian Cabot on their First Voyage of Discovery, 1497,” painted in 1906, by Ernest Board.

Diversity And Tyranny

Indeed, the tranquilizing of citizens is the most distinctive feature of the modern therapeutic state. It is the hallmark of our medicalized humanity. From birth to death, from school, work, prison, and play, we can expect to be drugged in order to preserve the dream of secularized happiness in a world unable to deliver its reality. (John O’Neill, Five Bodies. The Human Shape of Modern Society, 1985).


Much is made of diversity. It is the supposed happy future where there are no nations, no borders, no cultures, no families, no men, no women, and certainly no races. There will be just an amalgam of beings and machines, intent on consuming products and tending to mechanized libido.

The great motto of this Elysium can be readily contrived: “You can have whatever you want, as long as it’s what we want to give you.” The “we” is the operative pronoun.

Why do people so readily fall into political camps, or get herded into groups so they can behave as they ought, namely, as participants in mass hysteria?

Who benefits from all this? Individuals certainly do not. What is there to gain by spouting ready-made phrases and talking-points seamlessly disseminated by the slick machinery of “culture” and “news?”

Perhaps some steam may be let off – but what comes afterwards? Emptiness and depravity – both perfectly embodied in the current religion of choice in the West, namely, “Diversity.”

“Diversity” is a rather meaningless phrase, perhaps purposely contrived (by the “we”) to mean nothing at all. Consider the following. “Diversity” can be seen as a cat-o-nine-tails phrase with which the West is to be flogged into better virtue. But whose virtue?

The word itself descends through French from the Latin, diversus (“turned away in another direction”), and is related to the English “weird,” which once meant, “fate.”

In the early years of its life, “diverse” carried a negative connotation, and meant “to be perverse,” or “to be a contrarian.”

It was only in the late eighteenth-century that the idea of “difference” became prevalent, at which time “diversity” became part of political jargon. But here it specifically meant economic diversity, in that people belonging to different trades and economic strata could work together for the benefit of the state.

The idea of “diversity” as specifically meaning race and gender plurality is recent, taking wing in the 1990s, with the work of people like R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., Liang Ho, Deborah Tannen, B.D. Tatum, and many others.

Through their effort, “diversity” is full-fledged cant of secular religiosity, and it is social engineering by our “betters,” the “we,” the ineluctable elite who are wiser than us, and therefore know what kind of future shall be good for us, and they will build it for us.

All we have to is spout acceptance (which they feed us through the culture-media machine). The State ueber alles! Long live the New World Order!

This Elysium will only be established in the West by the destruction of any and all of its cultural homogeneity. If anyone dares to point this out, he is deemed a regressive, and all are free to attach any and all labels that will enforce ostracisation.

It is always easier to silence, or even kill a man, when you can label him as anything other than a man.

But here lies the first great contradiction of our time. Racial and gender diversity demanded as “normal” in society can only be achieved by destroying diversity of thought, the diversity of ideas.

The greater “agenda” of diversity is really the curtailment of the majority. But only in the West. Non-western nations and cultures can be as monolithic as they want.

Those that call for “diversity” as morally right are putting forward a truth-claim which itself demands immorality. How? In three ways.

  • First, diversity destroys trust among people, so there is only the group that can validate life. People become habituated to regarding those outside the group with mistrust and even hatred.
  • Second, diversity dissolves individuality and replaces it with compliance, because it is far safer, and therefore better, to do the will of the group than to strike out on your own. Even when there is individualized action, that action can only further the aims and purposes of the group, so that the individual becomes an agent of the group in the world.
  • Third, diversity is immoral because it demands the denial of humanity of those outside the group. Here the culture-media machine plays its crucial role of playing one group against another, so that distrust, or anger keeps simmering, and people never really feel at home with those outside the group.

Never in human history has there been such intense ghettoization of humanity. What parameters of discussion are possibly left when the only vocabulary used pertains to genes and DNA?

We have now become a culture that vaunts and demands silent obedience and the ceaseless repetition of state-manufactured dogma.

This is not merely the establishment of institutionalized oppression, for that has already happened. Rather, we have now “progressed” to the minutiae of tyranny, in that the will of the state now passes for tolerance.

In the words of John Kenneth Galbraith, “Production only fills a void that it has itself created.”

Thus, “diversity” is the true alienation of all humanity, for people only have meaning when they belong to a group. Outside the group an individual is atomized, lonely, and incomplete – and all this only sends him scurrying back into the comforting folds of the group.

There is no individuality. There is only group participation, because only the group can bestow meaning.

Herein lies the second contradiction of our age. Western society which, deems itself progressive and hyper-modern, now honors and promotes the most primitive system of human interaction – one based solely on racial identity (which is a twentieth-century invention).

The teaching of this system is the bread-and-butter of universities, and its promotion is in the hands of the culture-media industry.

The West loves itself so much that it now engages in self-cannibalism that it might demonstrate to itself that it has indeed reached the gold-standard of selfless love.

When the world is stripped of all meaning, when only consumerism defines the public sphere, when nihilism has emptied the heart of all hope, what is there left to do but eat yourself, by all metaphors possible.

Grim is life when the world is inhabited by groups who consume as a herd, produce as a herd, hate as a herd, and kill as a herd. Civilization is deftly trodden under-hoof.

Why must this be so? Perhaps civilization also undergoes entropy, whereby energy dissipates over time – hot things cool down, vapor disappears, movement becomes stillness, and civilization falls apart into chaos.

It was Plato who first pointed out this pattern in his explanation of human beings and society.

For him, the highest “type” of man is kingly or aristocratic (not a blueblood, but one whose life is governed by reason), whose soul is guided by the Good, which is infinite truth, a truth which cannot be measured by finite standards.

The greatest fruit of the Good is justice, which is the disciplined ordering of the self and the soul, just as a government is only just when it knows that it is ruled by the Good.

Cicero summarized this in the now-famous phrase, Summum autem bonum si ignoratur, vivendi rationem ignorari necesse est (“If one is ignorant of one’s own Highest Good, one is by necessity ignorant of living by way of reason”).

When a kingly man falls apart, he does so in stages, and devolves into the timocratic man, who loses sight of the Good and begins to concern himself with ambition.

This results in the Good being driven out from the soul and being replaced by the thirst for power and honor, both of which are far lesser virtues than the Good.

Likewise, in government, kingship degenerates into timocracy, where politicians are driven by the pursuit of power rather than the pursuit of the Good.

In time, ambition is displaced by the desire for wealth, since both honor and power can be bought. In other words, ambition leads to greed, and money is made king.

In politics, timocracy gives way to oligarchy, since only rich men can afford to get into office. As Plato points out when wealth and virtue are placed in the scale, it is always virtue that sinks down as wealth rises.

The oligarchic man loves only money and commerce and chooses politicians that are wealthy; the poor have no voice in the system.

Thus begins the terrible tragedy of history – people begin to live in two worlds, one for the rich and one for the poor, both inhabiting the same earth, and both forever conspiring against each other.

At this stage of mutual distrust and hatred, oligarchy leads to democracy, where each man can do what he thinks is right. Plato describes democracy as a bazaar, where anyone can go and pick and choose what he likes and live accordingly.

Democracy by necessity is filled with variety and diversity and it hands out equality to both the equal and the unequal (as Plato wisely points out).

How can the unequal become equal in democracy? That is the great paradox of the West, and the very logic of all the calls for “diversity,” for the unequal are those ho have no interest in the Good; they only want privilege and power. How can democracy possibly tend to the diversity of the Good-less human soul?

The democratic man is a hedonist, who does what his pleasures demand. All pleasures are equal in his sight. One day he is a glutton, another day he is trying to get thin, another day he is pursuing some business venture, then he is off becoming a musician. Democracy also cannot manage the diversity of pleasures.

Such is freedom and happiness for the democratic man. Or, as Plato observes, there is liberty, equality and fraternity enough in him.

Because the democratic man knows nothing about law and order, which is discipline, and he is driven only by his appetites, it is not long before he descends into the last stage of human degradation – he becomes a tyrant.

Correspondingly, democracy becomes tyranny, because in the bazaar of freedoms you can pick-and-choose whatever suits your fancy. But the problem with appetite is that it always comes back.

The freedom to satisfy a ceaseless array of appetites is the most vicious form of slavery, because life has no meaning outside the satisfaction of appetites. In this way, tyranny begins.

Such drive for satisfaction creates the professional politician, who derives his livelihood from the government. Such men are like drones, who have learned to live off the labor of others.

Then, there is another class of men, the rich businessmen, who make it their purpose to feed the political drones that their wealth may increase at every level.

There is a third class of men in a democracy, who are not wealthy and who are not politicians. They wield a lot of power, since they are the majority, but they remain powerless, because they must go and earn a living. Such men look for a leader who shall speak on their behalf and whom they then put into power.

This leader is the tyrant, who knows how to wield power effectively – by taking money from the rich and using it to buy support and followers. He knows how to lie well, flatter sweetly, and make good-sounding but empty promises. The tyrant has no interest in the community, just in his own aggrandisement by way of wealth.

Likewise, the tyrannical man is enslaved to his bestial qualities; all those passions and lusts dominate his life. Therefore, this man is the most miserable because he is the most driven.

“Diversity” is the product of tyranny because it appeals to the bestial, instinctive aspects of human beings, namely, their tribal identity. There is no interest in building the goodness of the soul, or solidifying the foundations of reason, let alone advancing civilization.

Instead, diversity can only function when it succeeds in stirring up passions and lusts – and the most effective method is through the primitive “us-against-them” paradigm, where neither reason nor the Good are needed.

If life is nothing more than satisfying the need  to belong, the world itself must fall apart. And the result is recorded in the words of H.G. Wells:

“He saw it all as a joyless indulgence, as a confusion of playthings and undisciplined desires, as a succession of days that began amiably and weakly, and became steadily more crowded with ignoble and trivial occupations, that had sunken now to indignity and uncleanness….he saw life as…desolate, full of rubbish….And then suddenly he reached out his arms in the darkness and prayed aloud to the silences, ‘Oh, God! Give me back my visions! Give me back my visions!'”


The photo shows, ” Lamartine, in Front of the Town Hall of Paris. Rejects the Red Flag on 25 February 1848,” by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux.

Are Religions All The Same?

Are all religions the same? Are all religions good? These are important and fundamental questions that have been variously asked, but poorly answered.

Given the great variety of religions on this planet, it’s important to gain a clear understanding of what exactly we’re dealing with.

Firstly, religion is a way of providing moral structure to human existence (what is good, what is bad; what is right, what is wrong). Only secondly does religion seek to speculate as to what comes after death.

All-too-often, people who criticize religion as being incompatible with modern life, focus on the secondary aspect of religion, because it’s easier to criticize something that has been labeled a “fairy-tale” or “a myth,” or utter nonsense.

As a result, religious discourse today falls into two categories: a thing to scoff at, or a thing to venerate and respect.

But never do we really see any criticism of the primary aspect of religion – that which provides a moral structure to life in this world.

Indeed, the very essence of each religion is found in this moral structure, which should be critically examined. Is the moral structure that one religion provides good for life in the here and now?

So, which religion provides the best moral structure for life? This is a question that no one asks.

But first, a summary of the kinds of religions that exist.

There are shamanistic religions, which function on the notion that spirit-forces greater than the individual must be continually appeased. Here, the moral content is very limited, since shamanistic religions focus solely on negotiating a safe place for human beings within the realm of spirits, who are always more powerful, forever whimsical, and thus harmful to humans.

Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism) seek to understand the role of the self within the universe. Thus, the moral content they provide is entirely self-centered and therefore self-absorbed. The focus is on finding a personal way to get out of the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth (here the material world is thoroughly evil).

Thus, you have to become your own savior. All the religions “created” in India deal with this fundamental issue, and all of them present their “take” on how to save yourself, or how to get out of this cycle of birth and rebirth.

Buddhism provides the most extreme answer, because it works from the premise that there is no God – only natural/universal law – and so the way to save yourself is to find a way to withdraw from the functions of this law and simply stop existing (nirvana means, “not being”). In brief, morality is the removal of the self from the material world which is irredeemable because it is fully evil.

The religions of China (Confucianism and Doaism) certainly grapple with the issue of moral content, but they often get “side-tracked” by politics. Thus, human existence is all about duty and social obligation, which are seen as the glue of society. This makes morality into expedience in order to manage the world properly.

The native religion of Japan (Shinto) is a form of ancestor worship and is an elaboration of Shamanism. There is no greater moral code in Shintosim than doing one’s duty, and entirely effacing oneself. Such is the content of Shinto morality.

Now, which of these four religious systems provide the best moral structure for living in this world?

This brief analysis of the diversity of religions leads us to the three remaining ones, namely, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Islam is theocratic in nature, as it maintains the idea that Allah is high and mighty who deigns to let humanity exist only by way of very rigid rules that he has established as proper conduct, that is, the Shariah.

Morality, in Islam, is the enforcement of Allah’s might by legal means (the Shariah). Humanity is secondary; which means that Allah does not need people – rather, people need him. He is remote and inaccessible and known only by way of the Shariah.

The good Muslim is one who strictly follows Allah’s Shariah no matter what. The prize of such compliance is a materialistic paradise, which is awarded by way of a point-system – the more strict the adherence, the greater the paradisiacal reward. Sin is neglecting Shariah.

There is also a secondary reason for following the Shariah – Allah can get angry if his law is ignored or not properly followed. Thus, strict adherence to Islamic law has a worldly benefit as well – it keeps Allah’s anger and the subsequent punishment at bay.

The moral structure of Islam is based upon three principles:

  • appeasement of Allah by following the Shariah
  • abasement to Allah by following the Shariah
  • obedience of Allah by following the Shariah

Given the Shariah, the “logic” of Islam is intimately tied up with the reward system.

Allah keeps a great ledger, in which the names of all human beings are recorded. Daily he records the good deeds (Shariah-compliance) and the bad deeds (Shariah-noncompliance) of each man (largely men – Islam is rather vague about what happens to women after death).

And on the Day of Judgment, Allah will tally up the score and hand out the reward (paradise) or the punishment (Hell). When it comes to mankind, Allah is only and purely a judge. Nothing more.

Therefore, morality in Islam is always personal. It does not concern anyone other than the individual. There is no Golden Rule. There is only the drive to rack up points in this life, through appeasement, abasement, and obedience, in order to win paradise.

So, does Islam provide the best moral structure for life in this world?

Let us move on to Judaism, which is a very dignified religion, because it understands God by way of justice. This justice is described in the Laws, that is, concepts of moral behavior in the world, which are both personal exhortations and social obligations (to love your neighbor as yourself).

The Judaic God is not a tyrant, but is a reasonable being who understands that in order to have perfect justice, there must be perfect understanding or perfect wisdom – one must know the “ways” of God – and these ways are found in the Laws.

Unlike the Shariah, the Law in Judaism is not about compliance but about building moral character (righteousness), because the notion of paradise is either absent or it’s very vague. So, in Judaism, it’s all about living a righteous right now, in this world.

The God of the Jews is not a tyrant. He does not force himself upon anyone. He understands that in order to have justice there must be free will. People must choose to be good. If they cannot choose, they cannot truly be good. It is a very important difference from Islam (which has no free will).

More importantly, the Jewish God has not tied up His laws to a system of rewards (we only have to look at the story of Job). A good human can and does suffer. Rewards are not part of God’s systems. People must be good without an appeal to their baser emotions and desires (which is what Islam overtly offers).

Thus, Judaism has a very high moral content. However, it is a religion that is lacking something essential – something that Christianity provides. Thus, Christianity “completes” Judaism.

In Christianity, everything is about morality. Christianity breaks away from a God hedged by rules and laws, and presents one entirely defined by love. “God is love.” No other religion says that.

But how do we know that God is love? Does God simply say that he is love? No, first he says he is love – and then he demonstrates this love – by becoming a human being, through Jesus, who suffers horribly and dies miserably like some many human beings undergo.

The Christian God is neither a tyrant nor a judge in this life; rather he is like us, because he is one of us. The Christian God knows what it is to be human. He knows what it is to fear, to love, to suffer, and to die.

The Christian God does not set rules that He Himself does not follow. Rather, He becomes a human being in order to show a way of life that is entirely built upon morality – a morality based on selfless love.

Thus, the good works that people may engage in, in this world, are not done to garner points that can be cashed in for a heavenly reward. Rather, the good deeds are done because once love fills the individual so completely (and constructs a moral character which is entirely governed by love), then that love cannot help but flow out to better others. Thus bettering the lives of others is the visible demonstration of this love.

And how does God demonstrate love?

He frees human beings from trying to save themselves. Salvation is simply a divine free gift to all mankind. Anyone can have an afterlife by simply believing in the message of Jesus (the God incarnate). Strict rules are needless and useless. Human beings no longer have to “compete” for heaven.

And why does God do this? Because his real law is love.

As for other religions, using the observation, “you shall know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16), we can now ask: What kind of societies have Shamanism, Confucianism, Doaism, Shintoism, the religions of India, and Islam created?What kind of society has Christianity created?

The answers to these questions will lead us to the truth – and it is truth which always sets us free (John 8:32).


The photo shows, “Hope in a Prison of Despair,” by Evelyn De Morgan, painted in 1887.

From The Trenches: Teaching Sociology?

Sociology is taught as social reform – identifying the problems of the world; and therefore, it has become mired in relativism. Students are given “case studies” that deal with this or that issue, with the intent of providing a “correct attitude” about society.

These attitudes pass as sociological education, which can be summarized in this way: Society is made up of oppressors and victims; and it is the job of the educated (“socially aware”) person to identify and condemn the oppressor and valorize the victim.

This may be laudable, but it is not education – and it is certainly not sociology, despite the focus of most textbooks.

A fundamental question, therefore, arises: what is the point of teaching sociology? The answer is a variation on a familiar theme – sociology is, in the end, social reform, the fixing of society. Do we need such reform?

Sadly, these fixes tend to be simplistic, if not downright naïve – the world changes as a result of complex ideas; never because of raised awareness. Raising awareness about cancer has not led to a cure; not even massive funding has helped.

Here is the crux of the problem – sociology is seen to be two contradictory things. First, those who teach it professionally perceive it to be a science. Those outside the profession see it as anything but sciencebecause everything is sociology.

Mathematicians may hold varying and conflicting notions about the reality of numbers, but when asked to teach students, there is an immediate “common ground” – students must know the basic and fundamental ideas or principles of mathematics.

What is the common ground of sociology? There is none; there is just varying and conflicting perspectives (endless meta-theory).

Science does not teach perspectives – it teaches principles, ideas. Once students understand ideas – and make them their own – only then can they start thinking with them. If there are no ideas – there can be no thought; hence, the need for attitudes.

Possessing attitudes is not education – it is a deeply disturbing form of conformity; a conformity that passes for enlightenment, but is nothing other than personal feelings – and outside of feelings there is only ignorance.

Education fails miserably if it cannot allow an individual to transcend the confines of individual preference. The only way to do that, of course, is to intellectually equip the student to enter the world with ideas, not with attitudes.

But, for some reason, sociology cannot express its own “common ground.” One has only to look at the countless “Introduction to Sociology” textbooks in the marketplace. Typically, these textbooks seek to “stand apart” by some schtick that will make “the material” either “relevant,” or “engaging.” In other words, how to make sociology teachable?

The assumption is that education can be had via some sort of catchy, marketable trick, which will hook the student into learning something, anything, which can then be described as “sociology.”

Unfortunately, very few people now understand the fact (yes, the fact) that education – and reading – is hard work. It has nothing to do with enjoyment (that used to be called entertainment). Education is difficult work, which is why it is valuable.

Further, when typical sociology textbooks are analyzed (need we say, scientifically), not for content but for approach (or pedagogical usefulness), a consistent methodology emerges.

They invariably set out to define the many “systems” that are seen to hinder or even oppress the individual. Then these “systems” are rigorously critiqued through the lens of diverse (and at times contradictory) theoretical stances (always postmodernist in inclination).

And the result is a hodge-podge of meta-theory that provides to the student neither a clear understanding of sociology as a discipline with precise and marked parameters, nor a firm grasp of the nature of society or societies.

For example, trying to find a simple (yes, simple) definition of “culture” becomes an exercise in frustration. All these textbooks offer is endless examples of culture, followed by tedious ramblings in dead-end areas, like “cultural studies” and “media studies.”

And what does the student take away from all this? Who knows? Empiricism, the science behind sociology, is nowhere in sight.

The second problem with teaching sociology in our time is the fact that science has been abandoned in favor of relativism. And this has meant a loss of objectivity.

Sociology is now rife with a partisan mentality, which suggests that only those inside can properly study and explicate the forces at play in society.

Thus, for example, ethnicity can only properly be studied and explained by ethnic minorities. Anyone trying to study or comment on ethnicity from the badly labeled “dominant group” is simply someone trying to maintain existing power-structures that favor his/her dominance.

In this way education becomes social action. And yet we all know that the world is far greater in complexity than this one-dimensional attitude.

Certainly, it is the nature of all societies to include and exclude, which may be examined by ideas, such as, class, anomie, family, institutions, crime, roles, hierarchy, labeling, and socialization. These ideas have existed for as long as human beings have chosen to live together.

But can our students clearly and simply define these ideas? Have these ideas become part of their thinking? Do they understand the empirical basis of these ideas? Can they use these ideas to rise above the malaise of our civilization – relativism?

Sociology once more needs to teach from the common ground of empiricism. It must abandon relativism, which has effectively sabotaged the Humanities and social sciences.

Students no longer look for an education. But then education also used to mean knowing the basis of your goodness.

Who knows what goodness is, say the relativists? Despite that, the majority of human beings on this planet still want to be good.

Science does not need to be relevant, or engaging, or interesting (we only have to keep mathematics in mind).

Now that sociology has wandered away from its own discipline, as it tries to be all things to all people, it can only promote agendas, whether political or personal, and therefore it will rightly disappear. Who needs more attitude.


B. Hughes teaches sociology at college.
The photo shows, “Après l’office à l’église de la Sainte-Trinité,” painted in 1900, by Jean Béraud.