The Valle de los Caídos: Place of Memory, Faith, And Polemic

The Basilica of Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos (Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen in Combat), inaugurated by Franco in 1959 and consecrated by Pope John XXIII in 1960, is regularly the subject of severe criticism by Spanish politicians and journalists. The controversies grew and reached peak intensity in 2019, following the decision by the Spanish government to proceed with the exhumation of Franco’s body.

The Vice President of the socialist government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (President from 2004 to 2011) had wanted, many years ago, to make it “a museum of the dictatorship.” The president of the Forum for Remembrance had wanted it to be converted into a museum “of the horrors of repression.” More radical still, the Irish-born socialist writer, Ian Gibson, no doubt unconsciously following the example of the Islamist demolishers of the Bamiyan Buddhas, suggested destroying the monument by dynamiting it.

It seemed the Law of Historical Memory, of December 26, 2007, had provisionally settled things: the Basilica of the Valley of the Fallen in Combat was to continue to be a place of Catholic worship, but political gatherings were prohibited there. This solution seemed reasonable, after all, because this monument, which is the most visited in Spain after the royal palace and the Escorial, is part of Spanish heritage.

But under the guise of justice, the fight against hatred and the fight against “fascism,” the so-called “good-guys,” embodied by a large part of the political caste, is now calling for reform and extension of the Law of Historical Memory and implicitly the generalized, official teaching of only their vision of history. The spirit of the Democratic Transition (spirit of reciprocal forgiveness and consultation between government and opposition), which had so beneficially dominated the years 1976 to 1982, and which the international press then unanimously praised, has now seen better days.

Most of the Spanish media seem to see this no longer as a shameless manipulation of justice and history, as an unacceptable cowardice. The nation, the family, and religion (Catholicism of course, but also Christianity more generally) have once again become privileged targets of subversive political propaganda. The coalition government of President Pedro Sánchez (a socialist at odds, like Zapatero was, with the cultural moderatism of Felipe González) and Vice President Pablo Iglesias (the leader of Podemos, a party shared between supporters of Marxism-Leninism and followers of “Bolivarian” or “Venezuelan” populism) has not ceased to rekindle the ideological battle, or even to foment social unrest with the shameful aim of maintaining power, no matter what the cost.

Over the years, the Valle de los Caídos has become one of the pillars of “progressive-leftist” mythology, and one of the main symbols of the struggle for freedom of expression and worship in Spain. Located 58 kilometers from Madrid, the imposing mausoleum of the Sierra de Guadarrama, where the remains of 33,847 nationals and republicans (including more than 21,000 identified and more than 12,000 unknown) rest alongside each other, was originally designed by Franco and the Francoists as a monument to perpetuate the memory of the “glorious Crusade.” This was, moreover, the point of view of the Church and in particular that of the Catalan cardinal and Primate of Spain, Plá y Deniel, in 1945.

The religious component had been, let us remember, decisive during the uprising of July 1936. During the Spanish Civil War, in the Popular Front area of Spain, nearly 7,000 priests and nuns were killed (not counting the thousands of lay people, eliminated because of their faith), religious worship was prohibited, and the destruction of religious buildings was systematic.

But from the end of the 1950s, on the eve of the inauguration of the monument, once spirits had partly calmed down, the architectural complex had been presented “in the name of reconciliation,” as a tribute to the combatants of the two camps of the Civil War. To this end, the decree-law of August 23, 1957 clearly ordered: “Consequently, it will be the Monument to all those killed in combat, over whose sacrifice the peaceful arms of the Cross will triumph.”

The construction of this colossal temple, sheltered by the mountain and crowned on the outside with a monumental cross, took place between 1940 and 1958. It was entrusted first to the Basque architect, Pedro Muguruza, then to Diego Mendez. The basilica, of pharaonic dimensions, has a capacity of 24,000 people. The nave measures no less than 262 meters. The maximum height at the transept is 41 meters. On the outer plaza 200,000 people can gather. The cross, designed by Muguruza, rises 150 meters, to which must be added the 1400 meters of altitude of the Risco de la Nava. Two cars can pass each other along the arms of the cross, which are each 45 meters long.

Juan de Avalos is the creator of the Valle sculptures, in particular the gigantic heads of the evangelists at the foot of the cross. Before the Civil War, he was active in the ranks of the socialist youth and held the membership card number 7 of the Socialist Party of Mérida. Another interesting detail, the figure of Christ that dominates the main altar and that rests on a cross, whose juniper wood was cut by Franco, is the work of a Basque nationalist, the sculptor Julio Beobide, disciple of the famous painter Ignacio Zuloaga.

Above the altar, the impressive mosaic-covered cupola is the work of Catalan artist, Santiago Padrós y Elías. With a diameter of over 33 meters, it contains no less than 5 million tesserae. The central figure is Christ in Majesty, surrounded by angels, saints and martyrs.

This religious building includes not only a monumental church – elevated to the rank of basilica by Pope John XXIII – but also a Benedictine abbey. Until the Democratic Transition, there was also a Center for Social Studies (Centro de estudios sociales del Valle de los Caídos), the objective of which was to study, collect and disseminate the social doctrine of the Church, so that it inspired laws, and the actions of businessmen and the unions. The ideology of the Franco regime was marked – let us not forget – by the desire to rebuild a state which was to be above all Catholic. And it was for this reason that Pope Pius XII had conferred on the Generalissimo the Supreme Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the highest distinction of the Holy See.

The actual information on the construction of the structure was rarely published in the press. The media took the opportunity to report often extravagant figures. Thus, the number of political prisoners who worked there was not 14 or 20,000 (or even 200,000), as was repeated following the rants of the socialist Léo Brincat, responsible for the draft recommendation condemning the Franco regime to the Council of Europe (November 4, 2005). In fact, the number of worker-prisoners never exceeded 800 to 1000 men, or less than half of all workers (prisoners and free employees). At the end of 1943, the Spanish press even reported a total of 600 workers.

In a book published by the architect, and director of the work, Diego Mendez, it is stated that 2000 men worked in the Valle from 1940 to 1958. One of the very few researchers, if not the only one, who took the trouble to methodically analyze the documentary evidence (“Valle de los Caídos”), in the General Archives of the Royal Palace of Madrid (General Administrations Section) is professor of history at the CEU San Pablo University, in Madrid, Alberto Bárcena Pérez, author of La redención de penas en el Valle de los Caídos (The Reduction of Sentences at Valle de los Caídos), and a 2015 book, Los presos del Valle de los Caídos (The Prisoners of the Valle de los Caídos). The archival material is housed in 69 boxes, and the thousands of documents they contain completely demolish the caricatured and fraudulent image claimed by politicians, journalists and academics in the service of power.

The archives of the former Centro de estudios sociales del Valle de los Caídos (Center for Social Studies of the Valle de los Caídos) show 2,643 workers, including a minority of political prisoners who, in principle, “had to be volunteers who freely chose the system of reduction of sentence by work;” or, first, two days of reduction of the sentence for one day of work, then, six days of reduction for one day of work.

Alberto Barcena specifies that the prisoners carried out the same work as the free workers and under identical conditions (wages, hours and food). The detainees were also employed by the companies responsible for the work. They had to submit their request through the Patronato de Nuestra Señora de la Merced or National Center for the Redemption of Sentences, which had been created for this purpose and which had its seat at the Ministry of Justice.

The main part of the salaries of the detainees (fixed according to their family responsibilities) was sent directly to the families through the “local pro-prisoners committees,” which covered most of the national territory. Another part was placed in a booklet, the full amount of which was paid back when the detainee was released. Finally, a third part was given by hand. Political prisoners did not receive 0.5 or 1 peseta a day as it has often been written, but 7, then 10 pesetas, plus bonuses for hazardous work. Their families could reside in the barracks in the Valle, provided for this purpose. The working conditions were of course very harsh and the salary more than modest but, it must be remembered that at that time the standard of living in Spain was very low and that the average salary of a university assistant at the highest was barely 300 pesetas per month.

In 1950, nine years before the construction was completed, under the remission system, there was no longer a single political prisoner in the Valle. According to the testimonies of the doctor, chief physician, Angel Lausin, and the nurse, Luis Orejas, two proven supporters of the Popular Front, who arrived at the start of the worksite as political prisoners, and who remained there, after serving their sentence – in nineteen years of work, there were between fourteen and eighteen deaths (to which must be added more than fifty victims who died due to silicosis). Finally, the monument was not financed by the Spanish taxpayer, but by private donations and by the profits of annual lotteries.

The ultimate avatar of history: the last will of the old dictator, Francisco Franco, who died on November 20, 1975, was not respected. The Caudillo wanted to be buried in the cemetery of Pardo like other figures of the regime. But the head of the first government of the transition, Arias Navarro, and the new head of state, Juan Carlos (proclaimed King on November 22, 1975) decided otherwise. The King asked the Benedictine community, guardians of the Valle and of the Basilica, for authorization to bury the body of Francisco Franco at the foot of the altar, in front of the burial place of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, which was done with great fanfare on November 23, 1975.

Forty-three years later, on February 15, 2019, the day after his arrival at the Moncloa Palace, President Pedro Sánchez pledged to have the remains of dictator Franco exhumed as quickly as possible from the Basilica of Valle de los Caídos. This resulted in an endless legal battle. For a whole series of reasons, the Basilica is a place of worship whose inviolability is guaranteed by an international treaty on religious freedom, signed between Spain and the Holy See in 1979. The Benedictines, responsible for the monument, do not depend on the Vatican, but are under the authority of their abbot and that of the superior of their order, the abbot of the Abbey of Solesmes.

The Franco family demanded that the remains of the Caudillo be transferred to the family vault of the Cathedral of Almudena (Madrid), a proposal unacceptable to the socialist government. Finally, the improvised drafting of the royal decree-law ordering the exhumation was also to be a source of complications. Its strict application could indeed result in the immediate exhumation of 19 Benedictine monks as well as that of 172 other people who died after the end of the Civil War, and who are all buried in the Valle.

Finally, after the Supreme Court gave its approval, the political will of the government was imposed and the exhumation was carried out by the police on September 24, 2019. Since then, more or less authorized voices have been calling for the exhumation of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who is, however, also a victim of the Civil War. But at this stage, we cannot say whether, in the near or distant future, the authorities intend to give a new meaning to the monument, to desecrate the Basilica, or even to demolish the monumental Cross. These different options are in any case openly considered in the mainstream media.

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.

The photo shows the Pieta of the Valle de los Caídos, sculpted between 1952 and 1959 by Juan de Avalos.

Translated from the original French by N. Dass.

Why The ‘Left’ Is Intolerant

Introduction

There are many forms of intolerance and many different kinds of explanations, motives, and defenses for the various forms. There is no presumption here that intolerance is always and everywhere unacceptable. In this essay, I shall focus on that form of intolerance manifested as censorship of what is permitted in writing and speech, limitations on what kinds of questions, the manner of their formulation and the kinds and range of answers permitted. In addition, I shall focus on censorship that takes the form of editing, reinterpreting and reporting what other people say; finally, I shall focus on censorship of the presumed motives (not just the reasons) of what other people are thinking. The particular historical and institutional context I have in mind is contemporary so-called free societies such as the US and the UK and specifically within them government bureaucracies, universities and all forms of public communication, such as newspapers, magazines, blogs, internet, publishers, TV, radio, etc.

Precisely because of the foregoing focus and the kinds of individuals that would be relevant, my explanation will be interested primarily in the intellectual origins of the intolerance, or, if you like, the kinds reasons offered or that might be offer in defense of the intolerance.

Human beings sometimes, but not always, find it necessary to offer a formal reason(s) for their public policy positions. We do so when we believe that the people to whom the formal explanation is addressed are, or will be, members of the same moral community as ourselves. Otherwise, the offering of reasons is irrelevant, often counterproductive, or dishonest.

When I refer to the ‘Left’, I shall mean those who advocate radical social change instituted by the force of the state and justified by appeal to some moral abstraction or Utopian aim. Given my understanding, the ‘Left’ will refer in general to so-called progressives, modern liberals, socialists, Marxists, those who self-identify in terms of identity politics, and the like. Political affiliation is no longer particularly helpful here.

Intellectual Origins of Social ‘Expertise’

In the 18th-century, the French philosophes developed the idea that there could be social sciences, modeled after the physical sciences. These alleged social sciences would be able to explain, predict, and control social phenomena. Thus was born the idea of a social technology. The belief that a social technology would enable us to create a Utopian society was the shared intellectual inheritance of liberals, socialists, and Marxists (Becker 1962). Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity expressed such a view. Fromm described it in the following way: “[Skinner’s] system attracts those psychologists who are liberals and who find Skinner’s system an argument to defend their political optimism. He appeals to those who believe that desirable social goals like peace and equality are not just rootless ideals, but can be established in reality. The whole idea that one can ‘design’ a better society on a scientific basis appeals to many who earlier might have been socialists. Did not Marx, too, want to design a better society. Did he not call his brand of socialism ‘scientific’ in contrast to ‘Utopian’ socialism… Moreover, Skinner’s theory rings true, because it is (almost) true for the alienated man of the cybernetic society. In summary, Skinnerism is the psychology of opportunism dressed up as a new scientific humanism” [The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1973].

The Enlightenment Project is the Pelagian attempt to define and explain the human predicament through science as well as to achieve mastery over it through the use of a social technology. This project originated in France in the18th-century with the philosophes, Diderot, d’Alembert, La Mettrie, Condillac, Helvetius, d’Holbach, Turgot, Condorcet, Cabanis, and Voltaire:

[T]he conviction that the world, or nature, was a single whole, subject to a single set of laws, in principle discoverable by the intelligence of man; that the laws which governed inanimate nature were in principle the same as those which governed plants, animals and sentient beings; that man was capable of improvement; that there existed certain objectively recognizable human goals which all men, rightly so described, sought after, namely, happiness, knowledge, justice, liberty, … that these goals were common to all men as such, were not unattainable, nor incompatible, and that human misery, vice and folly were mainly due to ignorance either of what these goals consisted in or of the means of attaining them-ignorance due in turn to insufficient knowledge of the laws of nature… Consequently, the discovery of general laws that governed human behaviour, their clear and logical integration into scientific systems of psychology, sociology, economics, political science and the like… would, by replacing the chaotic amalgam of guesswork, tradition, superstition, prejudice, dogma, fantasy…that hitherto did service as human knowledge and human wisdom (and of which by far the chief protector and instigator was the Church), create a new, sane, rational, happy, just and self-perpetuating human society, which, having arrived at the peak of attainable perfection, would preserve itself against all hostile influences, save perhaps those of nature.[Berlin, 1993, pp.27-28].

The social science disciplines now housed in the universities claim to possess the relevant truths that would enable them to produce a social utopia if they can gain control of the only institution capable of controlling all the other institutions, namely the government.

Hence, the social sciences, which have colonized all other disciplines including the arts, sciences, schools of communication, law schools, and even schools of business, have produced a faculty that overwhelmingly supports government that is ever more powerful. This is what intellectuals tell themselves makes them the most important people in society. It is there raison d’être. Since education is now understood to be a form of technology, education is indistinguishable from indoctrination. Universities and colleges may advertise to parents that a college degree increases lifetime income but that is not the major mission of present higher education. Its mission is social reform.

Unfortunately, for them, The U.S. has a constitution, an electoral college, and a republic as opposed to a pure democracy. This makes it difficult to obtain the correct personnel for the government. Hence, it is necessary to indoctrinate the ignorant public. This requires:

First, purge the faculty of those who do not believe in either the intellectual legitimacy of the social ‘sciences’ or the practical effectiveness of social technology. Academic freedom is a relic of a bygone pre-scientific era. It may have been necessary at first to entrench leftist professors, but it is no longer needed. This exemplifies the old saying that “when in the minority demand tolerance on your host’s principles but when in the majority deny it on yours.”

In an analogue to the Vatican, only some have access to all writings; all others, including authors (instructors) must be silenced. A catechism displays the only admissible questions and the only admissible answers.

Second, sanitize and redefine the curriculum. Remove all offensive and counter-productive material.

Third, create a paid group of monitors to observe and report on faculty and staff who might deviate from or sabotage the curriculum.

Fourth, insist that everyone get a college degree and adjust the requirements (lower standards) to facilitate this.

Fifth, train journalists to spread the truth. Since these journalists will be taught the hidden truth about how people think, in the same way that physicists understand the behavior of unseen molecules, journalists do not report what people actually say because it is mere surface phenomena. They report what people really mean, the hidden structure, even if that is not what those people say. This is not in their eyes fake news or misrepresentation. It is social ‘science’. It is telling the ‘real’ hidden truth.

It is not only permissible but also morally required to do or say whatever is necessary because the end justifies the means. The end always justifies the means only as long as the end is incontrovertibly acceptable (i.e. beyond dispute). Presumably, only the ‘elect’ know that ‘end’ and therefore are in a position to impose it on others.

Working with allies in the bureaucracy, this may at times look like spying on a campaign, sabotaging an election and an administration, and rigging the outcome of future elections, but what it really means to advocates of social technology is the giving of total fulfillment. They know the truth and they will make us really free.

There are many prominent thinkers, such as Hayek, who have debunked the whole idea of a social ‘science’. Human beings are not mechanisms and not simply organic entities. Moreover, there cannot be a science of humanity or of the social world. Any description of the human world would be valid only if agreed to within a pre-existing social/cultural framework. Any attempt to explain that framework (as opposed to describing it) would be a further explanation that would be valid only if agreed to within some other framework, and so on ad infinitum!

My argument should not be confused with the older claim that you cannot deduce a norm (an ‘ought’) from a fact(s) (‘is’), an argument wrongly attributed to Hume. There cannot be facts or anything designated as a fact unless we already agree on a prior set of (epistemological) norms/practices. So, norms are more fundamental than facts, and hence it is obvious why we do not deduce norms from facts – a trivial point and not a profound insight. This goes to the heart of the argument: all (any) civilization is possible only if there is some kind of agreement on norms. What the new left does is to obscure this point by talking as if they are articulating an intellectual or symbolic position when in fact they reject a common set of norms (e.g., burning the flag or not kneeling at the national anthem). That is why they systematically obscure (or are confused about) the distinction between the existence of a norm and the extent to which we instantiate the norm in our practices.

Let me give an example of how this works.

I shall refer to this maneuver as CYA. Progressive advocates of social technology claimed for many years that dysfunction within the African-American community was solely the result of poverty or the lack of resources and that a variety of welfare programs would solve the problem.

As Charles Murray documented it in his book, Losing Ground, that progressive strategy not only failed to solve the problem but also made it worse! Two consequences followed. First, Murray was vilified as a racist for this book. Second, progressives invented a new or meta-theory to cover the failure of the first theory/policy.

The new theory was ‘institutionalized racism’. I shall ignore the fact that such an expression is a meaningless abstraction that confuses different categories (if you are a logician you will understand this) and hence cannot be, and is therefore not, confirmable. The explanans is identical to the explanandum. On the contrary, by every objective measureable the U.S. is not racist (Connerly, WSJ, 7/24/20), and popular opinion increasingly favors doing everything reasonable to improve opportunities for Blacks. ‘Reparations’ is not reasonable because it is more of the same failed program of transferring resources.

CYA also reflects another dishonest intellectual stratagem. Advocates of social technology assume that whatever is true of physical science is the model for everything else. There are two versions: elimination and exploration. In elimination, there is an explicit substitution of new ideas for old ideas. Elimination is a form of radical replacement through innovation. Examples are the elimination of Ptolemy’s geocentric view of the universe and its replacement by Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the universe; another is the elimination of traditional theories of disease by the discovery of microbes. Elimination makes sense if there is some prior agreed upon framework in terms of which we can judge that one new theory is better than an old theory.

In exploration, on the other hand, we begin with our ordinary understanding of how things work and then go on to speculate on what might be behind those workings. The new understanding replaces the older one by appeal to underlying structures. The underlying structures are discovered by following out the implications of some hypothetical model about those structures. The discovery is empirically confirmable and replicable by using telescopes, microscopes, and other sophisticated devices. Exploration is exemplified in the use of the atomic theory to explain chemical behavior or the behavior of gases.

Exploration is the mode of thought of academic social science. By analogy with physical science, the social sciences have persistently sought to discover the hidden structure behind the everyday understanding of social activities. From Durkheim to Marx, and beyond, social scientists have persistently sought to reveal a structural level of which we are not immediately aware. Exploration is the search for structure rather than for meaning, the search for the formal elements underlying the everyday world rather than believing that the everyday world can constitute its own level of understanding.

The problem with exploration is that there is no way to confirm or disconfirm an exploration in the social sciences. There are no sophisticated devices such as social microscopes to reveal what cannot be seen by the naked eye. There is no progress in the social sciences like the progress in the physical sciences. There is merely the substitution of one fashionable language for another. The riders and the tunes change, but the carousel only moves in a circle.

We are unable to choose among competing explorations. Denied formal criteria or extra-systematic criteria for evaluating their own hypotheses, social theorists can only fall back upon aesthetic and/or informal criteria. Immense prestige is accorded to those individuals skillful in formulating clever, ingenious, and sometimes bizarre hypotheses. Ingenuity becomes the benchmark of success, and as in present day movements in the arts leads to sudden shifts in fashion. Another dead-end is the appeal to intuition so that rival explorers claim that their hidden structure hypothesis ‘better’ captures some private intuition about our ordinary understanding. There is, of course, no independent way of establishing this.

How, then do we avoid nihilism? Progressives do so by offering a further or meta-exploratory account of why their opponents opposed the first level exploratory account. Therefore, if I disagree that the lack of resources is the cause of dysfunction, the progressive accuses me of racism, of harboring a secret dislike or revulsion of some group of people. This is no more rational or confirmable than the first level exploration, but it is a very clever and sometimes effective political/rhetorical maneuver, especially with the intellectually unsophisticated. One Tower of Babel replaces another.

There are alternative and competing accounts of what underlies our normative framework, but there is no way of resolving, in exploratory terms, which one is correct. Without a consensus on the framework, there is no way of distinguishing between when a thinker helps us to alter our norms by clarification of the alleged underlying structure and when he or she is just an advocate of a particular set of norms. Without a consensus on the framework, we might be led to the cynical conclusion that the very idea of a framework is a myth. That is, we are led to nihilism. Once we are willing to face nihilism, we can well ask “Why seek to resolve differences peacefully?”

By subscribing to scientism, theorists are also led to embrace determinism. Rawls is an example of an environmental determinist when he says that “Even the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense is itself dependent upon happy family and social circumstances” [Theory of Justice (1971), p. 74]. That is why these theorists deny things like the Augustinian or Kantian conception of the moral free will and deny, as well, the notion of an autonomous internal self. The traditional, pre-Enlightenment, conception of a moral agent subject to internal sanctions is denied. It is plausible to such theorists to take seriously the question “Why should I be moral?” If there are no internal sanctions, then there can only be external sanctions. Social equilibrium is to be maintained through external social control, i.e. intolerance and ultimately force!

There are enormous and insurmountable problems here. If we are nothing more than creatures of stimulus and response then why choose to institutionalize any one particular set of norms? Of course, we can maintain that these ‘machines’ have an internal telos or purpose, but how do we confirm this allegation or decide which alleged goal is the true one. You cannot establish the truth of teleology in an empirical way, and neither can you square individual free will with teleology.

I shall refer to the ‘old left’ as those who sincerely believed that they could win the argument on purely intellectual grounds. However, as epistemological sophistication grew in the physical sciences (1960s and 1970s), it became increasingly clear to philosophers of science (e.g. Kuhn, Feyerabend) that there was no independent way to establish the objective truth or the notion of objective progress even in the physical sciences. The Enlightenment Project dream of a social technology needed a new foundation.

Post-Modernity

As opposed to classical thinkers, modern or post-Renaissance thinkers have come to recognize that norms and standards (truth, beauty, goodness) are not grounded in, nor do they refer to, structures independent of human perspectives. One sees this in Copernican astronomy, Einsteinian relativity, the revival of ancient skepticism and what Kant, influenced by Hume, called the Copernican Revolution in philosophy. This notion of relativity to human perspective is already present in Renaissance works of art. For the benefit of the obtuse, to proclaim that something is true, beautiful, or good, etc. is to say that members of some relevant community will agree with that assessment. You might not agree with this modern epistemology, but there is nothing contradictory or irrational about it.

Postmodernists consider all norms as products of historically contingent circumstances that reflect cultural hierarchies. As such, any prior claim to social authority is delegitimized. This involves two separate beliefs: (a) the empirical claim that there are no universally significant facts about humanity and (b) the existent norms are historically accidental and therefore challengeable.

For our purposes, the second claim is the most significant. To begin with, whatever current norms there are for scholars and journalists (including the norms of academic freedom, veracity, interpretation, etc.) are challengeable or deconstructable. We live in a world of norm pluralism. If so, how do we go about managing disputes or replacing norms? There are traditional norms of challenge and replace, but those norms are themselves contingent. Here we have reached a dead end. You cannot even say that “anything goes” because that too is a contingent norm. We are left with the appeal to force.

Some postmodernists are undismayed by the foregoing. They will claim that they speak for a previously unrecognized set of norms variously described as the norms of the dispossessed, the marginalized, the exploited, etc. The Marxist provenance of this view is obvious and should be kept in mind. In fact, these particular postmodernists claim to be the articulators or spokespersons of those norms. Put into action, these spokespersons will try to persuade advocates of the traditional norms by various means to embrace the norms of the downtrodden. Those means include direct action and violence if necessary. There is no set of super-norms in their eyes for resolving these disputes.

Personally, I think these postmodernists are correct in pointing out the limits of rational discourse. It also seems historically accurate to claim that many disputes were resolved only by conflict (rebellion, revolution, civil war, etc.). Under such circumstances, intolerance is a perfectly consistent response.

Friends, colleagues, and others who do not get this point dismay me. The latter keep trying to find some logical flaw in postmodernism. For example, how can we agree that all norms are historically contingent? Does that not show that we agree on something? Of course it does; but ‘agreement’ is a social process. Philosophically, we do not all agree on what ‘agreement’ means.

My other friends seek some ‘rational’ way, some form of negotiation or concession, perhaps secession, to resolve the dispute. These otherwise ‘good’ people understandably want to avoid the use of force. In failing to understand those partisans of the left who are postmodern, the ‘good’ people (Neville Chamberlain comes to mind) are helpless, if not hopeless intellectually, and they will lose without a fight.

The well-intentioned but obtuse readers will jump-in at this point and claim that the appeal to historical events is a self-contradiction on the part of postmodernists. Again, this misses the point. Agreement on the occurrence of one event shows at best that we share at least one norm. Sharing one norm does not translate into sharing a set or framework of norms. Even agreement on the application of a norm to a set of circumstances is compatible with different interpretations of the same event in the light of a set of norms. No single norm operates in total independence of the set to which it belongs.

It is not simply the case that there are significant ethical disagreements about substantive issues. Many if not most of these controversies do not appear to be resolvable through sound rational argument. On the one hand, many of the controversies depend upon different foundational metaphysical commitments. As with most metaphysical controversies, resolution is possible only through the granting of particular initial premises and rules of evidence. On the other hand, even when foundational metaphysical issues do not appear to be at stake, the debates turn on different rankings of the good.

Again, resolution does not appear to be feasible without begging the question, arguing in a circle, or engaging in infinite regress. One cannot appeal to consequences without knowing how to rank the impact of different approaches with regard to different ethical interests (liberty, equality, prosperity, security, etc.). Nor can one uncontroversially appeal to preference satisfaction unless one already grants how one will correct preferences and compare rational versus impassioned preferences, as well as calculate the discount rate for preferences over time. Appeals to disinterested observers, hypothetical choosers, or hypothetical contractors will not avail either.

If such decision makers are truly disinterested, they will choose nothing. To choose in a particular way, they must be fitted out with a particular moral sense or thin theory of the good. Intuitions can be met with contrary intuitions. Any particular balancing of claims can be countered with a different approach to achieving a balance. In order to appeal for guidance to any account of moral rationality one must already have secured content for that moral rationality.

It even does not matter if I am wrong in my understanding and partial defense of postmodernism. It does not matter if there are non-trivial universal truths about humanity or universal/timeless norms. If a group of people do not believe in or accept those norms the consequences are the same. It does not matter if some postmodernists are advocating some benign change, for others can consistently demand something more radical. It does not matter if one is willing to allow co-existence or partition or secession if the other side wants dominance. The need for dominance will be discussed in the next section.

The transition from social technology to postmodernism marks the transition from liberalism to socialism and/or Marxism. The ‘new’ left has replaced/superseded the ‘old’ left.

In fact, we do live in a world, and even in our own U.S. society, of moral pluralism. There is one social tradition (norm, practice), namely the Anglo-American one, where moral pluralism has been largely and successfully managed. It is called the rule of law. We live in different substantive moral communities (Christian, Jewish, etc.) and, at the same time, we all subscribe (or we used to) to the procedural norm of toleration. Despite these different substantive communities, all of them contain within themselves the resources to adopt the procedural norm of toleration. Of course, this tradition (articulated by Milton, Locke, Mill, Hayek, Oakeshott) is historically contingent.

Many post-modernists reject this tradition (they claim it is an expression of a hidden structure of oppression). This tradition does nothing to glorify/redeem the status of intellectuals, activists, or those with a radical agenda.

Oakeshott has captured this mindset of these particular post-modernists in his description of the anti-individual. Throughout most of history and everywhere in the world, human beings have identified themselves as members of a community. There were neither autonomous individuals not anti-individuals.

The most important event in modern European history is the rise of the autonomous individual beginning in Renaissance Italy (13th – 15th centuries). There are no autonomous individuals anywhere before the Italian Renaissance. Autonomous individuality is a feature of Western European civilization and later spread elsewhere. All creative activity [creative/destruction] is the product of autonomous individuals: “It modified political manners and institutions, it settled upon art, upon religion, upon industry and trade and upon every kind of human relationship.” Not everyone makes the transition – some are left behind (by circumstance and by temperament): Individuals manqué and anti-individuals.

The mind-set of the new ‘individual’ (Hobbes, Kant) is auto-nomous (self-rule is the translation). They impose order on themselves; self-disciplining, not self-indulgence, rather than requiring outside control and direction; risk-takers; self-defining; self-respect (something you give to yourself); pursue self-chosen courses of action rather than playing traditional roles. Policies advocated by autonomous individuals include encouraging creativity, a free-market economy, limited government, limited to being an umpire – enforce the rules of the game and not pre-determine the outcome; liberty and equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome; the rule of law. Society is viewed as a civil association: there is no overall collective good/goal. Economic entrepreneurs and conservative lawyers are the ones with superior status in this world.

The new left, the new breed of post-modernists, do in fact hold a kind of substantive account of morality. They can no more step out of all historical contexts than anyone else.

What is that mind-set? It is the mind-set of the anti-individual. They like being part of a protective community that takes care of them and relieves them of the anxiety of making choices; they are risk-averse –dominated by the fear of failure; they seek self-esteem (something that other people give you). There were some people, by circumstance or by temperament, less ready than others to respond to this invitation to become autonomous. Once some people become autonomous individuals and others do not, those who do not make the transition become anti-individuals. Anti-individuals are a reaction against autonomous individuals.

They are resentful of autonomous individuals and feel envy, jealousy, and resentment. They have feelings rather than thoughts, impulses rather than opinions. They need a leader; they want equality and solidarity. They blame autonomous individuals for the anxiety; want to destroy the prestige of autonomous individuals and make everyone an anti-individual; they want equality of outcome. They are not necessarily poor, not necessarily ignorant, and often members of the intelligentsia. Because of their mind-set, they cannot and will not function in a market economy; hence, they are dysfunctional in a modern commercial society.

The public policies advocated by anti-individuals include encouraging uniformity, the Democratic-Socialist abolishment of private property, government ‘guarantees’ and the regulation of everything. Law is reduced to politics – laws are supposed to achieve a political agenda. Society is conceived of as an enterprise association: there is a collective goal (vouchsafed to the elect) in which each person sublimates his/her own goals and is fulfilled by their social roles.

As you can see their substantive account of morality is wholly negative – they know what they are against but are unclear on what they favor – or – they favor a laundry list of abstractions that temporarily allow them to pour whatever meaning they want into it. What holds them together is what they are against. One cold maintain, as Ortega did, that this is actually the absence of morality as opposed to an alternative morality.

Ideology as Religion

It has been observed for some time, e.g. Nietzsche’s assertion that ‘God is dead,’ that Western societies are increasingly secular. The older comprehensive religious cultural narratives such as Christianity and Judaism seem less and less relevant or meaningful to more and more people. One could argue that THIS IS A FURTHER CONSEQUENCE OF EMBRACING The Enlightenment Project.

Even new variants of these older narratives keep moving further and further ‘left’ in their orientation. By this, I mean that they increasingly support policies that promise immediate earthly postponement or resolution of the human predicament, to wit that we can suffer physical and mental dysfunction from the time we are conceived and that as we grow older we become more infirm and then die. Perhaps in a broader sense we all seek to make sense of our mortal lives.

Politics is now the new religion. Politics, understood as some institutional arrangement that defines the master moral community, has replaced the family and religion or what we used to call civil society. In some cases, the alleged new community can go beyond traditional nation states and now encompass a super-state (e.g. EU) or a global entity (e.g. U.N.) or even encompass non-human things such as animals, plants, the whole earthly environment. “Today, the New Left is rushing in to fill the spiritual vacuum at the center of our free and capitalist society.” [Irving Kristol, 1972, “Capitalism, Socialism, and Nihilism”]. There is no longer any pretense that centralized control of the economy is more productive or efficient; equality of outcome and communal solidarity are intrinsic ends that take absolute precedence over everything else. They no longer care about the reasons that past agents had for what they did; all history is to be judged and written from the progressive moral perspective.

Post-modern thinkers have a better understanding of our epistemological predicament than do hopeless advocates of older forms of liberalism (libertarian, classical liberal, etc.). Many traditional religious thinkers also understand the limits of discursive reason but they have either stopped believing the literal truth of their tradition or simply do not know how to defend their commitment. The latter have forgot that the advocacy of toleration is a largely cultural or civil achievement.

Religions have traditionally been enterprise associations, that is, promoting a collective goal to which individual goals, freedoms, etc. are subordinated. In practice, that has meant excluding others, i.e. intolerance. Christianity and Judaism, notably among others, subsequently (i.e. after centuries of religious wars) found the internal resources to accept procedural tolerance. This is not true of some others. Among the latter (supply your own list) there is a strict policy of intolerance if not hostility and outright suppression of dissenters. After all, it is not possible to win an argument rationally. The ‘left’ of late has adopted this attitude even in the U.S. and the U.K. Once you understand the logic of enterprise association, the felt need of salvation and total meaning (a comprehensive purpose to everything), you can understand the policy of intolerance.

Domination is not some intrinsic feature of the human predicament, rather, it is the response of those who fear any threat to their enterprise association. Since they ARE UNWILLING TO LIVE WITHOUT A TOTAL VISION, they can prevail only by eliminating opposition. Intolerance is a simple reflection of how the new left has become a religion that brooks no opposition.

I offer a crucial example. What a religion or political system understood as a religion offers is total meaning, total commitment, and salvation (fill in the content). The major policy proposal in the U.S. and elsewhere of the ‘left’ is single-payer health care – you will be kept alive as long as possible (in case there is no after-life or you might fail to qualify for it) at ‘public’ expense. Once this part of the economy is under central government control, there is no going back and total control of the economy and of all institutions is inevitable in order to guarantee that there is no going back. If you subscribe to this, intolerance of all kinds is permitted/required, or you are guilty of destroying the lives of millions upon millions of other human beings. Intolerance in the eyes of the new left would be a small cost to pay given the benefits.

What is Really Wrong Intellectually/Morally With The New Left

As I have argued above, you cannot defeat the new left with arguments about objective truth, and you cannot refute them by claiming that post-modernism is somehow incoherent. Simply restating your own commitment is not a refutation of those who do not share that commitment.

What can we do? On the positive side, we can appeal to the Anglo-American cultural inheritance which is grounded in custom/practice (not theory) and the practice of resolving disagreements about practice. This does not require an abstract theory, nor a theory of history, nor a narrative of any kind. People either share or they are willing to share these practices or they do not. Histories (narratives, theories) do not resolve these matters because, at best, history can only legitimately tell us what happened (e.g. a battle took place on such and such a date) or what the agents involved understood themselves to be doing (not some theory of what we attribute to them).

If we do not share the same understanding of the practices, then there is nothing more to be said. Yes, I know we yearn for more. Holding on to the illusion of some ‘objective’ truth either turns us into the same direction as those we oppose or it undercuts our ability to fight back. We do not have to hold onto the belief in an objective truth except as a private substantive view; what we need to hold onto is the belief in the validity of our practice of procedural tolerance. Some of us have no difficulty in squaring this procedural norm with our different substantive views. The ‘left’ is incapable of doing this, and that is why they not only want to change the rules but also want to change the rules for changing the rules.

What the new left does is to say that they share the practices (e.g. free speech, democracy, etc.) but reserve the right to interpret them in a way with which we do not and cannot agree. There is a word for this, and it is ‘dishonesty’. The new left understands this game, but their critics do not.

The left is constantly calling for “equity” and “diversity” and tolerance, but as soon as you say something they don’t like they’ll attack you personally, and in a really mean way. And, when you try to talk with them about it, they tell you that you’re hurting their feelings and they can’t talk about it. This among academics, who are supposed to be trained in rational argument! There is so much resentment in the anti-individual—the calls for group solidarity and the constant airing of endless grievances really do seem to point to a kind of pathology in the soul.

In failing to see that the left is a form of religion what is missed in all of this is that the left will argue that things like free speech, the right to self-defense, in fact the whole of the Bill of Rights is not a set of procedural norms but a substantive morality that is being imposed on them. To disagree with them is to impose the Judeo-Christian morality on them. Who knew that Locke’s invocation of our God-given natural rights was a form of aggression? So the new scholarship is meant to make us understand that it’s actually the non-left that is now being accused of intolerance.

We must face what is really going on. Intellectuals who oppose the new left have difficulty with accepting reality because as intellectuals they naturally want to believe that we can arrive at agreement through free and open discussion, that we can either refute the other side or that the other side can convert us rationally. After all, that is what intellectuals do (like the man with a hammer who sees everything as a nail) or is their only claim to superiority, and that is also why they have never been able to resolve our deepest conflicts. Activists (e.g. Alinsky) understand this weak point and exploit it without hesitation.

As I write this, I have become acutely aware that what I have written will be rejected by some because it is not wholly scholarship but a form of advocacy. Perhaps it is time to recognize the limits of scholarship and the point at which rhetoric needs to take hold.

What would the left do with their lives if everything were made perfect, in their estimation? That’s the real question. They thrive on injustice and dissatisfaction. The pertinent other question is, I think, what ought I myself to be doing to promote a flourishing life for myself and my family?

Many ordinary people have a better grasp of this than do our educated elites. That is because our educated elites have undergone a process that has blinded them with abstractions. This is no longer a parlor game; it is no longer an issue of saving American civilization. It is an issue of saving civilization itself. What we tend to forget is that civilization is a product of evolving practices and not a product of theory.

In the end, we have to take responsibility for how we choose to understand ourselves and our relationships with others. If we are honest with ourselves, we shall recognize that we are about to engage in a civil war or revolution; there is no theoretical justification for our choices. But we can hope to God that we are doing the right thing.

As Herbert Butterfield once put it, “When we have reconstructed the whole of mundane history it does not form a self-explanatory system, and our attitude to it, our whole relationship to the human drama, is a larger affair altogether – it is a matter not of scholarship but of religion… Ultimately our interpretation of the whole human drama depends on an intimately personal decision concerning the part we mean to play in it” [Christianity and History (1949), pp. 27 and 86].

Nicholas Capaldi, a Legendre-Soule Distinguished professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, USA, is the author of two books on David Hume, The Enlightenment Project in Analytic Conversation, biography of John Stuart Mill, Liberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rosseau to the Present, and, most recently, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The image shows “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” by Salvador Dalí, painted in 1936.

Al-Andalus: A History Contaminated By Political Correctness

We are highly honored to present the English-version of a series of questions (Q) that were asked of Dr. Arnaud Imatz, about Moorish Spain, and his answers. As regular readers of The Postil know, Dr. Imatz is a corresponding member of the Spanish Royal Academy of History and author of several important studies.

Q: What historical evidence can we base our claim that the supposed happy cohabitation of al-Andalus was a myth?

Arnaud Imatz (AI): Let us first clarify what the myth of al-Andalus is – all the more so as this is, as you know, denied, contested or even concealed, not only by extremist activists and polemicists, but also by academics anxious to defend their patch. In a few words, it is the idea of “Paradise Lost,” of “the Golden Age,” or “Eden,” supported by an infinity of Arabic texts, but just as cherished by a good number of Europeans and/or Westerners.

In counterpoint, we find the notion, no less omnipresent, of the threat of the Christian world which is described as ignorant, brutal, barbarous, intolerant, militarist and… European. This idea was adopted by Arabists and a good number of 19th-century historians. According to them, the autochthonous character and the virtues of the Iberian Peninsula, necessarily acclimatized, softened and Europeanized the Islam of al-Andalus, giving it, inevitably, features distinct from the rest of the Islamic-medieval world. It is the idea of a tolerant, advanced or “progressive” Islam ahead of its time, which has been taken up by our contemporaries anxious to demonstrate the open, modernizing and tolerant character of Islam. This is the “irenist” vision of a harmonious coexistence of the three cultures, so prevalent among politicians, journalists and much of academia, that it has become almost impossible to correct. It is a kind of dogma imposed, despite all the historical research of rigorous and disinterested specialists who show just the opposite. For Al-Andalus was not an Eden, quite the contrary.

It is impossible to summarize in a few lines the mass of information, the multiple sources and historical documents (Arab-Muslim and Christian) on which Arabists, philologists and medieval historians rely to demythify and demystify the history of al-Andalus. I am tempted to say that if we want to talk about cohabitation, coexistence, even “tolerance” in the Iberian Peninsula of the Middle Ages (a tolerance whose history dates back to antiquity and not to the 18th-century as affirm the most chauvinistic ideologues, in particular the French), it is better to refer to the Christian kingdoms rather than to the Islamic part.

To be convinced of this, it suffices to recall the situation of women in al-Andalus, with the wearing of the veil, sexual slavery, female circumcision or circumcision (as a legal and social practice), stoning, or the total lack of freedom in the public space for the hurra (“free Muslim woman”), and then to compare this with the condition of much freer Christian women in medieval Spain.

We can also cite here the works of Bernard Lewis and, before him, those of one of the fathers of scientific Orientalism, the Hungarian, Ignaz Goldziher, who showed, from numerous Arabic texts of the time, that ethnic and even racial criteria were commonly used in al-Andalus: Arabs from the north against Arabs from the south, Berbers against Arabs, Arabs against Slavs (the “Europeans”), Arabs and Berbers against Muladis (converted Muslims of Hispanic origin), and finally, all against blacks… and vice versa.

The work of the Spanish linguist, historian and Arabist, Serafin Fanjul, is essential here, but we must also underline the importance of the studies of several medievalists and researchers in Ibero-Roman languages. For my part, I have contributed to making known, in French-speaking countries, the work of three of the best specialists in the area, two Spaniards and an American.

First, Serafín Fanjul, already cited, professor of Arabic literature, member of the Royal Academy of History, author of Al-Andalus contra España (2000) and La quimera de al-Andalus (2004), published in France in a single volume under the title, Al-Andalus, l’invention d’un mythe (2017).

Then, the American, Darío Fernández Morera, professor of Romanesque and Hispanic literature, and author of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (2015) [French title: Chrétiens, juifs et musulmans dans al-Andalus, 2018].

And, finally, Rafael Sánchez Saus, professor of medieval history, ex-dean of faculty and rector of university, member of the Royal Spanish-American Academy, author of Al-Andalus y la Cruz (2016) which was published in French as, Les chrétiens dans al-Andalus. De la soumission à l’anéantissement (2019) [Christians in al-Andalus. From Submission to Annihilation].

I cannot recommend enough the reading of these books, which have been the subject of several reissues, including the last in pocket-format (March 2019, August and September 2020). I regret and I am surprised that to date these two Spanish works have not yet been translated into English.

For my part, I wrote the introductions to the books of Serafín Fanjul and Rafael Sánchez Saus, while Rémi Brague, recognized specialist in medieval philosophy (Professor Emeritus at the Sorbonne), kindly prefaced the work of Dario Fernández-Morera, as soon as I informed him that the publication in French was imminent.

I must add that other works by Spanish historians also deserve to be translated; among them, I should mention in particular, Acerca de la conquista árabe de Hispania. Imprecisiones, equívocos y patrañas (2011) [Concerning the Arab conquest. Inaccuracies, Ambiguities and Deceptions] by Felipe Maíllo Salgado, Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Salamanca.

The books by Fanjul, Fernández-Morera and Sánchez Saus are all definitive milestones in the demythification and demystification of the history of al-Andalus. They differ in their approaches and methods, but also because of the distinct expertise of their authors. However, they also complement each other perfectly.

Serafín Fanjul carefully analyzes the idea of the paradisiacal character or the “earthly Eden” of al-Andalus and then the “Arab” or Muslim survivals that allegedly passed from al-Andalus to Spain and shaped the Spanish character.

Darío Fernández-Morera examines the concrete cultural practices of Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities under Islamic hegemony, comparing them with other Mediterranean cultures, more particularly those of the Greco-Roman or Byzantine Christian Empire.

Finally, Rafael Sánchez Saus studies the fate of Christians in North Africa and Spain: the irruption of Islam and the constitution of the Arab Empire, the conquest and the birth of al-Andalus, the first reactions of Christians, the oppressive regime of the dhimma, submission, collaboration, orientalization and Arabization, the martyrs-movement, resistance, revolt, persecution and the final eradication of the Christians of al -Andalus.

These three authors presented their respective works, along with two of the best French specialists, Marie-Thérèse and Dominique Urvoy, during the colloquium, “Al-Andalus, from Myth to History,” held in Paris, on October 6, 2019, and sponsored by l’Association pour l’histoire (Association for History).

Q: Is there not, all the same, an intellectual contribution, with figures like Averroes, along with considerable artistic, scientific and architectural developments, compared to an archaic period, which we owe specifically to Muslim Spain?

AI: It is not a question here of denying the most admirable and most famous cultural and artistic elements of al-Andalus, of sinking into a kind of reverse caricature, of indulging in the apology of the Christian world and of the Reconquista without the slightest restriction; in other words, to recreate exactly what one is justifiably reproaching the promoters of the myth for. It is only a question of dismantling the pillars of legend, the alleged marvelous interfaith harmony (between Jews, Christians and Muslims), the exaggerated valuation of cultural and scientific achievements, and the widespread idealization of the social and political successes of al-Andalus.

It cannot be stressed enough that the ideological interpretations and partisan culling that can be made of the work of Fanjul, Morera and Sánchez Saus lie beyond actual work of these scholars. These three researchers and historians only want to compare the usual view that we have of this part of the history of the Iberian Peninsula with proven and verified facts. And the facts speak for themselves. Now it is up to the reader to judge.

Having said that, I don’t really understand what you mean by “archaic period.” Should we understand that, despite ups and downs, even some violence, which would be, as we say, “inevitable in a medieval society,” Muslim Hispania is the only true example of tolerance, thanks to the Muslim conquerors who imposed themselves on a barbaric, ignorant and intolerant Romano-Visigothic culture?

Does this also mean that this remarkable Muslim civilization was then destroyed by barbarian Christians, who seized the Peninsula again and imposed an even more intolerant regime than what existed before the arrival of the Berbers and Arab Muslims, and this was a real setback for Western progress? We can always dream!

The reality is that the culture of Visigothic Hispania was based on the heritage of Roman civilization and on the development of Isidorian thought. Even though this would have concerned only the elites, it was radically different from that of the Berbers and Arab conquerors, who for the most part could neither read nor write. The culture of the Visigothic kingdom had assimilated the “Greco-Roman Christian Empire.” Spania (far south of present-day Spain) had been a province of the Byzantine Empire. I am aware of the contempt of some academics for the culture of the largely Romanized Visigoth “barbarians.” But following them, we quickly forget the place and the role played by such prestigious figures as Eugenius II of Toledo, Leander of Seville, Isidore of Seville, or Theodulf of Orleans, to name but a few examples.

You mention the famous philosopher, Averroes (Ibn Rushdi). Dario Fernández-Morera devotes many enlightening pages to him. He nuances his portrait and recalls the lesser known side of the character. Averroes was a Malikite jurist who belonged to one of the most rigorous schools of Qur’anic exegesis, which was in the majority in al-Andalus. He was adviser to a ruthless Almohad caliph, a judge responsible for monitoring the application of Sharia law, author of Bidayat al-Mujtahid, a treatise containing the most edifying guidelines for use by Muslim judges (comments on the holy war, jihad, jizya, stoning, etc.).

In reality, when it comes to mutual “great debts” between the various cultures, one must be extremely careful. These are always relative and partial. Two examples, among many others, may suffice to show this.

Let us first take the title of the journal of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, Qantara (“bridge” in Arabic). The Spanish also know, as a noun and toponym, the word Alcantára, Alcanadre, and some other derivatives from Arabic. But it should be added that the Arabic word qantara comes from the Syriac qenterun, which itself comes from the Greek kentro, or even from the Latin centrum (This point is explained and documented in the Diccionario de arabismos y voces Afines en iberorromance by philologist, Federico Corriente Córdoba).

Another, infinitely more striking example is that of the Koran. Philologists have shown that the sacred text of Islam, for Muslims, contains a lexicon of relatively abundant Latin and Greek origin (about 170 foreign terms). But would it not, for all that, be absurd, unreasonable, even impious, to claim that the Koran has a “great debt” to Rome and Greece?

A superficial analysis or vision of al-Andalus – like those of foreign travelers to Spain in the 19th-century, or those of the many current polemicists and ideologists – may lead to only a few particularly striking visual elements, such as, the Alhambra, the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, or the Giralda of Seville. But, as Serafín Fanjul says, these are just beautiful stones and nothing else. Rather, we should look for the living and active elements that have survived in society after 1492 or 1609 (the date of the expulsion of the last Moors). And here we have a veritable little breviary of received ideas which it is beneficial to deconstruct.

One of the most oft-used arguments to support Islamic influence in Spain is the lexicon of Arabic origin that the Spanish or Castilian language has retained. Professor Fanjul has shown that it is in fact a total of three thousand words (with about two thousand more being minor toponyms), which come from the 13th-century (the period during which the Arabic lexicon is most present in Castilian literature); that barely 0.5% of the total (and 0.6% in the work of Cervantes in the 16th-century). Proportionally, it is very little, and even less so, as it is a vocabulary relating to medieval techniques (agriculture, weapons, construction, medicine) which have since largely fallen into disuse. There is also no Arabic lexicon with spiritual or abstract significance, which is very revealing. Finally, Arab-Muslim influences in the fields of food, clothing, popular festivals or music are just as limited – whereas in these same areas, Latin-Germanic and Christian filiations are predominant, even overwhelming.

Q: So where does this myth of al-Andalus come from? Why and how did it develop and what keeps it going today?

AI: It’s very interesting to ask why the myth persists and why it is still developing today. The myth is spread by three categories of people. First, by politicians and journalists who, sometimes in good faith, are ignorant (like, for example, Obama, Blair or Macron) but often opportunists (they fear the censorship of “political correctness”). Second, by fanatics or extremist Islamophiles. And thirdly, by conformist academics, who defend tooth and nail their corporate interests. It is especially from the last two categories that the most virulent polemicists are recruited against the works of Fanjul, Fernandez- Morera, Sanchez Saus, and more generally against all the critics of the myth.

The most enthusiastic are usually supporters of the fanciful thesis that Arab Muslims never invaded Spain militarily. This thesis indirectly seeks to show that Catholicism is a religion foreign to Spain. It would have been, they say, repudiated by the inhabitants of “Hispania,” and would have triumphed only some time, before the Muslim presence, by force and violence. This thesis was developed at the end of the 1960s by the Basque paleontologist, Ignacio Olagüe (who had been a member of the JONS – Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista – in his youth, the national-trade union political movement of Ramiro Ledesma Ramos). Today, it is taken up by Andalusian nationalists and in particular by the neo-Marxist philologist, professor of the University of Seville, Emilio González Ferrín.

In the same exalted circle, we can cite the works of the orientalist and theorist of Unitarian Universalism, Sigrid Hunke, who worked in his youth for the SS (Ahnenerbe Research Institute). Partisan of National Socialist neo-paganism, apologist of Islam, “a virile religion against the Christian religion of effeminate slaves,” she considered that the Arab-Muslim heritage of the West was more direct or even more important than the Greco-Roman. All these theses, or rather all these rantings, have as much credibility as those which make aliens the builders of the pyramids.

In the second category, that of conformist academics, not to say rigid pen-pushers, we find a good number of Arabists, anthropologists and a few medievalists. This is the case with the anti-Zionist anthropologist, José Antonio González Alcantud, who does not fear ridicule when he asserts that “the deniers of the Andalusian link employ methods similar to those of the deniers of the Holocaust” (see his book, Al Ándalus y lo Andaluz, 2017). We can also cite, as an archetypal example, although he is a complete stranger outside Spain, the historian at the University of Huelva, Alejandro García Sanjuán, who has three obsessions and phobias: Christianity, the Church and the nation.

Among the militant “historians,” we can also cite the American of Cuban origin, María Rosa Menocal, or, in France, Alain de Libera, Jean Pruvost, Abderrahim Bouzelmate, and the geographer, lecturer, willing libellist in style, Emmanuelle Tixier du Mesnil (see, L’Histoire, no. 457, March 2019).

A more moderate Arabist in the diatribe is arguably Spain’s Maribel Fierro (see, Revista de Libros), but she nonetheless reproduces in soft-mode some of the most hackneyed clichés. According to her, Arabist specialists have long known everything for a long time – that there would have been violence, but which was perfectly normal in a medieval society; that “there was a legal framework,” and “the dhimma also had its advantages.” In short, the myth exists only in the minds of those who claim it exists, who keep stressing it – now, move along, there’s nothing to see here!

A last important factor explains the charges or indictments of these writers of history against Fanjul, Fernandez-Morera and Sánchez Saus – their resentment of the very positive reception, even admiring, by a good part of the big press, and their incontestably successful print-runs. Three months after the publication of Fanjul’s book, it had already sold more than 15,000 copies. A record for a history book which has subsequently been the subject of several reissues in paperback and in pocket size. The books by both Fernández- Morera and Sánchez Saus’ have also been notable successes.

But these mythologists of al-Andalus did not sit idly by. The bitterest and the most Manichean minds among them, those who knew they were condemned to having only a few hundred readers, used the entire panoply of conventional weapons and stratagems, and desperately tried to fight back – with slander, insults, innuendos, attacks against religious beliefs or supposed political options, accusations of Islamophobia, nationalism, fascism, or even wanting to foment the clash of civilizations, without forgetting, of course , the terrorist use of the supposedly “scientific” argument and the call for repression or exclusion from the academic community. The trouble is that the arguments of Fanjul, Fernández-Morera and Sánchez Saus are solid, rigorous, balanced, and their sources are indisputable.

Q: Did the jizya have a real impact on the conversion of certain non-Muslims to Islam? Were the conversions, in this context, sincere? And what were the treatments reserved respectively for new converts and those who remained outside of Islam?

AI: The Christian dhimmi had to pay a higher tax than the Muslim, and regardless of his fortune, because he was a Christian. He had to humiliate himself in front of the authorities when paying them. But the discrimination did not end there; and they weren’t just fiscal. Some example, the Muslim traveled on horseback and the Christian with a donkey; a Christian who killed a Muslim, even in self-defense, was inevitably condemned to death, although this rule did not apply in the reverse case; the testimony of a Christian against a Muslim was not admissible in court; a Christian had to get up when a Muslim entered, and he could only pass him on the left side, considered cursed; a Christian could not have Muslim servants or a house higher than that of a Muslim, without having to demolish it; a church, when it was not razed, had to be lower than a mosque; the fines imposed for the same offenses were less than half for Muslims; mixed marriages between members of submissive and Islamized populations and Arab women were almost impossible and absolutely prohibited between Muslims and pagans (musrikies). These were some of the so-called “benefits” of the dhimma.

We are told like a mantra that if tolerance in al-Andalus was not of course as it has been conceived since the 18th-century “that does not mean that there has not been coexistence more often than not, and a peaceful one at that.” But the truth is, intransigence towards other religions was untenable. Under the Umayyads, the slightest resistance or serious rebellion of Christians was drowned in blood. Only collaboration and submission were possible. We know the brutalities of Abd al-Rahman III with his sex slaves, as his biographer Ibn Hayyan tells it; we know his pedophilic passion for the young Christian Pelagius whom he finally killed because he resisted him.

The Umayyads were the most determined defenders of Islam and the greatest head-cutters or “beheaders” in the history of al-Andalus. The situation of Christians and Jews was such that over the centuries they did not stop migrating to the Christian kingdoms of the Spanish Peninsula. After the triumph of the Almohads, the Christian and Jewish communities had no other possible alternative but conversion to Islam, or deportation to Africa. By the 12th-century, the Christian community of al-Andalus had ceased to exist.

Q: Do the various initiatives in Spain, aimed at asking forgiveness from the Muslim community for the consequences of the Reconquista, seem to you to be historically founded, and why?

AI: It’s totally absurd, but you can always dream. I do not doubt for a moment that in the logic of Muslims or Islamists this request is justified. Dar al-Kufr (the “domain of the infidels” or “domain of unbelief,” or the “domain of blasphemy”) is the expression they use to designate the territories where Sharia law was once applied, but no longer applies.

And this is precisely the case with Spain; or rather, a good part of Spain since the Reconquista (the border line was located for a long time in the center of the Peninsula, where the Central System that separates the current autonomous communities of Castile and Leon and Castilla-La Mancha). But after all, in their logic, why would they not be also justified in asking the same forgiveness for the consequences of the reconquest in that part of France conquered as far as Poitiers? That being said, as far as I know, we are not forced to accept this propaganda, or we have to forget that not only Spain but also North Africa were both Christian long before they were Muslim.

The image shows the “Martyrdom of Pelagius,” by the Master of Becerril, painted ca. 1520.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Russia’s Great Patriotic War

Of all the countries Adolf Hitler invaded, none was able to muster a sustained and successful military counterattack, except one – Russia. When the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, it was a massive three-pronged invasion from the North (to capture Leningrad), from the South (to take the Ukraine), and through the center (to seize Moscow).

The Germans and their allies came in great force – with 3.75 million troops, along with 4,000 tanks, and 750,000 horses (we must bear in mind that the German military was only partially mechanized in 1941). It is also well known that the Russians were not ready, to say the least, largely because Hitler was the only man Stalin truly trusted and could not bring himself to believe that the Nazi leader had ordered the attack. Stalin kept insisting that the onslaught was the action of rogue German generals, and Hitler would put a stop to it all, when he found out what was being done to his friend, Stalin. In fact, the reality of Hitler’s betrayal hit Stalin very hard, and he disappeared to his dacha, in a rare fit of uncertainty, leaving the country leaderless during a crucial time.

The Germans likewise squandered any advantages they might have had because of their ideology, for the invasion was at first seen by some (especially in the Ukraine) as a liberation from Stalinism. But when the reality of the true purpose of the invasion began very quickly to be implemented – the clearing out of the land of all its inhabitants, for eventual settlement by Germans – resolve toughened and military resistance began in earnest.

Hitler had come not simply to take control and include Russia in his “empire” – rather, he had come to clear the land of its native inhabitants so that he might settle it with Germans. Faced with the prospect of annihilation in their own country, how could the Russians not know the war foisted upon them as anything other than “patriotic?” Hence, the Russian term for the Second World War (a rather banal designation) is the Great Patriotic War. It was a fight to the death for the Russian homeland – for the Rodina, that emotion-laden term, which means so much more than “motherland” or “fatherland,” for it means all that binds one to family and individual purpose.

Despite early successes, by December 1941, the Germans knew they had begun what they had never wanted – a war on two fronts. The next four years were grim and bloody on the Eastern Front, with unimaginable casualty rates on both sides.

The total war dead for Russia is estimated to be between 26 to 42 million, both civilians and military. For the Germans, losses on the Eastern Front are estimated to be about 2.7 million. The immense Russian sacrifice finally led to victory, when the Red Army took Berlin on May 2, 1945 (Hitler had committed suicide a few days earlier, on April 30th).

What was the nature of the Russian resolve? What inner strength did the Russians living and fighting through those fateful years draw upon? In the grand sweep of history, the sacrifice, the courage, the suffering of individuals is often little remembered. The millions slaughtered were ordinary human beings forced into the maw of a war, from which there was no escape.

These questions of the resolve and strength of the Russians to drive back the Nazi invaders is superbly explored and elaborated by Maria Bloshteyn in her latest book, Russia is Burning. Poems of the Great Patriotic War, which is an anthology of Russian poetry from 1939 to 1945. Bloshteyn is a talented and gifted scholar and translator, whose work has appeared in the pages of the Postil, and who has previously published a collection of early short stories of Chekhov, and the work of Alexander Galich. Her translations have also appeared in The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. And her study of Dostoevsky is not only immensely erudite, but delightfully readable (qualities rarely found together in what often passes for scholarship).

This combination of readability and scholarship continues in Russia is Burning. The anthology is a dual-text, Russian and facing-page translations, with two essays, at the beginning and end, both of which contextualize the role and purpose of poetry within the broader extent of the Great Patriotic War. The selections are placed into four categories: “Seven Poets Killed,” that is, poems of those killed in the war; “Voice Heard,” which include poems and trench-songs that were widely known and loved by the ordinary fighting man or woman (the Red Army had 800,000 women); “Muted Voice,” which presents poems written by emigres, by prisoners in the Gulags, and verses that were never meant to be published, that is, written “for the desk-drawer;” and lastly, “The War Remembered,” which traces the years after 1945, during which poetry took on the task of healing the Russian soul, by leading it out of its trauma and into the promise of peace.

All the poems in the anthology have head-notes that give historical and thematic context to each poet and his/her poems, This is a very helpful and rather elegant way to handle the necessary job of informing the reader, while deftly avoiding the trap of information-density that is often found in such endeavors, and which break-up the reading-flow. These head-notes also serve to stress what should be stressed – the poem itself. All-too-often, translators do not know how to wear their learning lightly and opt for intrusive footnotes, or worse, endnotes. This anthology overcomes this wonkiness by including all the pertinent information needed right in the head-notes, so that the reading experience is unobtrusive of academic paraphernalia.

Though the poems in the three sections are a wide assortment of style, sensibility and perspective, all of them nevertheless are united by a common theme – that of Russia as the Motherland, the Rodina, upon whose breast is cast all the suffering, the tragedy, the bloodshed. This means that individualized instances of courage, of sacrifice, of struggle, of disappointment, of helplessness, of loneliness, but also of hope for an end to all cruel things – all these are given meaning within the embrace of the Motherland.

These poems speak not to so much of soil and of the people, concerns that marked so much of earlier Russian literary expression, but of invoking that final reserve of resolve which might lead to overcoming the enemy. In the swirl of the Great Patriotic War, there is only Russia itself – bereft of everything. It is now the task of her sons and daughters to return what was always rightfully hers – peace, happiness, and fulfillment. But it is a giving back that can only come about one hand at a time, for a hand is both limited in action but limitless in the results of that action:

Under a hillock, in a field,
a stern young boy from Moscow fell
and quietly, his cap slid off
his bullet-riddled head.

Departing for another world.
not very far from that in which he grew,
he clutched his warm, native earth
in his already stiffening hand.

The highest criterion
by which we can possibly be judged
will be that handful of earth
clutched in that young grey palm.
(Yaroslav Smelyakov, “The Judge”)

The “highest criterion” is not found in the death of young soldier, but in his clutched hand, which cannot be loosened – for he grips not agony, but the fruit of his sacrifice, and his burial therefore looks forward to resurrection which will be peace. Such is the holy wisdom that cruelty oft-times brings.

The Great Patriotic War became a grand shout of defiance by patriots, who knew just enough to never accept defeat, because a quality that inhabited each of them, their Russianness, could never be quiet because it had been betrayed:

We know what’s at stake and how great the foe’s power,
And what now is coming to pass.
Every clock shows the same time – it’s courage hour!
And our courage will hold to the last.
The bullets can kill us, but cannot deter;
Though our houses fall, yet we will stand –
Through it all we will keep you alive, Russian word,
Mighty language of our Russian land.
Your sounds will remain pure and free on our tongues,
To be passed on unfettered through ages to come.
Forever!
(Anna Akhmatova, “Courage,” 23 February 1942, Tashkent)

And it this wisdom which shall free Russia – a wisdom that can never come cheaply, as Olga Berggolts pointed out in 1941:

Just as you are now: emaciated, dauntless,
in a hastily tied kerchief,
holding a purse as you go out
under the bombardment.

Daria Vlasyevna, the whole land
will be renewed by your strength.
The name of this strength of yours is “Russia.”
Like Russia, stand and take heart!
(“Conversation with a Neighbour”)

This wisdom Elena Shirman, who died early in the conflict, in 1942, also knew: “…A boom – /and shards of broken streets come tumbling./… Someone will raise me from the pavement and kindly say,/ “You must have stumbled.” Such is the Rodina, the Motherland, which the community, and the family.

A helping hand, kindness, while a world shatters is the embodiment of what an earlier poet, in an earlier world conflict, called, “the pity of war,” because the 20th-century invented warfare that was scientific and industrialized, which therefore concerned itself with precision barrages, shock-and-awe, genocide, carpet-bombing, scorched earth, total war, and the headlong rush of the displaced, running away from death and often straight into death. The older message is now commonplace, and hardly ever brings comment – kill to build a better world:

All the world is going to wrack and ruin.
What, you’ve lost your nerve? Oh don’t be shy!
Come and crush it all in one fell stroke,
Pulverize, make stardust in the sky!

Poison it with mustard gas or, better,
Bomb the whole damn thing to smithereens.
Do away at once with all this art and
Anguish of our planet – by all means!
(Georgy Ivanov, “All the World is Going to Wrack and Ruin”)

It is also important to bear in mind that poetry no longer had a purpose or function among soldiers of other Allied nations by the time the Second World War came around. Certainly, there were soldier-poets (John Gillespie Magee, John Jarmain, Keith Douglas, Alun Lewis, John Ciardi, Henry Lee, Drummond Allison), but in the English-speaking world, whatever energy poetry once possessed now yielded to the urgent immediacy of film and photography. World War Two is known for its images; not its verse – and so unlike the First World War, where the entire experience of the trenches is still today seen through the poet’s eye; for who can imagine that earlier war without evoking the lines of John McCrae, Wilfrid Owen, Julian Grenfell, Siegfried Sassoon, and Isaac Rosenberg? Within a generation, sensibilities had changed so much.

For Russians, however, poetry and song retained what the English-speaking world had lost – words spun into meter and rhyme and often carried along with music bore meaning deeper into the soul than any image possibly could. The Nazi invasion was devasting, but not because it was murderous (for the Russian people had already endured Stalin’s purges) – for it denied the surety of community. Though Stalin killed very effectively, there yet remained for people the strength of community, a bond that can sustain no matter how bleak the reality beyond. But when a community is shattered, there is only flotsam of individual lives, seeking nothing more than survival.

It is this ruination that Arseny Tarkovsky understood only too well in 1942:

Say a German gunner will get me in the back,
or a piece of shrapnel will take out both my legs,

or a teenaged SS trooper will shoot me in the gut –
anyway, I’m done for, there is no way out.

I won’t go down to glory – I’ll be unshod, unknown,
Looking through my frozen eyes at the bloodied snow.

Thus, when the Nazis smashed their way nearly to Moscow, they came stirring a witches’ cauldron of cruelty and annihilation. Despite outward differences, both Hitler and Stalin were driven by ideology. At first their ideology coalesced (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), but in 1941 it fell apart with Operation Barbarossa. In the millstones of Nazism and Stalinism, what could the Russian people use to rally the will to survive, live, and then overcome? Poetry alone was the answer, for it provided purpose, and grim determination.

But in the meantime, there was only the business of endless brutality, so chillingly captured by Nikolai Panchenko in “The Girl Worked in our Unit as a Barber,” written years later in 1961, a memory seared into the minds of those who were there and saw a young woman raped to death by men of a unit that had sided with the Germans against the Communists. It is a brutal poem that says so much, with just a few words: “They gagged her with their fetid footcloths… Our unit used to call her ‘babyface.’ And then comes the revenge of finding the rapists and methodically killing them: “…we burst into that village in tight fistfuls…. Explosions, howls, shots…. My bayonet was bent,/ my bullets lost./ We got in the hollow of the banya,/ each of us fought to kill as many as we could./ With these white teeth/ I bit through Adam’s apples…. The girl dozed off under a greatcoat…. As if she could see anything at all…. The HQ sent us medals, one and all…. We dug them down into a hillock/ right beside her.”

Stalin understood the problem of morale well, and very quickly set up an entire “industry” of poetry, which could be fed to the people to give them the will and strength to fight and survive. Bloshteyn, in her excellent end essay, therefore observes: “War poems were published both in the civilian press…and the military press… by 1944 there were about 800 military newspapers with an output of three million issues in all… there were poems in the informational leaflets… poems on propaganda posters… Poems were read on the radio… in concert halls… poems were put to music, performed by… popular singers… sung in dugouts and trenches… All these platforms created a demand for wartime poetry that was unprecedented and unparalleled not only in the Soviet Union but in any other country.”

Even in the territory held by the Germans, there was poetry published in “270 [partisan newspapers] by 1944.” It must be borne in mind that Soviet rule was not a grassroots demand – but rather imposed upon the Russian people after a long drawn-out, bloody Civil War, in which slaughter-exhaustion alone led to any sort of peace. Thus, as mentioned already, the Germans were initially welcomed by many who hoped that they had come to throw off the Communist yoke. This is the larger reason behind what is known as the “collaborators” – those who helped the Germans against the Communists. But such collaboration was a stillborn dream, as Boris Filippov came to understand too late, in 1945:

Town after town after town,
just houses of cards bunched together.
There’s nothing I want out of life…
No one… Nowhere… Never…

I’m pushing my rickety cart,
on the road across German land,
clover stems nod as I pass,
mosquitoes keen a lament.

There is nothing I want out of life –
Never… Nowhere… No one…
Angry villages bunched up together.
Town after town after town…

And when the Germans were pushed back, all the way deep inside their own homeland; and when Berlin fell, Hitler killed himself and the war ended, what then? Shakespeare was right to speak of the dogs of war let loose, for the ravening of humanity that must come with industrialized slaughter can bear little healing. Torn flesh can at best become a scar, which is nothing other than a constant reminder of the snapping jaws of savagery – perhaps because the many and various masters of war will always hold the leashes of their dogs lightly.

Once courage is shown, the sacrifice made, there can only remain the silence of incomprehensibility, for who can clearly say what wars achieve? There is certainly a just war, and the Secord World War certainly qualifies as one. And yet, there remains the question of the price paid to achieve such justice – and whether those who survive, and the dwarfish generations that come after, no longer give thanks to the giants on whose shoulders they and their world stands:

I was there, where mines exploded,
sending howling shrapnel past.
I was fighting on the frontlines
honestly and to the last.

I’d be glad not to remember
but I live with what I saw:
crusty skin crawling with lice,
blood and corpses in the snow,

the med units where I rotted
with their disinfected grace,
the open, snarling jaws
of the hastily dug graves,

and the minutes before battle…
so that you can take my word –
I know well how much it cost us,
the salute we all just heard.

And it still feels much too early
to draw up the final bill,
when the world spreads out before us
like a wound that will not heal.
(Vladimir Bobrov, “Victory,” 1945)

But the price that all war demands of peace is also revenge and settling of scores, just a little bit more bloodshed, before the dogs can be once again firmly leashed awhile, inside the foul warehouse of politics; revenge that casts humans into roles from which they cannot emerge unscathed, or even alive. Here is David Samoilov, about a captive “bandit” women (a “bandit” was one who sided with the Germans in the hope of throwing off the Communist yoke):

I led a bandit out, to shoot her.
She didn’t beg, she didn’t plead –
Just glared at me with pride and anger,
And bit her shawl in agony.
And then she said, “Now listen, fella,
You’re gonna shoot me anyway.
Before you lay me down forever,’
Just let me look at my Ukraine.

Let the potato-eaters [Russians] flee,
Their bridles jangling loud, like coins!
Let Commies realize their ideals
The way they want to back at home…

It’s them that came up with the kolkhoz
Where all the bums can eat for free.
For us Ukrainians, what’s the difference –
Gestapo or NKVD?

I led a bandit out to shoot her.
She didn’t beg, she didn’t plead.
(“The Bandit Woman,” 1946)

There was a greater tragedy awaiting the Russians who heard these poems, sang these songs, and believed in what they said. The strength these words in meter had provided were not able to sustain them beyond the war. Victory is bittersweet; and Soviet society after 1945 had little use for those who had paid a grim toll with their maimed and disfigured bodies, as they “stirred the ash in [their] hearts,” as Olga Berggolts observes in “I Spent all Day at the Meeting.”

And Anna Barkova provides a monument of another sort, of whatever glory that may be garnered by a generation that once saved Russia from the Nazis:

The roads and the fields were aflood
with Russian blood, our bright blood,
with our own blood and that of our foes.
The tale must be told, but how, no one knows!

We were filthy, grimy, the worst off –
but we took Prague, Berlin and Warsaw.

We came back home with no eyes,
we came back home with no arms

and a strange foreign pain in our hearts.

– Spare some change for us, amputees,
we’re all war cripples, as you can see,
for the sake of your departed parents,
take pity on us, conquering heroes!
(“Victory Song,” 1945, 1953, Kaluga)

This anthology is filled with much emotion, much insight, much anguish, but also much hope and charity. Maria Bloshteyn has carefully and meticulously built a fitting monument to the Great Patriotic War. It should be widely read. Her translations are smooth, highly crafted and therefore well-fitted to the grand topic that is Russia in the Second World War. Buy it and read right through. You will not be disappointed.

The image shows, “For the Motherland,” a World War Two Poster from 1941.

Charles de Gaulle, Mythologized, Yet Betrayed, Part III

The President Of The Fifth Republic – Gaullian Thought

With his followers, de Gaulle created, in 1947, the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (RPF), a movement which initially had a good number of members elected to the Assembly, but which then declined until its dissolution in 1953. During these years, the General was wary, in particular, of the influence of the PCF, the Communists and their leaders, of whom he regularly said that they were in the service of the USSR, that they had a project of domination of Europe, and that their aim, unspoken and underhanded, was to submit the country to foreign domination.

In 1951, de Gaulle rejected the supranational character of the European Coal and Steel Community (CECA) and opposed in the name of national sovereignty, a project of the European Defense Community (EDC). On the other hand, he rallied to the idea of European integration and approved the entry of France into the European Economic Community (EEC), following the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Being a man of letters since his youth, he took advantage of the political lull that followed to write the three volumes of his Memoirs which he published in 1954, 1956 and 1959.

De Gaulle, An Exceptional President Of The Republic

At the beginning of 1958, events in Algeria began to escalate. Fear and anger gripped the French in Algeria, as well as chiefs of staff of the army, as rumors circulated about negotiations between the government and the FLN separatists. On May 13, a big demonstration was planned in Algiers. To calm the crowd, General Massu, a lifelong Gaullist, chaired a committee of public safety and demanded that in France a government of public safety be formed, chaired by General de Gaulle.

On the 15th, General Salan harangued the crowd and exclaimed, “Vive de Gaulle!” On May 16, in Paris, at the Palais Bourbon, the socialist leader, Guy Mollet, rallied to de Gaulle’s solution. After being received on May 29 by the President of the Republic, René Coty, who entrusted him with the task of constituting the government, de Gaulle appeared before the National Assembly on June 1st to receive the investiture of President of the Council, along with extended powers, with a view to preparing new institutions (329 votes for, and 224 votes against).

In June 1958, de Gaulle made a trip to Algeria, where he uttered those unhappy words: “I understand you” (speech from Algiers, June 4, 1958) and “Vive l’Algérie française” (speech from Mostaganem, June 6, 1958). He falsely gave the impression of committing to French Algeria and assimilation. The French of Algeria, and many senior officers, never forgave him for fostering the misunderstanding in this way. In fact, de Gaulle understood that France no longer had the energy necessary for an imperial destiny. He anticipated the danger of an invasion of the metropolis by large African populations, with a conquering Islamic religion. He also knew that the world had changed and that France and Europe would have to establish new relationships with the peoples of the former colonies, based on interdependence and respect for differences.

From August 24, 1958, de Gaulle began, in Brazzaville, the process of the decolonization of black Africa, by suggesting that a community of autonomous Franco-African States would succeed the colonial empire. This “French Union” would be the crucible for the independence of the states of French-speaking black Africa two years later. Fourteen French-speaking African states thus achieved independence. September 16, 1959 was a turning point in Algerian politics. In a speech de Gaulle proposed “the right of Algerians to self-determination.”

On January 8, 1961, the French approved, by referendum, the principle of self-determination, and thus the independence of Algeria. In response, the French in Algeria revolted; in Algiers it became known as “barricade week” (January 24 – February 2). But on April 8, 1962, 90% of the French approved, by referendum, the Evian agreements, providing for the independence of Algeria.

On April 22, 1961, an attempted military coup broke out in Algiers; it failed after four days, because the army mostly remained loyal to de Gaulle. Many Gaullists, resistance fighters from the start, such as the ethnologist, ex-minister, Jacques Soustelle, or the sociologist, Jules Monnerot, author of Sociologie du communisme (a classic of 20th-century thought, published in 1949 and expanded in 1963) were now moving away from de Gaulle. Others, such as the minister and future prime minister Michel Debré, who had initially been a supporter of French Algeria, or the political scientist, Julien Freund, author of the most important French political work of the twentieth-century, L’essence du politique, remained inextricably linked to Gaullism.

It appeared that de Gaulle’s position was dictated by the need to protect France from being conquered by Islam, as Malraux had described to him. In March 1959, two months after his installation at the Élysée Palace, de Gaulle gave his intimate thoughts to Alain Peyrefitte, concerning the reasons which led him to offer independence to Algeria: “It’s very good that there are yellow French, black French, brown French. They show that France is open to all races and that it has a universal calling. But only on the condition that they remain a small minority. Otherwise France will no longer be France. We are nevertheless above all a European people of the white race, of Greek and Latin culture, and of the Christian religion… Let’s not tell each other stories! Muslims, have you seen them, with their turbans and djellabas? You can see that they are not French! Those who advocate integration have the brains of hummingbirds (he then thinks of his ex-friend, Soustelle), even if they are very learned… Integration is a trick to allow Muslims, who are in the majority in Algeria ten to one, to find themselves in the minority in the French Republic one to five. It’s a childish sleight of hand! We imagine that we can handle the Algerians with such jackass tomfoolery. Can’t you see that the Arabs will multiply by five and then by ten, while the French population will remain almost stationary? Then will there be two hundred, then four hundred Arab deputies in Paris? Do you see an Arab president at the Élysée?… We will perhaps realize that the greatest of all the services that I have been able to render to the country was to detach Algeria from France; and that, of all, it was this very service which hurt me the most. With hindsight, we will understand that this cancer was going to do away with us. We will recognize that the ‘integration,’ the faculty given to ten million Arabs, who would become 20, then forty [they are now more than 42 million, NDLA], to settle in France as at home – it will be the end of France.”

In May 1963, in the Council of Ministers, he insisted again: “I draw your attention to a problem which could become serious. There were 40,000 immigrants from Algeria in April. This is almost equal to the number of babies born in France during the same month. I would like more babies to be born in France and less immigrants to come. Let’s not overdo this! It is urgent to put it in order!” No politician today would dare to open such a debate with the arguments used previously by de Gaulle, without risking a humiliating defeat at the hands of censors and inquisitors, modern guardians of mono-thought – worse, without immediately suffering the wrath of the law.

Be that it may, the French were indebted to the General for the end of the Algerian war. He alone had managed to resolve the terrible conflict that had torn France apart for years. But the conditions under which he did so and the methods he employed remain debatable and debated. De Gaulle would say at the end of his life about Franco, “All things considered, the results of his action are positive for his country. But, God, he had a heavy hand.” It is probably no exaggeration to repeat his harsh words here when we consider the tragedy experienced by the Harki and the French in Algeria.

On October 28, 1962, after a political crisis of exceptional violence, which brought together supporters of a referendum and opposition parliamentarians demanding the revision of the Constitution via the majority of Congress, the National Assembly was dissolved. De Gaulle finally won and a popular referendum was organized on the election of the President of the Republic by universal suffrage. The project was approved by the people with 62.25% of the votes in favor. De Gaulle always wanted to exclude the middlemen of the political caste, who were too indifferent to the concerns of the people. It is therefore not surprising that he saw “all the cripples of contemporary history” rise up against him – a vast and heterogeneous coalition of professional politicians, ranging from radical and traditional right-wingers, to Liberals and Christian Democrats. Socialists and Communists.

Nevertheless, Gaullism did have the advantage of bringing together politicians whose origins and convictions were numerous: Jacobins, Conservative administrators, reformist Liberals, radicals, social democrats, left-wing republicans, even far-left, independent intellectuals, technocrats, Maurrassians and nationalist disciples of Péguy or Barres. Sociological Gaullism went far beyond the moderate Right electorate (liberal-conservative and Christian-democratic) and the radical Right. It rallied a large fraction of the Left electorate, seduced by the charisma of the General and by his desire to reconcile order and progress.

At that time, pamphlets, published by prestigious publishing houses, were successfully circulated against de Gaulle. At the end of the Second World War, in 1945, Henri de Kérillis, a Giraudist residing in the United States, published, in Montreal, De Gaulle, dictateur (De Gaulle, Dictator).

In 1964, it was the right-wing anarchist, Jacques Laurent, who published, Mauriac sous de Gaulle (Mauriac under de Gaulle), a libelous work in which he blamed “the Chief who exercises absolute power,” and even claimed that France “lives under a form of tyranny.” The partisans of French Algeria did not forgive him for having had Colonel Bastien Thierry, leader of the conspirators, shot after the attempted assassination at Petit-Clamart, on March 11, 1963. Parliamentarians and former ministers, like the now old Paul Reynaud (right-wing Centrist), Gaston Monnerville (Democratic Left), or François Mitterrand (UDSR – Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance) were not the least virulent.

Paul Reynaud declared that President de Gaulle had violated the Constitution and insulted Parliament. In 1964, Mitterrand published his pamphlet, Le coup d’État permanent (The Permanent Coup d’etat), in which he denounced the practice of “personal power” and the weakness of the marginalized parliament. He called for voting “No” in the referendum on the Constitution of the Fifth Republic (1958) and “No” in the referendum on election by universal suffrage (1962).

François Mitterrand was then known for the attack at the Observatory, a false attack carried out against himself in 1959 [the “Observatory Affair”]. Being then a minister of the Fourth Republic, which was then in decline, Mitterrand had ordered this attack as an attempt to regain some public confidence. De Gaulle, who sometimes was ferocious, gave him various unflattering nicknames, such as, “Rastignac de la Nièvre,” (a social-climber of Nièvre ), “the Arsouille” (thug), or “the Prince of political dogs.” Indicted for “contempt of court,” Mitterrand took advantage of an amnesty law passed by the Pompidou government (the 1962 law; brought into force in 1966), which stopped the legal proceedings against him in 1966.

The reference to the coup d’État to censor the arrival and exercise of power by de Gaulle was a leitmotif of his opponents. We know that European Liberal and Socialist traditions have been marked by numerous recourses to putsches, coups d’état and other pronunciamientos (the first in the 19th-century, and the second at the turn of the 20th-century).

But the fact remains – after the Second World War, in the name of representative democracy, the representatives of these two tendencies sought to sanctify the democratic legitimacy of power (at the expense of the legitimacy of its exercise). De Gaulle, who did not allow himself to be fooled by their legal quibbles, said in this regard: “A good number of political professionals… refuse to see the people exercising sovereignty over the role of these professionals as intermediaries.” But paradoxically, history has shown that de Gaulle was much more democratic than his successors. It was with dignity, and without making the slightest comment, that he left office in 1969, after a referendum on Senate reform and regionalization was rejected by 52.41% of the vote.

Conversely, in 1986, when the legislative elections brought to power a right-wing majority, the socialist François Mitterrand, however critical of the institutions of the Fifth Republic, remained in his post and brought in Jacques Chirac as prime minister, which made for both unnatural and sterile marriage. In 1997, in the wake of the unfortunate dissolution of the Assembly, Chirac also remained at the Élysée, bringing in the Socialist Lionel Jospin as prime minister. In 2005, again, after losing the referendum on the draft European constitution, Chirac was careful not to head to the exit door.

Finally, in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy had the National Assembly ratify the Treaty of Lisbon on the new European Constitution, with the help of the Centrists and the Socialists, while it was rejected by the people in the referendum of May 29, 2005. No referendum has ever been held since. The concept of democracy held by the heads of state who succeeded de Gaulle is, to say the least, of a variable geometry.

In addition to the institutions of the Fifth Republic, a heritage on which the French still live, one must add to de Gaulle’s successes national independence (with the nuclear deterrent force, the withdrawal from NATO’s integrated command, and the return to major economic and financial balances), Franco-German reconciliation (Franco-German friendship treaty of January 22, 1963), and the ordinances on employee profit-sharing and ownership (January 7, 1959 and August 17, 1967). These reforms allowed “collective participation in the running of the company or establishment… participation in the capital or in self-financing operations… [and] participation in the increase of productivity.”

In de Gaulle’s eyes, participation was to crown his social work. But it would come up against the joint hostility of the employers, who feared the arrival of Soviets in the company, and of the unions, who saw all co-management as a phenomenon of class collaboration.

Finally, it should be noted that after the direct intervention of his wife, Yvonne, de Gaulle, agreed to support Deputy Lucien Neuwirth’s law authorizing the use of the contraceptive pill. At the Council of Ministers of June 7, 1967, de Gaulle, hesitant and even reluctant, still said, according to Alain Peyrefitte, “Morals are changing, we can do next to nothing.” But “we must not make social security pay for the pills. These are not remedies! The French want greater freedom of morals. We’re not going to reimburse them for this trifle!” The law authorizing the sale of the contraceptive pill would finally be adopted in December 1967. And it was in 1974, under the presidency of the liberal-conservative, Giscard d’Estaing, that the Minister of Health, Simone Veil, allowed social security to reimburse the pill.

On December 19, 1965, de Gaulle was re-elected President of the Republic, defeating François Mitterrand by 54.5% of the vote. This second term would be marked by three virulent controversies, which have remained famous, and which go far beyond France itself. After the end of the Algerian war, de Gaulle could fully denounce any form of colonization, and he did not hold back in this denunciation by supporting policies of independence, balance, peace and non-alignment, while defending the principle of territorial integrity.

While the United States was fighting in Viet Nam, in a speech in Phnom Penh on September 1, 1966, de Gaulle criticized American intervention and asserted the right of peoples to self-determination. On July 24, 1967, in a speech in Montreal, he supported the interests of the “French in Canada” and the sovereignty of Quebec (“Vive le Québec libre!”) – which did not fail to shock English-speaking Canadians (Time called him a “senile dictator”), but also a large part of the political and media establishment of France who showed their strong disapproval. (This was particularly the case with Le Monde, Le Figaro and anti-Gaullist politicians, such Pleven and Lecanuet, but also Gaullists, such as, Prime Minister Georges Pompidou, who considered the remarks excessive).

However, it was undoubtedly the press conference of November 27, 1967, five months after the Six Day War (June 5 to 10, 1967), during which de Gaulle called the Jewish people “an elite people, self-assured and domineering,” and condemned Israel for attacking Arab countries, which aroused the most passions.

De Gaulle took a position against most political leaders and the mainstream media, which led to a deluge of venomous criticism. (Such as the directors of Le Monde [Hubert Beuve-Mery], of the Nouvel Observateur [Jean Daniel], and of l’Express [Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber], but also the editors of Populaire of the SFIO, of l’Aurore, and of Figaro). Raymond Aron even went so far as to criticize him for “rehabilitating anti-Semitism,” a hysterical accusation vigorously refuted by David Ben-Gurion.

In fact, de Gaulle regarded the creation of Israel as “a historical necessity,” and “a fait accompli.” He added, “We would not want Israel to be destroyed.” And later said, “France will help you tomorrow, as she helped you yesterday, to maintain you, no matter what. But it is unwilling to provide you with the means to conquer new territory. You have achieved a feat. Now don’t overdo it.” De Gaulle refused the conquest of territories by force and affirmed the need for dialogue with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and the right to self-determination of the Palestinians.

But nothing suggested that less than six months later he would be facing riots, initiated by leftist, libertarian and Marxist students, and which would then be taken up by the entire left-wing opposition. This was the time when the philosopher, and Maoist sympathizer, Jean-Paul Sartre, complacently interviewed the libertarian (future liberal-libertarian) Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the columns of the Nouvel Observateur (May 20, 1968).

Sartre, defender of the dictatorships of the East, of the USSR or of Mao’s China and even a declared supporter of the Soviet concentration camps, wanted to be revolutionary. He was not an inspirer of the ’68 revolt, but it was echoed widely in the streets, on the stands and in the newspapers. Crowned with his past as a resistance fighter, an escapee from a Stalag and a defender of leftist causes, Sartre was the icon of the intelligentsia and much of the French university.

De Gaulle respected the “philosopher,” although the author of Les mains sales kept calling him a “fascist,” “pimp,” “piece of shit,” “moron,” “bastard” and “pig.” It would take almost thirty years for the veil to be finally lifted on Sartre’s baseness and villainy. We eventually learned that the legend of the model couple Sartre-Beauvoir did not correspond to reality.

Sartre had never been a resistance fighter; he had twice refused to attempt to escape Germany; he had most likely been released thanks to the intervention of collaborationist, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Sartre had signed the two Vichy forms by which he certified that he was neither a Jew nor a Freemason; he had been appointed to the Lycée Condorcet to the post once occupied by a Jewish teacher prohibited from teaching by Vichy laws. Finally, Sartre had written in the collaborationist review Comoedia and his play, Les Mouches (1943) – so-called resistance – had not given him any serious problem with German censorship.

As for his partner, Simone de Beauvoir, she had worked for Radio-Vichy and was not been expelled from the National Education Department by the Vichy government for an act of resistance, but following a complaint of corrupting a minor by Nathalie Sarraute’s mother (See the edifying account of their lives and their pitiful relationships given by Michel Onfray in Les consciousness réfractaires). All in all, they were a couple of mediocre, cowardly, opportunist, careerist, scheming and ambitious “bastards,” to use the pleasant term Sartre and Beauvoir used for their opponents.

“Reform yes, a shambles, no” de Gaulle would say in private, in 1968. In truth, he never forgave himself for letting these events take him by surprise. According to his son, Philippe, he confessed: “I failed. I failed because it is characteristic of someone who governs according to plan. And there, I didn’t see anything, I didn’t plan anything. Of course, I was not the only one in this case… But that’s no excuse.”

On May 27, 1968, a few hours after taking part in the meeting at the Charléty stadium (organized, among others, by the UNEF, the PSU and the CFDT), François Mitterrand proposed the formation of a “provisional management government” headed by Mendès France. But the old lion woke up and finally came to his senses.

De Gaulle, assured of the support of the armed forces of the Republic, after his impromptu visit to General Massu on May 29, 1968, returned to Paris and called for civic resistance. The next day, a gigantic demonstration of nearly a million people gathered on the Champs Élysée to defend the institutions. On June 30, parliamentary elections marked the opposition’s failure. The Gaullists and their allies then won the absolute majority of seats in the Assembly: 358 out of 485.

But this victory would be marred a year later by the success of “No” in the referendum on regionalization, immediately followed by the resignation of the first President of the Fifth Republic. From April to September 1970, de Gaulle published a collection of speeches and messages, followed by his Memoirs of Hope. He died at La Boisserie on November 9, 1970 at 7:30 p.m.

On September 10, 1966, aboard the cruiser, De Grasse, Charles de Gaulle had confided to his minister, future memorialist, Alain Peyrefitte, these few words, which define the essence of Gaullism: “We have tried to invent a new regime, a third way, between oligarchy and democrappy.”

Some Reflections On Gaullian Thought

At the center of Gaullian thought is the desire to reconcile idea of national identity with social justice. De Gaulle knew that one cannot ensure freedom, social justice and the public good without simultaneously defending national sovereignty and independence (political, economic and cultural).

The strength of Gaullism lies in its passion for the greatness of the nation; its aspiration for national unity; its praise of the heritage of Christian Europe; its demand for Europe, from Brest to Vladivostok; its resistance against any foreign domination (American or Soviet); its non-alignment on the international level; its direct democracy (universal suffrage and the popular referendum); its anti-parliamentarianism; its ideal of the third way, neither capitalist nor collectivist; its indicative planning, its “ordoliberalism;” its capital-labor association or participation; and its selective immigration and national preference.

The many links that de Gaulle forged during the 1930s, with various politico-intellectual circles, contributed to the formation of Gaullist Tercerism. From his family roots, de Gaulle very early on received the imprint of double social Catholicism (that of traditionalists, such as, Armand de Melun, Albert de Mun, René de la Tour du Pin, and that of liberals, such as, Ozanam and Lammenais). He also read Maurras in the 1910s, like many officers of his generation; his father was also a supporter of Action Française.

But while he recognized the primacy of foreign policy, and the traditional view of the struggle of states, with an indifference to ideologies that pass away while nations remain, along with anti-parliamentarianism, the strong state and the exaltation of national independence, proclaimed by the “master of Martigues,” de Gaulle also rejected full nationalism and, in particular, state anti-Semitism, preferring instead the philosophy of Bergson, the mystique of the republican idea of Péguy and the nationalism of Barrès ( the author of The Faith of France). Like Barrès, de Gaulle defended the idea of a unitary national history that included the Ancien Régime and the Revolution of 1789, and in which the Republic was a given. Being a subscriber to the Cahiers de la Quinzaine, before the First World War, de Gaulle expressly claimed Péguy as one of his masters. Let us also not forget one of his favorite authors, François-René de Chateaubriand, whom he read and reread his entire life.

In the 1930s, de Gaulle attended the literary salon of Daniel Halévy, historian and essayist, a great connoisseur of Proudhon (anarchist), Sorel (syndicalist-revolutionary) and Péguy (Catholic nationalist). He also participated in the meetings of the circle of an old retired soldier, a Dreyfusard and nonconformist, Colonel Émile Mayer. Close to the socialist left, Mayer made him meet, in addition to his future friend, the lawyer Jean Auburtin, several politicians, such as, Paul Reynaud, Joseph Paul-Boncour, Marcel Déat, Édouard Frédéric-Dupont, Camille Chautemps, Alexandre Millerand and Léon Blum. It was thanks to Colonel Mayer that he came into contact with Daniel-Rops (Henry Petiot). All this new knowledge allowed him to give more resonance to his military writings.

De Gaulle also took part in meetings and conferences of the Ligue de la Jeune République, an organization for political resurgence, after its condemnation by Pius IX, in favor of the Sillon, the progressive Catholic movement of Marc Sangnier. In 1933, de Gaulle contributed to the debates organized by L’Aube, a newspaper close to the CFTC (Christian Trade Unionism in France), which was later chaired by Georges Bidault.

In 1934, de Gaulle subscribed to the review Sept, created by the Dominicans; then, in 1937, to its successor, the weekly, Temps Présent, while he also belonged to the association, Amis de Temps Présent (Friends of Temps Présent). Openly Catholic, these two reviews and their circle, were politically in the center-left. Finally, and above all, a decisive factor in the formation of de Gaulle, undoubtedly much more important than his contacts with representatives of the Christian Democrats, Charles de Gaulle spent time with members of the Ordre Nouveau (O.N.). He regularly attended O.N. meetings, a personalist think tank which, along with the Jeune Droite, and Esprit magazine, was one of the three main streams of “non-conformists of the 1930s.”

Created by Alexandre Marc-Lipiansky, Arnaud Dandieu and Robert Aron, the Ordre Nouveau published, from May 1933 to September 1938, an eponymous review, which claimed to be a third social path, and which wanted to be anti-individualist and anti-collectivist, anti-capitalist and anti-communist, anti-parliamentary and anti-fascist, anti-warmonger and anti-pacifist, patriot but not nationalist, traditionalist but not conservative, realist but not opportunist, socialist but not materialist, personalist but not anarchist, and well, human but not humanitarian. In the area of economics, it was a question of subordinating production to consumption. The economy, as it was conceived by the editors of the journal Ordre Nouveau, must include both a free sector and a sector subject to planning. “Work is not an end in itself.” The “neither Right nor Left” approach of the journal and the group gave itself the objective of placing institutions at the service of the person, of subordinating to man a strong and limited state, modern and technical.

We find in this “non-conformism of the thirties,” as in Christian social thought, three fundamental themes that were dear to de Gaulle: the primacy of man, the refusal of standardization, and the concern for respect of the individuality within community; which implies, of course, an important place given to the principle of subsidiarity. In an interesting article in Figaro, “De Gaulle à la lumière de l’Histoire ,” [“De Gaulle in the light of History”], (September 4-5, 1982), the Gaullist and Protestant historian, Pierre Chaunu, drew my attention, for the first time, to the similarities and convergences which exist between the thought of General de Gaulle and those at the same time of the French non-conformist personalists, of the Spanish national-trade unionist, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and of various authors of the conservative German Revolution. This striking parallelism is also found in the case of the thought of Eamon de Valera, the founder of the Irish Democratic Republic, and leader of Fianna Fáil. But it still takes a minimum of openness to admit this, without sinking into caricature and propaganda.

In fact, these political aspirations, which have as a backdrop the themes of “civilization of the masses” and “technical society” (dealt with in particular by Ortega y Gasset) are found among a great many European intellectuals of the 1930s who are not reactionaries, but who seek a synthesis, a reconciliation in the form of dialectical transcendence: “To be on the left or to be on the right is to choose one of the innumerable ways available to man to be an imbecile; both, in fact, are forms of moral hemiplegia,” wrote José Ortega y Gasset in his Preface for French readers of La Révolte des masses (1937).

Like all these thinkers, de Gaulle was in no way a reactionary conservative. He admitted to the civilization of the masses and to technology; there was no pastoral nostalgia with him. Gaullism and the personalism of the nonconformists of the 1930s only really diverged in the conception of the nation: the Gaullian defense of the unity, independence and sovereignty of the nation is opposed to the European federalism of the personalists. The fact remained that de Gaulle would always seek to defend a political doctrine that went in the same direction as that of the personalists, marked by the desire to go beyond the Right and the Left.

Throughout his life, de Gaulle sought to find a new system, a “third way” between capitalism and communism. In 1966, when he seemed interested in Walter Eucken and Wilhelm Röpke’s ordo-liberalism, he wrote to Marcel Loichot: “Perhaps you know that for a long time I have been looking, or groping about, for practical way of determining change, not in the standard of living, but in the condition of the worker. In our industrial society, it must be the beginning of everything again, as access to property was in our old agricultural society.” All his life he always refused to position himself on the Right-Left axis. For him, the Right or the Left were only political references that were completely foreign to him. “To be a Gaullist,” he said in 1965, “is to be neither on the Left nor on the Right. It is to rise above. It is to be for France.” And, again, “France is all at the same time. It is all French people. France is not the Left! France is not the Right!… Now, as always, I am not on one side, I am not on the other, I am for France” (12/15/1965).

In the 1930s, de Gaulle did not consider the social question to be primordial. A senior officer needed to focus first and foremost on the implementation of the best means for the independence of the nation. In a letter of November 13, 1937 to his friend Jean Auburtin, he explained: “For me, I’m in tanks up to my neck.” In this immediate pre-war period, for him everything seemed to boil down to psychological phenomena of jealousy and envy on the one hand, and pride and selfishness on the other.

Before being a social thinker, General de Gaulle was always a philosopher of sovereignty, independence and freedom. But his social thought would emerge in London, during the war years, after the long silence of the twenties and thirties. His first speech, in which the social question appeared, was given in Albert Hall, on November 15, 1941, a month and a half after the Labor Code brought in by the Vichy regime on October 4, 1941. The speech at Oxford, on November 25, 1941, is also essential in understanding the thought of de Gaulle, because it evokes the role of the machine, the advent of the masses and the collective conformism which undermines individual freedoms. The economy is certainly important, but it is only a means to the service of higher ends. Therefore, any system where the economy is an end in itself, whether it be savage capitalism or totalitarian collectivism, is sidelined. Gaullism postulates the primacy of man over economics, technology and any doctrinaire system.

While he agreed to parties, unions and notables, and conceded to them the day-to-day management of politics, de Gaulle denied anyone the right to question the major options of his national and international policy. Contemptuous of “the chattering, maliciously gossiping, and babbling class,” severe critic of the inconsistency, ineffectiveness and carelessness of the Left, de Gaulle pitilessly denounced the stupidity and immobility of the Right.

But his most acerbic criticisms were addressed to the privileged classes, to the money and knowledge bourgeoisie, that were all too often considered jaded, unhealthy and gangrenous, and to its spokespersons from the journalistic fauna. “The people have healthy reflexes. The people feel or are have the interest of the country. They are not often wrong. In reality, there are two bourgeoisies. The money bourgeoisie, those who read Le Figaro, and the intellectual bourgeoisie, who read Le Monde. The two make quite the pair. They get along to share power. I don’t care that your journalists are against me. It would actually annoy me if they weren’t. I would be sorry. Do you hear me! The day when Le Figaro and L’Immonde [the foul – a play on the name of the French daily, Le Monde. Trans.] supported me, I would consider it a national disaster.”

Firmly attached to the Colbertist tradition, for him, nothing important could be done in France, if not by the state which must take the initiative. The state has the means, it must be used. “The aim is not to dry up the sources of foreign capital,” declared de Gaulle, “but to prevent French industry from falling into foreign hands. We must prevent foreign management from taking over our industries. We can’t rely on the selflessness or patriotism of the CEOs and their families, can we? It is too convenient for foreign capital to buy them, to pay sons and sons-in-law in good dollars… I don’t care about BP, Shell and the Anglo-Saxons and their multinationals!… This is just one of the many cases where the power of the so-called multinationals, which are in reality huge Anglo-Saxon machines, has crushed us, the French in particular, and the Europeans in general… If the state does not take matters into its own hands, we get screwed.”

In the twentieth-century, the state had the duty to stimulate a shared economy and to establish the participation of workers in the life of the company. To avoid the situation of permanent antagonism between bosses and workers, capital-labor association and participation (a theme particularly dear to de Gaulle) needed to be implemented at three levels. First and foremost, profit-sharing in the company. Second, participation in capital appreciation to make workers co-owners.

Finally, the associative management of companies by both executives and all staff. Wage earning, in other words, the employment of one man by another, “should not be the definitive basis of the French economy, or of French society,” said de Gaulle, “and for two reasons: first of all, human reasons, that is, reasons of social justice; then for economic reasons, since the system no longer makes it possible to give those who produce the passion and the will to produce and create.”

It is quite obvious that this type of relationship cannot fit into either liberalism or Marxism. Thus, it clearly appears that the Gaullian position, since it repudiates on the one hand, collectivist totalitarianism, and on the other hand, laissez-faire and the law of the jungle, can only be based on the principles of the shared economy.

De Gaulle was not anti-European, as his adversaries, who are subservient to the United States and NATO, say he was. He wanted Europe, but not just any Europe. He even had the deepest awareness of what it represents: the historical link between peoples, beyond their discords, their conflicts; the extraordinary contributions that each of them has made to the world heritage of thought, science and art. In his Memoirs, he does not hesitate to emphasize “the Christian origin” and the exceptional character of the heritage of Europeans.

His idea of Europe and nation-states was radically different from that of his social-democratic or Christian-democratic opponents, such as Alcide De Gasperi, Paul-Henri Spaak, Robert Schuman or Jean Monnet. While they dreamt of a federation, he wished for a confederation. While their perspective was the absorption of Europe into a larger community, into the Atlantic community, de Gaulle wanted a continental, independent and sovereign whole: “Each people is different from the others, incomparable, unalterable,” he stated. “They must remain themselves, as their history and their culture have made them, with their memories, their beliefs, their legends, their faith, their will to build their future. If you want nations to unite, don’t try to integrate them like how you integrate chestnuts into chestnut puree. You have to respect personality. We have to bring them together, teach them to live together, bring their legitimate rulers together, and one day, to confederate, that is to say, to pool certain skills, while remaining independent for everything else. This is how we will make Europe. We will not do it otherwise.”

The idea of a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals,” of a Europe liberated from the American-Soviet condominium, of a “new European order,” of real independence for all of Europe from the outside world, is fundamental in the Gaullian vision of the future multipolar world.

Without the obsession for emancipating Europe from its position as a satellite of the United States, one cannot understand de Gaulle’s foreign policy, nor his exit from the NATO system, (“a simple instrument of American command”), neither his hostility to the “exorbitant privilege” of the dollar playing the role of international reserve, nor his repeated refusal to admit the candidature of Great Britain in the Common Market, nor his obstinate fight for the common external tariff and the preference community. “If Westerners of the Old World remain subordinate to the New,” said de Gaulle, “Europe will never be European and neither will it be able to bring together its two halves.”

“Our policy,” he confided to his minister and spokesperson, Alain Peyrefitte, “I ask you to make it clear: it is to achieve the union of Europe. If I wanted to reconcile France and Germany, it is for a very practical reason, it is because reconciliation is the foundation of all European policy. But which Europe? It must be truly European. If it is not the Europe of the peoples, if it is entrusted to a few more or less integrated technocratic organizations, it will be a story for professionals, limited and without a future. And it is the Americans who will take advantage of this to impose their hegemony. Europe must be independent.”

For de Gaulle, it was clear that Western Europe must have strong allies to face the dangers of communism. But in his eyes, there was also a second threat, just as formidable – American hegemonism.

The construction of Europe therefore needed to be done without breaking with the Americans, but independently of them. Further clarifying his thinking, de Gaulle added “You can only build Europe if there is a European ambition, if Europeans want to exist for themselves. Likewise, a nation, in order to exist as a nation, must first be aware of what differentiates it from others and must be able to assume its destiny. National feeling has always been affirmed in the face of other nations: a European national feeling can only be affirmed in the face of the Russians and the Americans.”

What he criticized the Anglo-Saxons for is wanting to build a Europe without borders, a Europe of multinationals, placed under the final tutelage of America, a Europe where each country loses its soul. Realistically, he continued: “America, like it or not, has today become a business of global hegemony… The expansion of the Americans since WWII has become irresistible. This is precisely why we must resist it.” And again: “The Europeans will not have regained their dignity as long as they continue to rush to Washington to take their orders. We can live like a satellite, like an instrument, like an extension of America. There is a school that dreams only of that. It would simplify things a lot. That would free from national responsibilities those who are not able to carry them… It’s a design. It’s not mine. It is not that of France… We need to pursue a policy which is that of France… Our duty is not to disappear. It has happened that we have been momentarily erased; we never resigned ourselves to it… The policies of the Soviet Union and that of the United States will both end in failure. The European world, mediocre though it has been, is not ready to accept Soviet occupation indefinitely on the one hand and American hegemony on the other. It can’t go on forever. The future is the reappearance of nations.”

Firmly attached to the French nation, whatever its components, de Gaulle would have been indignant against those who today do not give preference to the French. “It is in the preamble to the 1958 Constitution,” he recalled. “The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to human rights and the principle of national sovereignty… Article 1: equality before the law is guaranteed to all citizens. We don’t talk about others. So, there is primacy of the citizen whatever the source.” And again: “Was it not up to us, former colonists, who allowed the former colonized to give preference to the population, to demand today that preference be given to the French in their own country? Refusing causes racism.”

Love de Gaulle or hate him, but in terms of the General himself, we can only feel disgust and contempt for his successor-impostors who have mythologized him the better to betray him.

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.

The image shows a mural of Charles de Gaulle before the Saint Mandé tow-hall, by Bernard Romain.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Capitalism And Freedom. A Conversation With Walter Block

We are greatly pleased and honored to present this conversation with Professor Walter Block, the leading libertarian thinker in the US. Professor Block holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair at Loyola University New Orleans. He is the author of over two dozen books and more than 600 articles and reviews. Just recently, a petition was started by some Loyola students to have Professor Block fired for his “views.” Professor Block (WB) is here interviewed by Dr. N. Dass (ND), on behalf of the Postil.

ND: Welcome to the Postil, Professor Block. It is a pleasure to have you with us. For the benefit of our readers, who may not be aware of what has been happening to you at Loyola University, New Orleans, would you please tell us how the Cancel Culture decided to come after you?

WB: A Loyola student, M. C. Cazalas, who had never taken any class of mine, not ever once spoken to me, started a petition to get me fired for being a racist and a sexist. As of 8/5/20 she garnered 663 signatures, some of them Loyola students, but not all of them. An actual former student of mine, Anton Chamberlin, started a counter petition to get me a raise in salary. As of this date it has been signed by 5,646 people, again some of them Loyola students, but not all of them. I’m not likely to be fired for two reasons in addition to this gigantic signature disparity. One, I have tenure; that still means something, even in these politically correct times. Two, the president of Loyola University, Tanya Tetlow, bless her, responded to this get me fired initiative with a statement strongly supporting academic freedom and intellectual diversity. She and I do not see eye to eye on political economy, so this is even more of a credit to her than would otherwise be the case.

ND: What do you think lies behind this Cancel Culture? Is it a failure of education? Is it an excess of humanitarianism? Or, it is simply an expression of student radicalism, which has always been part-and-parcel of university life?

WB: My guess is that all of these explanations you mention play a role. According to that old aphorism, “If a man of 20 is not a socialist, he has no heart; if he is still a socialist at 50, he has no brain.” There must be something in human development that renders young people more vulnerable to socialism, cultural Marxism, cancel culture, snowflakeism, micro aggression fears, etc., than their elders. Unhappily, far too many middle aged and older people also succumb to the siren song of socialism. I think the general explanation for this general phenomenon is biological: most of us, except for a few free enterprise mutants, are hard-wired for government interventionism. A zillion years ago, when we were in the trees or in the caves, there was no biological benefit to be open to free enterprise, markets, capitalism. Hence, these genes had no comparative advantage.

ND: Should we regard Cancel Culture as dangerous? Is freedom really in peril? Such questions come to mind, given the tragic end of Professor Mike Adams.

WB: Yes, very dangerous. Economic Marxism was a dismal failure. Everyone can see the results in Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, the old USSR, Eastern Europe, Mao’s China. But cultural Marxism is more insidious; it is more difficult to see its errors. Yes, there are racial and sexual divergences in wealth and income, and it is far too easy to attribute these results to economic freedom.

Poor Mike Adams. His is an extreme case, since he committed suicide, presumably due to the Cancel Culture. But apart from his demise, that case is only the veritable tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds if not thousands of academics who have been canceled, fired, forced to endure re-education camps, demoted, etc. The university with but very few exceptions is now a totally owned subsidiary of people who call themselves “progressives.” They really should be called “retrogressives” since they oppose civilization, freedom, prosperity. That is, they are really opponents of human progress.

ND: Lenin famously said that Communism was Socialism plus electrification. Likewise, can we say that the Cancel Culture is Socialism plus the Internet?

WB: Wow. That’s a good one. I wish I had thought of it. I’m grateful to you for sharing it with me. Before the internet, there were NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Between them, they almost totally dominated the culture; they had an important impact on the outlook of the nation. Now, with the internet, one would think there would be far more heterogeneity. And, to some degree, there is. But the main players, nowadays, that “Big Five” now plus the electronic major media, keep canceling out libertarian and conservative voices. This does not constitute censorship, only government can do that (on the other hand, it cannot be denied that they are dependent on the state for favoritism). But until and unless people with divergent views set up successful alternatives, the voices of the left will continue to dominate.

ND: The student petition against you cites, among other things, your supposed “defence” of slavery. Of course, this is a misunderstanding of your position. Perhaps you could clarify for our readers what you actually say about slavery, especially the concept of the voluntary slave contract, which indeed goes back to the Classical world.

WB: Suppose, God forbid, my child had a dread disease that would kill him. He could be saved, but only at the cost of $10 million. I do not have anything like that amount of money. You, on the other hand are very rich. You’ve long wanted me to be your slave. So, we make a deal. You give me these funds, which I turn over to the doctors who save my child’s life. Then, I come to your plantation to pick cotton, give you economics lessons. You may whip me even legally kill me if I displease you. As in all voluntary interactions, we both gain, at least ex ante. I value my son’s life more than my freedom. The difference between the two is my profit. You rank my servitude more highly than the money you must pay me for it, and you, likewise, gain the difference.

Is this a valid contract? Should it be enforced? This is highly controversial even in libertarian circles, but in my view, you should not be accused of assault and battery if you whip me, nor murder if you kill me, since I have given up my legal right to object (this is very different than indentured servitude, which does not allow for bodily harm).

In 2014 The New York Times interviewed me about libertarianism (they were doing a hit piece on Rand Paul), and I gave them this example as a hypothetical. They quoted me as saying that actual slavery, of the sort that existed in the US up until 1865, was legitimate. I sued them for libel. We settled the case. I received monetary compensation, plus an addendum to their original article. It reads as follows: “Editors’ Note: Aug. 7, 2018. An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the views of Walter Block on slavery. While Mr. Block has said that the daily life of slaves was ‘not so bad,’ he opposes slavery because it is involuntary, and he believes reparations should be paid.”

I defended, only, this hypothetical slavery, in order to draw out the logical implications of voluntary interaction. As for actual slavery, it is an abomination, an evil, a horrid rights violation. That the New York Times would write as if I favored the latter, when I only supported the former, certainly counts as “fake news.”

ND: Given the fact that you are the foremost libertarian thinker in the US today, and your book series, Defending the Undefendable I and II, which came out in 1976 and 2008 respectively, is widely regarded as a libertarian “cult classic,” from a libertarian perspective, is Cancel Culture a just use of political and social coercion?

WB: You are very kind to say that of me. Thank you. There is no one who hates cancel culture more than me. I am tempted to say that it is coercive. It is, but only indirectly. Suppose all universities, without exception, were privately owned, and under the control of faculties and administrations all of whom were leftists. They did not relish heterogeneity of opinion, and thus only hired professors, outside speakers, invited visiting scholars, who represented their viewpoint. Would this be coercive? Of course not. People should have the right to do as they wish with their private property, provided, only, they did not violate the persons or property rights of others. Religious organizations, nudists, tennis players, all have the right to exclude those who do not subscribe to their tenets. However, the cloven hoof of government is all over the educational system. It is based on coercive taxation. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Money mulcted from the long-suffering taxpayer is funneled into institutions of higher learning, where Marxist studies, feminist studies, black studies, queer studies, are the order of the day. It is only due to coercive taxes that Cancel Culture is coercive; but for this element, it would not be.

Of course, without government putting its big fat thumb all over education, there would be more intellectual diversity in this industry. So the cure for the Cancel Culture is separation of education and state, similar to what all men of good will support in another arena: separation of church and state.

ND: This brings us to the nature of education itself. Is there a proper libertarian theory of education, given the underlying libertarian idea that any acceptance of an institution is enslaving?

WB: Yes, there is indeed a proper libertarian theory of education: it should be totally privatized. My motto is, “If it moves privatize it, if it doesn’t move, privatize it; since everything either moves or does not move, privatize everything.” I have applied this aphorism to pretty much everything under the sun in my publications, including streets and highways, rivers and oceans, space travel and heavenly bodies. Certain, I would include education under this rubric. Information generation should be as private as bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes or cars. You want some, pay for it. You want to offer your services in this regard? Open up a school and attract customers.

But what about the poor? Will they not get an education? Of course they will. They obtain bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes and cars; schooling would not be an exception. For people who are too poor, the tradition in private education, at whatever level, was to award scholarships to bright recipients. There would be no such thing as compulsory education (a 12 year prison sentence for those whose inclination leads them to want to work instead), any more than there should be compulsory purchase of bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes or cars. Any acceptance of any coercive institution may not be enslaving (we should reserve that word for far more serious rights violations), but it is despicable. Education should not be an exception to the general rule of privatization.

ND: Perhaps we can draw back a little and turn to some larger issues. You describe yourself as an Austrian School economist. Would you please explain what that is?

WB: Austrian economics has no more to do with that country than Chicago School economics involves that city. It is so named because its originators, Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, Mises, Hayek, all were born there. It is sometimes called the free enterprise school of thought, since the public policy recommendations of virtually all of its practitioners strongly support economic freedom, private property rights, laissez faire capitalism. But Austrianism is an exercise in positive economics, not the normative variety.

Its main contribution is that economics, properly understood, is not an empirical science, but, rather, an exercise in pure logic. It starts with certain basic premises which are necessary and undeniable, and deduces all of economics from them. For example, man acts. To deny this is itself to perform a human action; therefore the criticism necessarily fails. Austrian economics consists of synthetic a priori statements, which are both necessarily true and also have real world implications; they explicate economic reality.

We have already mentioned one of them above: all voluntary trade is necessarily mutually beneficial at least in the ex ante sense. Here is a more pedestrian example. I buy a shirt for $25. I inescapably value it more highly than that amount, otherwise I would not buy it. Well, there was something about that shirt, maybe not the shirt itself, that I ranked in that manner. Perhaps I had pity for the shirt salesman, or wanted a favor of him, etc. Ditto for him. He valued my money more than the shirt, so he also profited. The Marxists might say this is (mutual?) exploitation (perhaps the richer person always takes advantage of the poorer one?), but this is abject nonsense. Voluntary exchange is not a zero sum game, where the winnings of the winners must equal the losings of the losers. No, in commercial interaction, both parties gain, otherwise they would not agree to participate.

Since laissez faire capitalism consists of nothing more or less than the concatenation of all such events (buying, selling, renting, lending, borrowing, gift giving), we may conclude is it necessarily beneficial to all participants. True, ex post either party may later come to regret the commercial interaction, but that is entirely a different matter. Can we test this economic law? The mainstream would aver that if we cannot, it is not a matter of science. Well, yes, it is not a matter of empirical science, rather, it is an aspect of logic. No one in his right mind “tests” the Pythagorean Theorem, or that triangles have three sides or the claim that 2+2=4. But that doesn’t mean these laws are not “scientific” in the sense of providing important true knowledge about reality.

Austrians also disagree with mainstream economists on a whole host of other issues. For example, monetarism (we tend to favor free market money, not fiat currency), business cycles (we claim they emanate from government money and interest rate mismanagement, not markets), monopoly and anti trust (Austrians see no role for the latter), indifference, cardinal versus ordinal utility, interpersonal comparisons of utility (mainstreamers support, Austrians oppose).

ND: The term “fiat money” is much bandied about nowadays. Is the concept of fiat money misunderstood or misused, given that money as the legal tender of a state does give paper money legitimacy as a medium of exchange? Or do you think such legitimacy does not exist?

WB: Milton Friedman was the host of the justly famous “Free to Choose” television series. However, when it comes to monetary matters, this scholar’s views are not at all compatible with that title. Most times when people were really free to choose the financial intermediary which overcomes the double coincidence of wants, they selected gold (and sometimes silver). Nevertheless, Friedman was a fervent opponent of this free market money. Why? Because it costs resources to dig it up initially, and more to store it. These expenses could be almost entirely obviated with fiat money, created by the printing press and/or central banking, he argued. But shoes, fences, chairs, also cost money. The proper question is not Can we reduce expenses? Rather, it is, whether or not these outlays are worth it? Even more important, the issue is, Who gets to choose whether or not they are worthwhile? Central planning oriented Friedman chose to ignore the decision in favor of gold of the free market; he urged the imposition of fiat currency.

Why do statists support this type of currency? There are three and only three ways for the state to raise funds. First, taxes. But everyone knows full well, even low information voters, who is responsible for that. Hint: it is not the private sector. Second, borrowing. Ok, those with the meanest intelligence might not be too sure of who is behind this mode of finance; but everyone else knows it is the government. Third, fiat money, created out of the thin air by the state apparatus. The beauty, here, from the point of view of the centralists, is that the resulting inflation can be blamed on all and sundry: on capitalist greed, on nasty consumers buying too much, even on otherwise beloved labor unions. Economists in the pay of government always stand ready to demonstrate that the correlation between prices rising and the stock of fiat currency in circulation is not a perfect one. Well, of course it is not, given varying expectations. But it is an insight of praxeology, the Austrian method, that the more money in circulation, other things equal, the higher prices will be.

ND: Much of your work centers upon anarcho-capitalism. Would you explain how you understand this concept, and why you feel it is important? And how would you answer the charge that anarcho-capitalism is utopian?

WB: Anarchism is important, because one of the basic building blocks of the entire libertarian edifice is the non-aggression principle (NAP). This means that all human interaction should be voluntary. No one should coerce anyone else. But the government, necessarily, engages in taxation. That is, it levies compulsory payments. One of the beauties of libertarianism is its uncompromising logic. Its willingness, nay, passion, to apply the NAP to all economic actors, with no exceptions. Well, if we apply the NAP to the state, we can see that the latter fails. Oh, their apologizers have all sorts of excuses. The income tax is really voluntary. Tell that to the IRS! That taxes are akin to club dues. Yes, if you join the tennis or golf club, you have to pay dues. But you agreed to do so. In sharp contrast, no one ever contracted to be part of the US “club.”

The “capitalist” part of “anarcho-capitalism” is also important. It distinguishes us from the left wing or socialist anarchists such as Noam Chomsky. They oppose the government, to their credit, but would also outlaw profits, money, private property, charging interest for loans, etc., in violation of the NAP. It also, very importantly, separates us from the Antifa and Black Lives Matter anarchists who are currently trying to take over streets, highways, and large swaths of Seattle, Portland and other US cities. They, too, oppose free enterprise.

Is anarcho capitalism utopian? Well, yes, I think it is in some sense. That is, due to my understanding of sociobiology, I don’t think a majority of people are now capable of living up to the NAP which underlies this system. On the other hand, the nations of the world are now in an anarchistic (not anarcho-capitalist) relationship with one another. A state of anarchy now prevails between Argentina and Austria, between Brazil and Burundi, between Canada and China, etc. That is, there is no world government controlling their interactions. The only way to solve this anarchism would be to install a world government. So anarchism is not utopian in the sense that very few people would want to go down that path.

ND: Some of the thinkers crucial to libertarianism, such as, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman favor limiting the reach of government. Anarcho-capitalism, on the other hand, seeks the end of government itself. How do you reconcile this fundamental difference?

WB: I don’t reconcile it at all. I am a big fan of all the scholars you mention. On a personal matter, it was Ayn Rand who converted me to a position of limited government libertarianism, or minarchism. I met her while I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, and, then, a blissfully ignorant enthusiast of socialism. I have learned from all of the authors you mention. However, they are all statists, of a limited variety to be sure, but statists, nonetheless. Instead, I would say that the thinker now most crucial to libertarianism in general, and to anarcho capitalism in particular, is Murray N. Rothbard. I am a Rothbardian, and I follow him in rejecting the criticisms of anarcho capitalism offered by the half dozen scholars listed above.

ND: In your important analysis of the pay-gap between men and women, you have come under fire from feminists who say that you do not take into account that as supposed patriarchy disappears, the pay-gap decreases. What do you say to such critics?

WB: Thanks for your characterization of my analysis. Actually, I have done only just a little bit of actual research on this matter. Rather, I am a follower of Gary Becker, Thomas Sowell, and Walter E. Williams on this issue who have done far more than I on this matter. I will take credit, however, for popularizing this analysis.

What’s going on here? Roughly, there is a sexual pay gap of some 30%. This means, again on average, that for every $10 a man earns, a woman’s pay is $7. What determines wages in the first place? Productivity. This divergence should not raise hackles when it occurred two centuries ago. Why not? Because male productivity then way higher than female. Most jobs required physical strength, and men, again only typically, are stronger than women.

But nowadays, very few employment slots require brute strength. So why does the gap still occur? It is simple; wives do the lion’s share of housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, child care, shopping, etc. But everything we do comes at the expense of not being able to do other things as well, if at all. Ussain Bolt is the fastest sprinter on the planet, but he is not a good cellist; Yo Yo Ma plays that instrument exquisitely, but his time in the 100 meters is nothing to brag about. This marital asymmetry specialization, alone, explains virtually all of this 30% pay gap.

There are two bits of evidence that support this contention.

Yes, the pay gap between all men and women is some 30%. But that between ever married males and females, people who are now married, widowed, separated, or divorced, is much higher. It varies, but is something like 60%. What is the pay gap between men and women who have never been touched by the institution of marriage? They are not married, widowed, separated or divorced. It is zero. Let me repeat that. There is no pay gap here. Now, in actual research, you never find 100% equality. A more accurate way of putting this is that the ratio between male and female earnings ranges from something like 90% to 110%, depending upon country, age, occupation, schooling, etc. But, for all intents and purposes the gap simply does not exist for the never marrieds.

Here is a second bit of evidence countering the claim that free enterprise is inherently sexist. Suppose this gap really were due to discrimination against women. Then, we would have a situation where the productivity of both genders was $10, but the fairer sex was paid only $7. But this would mean that industries where women predominate would be more profitable than others. There is no evidence supporting this. It would also imply that extra profits could be garnered ($3 per hour) from hiring a woman. As entrepreneurs added women to their payrolls, their wages would inevitably rise. To what level? To equality, since pay scales tend to reflect productivity, which we now assume are equal. But we see no indication that firms are beating the bushes to employ more women, except, recently, when the virus of virtue signalling began to predominate.

If patriarchy, defined as unequal household and child care tasks were to end, then, yes, the pay gap would also decrease, presumably almost to zero, since the marital asymmetry hypothesis would no longer be operational. But not quite. Pregnancy and breast feeding will always separate the genders. Then, too, men tend to take more dangerous jobs, and this too, will separate sexual remuneration. However, if the end of patriarchy is defined more broadly, so as to obviate these differences too, then I would expect the gap to disappear. But this is not the world we live in. Biology, once again, intrudes the best laid plans of the feminists. There are still strong differences between males and females. Many would say, thank God for the difference!

ND: In your view, is capitalism weakening, especially given how easily Communist China has exploited it for its own gain?

WB: Weakening? I would say the very opposite. The Chinese economy has catapulted thanks in large part to their adoption of at least some aspects of capitalism. The Russians, too. This is evidence, I think of a strengthening of this system.

ND: How do you think capitalism will manage tech monopolies

WB: Capitalism is incompatible with monopoly. If there is monopoly in existence then, to that extent, there is no capitalism. But to make sense of this claim we must have the Austrian view of monopoly in mind, not the mainstream or neoclassical one. What is the difference between the two?

In the (correct!) Austrian perspective, monopoly is a government grant of exclusive privilege to conduct a certain kind of business; anyone who competes with this monopoly is a criminal. Examples include the US post office and the system of taxi cab medallions which operates in major cities such as New York. Those who engage in such activities without permission from the monopolist are subject to fines and imprisonment. A very dramatic example of this phenomenon was depicted in the movie Ghandi when people went to the sea to obtain to water so as to access the salt therein. They were savagely beaten by the police. Why? There was a monopoly of salt granted by the British government, and these people were violating it. That is crony capitalism, not laissez faire capitalism.

Given this, there is a serious question as to whether or not there are at present any tech monopolies. Some are given special legal privileges by government, and, to that extent are monopolisitic, and thus, entirely incompatible with laissez faire capitalism.

The (incorrect!) view prevalent amongst most modern economists is very different. They would include the foregoing as monopolies but also, quite fallaciously, add on density or concentration. For example, when IBM was the only producer of computers, it was deemed a monopoly, based on the fact that it was the only one in this industry. This company never came within a million miles of trying to forbid competition (the Austrian perspective); it was deemed a monopoly solely because at the time it was thought to have no competitors. It had 100% “control” of the industry.

This concept is intellectually dead from the neck up. It is arbitrary. It depends upon how the “industry” is defined. If narrowly enough, pretty much anyone can become a monopoly; if widely, then no one is or can be. For example, I am the sole producer of Walter Block services, narrowly defined. There are other libertarian economists, to be sure, but none are exactly like me. On the other hand, if we define this “industry” broadly, I am only one of several hundreds of thousands of practitioners.

Let us take a less unique example. If the industry is defined as providing dry breakfast cereals, the concentration ratio will be high. If we include wet breakfast cereals too, this ratio will be lower. If we add all breakfast ingredients, ham and eggs, not just cereals, it will decrease even more. Adding all food, not just for breakfast, will further reduce it. Well, which is correct? Plaintiffs want to define the industry narrowly, so as to render a high concentration ratio, or monopolization, whereas the defense sees the matter in the opposite way. The point is, there is no rhyme or reason to this entire matter.

Bill Gates and Microsoft started way out in the boonies in Seattle. He didn’t grease the palms of either party in Washington DC. How to bring him into line? Why, declare him a monopolist! All of anti-trust legislation is a disgraceful sham.

ND: What about encroaching robotization? If human labor is largely side-lined, what will capitalism become?

WB: I am not a Luddite. I do not think that machinery, computers, robots, etc., are a threat to human kind. Indeed, I maintain that the very opposite is the case. The more non human help we can access from such sources, the less will our lives be “nasty, brutish and short.”

Either we will run out of jobs that need doing, or we will not. In neither case will artificial help emanating from this source prove to be a difficulty. Suppose we become aesthetes, and are satisfied with our present standards of living, a few decades from now. Then, we will have a achieved a “post scarcity” state of the economy. Thanks to machines, and everyone will have a sufficient number of them, we can all sit back, relax, and “play” all the livelong day. No problem here. More realistically, we will never run out of thing we want. We will always seek more than we have. We will want to eradicate all diseases, live forever, comfortably, explore the core of the earth, the bottom of the oceans, other planets in this and additional solar systems. With the help of robots, we can accomplish more of these goals than other wise, but we humans will still be called upon to labor so as to attain, these ambitious goals.

Ned Ludd was faced with knitting machines which would allow one worker to do the jobs previously needing 20 people. He “reasoned” that 19 people would then be rendered unemployable, and proceeded to burn this new machinery. His heart may have been in the right place (if we abstract from the fact that he destroyed the property owned by others), but the same cannot be said for his head. He reckoned in the absence of the fact that these 19 people would now be freed up to create new goods and services, impossible to attain previously, but now within our reach.

But the same exact situation presents itself right now. Instead of looking at the secretaries and typewriter workers unemployed by computers, those. who labored for Kodak and are no longer needed, ditto for zoom reducing the need and the employment needed for travel to attend meetings, focus on the fact that all these “unemployed” people are now free to produce goods and services otherwise unobtainable. At one time, about 85% of the US labor force was needed to be on the farms, in order to feed ourselves. Nowadays, the figure is something like 2%. Is this a tragedy for our economy? To think so is to revert to simple Ludditism. It is a failure to understand basic economics. The more help we get from inanimate matter, the better off we shall be

ND: As an economist, are you hopeful about the future of the West?

WB: Milton Friedman was once asked, What is the future course of stock market prices? His response was, They will fluctuate. I say the same thing as the future of the West. It, too, will fluctuate, I expect. If Biden wins the next election, political correctness will threaten Western civilization. If Donald, less so. My hope is that Rand Paul will be the president in 2024. Then, our civilization will take a turn for the better.

ND: Thank you so much for your time. It was wonderful speaking with you.

WB: My pleasure. Thanks for putting these questions to me. They were challenging, and made me think.

The image shows, “New York,” by George Bellows, painted in 1911.

The Decline Of Postivism: A New Culture War

The current ideological spasm seen widely in the West has a quasi-religious aspect. The idea of racism as a demonic force operating everywhere fits that. So does the iconoclasm, the attempt symbolically to reorder urban spaces in order to drive home a set of political imperatives.

What is most striking is the suspension of any sense of critique of the new order. Debate is so beneath you when you possess all truth. Much better just to steamroll people into subjugation. Debate is seen as oppressive. Instead, edicts are issued from on high, as befits a cult. Those who hold contrasting views are readily dismissed and shunned: if you do not think you are a white supremacist that means that you are guilty. If you feel uncomfortable about being accused of being a white supremacist – that means you are guilty. This is like a blatantly constructed trap; as is the reference to having “a conversation” when that is the very last thing that is intended.

In practical terms, we are seeing a bringing to fruition of the attack on positivism that has been so insistent since the 1960s, an attack that is bridging from academic circles to a wider public. In particular, there was, and continues to be, a critique of subordinating scholarship and the scholar to the evidence; and a preference, instead, for an assertion of convenient evidence that was derived essentially from theory. Empiricism was discarded, or at least downplayed, as both method and value, and there was a cult of faddish intellectualism heavily based on postmodernist concepts.

Divorcing the Arts and Social Sciences from empirical methods invited a chaos that some welcomed but that others sought to reshape in terms of a set of values and methods equating to argument by assertion and proof by sentiment: ‘I feel therefore I am correct,’ and it is apparently oppression to be told otherwise. The conventional academic spaces, the geopolitics of academic hierarchy and method, from the lecture hall to the curriculum, have all been repurposed to this end.

In this view, the statues that are unwelcome are not isolated residues of outdated and nefarious glories, but a quasi-living reproach to the new order. Indeed, the statue of Cecil Rhodes that decorates Oriel College, Oxford is referred to by its critics as making them feel uncomfortable. So also with crests of arms or stained glass, or the names of buildings and streets. All are to be removed because they are seen not as mute products of the past, but, instead, as toxic reproaches in a culture wars of the present in which there is no space for neutrality or non-committal, or, indeed, tolerance and understanding.

Iconoclasm, therefore, from whatever political direction, is a matter of a set of values that is inherently anti-democratic, in that the legitimacy of opposing views is dismissed, indeed discredited as allegedly racist, and anti-intellectual because there is an unwillingness to ask awkward questions and to ignore evidence which does not fit in the answer wanted. Examples of the latter might include the extent of slavery and the slave trade prior to the European arrival in Africa or the role of European powers in eventually ending both. It is possible to debate these and other points, but debate is not accepted if it involves questioning assumptions.

However, such questioning is crucial to understanding the past, which is the key aspect of history as an intellectual pursuit rather than as the sphere for political engagement. Historians need to understand why practices we now believe to be wrong and have made illegal, such as slavery or (differently) making children work or marrying them, were legitimate in the past. It is not enough, in doing so, to present only one side of and on the past because that is allegedly useful for present reasons. Nor to refuse to recognise debate in earlier, plural societies.

People in the past believed that they were right for reasons that were perfectly legitimate in terms of their own times, experience, and general view of the world. Imposing anachronistic value-judgments is antithetical to the historical mindset of the scholar, and is inherently transient as the fullness of time will bring in fresh critiques of present-day values, which will also be wrenched out of their historical context, not least by ignoring inconvenient evidence. Thus, iconoclasm will be perpetuated, providing a form of blood of (stone) martyrs to revive revolution, and to the detriment of any sense of continuity, unless, that is, the sole sense that is sought is that of an anarchic presentism.

Again, there are elements that can be traced to the assault on positivism. In particular, the notion of accumulated wisdom, and/or of source criticism based on an understanding of past practices, have in large part been discarded as a consequence of an academic culture being brought into line with those within it who use virtue-signalling to push their views. Iconoclasm is to the fore here.

The theme of a difficult ‘conversation’ about Britain’s past and its legacy in the present was pushed hard by critics, but their view of conversation was only one-way. It encompassed growing calls for iconoclasm, with Rhodes a target in Oxford from 2015 and Afua Hirsch, in an article in The Guardian, calling for Nelson’s Column in London to be pulled down. She described Nelson ‘without hesitation’ as a ‘white supremacist’ because he spoke in favour of slavery. Hirsch, who pressed for Britain to face its role in the slave trade and attitudes linked to its empire building, backed the Rhodes Must Fall movement vigorously and, in ‘The Battle for Britain’s Heroes’, a BBC programme on 29 May 2018, returned to the attack on Nelson and presented Churchill as a racist. Meanwhile, in February 2018, the controversy was over the exhibition ‘The Past is Now’ at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in which information boards claimed that “the relationship between European colonialism, industrial production and capitalism is unique in its brutality.’”

The key Birmingham politician of the Victorian period, Joseph Chamberlain, an exponent of a stronger British empire who became Secretary of State for the Colonies (1895-1903), was described as “still revered despite his aggressive and racist imperial policy.” One board attacked Britain’s ‘hasty’ departure from India in 1947 for ‘trauma and misogyny,’ and a second board offers another partisan context: ‘capitalism is a system that prioritises the interests of the individuals and their companies at the expense of the majority.’

Janine Eason, the Director of Engagement, said that it was “not possible’ for a museum to present a neutral voice, particularly for something as multifaceted as stories relating to the British Empire,” and, instead, that the exhibition was both a way to serve the multicultural population of Birmingham and was intended ‘to provoke.” Of course, real “provocation” would have been to offer a different account, one that was more grounded in historical awareness; or, even more, two or more accounts, but such an approach is indeed regarded as provocative.

The toppling of statues is far from new in Britain which has had its share of revolutions. Indeed, in addition to those of political and constitutional transformation, which included the execution of a king and declaration of a republic in 1649, and an overthrow of another king in 1688 leading to constitutional change, came those of three religious revolutions: the Henrician under Henry VIII, the Edwardian under Edward VI, and the Puritan one of the mid-seventeenth century. These saw state-imposed iconoclasm in every community in the country, which was far more extreme than political revolution. Church decorations and paraphernalia, from mass-books and roodscreens to wall-paintings and statues, were destroyed, with particular emphasis on the destruction of shrines to saints, for example, that of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Every monastery, nunnery and chantry was despoiled and terminated. This iconoclasm left the ruined monastery as an abiding image in British culture.

Yet, the brutal iconoclasm of the British past was also left in the past because of the nature of British politics and political culture after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9. The emphasis switched to one of organic change and a government of consent expressed through, and in, parliamentary accountability. The British came to convince themselves that their politics was one that was far more orderly than those of most others, and notably so France, where there were revolutions in 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1871, followed by the instabilities of the Third and Fourth Republics.

So also with the British view of their own political culture, society and emotions. Iconoclasm, therefore, was not part of the British design. There were radical movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but they were those of minorities, and there was an essential ‘lawfulness’ about Methodism in the eighteenth and Chartism in the nineteenth.

Attacks on symbols of power and continuity were pronounced in the case of Irish nationalism, but that was a separate tradition and one that did not influence the British one. The continuity of British political culture proved able to absorb the impact of trade unionism and the rise of the Labour Party, while the end of empire did not have the disruptive impact in the metropole that was to be seen in some former colonies.

That was very different to the situation today. In one respect, the disruption of decolonisation is being brought back now into the metropole, and that element is certainly apparent in the case of some members of minority groups from the former empire. Alongside the attempt to use slavery to discredit imperialism, different immigrant sensitivities play particular roles, with those of people of Caribbean descent especially concerned about slavery and those of Indian descent more so about the legacy of imperial rule. Conversely, there is less comparable critique from those originating in Hong Kong about British imperial rule.

In this overall context of contrast, statues in practice have different resonances. That of Edward Colston (1636-1721), the Bristol merchant who played a role in the slave-trading Royal African Company was one of particular note for the controversy over slavery, and the 1895 statue of him was pushed into Bristol Harbour in June 2020. The statues of Robert, 1st Lord Clive (1725-74) in London and Shrewsbury had more resonance for empire and India, and petitions in 2020 calling for the removal of the Shrewsbury one had 23,000 signatures between them. A counter-petition argued that removing the statue would erase part of the town’s history. Shrewsbury Council decided on a 28-17 vote not to remove the statue, and this decision was criticised on the grounds of supposed racism.

Similarly, there was a petition to remove the London statue, while the highly-overrated historian William Dalrymple, writing in The Guardian on 11 June 2020, declared that Clive “was a vicious asset-stripper. His statue has no place on Whitehall … a testament to British ignorance of our imperial past…. Its presence outside the Foreign Office encourages dangerous neo-imperial fantasies among the descendants of the colonisers… Removing the statue of Clive from the back of Downing Street would give us an opportunity finally to begin the process of education and atonement.” And so on with the usual attacks on Brexit being apparently a consequence of an imperial mentality that has never been confronted. Leave aside the extent to which Dalrymple is strong on assertion but no evidence, and that “Little Englanders” were of far more consequence in the 2016 referendum, what you get is a running together of past and present with the modern British supposedly trapped by the past. Therefore, in this approach, the statues have to fall, and the libraries and reading lists must be reordered.

The alleged validity of these views is allegedly further demonstrated by the false consciousness adduced to those who do not share them. Other statues then come up for immediate criticism. The most prominent in Exeter, that of General Redvers Buller on his horse, Biffen, is allegedly rendered unacceptable because he was a general of empire. That Buller was not associated with anything particularly bad is ignored by referring to him as having invented concentration camps during the Boer War of 1899-1902. In fact, one, he was no longer in command then; two, these were not the same as the later German camps, being more akin to detention centres; and, three, such camps had a long provenance, most recently being used by Spain in fighting an insurgency in Cuba in the 1890s.

Why, however, let facts stand in the way? In each and every case, there is misrepresentation in the iconoclastic demands; but that is not the point. We are in the midst of a postmodernist world in which facts are allegedly subjective, an irrational one in which emotion trumps reason, and one of gesture in which the statue is all-too-prominent as a target and the senses of continuity and identity that go with it deliberately attacked. If this is not a culture war, a war on culture, it is difficult to know what is.

The image shows “Fraternité Avant Tout (Brotherhood Above All),” by Asger Jorn, strategically vandalized in 1962.

Ideology And Global Politics: A Conversation With Ciro Paoletti

We are so very pleased and honored to present this interview with Dr. Ciro Paoletti, the renowned military historian. Dr. Paoletti is the author 26 books and several hundred essays and reviews. He serves as General Secretary of the Italian Commission of Military History, and as Director of the Association for Military and Historical Studies. He is a Life-member of the Institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento, a member of the (US) Society for Military History, a corresponding-member of the Instituto de Geografia e História Militar do Brasil, a member of the Società Dalmata di Storia Patria, and a member of the International Commission of History of Technology. In 2007, he was awarded the SMH Moncado Prize, which he holds along with two other Italian prizes. Dr, Paoletti curretnly works for the Education, University and Research Ministry. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): You are a military historian, which, if I am not mistaken, is a rare breed. I can only think of three others: Jeremy Black (English), Donald Kagen and Victor Hansen (American), and you. The four of you also happen to be conservatives. Is there any relationship between your discipline and conservatism?

Ciro Paoletti (CP): I know many military historians who belong to the Left. Many of them may have chosen the Left to be successful in terms of their career. Others are believers. I have in mind a historian, who, when asked why he was a Leftist, candidly answered: “Because this allows me to say whatever I want, feel protected, and suffer no persecution.” However, whenever a historian melts politics into his work, the result is bad quality of work. If you want history to support your political ideas, you have to be a liar. If we don’t rely on facts, if we don’t reconstruct facts properly, and if we don’t present facts as they occurred, we do bad work, and the result is therefore quite bad.

ZJ: From what you said, I gather you consider history, not just military history, to be conservative by definition. Am I right?

CP: Military history and conservatism are not necessarily linked. It depends on the time one lives in, and on the political background. As things are, in this historical period, if one in the so-called West relies on facts, he is a conservative; it is a matter of logic. When you know how things happened in the past, and apply their schemes to the current affairs, you may easily realize how close Political Correctness (PC) is to the worst 20th-century dictatorships.

In Italy we had Fascism, as you know. Fascism altered a lot of things, provided its own historical versions and interpretations, but it did not alter – never – the content of books written in the past because they were not in conformity with Fascism. Communism under Stalin modified paintings, exterminated people when they became “enemy of the people.” The Soviets banned and eliminated books from libraries, the Nazi did the same and burnt books, but did they alter their content? No.

ZJ: Is there a connection between the former totalitarian approach to history and the new PC (politically correct) ideology?

CP: PC makes changes to the original version; It does it in some books, it does it in theater. Thus, how can an honest historian join the politically correct, if it’s based on the falsification of sources?

ZJ: Italians are the most historical nation in European history. As my older friend told me, everybody must study art history, except the Italians. They live in a “museum.” Does this “historical” experience translate into greater attachment to history? Here I want to make a distinction between being culturally conservative and politically conservative.

In the US, where I live, when I say that I am conservative, people almost instinctively think I always vote Republican. To me, to be conservative means to be conservative in the cultural realm, which, in my mind, is the only realm that truly matters. Political allegiances come and go, culture lasts. When you start changing the past, you wage war on the whole cultural heritage, going all the way back to our historical beginnings. The former totalitarians may have done it as a matter of expediency; today’s totalitarians condemn history as such, and find little in it to learn from. What is your take on this?

CP: Italians are instinctively traditionalist, and highly nationalistic. They don’t like sudden changes – but there has been a generational dramatic change since 2000. Historical heritage provides an instinctive common background, comprised of Rome, the Renaissance and Garibaldi. But there it stops.

Translated into politics, this means that the majority – with the exception of the young people – is surely conservative, for almost every-time a general election has been called, the higher the number of voters, the better the result for conservatism. But, as things have gone in the last twenty-five years, almost every time the Right won, the ballot result was turned upside down by political crises and rule went to so called “technical governments” which more or less pended to the Left. And these crises, which were called by the Right “palace plots,” allowed the Left to take power again.

Paradoxically, as things are today, the Progressive Left – composed of former Communists – Is tasked to keep things as they are, to keep the power as much as possible, no matter what the compromise and the related cost for Italians, whilst Conservatives are the real progressive forces. Unfortunately, as things went in early 1995, in 2011, and 2019, the majority of Italians think voting is useless, because, no matter how you vote and what the result, later “they do what they want.”

Young people today are the product of diffused technologies and related apps. The vast majority do not read; hence they do not think, and they vote according to how familiar this or that sounds. Thus, political propaganda is basically advertising: the easier the slogan, the easier to get the vote, even if there is an instinctive resistance to “inclusion” and what it implies. People can also rely on national heritage to justify the reaction to “inclusiveness;” but this reaction is not a consequence of the national heritage, which exists by itself.

ZJ: In the 1970s, we used to say – after Hayek – that there is a distinction between European and American Liberalism, because one could not apply the term Conservatism in the European sense to American reality: no monarchy. Accordingly, the European liberal was conservative in the American sense, and the European socialist corresponded to the American liberal, or, supporter of state intervention, state social programs. If you remember, Hayek even wrote a chapter, in his important Constitution of Liberty, “Why I am not Conservative” – and this, despite the fact that many conservatives claimed Hayek to be in their camp. Do you think that this lack of parallel between the terms – conservative, liberal, socialist – in America is still valid? If I may suggest, my impression is that because Liberalism – or what used to be called classical Liberalism – simply disappeared and became PC. As far as the economy is concerned, both conservatives and “liberals” or democrats are for big state, something inconceivable to liberals and conservatives of old.

CP: You are right, but it depends on a tricky misunderstanding that occurred many decades ago in America. The Leftists never attempted to call themselves Socialists, and sneaked in as “progressive Liberals.” But a look at American affairs allows you to realize that the Democratic Party has never supported state interventionism till F.D. Roosevelt – who copied it from Mussolini, who was and remained a socialist all his life – and, also after Roosevelt, the Democrats were never as progressive as they claim to have been. The conservative South traditionally voted for Democrats “because Lincoln was a Republican.” Thus, due to such a core of voters, how could the Democratic Party not be conservative?

Additional example: in Italy we had the Liberal Party. In 1848 it was at the extreme Left and Republican. In 1876 it got into power and was loyal to the king. In 1948, it sat at the right and was considered a conservative party for the next 50 years. The problem is that the name on the box often does not, or does no longer, correspond to what’s inside the box. In 18th-century Britain, being a Liberal simply meant to be a supporter of free commerce, thus to be a capitalist, no matter the cost for low-income and non-mercantile classes.

As things are now, so-called Liberalism claims to be different, but actually it is still what it always was, and again no matter the cost for low-income and non-entrepreneurial classes. All those other narratives about care, inclusion, the environment, peace and love, and so on, are only a nice package to let the worst and most greedy capitalism be accepted by the people.

The same goes for conservatives: conservatives are the real revolutionaries today, because conservatives want people to use their own brain, feeding it with education and culture, in order to think, and then to act according to their own decisions. Unfortunately, thinking means realizing how dangerous debt can be, and how useful saving is. Thus, thinking is not welcome by the current Liberals, because it may affect the market in an unpredictable way. What the market likes are standard-minded people, a society whose consumers are predictable – and thus planned – in order to minimize losses due to stocking costs and unsold items, and to maximize profits.

ZJ: In our private conversations, you often refer to America as Calvinist, meaning in broad historical terms, Protestant, as opposed to Catholic, meaning different attitudes towards private and social realms. Those attitudes today do not express themselves as theological differences, nor a religious vision on how to organize earthy existence, or work-ethics, as Max Weber would have it, but as social attitudes broadly speaking. One of the characteristic features of life in early Protestantism was insistence on certain socially acceptable behavior.

There were no libertines in Protestant countries, who would mock religion. Sin is evil and thus we must eradicate it. Today religion does not have much of a grip on our lives, but PC in America does. Since punishment cannot be postponed till after death, we use the power of the state – rules, regulations, ostracism to thwart social sins. The last three decades in the US saw unprecedented growth of regulations affecting human behavior, and confessions for saying something considered socially “unacceptable.” Our reality looks like Calvin’s Geneva, with sinners prostrating themselves before the public, expiating their sins. Do you see a connection between PC, which has assumed totalitarian posture, and what you see as American Calvinism?

CP: First of all when I say “Calvinist,” I mean exactly Calvinist, not Protestant in general, because Calvinists consider salvation as a gift; and, in order to feel safe, they think they can realize whether salvation has been conceded to them by looking at the success of their actions during their lifetime. The best measure of success is money: thus, the richer one becomes, the surest one is to go to Paradise.

Due to its Puritan heritage, the USA still relies on a Calvinistic background, and this is part of the explanation. Then I’d say that the current mind depends in part on the Deism of the 17th- and 18th-centurries. That is to say: be loyal, pay your debts, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t be a liar, and be friendly to other human beings – and this depends on whom one perceives as human beings, because many deists, including Voltaire, got good returns on the money they happily invested in the slave trade – and this in part depends on a Calvinistic vision of sin and money. I have already mentioned money.

About sin, the problem was that no official absolution could exist, for it was Popish. In early America a person was judged by the community, and, when found guilty, punished. That’s why it is so important on one hand to strip some behaviors of their quality as sins – those related to sex – and on the other hand to still identify some “sinners” to go after. If a behavior is no longer a sin, that behavior is by definition correct and you are no longer a sinner.

Thus, a person who is rejected (but who is otherwise a good member of the community) is one who criticizes your behavior; for this criticism makes that person “ipso facto” wrong; thus, he is a sinner. On the other hand, if you have sinner to go after, it means your society still has a “moral code.” Thus, if it has a moral code, it is still a “good” society; and, when supporting such a code, you are “on the right side” (that is, of the community); and you act well when going after the “sinners” opposing such a code, because they are out of the community, and thus a threat.

Legal means may seem soft, but are becoming far less soft. As far as I know, if German parents prevent their child from learning what is taught about gender at school, they are fined and can be also jailed. But this is only in theory a punishment of the sinner. In fact, it’s just the same system the KGB used in case one missed the Komsomol meeting and, by the way, is just the same system used also by the Church in the Middle Age when one refused the globally accepted behavior.

The problem is that these fake liberties are in fact the surface of a dictatorship which, thanks to Facebook, Watsapp and similar things, is more and more controlling and conditioning every aspect of our life, to plan it as capitalism wants, and not as we want. And capitalism has no interest in punishing our soul after our death, because, first as things are, you can’t trade souls, for now. Second, your death would simply mean one consumer less, thus depriving the market of a client – excluding funeral houses, of course. No, capitalism wants us to behave all in the same predictable and planned way, and that’s it.

ZJ: To move on to a different but related topic: The Protestant Reformation. It is a great modern event, whose consequences we are feeling even now. The second greatest event was the French Revolution of 1789. It proclaimed equality of all. It was the end of the world as we knew it. Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is a great document of the old frame of mind, which saw the end of a long epoch. It abolished not just the monarchy as a political system but delegitimized the idea of social hierarchy.

For about 150–200 years the world went on without noticing how destructive this is. it is one thing to say, everybody should share political power to a small extent, have the right to vote and influence politics, it is quite another to assert equality in the way it manifests itself today as “discrimination.”

CP: America and Americans are a consequence of their revolution, not of the French one. The latter abolished slavery; the former kept it. Both stated a deistic application of the Christian principle of equality. But in both cases the principle of hierarchy was preserved. I do not see the root of the idea of “discrimination” in the French Revolution. America kept discrimination alive. It did not change significantly till Martin Luther King, who was killed in 1968.

ZJ: Since you referred to slavery, would you agree that there is a difference of attitude in Catholic and Protestant colonialism for this every reason. The Spaniards and Portuguese were Catholics; the Dutch and British were Protestant. The Catholic Spaniards and Portuguese went to the new world without women; the Protestants fled the British Isles taking populations of villages – men and women. They were self-sufficient; they wanted to recreate their life in a New World on old principles minus the British hierarchy. The local population was a nuisance.

CP: The Spaniards started their colonization, wherever it was, as a military operation, thus no woman could go with them. The Portuguese started their colonization establishing trading posts to support their commercial expeditions, thus in this case too there was no room for women, at least at the beginning. The Dutch and the British were looking for free spaces to migrate. They emigrated with families. On the other hand, the French started their North-American colonization smoothly, as a commercial penetration, thus they allied with the Hurons, and converted them to Catholicism. As a result, there was no destruction of the local population in Canada, whilst it occurred in the 13 British colonies (as happened in a similar way in South America ruled by Spaniards and by the Portuguese).

America

ZJ: Let me move to 20th-century. Here is something that an American military historian, an expert on the Greek historian Thucydides, Donald Kagan, said in an interview for American Heritage: “In my view America represents something relatively new in history of international relations. We are the greatest military power in the world today and we remain the greatest economic power. There haven’t been very many times in the past when there has been a single power with so much relative strength. And we are still almost universally perceived to be what Bismarck called a satisfied power, happy with what we have, self-sufficient, not aiming to seize anything essential to others. We don’t represent the kind of menace that powers approaching our relative strength have in the past. I think there is a new set of rules for us: If America tries to exert leadership in the world, it can do so in many ways that are historically new.”

Kagan said this in 1997. It is hard to believe how much changed: September 11th and all that it entailed, financial crisis in 2008, and, above all, the rise of China, which in 1997 one could not mention as a threat to American hegemony. What, if anything, from what Kagan said still holds true about the position of the US.

CP: Kagan at that time probably presented the shared great American pride after the fall of the Soviet System, when everybody thought America to be unchallengeable. It lasted till September 11th, only a few years later. That America was “not aiming to seize anything essential to others” is something many countries could easily argue about, but my answer to your question is – not that much still holds true.

Rules to hold power are always the same, no matter the historical period and the geographical location. In case you may dispute it, it is about how much velvet to use for the glove dressing your steel hand, but that’s it. Americans still rely on Theodore Roosevelt’s statement: “Speak kindly, and bring a big stick.” The typical American likes very much the self-perception of America as the land of liberty – which in Academia no longer exists and is severely scrutinized by the progressive press and television – and of Americans as welcome everywhere because they bring democracy.

Well, in 1944 and 1945 they were perceived this way, but now? What do they bring? Political correctness? The Americans are not aiming to seize anything essential to others because they are at the top. “If America tries to exert leadership in the world, it can do so in many ways that are historically new?” Oh, please, which new ways? There are no “new ways;” there is, perhaps, only a new way for dressing and describing the old ways. But the core is the same used since the days of the Egyptians to now, passing through thirty or forty or centuries of human civilization everywhere in the world.

ZJ: To bring support to your claim I can invoke two examples. When Hilary Clinton went to India, she uttered her famous slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights.” When Barak Obama visited Ethiopia and Kenya, he was talking about gay rights. My Ethiopian friend was outraged and said: “Ethiopians have serious problems to worry about: poverty, brutality of the government, non-existence of a free press, a corrupt ruling class, rule of law, and Obama is talking about gay rights!” One can, of course, score some points at home by saying such things, but it shows Kenyans and Ethiopians that America offers no support for the people in Ethiopia and Kenya in their fight against corruption to bring necessary reforms in their countries.

When President Carter came to Poland, in 1977, he talked about violation of human rights, his wife met with the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski. It gave us hope and created the impression that the US stands for universal values and supports opposition. In contrast to Carter, Clinton and Obama were the supporters of new ideologies.

Would you agree that the more the American mind is preoccupied with ideological thinking, the less effective it can be in shaping politics outside America, and this preoccupation weakens its own influence? What America exports now is ideology which, incidentally, is inimical to freedom. This attitude antagonizes many people in other countries. People in former communist countries in the 1970s and 1980s were looking up to America. Today, no one is looking up to America any more.

CP: I subscribe to everything you said. Americans have often a very poor perception of what happens outside America. if you look at the American press, you know all about the city, enough about the county, not that much about the state, or about the USA, and practically nothing about the world. Americans like to think that what works for them works for everybody and that everybody must be happy with it.

Unfortunately, it is not so. A politician, of course, thinks above all of re-election, and thus speaks in order to keep or enhance the number of voters. This is normal, but what Obama did, and what Hilary did, seems something, in a certain sense, different: they seem to have perceived themselves as the apostles of progressive evangelism, telling the people living in the darkness how to think, behave and act. They had no doubt about being enlightened, thus better. But this is what we are dealing with since the French came to Italy in 1796 – which, believe me, was not a good period; and they were hardly welcomed, given the popular armed resistance they had to face for a very longtime – and it is something we know well. Beware of it.

When you make a comparison between Politically Correct and Communism, you are not right; the real comparison is to Jacobinism, and, of course, since people are all but stupid, the result is just what you say: no one is looking up to America any more, except, in my country, the provincial-minded and not the cultured leftists, who think America to be the land of the best by definition. By the way, until 1994, these cultured leftists were all formally Communist.

ZJ: As you said, Obama and Hilary Clinton perceived themselves as the apostles of the progressive evangelism. This struck me, because I heard the same argument some 25 years ago from conservatively minded Poles: the liberal elites feel disdain for the uneducated, simple people. And, 25 years later, the same argument came to the fore in France, Britain and the US. Trump and Johnson came to power on the wave of popular dissatisfaction with the liberal elites who are suspicious of ordinary people. It is the same thing everywhere in the Western world. The liberal elites, like the Democratic Party in the US, claim to be on the side of “the people,” but any real contact with them terrifies them: dirty, primitive, uneducated and, therefore, stupid. Or, as Hillary Clinton called them – deplorables!

CP: Yes, deplorability. This is the term which tells you who we are dealing with. But this is also why I perceive Political Correctness as Jacobinism, and not as Communism. A Communist will hate you, but will rarely look at you from on high because you don’t share his opinions; and a Communist will never consider you as “nothing:” you are equal, but opposing, thus an enemy to be destroyed – which is easier, faster and safer than re-educating. But the Jacobins felt superior; they had all the arrogance of the authors of the Encyclopedia, the same arrogance Voltaire displayed. They claimed they were right because they were enlightened. Being enlightened – of course, according to their standards, agreeing with those standards – meant ipso facto to be superior. If you think of it, you realize also that Communism was a result of the Jacobinism, not much different from it.

I would add that the worst form of arrogance is the intellectual one. This is an infringement of the first rule of democracy: parity. No matter what the Politically Correct people claim to be, they perceive as unequal everyone who is not like them. Thus they in fact deny fundamental parity to those who are not like-minded. This is undemocratic.

America, China, Russia

ZJ: I would like to ask you about China, but before that I want to ask you about ancient historians, whom, I know you studied, as most military historians do. Whom among the Greeks and Romans did you read? And, how important are they for military history?

CP: They are very important for history in general, and they are the first Europeans who wrote what they knew, and thus our cultural identity is widely indebted to them. What did I read? Thucydides, Herodotus, Polybius and Epaminondas, Caesar, Livy, Tacitus, Sallust, and Suetonius, the last ones both in Latin and in translation. How important are they for history is well-known. In military history, well, just think that the military academies normally include the Greek and the Roman wars in their teaching, because neither strategy nor tactics has changed.

ZJ: The reason I invoked the ancient historians is that the Chinese Communists are interested in them. Xi Jing Ping read Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. Books by European classicists, for example by the Jacqueline de Romilly who wrote about Thucydides, were translated into Chinese. Recently two books on Thucydides were published here in the US – Thucydides’s Trap?: Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relationship by Steve Chan, or Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison. One can observe a renaissance of ancient authors, Thucydides and Polybius, in particular, in small circles of specialists and political decision makers.

Wouldn’t you say that there is no better recommendation than the fact that non-Western communists read Western classics?

CP: I agree with you, but I’d add something. They, too, wrote incredibly valuable books. So, if they are reading ours, it’s because the first rule of a commander is – know what, and how your potential – or not – enemy thinks. This is what the Chinese are doing; and this is what we are not doing, because I don’t think our decision-makers have read, for instance, Sun Tzu. And it is dangerous.

Then you ask why the Greeks, the Romans? Well, it would be best to ask the Chinese. I can only wonder why. Maybe because our mentality is still that of ancient times, and because Greece and Rome are the roots of our culture. But honestly, I’m not a Chinese political leader; thus, I don’t know. Also, I do not know how much Classical education in the West is dead, because I do not have an idea of how it is in other countries but mine. I know that in my country we still have to study Latin and ancient Greek during the five years of high school – in the classical lyceum – or only Latin, and also five years in the scientific lyceum. Of course, a lot of families don’t like Latin and Greek, and thus look for not so “useless” subjects for their children. Nonetheless, many others still study them; and this is something. As for the last question, it is highly possible that by not reading – not reading in general I mean – the new generation of Westerners is bound to lose to the Asians who are learning from our heritage. Unless we forbid the use Facebook, WhatsApp, and related chats, I don’t know what we could do.

ZJ: Should we – and by WE I have in mind many different “WEs” or us – be afraid of the rise of China for the same reason? In the case of the West, the rise of China as a world power is threatening because we fear that the Chinese mentality, world-view is incompatible with ours, particularly the idea of the relationship between the individual and the collective. We fear that if China becomes a world-power, collectivism will have to override Western individualism. Asian countries, on the other hand, whose cultures are closer to that of China, see the threat more in economic and military terms. African countries, where China’s presence is ubiquitous, see China as a force exploiting their countries’ natural resources. China allies itself with corrupt local authorities. Is there a common denominator in everyone’s fear; or, is the situation in each of the three cases different?

CP: The answer is yes to the first two questions. The problem is that I hardly see a way to react or to avoid it.

Let’s take the case of Poland, at least the case of Poland of ten years ago. I went to Wroclaw that year, because I was going to be appointed to the scientific board of a journal published by the University of Lower Silesia, and I complimented my friend who invited me on how Poland had improved in less than ten years. I remember quite well that during the meeting of the board, when discussing the distribution of the journal, my friend said that 10 euros (yearly subscription) was too much for students. I was surprised, but made no comment. The next day, I asked him: “If a student can’t pay 10 euros per year, how can families purchase what I see in stores?” The answer – you know it but I did not know it at that time – was: “Whatever you see on sale is very inexpensive in Western terms, and it all comes from China. It’s all made in China: pencils, pens, paper, cloths, shoes, all. Otherwise we could not otherwise purchase it.” So, the terms for Poland were: better to buy Chinese goods and get what you need, even if it is not of the best quality, than not have at all.

That’ s the core of the problem: China grew because it was – and it still is – competitive in terms of prices, because of her lower standard of li ving, and because now China is competitive also in terms of quality. As things stand, you can’t stop it, unless we introduce strong protectionism. But what will happen if, for example, China causes a collapse of US bonds? What then? America would crash in a month, or less than a month, or would go to war.

So, you can’t stop it, unless you have no state debt, a lot of raw materials making you potentially self-sufficient; or, you don’t care about your citizens’ standard of living; or, if you don’t care how your citizens react in case their standard of livinggoes plummets. And there is only one country in the world, today, in such a situation: Russia, and it stands together with China – thanks to the US.

ZJ: Is there a way to avoid it?

CP: There is no way. Rather, the question is how to survive. Only in a Japanese way: keep the standard of living relatively low, keep manpower cost relatively low, increase technological innovation in order to render national production more competitive, and reduce national debt.

In all four cases, this is very hard, if not impossible, to do in the West; and in Japan it works only due to their longstanding tradition of low standard of living, hard and prolonged daily work, and, above all, a national debt which, by law, can be held only by Japanese nationals. But we can’t do it, unless a major social U-turn happens, which nobody is ready for. Think of the French under Macron in the last 28 months.

The problem is that the Chinese have a centralized decision-making process, and we have not. In military terms, they have already won, because a centralized command is always far more effective than a non-coordinated one; and in the West, we are not-coordinated.

Hopes? None, or a very small one: the increasing social gap between inner China and coastal China. To be even clearer – coastal China enjoys far better standards of living than inner China. Coastal China is in relatively good condition as far as I know, as good as Poland could be in 1980. Inner China is far below, as far below as the Soviet deep countryside could be in the 1960s, or more. Now, the Chinese government knows this and must somehow fill the gap. A way to fill the gap is to open the inner market, increasing wages in some areas. This will heavily push production – thus incomes should increase.

So there is a slight, very slight possibility that, on one hand, this may push prices as high as needed to render Chinese goods less competitive on world markets; on the other hand, there is a slight possibility that once richer, the Chinese may be a bit less disciplined than they are now, and thus they could somehow start not to obey as blindly as they do now. But I don’t believe either the former or the latter scenarios. Moreover, in Germany and Italy, we have seen how effective the dictatorial control can be, even when improving standards of living; and back then, there was no internet, and no mobile networks. Think of mobile networks and the internet controlled by Hitler and the Gestapo!

We can only hope to be left alone, because, as things are, there is no way to stop them. Besides, with this stupid Political Correctness, I don’t think there is the smallest room to challenge China. America is fighting rearguard action: it’s trying to keep the advantage it still has in terms of technology. But for how long?

ZJ: Given what you’ve said, I have two related questions. Let me begin with the following. Liberal states with their hostility toward power are ill-equipped to fight or oppose the dominance of non-liberal regimes, like China. Any attempt to endow the State with more power is seen as “fascist.” The moment Covid-19 broke out, liberal journalists claimed that the extraordinary measures which some governments took, in Poland, for example, is a smokescreen to amass more power. In the US we heard the same rhetoric. Now, weeks later, when people want to leave homes, go back to work, restart economy, and, like in the US, start rebelling against stay-at-home orders, the same liberal media outlets which complained about the government amassing power want the State to go after those who want to relax the regulations.

This leads me to believe that the liberal idea of a weak state is untenable precisely because when a danger looms, the state must have considerable power to provide order, and it is never because of extraordinary circumstances. Such circumstances, whether they manifest themselves on a daily basis or not, they exist by the very nature of political existence. For example, we don’t fight wars on daily basis, but we maintain the military in case we go to war, and it would be impossible to organize the military overnight if a country were to be invaded. It makes me think that the liberal state can work only when there is no danger (be it Covid-19, or threat to national security), which is a rare or impossible scenario.

CP: The so-called liberals wants a weak state because a weak state cannot fight an organized massive opposition. A state can oppose better than a single person; thus, a state must be weakened; and liberals, as you say, accuse the states, which try to keep some of their natural powers, as being freedom-threatening and fascist. But this in their minds has nothing to do with state-power as such. According to them, the state should be a sort of waiter, providing all the needed commodities, while allowing them to do what they want, when they want, and the way they want. The State, according to them, should be a gadget to be used as they like. So, there is no paradox: they are quite coherent. It’s the idea of the state which is different. Their idea is not ours.

ZJ: What you said in your previous answer sounds like the West’s doomsday or even its death certificate. The 20th-century is often referred to as the “American century.” That century started with a very optimistic statement by President Wilson, known as a “doctrine:” “To make the world free for democracy.” Fascism and Nazism failed. Soviet totalitarianism disintegrated. But now America and the West are being slowly replaced by a very non-democratic China. Do you see in Wilson’s doctrine something naïve; an expression of typical American optimism; or, the unfolding of the Enlightenment idea that Reason, democratic egalitarianism, will win over tribal passions and national interests?

Second, do you think that Americans will learn a permanent lesson after what one can call a defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan; or, for as long as America cherishes its Enlightenment principles, it will commit the same mistake again? Last but not least, would you say that under Trump, America already changed in this respect, not because Trump has any doctrine, but simply because he is a pragmatic businessman who sees the world in terms of dollars, not ideas and ideals, and looks at politics as a tool, not as a science of moral principles.

CP: Wilson was an academic who had no actual experience in foreign affairs, and in politics other than in the USA. His principles were fine on paper, but think of how easy would it be to apply them in Danzig and neighboring area. And in Silesia? And what about Czechoslovakia, where Czechs were only half of the population? Had his been applied, as he stated them, in Poland, you would have the cities kept by Germany and in the neighboring country; in Dalmatia the cities, and only the cities, had to belong to Italy; the countryside would belong to Yugoslavia – it was a mosaic of people changing into a nightmare. It was impossible, because the countryside wanted also the city they relied on; and the city wanted to rule the countryside it relied on.

As for Afghanistan and Iraq, let’s start with the latter. A couple of American friends of mine, deeply liberal, voting Democrats, fully objected to the Iraq war. As she always said: “It’s only for the oil.” Then, from a military point of view, it started badly, because the US Expeditionary force was less than two thirds than what should have been. Thus, it was clear to everybody with a bit of military experience (including me) that from the very beginning they were going to face a lot of troubles once the offensive was achieved. Afghanistan was an additional disaster. Why? After September 11th the US needed to show that they were reacting, the faster the better. They needed a target. They knew where Osama bin Laden was and they attacked. Now, as military history teaches, nobody can seize and keep Afghanistan, nobody. That’s why the Czars never tried. The British left it unoccupied after having suffered many severe total military disasters every time they entered Afghanistan. Ok? And Moscow entered in 1979. You know how that ended.

Will they make the same mistake again? My answer is, Yes. But it does not depend on their military; it will depend on their politicians; and it has nothing or very little to do with the Enlightenment mentality, because in both cases the fight for democracy was only the badge and did not correspond that much to what was in the box.

ZJ: Ever since the collapse of Communism, Russia feels uneasy about what to do and where to go. Whatever Sovietism was, it gave them a sense of being a great power; and, of course, the victory over Nazi Germany strengthened the feeling of being a liberating force. (It did not matter that it was one totalitarian power fighting another totalitarian power). All that went hand in hand with the old idea of Imperial Russia. Then, 1991 came as a psychological blow; the colossus collapsed, but the huge territory remained. As you know, in Putin’s mind, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the 20th-century’s greatest disaster. Today, Russia’s economy is the size of that of Italy.

It leads me to think of a paradox. I gather Italy does not have imperial ambitions; it is not flying military planes, armed with nuclear weapons over Europe, and so on. But Russia does. Does Russia, Russians, or Putin live in an illusory reality? Is their perception of the world, first, based on the divorce between their real power and the illusion of power they have? Or, is historical reality so strong that it makes it almost impossible for the present generation of Russians to reconcile themselves that the world has changed. After all, Britain ruled one third of the world. It lost its Empire, but accommodated well to the new reality.

CP: Russia is a nuclear power; we Italians lost World War II. Thus, we were prevented by a treaty, and we had to renounce military ambitions. But we belong to NATO; and this dictates our behavior. Britain did not exactly accommodate to the new status. Britain was heavily forced by the USA to progressively renounce her world power status – the Suez intervention in 1956 and the Bermuda Treaty about nuclear weapons were the two major steps in Britain’s decline, both enforced by the USA. But Russia is too big to be forced, and has too many assets to be used, in order to survive.

Russia won last World War II, and thus got and still holds a permanent seat with the right of veto in the UN security council, which we Italians have not got. Russia has plenty of raw materials – which we have not, as Britain too practically never had – from uranium to natural gas, including crude oil, gold, iron and so on. Russia is overextended in two continents, bordering with China. And, not the smallest issue, Russian is still a communication language in many countries, as I saw in Prague when, in 1997, I realized a Czech captain was speaking to a Chinese colonel in Russian, and as I still realize when in the Baltic States, in Eastern Europe, or in Israel.

Whilst Britain, once she lost her colonies, remained a peripheral, relatively small island off the European Atlantic coast, Russia must exist as a world power, simply because it shares the border with China. Russia has no alternative. It must remain a world power or disappear; and this is, I think, what Putin has in mind; because I do not think anybody will prefer to let his own country disappear.

ZJ: I would agree with your last point. But on the additional supposition, that Russia’s interests are or could be co-extensive with our interests, I am not sure. However, as things stand today, Russia appears to prefer, or pretends to, a close alliance with China over America, probably to oppose America’s influence for the 1991 humiliation. But given the size of Russia’s economy, her alliance with China makes her look more like “a gas station” for China, whose primary purpose is to secure resources for itself.

You can say, and the argument seems valid, that part of the blame is the attitude of the Democrats in the US. It is mindboggling to see the Democrats running around and screaming at Trump because he wants to have a relationship with Russia. Even Steven Cohen, an American scholar of Russian history, is stunned by the Democrats’ attitude. The Democrats sound as if it was in America’s interest to continue the Cold War. None of this seems to get Russia onside the West’s cultural and political influence to oppose China.

CP: When the USSR collapsed, Russia found itself weak, and isolated. On the other hand, USA did their own best to help all the former Soviet nationalities to get their independence. Hence the USA was perceived still as an enemy destroying Russia; for in Moscow’s mind, Russia and the USSR were basically one and the same. When that process ended, Russia found itself weaker than in the past, hugely indebted, and still alone, sharing an incredibly long and impossible to defend border with an increasingly powerful China. What to do?

After what just happened, Russia could not rely on the USA, and had to find a solution. China in that moment was not a threat and, according to the old rule, “if you can’t fight them, join them,” Moscow signed the Shanghai Pact. The consequence – both partners felt their back was safe. An important Chinese general in 2007 in South Africa clearly and officially said, in an international conference I attended, that China appreciates nothing better than harmony, and harmony leads to happiness; and the Shanghai Pact was aimed to keep harmony, thus rendering everybody happy. As I later wrote in the Italian Navy Journal, this basically meant: “We want to run our own business according to our own mind. So, please, don’t intrude, or you will be against harmony, and the Pact will be turned against you.”

I do not know when, and if, Russia will be compelled in the future to choose whether to break harmony and survive, or submit to Chinese hegemony and become a satellite. But it is certain that, as things are, if the USA does not take a different approach, the relationship between Washington and Moscow will hardly change. I remember well the terror that existed in Eastern Europe in many countries, before the last US presidential election – because everybody considered the election of Hilary Clinton as the trigger for a war on Russia, with their countries in the middle. Nobody forgot that the USA entered both the World Wars led by a Democratic president, who had been re-elected promising to keep peace. It is something some Democrat should keep in mind.

ZJ: Are you saying that European alliance with the US is not necessarily in the interest of Europe and that Russia’s flying her planes over Europe is a benign exercise.

CP: Please don’t rely on the American vision: America, seen from here, did her own best to destroy Russia, and went further than strategically needed. Yugoslavia had to be dissolved, for it could no longer hold as it was. But there was no need to attack it, as was done in the 1990s, thus creating that ghost named Kossovo, and the other ghost called Bosnia, after a bloody civil war, and compelling NATO to keep its forces there for 30 years. But if it was done, it was only to deprive the Russian fleet of a possible port on the Mediterranean. That was the only reason for that war: democracy and self-determination were empty words. Now, try to see who the Serbs perceive as being closer to them – Washington or Moscow. And the answer is, Moscow, and right in the center of the Balkans! Wonderful result!

What do you think that many Poles thought? Do you think that they were supportive of the American initiative in Kiev? Not at all. Poles know quite well that in case of war, they will be alone in facing Russia, because, as the press reports, the Germans have exactly 16 effective aircrafts – 16, no kidding – and far less tanks then the Polish Army has; and in Warsaw nobody seriously thinks the USA is ready “to die for Danzig.” And what did the Americans do? The Orange surge in Kiev; and why? To establish in Kiev a government whose first declared task was not to renew the lease of Sebastopol to the Russian fleet! Could whatever person with a working brain think Putin would just happily accept the loss of such an asset? Could Putin agree to such a change? What do you think the USA would do in case a party in Italy would run saying, Let’s kick out the 6th US fleet from Naples and the Mediterranean?

I have heard with my ears Poles terrified by the perspective of an Orange success in Kiev, for that meant war on Russia, and many others in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the three Baltic States were frightened by the possible victory of Hilary Clinton – for that, in their mind, meant WAR, with Poland alone in the first line. Putin is no choir-boy. But the Americans, my goodness, they did their own best to push him in the corner where he is now, to push him to find an agreement with China, and now they complain!

We are losing tens or hundreds of billions of euros to be loyal to the NATO-imposed – thus American imposed – commercial embargo on Russia: does the USA care? Not at all. We, not USA, gets damaged. Obama left Iraq to be devastated because it was a former Russian ally; and then he did the same with Assad; and when Syria – which is flooding us, not America, with her refugees – after years of not ending war – asked for help, and Putin said, Yes, for he could not decently refuse to support a longstanding ally, what did Washington do? It said “Oh-oh, this is unfair.” But when Syrian people were massacred by the war, was that fair? And why did it happen? In the past 30 years, it seems that there was not a single day when Washington did not try to destabilize Russia once and for all – and this is the result.

Russia would like to come to an agreement, but America prevents it. I know that one can’t trust the Russians, but, for Heavens’ sake, when did we, the West, offer them one – I say just one – opportunity to show how reliable or unreliable they can be? Never! That’s a very bad and shortsighted policy. Only the Americans can think that it is only a matter of Russian goodwill. It is a matter of nonexistence of American goodwill. That’s it!

You say, Russian planes fly over Europe, and close the US coasts? And what does the USAF do? It patrols along the Russian border, just above the line of the Russian border? Who started first, guess… the Americans. Putin is reacting, due to many reasons, to show his Chinese allies that “he can,” that he is not the weak member of their dual alliance, to let the USA realize that he will not surrender, and that “he can stand up,” and provide evidence to his people that they are still under threat. Thus, the current situation – bad or good – has to be kept due to the external threat. And the problem is that, as things have been and still seems to be, he is right, because the external threat does exist – from America.

America wants – Russia destroyed, the European Union weak and disbanded, and China falling. As American policy is going, they may have the EU going down, but no success with the others. Thus, if they do not offer Putin a good compromise, a good loyal offer, they won’t achieve whatever result they want. And whilst Trump could, the Dems won’t; and you will see the result.

ZJ: Henry Kissinger’s view was that America in the late 1960s and 1970s was a declining power, and the best thing America could do was to contain the Soviet Union by agreeing to the division of the sphere of influence between the US and Soviet Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser under Carter, devised a different policy: using human rights as a weapon to build opposition in the Soviet empire and hold the communist governments accountable for their violations, and indirectly and slowly weaken communist grip on society.

After the collapse of communism, the sphere of America’s influence spread; but it spread exactly at the time when America entered the phase of its moral decline: its economic model – living on credit which was in perfect agreement with the hedonistic values of the society – led to unprecedented debt, which, as you remarked, makes it even less possible we can build a sensible opposition to China.

So, we moved from the world being split between America and the West and the Soviet Union, to the West and America being ripped apart by unprecedented debt and lack of ideological cohesion which makes it impossible to build an opposition to China. Does America have an attractive message to its allies and other countries, who are afraid of China as well, that could unite them today?

CP: No. It once had one; but now no longer does. Political correctness is not a message; and its rules seem to push people far away from America instead of becoming close to America.

ZJ: Hence my last question. Does China have an attractive message? Before you answer my question, let me read to you something that Xi Jing Ping said in 2014: “The Soviet Union collapsed because nobody was man enough to stand up and resist [its downfall]… Constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarism, a multiparty system and the presidential system – we considered them, tried them, but none worked.” You can contrast it with Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others.” Was Churchill too optimistic, as was Pericles in his funeral oration during the Peloponnesian war? Are Xi Jing Ping’s words the next superpower’s message to the world?

CP: A mistake usually made in the West and above all in America, is that of thinking of the others as compact. Europe is not compact – think of the differences among the different European peoples – and China too is not, and it is big, enormous, and, till now, the most populated country of the world. Can you imagine what if all the ethnic groups would start acting with the same freedom we have in the West? Divisions, quarrels, differences, and who would settle them? They would soon be back to the War Lords time, or something like it; and that was a very sad time. We cannot, and we must not think that what works for us, here and now, may suit the others in the same time, and in another part of the world, because this is just the mistake Political Correctness does: it’s right, it works here, hence it must be exported everywhere. That’s wrong.

Some years ago I met an American based in London, who had a deep knowledge of the Far East and he had to agree with me when I told him that we can’t export democracy; we can’t enforce other people to accept democracy, because if they want not to have it, there is nothing to do, and we can’t go to war to impose democracy. This is America’s biggest fault – to believe that the American way of life can work everywhere, and thus must be exported and, in some cases, enforced. As long as it was a sort of shared idea, it could be neglected. But for the last 25 years, it is no longer so. It was officially stated by Warren Christopher in an article published in 1995 in Foreign Policy. Christopher wrote that the post-USSR-collapse situation presented the USA with an exceptional opportunity to shape the world according to their standards. His idea was based on four points; and the fourth was the support for democracy and human rights, according to American interests and ideals. Soon thereafter, senator Robert Dole also published an article – “Shaping America’s Global Future.” He said basically the same things Christopher said. Thus one could conclude that, no matter the party ruling the country, that policy had to be the future American policy.

So, back to China, why should the Chinese accept to share American standards, if those standards can’t be safely applied to their country? Primum edere, deinde philosophari – Food first, then philosophy. After that, many other things can follow.

ZJ: Dr. Paoletti, thank you for your time.

The image shows “Fury of Achilles,” by Charles-Antoine Coypel, painted in 1737.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 1

Few academics write jokes about their discipline; their publication is not perhaps a certain pathway to tenure or promotion. It may even be worse than coming out as a conservative.

Art historian Dr. Mark Stocker decided, however, that enough was enough. He has written over 200 jokes and sought to publish them. After numerous rebuffs from newspapers, professional journals and even blogs, he has at last found a saviour in the Postil Magazine.

As too many jokes may be injurious to the health, he proposes drip-feeding five a month over the next few months – or if necessary years, as more may well be written. Should any readers outside the discipline find the jokes a touch esoteric, Dr Stocker is willing to explain them – with a smile on his face. He may be contacted through this magazine.

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Who is the god-awful, deadly French theorist that hip art historians so liked to quote, c. 1980? … Bourdieu.

Which resort did an eminent, quirky Bauhaus painter like to go to for his holidays? …Kleethorpes.

Who was the boss of the aforementioned Bauhaus painter who got into trouble for inappropriate behaviour? … Walter Gropius.

What was Gertrude’s favourite drink in Parisian cafes, c. 1912? … Steinlager.

A philosophically contorted art historian was asked to give a lecture on Belgian Symbolist sculpture. He commenced his lecture thus: ‘What do I mean by Minne?’

Matty taking Dr. Stocker out for a stroll at their friend Jane’s estate, in Cust, New Zealand

Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.

The image shows, “Youth Making A Face” by Adriaen Brouwer, painted ca. 1632–1635.

Labor History Through Song – Part II

Music – The Left’s Dilemma: Ethics Or Ideology?

With the 1917 revolutions in Russia the international Left was flush with victory. Marx’s stages of history were seemingly vindicated and the capitalists were on the back foot. Then the purges, displacements, and reprisals began. In their moment of greatest victory, the workers’ movement, long in the neighborhood of the Left, was faced with a choice between ethics and ideology. Both sides would take to song.

The Internationale became one of the obvious rallying cries for the supporters of the new, scientifically managed, workers’ state. Written by laborer Eugène Pottier in June 1871, following the Paris Commune, the Soviet Union chose the song for its anthem in 1944. Its choice shows that not only Christians are interested in apostolic succession. The Bolsheviks were eager to claim not just the support of the majority of Russians – “bolsheviki” means majority, a dubious appellation for Lenin’s party in 1917 – but also the mantle of the entire Leftist cause, going back to Pottier’s day and before.

With the devil-may-care boldness of a new regime in power, and with the proper modifications of the future into the present tense, the Soviet Internationale thunders belief in its self-sufficiency: “Stand up, ones who are branded by the curse/ All the world’s starving and enslaved!/ Our outraged minds are boiling/ Ready to lead us into a deadly fight/ We will destroy this world of violence/ Down to the foundations, and then/ We will build our new world/ He who was nothing will become everything!”

At the other end of the story, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Leon Rosselson’s Song of the Old Communist encapsulates the ultimately pro-Bolshevik stance of one communist painfully aware of the crimes of the USSR, yet doggedly in support of the movement still. Addressing smug post-Cold War Western capitalism, the chorus repeats, “You who have nothing at all to believe in/ You whose motto is ‘money comes first’/ Who are you to tell us that our lives have been wasted/ And all that we fought for has turned into dust?”

Anarchists, of course, were less enthused by Lenin-cum-Stalin’s Soviet Union. Alistair Hulett’s song, Ethel On the Airwaves is about the young Scottish broadcaster Ethel McDonald who traveled to Civil War Spain. The self-induced Republican collapse is referenced with the word, “Isolated and poorly armed, the revolution starts to fail/ Moscow gave the order, ‘Put the anarchists in jail.’” It continues, “Change the flag from black to red, the tide of revolution changed.” With friends of the Left like the Soviets, who needs enemies?

The Other Side Of The Story?

As mentioned before, capital’s corpus of song is absolutely silent when it comes to the labor struggle, or rather their anti-labor struggle. It is not as if businessmen have proven bereft of the artistic touch. They’ve long kept songwriters busy churning out doggerel for all manner of kitsch. From diamonds and cars, to frying pans and beds, the bosses can be creative when they want. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, what a relief it is!

The commercials of commercialism can rise to genuinely moving heights. We recall a spot from the late Super Bowl. Lasting all of a minute, it delineated the varieties of “love” known to men. The commercial probably contained more erudition, and it certainly contained more Greek, than modern church-goers hear all year. We viewers are near to tearing up until we come to the spot’s climax: it’s an insurance ad. Yes, indeed, moneymen have proven numinous when they want to be.

Clanking prison doors and cracking billy-clubs are all the “music” bosses have left for posterity. Yet we still want to know the other side of the story. Left to itself labor music is one-sided. Like any social group, labor plays up its triumphs and keeps mum on defeats.

If we don’t have the opportunity of hearing musical composition from one entire side of our story, the owners, we must look at what we do have. We must look between the lines of labor songs themselves. Where and when have they been silent? What significant events in labor history have songsters not written about? Three come to mind. One is the 1981 Air Traffic Controllers’ strike; another is the slow bleed of union membership these last 50 years; and the last is the chronic infighting which has sapped labor over the last century. These are vital events in the story of labor, and pointed musical omissions.

Masculinity

Which Side Are You On? has doubtless secured its place in the canon of organizing music. Written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a union leader, the song is an example of shame being used in the musical arsenal of labor. Like many a folk song, the piece uses a local event to extrapolate on a larger theme. Which Side was written during the Harlan County War (1931-32) in the very hours following a police raid on Reece’s Kentucky home. With the earnest tenor of the wronged, the wife-narrator declares, “You’ll either be a union man/ Or a thug for J. H. Blair.” And she pointedly asks, “Will you be a lousy scab/ Or will you be a man?” In a decidedly masculine job such as coal mining these are biting questions. The bone-weary work and obviously inequitable power balance leave little for miners to take pride in other than their masculinity.

The unfortunate narrator of Bloody Harlan informs us that he, “Was a full-grown man when I was 12 years old, got me a job mining coal.” In this song Harlan’s infamous “bloody” adjective is interpreted in a personal light. The circumstances are narrated, much of it related to the singer’s limited means, which led to his imprisonment.

Bloody Harlan opens a whole vista of commentary on the nature of society, since the Industrial Revolution and its bifurcation of life into “public” and “private.” He says, “From dawn to dusk is a miner’s life/ My darling grew tired of being a coal haulers’ wife/ This kind of life didn’t suit her plans/ So she ran off with another man.” Imprisoned for 33 years since killing his wife and her lover, the narrator is a worker ‘til the end. When he dies, he requests that we, the listeners, “Carry me back, and let me body lie/ In the mines of Harlan, bloody Harlan.” This is a fine crossover between the personal and the political. Masculine honor asserts itself as soon on the picket line as in amorous slights.

Going back to Reece’s song, we also see the concept of generational continuity. For whatever reason, songs with industrial speakers and factory men, and particularly folk songs about coal mining, take an extraordinary pride in grandfathers and fathers and sons participating in the same occupation. Reese’s piece begins, “My daddy was a miner/ And I’m a miner’s son.” This is an interesting expression to an active auditor, since we are as soon aware as the narrator that coalmining is an extremely undesirable occupation.

Britain’s Dalesman’s Litany bluntly states, “I’ve walked at night through Sheffield lanes/ T’was just like being in hell/ Where furnaces thrust out tongues of fire/ And roared like the wind on the fell/ I’ve sammed up coals in Barnsley pit with muck up to my knee.” I hate this job, I hope and pray that my kid doesn’t get stuck here, but I’m proud to keep the family legacy alive. Such are the contradictions of song, and such are the contradictions of men.

Atlantic Crossover

In Banks of Marble, we look at the cross-Atlantic journey of labor music. The American version written by New York apple-farmer Les Rice declares, “But the banks are made of marble/ With a guard at every door/ And the vaults are stuffed with silver/ That the farmer sweated for.” Joining a most happy exodus, Banks became part of a long tradition of American music which has given expression to Irish topics. The U.S. contribution to Irish music is larger than commonly thought. For every Daniel O’Donnell or Seamus Moore keeping the 1990s honky-tonk flame burning strong in 2020’s Dublin, there are dozens more irenic influences to atone for Achy Breaky Heart sung with an Irish brogue.

When Banks of Marble was recorded by the Irish Brigade band during The Troubles (1968-98), the civil rights movement-turned-insurgency-turned – thanks to MI5 – sectarian-killing-hamster wheel, Rice’s song took on a more militant flavor.

Leftist labor consciousness was brought to the fore in 1969. That year the IRA split between the nationalist Provisionals and the communist Officials (pejoratively called, “the Red IRA”). The Irish version of Banks of Marble now declared, “Let’s rise up and take our country/ Let’s rise up and take our land/ Let us all rise together/ For together we must stand.” In case a listener was unclear on the song’s sharpened teeth, the piece concludes, “We’ll blow-up the banks of marble/ With the guards on every door/ And share out the vaults of silver/ That the worker sweated for.” Tougher stuff this, as compared to the original.

Reinvention

In Solidarity Forever, we see a piece of endless reinvention. It also distinctly contains the “obligatory positive verse,” as singer Shannon Murray calls it, which is so customary in the folk tradition. Like the men and women who inspired it, labor folk has had to keep its spirits up in the face of setbacks and difficulties. Solidarity closes with, “In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold/ Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand-fold/ We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old for/ The union makes us strong!”

Melodic Pedigree

While it needn’t be a 1:1 match, as evident in the dynamic we discussed between labor and religion, the tunes which a movement adopts for its material do matter. If you think this is a tenuous point, imagine a Sunday morning service praising God with the Internationale, or a Liberal prime minister entering parliament to the Horst Wessel Lied.

Solidarity Forever is set to The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Battle Hymn is possibly the weirdest song to come out of the American Civil War. It’s hardly a labor song in the sense we’ve been using the term, but the two pieces have similarities worth considering. Julia Ward Howe’s song was written in 1861. It was at a time when the Civil War was underway, but at a stage before the real bloodletting began. The real work remained to be done, and everyone knew it.

Likewise Solidarity Forever. By its 1911 composition, the labor struggle was well underway. Events like the Haymarket Riots (1886) and the Shirtwaist Fire (1911) had attracted attention and sympathy to the workers’ cause, yet when Solidarity was written the big fights were still to come. Solidarity came into the world before the Left was presented with the Soviet decision, before the General Strike of 1926, and before labor faced a whole new level of cant and co-option in the Postwar decades.

Ralph Chapin, Solidarity Forever’s composer, knew the herculean efforts needed just to bring labor to negotiating parity with capital, let alone to achieve enduring success. As a boy he saw a union man shot dead by police. In Mexico, Chapin heard the firing squads of technocrat and Freemason Porfirio Diaz. Steeled by these experiences, steeled by the size of the struggle to come, the songs defiantly asks, “Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite/ Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might/ Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?” The struggle can’t be indefinite, however. As many an activist has learned, there must be a silver lining to strive for.

Updates

In the best tradition of folk music, Solidarity Forever’s lyrics also have proven plastic and elastic, as labor allocations have shifted, since its composition during the Second Industrial Revolution (c.1850-1950). The original song obviously is designed with agricultural and manual laborers in mind (“It is we who plowed prairies, built the cities where they trade/ Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid”). However, as such situations became less the experience of modern workers, the website of the I.W.W. proudly notes a number of updates which have been made over the last decades.

Women’s concerns are noted in the Wobblies’ Hungarian versions, “It is we who wash dishes, scrub the floors, and clean the dirt/ Feed the kids and send them off to school – and then we go to work/ Where we work for half men’s wages for a boss who likes to flirt/ But the union makes us strong!”

Racial concerns find their way into Canada’s Solidarity, “When racism in all of us is finally out and gone/ Then the union movement will be twice as powerful and strong/ For equality for everyone will move the cause along/ For the union makes us strong!”

The flagging labor participation which so defined the cause since 1973 Oil Crisis is addressed with this stanza, “They say our day is over; they say our time is through/ They say you need no union if your collar isn’t blue/ Well that is just another lie the boss is telling you/ For the Union makes us strong!”

All God’s creatures got a place in the choir, and educationalists find theirs with the words, “The schools were underfunded and the teachers got no supplies/ The district hoarded money and fed us a bunch of lies/ The union finally responded to the working people’s cries/ So the teachers joined as one.” Oddly enough, this addition to Solidarity Forever is difficult to sing without alterations. For a profession which is endearingly punctilious in their protest signage, this particular composition doesn’t quite fit the metre.

Folk Mythology

This essay is a celebration of labor music. Even in setbacks and outright defeats, we’ve seen how music celebrates this enduring aspect of life. We turn now to the most playful and sincere subgenre in labor folk: the mythologization of workers into folk heroes. The cynicism so characteristic of the 20th-century sours us to this topic. After all, Lei Feng and Alexey Starhonov are two phony, party-made characters whom millions were encouraged to emulate. They may have lived, they may even have done impressive deeds, but whatever truth there once was to them is long gone by the time party apparatchiks were through. The world was well along in humorless modernity by the 19th-century, but not so far gone as to fake folk heroes like those of a century later.

In Ewan McColl’s Big Hewer, our narrator was fit for work from day one. He says, “In a cradle of coal in the darkness I was laid, go down/ Down in the dirt and darkness I was raised, go down/ Cut me teeth on a five-foot timber/ Held up the roof with my little finger/ Started me time away in the mine, go down.”

In The Ballad of John Henry, we meet a like peculiar infant, “John Henry was about three days old/ Sittin’ on his papa’s knee/ He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel/ Said, ‘Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord/ Hammer’s gonna be the death of me.’”

Paul Bunyan meshes Canadian and American logging tales in a mythos pleasant to both peoples. He is sufficiently obsessive in his work ethic to appeal to Americans, yet his trade is bucolic enough to appeal to Canadians as well. Like the endearing Henry, Bunyan boasts remarkable strength and size. Danny Mack’s Ballad of Paul Bunyan states that he was, “Taller than a Maine pine tree, bigger than King Kong in that old movie.” Many a son of many a mother has wondered his paternity, but not our Paul. “I’ll tell you how he came to be/ The son of a great white oak was he.”

If you blink you’ll miss the giantism which affects not only Bunyan himself, but also his surroundings. “His father,” we hear in the song Paul Bunyan, “was a redwood tree/ From out in California…. That western Minnesota.” Again, “He took Arizona in his hand, and made a line in the sand/ He made a canyon and called it grand/… in southern Minnesota.” And once more, “The silt began to rock one morning/ All the folk knew Paul was born/ And ships were wrecked going ‘round the Horn [of Africa]/…. In southern Minnesota.” Giant states for giant men.

A darker take on North American’s most famous lumberjack is Hick’ry Hawkins’ song, also disarmingly named The Ballad of Paul Bunyan. Hawkin’s go is less a story fit for Disney and more apt for a cheesy B movie. The song contains the ominous refrain, “The sins of the fathers will be paid for by the sons.” Bunyan is imagined as a horrible vagrant which the town is afraid of discussing.

The appearance in Midwestern newspapers of various Bunyan tales around 1900 is a phenomenon historians have actually written about. Hawkins’ scary song sets the record straight. You see, the mortified townsmen, “Told a fancy legend so the logger camps would stay.” But the city fathers only had themselves to blame since, “A boy into a monster took the whole damn town to raise/ Cut and beat and chained up, they buried him away.” Who knew the lovable figure reared in our minds by the New Christy Minstrels, and, alas inevitably, by Walt’s animation Kingdom, had such a rough childhood!

Hawkins’ imaginative take goes to show that once a figure enters the folk mind there’s no telling where he will end up. And if your avocation requires an ax, you’re almost certainly destined for the likes of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

Workplace Safety

From the revelry of Industrial Revolution mythology to safety on the factory floor, tragedy in American history has also been memorialized in song. The Triangle Shirtwaist, March 25, 1911, was a remarkable event for both labor safety and organization. Shirtwaists are Edwardian blouses, and on that date 145 workers horrifically died making them. Their bosses were in the habit of locking the workers in, so most workers jumped to their deaths.

One song which addresses this is Ruthie Rublin’s Ballad of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. It says, “Then on that fateful day, dear God, most terrible of days/ When that fire broke out it grew into a mighty blaze/ In that firetrap way up there, with but a single door/ So many innocent working girls burned to live no more.” It might be rash to blame the company owners for something as uncontrollable as a fire, except that a year later they were caught locking once again the exit doors of their new factory!

Long a favorite of hard-wintered Anglosphere lands, coal mining songs haven’t stopped short of addressing the hazards of the profession. Big Coal Don’t Like This Man At All brings our story to the present day. It is about Charles Scott Howard, his court fights for miner safety, and the opprobrium organizers perennially get for their humanitarian efforts. The narrator says, “It’s safety versus profits, Howard has no doubt/ When miners are endangered, he knows he must speak out/ They’ve fired him and fined him, tried to put him in his place/ But the courts just reinstate him. He always wins his case.” Like many a reformer before him, however, bosses resent the new cost of safe working spaces. The song continues, “Fighting for miners’ safety causes stress and strain/ Last summer working underground, there was an injury to his brain/ He was found slumped unconscious in his mining car/ He still has no memories of that incident so far.”

2020: Atomized And Gentrified But Still Singing

Digitization, automation, and union busting have not stymied the throats of workingmen. David Rovic is a repeat guest on my show and he occasionally highlights Apocatastasis’ seasonal educational events. He sings in Living On the Streets of LA, “So many mansions overlooking the sea/ Stretch limos, Rolls Royces, and movie stars all over Los Angeles County/ It’s 2019, and one thing I know it that most people wish we could rewind to a couple of decades ago/ Before the rents tripled folks began to move out into their cars, into their tents, where drivers look on however loudly you shout.” The wealth disparity of our age is brought home as the song continues, “It’s 2019, but in a black and white photo it could be 1929 wherever you go/ In every single neighborhood hungry people wonder why/ Some make billions on a blockbuster why so many are left out to die.” With the late Coronavirus labor disruptions, Rovics’ association to 1929 may be most apropos.

Conclusion

Labor is intimate. It is who we are. Not in a capitalist or communist sense do I say this, not in the tone that one’s social worth consists in being a worker. I say we are laborers in the perennial tradition of long-downtrodden, much-forgotten Christendom. The drive to work is the drive to create. It is one of the theopneustic echoes which remind us of our origin and end.

Perennially under the threat of swindling, menacing, and outright violence, the working man continues to agitate, organize, and sing. He sings of his frustrations, and his struggles, and his history, and his myths, and, most important, his resolve. This resolve is as encouraging as to the state of the workers’ struggle, as it is to the state of humanity.

John Coleman co-hosts Christian History & Ideas, and is the founder of Apocatastasis: An Institute for the Humanities, an alternative college and high school in New Milford, Connecticut. Apocatastasis is a school focused on studying the Western humanities in an integrated fashion, while at the same time adjusting to the changing educational field. Information about the college can be found at their website.

The image shows, “Song of the Lark,” by Jules Breton, painted in 1884.