Tattered Banners: A Review

A marvellous and deeply evocative book has just been rescued from obscurity and given an afterlife. It is Tattered Banners by Paul Rodzianko. Until this reissue, by Paul Dry Books, this was a difficult book to find. The few copies of the first edition (published in 1939) that came on the market tended to be rather exorbitantly priced. Money-issues aside, this scarcity also meant that few had access to the important account given in this often moving memoir.

The structure of the narrative is a classic one – a man caught in the vortex of destruction. It is also the story of Russia – from the splendor of a sophisticated and cultured age, to the slaughter of the First World War, the cruelty of the Revolution in 1917, and the ensuing Civil War.

The book begins with descriptions of the frivolities, the preoccupations and even the innocence of that pre-war era: the follies and pranks of drunken officers, extravagant revels, glittering ballrooms, and even one or two pretty courtesans, like the blonde Nadejda (Nadezhda). A lost world, long vanished, and often forgotten: “a world that hate and passion have swept aside.”

It is worth noting that the book was written in English, a testimony to that lost cosmopolitan world when men and women were expected to know French, German, and English, along with Russian. Rodzianko knew all four languages. And his writing style is fresh, light and evocative, without being ponderous or preachy. And his insights are often startling, for their enduring relevance: “Then, as now, [people] think what their newspapers told them to think. Whatever they read most often in the biggest type is what nations believe. The masses become indignant, hysterical or conceited, according to the propaganda handed out to them.”

Rodzianko’s canvas is large on which the slow, inexorable passage into tragedy is depicted. The book opens with the terrible calamity of Khodynka Field (the stampede on Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation day, in which 1300 people were trampled to death). Thus, the reign of the last monarch of all the Russias began with a bloodbath – and his reign also ended with one.

Then follows the Russo-Japanese War (another disaster for Russia), the failed Revolution of 1905, which was a warm-up to the real one a dozen years later.

Rodzianko very fairly describes how Russia blundered and fumbled its way into the First World War, by siding with Britain and France, against Germany. It would be a war that everyone knew was of no benefit to Russia, but this was the age of alliances, or what we would call honor.

Russia knew little about modern warfare, and Rodzianko describes the ruinous mishaps, the bad judgment, terrible logistics (lack of food, ammunition, shells), with regiment after regiment wandering about here and there, not knowing whether to attack or retreat, with inept generals issuing orders that contradicted those given earlier.

The saddest parts of the book are the feats of grand heroism shown by the Russian rank-and-file which were nothing other than a terrible waste of life: “…the country they died for was soon to crash; their sacrifice was in vain.”

Then comes the “crash” itself – the Revolution, an unmitigated disaster for Russia, followed by the chaos of 1917, the slaughter of the royal family, and the ensuing long and bloody civil war.

The memoir now becomes a chronicle, and the chronicle becomes an eyewitness account to the terrible and bloody birth of the modern age. What begins as a time of enchantment, lurches into utter horror.

But more than anything else, the book is a life remembered, and the life belongs to Paul Rodzianko, soldier, professional equestrian, and member of the Russian nobility whose childhood of great wealth and privilege was spent playing in palaces, and visiting heroic men, like his grandfather, the old Prince Stroganoff, whose memory reached back to Napoleon and the conquest of Paris by the Russians.

There are cameo-appearances by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who agrees to be tossed about by drunken cavalry officers; there is the kindly Tsar Nicholas, the holy man Rasputin and his murderer, Prince Youssoupoff, the great singer Chaliapin, the brave but doomed General Kolchak, and even a revolting lunch of plover eggs with King George V.

In recounting his life, Rodzianko meditates upon the loss of his world: “…the flower of Russia riding as they would ride to their deaths.”

Interestingly, this republication also marks the hundredth anniversary of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family (July 17, 1918).

Rodzianko was with the Whites (the anti-Red faction in the Russian Civil War), when they captured Ekaterinburg, where the royal family was being held captive. The Whites had hoped to free the Tsar. But the Bolsheviks were far cleverer, and had shot them all and carefully hid the bodies, which were not found until 1998 (they had been located in 1979).

Rodzianko meticulously describes the grisly week he spent, piecing together what he could, trying to locate the bodies of the Tsar and his family. He fails, for the Reds are too meticulous in their murder. What he discovers instead is the vast inhumanity that was the Civil War, for Ekaterinburg and its environs are thickly scattered with graves of hundreds, if not thousands, shot by the Reds – a harbinger of what lay in store for Russia under Stalin.

He digs up bodies that he is told might belong to the royals, but he finds nothing conclusive. But he does manage to find a survivor – the little dog that belonged to Alexei, the young tsarevitch. Perhaps as a consolation, Rodzianko adopts the lost dog, from a lost time, and eventually brings him back to England. The dog’s name, sadly enough, was Joy.

This book is an enthralling read and should be on the bookshelves of all who like to wander in lost realms and muse awhile on days long gone. It is a book filled with atmosphere, color and lively anecdote. The only regret is that Rodzainko should have written more about his life, for as he observes: “I myself cannot believe that I have lived through and witnessed such things.”


The photo shows a work by Vladimir Pervuninsky.


Terrorism Is Meaningless

Terrorism is of course a means to an end, more often than not political and ideological. In its barest form, it is the imposition of one will over another. Given this imposition, therefore, it is essential we ask: is terrorism ever justified? Is it right to impose one will over another?

This leads us to the question of ethics. Thus, is terrorism an ethical act? In order to understand this complex question, we need to first of all contextualize our arguments in the thoughts of thinkers who have sought to formulate the contours of what constitutes ethical life. Thus, we shall first turn to the works of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Broadly speaking, idealists such as idealists such as Plato have contended that there is an absolute good to which human activities aspire. According to Plato, good is an essential element of reality. Evil does not exist in itself but is an imperfect reflection of the real, which is good. Saint Augustine, regarded as the founder of Christian theology, sought to integrate Platonic and Christian views of goodness.

On the other hand, Aristotle decided that the highest good for the individual is the complete exercise of the specifically human function of rationality. And Saint Thomas Aquinas reconciled Aristotelianism with the authority of the church by acknowledging the truth of sense experience, but only as complementary to faith. He used Aristotelian logic to support the Augustinian concepts of original sin and redemption through divine grace.

In the Crito, Socrates tells us that one should never willingly do wrong, and even after being wronged or injured it is still not right to do wrong or injure in return. In fact, Socrates rejects returning wrong for wrong and the breaking of agreements and covenants, and he refuses to injure his country and his friends.

Thus, terrorism loses its justification, because it seeks to return wrong for wrong, and willingly do injury.

In the Euthyphro, Socrates points out that perhaps the holy is holy because the gods approve it, or do they approve something because it is holy. By analogy he shows that things are loved because someone loves them, and not the reverse.

Socrates then asks him if all that is holy is just; but as reverence is only a part of fear, so holiness is only a part of justice. Terrorism is again denied justification, since it is not an act of justice, nor of love, but an act of fear, since justice and love are equated by Socrates.

In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle sees the parallel between those who think they will perform good by mere theoretical knowledge and the patients who listen attentively and comprehend what the doctor says, but do not carry out his orders.

Aristotle considers that pleasure as such is the lowest good in certain sense. Aristotle yet acknowledges that pleasure is something positive, and it s effect is perfect the exercise of a faculty. Pleasure differs specifically according to the character of the activities to which they are attached, and the good man must be our standard as to what is truly pleasant and unpleasant to desire.

Terrorism, therefore, is an unpleasant desire that a good man must avoid.

Similarly, Augustine’s tells us that the purpose of life is to be happy. To be happy, you must achieve what you truly want. Here, terrorism may briefly find justification in that a terrorist seeks to do what he truly wants.

But a wise man desires only what he can obtain, and to be happy, one must know how to obtain it. The aim of a terrorist is unobtainable, since he seeks happiness in that which is perishable.

Augustine tells us that true happiness cannot come from a perishable thing since one must worry about the protection of the item, and worrying is incompatible with happiness. Since God is the only permanent thing, thus, God is the only true goal.

Knowing God requires divine grace, which has to be earned through humility and temperance. Again, terrorism contradicts the notion of humility and temperance, since it is the violent imposition of one will over another. This temperance is called wisdom.

One should love God above Self, Others, and Objects, because those would not bring true happiness. Thus, terrorism cannot be justified, because it an extreme love of Self. Evil is not a positive force to Augustine, it is merely the absence of good.

Therefore, terrorism is evil, since good is absent, and good being the active pursuit of happiness, within the context of humility and temperance.

Aquinas bases his doctrine on the natural law, on his understanding of God and His relation to His creation. He grounds his theory of natural law in the notion of an eternal law (in God). N

ext, Aquinas asks whether there is in us a natural law. The Natural Law, as applied to the case of human beings, requires greater precision because of the fact that we have reason and free will.

It is our nature humans to act freely (i.e. to be provident for ourselves and others) by being inclined toward our proper acts and end. That is, we human beings must exercise our natural reason to discover what is best for us in order to achieve the end to which their nature inclines.

Furthermore, we must exercise our freedom, by choosing what reason determines to naturally suited to us, i.e. what is best for our nature. Thus, is terrorism an exercise in freedom? Yet, how can it be? Does it achieve a proper end, we must ask. It is certainly an act of free will, yet it is not part of reason.

The natural inclination of humans to achieve their proper end through reason and free will is the natural law. Formally defined, the Natural Law is humans’ participation in the Eternal Law, through reason and will. Humans actively participate in the eternal law of God (the governance of the world) by using reason in conformity with the Natural Law to discern what is good and evil.

Therefore, terrorism can never participate in eternal law, for it stands outside it, opposite it. Aquinas distinguishes different levels of precepts or commands that the Natural Law entails.

The most universal is the command, “Good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided.” Again, terrorism is denied justification since it does not obey the universal command to pursue and do good, and avoid evil.

These philosophers show us that terrorism cannot be justified because it seeks to return wrong for wrong; it is an act of fear, and not of justice or love; it is an unpleasant desire that a good man must avoid; it does not participate in humility and temperance, and thus it lacks grace; it is an evil act because good is absent from it; terrorism is unreasonable; and it does not obey the natural law in that it does not pursue and do good, and avoid evil.



The photo shows, “The Bombing At the Cafe Terminus,” an illustration from Le Petit Journal, February 26, 1894.

The Crystal Mind: Poems

Glen Gower

There is something growing beneath your skin.
Bristles burst from hidden hearths while stolen feelings
like steely demons scourge the violent hills.
From atop the tower, the blessed Glen Gower
calls the riders in.



Oh changeling,
you creeping, sleeping tame thing
climb down from that steeple high,
let me gaze upon your face tonight.
Look not backwards, forget my soul,
what you spy there has gone before.
Will yourself up into the clouds,
a desert landscape, a crimson shroud,
beyond the river there lies the key
there lie the waters, those that be.
Move through yourself like a
consuming snake, find the figure,
that geometric mistake.
Point the finger to the sign above,
the chi, the rho, the fallen dove.
This bridge is broken, I cannot sleep,
this dream, a token, to protect and keep.
Oh changeling,
you creeping, sleeping tame thing.


Winter Stasis

Soon the crystal mind will shed itself.
Snowflakes hang static in the breathless wind,
the storm in the firmament, the storm within.
What infinite descent will cloud the soul
if not for the pine to root it, to keep it whole?
Such tender frames plague the winter sky,
you can trace the time, the finger guides the eye.
Reverse the fall, feel the ancient breath,
your stinging face, you descend from Seth.
Look there! The sky in it fullness shows
the cathedral vaults, the suspended snows.


Just Hush

Often times I tell myself I’ve been thinking too much.
No rush of the river can soften its touch
but relief, relief can be found in an empty cavern
drained of the tide and left untouched.
Just air, just hush, often you say too much.



Cosmin Dzsurdzsa is the 2016 recipient of the English Society Creative Writing Award for Poetry. His work, both as a poet and a critic, is deeply concerned with the sacred experience. He credits the Symbolist movement and 20th-century Imagism as important influences. Cosmin’s work seeks to engage with the imagination through striking visual representations.


The photo shows, “The Awaited,” by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, painted in 1860.

Where Does Morality Come From?

Where does morality come from? Does it derive from religion? In essence, there are two views in terms of Christian morality, namely, the Divine Command, and Natural Law.

When we reduce the basic tenets of morality hinged upon Divine Command, we derive the following hypotheses: That which is morally right is commanded by God; and that which is morally wrong is forbidden by God. In effect, moral conduct is right because God commands it.

Immediately, we perceive problems with morality based upon Divine Command. Firstly, agnostics and atheists would have no knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.

This in turn brings in Plato’s objection whether moral conduct is right when commanded by the gods, or do the gods command such conduct because it is intrinsically right. But what if God commanded us to murder constantly. Would this not render meaningless the very notion of God’s goodness?

Further, when we say that God commands moral conduct because it is, by its very nature, right – then we are implying that there is a standard of good and evil which is independent of God, or outside his command.

Therefore, if God commands us to do what is right we must face two implications of our actions:

  1. Our ensuing moral actions are right because God commands them, or
  2. God commands such actions because they are by their very nature right.

If we accept the first of these implications, then we must acknowledge that God’s commands are arbitrary, from a moral point of view, which in turn renders the idea of God’s goodness meaningless.

And if we accept the second implication, we inherently acknowledge that there is a standard of good and evil, right and wrong, which is entirely independent of God.

As a result of these two implications, we must either accept God’s commands as arbitrary, and abandon the doctrine of the goodness of God, or we must acknowledge that there is an independent standard of right and wrong, and thus we must forsake the notion of God as the arbiter of right and wrong, good and evil.

Of course, from a religious point of view, it would be impossible to perceive God’s command as arbitrary, and it would be equally impossible to forsake the idea of God’s intrinsic goodness. Consequently, an independent standard of good and evil, right and wrong must be acknowledged – which ultimately suggests that the theory of Divine Command is flawed.

The second view of Christian morality depends on the theory of Natural Law which, when summarized, suggests three assumptions. First, that everything in nature has a definite purpose.

Thus when we ask the question: “What is it for?” We can derive an immediate answer (for example, the sun shines to generate life). Second, that everything in nature has a purpose because that is the way God intended it to be; it is from this assumption that religion derives its reason for being. Third, that the laws of nature define how things ought to be.

Thus, what is right is that which is natural. That which is unnatural is wrong. For example, the philanthropic urge stems from mankind’s natural concern for the well being of others.

However, this third and final assumption also suggests that all that is unnatural is wrong and is the pursuit of the twisted. Such an argument can certainly be used to criticize homosexuality and masturbation, since it does not lead to the natural outcome of sex, namely, children.

However, as David Hume suggests, there is a marked difference between what is and what ought to be, and therefore, Natural Law theory confuses facts with values. In effect, nature does not seek to answer the question “Why?”

Thus, rain just falls and the sun just shines. In other words, the laws of nature are blind – their reason for being is not to serve the “higher” purpose of mankind’s needs. We cannot impose an anthropocentric view upon nature.

Further, Natural Law implies that moral judgment is dictated by reason. Therefore, both believers and non-believers have access to truth. Consequently, morality is independent of religion.

Certainly, it is difficult to agree with the theory of Natural Law, simply because it confuses two independent (and perhaps mutually exclusive) issues: namely, facts or mundane reality and morality.

We cannot imbue nature with our moral vision or values. Nature exists because it does. Nature does not exist to reify our moral values. Thus, in condemning that which is deemed “unnatural” Natural Law imposes a moral code that cannot exist independently in nature.

Nature, in and of itself, does not exist according to moral laws. If that were so, then predators would not kill and eat newborn fawns, nor ravens pluck chicks from nests.

Therefore we need to acknowledge that nature, morality/ethics, and religion are simply different areas that cannot impinge upon each other.

Morality and religion are not inherent in nature. In short, nature is neither moral nor religious.

Thus, we cannot impose laws on nature, and thereby use these imposed laws as moral codes to judge others as either deficient or satisfactory.


The photo shows, “Found,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, unfinished painting, ca. 1869.

Economics And Human Rights

International economic law and human rights tend to be very poor bedfellows. Indeed, world indebtedness means less for the have-nots and more for the haves.

First, the policies of the World Bank and the IMF often violate the rights of poor countries in that these policies inhibit and even stall the growth of developing nations. Banks views Third World debt as an almost mythical moneymaking machine.

Pressure on the debtor countries and their people is increasing all the time, and the debts remain, growing ever larger. To enforce payment, the World Bank uses the IMF to impose adjustments.

As a condition for receiving new loan extensions to cover for defaults on interest payments, the IMF imposes strict economic conditions on countries, and forces debtor countries to cut their public expenditure, push up the price of food, and focus all their resources on the development of cash crops for export to earn the money needed to repay the debt.

The result of this pressure, imposed by the world’s richest nations on the world’s poorest, is ever-increasing unemployment, poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and for many, death. Debt repayment is a major problem for 44 severely indebted countries.

A similar role of imposition of policies by powerful bodies can be seen in the workings of the WTO. The establishment of the WTO represents a watershed in the process of establishing a truly global economic order and it is likely to exert a more profound influence over the course of human affairs than has any other institution in history.

There are three reasons that justify such an assessment. The first has to do with the ever-increasing importance of international trade to a global economy. Transnational corporations now control more than one third of worlds’ productive assets, and the organization of their production and distribution systems has little to do with national or even regional boundaries.

Decisions about locating factories, sourcing materials, processing information or raising capital are made on a global basis, and a particular product may include components from several countries.

This explains why nearly 40% of all international trade takes within the same corporate family. Another measure of the growing dimensions of globally economic integration is the growth in international trade itself which according the most recent figures published by the WTO increased by a staggering 9 1/2 per cent in 1994.

The question of private party participation in WTO dispute settlement proceedings has been around since even before the organization’s inception. Of course, private parties have been interested in international trade dispute resolution since GATT entered into force in 1948.

For many years, as GATT labored in obscurity, these disputes took place relatively anonymously. However, especially with disputes over trade embargoes imposed for environmental purposes and over phytosanitary standards that affect human consumption of agricultural products believed by some to be unsafe, international trade dispute settlement became increasingly interesting to NGOs and members of the public.

The public like never before is now scrutinizing it. The environmental NGOs, in particular, have called for greater access to, and increased transparency of, the litigation process. As presented in a number of recent papers, there are valid arguments on both sides of the debate.

Those calling for increased access argue that for the decisions that emerge from this body to be viewed as representative, authoritative and fair, the WTO must provide mechanisms for expanded public participation.

This concern is raised most often where disputes involve non-trade policies embedded in trade regulations, such as import restrictions to enforce environmental standards.

NGOs question the WTO’s ability to make the right decision in such disputes without relying on their input.  From an NGO perspective, if the system is to be perceived as fair, those with an interest in the outcome of a dispute should have an opportunity to be part of the process, and the system must operate in a way that does not seem to systematically give an advantage to a particular normative point of view (i.e., that import prohibitions are to be condemned unless they fall within a narrow set of exceptions).

It is hard to know how much power lies with the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs). Because of their size, they have become major world players: sales can exceed the gross domestic product (GDP) of countries. General Motors income exceeds the GDP of all sub-Saharan Africa combined. TNCs now control two thirds of all world trade and 80 per cent of foreign investment.

Some argue that TNCs are important to people in developing countries. The reality is very different. TNCs employ only three per cent of the world’s labor force – and less than half of those employed are in the poorest regions of the world.

The need for governments to attract TNC investment has resulted in a sacrifice in the rights of working people in order to create the most attractive investment conditions. The immense buying power of TNCs results in domination of local markets and the shutting down of local firms.

The freedom to act without social responsibility has made TNCs the champions of global trade, without regulations. This lack of accountability and lack of respect for human rights has resulted in dangerous practices. Oil giant Shell has admitted supplying weapons for use by Nigeria’s security forces against protestors in Ogoniland, just as BP has openly funded military terror squads in Colombia for years. In West Papua, Freeport presses ahead with mining while the Indonesian military deals with local protestors incensed at the destruction of their land.

The environmental record of TNCs is not much better. The destruction of whole ecosystems by mining and oil companies, the thousands killed in disasters such as Bhopal, and the ongoing, everyday pollution by companies for which “going green” is public relations. The Kyoto summit failed because powerful members of the Global Climate Coalition – responsible for half the world’s pollution mounted a multi-million dollar campaign to back big business.


The photo shows, “The Charitable Gift,” by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, painted in 1850.

Kant’s Three Questions

Like Descartes, Kant set for himself the formidable task of reviewing all knowledge in order to answer the questions: What can I know? What ought I do? What may I hope for?

The first of these questions, the nature and validity of human knowledge, he investigates in his book, The Critique of Pure Reason. Though he proceeds in an entirely different manner, he arrives at the same conclusion as Descartes: that man can never have direct and certain knowledge of anything outside his own mind.

We cannot, he says, know reality, things as they are in themselves, but only the appearances of things, because our faculties impose their own forms upon that which enters the mind. Neither sensation, judgment nor reasoning can give us a valid picture of the world outside ourselves. We can never reach the noumenon, the thing as it is in itself, but only the phenomenon, the thing as it appears to us.

Neither science nor philosophy can enable us to reach the substance, or essence of things. Nor can they tell us what the soul is, what matter is, or what God is.

Consequently, Kant teaches us another type of judgment called synthetic a priori, which leads to scientific knowledge. It enjoys the universality and necessity of analytic judgments without being tautological, and possesses the fecundity of synthetical a posteriori judgments, without being restricted to the particular beings existing in the empirical world.

For the formation of any synthetic a priori judgment it is necessary to have form and matter. The form is given by the intellect, independent of all experience, a priori, and signifies the function, manner, and law of knowing and acting, which the subject finds in itself prior to all experience.

The matter is the subjective sensations, which we receive from the external world. Thus, in The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant makes the essential elements of all knowledge (universality and necessity) dependent, not on the content of experience, but on a priori forms.

He shows that the truths that have always been considered the most important in the entire range of human knowledge have no foundation in metaphysical (or purely speculative) reasoning.

Therefore, what can I know? I can know the absolute knowledge of things, or causality. But this knowledge can only operate within the confines of the world – through what we are made to perceive with our senses. I cannot possibly know the noumenon, or the world-in-itself.

Like Descartes, Kant had attempted to tear down the whole structure of previously existing human knowledge, only to build it up again on what he considered a more solid foundation. For him, this foundation was the imperative command of conscience, which every man experiences in himself.

For Kant, the ultimate test of truth is not found in external reality, but is something in man’s own mind. This command of conscience, he declares, imposes itself with insistence and with certainty. Once the voice of conscience tells me that “I ought” to do something, I cannot escape from the certainty that I am obliged to do what my conscience commands. However, I can choose to obey or to disobey. In The Critique of Practical Reason, Kant makes the universality and necessity of the moral law dependent, not on the empirical act and the end we might intend in our actions, but on a categorical imperative, in the will itself.

For an act to be morally good, the will must be autonomous; it must be determined to act, not in view of the result of its action but only in view of its duty. Thus, duty for duty’s sake. This is Kantian morality. This means that among all the imperatives that can determine the will to action, it is necessary to distinguish the hypothetical from the categorical. Also, we cannot attain the suprasensible (noumenon) because our forms of knowledge (categories) are empty: their content is only phenomenal, conditioned matter.

Now, instead, the form of the will (categorical imperative) possesses the content independently within itself; it is not conditioned by any material element. It is the will itself that makes the human act morally good, and not vice versa. In fact, according to Kant, the empirical act will be good on condition that it be done for the sake of duty. Hence the will is beyond the phenomenal and mechanical world; it pertains to the world of noumena, of the unconditioned.

Thus, these truths rest on a solid moral basis, and are thus placed above all speculative contention and the clamour of metaphysical dispute. He has overthrown the imposing edifice which Cartesian dogmatism had built on the foundation “I think”; he now sets about the task of rebuilding the temple of truth on the foundation “I ought.” The moral law is supreme.

In point of certainty, it is superior to any deliverance of the purely speculative consciousness; I am more certain that “I ought” than I am that “I am glad”, “I am cold”, etc. In point of insistence, it is superior to any consideration of interest pleasure or happiness; I can forego what is for my interest, I can set other considerations above pleasure and happiness, but if my conscience tells me that “I ought” to do something, nothing can gainsay the voice of conscience, though, of course, I am free to obey or disobey.

This, then, is the one unshakable foundation of all moral, spiritual, and higher intellectual truth. The first peculiarity of the moral law is that it is universal and necessary. When conscience declares that it is wrong to tell a lie, the voice is not merely intended for here and now, not for “just this once”, but for all time and for all space; it is valid always and everywhere. Therefore, what must I do? My duty.

Now, what may I hope for? In order to understand this question, we have to consider Kant’s philosophy of religion, or critiqued, that is, the application of reason. In other words, the question: when I, as a finite being, have done what I should, then what may I hope for? – can be raised without assumption and honestly only when the human being as a finite, rational being knows both his/her limits and (therefore) freedom.

Thus, one has to accept a teleology merely as ‘the result prescribed by law’ rather than a motive of moral conduct, thereby the ‘summum bonum’ is postulated as an a priori synthesis of virtue and happiness. And for the sake of this synthesis is postulated a supreme being of holiness, grace, and justice – that is, God. Hence, morality leads unavoidably to religion and hope only starts with religion. Therefore, what may I hope for? God.

Thus, Kant’s three questions: 1) What can I know? 2) What must I do? And 3) What may I hope for? – become thematicized as metaphysics, ethics, and philosophy.


The photo shows, “Magdalen with the Smoking Flame,” by Georges de la Tour, ca. 1638-1640.

The Roots Of Secularism

Exhaustively documented, and in some ways just exhausting, though at the same time exhilarating, Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is a towering achievement. It synthesizes centuries of history and multiple avenues of thought to analyze how we arrived at certain negative aspects of modernity.

Gregory’s claim is that we got here as the result of the unintended consequences of choices made in response to “major, perceived human problems.”  Those choices were, initially, the Reformation’s religious choices, which ran counter to the entire worldview of medieval Christianity.

But the Reformation did not solve the problems—it made them worse, in a declining spiral, accelerated and exacerbated by subsequent secularization, itself partially the result of the Reformation. The result is a world in which the ability of humans to find meaning in their lives has been crippled, rather than enhanced. We would, implicitly, be better off with something more like the High Medieval synthesis destroyed by Martin Luther.

This is a reactionary book, of course, even if that is not the author’s intent. Any book that, in effect, revolves around the idea that the medieval European tag team of church and state, each in its own sphere, together produced a better society than the one we have today, a superior “institutionalized worldview,” is necessarily reactionary.

Étienne Gilson sighs contentedly in his grave; Jacques Maritain smiles; Carl Schmitt chuckles grimly. Of course, reaction as a political program, as I have said before, is not a return to some past Golden Age, or, more drily phrased, to the status quo ante. Such a definition is meant to be both pejorative and to absolve progressives of any need to respond to reactionary thought. Rather, reactionary political thought is any thought directed at what should be done now, if and to the extent such thought relies or is based on reference to the past as a positive guide.

The most critical element of reactionary thought is, therefore, that it does not regard the past as superseded. All supersessionist narratives are automatically rejected as incoherent. There is no arc of history; it has no right side.

History embodies good and evil, justice and injustice, truth and falsehood, and the task of the political thinker of the Now is to take these strands and make of them a world in which fallen human beings can flourish. Much of this book is an explicit rejection of “supersessionist history,” the Whig or progressive idea that the world today is the way it is because that is the way it was destined to be.

The past is not even past, and human life is, contra writers like Steven Pinker and Jonah Goldberg, not explained and justified by the Enlightenment. It is explained by the choices we have made; some of those choices were bad, and they should be unspooled, if possible, and new, better choices made.

In fact, I hold that a necessary element of a reactionary political program is viewing the world with, if not new eyes, from fresh perspectives, those lacking today as the sun sets on the Enlightenment experiment. More and more, I think of Enlightenment thought as the picture of Dorian Gray, whose flaws were concealed until they weren’t. Or, perhaps, the Enlightenment is one of those rockets under which the fire flares, and it majestically rises from its launchpad, a study in power and might—but something is wrong; it hesitates; it halts; it falls backward, downward to destruction.

Reaction by definition finds the present wanting, and the present projected forward even more wanting, which is a view that necessarily conflicts with the unexamined common assumptions of our time. Thus, Gregory’s book is, if Reaction is radical, a very radical work, though it doesn’t feel like it while you’re reading it, and Gregory might disagree.

That’s a lot of talk about myself in a review of someone else’s book. I offer those initial thoughts because I am now formally turning to my study of Reaction, in preparation for completing and offering my own book-length thoughts on Reaction as a viable political program. I have already begun this project, in a stop-start manner, with analysis of Mark Lilla’s book on reactionary thought, The Shipwrecked Mind, as well as in some other reviews, in particular of Adrian Goldsworthy’s Augustus and Victor Sebestyen’s Lenin.

In my turn to reading on Reaction, I intend to focus not on formally reactionary pamphlets or roadmaps (although those, and much else, will appear), but on a wide variety of books that shed light at an angle, as it were, on political philosophy as it exists in the early twenty-first-century West. We will spend much time traveling back in time, and maybe a little traveling forward in time (I do like science fiction, after all).

As with all my reviews, though, I’m doing this for me, not for you. I intend this to be the homework for, and assist me in writing, my very own work of political thought, which I plan to be an actual roadmap for political Reaction—for, after all, it is easy to analyze, and easier to criticize, but hard to create a positive and coherent program.

So, to Brad Gregory’s book. This book took me forever to read. It is only four hundred pages, but it has two hundred more pages of footnotes, most of which I studied and pondered, and for a non-trivial amount of which I examined the works to which Gregory refers, something Amazon and an unlimited budget for buying books permits.

But such depth does not mean the book is bad; it is quite good, and it has gotten a lot of attention, though probably more attention than actual readers, I suspect. It is now five hundred years since the Reformation, and Gregory does not think it was a good five hundred years. The Reformation ruined the medieval institutional synthesis, which, while far from perfect, had many virtues missing today.

And the Reformation necessarily and directly led to the worst aspects of modernity, mediated by the aggressive secularism of the Enlightenment. First, to atomization and polarization. Second, to unbridled consumerism, to the “goods culture” (as opposed to the “culture of the good”), with no “acquisitive ceiling” and with the loss of the concept of excess, which leads to spiritual anomie and other harms such as environmental catastrophe (including climate change). Third, and perhaps most importantly, if most abstractly, to an inability to reconcile competing “truth claims,” and in fact the rejection of the entire category of truth, leading to “hyperpluralism,” excessive emancipation and, implicitly, to the near destruction of the entire Christian project, although Gregory does not directly predict that outcome. Explaining an entire culture and its changes over five hundred years is no small task.

Gregory therefore breaks his analysis into six separate narratives, while cautioning that they are not, and cannot be, separate in real life, and are to act in conjunction in his book. “As a whole the book thus constitutes an explanation about the makings of modernity as both a multifaceted rejection and a variegated appropriation of different elements of medieval Christianity. . . .The six strands in the analysis focus respectively on the relationship among religion, science, and metaphysics; the basis for truth claims related to human values and meaning; the institutional locus of the public exercise of power; moral discourse and moral behavior; human desires and capitalism; and the relationship between higher education and assumptions about knowledge.”

You begin to see what I mean by saying this book is exhausting.

Gregory’s first thread, on “religion, science, and metaphysics,” revolves around a common complaint of modern conservative thinkers, that late medieval Schoolmen, most notably William of Ockham, endorsed nominalism and thereby laid the groundwork for modern relativism and secularism. But this is secondary to Gregory’s main focus, on thought preceding but tied to nominalism, centering on “univocity.”

This is the change from holding, with Aquinas, that God has nothing in common with humans, but can only be understood in His characteristics by analogy, to holding that God shares with us the characteristic of “being” or “existence,” even if in a qualitatively different way than humans. (By chance I am also currently reading David Bentley Hart’s outstanding The Experience of God, which extensively covers the same topic).

In Gregory’s reading, this change, led by John Duns Scotus, leads to the effective lowering of God, whom it becomes easy to view as one being among others, even if superior in every way. God becomes a mere demiurge, or at most the God of Deism, not the transcendental ground of all reality.

The basis for this move to univocity was that otherwise it was deemed impossible to reason about God, a desired end of the Scholastics. Analogy was held to be an unsatisfactory method of analysis, although until that date it was the universal method in Christianity.

What the Schoolmen did not see was that if univocity is true, yet no direct evidence for God is seen in the natural world, it becomes easy to exclude God when reasoning about any topic at all, since the logical conclusion under univocity is that He does not exist, or if He does, it is impossible to prove. Science and faith thus began to be seen as logical opposites, though that is certainly not what the original proponents of univocity intended, nor is it a rational stance.

The Reformation exacerbated this problem, with many reformers, especially in the Zwinglian dispensations, rejecting sacramentality, with such rejection being fundamentally a univocal approach, a disenchantment of God’s role in the universe. And as the Scientific Revolution proceeded (driven by other aspects of European Christianity, but that is another story), and Ockham’s Razor used as the basis for approaching theories of the natural world, it became modish, therefore, to hold that God was disproven, or logically unproven, or at least unnecessary to reckon with.

Under the traditional understanding of God’s nature, nothing could be farther from the truth. And in the new analysis, God was not in fact disproven, nor were any of the traditional and highly sophisticated analyses of His nature undercut—rather, a category error swallowed the whole analysis.

But increasingly, and to this day, proponents of naturalistic philosophy acted as if God were disproven and traditional analyses obviated—in which acting they were helped by the intellectual weakness of their Christian opponents, increasingly fragmented and untutored in the realization that they had themselves absorbed univocal premises.

But given that this is how intellectual fashion developed, the effect was to exclude God from an ever-widening philosophical sphere. Moreover, the fragmentation of Christian thought and unity produced by the Reformation further eroded any possible influence of Christian belief, since there were so many competing, and inherently incompatible, views on critical matters. Easier to ignore and dismiss them all.

Gregory’s main point is that “truth claims” are different if the claimant believes in God (really believes, not pseudo-believes, like followers of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). If God has no relevance, moreover, emancipation can plausibly become a more elevated goal.  And, importantly, religion becomes mere, and burdened by, sentiment—hence, feelings and emotivism, which, in a feedback loop, leads to the conclusion that science and faith are opposites.

Moreover, the disenchantment of the world leads to its instrumental use; the road leads directly from Francis Bacon to mountaintop removal, the Great Pacific garbage patch, and global warming.

Gregory’s second thread, which therefore follows from the conclusion of the first, “the basis for truth claims related to human values and meaning,” is really the hinge of the entire book. If such truth claims didn’t matter, there would be no point in decrying the inability to find a coherent basis for them.

The point here is simple, though fleshed out in detail. It is that truth claims matter, and that the Reformation, a justified, or at least understandable, response to the massive moral failings of fifteenth-century Christians, instead of making the basis for those truth claims more robust, destroyed it by making every man his own priest. Truth claims are, in essence, “Life Questions”—what should we believe, and why?

What is meaningful in life?  How should I lead life?  Until the modern era, religion, Christianity in the West, uniformly provided the answers, or at least the starting points and midpoints for answers, to such questions. Not that the answers were entirely uniform before the Reformation—not only personal idiosyncrasy, but the wide range of diverse answers within Christendom made that untrue. “The late medieval church was a large playground, but one enclosed by forbidding fences. . . .”

The Reformation principle of sola scriptura was meant to hack off the supposed encrustations of the Roman Church, not to allow every person to form his own opinion about all matters of doctrine, but once the principle was admitted, there was, and never could be, any logical stopping point.

Thus, the Reformation produced an exponential growth in competing truth claims, made worse when biblical interpretation was joined by claims of interpretation guided by the Holy Spirit, as those made by Quakers. The end result, after centuries, is incoherence and religion as Philip Rieff’s “therapeutic culture,” religion as a vague feeling of being good and feeling good, since there is no firm ground—what Gregory repeatedly calls “the Kingdom of Whatever.”

The trend toward this end, combined with the Wars of Religion, supported the Pyrrhonian skepticism that emerged at the beginning of the Enlightenment, and Gregory covers Descartes, Hume, Montaigne, and many others in this light. His point, though, is not to endorse them, but to note that all of these, and many other more modern philosophers, are equally unable to agree on answers to the Life Questions, so incoherence is not a function of religion; it is equally applicable to analysis sola ratio. Whose fault?  The Reformation’s.

Gregory’s third element in his conjunction is “the institutional locus of the public exercise of power.”  From the perspective of secular rulers, ever more fractalization of truth claims was intolerable (especially after the Peasants’ War), so they chose winners and enforced their claims in each ruler’s domain.

As a result, we tend to perceive a less wide range of doctrine in Protestantism than actually existed, since the “magisterial” churches (basically Lutheranism and Calvinism) became important due to their adoption and enforcement by the state, and the “radical” churches became fragmented and of much less public importance, except in a few notable or dramatic instances, such as the Anabaptists in Münster.

Even today, the result is that “our respective sovereign states dictate what individuals and institutions can and cannot do in exercising religious faith” (a tension we saw this week in the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision).

To get to discussing this post-Reformation problem, Gregory reviews the tangled Western history of church and state, both in its historical highlights and in the practical effects, including the regular failures of the church, and Christians, to live up to Christ’s commands.

The effect of the post-Reformation increase in state power over the role of churches has been that “churches in general would [now] exert only as much public power and authority as they were permitted,” which used to be a lot, but which, “in the early twenty-first century, when sovereign states rule together with the market, it is almost none.”

Again, to Gregory, this is a bug, not a feature. Concurrently, state power itself rose, and religion became a prime driver of war, ultimately resulting in the not-illogical conclusion, beginning with the Dutch, that we would all be better off with fewer religious disputes. Gregory reviews, among others, Locke, Jefferson, and Tocqueville, noting that where we have ended up is with the dominance of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is not really Christianity at all, and that end was, in retrospect, inevitable.

As Gregory points out, a human community of not-wholly autonomous individuals is the necessary bedrock of both the Christian life and of any healthy society, in its living, in its transmission, and in its recognition and practice of virtue. Instead, what we have is Charles Taylor’s “secular age.”

Gregory focuses on the role of the state, in particular the American judiciary, in the dissolution of truth claims, but does not focus on the increasing use of the state to repress orthodox Christian belief, though the latter is also a necessary consequence of the former. In any case, the system we have ended up with “also meant the separation of politics from morality—or rather, a transition from a Christian ethics of the good to a secular ethics of rights in combination with a distinction between public and private spheres in conjunction with the privatization of religion.”

It is the consequences of that separation that are the topic of Gregory’s fourth thread, “moral discourse and moral behavior”—more precisely, the subjectivizing of it. Here, Alisdair MacIntyre, a man whose revival has come, if it ever really left, is front and center.

MacIntyre’s project (his book, After Virtue, is on my Reaction reading list, of course, for the bedrock of his claims is the rejection of supersessionism) was the revival of Aristotelean concepts of virtue, a sally against Enlightenment rejection of the same and with an inescapable logical end in Christianity.

MacIntyre sought to restore the teleology of Man (a concept that ninety-nine out of a hundred people today, chosen already for the rare characteristic of knowing what “teleology” means, would reject as equivalent to believing in mermaids—nice to imagine, silly to believe in). By this means, relativism would be dispelled, emotivism rejected as the basis for answering Life Questions, and rational moral discourse restored. Up with the common good, down with John Stuart Mill.

Much of this chapter is taken up with how we got to the point where MacIntyre had to rescue the past to inform the future. Again, naturally, it’s a result of the Reformation (a cause Gregory claims MacIntyre missed, or ignored), but the Reformation’s exaltation, in effect, of individual choice was, again, an understandable reaction to the failures of most of Christendom to live up to its ideals, most centrally that of caritas.

The usual suspects in removing virtue from modern political life, including Machiavelli and Nietzsche, also appear. Gregory further ties the “jettisoning of the ethics of the good” to the ever increasing demands for emancipation and for consumer goods.

Still, Christian virtues informed politics and society—until very recently, when they began to fade, allowing delusional people like John Rawls to believe that somehow Christian virtues can be derived without Christianity.

The end result, it is not difficult to realize, is that as the animating energy of Christianity dissipates from within the body politic, we will return to a pre-Christian time, where none of the virtues we take for granted, even if only honored in aspiration, are recognized at all. Without Christianity (or an equally powerful moral framework, none other of which has ever existed in or informed the West), the very idea of “human rights” is incoherent nonsense.

A recurrent theme of this book, and perhaps the key point Gregory aims to prove, is that “[t]he persistent, even adamant, positing of rights has no evidentiary basis given the metaphysical assumptions and epistemological demands that govern not only the natural sciences, but knowledge-making across the disciplines in the academy.”  And since the state has been brought in to use ever greater force to ensure ever greater emancipation, where the only moral crime is failing to subjectivize morality, disaster awaits, or, actually, is unfolding as we speak.

The fifth strand is “human desires and capitalism,” or, as the chapter title says, “Manufacturing the Goods Life.”  This expands on a point in the previous chapter, that consumerism dictated by individual unbridled choice substitutes, in many ways, for the common good. After all, nature abhors a vacuum, and something must fill the human desire for meaning.

And, choosing among modern options, if you don’t seek transcendence through the ideology of emancipation, for yourselves or others, consumerism is another, more peaceful and perhaps more enjoyable, way to fill your life. While Gregory discusses Max Weber’s theory of the Protestant origin of modern capitalism, this is really a different phenomenon from what Weber identified (leaving aside how right Weber was). Gregory instead ties the rise of consumer culture to the post-Reformation Dutch, with their turning aside from confessional differences and the refocusing on profit and consumption, and the spread of that view in the wake of weariness of religious disputes.

Prior to the Reformation the goods culture was always formally rejected by Christianity, as a failure to implement caritas in a world that viewed economics as zero-sum, though that hardly prevented greed. Money (and especially money, rather than barter), not itself inherently wrong and something that might, if properly viewed and handled, promote human flourishing, nonetheless often subverted the common good by inflating greed through its ease of use and by itself becoming the object of human desire.

Moreover, it tended to depersonalize social relationships. But the turn to a monetized, market economy had its own inexorable logic and internal pressure, so even before the Reformation it was changing Christian ways, and the Reformation, once more, with its fragmentation, accelerated that process.

This was true even though many of the reformers themselves were far more focused on suppressing greed than the princes of the medieval Church. This result came about, again, because of the new primacy of the individual’s determination of conscience, and because of the rejection of teleological virtue ethics (à la MacIntyre) in exchange for, in most cases, a theology that denigrated or rejected works as relevant to salvation.

Nor were Catholics immune; Gregory cites the motto of the Spanish military captain Bernardo de Vargas Machuca, in 1600:  “By compass and by sword / More and more and more and more.”  (Gregory does not note that Vargas Machuca was a main propagandist for the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and for the subjugation of the inhabitants—he also attempted to refute Bartolomé de las Casas’s harsh criticism of the Spanish conquests and the Spanish treatment of the natives).

Toleration, starting with the Dutch, was indeed one effect of the primacy of commerce and money, but there were other, undesirable, knock-on effects. This new consumerism mostly affected the upper crust, and was often justified as familial duty, not a mere “piling up of unnecessary consumer goods for oneself,” though this itself tended away from the common good, and created new social distances and new “varieties of social othering,” or, viewed at from another angle, new ways to seek the approval of others, as Adam Smith analyzed astutely.

Governments soon enough discovered that all this made for easier-to-govern and happier subjects, who paid more taxes, so these lines of development were naturally encouraged. And, in time, the Enlightenment formally endorsed avarice as the backbone of a good and well-run society. Today, we are the unlucky beneficiaries of these centuries-long developments, where meaning is sought through the “goods culture,” and no meaning can be found.

A common response to such lines of thought is that whatever may be the moral drawbacks of the pursuit of money, acquisitiveness drives society forward in terms of beneficial material progress, though the exact mechanism for this is often disputed. Gregory seems to reject this linkage; I am not so sure he is correct.

While it is certainly true that the Scientific Revolution had nothing to do with the Enlightenment, and the modern world in all its technological might, created wholly by the West, would probably exist in much the same form if the Enlightenment had never happened, it seems to me that the habits of thought revolving around money are necessary for creating the economic value, the formation of assets originating from human effort, that makes the modern world what it is materially, and capable of achieving the advances we have made.

Critiques of consumerism are rarely as historically oriented as Gregory’s, but they typically ignore this question, and they also suffer from a lack of clarity as to whether consumerism is bad because it is immoral, or because it causes some form of harm, to people or to the world. As with other modern critics, Gregory basically says both are the reason, citing, for the latter contention, global warming and other environmental impacts.

But this implies that if the harms can be alleviated, especially by technology, there is less of a problem, and that’s not really what Gregory means. Along the same lines, he certainly admits that raising up most of humanity, and all of Western humanity, from destitution contributes to human flourishing, but there is no clear dividing line in that process, such that it, absent some countervailing force, seems like it must necessarily end in some version of today’s “goods culture.”  In the end, Gregory notes that “the manufactured goods life is needed to hold Western hyperpluralism together,” which is probably true, but it seems to me the manufactured goods are necessary, both to exit destitution and to arrive at our beneficial technological advances, but the hyperpluralism is not. That is, you could imagine a world where manufactured goods are more common, and receive more focus, than in the medieval barter economy, but still do not exercise the same grip on the average individual, who receives meaning from other sources tending to the common good.

The book’s sixth thread is “the relationship between higher education and assumptions about knowledge.”  Here, we talk about the “secularizing of knowledge,” primarily in universities. We return to the division, unnecessary but perhaps inevitable in historical context, between faith and science.

This is an area Gregory cares deeply about (he is, after all, a university professor) and the analysis is penetrating and detailed, citing a wide range of thinkers and thoughts, from Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum to Bacon’s New Atlantis. Continuing his overarching theme, Gregory blames the Reformation, of course, along with the naïve belief among some Catholics, such as Erasmus, that more individual focus on scriptural interpretation would lead to moral transformation among those leading flawed lives.

For other reasons, as well, such as the desire for comity among academics corresponding with each other, faith was more and more “downgraded to subjective opinion.”  Again, the state contributed to and concretized this process, and even explicitly confessional centers of learning adopted, in effect, univocity and “neo-Arian” doctrines, since their second-rate thinkers were unable to compete with the flood of top-quality Enlightenment thought, and the early modern papacy was no use at all in this competition.

So, today, secularism utterly dominates universities, and, if questioned, a false supersessionist narrative is offered to explain why.

Viewing responses to this book, most come from Protestant evangelicals, who dislike it because it blames their forebears, though they try to conceal that ground for their dislike, and fail. Most interestingly to me, Gregory seems to have some kind of relationship with the liberal public intellectual Mark Lilla (who I had thought is Jewish, since he is very knowledgeable about Judaism, but apparently he is an apostate Catholic).

It is interesting to me because there is no obvious reason for the two to cite each other, yet Gregory’s book repeatedly cites Lilla, and Lilla cites, or attacks, Gregory in his book The Shipwrecked Mind. I agree with Lilla—the correct way to view Gregory’s work is as “a shadow-puppet play on the wall of some Vatican cave.”

Lilla means that negatively, but I mean it positively. What Gregory is laying is groundwork for a revival, not a return, and a shadow-puppet play is as good a way to introduce that as any. In his lengthy discussion of Gregory in his short book, Lilla accuses Gregory of advocating for a return to the “Road Not Taken”—in other words, that we should return to the crossroads, and turn north instead of south.

This is true enough, I think. But Lilla takes this to mean that Gregory would disagree with his own thought, “The lesson of Saint Augustine remains as timely as it was fifteen hundred years ago: that we are destined to pave our road as we go.”  But Gregory would say the same, since we now are where we are—just that our paving stones should be constructed based on what we have learned of road engineering from observing our past.

Gregory ends with a brief suggestion that he wants to avoid nostalgia. He sums up, “[M]edieval Christendom failed, the Reformation failed, confessionalized Europe failed, and Western modernity is failing, but each in different ways and with different consequences, and each in ways that continue to remain important in the present.”

Gregory does not recommend a way forward (he notes “I wish this book could have had a happier ending”), but it is clear enough to me how he fits into current reactionary thinking. He provides an exhaustive historical and theoretical underpinning for Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, which is, contrary to what many people seem to think, not a call for withdrawal, but a call for renewed Christian community and small-scale focus on the common good and human flourishing, both as an inherent good and to act as the scaffold for a future society-wide renewal, in a way that cannot be seen now.

After all, the very name “Benedict Option” is taken from a phrase of Alisdair MacIntyre’s, who plays a major role in this book. Dreher is much more of a popularizer than Gregory, though, and I have to admit that this book is really only suitable for those strongly interested in either history or intellectual calisthenics, or, preferably, both. Taken together, though, Dreher’s and Gregory’s thought is a very strong core for a new construction, informed by what has gone before.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Student Cafe” by Jean Beraud, painted in 1889.

The Intellectual is Dynamite Part I

The intellectual is a person coveted and revered, they are figures that are idolized by societies and their own intellectual successors. They partake in the creation and destruction of ideas.

The intellectual itself is an institution within human history; a feature with a role in structuring collective behavior and how societal forces operate. Traditional institutions like the judicial system or schools fall into this paradigm, but many establishments which appear less tangible, are also institutions. Take for example, ideas of rights which pervade Western societies or the practice of giving a wage and the ubiquitous use of currency exchange as a means of moving wealth, arguably, they are not as tangible as traditional institutions which exist as physical organizations, but they provide structure to societies, rendering their function the same as that of an institution.

Institutions therefore, can take the shape of ideas, loose collectives, or simply widespread practices. Intellectuals thus, not as individuals, but rather a collection of people that exert influence upon societies through thought, in  the form of an institution. This is what is meant by the intellectual as an institution, and forms the basis of the examination of the differing roles the institution takes.

Among institutions the intellectual is one uniquely placed, it has the role of interacting with ideas, and therefore the ability to self adjust and to create or even destroy other institutions.

Self-adjustment can be seen through the tendency for movements to arise within the institution, groups of thinkers that push forth a strong paradigm or centre themselves around a theme or problem. Think of the logical empiricists of the early 20th century who sought to eliminate metaphysics from philosophical thought or the famous French Existentialists that rejected ultimate order to the universe and rationalism. These movements dominated thought and shifted debate and the focus of questioning, even if one rejected logical empiricism or the view of an irrational universe, their entrenchment meant that they became what argument and counterargument centred around and so the institution of the intellectual became absorbed by them, both through its focus affirming and rejecting them.

Intellectual movements are therefore mechanisms for adjustment within the broader institution, they disseminate paradigms which within the institution are both adopted and refuted, with discourse and the dominant paradigm eventually seeping into society at large.

However, let us be careful not to isolate these movements to the institution of the intellectual, because it is not entirely responsible at the individual nor collective level for “creating” movements or ideas. Movements are universally responses to existing societal structures and dissatisfaction with them, most of which largely exist outside of the institution of the intellectual.

Traditionalist movements arise with a perceived breakdown in tradition, destructive movements, like post-modernism, with a perceived failure of existing structure. In this way movements are simply responses to what surrounds the intellectual or a result of the intellectual being swept up in supporting existing political movements.

But responses can compound to realize a sort of “creation” using the institution. Humanism in the early renaissance for example could be considered initially as a response to the resurgence of classical Greek literature and ideas, but that which was initialized as a response to classical ideas resulted in the creation of a distinct philosophical movement, one which saw the creation of both rationalist and empiricist paradigms, along with a greater emphasis on the idea of agency than existing institutions.

To simplify further, small reactions or the adoption, creation, or destruction of ideas by many individual intellectuals can aggregate to create something distinct and more widespread in the whole (i.e. the institution of the intellectual). Continuing the renaissance example, widespread interest in observing geometry and reading classical literature facilitated the eventual birth of linear perspective in art, and renewed interest in logic which resulted in the formation of inductive reasoning. The common pursuit by many intellectuals of these ideas which were by no means new, resulted in a few being able to create novelty and a separate movement.

Movements and the aforementioned self-adjustments of the intellectual aren’t however limited to accepted ideas, it also extends to the role of the institution itself. Group of thinkers arising or existing paradigms becoming untenable can result in how the institution interacts with that around it shifting as well, commonly through the adoption of more traditionalist or destructive tendencies.

Both roles find justification from the view that intellectuals have a role in the guidance of society, with the destructive view in particular seeing active creation and the re-shaping of society as its means of doing so. Though, this is a bit of an extreme dichotomy, as such destructive tendencies exist even within traditionalist movements.

Destructiveness is perhaps the most glorified role of the institution, its ability to push forth ideas and affect societal change, through the unraveling of what is in favour of an envisioned future state of things.

If you accept the Hegelian view that the spirit and ideology evolve through history, then ideas cannot be static. Some must spring up, others be expunged, and others briefly put to rest and brought back later. The intellectual, as an institution which is constantly engrossed with ideas, is thus a catalyst for much of this activity.

The institution is therefore entrusted with an important power, that to purge away ideas that hamper or hurt, and to push for the adoption of changing paradigms and new institutions. This is the destructive role of the intellectual, the elimination of ideas and existing institutions for the sake of a desired end, for an envisioned “better”.

This can enable the intellectual to purge ideas and misconceptions which are unsustainable and destructive in and of themselves, like Social Darwinism, but it can also result in the destruction of paradigmns which may still have merit – for example metaphysics in contemporary philosophy.

If we return to the paradigm that ideas are institutions and institutions are societal structures, then by partaking in the destruction of ideas we realize that every such act involves unraveling structure itself. Doing so of course is a necessary act, as many institutions are indeed flawed. But in this act, the intellectual is prone to lapses, where there is a tendency to destroy institutions without replacement, unplanned radicalism.

An example exists in early Soviet thought, with the attempt to move away from the family unit as the dominant method of child-rearing in favour of a communal model, resulting in policy to push mothers into the labour force and creating the beginnings of state-sponsored childcare, but it failed due to the lack of replacement institutions for the family – destruction without replacement.

Alas is the limitation of the destructive role of the intellectual, it can discredit and eliminate other institutions, but it does not always create better ones. It easily idealizes a more perfect world, but often fails to create it.

This is first arrogance and the most childlike stage of the intellectual as an institution, a belief that it fully grasps progress (or its conflation of personal desires with progress). A lack of understanding for the reason for existing institutions yet glee to unravel them.


The photo shows, “The Thinker,” by Mikhail Nesterov, painted in 1921.

Nahum The Carpenter Chapter 4

Ruth and I were now having regular dinners and discussions with Isaac. I am amazed at what has happened to our lives.

To return from over two months away and find a crippled friend manning my shop was the first shock! Then to find out what a fine job he had done was another surprise. Then Ruth and I were pleased when we started talking about Jesus to find that Isaac was maybe even more interested in the stories than we were telling them. He could not hear enough!!!  Our lives were changing.

With these changes we decided to hire Isaac as a full time employee. He was sort of like having a retired uncle around!! He would help in the shop, he would talk and teach our boys and even look after them when we wanted to go out. It was working so well I was afraid it was too good to be true.

I am going to jump ahead over one year now, much has happened during this time and maybe I can tell you about it some other time. Now I want to bring you up to date on Isaac and our boys.

As a father you always wonder what your children will do with their lives. You can teach, show, demonstrate, and lecture but the final decision is theirs.

My two boys are very different. The eldest son, Ezra, is like me he loves to work with his hands. I was so pleased one day when I saw him chatting with Isaac at the shop.

My second boy Ezekiel  is more interested in reading and listening to stories from leaders and teachers about this man Jesus.

One day Isaac asked me if he could chat with me about our boys, of course I replied, please come for dinner after work today.

Isaac began by saying he has spent a lot of time with Zeke lately and he thought we should consider sending him to a school that was geared for scholars rather than a general education. He suggested some but they were run by the Jewish brethren and perhaps with our new Christ People beliefs it may not be a good idea? We thanked him and promised to consider his suggestion.

He then started talking about Ezra and how he had been working with him at our shop whenever I was away. He told us that Ezra was a very talented boy who had retained the same work ethic and talent as his father; he then laughed and said except he works faster!!!

He suggested that in the near future I should ask Ezra to assist me so I could evaluate his progress. Isaac said he would tell me when that time was, and of course I agreed.

A few weeks later I mentioned to Isaac that a merchant in Emmaus had just placed a large order for sandals, heavy wicker baskets and leather purses and I could use some assistance, did he think I should ask Ezra, he said yes, he is ready.

That night at dinner I asked Ezra if he could stop by the shop on his way home from school tomorrow as I could use some help. He was excited when he went to bed.

I was excited all the next day too, I had no idea what to expect, but I was looking forward to seeing my son follow in my footsteps as I had done with my father.

When he arrived from school, I sensed that he was excited and nervous, I too was trying to maintain my composure as I too was wondering how my son would do at his first day on the job???

We were both very relieved once he started! I said to Ezra, look, I know this is your first time working with me so I will make it easy for you, you can start by cutting those leather strips the same as the sample. He said Dad, if it is ok with you, I would rather assemble those sandals you have lined up there ready to be sewn! I said ok if you are able to do that.

Once he started I was shocked and amazed and so proud, all at once! Isaac had done a wonderful job of training him! His fingers were very nimble, but strong, his instincts as to the progression of the assembly were far ahead of his young years. In no time he had the first sandal assembled! I inspected it and thought this is better workmanship than mine!

He continued for the next three hours and I was so proud of him, I could hardly wait to tell his mother, his brother and Isaac, who would all be at home when we arrived.

We enjoyed a very happy evening, and Zeke  topped it off with his comments! He is so like his mother, able to chat with everyone, confident  and I understand is becoming a very good public speaker, even taking part in some of the Christ Peoples services. He has a good sense of humour too.

He said, Dad, I don’t want to offend you, and I am so glad that  Ezzie enjoys working with you, but I want you to know that I will never, ever be working with you and that smelly leather you work with! We enjoyed a laugh and I told him not to worry, that my own brother chose to work with numbers rather than join my dad and me in the shop. I also told him that I knew he would make us proud one day too.

We went to bed as a happy family.

I mentioned earlier about our boys changing so fast in one year. It is such a blessing to his mother and me to see our two sons growing into responsible young men. Although very different in character and abilities, they both seem to have that warm loving spirit that we were learning about from the Christ People. Loving your neighbour was one of the most important teachings that we were really working on in our own lives, and the boys seemed to want to be the same kind of people. Very rewarding for the parents.

Last weekend we celebrated Ezra’s eighteenth birthday. It was very nice to have Aunt Zilpah and Uncle Joshua and two cousins join us along with many of the boy’s friends.

We are so proud of our boys as they become men! When Ezra completed his lower schooling we decided it would be a good idea if he went one more year and studied accounting and Nezikin , which deals with civil and criminal law. This proved to be a very smart move as Ezra and our business benefited from this knowledge. When your books are in good shape you do not have to worry about the tax collectors. We have had no problem with them.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel is continuing with his studies with the Christ People leaders. These Christian men are business men and leaders in their communities. They are well educated and intelligent. They are also from different countries. One thing I am really proud of Ezekiel for is that he learning four different languages: Aramaic, Latin, Italian and Greek. Not sure how?  But he finds it very easy to learn languages. Our boys are making Ruth and me very proud parents. Thanks be to God!

It has been almost twenty years since that man Jesus was crucified then rose from the dead then forty days later left earth to go back to heaven to be with his Father.

During those twenty years his word or gospel as it is called has spread across our country as his disciples preach in homes in what people are calling Churches. Some of his disciples are even going to other countries to preach his gospel.

Last night Ezekiel came home and seemed very serious and in deep thought? We did not say anything to him, but later he asked if he could speak to both of us.

He said he was being pulled by something inside him (was this that Holy Spirit at work??) to go on a trip with one of Jesus disciples. We asked him to continue.

He said he was torn at leaving his family for a long time and going to a strange land, but a man by the name of Paul was going to Greece, Corinth, actually to start up new Churches and he was looking for helpers.  I have been learning Greek from a man called Aleksandre so I would be able to help Paul with not only with preaching and teaching but with the language too.

We hugged our son in a three-person embrace and with tears in our eyes we said we would be the proudest parents in all of Jerusalem if you were to go on this trip. We will miss you, but we love you and we want you to do that which makes you happy. We also believe that because you have this inner feeling pulling at you that it is God asking you to go and spread the word. We said we would invite his aunt and uncle and some friends and have a little going away party for him on Saturday.

On Saturday our two boys rose early and went for a ride on Ezra’s two horses he had recently purchased. He is boarding them at a friend’s farm not far from the shop. When they returned Ruth had prepared a wonderful breakfast for all of us. We enjoyed this meal so much, and it would be the last time we ate breakfast together for some time.

That evening twenty four people enjoyed some great food and wine and gave Ezekiel their blessings and best wishes for a safe and successful trip. Ezra had made Zeke two new pair of sandals and a leather bag for his belongings. His aunt and uncle brought him some of their best wine for him to take with him. Many people gave him shekels to help pay his way it was a wonderful evening. We were so proud of Zeke when he stood to thank everybody and ended by saying a few words about Jesus and how he would be sharing these same words in Corinth. Typical of Zeke, he ended by saying a few words in Greek, nobody understood, but everybody laughed and enjoyed it.

It was the perfect type of occasion to say good bye to a loved son as he left for a distant country to spread the word of Jesus Christ.



The photo shows, “And He Wept Over It,” by Enrique Simonet, painted in 1892.

Friedrich Hayek On The Individual and Social Controls

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is an attempt to justify the counterintuitive assertion that it’s preferable, in the name of democracy and individual freedom, to live in a society with unconscious rather than conscious social controls.

But one starts to question the logical consistency of this thesis when Hayek writes that while “competition…dispenses with the need for ‘conscious social controls’…it admits of others which sometimes may be very considerable.”

It seems paradoxical, therefore, that Hayek believed one kind of control generates greater individual freedom than another; or, that individualism is more democratic than collectivism. Critically for Hayek, individualism and collectivism are two mutually opposing philosophies, the former based on market competition to decide ends, and the latter using planning.

When Hayek speaks of individual freedom he intends it only in the negative sense, and “democracy” merely as “a utilitarian device,” through which “individual freedom” can be achieved. Thus, one may ask: To what extent can the ideas of individual freedom and democracy be reconciled with necessary unconscious controls in a competitive and individualist social order?

Perhaps the primary justification for why individual freedom and democracy require an individualist system is that, for Hayek, freedom comes from the ability to realise moral ends. But in a collectivist system, the realisation of moral ends ceases to be possible and all that remains is the pursuit of power.

Hayek claims that to believe that freedom can be achieved by a collectivist system is “the confusion of freedom with power carried to the extreme.”

This confusion is generated from the way in which collectivist systems are “destructive of all morals because they undermine … the sense of and the respect for truth.” Consequently, the planners, instead of liberating everyone, in fact, work to destroy all possibility of freedom by destroying truth through their monopoly on power.

Hayek uses the “racial doctrine of the NAZIs” almost as a parable to demonstrate this point, that within the collectivist system the lack of consistency demonstrates the absence of an absolute truth in the moral hierarchy imposed by the collective.

Moreover, the consequence of conscious social controls, is violence, against both the individual and the democratic community. The duality of this violence becomes clear through the allegory of the “rather plain girl” and the “weakly boy.” Hayek uses these two archetypal figures to demonstrate that discrimination and ultimately violence are the inevitable results of social planning in a collectivist system of morality.

These figures who, in an individualist social order could make economic sacrifices to achieve their ambitions, no longer have that option in a society built on conscious social controls. Instead the state assigns them roles based on social needs.

But should they dissent from the decision of the planners, then there is no longer any economic mechanism to discourage them – only force and violence remain. What becomes established, then, is a precedent that no one can defy the social aims of society, which means that they cannot even be challenged. So, within the structure of such logic only the unconscious social controls of the market can be compatible with individual freedom and democracy.

But such arguments only demonstrate the incompatibility between Hayek’s principles and conscious social control. Importantly, what remains unaddressed is the conflict between Hayek’s assertion that the individual should be “the ultimate judge of his own ends” and that “in no state that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing.”

Superficially, this is an insurmountable paradox, whereby planning is both rational and self-destructively irrational. But perhaps the solution lies not in the rational but in “the spontaneous forces of our society.” For Hayek, the ends of society cannot be determined by “frustrated specialists,” using purely rational means; or, as he says, “the happiness of million cannot be measured on a single scale of less and more.”

Only by letting individuals pursue their ambitions, within “appropriate legal systems,” can individual freedom be achieved. This is not because “man is egoistic,” but rather because “the limits of our … imagination” mean that no planner, however learned, can have a complete understanding of people’s needs. Thus, only through an individual and spontaneous process is it possible to achieve freedom.

But despite Hayek’s arguments that spontaneity can provide the key, there remains an admission that “the great majority are rarely capable of thinking independently…and they will be equally content if born…into one set of beliefs or another.”

If the social order makes no difference to the freedom to think, and therefore the ability to act independently and spontaneously, then it would seem unimportant whether the control is conscious or unconscious.

If most people will just conform, then the whole idea of beneficial spontaneity is thrown into disrepute. Hayek makes the argument that this is inconsequential because it doesn’t give a minority the right to absolute power.

However if one accepts that the majority don’t have free thought, then in reality they will inevitably be controlled, not by government, but by private entities, via propaganda, or advertising. The difference is that the market system provides “competing agencies,” who prevent a monopoly on moral authority, and which would inevitably destroy truth which underpins freedom.

Ultimately one realises that Hayek isn’t the caricature he is sometimes painted as being. His argument is not that individuals should be free at the expense of everything else, at the expense of all planning, at the mercy of the market system.

Instead what one realises is that the resolution to the apparent conflict between individual freedom, democracy and unconscious social controls is through the understanding that an individualist and competitive social order both offer the opportunity, but not the guarantee, of independently and freely realising moral ends. Such ends are achieved by aspiring to a spontaneous process and by defending the supreme value of truth.


The photo shows, “Storks,” by Józef Chełmoński, painted in 1900.