This is a book that everyone must read. It is brief, to the point – and utterly frightening, for it lays out the end-game of environmentalism, which will affect us all, if we blindly keep empowering it, as we are now so gleefully doing.
People often wonder how Hitler was allowed to come to power and carry out his plan? Just look at the way you vote, the way you think about humans and this planet, why you want to go green, what you demand from politicians you elect when it comes to the environment.
If you are honest about the answers that you arrive at, you will understand how evil becomes institutionalized and therefore massively murderous. Hitler famously said that he had planted the seed and no one could now predict how and when it would grow back again.
Environmentalism is that Hitlerian seed, sprouted and flourishing, and which is now so eagerly being nurtured to maturity by people who naively believe that they are doing the right thing. And once the process of evil is locked into place, its mechanisms always follow through to their bitter end. Such is the dire warning of this timely book.
The author, Drieu Godefridi, a Belgian philosopher, writes in the grand tradition of Émile Zola’s open letter, J’Accuse!Like Zola, he has shoved before our complaisance a defiant open-letter to humanity, in which he warns against the death-cult that is environmentalism, whose adherents now inhabit the highest political, social and cultural offices and positions, and who are widely regarded as the vanguards of morality. Huge money fuels environmentalism, because it is a source of profit and therefore an industry. Thus, celebrities tout it, experts hector us with its “facts,” politicians tax us over it and legalize it – and it is now a towering Moloch, to which all must bend knee, and into whose maw we must toss our humanity.
But this is totalitarianism in the true sense of the word, not in the muddled way that this term is commonly tossed about in popular parlance. Ecologism (or environmentalism, as is more usual in English) seeks to take total control of all aspects of human life, even to the extent of determining how many people may actually live on this planet.
Such totalizing means that human life itself can no longer be possible outside the parameters established and policed by environmentalism. Thus, the various curtailments of human liberty that we now agree as acceptable – hate speech laws, rights legislation, indigenization, the green initiative, fewer births and declining populations – these are all slow entrenchments of totalitarianism, where humanity is purely defined by the logic of environmentalism. But notice that this creed is always clothed in the appearance of morality, as being the “right” thing to do. And people for the most part love such clothing, because there yet remains a deep hunger for morality, despite avowed atheism. As such, environmentalism is the new religion whose tenets Goidefridi thoroughly explores.
The English translation of the book, recently published, bears a more sinister title, The Green Reich. The question in the original has now been transformed into a cogent warning, wherein the future is hyper-Hitlerian, in which all of humanity will be held in the same contempt as the Jews in Hitlerian ideology. And Godefridi makes it very clear that the grim program of the environmentalists is far more comprehensive and thorough than anything Hitler could imagine. But the aim is similar; only the labels have shifted – to return purity to nature, to the planet, through the destruction of verminous humanity.
Two common presuppositions that undergird all aspects of environmentalism are that the planet is over-populated, and therefore, there is overconsumption of resources. This results in harmful waste, especially CO2.
These Neo-Malthusian assumptions then proceed to fashion “solutions,” which must be implanted, in order to combat the glut of humanity. Thus, the population of the planet must first be reduced. This will greatly lessen the consumption of natural resources, which will eliminate C02. Therefore, very few humans, and perhaps none, should live on this planet, in order for earth to continue to live on into the future. Nature now is far more important than humanity, because humanity is seen as inherently unnatural, entirely alien to the planet. In effect, mankind is a terrible disease, from which earth needs to be cured.
Stark choices always construct the most powerful narratives, because they demand totalizing solutions. Thus, the deeply ingrained Christian habit of the Western world, of trying to be moral in action and thought, is weaponized against humanity, by making morality an efficient tool to achieve the goals of environmentalism. Humanity has gravely sinned against the planet and now must sacrifice itself in order to give an afterlife to mother earth. Here is the devastating consequence of Western Godlessness – sublimating redemption into self-annihilation. Thus, humanicide is the cardinal virtue of environmentalism. Since humanity is the greatest threat to the planet, humanity itself must find ways to limit its own potential to do harm. And the best limitation is self-elimination.
The book opens with a rather
chilling dialogue, set in a stark future, between a father and son, after the “Great
Stop” (i.e., the world, as we know it, has been stopped). It is a zero-carbon dystopia,
where humanity proudly wears the badge of “Accursed Parasite,” and therefore the
human population is slowly but surely being wound down. A nation of sixty-million
now has 24 million – and counting.
Each human is allowed monthly CO2 rations, which means there is no travel, you must eat what is allowed, and live in prescribed accommodations. There are no schools or labor of any kind – what would be the point, since there is no world to build, let alone a future generation to prepare to inhabit it. Rather, the world is only there to be unbuilt. And the earth is worshipped as the goddess, Gaia, the all-wise mother, in whose praise the impieties of historical “Terracide” are remembered as piety, from a time when humanity was barbaric and given to robbing the earth of its wealth. Such is the new “holy” wisdom. Each human properly belongs to the “Official Altruistic Death Program” that encourages people to voluntarily “humusate” themselves (that is, made into humus, which is so very useful to Gaia). When the last human is thus composted, the planet finally will be able to recover from the destructive human presence and rejuvenate itself. Gaia utterly cleansed of humanity is the highest virtue.
The points in this dialogue are based on actual studies put out by environmentalist “scientists;” none of it is fantasy; only the conceit of the dialogue is imagined. In effect, environmentalism is an anti-human death-cult. To that end, The Green Reichmakes some very disturbing connections, which should really make people question the kinds of politics that they are advocating when they hand power over to ideologues who say they want to “save the planet.”
Godefridi points out that the environmentalists’ only talking point is the vilification of CO2. Few people (voters) understand what is at stake here. Humanity is carbon, as is all of life – the very act of breathing is the constant emission of CO2. All life needs carbon; earth is dead without it. So, phrases like “carbon-neutral,” “decarbonization” and “carbon-free” become code-words for a human-neutral, dehumanized, human-free planet.
Once these code-phrases become
part of everyday thinking, humanicide itself becomes that much easier to implement,
because people will actually want to have a future that will have zero CO2 emissions
– that is, a future without human beings.
The first stage of this program involves the end to all fossil fuels, the burning of which is held to be the greatest crime, or catastrophe. Here “local” takes on a drastic meaning, for you will only be able to travel as far as your own two feet can take you, the combustion engine having been outlawed. Thus, no cars, ships, planes or trains. And once herded into state-designated locales, humans will be that much easier to cull. Do you see how much more efficient this is over Hitler’s ghettoization of the Jews? For example, there are some environmentalists who object to relief aid for famine-stricken areas – because they see famine as a boon to the life of the planet. The more humans that can be wiped out, the better.
A localized humanity will also have to eat differently, because animals raised for food emit far too much CO2. This means that entire industries and livelihoods will be dismantled and eliminated, and a vague sort of veganism will be mandated. Food will serve no purpose, because life will no longer have intrinsic worth, which means that it will become harder and harder to justify human life as a good in itself.
Next, given the elimination of entire
food groups, human health will undergo a drastic shift for the worse, as nutrition
and medicine will become pointless – the end-game being depopulation. Keeping a
human alive for years on end will serve no purpose whatsoever, especially since
said human needs and sheds CO2 constantly. But the dystopia is not over just
As already stated, the fundamental premise of environmentalism is its anti-human agenda. Thus, the direst disaster that human beings bring upon this planet is to give birth to more human beings. Babies are the greatest enemies of environmentalists, as these little, new humans produce too much CO2, and besides are guarantors of the CO2 cycle grinding on well into the future. Therefore, births must be reduced, if not eliminated, where child-bearing will be a moral and legal crime. Ultimately, environmentalism is a purified form of antinatalism, purified because human life is seen as harmful in its very essence, not simply because of its actions, or its outcomes. It is no longer about too many humans – the very fact that human life itself exists is bad – because humanity is a parasite upon the earth.
Godefridi describes the environmentalist ethic as “physisist,” where the being of the planet is more valuable than human beings. This down-grading of humanity as the least desirable type of life-form means that nature is the preferred value which supersedes any and all value that humans have given to themselves. It is now the job of environmentalist “thinkers” to brainwash humans into disavowing their own value. The planet cannot be saved with humans on it.
Such self-loathing is delivered for consumption via the education-media-culture conglomerate, where “norm criticism” (that pusillanimous mental exercise that sees every form of Western thinking to be inherently evil and fit only for eradication) is the ideology de rigueur. Thus, a habit of self-loathing is now the proper way to “think,” which makes environmentalist propaganda a breeze to disseminate. Hatred now is the most valuable cultural currency.
There are also various offshoots of antinatalism that derive their moral justification from environmentalism, such as, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and the Church of Euthanasia, both of which, as is obvious, work to rid the planet of humans, though Godefridi does not get into these. Such movements may seem laughable and loony – but notice that they are offered no real opposition. People simply accept the lie that there should not be to many people living on this planet. And it really is an elaborate lie.
No one questions this assumption, let alone seeks to destroy it. No one in power disputes it – because such politicians are put into office by voters who have already accepted the Malthusian presuppositions of environmentalism. So, who will truly have the last laugh?
It would have given Godefridi’s argument fullness if he had spent some time examining the deep connections that environmentalism has with antinatalism. However, his book is more of a philosophical essay rather than a history of those ideas that are now preparing us for mass extinction.
And, as such, Godefridi has written a stirring and urgent call to action for all humanity. We need to abandon the differences that always play so prominent a role in how we manage this world. Instead, we need to unite and confront the true enemy at the gates – the death-cult that is far too quickly gathering momentum and adding devout and powerful believers into its folds. If we do not come together and defeat this pernicious ideology, we may not survive the looming Holocaust that environmentalism is now preparing for us. This is Godefridi’s urgent message.
Indeed, environmentalism has had great successes. It has convinced the majority of the public that what it claims is scientific truth. It has convinced governments to implement anti-carbon policies, which are anti-human policies. It has convinced people not to have children. It has convinced people to panic whenever the environment is mentioned (eco-anxiety) – high emotions are the best way to bring about quick change. It has convinced people to work against their own humanity, not only their own interests.
Only time will now tell how willingly people will allow themselves to be humusated, for humanity has largely accepted the Great Myth that it is the source of all problems that are said to face the planet – because it is the “Accursed Parasite.”
Perhaps it is for this reason that Godefridi chose a more ominous title for the English version of his book, wherein the “logic” of Hitlerism concerning Jews is now extended to include all of humanity. In the emerging Green Reich, we are all indeed Jews. And for us, who constitute the Accursed Parasite, there is only the Final Solution, the ultimate Holocaust, so that the noble planet may at last be purified of its most pernicious disease. It would seem that most humans have now been conditioned to agree, because they accept everything that environmentalism preaches as the gospel-truth. Therefore, most have already decided that people really do need to disappear.
All hail the Green Reich!
The photo shows, “Doomsday Abstraction,” by Zdzislaw Beksinski.
Rather than trying to quell the rancor, the
resentment and all the old hatreds, the leadership of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) chose
instead, in 2004, to revive the culture war and foment social unrest. The
lamentable message repeated ad nauseam by the official media made it
clear that since Spaniards were unable to overcome the past, the Transition
and the spirit of reconciliation
were only cowardice. This meant that the Spanish
Civil War could not be discussed outside the presuppositions of those who
regard themselves as being on the side of the good.
These suppositions are that the Right
remained Francoist, if not outright fascist; that the Law of Amnesty
of 1977 (the foundational act of the new democracy) was nothing other than a
convenient way to protect the Francoists (despite the fact that this law was
passed in the Legislature by a vote of 296 in favor, 2 opposed and 18
abstentions – in other words, with the support of the entire political class,
including the PSOE and the Communist
Party of Spain (PCE), with the exception of a handful of
Liberal-Conservatives and Francoists.
The purpose of this law was to eliminate punishment for the actions of
anti-Francoist terrorists, such as, PCE(r)-GRAPO
All these suppositions are nothing more than
a tissue of false-assumptions, lies, and radically erroneous premises – all
meant to foster a veritable fiction, with no connection to reality.
On December 26, 2007, PSOE got Parliament to
pass a “Historical
Memory Law,” which originated in a proposal introduced by the Communist
Unida). It rightly recognized and expanded the rights of those who suffered
persecution or violence during the Civil War and during the dictatorship.
But at the same time, it promoted a Manichean vision of history. Strangely, it
was adopted because of the indifference, and consent for the most part, of the
political class of the EU – even though this law undermines the most basic
right of freedom of expression.
One of the fundamental ideas of the
Historical Memory Law is that Spanish democracy is a heritage of the Second Republic.
This a highly questionable point of view, given the fact that the process of
Transition was conducted in accordance with the mechanisms provided by the Franco-regime
and was managed by a King, who was appointed by the generalissimo, and by his
prime minister, a former General Secretary of the Movimiento – as
well as the nearly unanimous consent of the Francoist political class. According
to the subjective reasoning of this law, the Second Republic (the foundational
myth of Spanish democracy, as per the Socialist Left and the extremists) –
should have been a nearly perfect regime in which all the Leftist parties would
act beyond reproach.
This law also offers a questionable amalgam
of military uprising, the Civil War, and the dictatorship of Franco, even
though all three are distinct facts, with their own relevant interpretations
and varying judgments. In effect, this law exalts the victims and the
murderers, the innocent and the guilty because they all belonged to the Popular Front
and because they are of the Left. Thus, this law confuses those who died
fighting in the war with the victims of the repression. Further, this law
promotes and justifies any and all effort that seeks to demonstrate that Franco
planned and systematically carried out a bloody repression during and after the
Civil War – all the while implying that the government of the Republic, and the
parties that supported it, had no repressive projects of their own. Finally,
this law recognizes and legitimizes the desire of many people to be able to
locate the bodies of their family members – but it also implicitly refuses this
right to those who were with the Nationalists, under the doubtful pretext that
such people had plenty of time to locate their dead ones during the Francoist
We may recall the “Garzón
Affair,” or the “Graves of Francoism,” which particularly exacerbated
tensions in 2006, given that the repression during the Civil War was equally
ferocious and widespread in both the Republican and the Nationalist camps.
Judge Baltasar Garzón
(friend of the socialists) claimed to undertake a sort of general inquisition,
curiously reminiscent of the Causa
General (General Cause), carried out by Franco’s Public Ministry,
between 1940 and 1943, and which the Democratic Constitution of 1978 formally
Spain is still a nation of laws, with many
men of the law who did not appreciate this behavior of the Chekists. The result was an
endless judicial battle, which was finally decided by the political will of the
Socialist government, on October 25 of this year (by way of a royal ordinance).
The Basilica, in effect, is a religious place, whose inviolability is
guaranteed by an international treaty signed between Spain and the Holy See in
1979. The Benedictines, who look after the monument, are not directly dependent
on the Vatican, but on the authority of their abbot and the superior of their
order, who is the abbot of Solesmes Abby.
But the improvised and sloppy drafting of
this royal ordinance, adopted by the Sánchez government, was the source of
other complications. No doubt given the notoriety of the name, Franco (a
military man, a statesman and a polemical dictator), the national and
international press omitted to mention that the application to the letter of this
ordinance will also require the immediate exhumation of 19 Benedictine monks
likewise interred in the Valley of the Fallen, along with 172 other persons who
died after the end of the Civil War. As well, we do not know the fate of the
body of José
Antonio Primo de Rivera, imprisoned for three months before the uprising,
but who was still condemned
to death by a “People’s Court” for participating in the uprising. And we do
not know what will happen to the thousands of bodies, from both sides, buried
in the crypt, which are the object of so much controversy.
This judicial imbroglio was finally resolved
by an authoritarian political measure, and by the use of the forces of law and
order, just like totalitarian dictators and banana republics.
The study of the evolution of the concept of
reconciliation in Spain, from 1939 to our own time, does merit a thesis. The
irony is that the government of the socialist Sánchez defends to this day the
exhumation of Franco, in the name of “justice and reconciliation,” and in a
spirit that, after all, is not unlike that of the Caudillo
(Franco) who expressed it in a decree of August 23, 1957, by which he
established the Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, at
least if we put in parentheses the references pertaining to Christianity… “The
Great Cross that presides over and inspires the monument, also gives it a
profoundly Christian character… Thus, the sacred obligation of honoring our
heroes and our martyrs must also carry with it the feeling of forgiveness,
imposed by the Gospel message… It must be the monument of all the dead in
battle, over whose sacrifice triumph the peaceful arms of the Cross.”
To this, on May 23, 1958, Alonso Vega, the
Minister of the Interior, in a directive to civil governors, added that “this
is to give a place of burial to all those were sacrificed for God and for
Spain, with no distinction of the two sides that fought each other, like the
spirit of pardon that the creation of this monument has now imposed.”
But there is this substantial difference –
through the magic of the inevitable words of political propaganda, the good and
the evil have changed sides. And it is precisely this moral hemiplegia which
the Founding Fathers of the Transition and of Spanish democracy rejected in its
A few year ago, Ian Gibson, an Irish
“historian,” with strong socialist convictions, declared that he was in favor
of placing a bomb in the Valle de los Caídos and destroying the monument.
Such European fanatics, whose concepts of justice and reconciliation are
certainly worthy of the Afghan Taliban who destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan,
are unfortunately not rare. They would certainly make us despair for humanity,
were it not for strong personalities, in their own circles, who keep them in
their place. One of the players of the Transition, the socialist Felipe Gonzáles,
declared in 1985, when he was Prime Minister: “We must accept our history…I am
personally able to face the history of Spain… Franco… is in it… Never would I
get the idea of toppling one statue of Franco. Never! I think it’s stupid going
about pulling down statues of Franco… Franco now belongs to the History of
Spain. We cannot erase History… I have always thought that if anyone believes
that it is meritorious to knock Franco from his horse, then he should have done
that when the man was alive” (Juan Luis Cebrian, “Interview
with Felipe González,” El Pais, Madrid, November 17, 1985).
This is to say that a socialist government
deciding to move the body of a Catholic, monarchist, conservative, anti-Marxist
and anti-Communist dictator may perhaps be explained, but it cannot be
understood. As we know, peace around the graves of revolutionaries and
dictators is extremely rare. Unless I am mistaken, to this day, there are only
two or three great exceptions (admirable for their serenity and their respect
for the dead), which refute this immutable rule: In Russia, the mausoleum of Lenin
in Red Square, and the Kremlin Wall
Necropolis, where Stalin is buried; and in France, the tomb
of Napoleon I in the Invalides.
But behind this desire to exhume the ashes of
Franco and to officially condemn his actions and his regime, there hides an
important question, which is very thorny and very embarrassing for the powers
that be – namely, the interpretation of the origins of the Civil War, which
only highlights the considerable responsibility of the PSOE. Therefore, let us
recall some well-established facts.
Both on the Right and the Left, the
proclamation of the Spanish Republic, in 1931, was greeted with hope. But
disillusionment quickly set in. In bringing about democracy and “progress,”
Spain fell into disorder and anarchy. In October 1934, the PSOE, whose
leadership had been entirely Bolshevized since 1933, deliberately triggered a
general strike in all of Spain, which the police managed to contain, with the
exception of Catalonia and especially the Asturias. In February 1936, the
fragile victory of the Popular Front put an end to the chaos. In June 1936, in a
speech to the Legislature (which was immediately declared to be a “catastrophe”
by opponents), José
Maria Gil Robles, leading light of the moderate Right, tallied in four
months 353 attacks, 269 political murders, and the destruction of 160 churches.
According to Communist historiography,
popularized by the Komintern,
which is now regarded as canonical, or at least “politically correct,” this
terrible tragedy was the direct result of a military coup d’état against
a perfectly democratic and progressive regime. Then the army, backed by a
handful of fascists, rose against the people who were defenseless, but who
resisted courageously and drove back the rebels. Finally, it is said, Franco
could not have won had it not been for the help of Germany and fascist Italy.
this one single fact will suffice to refute, or at least lend nuance to, the
premise of the military uprising against democracy: The great intellectuals of
the time, the Founding Fathers of the Republic, Ortega y Gasset, Marañon and
Ayala, and let us not forget Unamuno –
they all unreservedly voted for the National side, and against the Communist,
Socialist-Marxist and anarchist extremism of the Popular Front.
the numerous myths that could be mentioned here, for lack of space, I shall make
note of only two, which were recently deconstructed. First, the victory of the
Popular Front in the elections of February 1936, and the reasons and conditions
for the assassination of José
question of whether the elections of February 1936 were regular or irregular,
legitimate or illegitimate, legal or illegal, democratic or anti-democratic
never ceases to foment debate. But in 2017, a crucial piece was added as
evidence. It is the work of two historians at King Juan Carlos University,
Fraude y violencía en las elecciones del Frente popular (1936: Fraud
and Violence in the Elections of the Popular Front) by Roberto Villa García
and Manuel Álvarez Tardío.
After a long and careful study, these two
researchers have shown, in a manner both rigorous and incontestable, that the
frauds, falsifications, manipulations and violence of the Frente Popular
(the Popular Front) were of a considerable magnitude. In the aftermath of the
voting, the Frente Popular claimed 240 seats (out of 473), but
deliberately stole 50 from the right-wing opposition. Without this plundering –
a veritable parliamentary coup d’état – it could never have governed
alone. The institutions of the Republic were deliberately violated; and it is
perfectly right to question the legitimacy of the government of the Spanish
The assassination of Calvo Sotelo, which was
the prelude to the Civil war, is in itself another good illustration of the
reality of facts. José
Calvo Sotelo, at 43 years of age, was one of the most eminent figures in
the Spanish conservative right. He was a member of the monarchist party (the Renovación
Española), contributor to the intellectual revue, Accíon Española,
and a former minister of the economy and finance. A courageous and eloquent
parliamentarian, he attracted all the hate of the Popular Front. His speeches
had a profound impact on public opinion, so much so that Santiago Cesares
Quiroga, head of government and minister of defense, did not hesitate to
openly threaten him in the full sitting of the Legislature on June 16, 1936.
The response of the future victim is now
legendary: “Mr. Cesares Quiroga, I have broad shoulders. You are a man quick to
challenge and threaten… I take full note of your warning… I will answer you as Saint-Dominique de Silos
did to the King of Castille, ‘Lord, all you can do is take my life and nothing
more.’ Better to die with honor than to live without dignity.”
On June 23, 1936, Calvo Sotelo was again
threatened in the columns of the Madrid newspaper, El Socialista. Then, in the
evening of July 12, the Lieutenant of the Assault Guard, José
del Castillo, instructor of the militias of the Young Socialists, was assassinated, in
reprisal for the murders of José Luis Llaguno, a Carlist student and Andrés
Saenz de Heredia, who was the cousin of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. The
Assault Guard was a special police force that was highly politicized. At their
barracks in Pontejos, the comrades of Lieutenant del Castillo shouted for
revenge. These were men, for the most part, who were also close confidantes of
the government. Chief among them were Major Ricardo Burillo Stholle,
Lieutenant Maximo Moreno, and Captain of the Civil Guard, Fenando Condès.
The last two had already actively participated in the attempted socialist
uprising against the Republic in October of 1934.
On July 13, 1936, around two o’clock in the
morning, vehicle No. 17 of the Assault Guards left the barracks at Pontejos. Sitting
inside it were eight Assault Guards, and four hired men of the Socialist Party,
under the command of Captain Fernando Condès. They were all in civilian
A few minutes later, a second commando unit
rolled out into the night whose job it was to eliminate the other great leader
of the right, Gil-Robles,
who was head of CEDA (a
coalition of the conservative-right, liberals and Christian-democrats).
Luckily, he was in Biarritz at the time, and so, miraculously, he escaped
Vehicle No. 17 went on its way towards
Vélasquez Street, where the house of Calvo Sotelo was located. It stopped in
front of number 89. Captain Condès and several of his men got out. They summoned
the night watchman to open the door to the building, and he did so. The Guards
went up the stairs, rang at the door of the Monarchist Deputy and demanded
entry, under the pretext of a search. Awakened by the noise, Calvo Sotelo
opened the door.
Quickly the Guards rushed into the apartment
and cut the telephone. Captain Condès asked the politician to come with him to
Directorate. Calvo Sotelo was wary. A deputy could not be arrested, unless
caught red-handed actually committing a crime. It would be necessary to call
the Directorate General of Security, but the telephone did not work. His wife
tried to go out to get help. The Guards stopped her. The resistance of the
leader of the National Bloc was mollified by the assurances given on the
Captain’s honor. Calvo Sotelo got dressed, then kissed his children in their
beds and his wife to whom he promised that he would telephone as soon as
possible, “unless these gentlemen are taking me away to put four bullets into
He got into the bus. He sat down on the third
seat, flanked by two Assault Guards. Behind him stood Luís Cuenca Estevas,
a known bodyguard of the Socialist leader, Indalecio Prieto.
Captain Condès took a seat behind the driver. The others went and sat at the
back. The vehicle headed off and went only as far as about 200 meters, when at
the top of the intersection of Ayala and Vélasquez streets, Luis Cuenca took
out a pistol, pointed it at the back of Calvo Sotelo’s neck and fired twice,
killing him instantly. (According to other sources, the killer was Maximo
Moreno, the Lieutenant of the Assault Guard). The body of the victim collapsed
between the seats.
Unperturbed, the driver went down the road.
At the crossroads of Vélasquez and Alcalá streets, a truck full of Assault
Guards entered the flow of traffic. But for vehicle No. 17, the way was open.
With their murderous mission accomplished, and having returned to the barracks
at Pontejos, the assassins reported to their leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Sanchez
Plaza. Downstairs, Guard Tomas Pérez removed bloodstains from inside the
The wife of Calvo Sotelo had not sat idle.
She immediately got in touch with her family and her loved ones. To all of
their demands, the Directorate General of Security and the Minister of the
Interior invariably replied: “Nothing has happened… There is nothing at any
On the morning of July 13, the identification
of a body dumped at the Eastern Cemetery
roused disbelief and outrage. While the Socialist, Indalecio Prieto, demanded
that arms be distributed to all “workers” organizations, funeral arrangements
were made for the following day to be held before an enormous crowd.
The judicial investigation was hurriedly
buried. The Civil War put a stop to any remaining pretense of legality.
On July 25, 1936, at 12:45 PM, in broad
daylight, a dozen members of the militia of the Popular Front, entered the
buildings of the Ministry
of the Interior, led by a man in civilian clothing. Inside the office of
the judge charged with investigating the case, they seized by force all the
records and files pertaining to the assassination, and took everything away. Thus
disappeared all documents relating to the inquiry, including the scientific
evidence of the medical examiners, and the reports of the interrogation of the
Most of those involved with the murder were
rewarded after the uprising. For a good number of historians, the elimination
of Calvo Sotelo is nothing more than revenge for the assassination of José del
Castillo. But this explanation, partial and inadequate, has now been thoroughly
questioned (in 2018) by the former Secretary General of
the PSOE of Galicia, namely, Francisco
Vázquez Vázquez, the Deputy, Senator and Mayor of A Coruña (see, “Memoria
histórica de Calvo Sotelo,” ABC, April 9, 2018). Indeed, the shock
produced in public opinion by the news of the elimination of a leader of the
political opposition is completely incommensurate with any emotions stirred up
by the murder of a Lieutenant-Instructor of the Assault Guard.
Vázquez, a well-known and respected
politician, provided the original report – never before published because it
had been lost – of a declaration made before a judge by one of who was directly
involved with the assassination. This is the statement of Blas
Estebarán Llorente, the driver of the ambulance-van that was responsible
for transporting the body to the Eastern Cemetery. We learn in this crucial
testimony that the militias of the Socialist Party, then under the direction of
all the principal leaders of the movement, had planned the assassinations of
Calvo Sotelo, José Maria Gil Robles,
and the monarchist, Antonio
Goicoechea at least three months earlier. Also implicated in the plot were Jésus
the Communist leader and future Minister of Education during the Civil War, and
a certain Antonio López. Then, Blas
Estebarán went on to state that, as ordered by the Security Directorate, he met
the vehicle at the top of Manuel Becerra Place, and that he followed it, before
parking and taking charge of the corpse, which he took to the Eastern Cemetery.
The assassination of Calvo
Sotelo became the detonator of the national insurrection of July 18, 1936.
Conspirators had already been at work well before this terrible political
crime, and the uprising would likely have taken place regardless of this
assassination. But the shock of this event made a decisive contribution towards
smoothing out the difficulties and dissipating the doubts of the conspirators.
It accelerated the preparations and imposed a definite day and hour. It
considerably increased popular sympathy for, and participation in, the plans of
the military. Because of this crime, hatched and covered up by the State, it is
clear that all the adversaries of the Popular Front felt themselves in danger
of being killed. As Gil Robles said in Parliament, “Half of Spain will not
agree to being killed.”
One of the major observers of
the time, Julián
Zugazagoitia, a minister of the Popular Front, told one of his visitors,
“This attack is war.”
We cannot repeat this enough –
it is not the military uprising of July 1936 that is origin of the destruction
of democracy, as the leaders of the PSOE nowadays claim. On the contrary, it
was because democratic legality was destroyed by the Popular Front that the
uprising began. In 1936, no one, neither Left nor Right, believed in liberal
democracy as it exists today. The revolutionary myth believed by the entire
Left is that of an armed struggle. The anarchists and the Communist Party did
not believe in democracy. The vast majority of socialists and most notably
their leader, the very prominent, Largo
Caballero (the “Spanish Lenin), who advocated the dictatorship of the
proletariat and rapprochement with the Communists, also did not believe in
From this, we can conclude that the army of 1936, like Spanish society itself, was very divided, while both sides (the Left and the Right) enjoyed powerful popular support. If the legend fabricated by Spanish and Soviet propagandists of the Frente Popular is indeed correct, then there would have been no civil war because the army, entirely unified, would have risen up and the Nationals (not “nationalists” as they are always and erroneously called in France) would have had victory within 48 hours. And if the people all had been on one side, then the Frente Popular and its allies would have easily won. But it was not so.
Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.
This article was translated from French by N. Dass.
The photo shows a portrait of José Calvo Sotelo at the Bank of Spain.
Few Americans know much about Francisco Franco, leader of the winning side in the Spanish Civil War and subsequently dictator of Spain. Yet from 1936 until 1975, he was a famous world figure. Now he is forgotten—but not by all. Franco is, and has been for decades, a cause célèbre among the global Left, seen as the devil incarnate for his successful war against Communist domination of Spain.
To successfully delay, or worse, block, any Left attempt to establish their permanent rule, thereby revealing that history lacks a progressive direction, is the unforgivable sin. Naturally, therefore, my own impression of Franco was generally favorable. But after reading up on him, my impression of him has changed. Now it is positively glowing.
It is very difficult to grasp the controversial figures of the past century. By “controversial,” I mean right-wing, since no prominent left-wing figure is ever deemed, in the common imagination formed by the left-wing dominance of academia and media, to be “controversial.” Instead, such people are “bold” or “courageous.”
The only way to get at the truth about a right-wing figure is to absorb a great many facts about him. It doesn’t matter much if the facts are slanted, or are disputed, or even if lies are told, as they always are about any right-wing figure. Reading enough detail allows the truth to come into focus, which mostly means ferreting out where the Left is lying or where one’s impression has been formed by propaganda or half-truths.
Even though facts matter most, the first thing to do when reading a book about any right-wing figure, or any event or happening important to the Left, is to check the political angle of the author, to know the likely slant. Somewhat surprisingly, most recent popular English-language general histories of the Spanish Civil War are only modestly tilted Left.
The best-known is that by Hugh Thomas (recently deceased and a fantastic writer, mostly on Spain’s earlier history), which I’ve read; Antony Beevor, specialist in popularized histories of twentieth-century war, also wrote one, which I have skimmed. Several others exist, and voluminous Spanish-language literature, as well, about which I know essentially nothing other than as cited in English-language texts.
Reading biographies of Franco, rather than histories of the Civil War, pulls back the lens to see Spain across the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, not just in the years between 1936 and 1939. Any history revolving around Franco in that period is necessarily both a history of Spain and the history of Left-Right conflict.
This is useful because my purpose is not just to understand Franco, although that’s interesting enough, but what Franco and his times say for our times. While my initial intention was just to read one biography, it quickly became clear that more detail would allow more clarity. I deemed this amount of effort important because I think the Spanish experience in the twentieth century has a lot to say to us.
Therefore, I selected three biographies. The first was Franco: A Personal and Political Biography, published in 2014, by Stanley Payne, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. Payne has spent his entire long career writing many books on this era of Spain’s history, and he is also apparently regarded as one of the, if not the, leading experts on the typology of European fascism. Payne’s treatment of Franco is straight up the middle, neither pro nor con, and betrays neither a Left nor Right bias—although, to be sure, a straightforward portrait contradicts the Left narrative, and thus can be seen as effectively tilted Right, whatever the author’s actual intentions.
The second was Spanish historian Enrique Moradiellos’s 2018 Franco: Anatomy of a Dictator, a shorter treatment generally somewhat negative with respect to Franco.
The third, Franco: A Biography, was by Paul Preston, a professor at the London School of Economics, who like Payne is an expert in twentieth-century Spain. Unlike Payne, or Moradiellos, he is an avowed political partisan, of the Left, and his 1993 biography of Franco is vituperative, but it was also the first major English-language study of Franco, and is regarded as a landmark achievement offering enormous detail, even if it is superseded in some ways by later scholarship.
Preston also published, in 2012, the dubiously named, The Spanish Holocaust, analyzing through a hard-Left lens the killings of the Civil War, which I have read in part and to which I will also refer.
In addition, I have consulted a variety of other books, including Julius Ruiz’s recent work on the Red Terror in Madrid, and repeatedly viewed the five-hour 1983 series The Spanish Civil War, produced in the United Kingdom and narrated by Frank Finlay, available on YouTube, which while it has a clear left-wing bias, offers interviews with many actual participants in the war.
Unlike my usual technique, which is to review individual books and use them as springboards for thought, I am trying something new. I am writing a three-part evaluation of twentieth-century Spain, through a political lens, in which I intend to sequentially, but separately, focus on three different time periods.
First, the run-up to the Civil War. Second, the war itself, mainly with respect to its political, not military, aspects, and its immediate aftermath. Third, Franco’s nearly forty years as dictator, and the years directly after.
Using multiple books from multiple political angles will highlight areas of contradiction or dispute, and allow tighter focus on them. True, I have not read any actually pro-Franco books—I would, but, as Payne notes, there are no such English-language books, though he mentions several in Spanish.
The American (and English) Right has always been very reticent about any endorsement of Franco. Part of this is the result of ignorance combined with the successful decades-long propaganda campaign of the Left. If you’re ill-informed, it’s easy to lump Franco in with Hitler, or if you’re feeling charitable, Mussolini, and who wants to associate himself with them?
Part of it is the inculcated taste for being a beautiful loser, on sharp display for some reason among modern English conservatives, not only Peter Hitchens in his book The Abolition of Britain but also Roger Scruton in How To Be A Conservative. But a bigger part, I think, is distaste for the savagery of civil wars, combined with the feeling that Christians should not kill their enemies, except perhaps in open battle in a just war.
On the surface, this seeming pacifism appears to be a standard thread of Christian thought. But examined more closely, it is actually a new claim, since the contested dividing line has always been if and under what circumstances killing in self-defense is permitted. Whether the killing occurs in the heat of battle is a mere happenstance, now incorrectly elevated by some on the Right to the core matter, probably as a backdoor way of limiting killing by the state. The effect, though, is to repudiate killing in self-defense outside of battle, even by the authorities, ignoring the admonition of Saint Paul, that the ruler “beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
Competently illustrating this weak-kneed and incoherent line of thought among the modern Right, Peter Hitchens wrote a recent piece in First Things about Franco. Hitchens was, in fact, also reviewing Moradellios’s book, and his review exquisitely demonstrates this intellectual confusion and theological incoherence.
He goes on at great length about the evils of the Republicans and how their victory would have been disastrous for Spain. But then he goes on at greater length telling us that Christians cannot look to Franco, because he committed “crimes,” none of which are specified in the review (or, for that matter, in the book being reviewed), probably because to specify them would make them seem not very crime-like.
We must therefore reject Franco, Hitchens tells us, for an unspecified alternative that was most definitely not on offer in 1936, and is probably not going to be on offer if, in the future, we are faced with similar circumstances.
This is foolishness. (It is not helped by Hitchens’s self-focus and his repeated attempts to establish his own personal intellectual superiority, sniffing, for example, that Franco watched television and “had no personal library,” though if Hitchens had read Payne, he would know that was because the Republicans destroyed it in 1936). And Hitchens whines that Franco “hardly ever said or wrote anything interesting in his life,” which is false (and if true would be irrelevant), though in part explained by Franco’s oft-repeated dictum that “One is a slave to what one says but the owner of one’s silence.”
Hitchens squirms a bit, though, when he (at least being intellectually honest) quotes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s ringing endorsement of Franco. “I saw that Franco had made a heroic and colossal attempt to save his country from disintegration. With this understanding there also came amazement: there had been destruction all around, but with firm tactics Franco had managed to have Spain sidestep the Second World War without involving itself, and for twenty, thirty, thirty-five years, had kept Spain Christian against all history’s laws of decline! But then in the thirty-seventh year of his rule he died, dying to a chorus of nasty jeers from the European socialists, radicals, and liberals.”
Hitchens, for no stated reason, seems to think that Moradiellos’s book proves Solzhenitsyn wrong, when the exact opposite is the case. Hitchens even ascribes Solzhenitsyn’s praise to “infatuation on the rebound,” whatever that means, though the quote is from the late 1970s (from the recently released autobiography, Between Two Millstones), long after Solzhenitsyn’s experiences in the Gulag.
Probably realizing how weak his argument is, Hitchens then switches gears without acknowledging it, dropping the “crimes” line and claiming that since Franco’s work was all undone rapidly after his death, Franco was bad. Which is even more intellectually sieve-like.
The lack of mental rigor in this line of thought can be seen if we switch the focus from Franco to any one of scores of Christian heroes of the past. Once you leave Saint Francis of Assisi behind, any Christian military hero plucked at random from the pages of history did far worse things to his enemies, and often to his friends, than Franco.
Try Charlemagne. Or Saint Louis IX. Or Richard II Lionheart. Or El Cid. Or Don Juan of Austria. All wars fought to decide ultimate questions are unpleasant and involve acts that endanger the souls of men. It is merely the proximity of Franco to us in time, combined with the lack of steel that has affected many Christians for decades now, that makes Hitchens shrink from endorsing Franco and his deeds, all his deeds.
In two hundred years if, God willing, the Left and its Enlightenment principles are nothing but a faded memory and a cautionary tale, Hitchens’s complaints will seem utterly bizarre, like a belief that the Amazons were real. Would I care to stand in Franco’s shoes before the judgment seat of Christ? Not particularly. But I am far from certain that it would be an uncomfortable position.
In astronomy, there is the concept of “standard candles.” These are stars of a known luminosity, whose distance can be accurately calculated, and against which other celestial objects can then be measured. I think of events that regularly recur in histories as standard candles: happenings about which certain facts are not in dispute, but which different authors approach differently, either by emphasizing or omitting certain facts.
By examining each author’s variations, we can measure him against the standard candles, determining, to some degree, whether his history is objective, or a polemic, in which latter case its reliability becomes suspect.
For many Americans, the thought of historical Spain conjures up images of ships carrying gold across the ocean, or for the literary and somewhat confused, Don Quixote riding with his lance across a dusty plain. But in 1892, Spain was a country with no gold and no knights, though plenty of farmers. Franco was born in that year into a naval family, when the Spanish military, and particularly the navy, had also fallen far from its former glory (in part the result of recent defeat by America in the Spanish-American War).
Not a promising physical specimen, he enrolled as an infantry cadet at fourteen. He asked to be posted to Spanish Morocco, the only place Spain had any fighting military, and went there at nineteen, quickly establishing himself as a courageous, unflappable leader of men, as well as a disciplinarian and martinet.
Franco asked for the most dangerous assignments (of the forty-two officers assigned to the “shock” troops in 1912, only seven were alive by 1915), and his mostly Muslim soldiers were in superstitious awe of his luck. His luck wasn’t perfect—he was gut shot by a machine gun, and only survived because the bullet happened to miss all his organs, a most unlikely event. But even that contributed to Franco’s reputation, and to his own later belief in his providential mission.
All this brought much attention from the prominent, including the King, Alfonso XIII (Spain was a parliamentary monarchy at the time), and rapid promotion. Although Spain was politically in turmoil during these years, Franco (like most officers in the Spanish military) was strictly non-political. He married in 1923 (and unlike most men of power, was unfailingly faithful to his wife his entire life). Continuing his service in Morocco, he was promoted to general in 1926, at thirty-three the youngest general in Europe—though by European standards, he had little modern war experience.
He never commanded more than a brigade, and experienced only relatively primitive warfare with relatively primitive weapons, since the Spanish military was never well-equipped. After being promoted, he “retired” from combat, becoming director of Spain’s main military academy, until 1931.
It was toward the end of this period that politics became impossible for Franco to ignore. In 1930, the Spanish left-wing parties all managed to ally under the Pact of San Sebastián, collectively adopting the label “Republican” to denote their left-wing goals, a nomenclature that stuck, and agreeing to overthrow the monarchy by any means necessary.
This is the origin of the term Republican as denoting one side in the Civil War; it means both revolutionary leftist and necessarily exclusionary of any non-left parties, rather than being derived from “republican,” meaning devoted to representative government. (For this reason, Payne uses the terms “Republican” and “revolutionary” interchangeably in his book.) Even among this group of Leftists, there was a range of opinion (ignoring the outlier viewpoint of the Catalan separatists, who were also involved).
The key principle, as with all such groupings, was that there could be no enemies to the Left, and no compromise with the Right; total power to the Left and the disenfranchisement of the Right was the permanent goal.
After the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, which lasted from 1923 to 1930, was succeeded by the even softer dictatorship of Dámaso Berenguer, the Republicans quickly initiated their first political violence, a small military revolt, the “Jaca revolt.” The revolt was put down quickly, but not before the Republican rebels had killed several other soldiers who refused to join them. (One of the Republicans involved, though not in the killing, was Franco’s brother Ramón, a political radical who fled Spain as a result, but who returned later to fight for Franco, and died in the war).
As Payne notes, “These totally unprovoked killings opened the steadily accelerating cycle of leftist violence in Spain that would eventually bring civil war.” That was the goal, naturally—one theme of Payne is that the Left wanted civil war, figuring they would win and that would cement their power permanently, since, as Moradiellos points out, Spain was not only sharply divided, but without any group having notably more power than the others, such that the result was political deadlock without some deus ex machina.
The Jaca revolt is revealing, and usable as a standard candle, because as the earliest such event, it begins to show the pattern of ideological distortion found in different histories. At least in the mainstream, English-language works I have read, there is little dispute as to facts.
But what you find is that the left-leaning authors, Preston in particular, solve the problem of inconvenient facts by simply omitting them. So, here, Preston never mentions that the rebels killed anyone; they were unjustly executed as “mutineers,” and their subsequent adulation as Republican martyrs is portrayed as entirely reasonable.
In 1931, the monarchy ended and the Second Republic was declared. This wasn’t the result of any democratic process, but the result of the total collapse of support for the monarchy from its traditional supporters at the same time the Republicans had prepared to seize power, combined with the King’s unwillingness to risk civil war. In practice, the first government of the Second Republic was merely the self-named “revolutionary committee” of the Republicans.
But despite these unpromising beginnings, and the open participation of many anti-democratic, revolutionary elements, the Second Republic managed, at the beginning, to be actually republican, more liberal than leftist, though there were plenty of leftist actions taken, most prominently open violence against the Church and extensive anti-religious legal measures, along with open persecution of the religious.
Preston ignores all this, referring instead to the “hysteria” (one of his favorite words) of anyone opposed to leftist hegemony. Still, as Payne notes, the first Republican government, under the “left Republican” Prime Minister Manuel Azaña, “held that the Republic must be a completely leftist regime under which no conservative party or coalition could be accepted as a legitimate government, even in the remote possibility that one were democratically elected. . . . Such an attitude made the development of a genuinely liberal democratic regime almost impossible.”
To anyone paying attention, this is merely the usual tactic of the Left—the ratchet must only go one way. It can go Left, but however far Left it goes, it can never go any less Left, no matter how many democratic votes the Right gets. If the Right threatens to disturb the ratchet, violence is the acceptable solution to keep Left dominance.
Until recently, this was a purely Continental phenomenon; its most recent manifestations have shown up in France (with the National Rally, what was the Front National) and in Sweden (with the Sweden Democrats). Since 2017, it has shown up in the United States, as a reaction to Donald Trump daring to actually try to govern in a conservative fashion, something no Republican had tried to do since Calvin Coolidge.
The same beginning low-level violence led by the Left against the Right is already in evidence here, as well, unfortunately (as well as occasional higher-level political violence, such as James Hodgkinson’s attempted assassination of the Republican Congressional leadership, which has been memory-holed by the Left using its control of the media—one difference between then and now, as I discuss below, is that the Left now controls far more of the levers of power).
Political violence was the new norm in 1930s Spain. Payne estimates that nearly 2,500 lives were lost to political violence from 1931 until the beginning of the Civil War in 1936. Most of those people were killed by the Left, but not all, and both sides tended to dehumanize the other side, though again the Left led here—as Payne notes, early on one of the favorite Republican words was “extermination.”
Here again, we see this type of language rising on the mainstream American Left—last month Democratic freshman Representative Ilhan Omar, the bigoted new flower child of American progressives, publicly referred to Donald Trump as “not human,” and prominent Democrat Paul Begala publicly called Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner “cockroaches” and “a different kind of species,” in both cases without any apology or consequences.
One might object, if one were a Leftist offended by the truth, that there is also right-wing political violence in America today, adducing, say, Dylann Roof killing black church parishioners in 2015, or, stretching abroad, last month’s killing of mosque worshippers in New Zealand. You have to draw a pretty big circle to claim those killers are “right-wing,” but it’s not totally implausible. They certainly weren’t left-wing, in any reasonable read of their confused politics.
Still, the “political” angle, and tie to concrete politics, of Hodgkinson was far more evident. But the key difference, that makes right-wing high-profile attacks different, is that Hodgkinson was part of the ecosystem of the Left, and the right-wing killers were not part of the ecosystem of the Right.
Such killers being part of the Left ecosystem is a necessary consequence of the mandatory Left principle that there are no enemies to the Left; you cannot plausibly maintain both that principle and that you are not responsible for fringe actions, and Hodgkinson was merely following the very many open calls for violence after Trump’s election by progressive leaders, none of whom even thought once about apologizing or trying to dial back their violent rhetoric afterwards. (In the Spanish context there was even less ambiguity—all Left violence was an acknowledged part of the Left program; the question was only whether any particular act was prudent).
On today’s American Right, which aggressively polices its borders (probably too aggressively), there is no legitimate claim that the Right in general is responsible for fringe actions. Which is not to say that, with the Internet and the persecution of conservatives, that such fringe actions will not occur more often, as sociopaths seek meaning and transcendence through violence.
Naturally, the Leftist media inverts this reality, without any claim to logic or reason, in order to attack the Right and wholly excuse the Left. In the fevered imaginations of the Left, or so they claim, murderous white supremacists, for example, are key and important components of the American Right.
But the true reality is inevitable and inescapable. Just as inescapable is leftist propaganda and lies, for exaggerating right-wing violence and demanding a response from the Right is both a successful way to ask a “have you stopped beating your wife?” question and a way to avoid talking about the evils of the Left. They offer not reasoning or argument, but shrieks that the Right must abase itself and surrender for no apparent reason other than that it is desired by the Left. The correct response is simply to refuse to engage in such discussions, and instead demand the Left clean its own stables.
However, this entire analysis is somewhat beside the point, because it
ignores that high-profile political violence, whether of Hodgkinson or Roof, is
not the core of political violence today. Such violence may be, as it became in
Spain, the main event. But today the core of political violence is rather the
daily violence visited exclusively today by the American Left on the Right, on
the streets, in restaurants, and in schools. And that core is what will, and
should, cause a justified reaction on the Right, at which point violence will
likely become part of the ecosystem of both Left and Right, though the fault
will lie primarily with the Left, as always.
Anyway, back in Spain and eighty years ago, the Azaña government also immediately implemented another inexorable feature of leftist rule, the legal prosecution of their political opponents—in this case, those who served under the monarchy during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and those involved in prosecuting the “Jaca martyrs.”
The euphemism for this was the “responsibilities program.” (Yet again, we see this occurring in the United States, with the witch hunt against Trump and his associates, and when the Democrats regain executive power, we will doubtless see an enormous explosion of such prosecutions, as well as a growing number of state-level attacks, both of which grew lushly under Obama).
Some military men fell before these attacks, but Franco, although he was prominent, was well known to never engage in politics, so he was not attacked. Still, he was demoted and ostracized by the new government, which (correctly) saw that his basic orientation was conservative.
Franco took no part whatsoever, however, in the failed 1932 revolt led by General José Sanjurjo, subsequent to which the Republicans arrested thousands of conservatives and closed hundreds of newspapers, and continued their policy of blocking conservative political meetings and generally obstructing Right political action, though Sanjurjo himself escaped, to play a part in the Civil War. (Such activity has its modern parallel in the shutting down of conservative speeches across the nation, by violence with government complicity, and the massive and expanding coordinated deplatforming of conservatives from the public utilities that are the main method of communication in America today).
Seen, therefore, as generally reliable, Franco was appointed commander of the strategic Balearic Islands, where, in his leisure time, he began to become more politicized, though not visibly. The main targets of his ire were a perceived conspiracy among Freemasons, big business, and finance capital, which, if you leave out the Freemasons, makes him not dissimilar to Tucker Carlson. (Anti-Semitism was not part of this; Franco was not, then or later, in the least anti-Semitic as an ideological position, and probably no more personally anti-Semitic than, say, Franklin Roosevelt).
A new center-right party, the CEDA, gained political ground. In the 1933 elections, in a trial run for 1936, violence was used to suppress the CEDA vote, and when the CEDA got the most votes and was the largest party in parliament, the Republicans attempted to simply cancel the results. While the president, Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, a Leftist somewhat more moderate than most Republicans, though an active participant in the Pact of San Sebastián, declined to comply with his fellow Leftists’ demands (there was always a spectrum on the Spanish Left), he ensured that the CEDA was barred from any participation in the government and denied any share of political power. (Preston delicately refers to this as the Left resisting “electoral disunity”).
By 1934, though, this became untenable, so some minor ministerial offices were granted the CEDA. The response of the harder left side of the Republicans, led by the Socialists, was to launch a widespread revolt (often today euphemistically called a “general strike,” but called at the time by the Socialists a “revolutionary strike,” with the avowed aim of “overthrowing the government and taking power”), passively supported by the rest of the Republican parties.
Only in the Asturias mining regions did this succeed, for a time, with the Republican revolutionaries killing around a hundred of their local political opponents out of hand, burning churches and stealing millions from local banks.
The revolting miners, as Hugh Thomas points out, were very well paid; “[t]heir action was politically, rather than economically, inspired.” The Asturias rebellion was put down by Franco, using Moroccan troops; Payne says “the army units also committed atrocities, and there may have been as many as a hundred summary executions, though only one victim was ever identified, despite the vociferous leftist propaganda campaign that followed for months and years.”
It is worth spending some more time on the Asturias rebellion, for a few reasons. For one, it was the first time Franco came to be seen as an enemy of the Left, and his successful defeat of the Left meant that he became a permanent target of the Left’s hatred.
The Asturias rebellion is also an example of the propaganda machine of the Left, which for nearly a century has used this as the supposed inception of the Civil War, conveniently ignoring not only that it was a Left revolt to overthrow an already leftist government, for the sin of allowing a center-right party to participate in the government at all, and that violence had been a stock tactic of the Spanish Left, by 1934, for several years.
Finally, and related to the second reason, the Asturias rebellion is a good way to gauge how susceptible an author is, himself, to propaganda; it is a standard candle.
Payne, as I say, offers specifics—maybe a hundred dead leftists in summary executions—but he offers a footnote, “Within only a few months leftist spokesmen were permitted to present charges of atrocities before a military tribunal. The resulting inquiry produced concrete evidence of only one killing, though probably there were more. The most extensive study on this point is [a 2006 Spanish-language monograph].”
Hugh Thomas gives the figure as about 200 killed “in the repression,” though he offers no support for his figure. Overtly Left mouthpieces commonly talk of “thousands” killed. Preston offers no figures, he merely complains for pages about “savagery,” “brutality,” “howling for vengeance” and such like, while making racist statements about Franco’s Moroccan troops.
This pattern continues in almost all high-profile events in the Civil War—all of which are high profile because they were specifically chosen by the Left at the time as the most susceptible to use for their global propaganda campaign.
This was all run-up to the fatal elections of February, 1936, in which the CEDA contested against a “Popular Front” of rigidly leftist parties. The election was called by the President, Alcalá-Zamora, specifically to prevent the CEDA leader, José María Gil-Robles, from becoming Prime Minister.
The result was probably an extremely narrow victory for the Popular Front, marred by extensive pre-election violence (almost exclusively by the Left, as Payne notes) and leftist mobs in numerous areas “intefer[ing] with either the balloting or the registration of votes, augmenting the leftist tally or invalidating rightist pluralities or majorities.”
Rather than wait for the normal processes for handover of power, the Left immediately seized power wherever it had the ability, releasing their compatriots from jail, and illegally and forcibly “unilaterally register[ing] its own victory at the polls.”
The Left’s behavior with respect to the CEDA is similar to the electoral behavior of the American Left today. It is not quite as dramatic here, because in the American structure the tools are lacking to actually deny power to a party that wins seats.
The American system is more cut-and-dried in that way. Therefore, when conservatives threaten to gain any actual power, other actions are instead taken. The first line of defense is to allow neutered conservatives “in the government,” like John McCain or Mitt Romney, on the condition they never, ever, attempt to actually deny any victory to the Left.
The second line of defense, against those who are not, like McCain and Romney, quislings deep in their souls, is to use the press, dominated by the Left and able to wholly determine what is considered news, to open propaganda campaigns to delegitimize conservatives who threaten to actually exercise power.
The third line of defense is legal attacks by either civil suits or the organs of the state. And the fourth line of defense, the trump card (no pun intended) is to use the courts, in particular but not limited to the Supreme Court, to simply, much as in the old Spanish Republican way, to illegally deny the exercise of power to conservatives.
This last strategy is wholly successful in only a few areas, related to claimed emancipatory autonomy (notably abortion and sexual license), because the Left does not control every aspect of the Supreme Court as it so dearly desires.
The Left’s response to not being able to completely control the Supreme Court has been, when this fourth level of tactic is needed, to drag every conservative attempt to exercise power through legal molasses, by suborning low-level federal judges into issuing ludicrous and unlawful decisions based purely on the desire to advance Left goals, and imposing nationwide injunctions mandating the desired result.
After many months or years, if the Supreme Court has time to add such a case to its docket, the lawless decision is reversed, with no consequence or sanction to the original judge (quite the contrary), but the Left goal has usually been mostly or totally accomplished.
This system is intolerable—conservatives should find a good issue and declare a refusal to adhere to such an injunction, and such lawless judges should be severely punished. But that is a discussion for some other time.
Back to February, 1936. Whether the election was truly won by the Left is unclear. Hugh Thomas thinks it was, though by a slim margin. Payne is less sure, and emphasizes that vote totals can’t tell the whole story when votes were suppressed by leftist violence and fraud.
Payne notes that “There were runoff elections in several provinces in March, but in the face of mounting violence the right withdrew, adding more seats to the leftist majority. Late in March, when the new parliamentary electoral commission convened, the leftist majority arbitrarily reassigned thirty-two seats from the right to the left, augmenting that majority further.”
Elections in conservative provinces were declared invalid; and in the re-runs, conservatives were violently prevented from running.
Payne’s conclusion is that “In a four-step process, electoral results originally almost evenly divided between left and right were rigged and manipulated over a period of three months until the Popular Front commanded a majority of two-thirds of the seats, which would soon give it the power to amend the constitution as it pleased. In the process, democratic elections ceased to exist.”
But both Payne and Thomas agree that after the initial vote, the Left manipulated the system to try to expand a dubious majority. The details of this episode are glossed over by Moradiellos, who prefers to simply claim that the Popular Front won a “slight” victory and move on, and simply ignored by Preston, who says the victory was “narrow” but resulted in “a massive triumph in terms of seats in the Cortes,” without any explanation of how that could be.
(It is about here in reading Preston’s book that one realizes that his normal tactic is to lie by omission, while burying the reader in mounds of irrelevant detail, making his account seem complete.) At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, since the Left’s goal was the permanent seizure of power, and this was the handy trigger. If it hadn’t been this, some other pretext would have been used to violently cement power and permanently, or so they thought, destroy the Right.
The Republicans immediately unleashed a nationwide assault against the Right. Payne asks, “How bad was the situation by July 1936? The frequent overt violations of the law, assaults on property, and political violence were without precedent for a modern European country not undergoing total revolution.”
These included looting, arson, massive theft, “virtual impunity for criminal action by members of Popular Front parties, manipulation and politicization of justice, . . . and a substantial growth in political violence, resulting in more than three hundred deaths.”
The military began to actively plot overthrow of the government, though Franco was not initially actively involved and hedged his bets (his calculating, and some thought cold, manner of approaching such decisions was not pleasing to his Army compatriots).
But on the night of July 12, 1936, José Calvo Sotelo, the charismatic chief Monarchist in parliament, was brazenly assassinated by the government’s Assault Guards (indirectly assisted by the Republican Minister of the Interior), in revenge for the murder of an Assault Guard prominent in anti-Right violence, José Castillo, by the Falange, the small Spanish fascist party.
The Republican government’s reaction was to arrest nobody but two hundred rightists and to continue its campaign of repression. (Preston characterizes this as “immediately beginning a thorough investigation” and then does not return to the matter).
For many or most on the Left, most prominently the Socialist leader Largo Caballero, a military revolt was desired, since they believed the Republicans could crush it and thereby permanently seize power without further pushback.
And regardless of desirability, most on the Left now believed in the “necessity” of civil war. “Thus, in the final days neither the government nor the leftist parties did anything to avoid the conflict, but, in a perverse way, welcomed military revolt, which they mistakenly thought would clear the air.” (Their mistake, actually, was not that it did not clear the air, but that the fresh air was not to their liking).
Logically enough, Payne pegs this as the point at which the generals, and Franco, realized that it was more dangerous not to revolt than to revolt, so the war was on. The generals (not yet under Franco’s leadership) launched their revolt; the government handed out weapons to the Left. And the war came.
The Civil War
All Franco biographers cover the war in detail. It lasted three years. Soon Franco was granted supreme military and political control by the other counter-revolutionary generals, in part because he had the best troops, in part because he managed to be the conduit for equipment from Mussolini, and in part because of his dominant personality and the near-universal admiration in which he was held among the military.
The Republicans held several of the major cities; the Nationalists others and the countryside, where they had broad-based support, especially among poor peasants. The Nationalists, in the areas they controlled, deliberately implemented a counter-revolution to end leftist and liberal domination; they “embraced a cultural and spiritual neotraditionalism without precedent in recent European history.”
In their political theory, following Joseph de Maistre, arch-opponent of the French Revolution, a counter-revolution was not the opposite of a revolution, which would make it Burkean, but an opposing revolution. The Spanish Civil War showed that Burkeanism has very definite limits, after all; appeals by American conservatives to him and to Russell Kirk, past a certain point in the polity, which we have not reached yet, are only of any relevance or use once the smoke clears and the bodies are buried, and serve before then only to hamstring conservatives in their reaction to those who would destroy them.
Despite their far superior organization (though the Republicans improved theirs over time), the Nationalists were inferior to the Republicans in domestic propaganda, and far inferior in international propaganda. In part this was because the people in charge on the Nationalist side were military men, both disinterested in and contemptuous of propaganda.
Their idea of propaganda was to broadcast choleric and threatening radio addresses into towns they were attacking. In part it was because the Left has always been master of propaganda, a fact on display both inside Spain, where morale was kept up by inspirational posters and mass rallies (though the Nationalists used posters too), and even more so outside of Spain, where the international Left eagerly created a distorted perception of the Nationalists and the war.
The Falange, the Spanish fascists, are rarely a significant focus of discussions about the Civil War, except in propagandistic discussions. This is because they were not notably powerful; they were merely one part of the mix of Nationalist politics, which included many military men not aligned with a party, monarchists (in two brands), and Catholics (who opposed the Falange generally, and violently opposed modernist foreign right-wing political movements, especially National Socialism).
The Falange, in any case, lost most of their independent power when Franco forcibly took over the party as the vehicle for his “National Movement,” cramming, in theory, everyone into his personal party and blurring the lines between himself and the Falange. During the war and immediately after, Franco identified himself publicly with the Falange.
He was happy to accept their support, and encourage the cult of their leader, executed early in the war by the Republicans, José Antonio Primo de Rivera (son of the dictator)—as many have pointed out, it was convenient for Franco to only have to compete with a dead man. After the war, with his typical cold calculation, Franco suppressed what power the Falangists still retained, seeing them as adding no value to his neotraditionalist Movement, and being far too interested in radical modernism.
Nobody who is serious contends that Franco was fascist in any meaningful way—that is, under any actual definition of fascism, rather than under its use as a flexible term of abuse. (Moradiellos offers a detailed analysis of the use of the term in modern Spanish scholarship.) Nomenclature can be misleading if transposed without thought into today.
To take another example, Franco regularly used the term “totalitarian” as a positive, something inconceivable to us after seeing the results of totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century.
But when Franco described the Movement as totalitarian, he meant not that it would attempt to control every aspect of life, even people’s thoughts, which is the meaning we imbibe from Communism and from works like Orwell’s 1984. Nor did he mean that politics would continuously invade and dominate all areas of life; Mussolini’s famous definition of fascism as “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Rather, he meant a system “that would dominate the public sphere but otherwise permit a limited traditional semi-pluralism.”
By way of example Franco offered fifteenth-century Catholic monarchs. Moreover, the Movement was meant explicitly to advance a flexible plan, not a program. “It will not be rigid or static, but subject, in every case, to the work of revision and improvement that reality may counsel.” Franco looked backward, not forward to ideological rightism.
The same distorted nomenclature is true of “dictator,” originally a Roman term used not as a term of opprobrium, but of description, and until the modern era, seen as simply another possible method of political organization, useful in certain circumstances but, like all political organization, subject to abuse.
Franco was a sovereign dictator—but that does not imply that his rule was arbitrary or despotic, the meaning we typically take from the modern use of the term. Franco had very definite and very simple core principles. But beyond those, he was politically flexible—not, for example, wedded to a monarchy after his death, and when he decided that was the best course, not quick to decide which monarchical line should ascend the throne (left vacant after 1931). And Spain under Franco was very much a country of the rule of law.
There is no need here to rehash the details of the war. In short, Franco gradually rolled up the Republicans, after trying and failing to quickly capture Madrid and end the war. It is fairly evident that Franco did not mind a longer war; as Moradiellos emphasizes, this enabled him to permanently repress the Left by killing his opponents and scaring the rest into final submission (shades of Sherman’s March to the Sea). Both the Axis and Stalin supplied the Nationalists and Republicans respectively, but that almost certainly did not change the end result of the war. By 1939, it was over.
Immediately upon the beginning of the Civil War, both sides began systematic executions of their political opponents in areas they controlled. Contrary to myth, this was organized on both sides, though as with all things better organized by the Nationalists.
It was not some kind of excusable spontaneous excess on the part of the Left, as they have often tried to pretend during and since, the line that Preston uniformly takes as well. Other than being factually wrong, such a claim is laughable on its face when viewed hindsight from the twenty-first century, since in, without exception, every other Left accession to power, organized mass killing of opponents in order to create the “new world” has been an absolutely essential and central part of the plan, invariably carried through if and to the extent power is gained.
As with many other Left actions and claims, from denying the evil of Lenin to the guilt of Alger Hiss to who was responsible for Katyn, they may have been plausible once, but current belief brands one as either a liar or a fool. In fact, such violence had openly been part of the Left’s plan in Spain for years.
True, on both sides the organization of killing outside of battle was mostly locally organized, not centrally organized. Payne says “It is now generally agreed that the number of executions by the [Republicans] totaled about fifty-five thousand, while those by the Nationalists were more numerous, with estimates ranging from sixty thousand to one hundred thousand or more.
The higher figures appear to be a demographic impossibility, so that the low estimate appears more likely. In the long run, the Nationalist repression became more concerted, was the more effective of the two, and claimed the most lives, particularly with the extensive round of executions after the end of the Civil War.” Preston agrees with these numbers, though his estimate is on the higher end, which suggests, at least, rough agreement across the historical spectrum.
Of course, this is comparing apples to oranges, because it ignores two critical elements. First, the Left killed fewer because since they conquered little territory, killings were mostly confined to the cities they held when the war began, and therefore could not accomplish their goal of wiping out all those on the Right, merely those unfortunate enough to be trapped with the Republicans (including a high percentage of the country’s Army officers). (And, as famously narrated by Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, soon enough the Communists turned to stamping out former allies on the Left).
Second, it ignores the certainty that the Republicans would, like all Communists coming to power, have slaughtered enormous numbers of people after the war for many years, so including post-war executions in a comparison is a distortion.
It would be far more realistic to assume that the Republicans would have executed some double-digit multiple of those the Nationalists executed; it would have been like the Jacobins in the Vendée. And, critically, unlike Left regimes, which are always focused on killing by class and status in order to achieve utopia, not the punishment of specific crimes, Franco’s repression quickly became less radical, not more radical.
As Payne notes, “Once the major actors and criminals of the Spanish revolution had been prosecuted, there was no need to repeat the process.” That would not have been true if the Republicans had won.
Thus, such killings by the Nationalists during the war had nothing in common with the ideological killings of the twentieth century, whether by Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, or many others. Rather, they were conducted under a semblance (sometimes dubious or even specious) of the rule of law, through military tribunals, directed either at those known to have committed significant crimes (as the Republicans had in every area they controlled) or, a smaller number, those who were leaders of the revolutionary opposition.
I find the latter hard to morally justify, sitting comfortably in my twenty-first-century seat of luxury and security, but in context, I do not find them hard to understand (and I understand the Republicans’ killing of political opponents as well); nor do I find the “victims” in any way blameless (although there must have been mistakes and excessive severity in many cases, as is always the case in wartime situations).
Regardless, this was not the type of class- or race-based killing common in the twentieth century, sweeping up without specific accusations and guilt men, women, and children. It was political and executive judgment on actual enemies working to destroy their countrymen, and that’s what happens in civil wars.
Preston, in 2012’s The Spanish Holocaust, addresses killings during the war. But unlike his magnum opus, his biography of Franco, this later book is a work of unhinged propaganda, designed to whitewash and excuse all Republican killing, and to magnify the horror of all Nationalist killing. Words such as “savage” and “vicious” appear with metronomic regularity, never once applied to Republicans.
The default mode is the passive voice when, infrequently, Republican killings are described, always in the context of excusing them. Preston makes truly ludicrous claims, such as that during the entire Civil War, there took place (he cannot bring himself to use the word “rape” by Republicans) “the sexual molestation of around one dozen nuns and the deaths of 296,” a low toll he attributes to the “respect for women that was built into the Republic’s reforming programme.”
Naturally, he does not mention the roughly 7,000 other clergy executed by the Republicans, except obliquely, without numbers, and to excuse them as unfortunate, but understandable, excesses by zealous heroes. On the other hand, as I say Preston uses the same numbers of dead as Payne and other unbiased scholars; his fault is in propagandistic presentation and the use of anecdotes that are mostly almost certainly lies, not statistics (in fact, Payne uses higher numbers for those executed after the war, 30,000 instead of Preston’s 20,000).
There is not much more to say about this book, but if you’re interested, you might try reading Payne’s bloodless evisceration of it in a Wall Street Journal review. “Mr. Preston, rather than presenting a fully objective historical analysis or interpretation of violence against civilians during the Spanish conflict, is recapitulating civil-war-era propaganda. . . . Rather than implementing some radical new Hitlerian or Pol Pot-like scheme, the essentially traditionalist Franco followed the policy of victors in civil wars throughout most of history: slaughtering the leaders and main activists of the other side while permitting the great bulk of the rank and file to go free.”
Franco did not care what it took to put the Republican revolution down. Such was Franco’s personality—practical, tending toward icy, in his political relations. Really, though, Franco’s personality was somewhat opaque; he kept no journal and what few personal papers he had are still mostly in the possession of his family and not public.
He was, in both personal and military matters, straightforward for the most part. He took counsel from others, but was decisive when the time came to make a decision. Most importantly, he shared two crucial characteristics with me. He fell asleep immediately upon going to bed, annoying his wife because she wanted to talk, and he hated rice pudding. Beyond that, though, it is hard to say in many cases what Franco thought.
No surprise, however, at some point Franco, at least to some extent, began to believe his own press. He did not become puffed up, much less behave badly—he was always punctilious in his personal behavior, and did not fly into rages or otherwise show lack of self-control like many dictators.
But he did become convinced that he was an instrument of Providence, always a dangerous belief. He also prided himself on some minor abilities he did not have—for example, he believed he was an expert in economics, whereas everyone knew he was not. Regardless, Franco developed a charismatic form of leadership, and was never challenged for leadership. Payne’s conclusion is that “the effort to achieve legitimacy [was] thus more praetorian or Bonapartist than Fascist.” That seems about right.
In any mention of the Civil War, another standard candle, the 1937 bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the German Condor Legion, always comes up. This is not because it was the only, or the most damaging, aerial bombing of the war, but because the Left chose it as the focus of a propaganda campaign. Aerial bombing was then highly inaccurate (my grandmother’s house in Debrecen, Hungary, during World War II, was partially destroyed as the result of American bombs missing the railway station).
Payne notes that far from the “planned terror-bombing” of leftist fever dreams, the bombing of Guernica was a routine strike on a military target (and as Payne notes, “indiscriminate attacks on cities, almost always small in scope, were in fact more commonly conducted by the Republican air force,” giving the example of the bombing of Cabra, which killed more than a hundred civilians, but of which you have never heard).
Preston, of course, ignores these facts, and accepts at face value high-end, propagandistic claims for the number of dead. The inept and mendacious Nationalist response, including the suggestion that the Republicans had burned Guernica themselves to deny it to the Nationalists (it was a largely wooden town), made things worse for the Nationalists. But it was propaganda gold for the Left, who inflated the casualty figure, Payne says, “approximately one thousand percent” (the real figure was around 200, maybe somewhat more or less, and only that high because an air-raid shelter took a direct hit).
How many Spaniards died in the war? All in, maybe 350,000 by violence, including battle deaths, executions, and civilian deaths, with maybe 200,000 or 300,000 more due to “extremely harsh economic and social conditions.”
But, as Payne says, “[I]t would be hard to exaggerate the extent of the accompanying trauma the war inflicted on Spanish society as a whole. The complete destruction of the normal polity, the ubiquity of internecine violence, and the enormous privation and suffering left many of its members shell shocked and psychologically adrift.”
This in part explains why Franco faced nearly zero domestic opposition during his lifetime—nobody wanted to go back to that. They were reminded of that by a low-level terroristic Communist insurgency in the late 1940s, which killed several hundred people, mostly in train and train station bombings (and which Preston characterizes as heroic resistance).
After The War
After the war, Franco and the Nationalists cemented their power. As Payne says, “Franco planned not merely to complete construction of a new authoritarian system but also to effect a broad cultural counterrevolution that would make another civil war impossible, and that meant severe repression of the left.”
Forceful action to that end was characteristic of the immediate post-war period, with nearly 300,000 imprisoned in 1939, though most were released in 1940. “The Francoist repression, despite its severity, was not a Stalinist-Hitlerian type of liquidation applied automatically by abstract criteria equivalent to class or ethnicity. The great majority of leftist militants were never arrested, nor even questioned.”
The death sentence was reserved for political crimes involving major violence. Still, there were many executions after the war, much along the same lines as during the war, but with more due process, and quite a few jail sentences—though unlike today in America, when multi-decade sentences for relatively minor crimes are the norm, the sentences were relatively short and soon enough even those convicted of being involved in political killings were released from jail, certainly by the late 1940s.
Preston does not talk much about postwar justice in his biography of Franco, moving quickly to World War II and contenting himself with occasional references to “savage repression,” without much more detail, which superficial treatment by omission reinforces Payne’s more detailed account.
Franco’s goal in 1939, and onward, was to not only complete the
conservative counter-revolution and create neotraditionalism on a social level,
but to economically modernize the country and make Spain relevant on the world
stage. He saw no contradiction between those two things, a failure of
prediction, though understandable through a backward-looking prism. In other
words, Franco wanted to make Spain great again, by which he meant forgetting
the entire previous 150 years.
By economic modernity, Franco meant mostly autarchy, not development relying on foreign trade or foreign investment. And by global relevancy, Franco meant an authoritarian regime with an international presence, mostly at the expense of the French in North Africa. Retrospectively, both these goals seem half-baked.
But from the perspective of the time, both autarchy and authoritarian regimes, of left or right, were the coming thing in Europe, so Franco was not swimming against the tide. In fact, as with many people across the globe, including in the United States, Franco believed firmly that, globally, “the democratic system is today on the road to collapse.” He was wrong, although perhaps his prediction was premature, not wrong.
Still, Franco claimed to be democratic. What that meant was what he, and the Spanish political scholars of the time, rejected “inorganic democracy,” consisting of pure majority rule. Instead, he wanted “organic democracy,” where voting was organized around groups (e.g., family voting; syndicalism); local institutions (including, but not limited to, the Church) had significant power (in essence, subsidiarity); and, naturally, a strong executive power, in the form of himself (as “caudillo”) or, later, a return to monarchy.
As Moradiellos cites the Spanish legal theorist Luis del Valle Pascual, it was “based on the basic social forms (corporations, families, classical municipalities) and formulated by a ‘command hierarchy’ according to a ‘fair principle of selection.’ ”
If the Nationalists had won quickly, as was widely expected, nothing would have been settled. The irony is that the Civil War sought by the Left to permanently destroy the Right ended up doing the opposite. Both because of the smashing of the Left during and after the war, and because the great mass of Spaniards never wanted to return to the dark days of the war, Franco was able to remake Spain after the power of the Left was permanently broken.
True, Spain was ruined after he died, but not in the way that would have resulted if the Nationalists had not launched their counter-revolution, by mass slaughter and establishment of a Communist utopia. Those elements of the Left, as in Greece, were destroyed, and most of their successors took a different, Gramscian tack, resulting in Spain taking the same path to decay as the rest of Western Europe.
Franco’s governmental system therefore involved an “indirect and corporatist scheme of representation.” Whatever the specifics, which changed somewhat over the decades, the regime was widely supported by most of Spanish society (although foreigners could be forgiven for not realizing that, given the ongoing global Left propaganda campaign).
Nobody wanted to go back to the war, and most people, with the usual exceptions of some urban workers and radicalized agricultural laborers (along with Catalan and Basque separatists), saw that the Republicans having won would have been very bad indeed.
The majority of the revolutionary/Republican leaders had been executed or fled the country, and the rest of the remaining Republicans kept their mouths shut (although they were not persecuted). Franco emphasized the country’s Catholic identity, and he used the Movement to keep a firm lid on all segments of Nationalist support, gradually downgrading the Falange and keeping a firm lid on the monarchists.
From 1939 to 1945, Franco tried to get as much benefit as he could from the Second World War without becoming directly involved. Spain couldn’t actually join the Axis without imploding, since it depended on British-supplied oil and was in dire economic straits.
But Franco wanted to expand Spain’s possessions in North Africa, and when Hitler and Mussolini were at the height of their power, he was only too happy to curry favor—while refusing to actually offer anything meaningful, trying to keep up his balancing act of not overly angering the Allies. Certainly, Franco resonated with some aspects of National Socialism and Fascism, but was never interested in such systems being imposed in Spain, and refused to participate in persecutions of the Jews, accepting thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing France and ignoring the protests of the Germans and the Vichy French.
The major contribution to the Axis was that thousands of volunteer Spaniards fought against the Soviet Union, in the Blue Legion. Soon enough Franco realized that Hitler had reached his apogee, and delicately sidestepped away, trying to pretend that he was never really that serious about it anyway, and don’t you know that Communism is the real enemy? Still, this is probably the least attractive period of Franco’s career, though I suppose people who allied with Stalin shouldn’t really find too much fault with Franco’s choice of wartime friends.
Thus, Franco would have gotten autarchy even if that hadn’t been an economic goal of his, because after 1945, Spain was wholly isolated, due to its association with the Axis, and due even more to the global hatred of the Left for Franco and his success against the Left. Such rage dominated the American perspective, as well as pretty much every other major country other than England (where Churchill was very open that were he Spanish, he would have been a Nationalist).
Soon enough, though, between hard diplomatic work and the aggression of Stalin, relations with the United States improved. Under Eisenhower they became positively warm. Therefore, with his usual luck, Franco managed to emerge from World War II with Spain in a reasonably good position, and without the recurrence of the Republican threat.
Still, the 1940s mostly consisted of Spain staggering along economically. Moreover, this, along with Franco’s excessively relaxed attitude, encouraged widespread corruption, always the hallmark of a system with troubles (although Franco himself did not build a fortune, nor did his family get especially rich, at least by the standards of most authoritarian regimes).
Postwar Spain very much had the rule of law. Franco never interfered in the judicial process, which was uniformly applied (even though technically supreme judicial power was vested in him). The Cortes had free discussion. Every so often there were still death sentences, such as that imposed on Julián Grimau in 1963. Grimau was a Republican police officer who had been in charge of an infamous Barcelona prison where many were executed (mostly leftists in disfavor, but some Nationalists too).
He returned to Spain (why is not clear) and was arrested and sentenced (somewhat dubiously, using an obscure statute to get around the expiration of the statute of limitations).
This incident would not be important except for what it says about the Left and its lies. “The Communist leader was painted in the international media, however, as an innocent oppositionist, a peaceful organizer, about to be executed exclusively for being a political opponent. A massive clemency campaign got under way. . . . The Spanish embassy in Paris was firebombed.”
Nonetheless, Grimau was executed, causing more howls of rage from the Left, which succeeded in imposing another short period of international ostracism. Why this matters is that it shows that any claim made by the Left, that is, any claim in mainstream currency that makes the Nationalists look bad, has to be examined not only for its tilt, but for whether it has any truth at all, or is simply a pack of lies. Since the Left is so often able to control the narrative, and never has to pay any price for lying, it is encouraged to lie.
Franco maintained political order, and dropped his demand for autarchy, not so much because he had changed his mind but because he was convinced of the need to do so by his technocratic advisors (most of them Opus Dei members, including Franco’s closest advisor for decades, Luis Carrero Blanco, assassinated by a Basque bomb in 1973).
The idea that Franco ruled “with an iron hand” is silly; he actually didn’t spend much time ruling at all, and most governing was done by his cabinet, which he carefully balanced among competing political interests and periodically reshuffled to that end. “Franco was a ‘regenerationist’ who sought to economically develop his country while restoring and maintaining a conservative cultural framework, contradictory though those objectives were.”
Political controls, whether over the press or the political activity of unions or individuals, loosened over time, which was criticized by the Right and taken as a sign of weakness by the Left. That said, the political controls were never very aggressive; Solzhenitsyn was widely criticized by the Left when he visited Spain after he was exiled by the Soviets and snickered at the Spanish Left’s claim that they suffered under Franco; he pointed out that they could buy all the foreign newspapers they wanted, move wherever they wanted, and only suffered the lightest censorship. He was not invited back.
“The last twenty-five years of the Franco regime, from 1950 to 1975, was the time of the greatest sustained economic development and general improvement in living standards in all Spanish history.” GDP rose an average of 7.8 percent per year through the 1950s.
Payne compares Spanish economic policy in the 1960s to that of China today, noting that “the two main differences are that there was greater freedom in Spain during the 1960s than there [is] in China and that the proportion of state capitalism was much less.”
But, as Payne also notes, “Modernization resulted in a profound social, cultural, and economic transformation that tended to subvert the basic institutions of Franco and his regime.” The birth rate was deliberately, and successfully, encouraged to stay high. Land reform was gradually introduced, as was universal education.
All in all, Spain was made great again, although no doubt the carping Left managed to convey a different picture to the world of the time. But as this happened, in the 1960s and 1970s, Franco became somewhat out of touch, and more out of sympathy, with the new booming, glitzy, consumerist Spain, even if that was the inevitable result, at least in that era, of the economic dynamism he had sought and achieved.
Franco died in his bed in 1975, slowly and painfully but with no complaint, with his rule never having been challenged, and having carefully arranged the succession of political power to a restored monarchy, in the person of King Juan Carlos, grandson of Alfonso XIII, deposed in 1931. What Franco wanted was a strong monarchy, an avoidance of a return to political parties, which had caused so much trouble in the early twentieth century, and continued neotraditionalism.
He got none of those things. All the things that Franco had tried to do, except to prevent a Communist takeover, were largely and swiftly overturned, many even before he died. Materialism and consumerism ruled Spain; the birth rate plummeted; even the Church, long a bulwark of Francoism, turned left, with younger priests engaging in subversive activities and even encouraging violence (a harbinger of the corruption that has now swept over the Roman church).
King Juan Carlos, although he was more liberal than Franco hoped, but probably no more liberal than Franco thought likely, ensured that the Left was not able to immediately retaliate against Franco supporters as they gained power. So for some years Francoism was mostly ignored. Some writers, including Moradiellos, contort themselves to derive meaning from this silence.
They attribute it to a tacit agreement to move on. But silence is the default for all the great leftist crimes of the twentieth century; this attempt to derive meaning is merely an expression of surprise at the Left’s inability to successfully persecute anyone associated with Franco and Francoism after the end of that political system.
More likely this silence is indifference by modern Spaniards, who refused then and still refuse today to endorse the Left’s usual campaign to silence and punish their opponents of decades before.
Political memory is the essential fuel of the leftist engine of destruction, which requires delegitimizing any regime opposed to the Left, and that, as Moradiellos complains, a third of Spaniards choose “none” as their “personal political attitude to the immediate collective past,” simply shows that, for whatever reason, Spaniards generally refuse to buy into the Left’s hysterical demands for rewriting the past and using it for oppression in the present, which is to their credit.
In recent years the silence has been broken, because the Left in Spain has been running an aggressive campaign against Francoism, since the Left never forgets, unlike the Right. A key component of these campaigns is always the elimination of any agreed-upon amnesty that was offered the Right (the Left has a permanent amnesty in all cases, whether or not the law says so).
This campaign gets occasional notice in English-language media. One element of this has been to attack the mausoleum for Civil War dead Franco erected at the Valley of the Fallen (where he is also buried, although he did not specify that wish). The claim is made that it was built by “slaves”; Peter Hitchens echoes this claim.
Payne disagrees, and as always offers specifics as opposed to the generalities of leftist propagandists. “Such accusations are exaggerated. Between 1943 and 1950 a little more than two thousand prisoners convicted by military courts were employed, but they received both modest wages, as well as fringe benefits for their families, and a steep reduction in their prison terms, ranging from two to six days of credit for each day worked. Each was a volunteer for the project, and there were rarely more than three to four hundred at any given time. They worked under the same conditions as the regular laborers, and some of them later returned to join the regular work crew after completing their sentences.” The Pyramids this was not.
And a few weeks ago the Spanish government announced that Franco’s body would be disinterred. At least they are reinterring him in a government cemetery, rather than throwing his body in the river, though wait a few decades, and maybe that will happen too.
What Does This Imply?
We have now reached the point where, inevitably, I try to derive lessons for today. As always, one should not try to shoehorn the present into the past. Much is different between 2019 America and 1936 Spain, and not just that people are a lot fatter now.
The specific political issues of the day are quite different, in part because everyone being wealthy by historical standards long ago destroyed the mass appeal of Communism and true socialism (even if it appears to be having a resurgence of sorts), and anarchism is not on any relevant menus. Such specifics are less important than the basic divide between Left and Right, however, which remains exactly the same as it was in 1936.
The atrociously low level of public discourse today also adds to confusion; it is difficult sometimes to grasp the nub of arguments with the tremendous amount of chaff flying around in the air. But beyond these, there are two differences that really matter.
First, the divisions are much more poorly demarcated in America today. In Spain, who was Right and who was Left was clearly evident to everyone. Today, who is Left is mostly evident, though somewhat vaguer than in Spain, with more spread-out power centers and leadership, as well as more fragmented issues of focus.
But there is no equivalent in America today to any part of the 1930s Spanish Right. There is no powerful, organized opposition, or any organized opposition whatsoever, to the Left. The closest thing to an opposition is the masses of “deplorables,” who are denied all power by both the Democrats and Republicans in America, the latter group existing mostly to provide a pseudo-opposition to the Left, by promising the deplorables what they want and then reneging on even trying. No equivalent exists to the monarchists, or the Falange.
There is no powerful media that advances the Right agenda; there are some outposts of conservative monologues, and some Internet stars, but they are not allowed to set the narrative, which is wholly within the grasp of the Left or its enablers, as are the universities, the schools, all big corporations, and the entertainment media. Intellectual groups of conservatives in America are ineffectual, with no actual power or influence and no path to achieve it (although some could offer intellectual heft if there were an actual Right).
Second, and a consequence of the first difference, the specific enemies of today’s American Left are less clear. Spain had Right institutions staffed by people who could be easily targeted: the Church, the Army, the right-wing press, right-wing academics.
The Left focused on winning by eliminating those people. Today’s Left could not do that; if the Left were going to conduct a campaign of violent suppression, the targets would merely be occasional individuals who form the beginnings of a threat to the absolute Left hegemony (e.g., Jordan Peterson), not Right institutions or classes of people staffing those institutions, since there are neither such institutions nor such classes of people.
True, today’s Left does not need to do that, since it has gathered all power to itself, but either way, it makes attacks such as the Left conducted in Spain mostly pointless.
These two differences imply that a civil war here, today, of the type fought in Spain is very unlikely, whatever dark mutterings about the possibility keep cropping up on both the Right and Left. Even if the Right wanted to start a violent counter-revolution, it is not even remotely clear how that could be organized, or what the practical goals would be.
And the flashpoints that actually started the Civil War, private killings sanctioned by the government, are, despite the prevalence of low-level violence by the Left, really totally absent in America today. One can predict that they’re coming, but there’s little actual evidence of that, even if the normal historical arc of the Left is to converge on the desirability of physically eliminating opposition.
Sure, there is plenty of evidence of soft totalitarianism, where the Right is actively suppressed by denying prestigious education and remunerative employment, as well as membership in the ruling class, to anyone who dares to challenge the Left. It’s very hard to organize, or justify, high-level violence as a response to that, though. So yes, someday the grasp of the Left may exceed its reach, and result in civil war, but that does not appear imminent.
Such optimism, however, if that is what it is, depends on wealth, which can paper over a lot of sins and structural problems. The Left in power inevitably destroys wealth, because it always wants to enforce equality, by taking from the haves and giving to the have nots (hence the resurgence of true socialism).
The neoliberals who are only hard Left on social matters, while maintaining some semblance of economic reality (at the same time oppressing actual workers), will likely give way to the more attractive religious beliefs of the Marxists, while even on social matters they eat their own—both processes we see beginning in the current Democratic race for President.
At root, the Leftist program always has as its ultimate aim the achievement of utopia through the accomplishment of two concrete goals—remaking of society for “equality,” and the destruction of all core structures of society and their replacement by celebration of various forms of vice, this latter process labeled “liberty.”
It appears that people will, if it’s done non-violently, tolerate the former so long as their cup of consumer goods is full. When the music stops because the money runs out, whether because of economic irrationality or some externally imposed rupture, all bets about civil war are going to be off, because, I predict, the demarcations, and the leadership of groups so demarcated, will immediately arise.
The problem is that such demarcation will likely result in civil war, unless reality defeats and discredits the Left first, which is certainly possible. If not, it will have to be defeated permanently, as Franco very nearly did. It does no good to put the Left down if they will simply rise again; it is pointless to play Whack-A-Mole.
The Left must be stripped of all power and fully discredited, and to be discredited, it must be viewed by future generations as the intellectual equivalent of a combination of Nazism and the worship of Sol Invictus. I am not sure if that is even possible, since what the Left offers is so very, very seductive.
At a minimum it would require in the present day the equivalent of denazification; or perhaps the same kind of successful forgetting of the past implemented by King Charles II after the Restoration (not the typical Left forgetting of the past, which is just biding time until their past enemies can be destroyed). But it would also require offering something attractive as an alternative to the Leftist poison dream, which Franco did not do—he offered the past, which while better, does not inspire, and cannot be returned to. History has no arrow, but it does not go backward, either. The future must be what we make it.
Thus, at this moment Franco seems irrelevant. Or we are schooled to believe he is irrelevant, because we are conditioned to believe that the inevitable end of a regime like Franco’s is, well, like Franco’s—the return of left-wing dominance, at a minimum, the end of neotraditionalism, and triumph of liquid modernity.
We are so conditioned both because that is what has happened in all instances so far, not just of the ending of regimes like Franco’s, but also of the end of Communist regimes, which were replaced by “liberal democratic” regimes friendly to the philosophies that underlay Communism, but offering more Coca-Cola. We are further so conditioned because it is in the interests of, and a core belief of, the Left that history does have an arrow, and their triumph is the way it must be.
But this is really merely a glaring example of the error that George Orwell ascribed to James Burnham, to always be predicting “the continuation of the thing that is happening.” The opposite is actually true: the modern world of so-called liberal democracy is based on a fundamental denial of reality, and therefore it cannot continue.
Franco was not wrong that “inorganic democracy” is a silly system, something long recognized but forgotten in the modern era (and leaving aside that we don’t even have that anymore, as can be seen most clearly in Europe). Past performance is not only no guarantee, but no indicator, of future results; the Enlightenment project is played out.
So let’s predict the future. One possible path is the one we’re on: where Leftist oppression wears a smile and offers maximal freedom, that is, corrupt license, to everyone except those opposed to offering maximal freedom, and allows democracy as long as votes are for more of the same. Such is “liberal democracy” today; as Ryszard Legutko says, consisting of “coercion to freedom.” I imagine that as long as the money holds out, this could go along for a long time, even though collapse is a step function and no society at this point of degeneration has ever done anything but rapidly collapse.
Which leads us to the other possible path, getting off the path we’re on, pushing through some brambles, perhaps, and setting our steps on a broad and sunny path the contours of which were set, and the road itself paved, a long time ago. Franco proves it can be done, and just because Franco’s vision was shattered on his death, doesn’t mean the next entrant in the contest to bring virtue back to the West will suffer the same fate.
Even today, there are leaders pushing in this direction. In many ways, Viktor Orbán and his extremely popular Fidesz party in Hungary, and the Law and Justice Party in Poland, are the philosophical heirs of Franco, and are highly successful, which explains the hatred and vitriol directed their way by the global Left.
As Franco said in 1961, and as I am sure Orbán would agree, “The great weakness of modern states lies in their lack of doctrinal content, in having renounced a firm concept of man, life, and history. The major error of liberalism is in its negation of any permanent category of truth—its absolute and radical relativism—an error that, in a different form, was apparent in those other European currents that made ‘action’ their only demand and the supreme norm of their conduct [i.e., Communism and National Socialism]. . . . When the juridicial order does not proceed from a system of principles, ideas, and values recognized as superior and prior to the state, it ends in an omnipotent juridicial voluntarism, whether its primary organ be the so-called majority, purely numerical and inorganically expressed, or the supreme organs of power.” Exactly so.
This implies that the Left can be permanently defeated without war. But the only way out is through. As David Gress said of conservatives of the nineteenth century, “[T]hey were pessimists because they understood on the one hand that liberalism was the destiny of the West, and on the other that this set of doctrines was unable and unwilling, by its very nature, to restore the sense of self, of continuity, of belonging, and of tranquility that they considered essential to any civilization with a pretense to last.”
But liberalism has had its day; it is no longer the destiny of the West, but a played out set of empty and destructive doctrines. Through that reality, the future looks different, and brighter. We have rarely seen the Right offering this as an alternative, instead offering pabulum and the prayers that they will be eaten last. But we do see it being offered more often: in Hungary, in Poland, in Brazil, in Russia (though in dubious forms in those latter two).
In America, too, though without the organization or leadership found in those countries. It is not clear who could lead such a movement here. Certainly, nobody in evidence now. But the maelstrom births new creatures, some demons, some angels, some in-between. The right person at the right time can both defeat the Left and offer the future. Instead of offering that we will be as gods, he will offer that we be mighty among men, and he will offer human flourishing, rather than human destruction and depravity, the gifts of the Left.
What should be the goals of that man? His first step should be administrative: to create the organization on the Right that is lacking. This will be a new thing; the Man of Destiny will not rise through the Republican primaries and kiss Mitch McConnell’s ring, before settling into his seat in the Russell Office Building. Beyond that, though, what?
Franco, for all of his virtues, had a vision that was far too narrow. For the most part, he wanted to re-create the past, which is by definition impossible, and the attempt is both self-defeating and breeds unexpected consequences. He was the man to win the war, but really, he was not the man to lead the future, even Spain’s future.
What we want, what we need, is a new system drawing on the same roots, but not an insular, autarkic, inward-looking one. Rather, one dynamic, that can renew the shrinking human race. Perhaps it will renew the dying culture of the West, by far the best the world has ever seen. Or perhaps it is too late for that, and some form of synthesis to create a successor culture is necessary, as the West rose from Rome and the barbarians.
All doors are open, or will be, soon enough, and it will be the job of the new Franco, and his acolytes, to both unlock the correct door, and to step through.
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 a poster of Franco, from the 1940s.
difficult part of my Orthodox experience to discuss with the non-Orthodox is
the place and role of the Mother of God in the Church and in my life. It is, on
the one hand, deeply theological and even essential to a right understanding of
the Orthodox faith, while, on the other hand, being intensely personal beyond
the bounds of conversation. I am convinced, as well, that the Orthodox approach
to Mary is part of the apostolic deposit, and not a later accretion.
When I was
doing graduate studies some decades back, I decided to concentrate my
historical research on the “cult of Mary” (the veneration of Mary) in the
historical Church. With that decision came a semester of intensive research,
combing through materials of every sort. And throughout all of that research
the question, “When did this begin?” was uppermost in my mind. I came to a
surprising conclusion. It began at the beginning.
The historical evidence for Mary’s veneration is so obvious that it is simply overlooked: her place in the gospel accounts. I find much of the “historical” evidence about Christ to have a similar feature. It is amusing, and annoying, to read modern historical critics of the New Testament who come away from those documents arguing that the notion of Christ’s divinity was a later development.
Somehow they manage to read the New Testament and miss the most obvious thing: the writers all believe that Jesus is divine. They fail to notice that the very existence of the “Jesus material” of the New Testament exists solely because its writers believed He was God. Every line flows from that belief.
similar manner, Mary’s place within the gospels carries a message of
veneration. Those who do not see this obvious feature of the New Testament
generally get lost in the details, reading too much into sayings such as Jesus’
“Woman what have I to do with you?” and the like.
stories of Mary hold an important place in the gospel narrative. St. Mark has
the least mention of her, with no birth narrative. St. Luke has the most
material, and St. John perhaps the most important. Biblical critics take a
“least is best” approach and will say things like, “St. Mark knows nothing of a
birth narrative,” a patently overstated claim.
For me, it
is the seemingly “gratuitous” material that points to veneration of Mary. St.
Luke’s account has the Magnificat hymn in which Mary declares, “All generations
will call me blessed.” It is a phrase that can only be compared to
God’s promise to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless
you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those
who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families
of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
encounter with her kinswoman Elizabeth (and with the child in her womb, John),
the focus is on Mary herself rather than the child in her womb: “But why is
this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed,
as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my
womb for joy” (Luke 1:43-44).
Luke, when the child Jesus is presented in the Temple, the elder Simeon
prophesies: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in
Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce
through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed”
is linked to the Cross of Christ in the piercing of her soul
I describe these stories as “gratuitous” in that they go well beyond the simple point of the Virgin Birth. Mark and John have no mention of the conception or birth of Christ (though they both include Mary in their narrative). The abundance of Marian material in Luke can only point to her veneration in the primitive Church.
She is not just the Virgin who gives birth to Christ – she is also blessed by all; she is the cause of joy to the Prophet John even in his mother’s womb; she is a unique participant in the sufferings of Christ, destined herself for a mystical sword that will pierce her very soul.
This is information that points to the unique place of Mary in the first century Christian community. How can the Church not venerate one whom John the Baptist greeted with a leap of joy when he was in the womb? How can the Christian community be rightly centered on the Crucified Christ and ignore the soul-pierced Mother?
The material in Luke isprima facie evidence of the primitive veneration of the Mother of God. That veneration never ceases in the Church, but matures over time as the Church considers the meaning and depth of Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.
obvious that many Christians would prefer to read only Mark’s gospel and ignore
the obvious implications in Luke and John.
gospel seems to me to be marked with a profound understanding of the mystery
of Mary. Of special note is his first mention of her. We meet her at the
Wedding in Cana. John provides no introduction to her character – he
presumes a prior knowledge on the part of his readers. At the Wedding, the wine
runs out. And with no explanation of a practical sort, John simply relates that
Mary tells Jesus, “They have no wine.”
profound. His disciples have seen nothing as yet. No miracles have been
performed (this Wedding will be the scene of the first miracle). And yet Mary knows who He is and what He means. She is already fully initiated into the
truth of His life and ministry.
Protestants have made much of Christ’s reply to her: “What is this between you
and me?” They have treated the statement to mean: “What business is this of
yours?” In fact, it simply asks, “What is this between you and me?” But St.
John puts the statement in a context: “For mine hour has not yet come.”
Christ says to His mother, “It’s not time. This doesn’t have to begin yet.”
the bond of the coming Cross. His life will be offered, a sword will pierce her
soul. And once He begins, nothing can stop the movement to Golgotha. Her
response is simple: “Do whatever He tells you.” It is a repetition of her
earlier, “Be it unto me according to your word.” Her complete humility and
self-emptying before God is a human reflection of the self-emptying of Christ
on the Cross. With this new “fiat,” the inexorable journey to the
of her participation in Christ does not end with historical moments – for the
sharing of those moments in the gospels are in no way merely concerned with the
historical record. They are primarily theological moments. She holds not
just a place in the history of salvation, but in its theological understanding
and existential participation as well. The gospels are written for our
salvation, and not as mere information.
And it is
this theological and existential reality that are missing from many
contemporary accounts of the Christian faith. The question is often asked, “Why
do I need to venerate Mary?”
Orthodox would not say, “You need to venerate Mary.” Rather, we say, “You need
to venerate Mary as the Theotokos” (birth-giver of God). This is the
theological title dogmatically assigned to her by the Third Ecumenical Council.
She is venerated because she is Theotokos. To venerate the Theotokos is
an inherent part of rightly believing in the Incarnation of the God-Man. To
ignore her as Theotokos is to hold a diminished and inadequate understanding of
But this is
speaking in terms of mere ideas. The Incarnation is not an idea – it is a
reality – both historical and now eternal. The Incarnation is the God/Man Jesus
Christ. And, more fully, the Incarnation is the God/Man Jesus Christ born of
the Holy Spirit and the Theotokos. This is what is asserted in the Nicene
of this statement is not an idea, but a Person, both in the case of the
God/Man, and in the case of the Theotokos. The act of believing in the
Incarnation of Christ is made manifest in the worship that is properly directed
towards Him and in the veneration that is properly directed towards the
And it is this that is so difficult to explain to the non-Orthodox. For doctrines are easily perceived by them as ideas, even factoids. In Orthodoxy, these doctrines are living realities. It is of little importance to acknowledge that someone is, in fact, my mother. It is of the utmost importance that I honor my mother (by Divine command) and love her.
We do not think doctrine. Doctrine is a description of the realities by which we live. We venerate the Theotokos because, knowing what we know, we cannot do otherwise.
“The internal counsels of the Blessed Trinity when He deigned to create man have been mercifully revealed to us in the book of Genesis: “Let us make man to our image and likeness” (1:26).
This passage, frequently cited, is not widely understood. In what way may it be said that man is in God’s image and likeness? Is this likeness to God natural or supernatural? What is the purpose of man being so made?
The questions are worth pondering because they touch
directly upon man’s origins, his nature, and his ultimate purpose.
In Question 93 of Part I of the Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas Aquinas considers “the end or term of the production of man” in nine articles. What I propose to do in this Ad Rem is, first, to give a truncated summary of all nine articles, with the help of Father Paul Glenn, whose work I have used with my own embellishments; second, I purpose to dwell in more detail on some select points Saint Thomas makes regarding the nature and purpose of the divine image in man.
Here are each of the articles as Saint Thomas posits them, with a summary of what he says under each heading:
1. Whether the image of God is in man? YES. An image is a kind of copy of its prototype. Unless the image is in every way perfect, it is not the equal of its prototype. Finite man cannot be a perfect image of the infinite God. Man is therefore an imperfect image of God.
2. Whether the image of God is to be found in irrational creatures? NO. Of earthly creatures, only man has a true likeness to God; other creatures have a trace or vestige of God rather than an image.
3. Whether the angels are more to the image of God than man is? The angels are more perfect in their intellectual nature than man is, and, therefore bear a more perfect image of God than man does. In some respects, however, man is more like to God than angels are. For man proceeds from man, as God (in the mysterious proceeding of the divine Persons) proceeds from God; whereas angels do not proceed from angels. Also, the manner of the human soul’s presence in the body has a likeness to God’s presence in the universe. But these human resemblances lacking in angels are only accidental qualities. Substantially, angels bear a more perfect image of God than man does.
4. Whether the image of God is found in every man? YES. There are three ways that man is in the image of God (which will be considered below).
5. Whether the image of God is in man according to the Trinity of Persons? YES. The divine image in man reflects God in Unity and also in Trinity. In creating man, God said (Gen. 1:26): “Let us make man to our own image and likeness.”
6. Whether the image of God is in man as regards the mind only? YES. The image of God in Trinity appears in man’s intellect and will and their interaction. In God, the Father begets the Word; the Father and the Word spirate the Holy Ghost. In man, the intellect begets the word or concept; the intellect with its word wins the recognition or love of the will. God’s image is not in the body, where there are only to be found “traces” or “vestiges” of God (just as in brute creation), by virtue of God’s being the cause of man’s body.
7. Whether the image of God is to be found in the acts of the soul? YES. The image of the Trinity is found in the acts of the soul. In a secondary way, this image is found in the faculties of the soul, and in the habits which render the faculties apt and facile in operation.
8. Whether the image of the Divine Trinity is in the soul only by comparison with God as its object? YES. The image of God is in the soul, not simply because the soul can know and love itself or other created things, but because it can know and love God. And the divine image is found in the soul because the soul turns to God, or, at any rate, has a nature that enables it to turn to God. (More on this below.)
9. Whether “likeness” is properly distinguished from “image”? YES. The image of God is discerned in the acts and faculties and habits of the soul. The likeness of God is either a quality of this image, or it is the state of the soul as spiritual, not subject to decay or dissolution.
Essential to the notion of an image is “that it is copied from something else.” Every image is a likeness, but not every likeness is an image. Saint Thomas gives the example of two eggs being like each other, but the one is not the image of the other, because it is not copied from it.
For a copy to be an image of the original, it need not be equal to it; for instance, the reflection of a man in a glass, which is an image, is not equal to the man himself. Because the only-begotten Son of God — “who is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) — is the only image that actually equals God, He is a perfect image of God, whereas each man is an imperfect image of God. Of the only-begotten Son of God, it may be said that he is the image of God simply; of man it may be said that he was made “to the image of God,” says Saint Thomas, because, “‘to’ signifies a certain approach, as of something at a distance.”
Saint Thomas follows Augustine in saying that “image” and “likeness” are not identical. Certain passages in the writings of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, of Saint John Damascene, and of Peter Lombard could lead us to interpret the word “image” to mean man’s nature as a rational, free-willed creature, and “likeness” as a closer resemblance to God by grace. This is not exactly how Saint Thomas views the question.
For him, “likeness” signifies two distinct things, one lower, the other higher. First, a likeness is a “preamble” to image inasmuch as it is “more general than image”; but, in a higher way, a likeness is a “perfection” of the image. (It is to get ahead of ourselves, but “likeness” in this higher sense as a perfection of the image admits of degrees:
Mary is more like God than the great Saints; those higher in heaven are more “God-like” than those lower; and on earth, the members of the Church Militant in a higher degree of grace and charity are more divinized or “like God” than their less perfect brethren.)
There are three ways that man is in God’s image. Saint Thomas’ explanation of this is clear and easy to understand:
“Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature. Now the intellectual nature imitates God chiefly in this, that God understands and loves Himself. Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways.
“First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men.
“Secondly, inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace.
Thirdly, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likeness of glory. Wherefore on the words, “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us” (Psalm 4:7), the gloss distinguishes a threefold image of “creation,” of “re-creation,” and of “likeness.” The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed.”
The image of God in man is not merely the image of the divine nature or the image of one or other of the divine Persons, but it is specifically the image of the Trinity. The proofs for this that Saint Thomas offers are a very theological and would take too much space even to summarize here. But Thomas’ explanation of how man images the Trinity is within our grasp. He bases himself on the doctrine of the Trinitarian processions he has already developed:
“As the uncreated Trinity is distinguished by the procession of the Word from the Speaker [the Father], and of Love [the Holy Ghost] from both of these, as we have seen…; so we may say that in rational creatures wherein we find a procession of the word in the intellect, and a procession of the love in the will, there exists an image of the uncreated Trinity.…”
The question Saint Thomas asks in article eight (“Whether the image of
the Divine Trinity is in the soul only by comparison with God as its object?”)
is difficult to grasp, but worth considering for its richness and how it
perfectly corresponds to Saint Thomas’ teaching on grace. Indeed, it is a
prelude to that beautiful doctrine.
I will try to simplify the article.
God knows Himself and loves Himself, and thence originate the Trinity of Persons. Is man in God’s image because he can, like God, know himself and love himself, or is he is God’s image because he can know and love God? The ability to know and love himself would make man like God is some way, as he would resemble God’s abilities to know and love.
But, this would not make man attain a “representation of the species,” i.e., a resemblance to the form or mental idea of God, which is required for man to be in the “image” of God. “Wherefore we need to seek in the image of the Divine Trinity in the soul some kind of representation of species [i.e., mental concept, form, or idea] of the Divine Persons, so far as this is possible to a creature. … Thus the image of God is found in the soul according as the soul turns to God, or possesses a nature that enables it to turn to God.”
Hard to understand, I know, especially if the reader is not familiar
with the scholastic concept of “species.” The argument is Saint Thomas’ attempt at
explaining why Saint Augustine said, “The image of God exists in the mind, not
because it has a remembrance of itself, loves itself, and understands itself;
but because it can also remember, understand, and love God by Whom it was
What this implies is that, even in God’s very creation of man in His own (Trinitarian) image and likeness, God orients man toward Himself as the end of our knowledge and love.
By nature, we have the capacity to know and love God as He is naturally knowable, but, with grace and the infused theological virtues, we can know and love God supernaturally, as He has revealed Himself. We can thereby merit, and the reward of that merit is the consummation of our knowledge and love of God in Heaven.
Thus man’s final cause, or purpose – of which the philosophers say that it is “the first [cause] in intention and the last in execution” – was placed in him when he was created, being made to God’s own image and likeness.
When the first Sunday of Advent comes and the new liturgical year
begins, the Church once again relives the Mysteries of Christ for a
whole year. She also summarizes all of history, from Creation to the end
of time. The four Sundays of Advent symbolizing the four thousand years
of the Old Testament (if we rely on the Vulgate, not the Septuagint),
we are, as it were, mystically transported back to the time before the
Incarnation of the Man-God. It is opportune, then, to dwell during this
time on the Law of types and figures to see New-Testament realities
hidden in it.
Saint Augustine has it that novum testamentum in vetere latet. Vetus testamentum in novo patet — “the New Testament is hidden in the Old. The Old Testament is revealed in the New” (see reference information here and here).
This canon of interpretation is a standard part of the Catholic
approach to the Bible. Let us look, then, for the Blessed Trinity
“hidden” in the Old Testament.
We begin at the beginning, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.” The Hebrew for “God created” is bara Elohim, which has the linguistic peculiarity of a plural noun followed by a singular verb, something which actually does not violate the grammatical rules of Hebrew.
The particular kind of plural here used means three or more, (there is, in Hebrew, a plural that indicates only two). A conventional way of dismissing the trinitarian interpretation of this name for God is to say that it is a plurality “of majesty,” much as the queen or the pope might say “we” instead of the first person singular.
This, of course, is not how Christian exegetes classically understood such passages. See, for instance, Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, a man learned enough in Hebrew to preach in it:
“Therefore, since Moses, inspired by the Holy Ghost, wrote bara Elohim, literally, ‘the gods, he-created’ (a plural subject with a singular verb), without doubt we understand the sense of these words: he means plurality of divine Persons in the word Elohim and the unity of essence in the singular verb, ‘he-created.’ That is to say, three divine Persons are not three gods, but one God” (Explicatio in Genesim, Ch. 1).
Nobody, of course, says that this passages proves that there
is one God in three divine Persons. That would be a reach. But it does
foreshadow what the New Testament later reveals clearly when it
indicates a plurality of Persons in the Godhead.
We can say the
same about two other passages in Genesis where the so-called “plural of
majesty” is found: “And he said: Let us make man to our image and
likeness…” (Gen. 1:26), and “Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and
there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another’s
speech” (Gen. 11:7). The first is the divine utterance preceding the
creation of Adam, while the second concerns the builders of the Tower of
God created man in His own image, in the
image of God. He was not speaking to the angels, in whose image man was
not created, but to Himself in Gen. 1:26. In both Latin and English, we
have a plural hortatory subjunctive verb, “Let us make…” in verse 26,
followed in the next verse by the singular indicative verb, “God
created.” This is substantially the same in the language of inspiration:
see an interlinear translation of the Hebrew — v. 26 and v. 27 — for proof.
In confounding the tongues at Babel, there is a similar structure: in Genesis 11:7, the two verbs for “let us go down and confound…” are plural, while the subsequent verse eight has a singular verb for “the Lord [Yahweh] scattered….”
In both cases, Moses was privileged to know — and we to read — the internal counsels of God, speaking in a plurality of Persons.
Remaining in Genesis for one more account, we turn to Chapters eighteen and nineteen,
where Moses relates the interaction of the three angels with Abraham
and then with Lot. This is the account that terminates in the
destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The whole thing is quite mystical,
for Genesis alternately calls these three persons “men” and “angels” —
as do the Gospels, by the way, concerning the angels who appeared to the
women after the Resurrection. More mysterious is that these three
angels show up just after Genesis eighteen mentions that “Yahweh” appeared to Abraham, of whose appearance nothing else is said, unless we assume that the appearance of the three angels is the appearance of Yahweh. Moreover, Abraham “adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord [Adonai], if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant” (Gen. 18:2-3).
these angels did not stand in the place of God, such an act would be a
shocking violation of the Old Testament’s strict monotheism. By
comparison, when Saint John bowed down to the feet of an angel (Apoc. 22:8-9),
the angel stayed him, and forbidding that he should receive such
honors: “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant… Adore God.”
But the angels who received similar honors from Abraham made no such
remonstration, probably because they were standing in the Person(s) of
Saint Augustine interpreted this passage in a Trinitarian sense in book two of his On the Trinity(see here
for a brief but interesting discussion of this passage). According to
Monsignor Pohle, Saint Augustine was of the opinion that the three
angels of Genesis eighteen were just that, angels, not actually God
Himself, but their mission was such that the words they spoke were
understood to be the words of God; they were, in other words, standing
in God’s place. This opinion was shared by Saints Athanasius, Basil,
Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Jerome, Gregory the Great, and others.
This “standing in the place of” would help us to make sense out of the
Angel’s willingness to allow Abraham to “adore down to the ground”: the
adoration was going to the three divine Persons whom they were visibly
As can be seen from the list in the last paragraph,
it is not only Western but also Eastern Fathers who read this episode as
a Trinitarian theophany. One of Christian Russia’s most celebrated icons, the Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, is a depiction of Abraham’s hospitality to these three angels, but with a clear Trinitarian interpretation.
remaining in the Pentateuch, we come to the Book of Numbers 6:24-27.
This is the blessing that God instructed Moses to teach to Aaron and his
priestly sons: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord shew his
face to thee, and have mercy on thee. The Lord turn his countenance to
thee, and give thee peace.” The blessing is threefold, leading many
Christian commentators to see in it the Holy Trinity. Notice that the
“face” the Levitical priest wishes God to show us is the second of the
three: it is the Holy Face of Jesus! For a brief explanation of this blessing by an exegete who is apparently not a Catholic, see this YouTube video.
Franciscan priests will use this formula of Numbers six to bless
people. The story of how this blessing came to be known as “the blessing
of Saint Francis” is edifying.
We pass now to the Prophesy of Isaias, chapter six, which gives us the Sanctus in our Holy Mass. Here is what Monsignor Joseph Pohle says on it in his text on the Trinity (pg. 12):
“The clearest allusion to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity in the Old Testament is probably the so-called Trisagion [“thrice holy”] of Isaias (VI, 3): “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of Hosts, all the earth is full of his glory,” which is rightly made much of by many Fathers and not a few theologians. This triple “Holy” [uttered by the seraphim, the highest angelic choir] refers to an ecstatic vision of the Godhead, by which Isaias was solemnly called and consecrated as the Prophet of the Incarnate Word, an office which won for him the title of the “Evangelist” among the four major prophets.”
The Hebrew word for “holy” is Kadosh (or qā-ḏō-wōš).
Regarding the tripling of the word, some authors claim that there is no
regular way of forming the comparative and superlative degrees of the
adjective in Hebrew, and that this triple utterance of the adjective is
an effort at the superlative. I’ve seen this contested by others, who
say that the tripling of the adjective is merely an “intensifier.” I
will let the Hebrew specialists fight it out; either way — whether
constrained by the conventions of Hebrew usage or the desire to be
“intense” — the Holy Isaias taught us that God is not simply “holy,” but
“Holy, holy, holy”; and the Church has seen in this sublime utterance
of the seraphim a foreshadowing of the full revelation of the Trinity.
another indication of plurality in the Godhead, the same Isaias also
presents the future Messias as God. Here are some of his descriptions of
Christ to come: “the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Prince of Peace…
God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come” (Is. 9:6, cf. Luke
1:32); “Emmanuel,” literally, “God with us” (Is. 7:14, cf. Matt. 1:23);
“God himself will come and will save you” (Is. 35:4; cf. Matt. 9:5);
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord… . Behold, the Lord God shall come with
strength” (Is. 40:3, 10; cf. Mark 1:3).
Of the Messianic Psalms, I
will select only two passages: “The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my
son, this day I have begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7) and “The Lord said to my
Lord: Sit thou at my right hand . . . from the womb before the day star I
begot thee” (Ps. 109 :1-3). Here, the Messias is shown to be the Son of God. Moreover, He is “my [David’s] Lord,” who is at the same time the Son of “the Lord”; He is, in other words, both Son of God and God. During His public life, Our Lord confounded the Pharisees with the mystery hidden in Psalm 109 (cf. Matt. 22:41-46).
If they had had good will, His enemies would have asked Him to explain
the passage, which was perfectly fulfilled in Himself, but they held
their tongues. Concerning Our Lord’s enemies, Saint Augustine pointed
out that the unbelieving Jews of His day understood more of Christ’s
claims than the Arians did, for the unbelievers understood Him to call
Himself God simply because he called God His Father (cf. Jn. 5:18, and Jn. 10:33;
note that Jesus did not deny the accusation), whereas the heretics
missed that point, and denied Him divine honors. All of this shows a
plurality of persons in the Godhead, at least as concerns the Father and
One last strain of Old-Testament prophesies that show
the plurality of persons in God comes to us from the Wisdom Books. To
keep this Ad Rem from getting too long, I will refer the reader to Monsignor Pohle’s page sixteen and following: “The Teaching of the Sapiential Books”.
Mystery of the Holy Trinity is a “pure Mystery” or an “absolute
Mystery,” meaning both that we have no way of knowing it without the
benefit of supernatural revelation, and that we cannot comprehend it
fully. Because It is such a Mystery — indeed, it is the greatest of our
Mysteries — we cannot know everything about It, but we can know
what God has taught us through the Church. And that is both true and
sufficient for us to adore the Three:
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!”
As Christmas approaches through Advent, we always seem to get busier and busier with jobs to do, gifts to buy, cards to write, food to prepare, events to attend. We push our way through crowded supermarkets and come home exhausted. Mind you there is shopping on line but it can be fraught as well especially when it comes up on your screen that the page has expired.
It can all become a burden as we wait for Christmas Day to arrive. How different it was for the Jews who waited for the Messiah to come that first Christmas. There is a story told in Luke Chapter 2 about two elderly people Simeon and Anna who were waiting.
Simeon was an old devout Jew who was waiting
patiently for the promised Messiah. He had been told by God that he would not
die until he had seen the Messiah. So, what did he do? He didn’t complain, or
sulk. He didn’t give up when God did not answer immediately. Instead he went to the
temple to worship God, the place where God met his people. He had been there
many times over many years but this time was very different from all the others.
wonder what Simeon was expecting to see. A vision, a revelation from God, an angelic
warrior prince to drive out the Romans. Was he really expecting to see a baby?
An eight-day old baby in his mother’s arms. Nothing is more helpless than an eight-day
old baby. (we know Jesus was only 8 days old because under Jewish law a child
had to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. Circumcision signified the
separation of the child from a life of sin and death to a life lived for the
Lord). Simeon being a regular worshipper would have noticed a young couple walk
in and know immediately they were different.
who has been inside Westminster Abbey London will know that it would take you a
couple of days to even find your bearings due to its sheer size. This temple in
Jerusalem was on a 35-acre site. It was massive, filled with different courts,
chambers, sacrificial areas, corridors and gardens. It would take very little
to get lost inside it. But God leads his people to the right place at the right
time. He does it even today. But sometimes we have to wait. Even for a long
time. Simeon appears and takes the
infant Jesus in his arms and immediately sings a song about him.
had given a lot of thought to the words he was going to sing as he had been
thinking about this moment for a very long time. It is the last song he will
ever sing. When you are happy, we sing a song generally don’t we. We sing in
the shower, we sing in church, we sing when our favourite team scores a goal
because we are happy. Singing is good for the soul. Simeon blessed the family and
then he utters a prophecy. He did not question God about his choice of a
Messiah coming as a baby. He thanked God for he saw in this helpless baby a light
to reveal God to all the nations of the world.
In our society, the story of Christmas is represented nowadays as a sentimental happy one. But there is also a dark side to it. Simeon had difficult words to say to Mary and he didn’t refuse to say them. Simeon told her that the baby would be rejected by many; as well as bringing great joy to many. His words prepared Mary for the pain that she would suffer in the future. Life for us is often full of suffering too.
At Christmas, we cannot forget the suffering of others. In the birth of his Son, God was identifying with the poor, the weak and suffering of this world.It is very tempting to concentrate on our own families at Christmas and ignore the needs of others.
was not the only one waiting for the Messiah. To the temple that same day came
an elderly widow called Anna. She was over 90 years of age and a prophetess.
Her reaction to seeing the baby was one of supreme joy. She began praising God
and she talked to everyone she met in Jerusalem about Jesus.
A ninety odd year old going about telling others of Jesus;
this is something all of us need to do more often. It is good news we should
not keep to ourselves.
like Simeon was also guided by the Holy Spirit at the right time towards Mary
and Joseph. We are not sure how she would have seen this family in those days
with no glasses and probably in a dimly lit area. But God led her right to
them. What a moment that was for her after a ninety year wait. When she came in
contact with the infant Jesus and his parents, she was over joyed giving thanks
to God. And then we don’t hear anything more about Jesus or his parents for 12
does this short story involving these two elderly people say to us today? There
are a few things. Those who love God like Simeon and Anna need to be always
tuned into God, and be ready to go where he wants them. Because Simeon and Anna were tuned into God
through their faith, they went to the right place at the right time.
they had not responded to the leading of the Holy Spirit, they would have
missed baby Jesus. And they would have still been waiting. Its so easy to get distracted with other
things that we might even consider important.
Secondly to see Jesus is to see God; and his salvation. To see Jesus is to see God’s light and revelation. No other God, person, or thing can offer a person salvation apart from Jesus. When Jesus preached to the people, he told them that he, was the ‘light of the world, and whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.’
Jesus does not mention anyone else or any other method. Of course, we don’t see Jesus today the way Simeon and Anna or the 12 disciples or the woman at the well, or Pontius Pilate; saw Jesus physically in front of them. We see Jesus in a different way. He points out to us or speaks to us, in our inner being, in our mind and in our heart, that we need to come to him and love him for who he is. He tells us to repent and believe in him. We need to be alert to God’s leading. To see Jesus is to see God; and thirdly what do we want for Christmas?
What do we want for Christmas? Simeon and Anna
waited for a long time to get what they wanted and they got it. And when they
got it, they were overjoyed. With salvation comes joy. Joy within your soul,
knowing that God has forgiven you and granted you his presence every day of
your life through his Holy Spirit. Is it any wonder Simeon sung a song, and was
able to say;’ now dismiss your servant in peace’. Isn’t that lovely. I go to my
grave in peace because of you God. I am content. How many of us can say that.?
Some of us old enough might remember the song;
‘All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth’. We can
laugh at it. Mind you I wouldn’t mind getting a couple of new front teeth. What
do you want this Christmas? What are you waiting for? Maybe its another
relationship, maybe it’s the man or woman of your dreams, or the big house, or
the exotic cruise, or the next party, or the insurance pay out.
you know that the devil convinces us that some of these things or even all of
them can bring us true peace and contentment? It’s the greatest lie ever spun. Through
this strategy he seeks to make us not content but discontent. That I believe is
the greatest scourge in the world today because If we are discontent, there is
no inner peace. We are not content with Brexit, we are not content with our
salary, we are not content with our condo; we are not content with a court
finding until we get the verdict we want.
We are not content with how a country operates; we want to meddle in it, which is how wars start. We are not content with our wealth, we are not content with our health and how we look, we are not content with our sexuality; we are not content with our lives. All of this impact’s society and our lives. And it’s killing people.
And if it’s not killing them its driving them to suicide, depression, despair and substance abuse. I was talking to a school teacher a few weeks ago about Christmas. She has three primary school children of her own. She said to me, ‘you know I have no idea what I am going to buy my children at Christmas because they have everything they want.’ Not what they need; but what they want.
by the age of 10 you have everything you want. And then people wonder what’s
going wrong in the world. And if you have everything you want you have no need
of God. Why would you? Read the bible it
will tell you what’s gone wrong with the world and with people. It will also
tell you how a person can have true peace in their heart not just at Christmas
but every day of the year.
I hope that each of us will be able to say at some point in our lives; ‘for my eyes have seen your salvation’ and truly know the peace of God granted to us by the Prince of Peace.
Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.
The photo shows, “Christ Taking Leave of the Disciples,” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, painted between 1308-1311.
This book defies easy characterization. It is, to be sure, a biography of the last of the great German medieval emperors, Frederick II Hohenstaufen. But it vibrates with a subdued roar under the surface. By turns it is fierce, melodramatic, evocative, pitying, and electric. Maybe, in 1927, with Germany at its nadir,
Ernst Kantorowicz was trying to channel the modern age of steel and thunder, translating it through the works of a long-dead megalomaniac king into a hoped-for new era. Or maybe he aimed to wake the ancient ghost of Frederick, stirring him from his long sleep in the Kyffhäuser Mountains. Either way, Kantorowicz did see reborn the German energies he thought should be reborn. But as with most summoned spirits, the rebirth did not advantage the summoner.
Frederick II, born in 1194, was the son of Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Constance, Queen of Sicily. Henry’s father had been Frederick I Barbarossa, perhaps the most famous of all German emperors. Constance’s father was Roger II, the centralizer of Norman Sicily.
This illustrious pedigree meant that Frederick claimed both all of southern Italy and most of Germany—but not northern Italy, or the Papal States, the combined cause of the greatest challenges of his reign. The High Middle Ages were beginning, and many changes were afoot—not only in Europe, where Richard II Lionheart, John Lackland, and Saint Louis IX were Frederick’s contemporaries, but in the Middle East, where Islam had entered its long decline, accelerated during Frederick’s reign by the start of the Mongol invasions.
It was an interesting time, and a tremendously intricate time, and one that it is hard for us to fully grasp. Men and women were the same as us, yet viewed the world very differently in many ways. Frederick himself is often, far too often, presented to us as some kind of proto-modern, supposedly a man of unique tolerance and liberality.
He was none of those things. He was a man convinced of his world-bestriding importance, fascinated by the new things in his world, and indifferent to much beyond his own sense of destiny. He never quite accomplished his goals, and his heirs died in pain, ignominy, or obscurity, quickly losing grasp of all Frederick had worked for.
But he did not know that, and so, perhaps, he died largely satisfied. And he would no doubt have been pleased that for nearly a thousand years, many Germans have looked to his reign as the apogee of German heroic power, to evoke which Kantorowicz wrote this book.
The reason Frederick is incorrectly perceived as of a different kind of medieval king is because others have always benefited from casting him in a certain light. His brutal lifelong struggle with the temporal power of the Papacy has made him distasteful ever since to Roman Catholics, especially those of an ultramontanist bent.
This grew the legend of him as anti-Catholic, which proved useful for purveyors of Protestant propaganda after the Reformation and anti-Christian propaganda after the Enlightenment. All these groups found that the fevered polemics hurled against Frederick to gain support for the Pope were later fertile sources of lurid, therefore useful, tales about Frederick’s perfidy and supposed hatred of religion.
And, of course, Frederick had his own propagandists, which is why he is still known to some as the stupor mundi, the “wonder of the world,” though perhaps better translated as “marvel” or “astonishment.”
After eight hundred years of this, it’s hard to recapture the man, but Kantorowicz does a good job—and then uses Frederick for his own purposes, casting him as an exemplar for twentieth-century Germans needing a hero in an age of German degradation.
Kantorowicz himself had a life that fits poorly into our paucified modern categories. Born in 1895, he fought in World War I, and then in the Freikorps against Communist killers. He became a disciple of the poet Stefan George, part of the Conservative Revolution.
George was a mystical, anti-modernist type, focused on the rebirth of the German nation, bidding it emerge as an intellectual creation, breaking through the rough crust of current troubles to create a new Germany, led by a physical and spiritual aristocracy (who, as typical in these cultish groups of eggheads, would be led by the disciples of the Master, as they called George). Some of these ideas, which were in the air all over Germany, were taken up by the National Socialists, as usual modified for cruder, and therefore more effective, propaganda purposes.
However, George’s circle is remembered today mostly because they inspired a variety of anti-Hitler plotters in later years, after George’s death in 1933, including most famously Claus von Stauffenberg. By that time, though, Kantorowicz, Jewish by birth, was long departed from Germany, moving to California after Kristallnacht. He lived there until 1963, publishing other books and trying to disown this book, but it is still the one for which he is most remembered.
Thus, Kantorowicz was of a specific German political type of the first decades of the twentieth century, often, and often unfairly, associated with the National Socialists. He was one of many who rejected liberalism and cried out for German greatness to be restored. Such ideas were adopted by the NSDAP, but that does not make them National Socialist ideas.
If the besetting sin of left-wing intellectuals is direct participation in and furthering of evil (and it is), the besetting sin of right-wing intellectuals seems to be their irrepressible belief that their superior intelligence and insight will allow them to control, direct, and rule other men who implement their ideas in a bastardized form aided by violence.
I don’t know if the National Socialists used this book to any great degree (it does not appear so), but its author, and Stefan George’s circle, seem to fit right into this right-wing paradigm, which always loses out to those less interested in thinking and more interested in doing. Then the intellectuals on the Right invariably wonder what happened—as was the case with Carl Schmitt. It’s a vaguely pathetic pattern, and likely one we’ll see in America in the coming years.
When Kantorowicz published Frederick the Second, as a young man with an incomplete doctorate in Muslim economic history, professional historians were aghast at the book’s departures from history-writing orthodoxy.
Kantorowicz did not offer footnotes (although he later added an entire volume with sources and references to satisfy his critics), and more to the point, wrote history as epic, blurring the line between fact and legend, openly using Frederick’s life as a platform for the restoration of Germany on heroic lines.
At this remove, I can’t tell if the historians attacking Kantorowicz were legitimate historians, or the type of “historian” that dominates our own times, whose main project is to view history, and rewrite it, through a Left lens. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose; Kantorowicz’s book stands now on its own.
In Kantorowicz’s telling, Frederick was generous and open-handed; self-assured to an extreme degree and with great personal magnetism; openly proclaiming of his intentions and views; eager to learn but fiercely protective of his prerogatives and his aims.
He was highly educated, speaking several languages (including Arabic) and keenly interested in sports such as falconry. He hated heretics and he hated rebels; they were, after all, the same thing. Frederick saw himself as an instrument of Providence; he may have sometimes confused whether, exactly, God was truly superior to him, but he was not an atheist or even a religious freethinker.
Not that he was a pious man; if anything, he was a proto-Machiavellian, very aware of the uses of religion for power, in his case usually to his disadvantage. Yet his goal was not Machiavellian; he sought the standard medieval formula of “peace and justice,” as in the time of the Emperor Augustus.
Like most mighty men, he probably thought God owed him; he reminds one in this respect (and none other) of that moral pygmy Michael Bloomberg, who infamously said “[I]f there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” No doubt he will find out, soon enough, and no doubt Frederick has as well.
It is all so very complicated. Guelf and Ghibelline; German princes and Sicilian lords; Lombard towns and Calabrian fortresses; Venice and Genoa; Jerusalem and the Eternal City; and much, much more.
In brief, Frederick grew up in Sicily, under his mother’s rule of the territory, since his German inheritance (which was technically elective, after all) was in dispute between his uncle, Philip of Swabia, and the Welf contender, Otto of Brunswick, briefly Otto IV.
When his mother died, before Frederick came of age, he became a ward of the Pope, Innocent III, a mighty medieval pope many of whose designs, from the Fourth Crusade to demanding ever-greater papal temporal supremacy, ultimately went wrong. Frederick, when he came of age, avoided open conflict with him, instead focusing on reuniting his Sicilian domains with his father’s German domains.
Frederick failed to participate in the Fifth Crusade despite his promise, and was blamed for its failure; he did participate in the Sixth Crusade and negotiated the re-transfer of Jerusalem to the Christians with Al-Kamil, the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, who had defeated the Fifth Crusade (and had met Saint Francis of Assisi then), but who had his own problems and didn’t want the hassle of another war with the Christians.
The episode of the “retaking” of Jerusalem is emblematic of the way everything Frederick did was viewed through two lenses. In the eyes of Frederick and his partisans, this was a heroic victory that buttressed Frederick’s claim to be the true inheritor of the mantle of the Emperors of Rome.
In the eyes of his enemies, it was a craven cop-out by an excommunicate eager to score a cheap propaganda victory of limited durability and thereby aggrandize himself, though they did not explain how many earlier failures to free Jerusalem by force could this time have been bettered by fighting instead of negotiating.
In any case, successive popes, notably Gregory IX and Innocent IV, saw Frederick as a menace, since he threatened to fully surround the Papal States. They could not abide this, and therefore could not abide Frederick. Conflict under these premises was inevitable.
So, Frederick struggled for decades to break the power of the Papacy and its on-again, off-again allies, the north Italian cities of the Lombard League, together with other intermittent allies.
Along the way he had other projects: he masterminded the conquering of Prussia by the Teutonic Knights, under the Grand Mastership of Hermann of Salza, a close counselor of his (and go-between with the Pope), laying the groundwork for seven centuries of the importance of Prussia to Germany (although now, to be sure, most of those territories are no longer part of Germany).
He made a few more half-hearted efforts towards the East, as well; Kantorowicz interprets this as the need for the King of the West to be the King of the East in order to be the World Ruler, which seems a very big leap.
Those were side projects, though; Frederick spent his life primarily in endless back-and-forth fighting to achieve a unified realm with an Italian focus, ultimately falling short and dying of an intestinal complaint in 1250 at the age of fifty-six. His heirs all died, and his line ended with his grandson, Conradin, executed at age sixteen by Charles of Anjou in 1268 (a man who, strangely, has recently received attention from sections of the resurgent, fermenting American Right).
The long-term effects of the struggle between Frederick and the Papacy were very significant. Kantorowicz blames Innocent for trying to wholly eliminate the separation of the temporal and spiritual power, thereby causing increased conflict with the temporal power and, ultimately, the erosion of the Pope’s spiritual power.
To the consequences of this Kantorowicz ascribes most of the events and later consequences of Frederick’s career, which might otherwise have resulted in a German Empire from the Baltics to Palermo, with the Papal States still extant but effectively without substantial temporal power.
If Frederick had had a free hand, he would not have had to grant to the great lords of Germany near total independence from the Empire, in effect making them kinglets with only nominal obedience to the Emperor, which caused Frederick little immediate trouble but set the pattern for a fragmented Germany for hundreds of years.
He might have forged a true empire—but he spent his power on the challenges he met, making the compromises he needed to make, and thus he could not weld together Germany into the empire that Kantorowicz so clearly thought was Germany’s destiny.
In his Italian possessions, on the other hand, Frederick was a modernizing centralizer, eroding feudal institutions, continuing the rebirth of Roman law and the reformation of justice and administration, and, in general, trying to act like a real Emperor of Rome.
This created the first modern state, though it, too, fragmented after Frederick’s death, leaving itself as an example for later monarchs.
interested to see that Kantorowicz credits Frederick with presiding over a
great flourishing of art, especially of poetry, but also other arts. What
matters for great art is having a great ruling class, and this is another piece
of historical evidence for my thesis. Kantorowicz describes it as neither
“frivolity nor royal fashion, but an incomparable vigor of the blood, which
even in ruin demands glory and fame.” Vigor is it, I think; no vigor, no great
art, and vice versa.
Frederick’s long struggle with the Papacy is instructive for political debates today, in a way inconceivable even five years ago.
Some, notably the Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule, who claims to desire a reworked state (but will not fight against any aspect of the current state that might get him disinvited from dinner parties in Cambridge), suggest that Papal supremacy in the mold of Innocent III’s program, which he calls integralism, was a political system which it would be desirable to rebirth today. Whether Vermeule really thinks this I cannot be sure (and I am less sure now that he has, for no reason I can fathom other than I am far more charismatic than him, blocked me on Twitter).
But, certainly, actual history does not bear the weight of this optimism. Giving the Pope the power of Caesar inevitably leads to corruption of the spiritual power and, I suspect, a sharp reduction in human flourishing, which requires secular achievement along with spiritual focus. The Pope, or more generally the spiritual power, is not cut out, by vocation or temperament, for temporal power, and this is pretty clear from history.
Now, Andrew Willard Jones argued in his recent analysis of the society of Louis IX, Beyond Church and State, that matters are not so simple. Jones drew thirteenth-century France as a state where church and state acted as one, with no conception of the secular being divided from the spiritual, or of those as indistinguishable concepts at all.
This model, also called integralism but of a much different and much more durable character, did not imply papal temporal supremacy, but rather a set of joint obligations based on custom and the needs of both Church and State, which were one and the same as the needs of society.
That model, common in the West from the time of Charlemagne until the Renaissance, does not have the same grievous problems as the overreaching Innocent III model, though as always practice is harder than theory, and Louis had plenty of conflicts with the Church.
Of course, Frederick was no Saint Louis, but had the Pope been less overreaching, the Holy Roman Empire might have ended up closer to this type of cooperative monarchy.
I analyze such matters, and their current applicability, at greater length in my review of Jones’s book, so I will not repeat myself here. But that the Pope should not be given significant temporal power is also supported by a running theme in Kantorowicz’s book—the role in both state and society of the new mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans, but also the Dominicans.
Saint Francis was a contemporary of Frederick, and the mendicant orders frequently openly supported the Emperor against the Pope, correctly seeing the medieval Church as corrupt and overly focused on the things of this world. The pope we have now named himself after Saint Francis, and seems to think that pretending he is poor makes him the heir of Saint Francis, so it would seem that the battle was won.
But that perception is false. The point of Saint Francis was that he set himself against the things of this world, which in his day meant wealth and the corruption it wrought.
Today, when the whole world has wealth of which men in that age could not even dream, the things of this world that corrupt are not primarily wealth, but instead the corruption birthed by the Enlightenment, flowing from the worship of the atomized self.
The manifestations of this are many, but they may all be subsumed under the desire of men to be as gods, to be subject to no limits and no unchosen bonds. This corruption, through either stupidity or malice, Pope Francis and the evil men who surround him have mostly fully embraced.
I have little doubt that Saint Francis would scorn Pope Francis far more than he scorned the rich prelates of his own time, seeing this essentially spiritual corruption, cloaked with oily words spoken with forked tongue, as far more damaging to the Church (and to the State, though that was Frederick’s, not Saint Francis’s, area of concern).
What this means in the context of this book is that, logically, those within the Catholic Church today who still hold to its ancient truths, must, like the mendicant orders of the thirteenth century, in practice align with the new, rising temporal right-wing powers against the princes of the Church, together to, in Kantorowicz’s words, “fight the common foe, the degenerate Church.”
Since the Church shows no sign of reforming itself, the aim should be the overthrowing of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, by force, if necessary, and its restoration through a (hopefully temporary) form of caesaropapism, thereby benefiting both Church and State.
That sounds bizarre, but such events were, until the modern era, more the norm than today’s state of evil dreaming. Returning to the old way, where the temporal power dictated to the spiritual power when it got too far out of line and became destructive of larger society, seems pretty attractive right now.
But the Catholic Church wasn’t what Kantorowicz cared about. He cared about Germany, and its once and hoped-for future greatness. For all that he was ultimately a failure, Kantorowicz credits Frederick with forging a new German spirit by combining German traditions with Roman forms and culture.
What Kantorowicz explicitly wanted is what Frederick fell short of, “that full perfection of the German Empire, a mighty Emperor surrounded by his mighty princes.” In a few short years after this book, Kantorowicz saw that Empire reborn, and no doubt it was nothing as he had hoped.
Today, of course, Germany is a dying thing, pathetic and useless, like all of Western Europe, eagerly abasing itself before invaders who are only too happy to assist the suicide of what little remains of the high German culture and spirit that Kantorowicz so admired, built up over a thousand years.
Even were there no invaders, Germany is, it appears, exhausted at the end of history. It certainly seems unlikely to be reborn, and one wonders, what would a man like Kantorowicz, or a man like Frederick, say if he saw it today? Probably nothing. He would just cry.
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 a portrait of Frederick the Second from his book, The Art of Hunting with Birds, from the 13th-century.
“In the market economy the individual is free to act within the orbit of private property and the market. His choices are final” (Ludwig von Mises, Human Action).
When we read this text from the grandfather of modern Neo-Liberalism (hich manifests itself, in the United States, in the movements called Libertarianism and Neo-Conservatism), we are not surprised. Von Mises, culturally Polish and politically Austrian, but a practical atheist in his political philosophy, is concerned to render absolute, the only absolute (other than “market forces”) he seems to acknowledge as having any relevance for the affairs of mankind, the volitional determination of individuals. Nor are we surprised when he unfolds his basic conception of reality and applies it to the public actions of individuals.
Referring to the entire doctrinal and moral activity of Christian civilization and comparing it to his idea of the autonomous, self-interested, and willful individual, von Mises states, “In urging people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit, one does not create a working and satisfactory social order [emphasis mine].”
In one sweeping statement, von Mises has negated Christendom and every social, economic, and moral teaching of the Catholic Church; this statement, also, renders “inoperative” the entire Classical moral and philosophical tradition.
Such statements by the hero of contemporary Libertarianism and Neo-Conservatism (read, Neo-Jacobinism), need not disquiet us at all if we understand it exactly as he meant it to be, a statement by one who upheld the modern Liberal, anti-Christendom world-view and denigrated the civilization, overall and in its detail, built by the Catholic Church.
This civilization, of course, was constructed in a certain way, on account of the Church’s attempt to conform the circumstances and the means of man’s life to the Eternal Law, which includes within itself the Providential Plan by which each created being is brought to a state of perfect fulfillment and satisfaction.
Christendom, unlike the “market forces,” presupposes real freedom; if man was not free and meant to be fulfilled in his freedom, Christendom would not be needed. “Freedom,” of course, is meaningless, and soon becomes bizarre (as in our own commercialist culture), if it is not directed towards a true “good” that fulfills human nature. If freedom does not achieve a true satisfaction of human nature, why is freedom “good?”
If, however, freedom is “good” because it genuinely fulfills human nature, economic “freedom” or the ability to sell goods made and to purchase goods made by others, must be subordinated to over-arching considerations of the “good.” Since we are speaking about a public “good,” we must speak about the “common good,” in which every private good is included.
The common good entails the fulfillment of human nature at large. If all of the above reasoning is valid, economic freedom to buy and sell must be ordered to the achievement of a truly fulfilled human nature, both individually and commonly.
Only those with the most animalistic conception of man would think that the ability to buy and sell things is the pivot around which should turn an individual life, a political ideology, or the efforts of the State. That “man does not live by bread alone” is not only a religious truth, but is, also, a bit of wisdom testified to by universal human experience.
It is the religious devotion of man, his virtuous moral actions, and his aesthetic and emotional appreciation and expression, which are the higher aspects of man’s being that mercantile trade is meant to facilitate and sustain.
In light of this, it is perfectly rational that the normal and traditional (i.e., non-Liberal) societies and governments of the past have tried to ensure that the buying and selling that went on amongst men, truly facilitated the genuine end of all economic relationships, the full and complete good of men, both individually and as, necessarily, living within a civic body. It was for this reason that such notions as “the just price” and the “the just wage” were normative, and limitations on the use and procurement of private property were instituted.
One point in favor of Ludwig von Mises, however, one not shared in by a number his disciples, is that he recognized that the whole bulk, theoretical and practical, of historical Christendom was against his understanding of the proper order of things. He, at least, recognizes that there was a very definite concept of “justice” in “medieval” Christendom.
He simply relativizes it. In pure Nietzschean fashion, he insists that claims about the “justice” of this or that social arrangement or economic condition, are merely an attempt by some to preserve an arbitrarily adopted “utopia:” “They call ‘just’ that mode of conduct that is compatible with the undisturbed preservation of their utopia, and everything else unjust.”
Von Mises, also, does not claim St. Thomas Aquinas as an early advocate of Liberal Capitalism and the “free-market economy.” He understands that St. Thomas, as a Catholic philosopher and theologian, held views profoundly at variance with his own, including in matters of economics.
With regard to the question of the “just price,” von Mises writes: “If Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of the just price had been put into practice, the thirteenth century’s economic conditions would still prevail. Population figures would be much smaller than they are today and the standard of living much lower.”
The sentence following should, also, be of interest to those who would like to see the sharp distinction between von Mises’ Liberalism and the great tradition of the Christian World: “Both varieties of the just-price doctrine, the philosophical and the popular, agree in their condemnation of the prices and wage rates as determined on the unhampered market.”
If Aquinas was a capitalistic Pre-Liberal, von Mises certainly did not see it; in fact, he uses St. Thomas’s teachings as the embodiment of the very mentality and outlook, which he is rejecting.
De Roover’s Libertarian Dream
To base one’s ideas solely on conceptions prevailing in relatively current times, has never been a very attractive option. The American Whigs of 1787 looked to Republican Rome, and the French Democrats of 1789 could look to Democratic Athens.
Looking back 2,000 years for a political model is a genuine example of antiquarianism. At least Napoleon, with his later emulation of Charlemagne, only had to look back 1,000 years to find an example of a situation in which his newly chosen form of government, “worked.”
(We must keep in mind here that the reason people had not, for so long, adopted these first two old systems of government was because they were historically conscious enough to realize that they had not “worked”).
A number of Libertarians have felt the need to trace their ideas back to the established thought of Catholic Christendom. We can only speculate as to their motives. However, what is clear is this, within the second half of the 20th century and, even, into our own, there have been some Libertarians who identify nascent Capitalistic ideas – (I simply identify Capitalism here as the economic form of Liberalism – not to be confused with American Leftism) – as existing within the corporate organism that was Christendom, prior to the “dawning” of the Enlightenment.
There are some more reckless Libertarian thinkers who would even state that, not only are there Liberal anomalies within the paradigm of historical Christendom, but rather, that Liberalism is the Christian civilizational paradigm itself. The recurrent focus of such Libertarian “dreaming” is the late Renaissance Spanish School of Salamanca and Sts. Bernadine of Siena and Antoninus of Florence.
The main issue, although not the only one, is the one of the “just price.” Can it be that the later Scholastics, as represented by the School of Salamanca, along with the two Renaissance saints known for their sermons on economic concerns, should be identified as early advocates of Liberal Capitalism due to their, supposed, insistence that the “just price” which must be upheld by Church, State, and Society at large, is simply the one which is assigned to a product due to the interplay of producer supply and consumer demand?
If economic “justice,” at this most basic and essential level, is simply a matter of adhering, faithfully, to the “laws of supply and demand,” we can say that the view of these Catholic thinkers could, indeed, be characterized as an example of Early Economic Liberalism.
If there were something more to “justice” than the simple end result of the interplay of the free will of producer and the free choice of the consumer, than their thought could not be denominated as a early form of von Misesian Neo-Liberal/Libertarian conceptions.
When looking for an example of a Neo-Liberal who represents this attempt to find roots in the distant past for Liberal doctrines that seem quite modern, we can turn to Raymond de Roover who published an article entitled, “The Concept of the Just Price: Theory and Economic Policy” in Journal of Economic History (December 1958). Here it is interesting to read De Roover’s portrayal of the “typical” view of medieval thought as it relates to the topic of the “just price.”
In this article, we read, “According to a widespread belief – found in nearly all books dealing with the subject – the just price was linked to the medieval conception of a social hierarchy and corresponded to a reasonable charge which would enable the producer to live and to support his family on a scale suitable to his station in life. This doctrine is generally thought to have found its practical application in the guild system. For this purpose the guilds are presented as welfare agencies which prevented unfair competition, protected consumers against deceit and exploitation, created equal opportunities for their members, and secured for them a modest but decent living in keeping with traditional standards [emphasis mine].”
Such was the “idyllic” view of the Middle Ages upheld by the great German economist Max Weber and by the British author, controversialist, and historian, Arthur Penty. According to De Roover, another famous German economist, Werner Sombart, went even further: according to him, not only the medieval craftsmen but even the merchants strove only to gain a livelihood befitting their rank in society and did not seek to accumulate wealth or to climb the social ladder. This attitude, Sombart claimed, was rooted in the concept of the just price “which dominated the entire period of the Middle Ages.”
De Roover, however, has a different understanding of the common mind of the Christian Era as regards prices and economic activity in general.
Amidst the presence of many non sequiturs, confused and, even, contradictory historical claims, we find de Roover throwing out various red herrings such as, “Thomas Aquinas himself recognizes that the just price cannot be determined with precision, but can vary within a certain range, so that minor deviations do not involve any injustice. This…is not in accord with Marxian dialectics; but it agrees with classical and neoclassical economic analysis” [emphasis mine] So an obvious and balanced moral statement about a minor aspect of the just price issue, because it does not agree with the Marxist theory, makes St. Thomas’ economic position into one that “agrees with classical and neoclassical analysis.”
The bizarre and forced logic present in de Roover’s analysis can only be touched upon here. For example, one of the “naïve” economists, Werner Sombart cites Heinrich von Langenstein (1325-1397) to the effect that “if the public authorities fail to fix a price, the producer may set it himself, but he should not charge more for his labor and expenses than would enable him to maintain his status (per quanto res suas vendendo statum suum continuare posit).”
This is fully in accord with the “traditional” understanding of social and economic thinking in the Catholic Middle Ages. Langenstein continues in the same vein, “And if he does charge more in order to enrich himself or to improve his station, he commits the sin of avarice.” This position, of von Langenstein, was “regarded as a characteristic formulation of the scholastic doctrine of the just price,” according to de Roover. Having been cited by Sombart, de Roover insists that it was “copied by one author after another.”
De Roover tries to throw cold water on the enthusiasm, on the part of economic historians, for the writings of Langenstein, by stating that, “Langenstein was not one of the giants in medieval philosophy but a relatively minor figure.” This statement is, of course, totally irrelevant to the topic at hand.
The question was not whether or not Langenstein was one of the “giants” of medieval philosophy, but whether his statement of economic theory and practice can be seen as “characteristic.” Someone need not be a giant in order to be characteristic. “Giants,” of course, are not characteristic at all, but that is another point entirely.
When de Roover does treat a giant, St. Thomas Aquinas, we find contradictory statements interwoven with more than questionable deductions. With regard to St. Thomas, he focuses on the topic that he – de Roover – believes will confirm that the “majority of the [Scholastic] doctors” held that the “just price” did not correspond to cost of production as determined by the producer’s social status, but was “simply the current market price.”
Clearly, de Roover understood that if the just price meant something other than the Capitalistic “just the price,” his attempt to root Neo-Liberal Capitalism in Catholic social tradition and thought would fail. He had to prove that the “justice” of the price charged in the times of Christendom was nothing other than the price that the item could fetch on the open marketplace.
De Roover starts his analysis of the position of St. Thomas on the question of the “just price” by stating that in the works of Aquinas, “the passages relating to price are so scattered and seemingly so conflicting that they have given rise to varying interpretations.” He then goes on to state, unambiguously, what St. Thomas definitely meant by the term “the just price.”
As he goes on “definitively” articulating St. Thomas’ position, he proceeds to contradict his own interpretation of and statements about this position. For example, de Roover states, “By selecting only those passages favorable to their thesis, certain writers even reached the conclusion that Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas had a labor theory of value.”
In a footnote, on the same page, he states, “As a matter of fact, Aquinas comes close to saying that any exchange of two commodities should be based on the ratio between the amounts of labor expended on each.” Isn’t he affirming here that Aquinas had a “labor theory of value,” when he was just one paragraph above, chiding “certain writers” for reaching the conclusion that St. Thomas “had a labor theory of value”?
The Liberal scholar’s reasoning becomes somewhat more convoluted when we find him, at the beginning of a paragraph, stating that St. Thomas “nowhere puts the matter [of the just price] so clearly,” and by the end of the paragraph states that “this [single] passage [which is only a story addressing a very limited moral question] destroys with a single blow the thesis of those who try to make Aquinas into a Marxist, and proves beyond doubt that he considered the market price to be just.”
So, within a single paragraph, made up primarily of an illustrative story about a merchant selling wheat in a town when he knows that more wheat is on the way, we go from Aquinas the Ambiguous to Aquinas the Absolute. When we look for the passage cited by de Roover, in the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologica, we find that the article cited has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the just price. It is from the question dealing with “Cheating” and the specific article is entitled, “Whether the Seller Is Bound to State the Defects of the Thing Sold?”
St. Thomas states here that a seller is acting rightly, from the view point of strict justice, if he merely accepts the amount offered for his wheat by the buyer, without informing the buyer of the greater amount of wheat to come. In other words, it is not unjust to fail to provide information that one could provide about the relative short-term worth of one’s products.
St. Thomas ends by saying, “If however he were to do so, or if he lowered his price, it would be exceedingly virtuous on his part: although he does not seem to be bound to do this as a debt of justice.”
From this short story concerning a very specific moral question, having nothing in itself to do with economic systems or the general topic of the just price, de Roover takes it as proven that “Aquinas upheld market valuation instead of cost,” thus beginning a pre-Capitalist tradition in moral theology, which bore fruit in the late Renaissance Salamanca School and in the economic related sermons preached by St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antoninus of Florence in the 15th century.
Before treating the real attitude of the late Scholastics in Salamanca and the sermons of St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antoninus of Florence, it is worthwhile to look at a simple reply to an objection, present in Question 77, “On Cheating, Which is Committed in Buying and Selling.” In Article 1, the same article from which de Roover draws his conclusions about the “free market” inclinations of St. Thomas, we read, in Reply to Objection 2, a line of reasoning that would, certainly, put St. Thomas outside the boundaries of any form of Liberal Capitalistic sympathies.
Here he cites St. Augustine who says, “th[e] jester, either by looking into himself or by his experience of others, thought that all men are inclined to wish to buy for a song and sell at a premium. But since in reality this is wicked, it is in every man’s power to acquire that justice whereby he may resist and overcome this inclination.
The example, cited by St. Thomas, which St. Augustine uses to illustrate this idea, is one of a man who gave the just price for a book to a man who through ignorance asked a low price for it. Here we see the virtuous buyer, who knows the real value of the book, ignoring the market value of the book (the one which was being asked by the seller of those wishing freely to buy), and, instead, justly compensating the seller for his loss.
St. Thomas concludes from this example that the “capitalistic” drive to buy as cheaply as possible and sell as dearly as possible – expressive, as it is, of an unlimited drive for acquisition and an overriding self-interestedness – can be overcome just like any vice is overcome. He acknowledges, however, that this self-interested attitude – which is, precisely, the attitude assumed by Liberal Capitalism – is “common to many who walk along the broad road of sin.”
Here we see clearly that economic attitude of Christendom contrasted with the economic attitude of Neo-Liberalism. Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas are anything like Neo-Liberals. Clearly the “market price” is not, necessarily, the “just price.” To quote a phrase commonly used by Raymond de Roover, “This text…does not lend itself to a different interpretation.”
Our task can, also, be simplified if we can demonstrate, using the research of the Neo-Liberal scholars themselves, that the later Spanish Scholastics of Salamanca, along with the two above-mentioned saints, were fully within the great intellectual, social, and economic tradition of Catholic Christendom most particularly concerning the question of the “just price.”
If the “just price” is formulated in a way, which allows for many factors other than the exigencies of “supply and demand” (i.e., whether there is a social and moral aspect of the determination of price) and, especially, if there is a role for the “prince” in the determination of “market prices,” than we can safely reject the notion that these Catholic scholars of the past accepted a paleo-Capitalistic conception of the determination of price and, hence, of the entire economic life of society.
Even though Salamanca University was the most prominent place of higher learning in the European world at the time, it was Spain’s position as master of the New World that set the stage for a concentration on the problems of economics by the Scholastics of Salamanca.
The gold and silver coming from the mines of the Americas made Seville, the homeport of the treasure fleet, the economic center of and primary money market in Continental Europe during the middle of the 16th century. Here we have a place where there was a large circulation of money and a high price level.
Tomás de Mercado (d. 1585), a Dominican from Mexico who was present in Seville and preached on commercial morality, portrays the mercantile and financial situation that grew up in these conditions to us. According to Mercado, when the fleet comes in, every merchant puts into the bank all the treasure that is brought to him from the Indies, the bankers having first given a pledge to the city authorities that they will render good account to the owners.
The bankers served their depositors free of charge and used the money deposited with them to finance their own operations. Most of the gold and silver brought in by the fleet passed in this way through the hands of the bankers and served as a basis for credit. The opening for usury was occasioned, however, by these transactions.
As Mercado complained at the time, “money-changers sweep all the money into their own houses, and when a month later the merchants are short of cash they give them back their own money at an exorbitant rate.” In Spain, concludes Mercado, “a banker bestrides a whole world and embraces more than the Ocean, though sometimes he does not hold tight enough and all comes crashing to the ground.”
The above stricture, on the part of Mercado (who died on a ship in 1585 on his way back to Mexico), against the financial transactions of bankers and merchants, was an articulation of an idea that was of ancient origin. Interest paid simply for the use of money during a certain period of time was considered usurious and universally condemned.
Much of the moral thought about economics coming out of Spain during this period was, specifically, an attempt to grapple with the moral considerations occasioned by certain attempts to avoid the Church and State’s condemnation of usury.
The attempted circumventing of the usury laws occurred in a very subtle way. It originated in a seemingly legitimate attempt to deal with two practical difficulties encountered by merchants at the time.
First, there was there was, generally, a lack of cash available at the time, requiring merchants to set debts against one another at the merchant “fairs” held at various times, in various places, throughout the year.
Second, the merchants of the period, at the various fairs, had to act as money changers since, often, a debt was incurred in one place, say Seville, and paid in another, say Flanders. In this regard, it was generally agreed that the merchant who paid out money in one place and recouped himself in another was entitled to make a reasonable charge for his services.
Even with regard to this type of “financial service,” to charge a similar fee for bills transferring money from one Spanish fair to another was forbidden by a royal decree in 1551.
Clearly the Spanish Catholic Crown was even willing to “dislocate the whole business of the fairs” rather than allow merchants to become involved in unnecessary “financial servicing.”
There, also, developed situations in which borrowed money was not to be paid back at the next fair but at one years later. Due to the “fees” attached to such “financial services,” these became loans camouflaged as fees and involving a high payment of interest. According to Grice-Hutchinson, these met with “fulminations from both Church and State.”
It is when dealing with this question of the transference of funds
from one fair to another, that Grice-Hutchinson, as representative of the
Neo-Liberal Economic School, focuses on the question of “price” and the factors
determining the “prices” of both money and goods.
The Function of Money and the Question of Foreign Exchange
Medieval ideas about the origin and functions of money are largely based on a few short passages in Aristotle’s Politics and Nicomachean Ethics. Here, Aristotle insists that the function of money was its use as a medium for the exchange of goods. Money was first invented to overcome the difficulties of transport and need that are bound to arise in a barter economy.
Money, therefore, is meant to serve as a common denominator that brings into line with each other things diverse in nature: “Making all things commensurable, equalizes them.” Along with rendering commensurable for the seller and buyer what is, by nature, qualitatively different, money can serve as “capital,” or as a store of value to be used at a future time.
Aristotle emphasizes the function of money as a man-made instrument by indicating that its value rests on custom and that it, “rests on us to change its value or make it wholly useless.” Averroes (1126-1198), whose commentary on the Ethics was translated into Latin early in the 13th century, follows Aristotle closely on the origin and functions of money.
Since St. Thomas Aquinas upheld this traditional view that money was invented for purposes of exchange, he held that it was unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury. Here we have a reassertion of Aristotle’s own condemnation of usury.
St. Thomas himself applies this to our issue under discussion, gain on account of the foreign exchange of money, by condemning this practice outright.
Merchants who attempt to make money by lending money where money is plentiful and collecting it where money is scarce for a real financial gain, meet the following statement by St. Thomas, from his Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, I, lvii: “Likewise the art of money or acquisition is natural to all men for the purpose of procuring food, or money with which to buy food, out of natural things such as fruit or animals. But when money is acquired not by means of natural things but out of money itself, this is against nature.”
This teaching concerning making money on the basis of the relative “price” of money in one place or another, appears again in 1532 when the Spanish merchants of Antwerp sent their confessor to Paris to get a ruling on the legitimacy of exchange transactions from the learned doctors of the University. They condemned forthright all exchange business.
The point that the Neo-Liberals, represented by Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, would like to draw out of this incident is that, in this reply, the rate of exchange fluctuates according to the state of supply and demand and is not derived from the labor and costs incurred by the person in whose favor the bill is drawn. The assumption here being that that which all think should determine the “price” of money, is the same as what all think should determine the price of commodities.
This is an arbitrary assumption. Moreover, the doctors of the University of Paris are, apparently, merely speaking of a matter of fact. In itself, it by no means determines what the Scholastic doctors will say about the “just price” of things that ought be sold, namely commodities.
What we are truly left with from this reply is a further verification of a perennial teaching of the Christian Era; money should not be made off money. As St. Thomas states, such activity is justly deserving of blame, because, considered in itself, “it satisfies the greed for gain, which knows no limit and tends to infinity.”
The School of Salamanca and the Just Price
When considering what the, purportedly, innovative School of Salamanca said about this important question of the “just price,” the economic issue extraordinaire in the Middle Ages, I came across a text, included in The School of Salamanca by Grice-Hutchinson, which led me to hesitate for a moment.
Here, in a citation from Domingo de Soto’s book De Justitia et Jure published in 1553, we find the following in answer to the question, “Should prices be determined according to the judgment of the merchants themselves?”: “Firstly….excluding fraud and malice, we should leave merchants to fix the price of their wares. Secondly…. every man is the best judge of his own business. Now, the business of merchants is to understand merchandise. Therefore, we must defer to their opinion in settling prices. Thirdly, that a man may do as he likes with his own property. Consequently, he may ask and receive whatever price he can extort for his wares.”
“Now,” I said to myself, “we have a big problem.” “Domingo de Soto is an important figure in the history of the School of Salamanca. He was a Dominican, a contemporary of the School’s founder Vitoria, and considered to be one of its best writers on economic subjects.
In 1532 Soto was appointed to a chair of theology at Salamanca. His fame was such that, in 1545, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain Charles V appointed de Soto, now regarded as the most eminent of the Spanish theologians after Vitoria, as his own representative at the Council of Trent. He became Charles’ own confessor 2 years later. Surely if this man held for the “free market” approach to commodity pricing, such must be a genuine teaching emanating out of Salamanca.”
After some uncomfortable consternation, it dawned on me what I was
reading; rather than being de Soto’s own position and teaching on the matter
these were the Objections to Soto’s own position, which always, of course,
appear first in any properly organized Scholastic article. De Soto’s own
teaching on the matter of the just and proper price is perfectly in line with
what you would expect a Catholic theologian of a still flourishing and faithful
civilization to say.
De Soto’s first “conclusion” with regards to this issue is to make a distinction that is the common-sense ground work for any discussion of prices: the price of a “good” (or commodity) is not determined by its essence (how the thing fits into the whole hierarchy of creation), but rather, “by the measure in which [it] serve[s] the needs of mankind.”
Here he affirms what was taught during this same period (1554) by another Salamancan scholar Diego de Covarrubias, “The value of an article does not depend on its essential nature but on the estimation of men, even if that estimation be foolish.” The “goods” we are citing here are “goods” which are good insofar as they service human needs.
These things, therefore, have a price insofar as they are valuable in the eyes of the citizens; these goods or commodities would allow the citizens to satisfy their human needs. De Soto concludes this foundational claim about prices by saying, “We have to admit, then, that want is the basis of price.”
Things are, therefore, more desirable, and therefore will go for a higher price, insofar as they more perfectly satisfy man’s desire for fulfillment and sustenance, irrespective of the place which the thing holds in the hierarchy of Creation. As St. Augustine states (City of God, Book 2, chapter 16), “a man would rather have corn than mice in his house”; this, even though mice are ontologically more perfect than grains of wheat.
When speaking of the “want” which is at the basis of all economic life and pricing, de Soto recognizes, in a very balanced way, that when we speak of “want” we must not exclude a recognition of the fact that the city needs “adornment”; even though such things are not necessary for human life, it is something which render life “pleasurable and splendid.”
In de Soto’s second “conclusion,” we find a statement which directly contradicts the Libertarian claims that the later Scholastics of Salamanca thought that nothing should be considered when calculating price, other than “supply and demand.”
De Soto lists supply and demand as one of the elements that go into determining the just price for an item. “Next, we must bear in mind the labor, trouble, and risk which the transaction involves. Finally, we must consider whether the exchange is, for better or worse, to the advantage or disadvantage of the vendor, whether buyers are scarce or numerous, and all other things which a prudent man may properly take into account.”
In other words, much to the consternation of those who would insist that the Salamanca School recognized nothing but the needs of “supply and demand,” we find one of its most prominent scholars asserting that the entire process and situation of production and sale must be considered when the just price is calculated. Social and economic prudence is truly queen here.
We find out in the next paragraph who it is, exactly, who is entitled to make a binding judgment, while employing this social and economic prudence. The answer to this question depends upon another Scholastic distinction. This distinction is between the “legal” price and the “natural” price.
These are, as de Soto states, the “two-fold” aspect of the “just price.” Here we find that “the just legal price” is that which is fixed by the prince. The “discretionary” or “natural price” is that which is current when certain prices are not legally controlled.
De Soto states that this distinction is one drawn by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics (V, chapter 7). Notice, in this regard, de Soto is not making a “value judgment,” saying that the “legal price” is bad and the “natural price” is good. As we will find, the application of these two different types of prices depends upon what type of good or commodity we are speaking of.
The next few paragraphs of the passage we have been citing are very significant and are echoed by other scholars of the Salamanca School. De Soto states, “To understand the [above] Conclusion and to judge its validity, and to see why it is necessary for prices to be controlled, we must realize that the matter is a primary concern of the republic [in the sense of res publica or the commonweal] and its governors, who, in spite of the arguments repeated above [i.e., those “free market” arguments in the Objections], ought really to fix the price of every article.
But since they cannot possibly do so in all cases, the task [of “fixing” the price of those commodities which the prince has not fixed] is left to the discretion of buyers and sellers. The price that results is called the natural price because it reflects the nature of the goods, and the utility and convenience which they bring [emphasis my own].”
In proof that the term “legal price,” entails no negative judgment on this form of pricing, we can cite de Soto as stating, “When a price is fixed by law (for instance, when a measure of wheat or wine, or a length of cloth, is sold for a certain sum) it is not lawful to increase this price by even a farthing. If the excess be great, then it is mortal sin and a matter for restitution.”
Those prices, which are not regulated, especially the prices of commodities extraneous to the basic needs of the citizenry, can “enjoy a certain latitude within the bounds of justice.” Here we find that even the prices allowed to fluctuate, must be kept within the bounds of justice; “justice,” in this case, meaning the requirements of the common good.
The Complexity of the Just Price Reaffirmed
De Soto was, as was every Scholastic, an inheritor of a centuries-old tradition of scholarship and learning. His statements concerning the advisability of “fixing” prices, had antecedents deep in the heart of the Middle Ages. That characteristic, “non-giant,” the Viennese scholar Heinrich von Langenstein was an advocate of a strict system of price controls. He advises the prince, however, to fix prices in accordance with the customary price, which is determined by “the degree of human want.”
Moreover, Langenstein shows a completely balanced approach to the question of the just price. He acknowledges that there is an objective factor, in the sense that it should be fixed by some authority standing outside the market, and yet subjective as being the product of subjective factors. Some of those subjective factors that Langenstein mentions are: supply and demand, utility, cost of production, remuneration of labor, cost of transport, and risk.
All of these are to be taken into account when determining value. Just like St. Thomas Aquinas, Langenstein understood “supply and demand” to play a part in determining price.
Grice-Hutchinson herself recognizes this to be the generally held position of the Scholastic tradition, when she writes, “we have seen that the concepts of utility and rarity were placed high in the traditional list of factors determining value which accompanied scholastic discussions of the ‘just price.’” She, also, admits, “we have seen that our Scholastic writers regarded utility and rarity as the primary, though not the sole, determinants of value” [emphasis mine].
If we should look, specifically, for another member of the School of Salamanca who affirms de Soto’s teaching on the desirability of fixing prices, especially those of “staple” commodities, we come upon one Pedro de Valencia. In hisDiscurso sobre el precio del trigo, he states that, “those who allege that a thing is worth the price it will fetch must be understood as referring only to things that are not essential to life, such as diamonds, falcons, horses, swords, and also to other commoner things when there is no fraud, compulsion or monopoly, and when vendor and purchaser enjoy equal liberty or suffer equal need [emphasis mine].”
Recognizing, however, that in matters of real need the citizenry is at a distinct disadvantage in any exchange, he states, “in the case of bread, in years when it is dear – the vendor always enjoys liberty and plenty, and the purchaser always suffers urgent need and want.”
Now we come to the question of the just price, “The just price is not whatever a thing will fetch on account of the purchaser’s need, nor can such a price in conscience be demanded. No price is just or should be regarded as current if it is against the public interest, which is the first and principal consideration in justifying the price of things.”
Bernadine of Siena and Antonino of Florence: Saints Misconstrued
We ought to be very much surprised when we find a Neo-Liberal scholar like Raymond de Roover focusing our attention on two great saints, St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antonino of Florence. It is, first of all, surprising to see that they are termed, “The Two Great Economic Thinkers of the Middle Ages,” when they lived their lives square in the heart of the blossoming Italian Renaissance.
That these thinkers are acclaimed as far-sighted prophets of the goodness of Liberal Capitalism is also surprising, since their attitude towards economics itself could not be farther away from the mentality of a von Mises, who would hold the laws of private property and the “free-market” to be adverse to the “heterogeneous” moral claims made by the divine and natural law.
Here it would be useful to recall von Mises statement that, “In urging people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit, one does not create a working and satisfactory social order [emphasis mine].”
The only thing which the two great saints under consideration intended by their preaching and writing on economic issues was to “urg[e] people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit.” They, also, held that only if such things were done, would a just and satisfying civil order be attained.
When we consider the moral teachings of St. Bernadine (1380 – 1444) as these relate to economic issues, what we are analyzing are 14 sermons, which are part of a larger collection of sermons entitled, De Evangelio aeterno (Concerning the Eternal Gospel).
These Latin sermons, as opposed to his Italian ones, were meant to be read rather than preached. Here we can see the continuation of a long tradition, echoed in our own age by men like Heinrich Pesch, S.J., of including economic questions within the larger framework of ethics. In these sermons of St. Bernadine (a Franciscan and the great apostle of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus), we find the general teachings of the Church as regards economic life repeated anew.
As de Roover himself admits, the condemnation of usury was a prominent theme in St. Bernadine’s writings. Just as was the case with the other Scholastics, St. Bernadine was “preoccupied with another set of problems [as opposed to questions of “how the market operates”]: what is just or unjust, licit or illicit? In other words, the stress was on ethics: everything was subordinated to the main theme.”
Both St. Bernadine and St. Antoninus (Archbishop of Florence from 1445 to 1459), both frown upon acquisitiveness as leading to sin and eternal perdition. St. Antoninus deals with the whole topic of market transactions in section of his Summa theologica moralis that deals with the sin of avarice. Moreover, economics was discussed within the framework of contracts, as Roman law understood these.
The virtues that regulated the individual and collective economic actions of men were the virtues of distributive and commutative justice (i.e., the State giving to its citizens “their due” and citizens “giving to each other their due”). Let us face it, the only “due” that the Libertarians allow is the absolute claim that each man has to have the government and his fellow citizens respect his, already demarcated, private property right.
They forget what the Distributists remembered quite well, all men have a certain right to private property. Those who uphold the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, better than their Libertarian antagonists, understand the role of private property in personal and familial fulfillment.
When we study de Roover’s book on these two, putatively, innovative saints, we find ourselves at a loss to find a significant teaching that is not firmly rooted in the wisdom of the Catholic past or one which is not clarified, in a purely traditional way, by the later Scholastics of the School of Salamanca.
As de Roover himself recognizes, St. Bernadine, like the Medieval Scholastics before him, understood price determination to be a social process. Price is not set by the arbitrary decision of individuals but collectively by the community as a whole. St. Bernadine makes this explicit when he states, “the price of goods and services is set for the common good with due consideration to the common valuation or estimation made collectively by the community of citizens [emphasis mine].”
According to de Roover, in the writings of St. Bernadine, there was “only minimal analysis of changes in demand or supply as this affects prices.
With regard to the above question of price, as we found earlier with his analysis of the economic thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, de Roover’s portrayal of the intellectual “innovations” of St. Bernadine is very forced and often involves the use of statements that do not at all prove his point, in fact, they often contradict it.
One example is his citation of a single sentence, from the “sermons” of St. Bernadine, which seems to indicate that the saint held to an idea of the “just price” which was convertible with the idea of “market valuation.”
In support of this view, he cites St. Bernadino as defining the “just price” as, “the one which happens to prevail at a given time according to the estimation of the market, that is, what the commodities for sale are then commonly worth in a certain place.”
As we have seen, however, with regard to this determination of price based upon “supply and demand” and “market conditions,” there was a solid moral tradition, passing into late Scholastic times, in which it was considered perfectly reasonable that prices of certain inessential items were allowed to “float” freely, their value being determined by how much someone, who did not absolutely need the item, was willing to pay.
De Roover himself seems to recognize that the language of “just price” as “prevailing market price” refers to just this situation and to these kinds of goods. And yet, that de Roover wants to insinuate that St. Bernadino equated the “just price” with the “one that happens to prevail at a given time according to the estimation of the market” in all cases, is clear. With his usual hesitant definitiveness, he says, “This statement [about just price and prevailing market price], it seems to me, is so clear that it does not admit any other construction.”
If, as he seems to say, St. Bernadino equated just price with market price, all prices should, for justice’s sake, be subject to the free flow of market forces – any interference would be, according to this view, an interference in the market’s setting of the “just price.”
That this is not St. Bernadine’s view is made clear, again by de Roover himself, when he admits that the Franciscan taught “prices may be fixed for the common good.” Society, then, is in charge of setting prices.
Who does not hear the echo of the entire economic ethos of Christendom in St. Bernadine statement that, prices may be fixed for the common good, “because nothing is more iniquitous than to promote private interests at the expense of general welfare.”
St. Antonino, the Just Price, and the Just Wage
St. Antonino of Florence was explicitly committed to the position that civil authority had the right and, often, the obligation to fix prices for the sake of the common good. Clearly the “common estimation” by which prices ought be determined, included the possibility of the State explicitly setting the price of items.
According to de Roover, “Sant’ Antonino…states that it might be desirable under certain circumstances to have prices of victuals and other necessities fixed by the bishop, or even better, by the civil authorities. If there is such regulation, it is binding and victuallers and other tradesmen may not, without sinning, raise the price above the legal minimum.”
Rather than being anything like a “free market” advocate, the Archbishop of Florence reaffirms the traditional condemnation of usury and monopoly. He, also, insisted upon there being a “just wage.” The calculation of what would constitute a “just wage” was a social and a complex process that would involve the consideration of many different elements. To quote de Roover’s citation of St. Antoninus, “Sant’ Antoninus states that the purpose of wages was not only to compensate the worker for his labor but also to enable him to provide for himself and his family according to his social situation.”
Moreover, “it was as unfair and sinful to pay less than the just wage because a worker had mouths to feed as it was unfair to pay less than the just price because of the seller’s urgent need for cash.” St. Antoninus clearly saw man as a whole, not just as a private property owning (or not owning) unit.
The whole talk about a “just wage” (not to mention a “just price”) means nothing unless we understand man to be a social creature and all of man’s activities and social interactions, including his economic ones, as having an orientation to the higher and more perfect good, at least the true and fulfilling good of human existence.
We see this over-arching teleological (from the Greek word telos or goal) understanding of the human good present in the following statement that de Roover makes concerning the teaching of St. Antoninus: “The purpose of a fair wage was to enable the worker to earn a decent living, the purpose of a decent living was to enable him to lead a virtuous life, and the purpose of a virtuous life was to enable him to achieve salvation and eternal glory.”
As we might expect, from what we have seen from the various Libertarian writers cited in this article, de Roover “summarizes” St. Antoninus’s position by overturning everything he had previously stated concerning the saints’ teaching: “St. Antoninus’s own wage theory according to which the just wage was set by common estimation, that is, by market forces without any reference to individual needs.”
Here he is asserting A and not A simultaneously. Here we have the manipulation of a classical Christian moral text by a Libertarian whose views on economics, logic, politics, society, and, even simple human psychology would be completely inexplicable to our saintly Renaissance bishop.
Why does all of this matter? Much of “conservative” and “libertarian” thought, in the United States, in the British Commonwealth, and on the Continent of Europe has attempted to find a way to, as Arthur Penty put it, “stabilize the abnormal.” What is truly needed is a return to the normal.
What we have seen when analyzing the actual statements made by the Medieval and Renaissance moral theologians on economic issues is a balanced portrayal of what the “normal” is. What has been amazing to see is not how innovative they were, in a Liberal direction, but rather, how traditional and deeply Christian they were.
That there was room for discussion on such questions as the worth of money as a result of foreign exchange is a perfectly normal manifestation of the Catholic desire for justice and a deep prudence that understands the multiplicity of situations in which human beings act.
Such prudence cannot be taken as a revolutionary innovation or for an opening to modern economic liberalism.
The basis of our current “abnormal” is an inflated and unnatural understanding of man as an individual, free to “create” his own “value system,” which, to a certain extent, means to “create his own world.” Liberalism, in its economic and political manifestations, has created a situation in which the ancient psychological, social, economic, and political tapestry of human societies has been unraveled.
By upholding an ethereal concept of “choice,” it has robbed us of our honor, our personal security, and our heritage. This entire conception of man and human existence is embedded in the Neo-Liberal equation of the “just price” with the “market price.” That Arthur Penty and many others would present the “just price” and its attainment as the primary purpose of the Medieval Guild System is testimony to the fact that the very social life of Christendom, in a very real way, pivoted upon this reality.
That “justice” should involve more than mere “freedom of choice,” rather including within the very term an idea and concrete historical reality expressive of a higher order and more fundamental and essential obligations, is testimony to the fact that the spiritual psychology of Christendom was profoundly different from the one we find possessed by all those who reject the ancient way, whether they be Socialists, Globalists, or Libertarians.
For those who would, correctly, seek for a life outside of the spiritually suffocating totalitarian Liberalism that we find ourselves immersed in, Penty warns them that any attempt to realize the dream of an independent rural existence without price controls put into place, would result, for most, in economic suicide for families and for individuals.
These are sobering words. Our struggle must then take on a more encompassing religious, moral, and even political dimension if our children and our children’s children are to live a life richer and, hence, more traditional than our own.
Dr. Peter Chojnowski is a professor, writer and currently teaches at Immaculate Conception Academy in Post Falls, Idaho.
The photo shows, “Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality,” by Ludwig von Langenmantel, painted in 1879.
The Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions
was registered in 1870 and lasted until 1923. It was the first independent
exhibition association of Russian artists. Its first exhibition, with 16
participating artists, was held in 1871. In the years of its existence, the
society staged a total of 48 exhibitions, not just in Moscow and St.
Petersburg, but also in other cities within the Russian Empire.
One of the main reasons for the founding
of the society was the artists’ desire to acquire financial independence from
the Academy of Arts, which essentially had a monopoly on the sale of paintings
via its exhibitions. In turn, financial independence gave the artists the right
not just to earn an income by “cutting out the middleman”, but also to decide
on the subjects of their paintings themselves.
In the 19th century, the
Russian Academy of Arts was a conservative institution which prioritized the
portrayal of mythological, biblical and historical subjects. The young artists
wanted to show scenes from contemporary life and preferred “realism” to myths
The precursors of the Peredvizhniki(known in English as The Wanderers or The Itinerants) were artists from the St. Petersburg Artel [“Cooperative”] of Artists. In 1863, fourteen students from the Academy of Arts had submitted a petition demanding to independently choose the subjects for their diploma works. The petition was turned down by the academy’s authorities.
Subsequently, the students refused to take part in the annual gold medal competition and left the academy. The “rebels”, led by Ivan Kramskoi, set up an art artel along commune lines. From the new artel, participants – members of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions – inherited a policy of independence and confrontation with the Academy of Arts.
Art critic Vladimir Stasov was the ideologist of the society. In 1882, he proclaimed that “nationalism and realism” were the group’s main principles. Stasov passionately opposed the provincial and imitative nature of Russian art of the first half of the 19th century and dreamed of Russian art occupying a worthy place alongside European art.
Stasov essentially formulated
the ideological platform of the new school of Russian art, urging artists to
turn to scenes from Russian contemporary life that often contained social
Enlightenment was another key goal pursued by the Peredvizhniki. Their exhibitions introduced the metropolitan and provincial public to the latest movements in art. According to the artist Nikolai Yaroshenko, the Peredvizhniki’s dream was “to take art out of the inaccessible palaces in which it was the domain of the few and make it the domain of all”.
One of the rules of the Peredvizhniki’s exhibitions,
which to a large extent ensured their success, was the requirement that artists
should exhibit only new paintings that had not been shown anywhere else before.
Essentially, the Peredvizhniki formed
the first private commercial art venture, independent of state patronage. The
artists’ income was determined by selling exhibitions organized in different
cities. The artists considerably expanded the market for their works by also
displaying them in provincial towns.
The sale of entrance tickets to
exhibitions was another considerable part of their income. Each artist donated
5 percent from the sale of their work to the society’s pooled funds, which were
used to cover the costs of mounting exhibitions.
Collector and philanthropist Pavel Tretyakov supported the society, not just by buying pictures for his gallery at itinerant exhibitions, but also by commissioning original work from artists.
In 1878, Ilya Repin joined the society. Exhibitions of his paintings were almost always accompanied by scandal. His work Religious Procession in Kursk Governorate was seen as a “squalid attack on all sections of Russian society”, They Did Not Expect Him was described as a “pseudo-liberal denunciation and protest” and in front of Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivanladies just fainted. The latter painting was banned from being exhibited by imperial decree – and because of Repin’s “gory” works, all art exhibitions in Russia were subject to censorship from 1885.
By 1923, the society ceased to exist. Over
the years of its existence, its members were often involved in conflicts with
one another. Ilya Repin, who twice left the group and then returned, accused
his associates of suffering from a bureaucratic mindset. Nikolai Ge, Arkhip
Kuindzhi and Viktor Vasnetsov all left the association. In 1901, 11 members
left, including Valentin Serov, Mikhail Nesterov and Victor Vasnetsov.
The society’s board eventually began to pursue a conservative policy, not really encouraging young artists to get involved, and, with many leading lights of the society having left the art scene, in the end the activities of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions petered out.