The Sacrifice For Civilization: A Conversation With Wayne Cristaudo

This month, we are highly honored to have a conversation with Professor Wayne Cristaudo, philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books. He speaks with Dr. Zbigniew Janowski about the predominance, in the West, of idea-brokers, metaphysical rebels and triumph of ideational narratives over life itself. Professor Cristaudo aptly points to the great malaise of the West – its fervent addiction to bad ideas.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Let me begin this conversation with something that my Canadian colleague said to me when I arrived to teach in Canada—in Halifax—20 years ago. “We are Americans without being arrogant and British without being boastful.” Having never been to Canada before, I was under the impression that Canada is very much like the US.

Then I discovered – or at least what I discovered in Nova Scotia, which is very patriotic, somewhat provincial and certainly less cosmopolitan than the rest of the country – that they value their British roots, which defines their national identity. Most of my colleagues were educated at Cambridge, are Anglican, the system of education – tutorials – is much more like in the UK than in America, the city looks like small British towns, and Canadian flags used to hang on many houses, probably to stress their “independence” from the US. In this part of Canada, Britishness is still, or used to be 20 years ago, part of their identity.

As an Australian, someone from a former British colony, can you say that Australians feel like my Canadian colleague?

Wayne Cristaudo (WC): When speaking of Australians, the same kind of cleavages that are occurring elsewhere in the West between tertiary educated elites and more traditionally minded people, plus demographic changes due to immigration, make it hard to generalize.

David Goodhart in his The Road to Somewhere – largely an attempt to explain Brexit, but also the election of Donald Trump – speaks of two classes today: the “Anywheres,” – i.e. those who are largely free to work and live anywhere and whose sense of identity is bound up with their global opportunities and their own “progressive” values; and the “Somewheres,” those whose location and sense of place and national heritage matters, as they see their localities and values undergoing radical transformations.

This later group also sees itself as having lost the cultural and economic wars. My friend Bob Catley, in response to Goodhart, added that this is something of a misnomer, as the “somewheres” are now the “nowheres;” that is, their world is being destroyed daily.

In Australia, I think those who strongly identify with Britain are now in a minority, as the number of immigrants from non-British backgrounds has risen dramatically in the last few decades. When there was a referendum on Australia becoming a republic some 20 years back, the republican model was rejected. But this was not because of love for the “old mother country,” but because the majority did not like the proposed model that had come out of a publicly funded (ostensibly) representative “elite” forum.

Nevertheless, it is true that Australians would probably rather lose to anyone (New Zealand not included) besides England in any sporting event. We are, though, a deeply fractured society and so appeals to unity tend to ring hollow – as hollow as our terrible national anthem which almost no one can sing through to its bitter end. Like most other Western countries, Australian identity is secondary to some other feature when it comes to political disputation.

ZJ: Canada is part of the Commonwealth, just like Australia. On the Canadian dollar one can see a beautiful image of the British Queen. On the other side of the Canadian dollar, we find a loon. I used to tell my liberally-minded Canadian friends, jokingly, don’t think of seceding from the Crown. Why – they would ask? Because you will have to replace the Queen with another loon, a bear, or a bird.

Australians have the Queen, too, and a kangaroo. This sounds facetious, to be sure, but it touches on the problem of national identity. Cultural identity cannot be rooted in nature. Even Thoreau, who lived in the wilderness and praised nature, was a cultured man, who loved the Classics. In his Walden there is a beautiful chapter on education, in which he urges Americans to read the Greeks.

Do you see any similarities in the cultural and political predicament between Canada and Australia relative to your attachment to the British Crown? Or does the geography of Canada (as a U.S. neighbour) and yours – a continent – and different history (no Royalists [or, United Empire Loyalists] who fled to Canada after the 1776 rebellion) make a difference? For one, you do not seem to feel the same pressure that Canadians do to be more “American,” and thus, having your cultural affinities imposed on you.

WC: While I really have no idea if French Canadians feel any particular cultural connection with Britain, Australia does not have the American neighbour syndrome. As for being free to choose our identity, I think that while Australian tertiary educated people are frequently anti-USA – the USA being seen as the imperialist country which creates wars wherever it goes – it seems to me that the same class of people, especially those who are Australian ideas-brokers, take up every liberal-progressive position that is pushed by, and invariably formulated by, US ideas-brokers in the same professions. That is, our academicians, journalists, teachers, et. al. can be relied upon to repeat and vociferously defend any idea that has gained narrative traction amongst progressives in the US. Ultimately this should not be surprising.

Any collective is a collective because of the stories and experiences it shares. The U.S.-led globalisation of stories through Hollywood, Netflix etc., and the normative appeals that are characteristic of those stories, plays a huge part in how people now understand themselves. So, I don’t really see identity as a matter of choosing or not choosing, but as what people identify with, and presume. And what is occurring is that where narratives are shared and replicated, as part of daily social reproduction, common ways of talking, similar presumptions, expectations, habits (i.e., similar features of identification) are formed.

For example, the elite in Australia see Donald Trump in exactly the same way as the readers of the “New York Times” or humanities students in elite universities in the USA. At the same time, the people who voted for Brexit and the people who voted for Donald Trump have a great deal in common because they have experienced a very similar kind of loss with respect to their more traditionally based social and economic place in the world.

Interestingly, though, early nationalist theorists such as Herder held that the nation was commensurate with a more tolerant and (dare I use this term) enlightened and cosmopolitan world. Membership of a nation meant that one could connect with others through initially bonding around shared stories, experiences, sentiments, tastes, loyalties and commitments, and only after that would one be in a position to form further bonds of solidarity with others. The older notion of nationhood takes for granted that members of a nation are very different in the roles they must play and the sacrifices they must make. So, a nation bonds the different into a greater unity.

The contemporary anti-nationalist, on the other hand, sees identities as based on the will, and the body itself based on the will (sexual/gender fluidity, for example); and what really matters – indeed the only thing that matters – is that the principle of emancipation is adhered to.

Conversely, one has a stake in the future because one can demonstrate that one is of the oppressed and hence a contributor to the great emancipation. Of course, this is the triumph of the abstract – there is absolutely no need to understand people as complex characters in order to think like this. And indeed, most people I know who think like this are completely lacking in psychological acumen, historical and genuine cultural sensitivity.

ZJ: When I taught in Canada, part of the program was WWI poetry. I vividly remember teaching a poem by Wilfred Owen, which I would like to quote here: It is a poem you know: “Dulce et Decorum Est:”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. -
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The poem is very timely in a perverse way. We live in times when nationalism is under attack, thought of as evil; patriotism is ridiculed; globalism is the new faith – but it is a faith of someone who is attached neither to his country, his religion, his civilization, or his culture. In fact, it is a faith of someone who has neither fatherland nor culture. All kinds of semi-ideologies, like climate-change, vegetarianism, etc., have become an ersatz for cultural identification.

The last line of the poem seems to ridicule or question the idea that goes back to the Romans and the Greeks.

When I taught this poem in 2001, the Canadian students were somewhat divided about the idea, about it being a lie to die for one’s country. However, one student – whose parents I knew rather well, a very old Nova Scotian family – blurted out: “I have no intention of going to war and dying for American IBM or the Canadian Postal Service; we had Royal Post and now we have a big nothing that does not even deliver mail on time.”

I thought it was an interesting answer. It expresses a deep human sentiment – the need to be attached to national symbols, country. Even death has cultural ramifications. People want to have a reason to die; they do not want to die as cogs in some global machinery – needlessly, senselessly. What is your take on it? Are Australians similarly minded, or are they going to go to war to die for Starbucks, and dying for Starbucks or Amazon is the new truth, whereas pro patria mori to gain glory is “The old Lie?”

WC: I think my last answer anticipated this question somewhat. So, let me leap ahead again and address what I think is the really important aspect of your question. As you have gathered, I am not at all comfortable trying to speak about Australian-ness as if I were somehow a representative of it, or as if it were some sort of essence. Its meaning is very loose and mutable. And, as far as I can tell, in so far as it exists today, I think it is largely limited to the “somewheres,” though the “anywheres” might support their one national team in sports such as cricket, rugby, soccer, the Olympics, etc.

The following example is pertinent. Recently, a Christian rugby player (one of the few star players in our national team) lost his contract because he tweeted that liars, adulterers, drunkards, homosexuals and others were going to Hell and he called for them to repent. He had violated some ethical code that the sponsors (Qantas) had dreamed up. Of course, it was not the adulterers, liars, drunkards who were offended, but the gay lobby group. The country was deeply divided – and the irony was delicious.

Most of the “anywheres” wanted him sacked because what he said was “hateful,” yet few of them actually believe in “Hell;” most of those who supported him were “somewheres,” and many were not Christians, but simply did not like a corporation having so much power, and they also don’t like the idea of their jobs being reliant upon not being allowed to express their opinions.

The “anywheres” present themselves as defenders of the minorities and marginalized, which means they put gays, “people of colour” (so all non-whites can be treated as oppressed), and Muslims all in the same box. I very much doubt that if the rugby player had been Muslim, he would have lost his contract. It would have gone into the “too hard to deal with” basket.

The globalist or elite understanding of identity requires simplifications which fit the larger narration of their idea of a better world, and that is somehow (inanely) supposed to bring together (non-European, and non-Christian) traditions and culture with modern sexual freedom and gender (now non-binary) roles. But the more archaic understanding of identity was based upon more primordial aspects of collective suffering and sacrifice, founding and forming.

The ancients knew that life is sacrificial – and the ritual of sacrifice is a figurative display of one of the most primordial truths of human existence – collective life requires of people that they yield something of themselves to the collective, and each member plays a role – those roles are not equal, of course. How could they be?

Equality is abstract; our original divisions of labour are driven by real problems not abstract ones – someone must grow the food, someone must stop others from making raids, someone must pray that the gods support us, someone must judge and so forth. Each kind of sacrifice has a specific value, and pay-off – warriors have weapons and extract from the food supply, but they risk their lives; food producers have security but are vulnerable. Life is not a geometrical puzzle composed of equal parts.

ZJ: So are you saying that the pre-modern understanding of the sacrificial dimension of social life has been replaced by a more abstract understanding that makes life more manageable?

WC: Exactly. The abstract nature of modern appeals goes hand in hand with an approach to social life generating leaders/elites who have to justify their authority: they are moral paragons who know all that needs to be known, and they will “save” us all by educating us to think just like them. But who wants to sacrifice themselves for a world that is part Brave New World (sex/ drugs/ infantile distractions and self-absorption) and 1984 (complete conformity down to what one thinks or thought twenty years ago)?

The world that is supposed to be totally emancipated will become the most slavish society ever; and the irony is that it will do so largely because the modern elite have no understanding of the sacrificial nature of existence – for our contemporary ruling class, sacrifice always means oppression.

The archaic and pre-Westphalian “people” or nation was a collective formed across generations, in which roles enabled different groups to operate upon, and open up, different “fronts” of the real: it identified with a certain history and destiny, and hence is as apposite as it is for tribes, cities or empires.. The nation in this sense is a source of collective sustenance; and as such it commands sacrificial service. To be sure, because something is held together by its sacrifices does not mean that those sacrifices may not be in vain, nor that there was never cruelty, or “oppression.”

Let me also tie this together with the point you make about what the young may be willing to die for – not, say, Starbucks, or a bank. We know that humans are quite ready to throw their lives away for something they believe in. And as I said, people generally seem to need to serve something higher than themselves. For a lot of people today it is climate – and there is a faith in the earth as our mother; and if we but treat her well she will treat us well.

This is a good illustration of the polytheistic nature of the modern – but this is all concealed because we use what Vico identified as demotic, rather than poetic language. And hence we make issues around climate a matter of “science,” reinforced by ideology and mechanisms of political authority.

So, the way I see it is that it is the spiritual hunger that is driving the various progressive/utopian narratives – and these are, in turn, shored up institutionally and economically, so that those who learn the narratives and share the spirit will become the priests, and their narratives become the prayers that the rest of us are meant to live and swear by.

But those whose economic agency and social existence is not at all nourished by this god, and this priest-class, look back to what has provided nourishment from the past – and that is the more traditional forms of communal solidarity: family, workplace, church, and the nation. But, sadly, for them and perhaps for us all, the fracture is so great that I do not think repair is possible.

ZJ: Let me ask you a related question about death. Albert Camus wrote the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” which opens with a strange idea: There is one, and only one, philosophical problem – that is, suicide. I was always puzzled by it. Here is someone in the middle of the 20th-century, who claims that the entire effort of Western civilization was pointless unless it addressed this one question. Accordingly, only a few thinkers would qualify to do philosophy in this sense: Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, particularly his Dream of a Ridiculous Man. None of them, let’s note, figure in history of philosophy books.

Camus goes on to say that the question is whether it makes sense to go on living. In other words—Does life make sense? And he answers by saying that there are only two ways, of which the Don Quixote way is the only solution. What he means by it is that we have to invent sense. I like the Don Quixote metaphor. What happens in the novel is that Don Quixote wants to revive chivalry, an ancient, medieval way of life. He fights with windmills, glorifies a woman from low background by elevating her, in his imagination, to the status of a lady. Everybody is laughing, thinking that he has lost his mind, and to indulge him in his insanity; everybody plays the game. However, as they play the game, they get caught up in living in his world – the world of imagination.

One way of applying it to Camus is that only by elevating our status as human beings through imagination which creates values. Can we elevate ourselves without thinking about dying a senseless death? Do you think that what I said can be translated into contemporary social or political categories of national culture, patriotism, of defending oneself against the onslaught of globalist ideology, which leaves people helpless and contemplating death because they see nothing to live for? The suicide rate in the US went up 30 per cent or so in the last 10 years, and it is highest among young people.

WC: I love Camus – and it was very wise of him to make suicide a central issue, though the importance of collective suicide is something, I think, he addresses in The Rebel, a book I admire even more than the Myth of Sisyphus because it provides one of the most important diagnoses of the rise of totalitarian philosophies and politics.

At the heart of the book is the idea of metaphysical or cosmic rebellion, which I think is his greatest idea. Metaphysical rebellion is the defiance of life itself that involves resorting to absolutist abstract ends such as freedom, equality, justice, identity (the Nazis) which can never be actualized but which pull us ever further into violence and murder.

Camus compares this with rebels who make a pact to improve their specific lot and know that sacrifice and murder will be part of the deal – but in the knowledge of what they are doing, they bond together around the limit of their pursuit for overthrowing a specific group of people who are doing very specific acts of injustice. This is very different from someone saying that an entire system is unjust and that one must destroy the system/totality and replace it with a new one based upon perfect principles.

Metaphysical rebels – which is what the modern intelligentsia largely are – do not own up to their murderous incitements or deeds, and they find their absolution in the perfection of their ends which exist in such stark opposition to the world that they make.

I think it is also pertinent to your observation about Don Quixote. Cervantes is another great critic of modernity, who sees essential features of it and hence consequences for the modernization of humanity at the moment of modernity’s birth. His imagined world has a depth of meaning that the mundane world has lost – and it has lost it because it has sapped the inner resources of the imagination by constraining them in such a way that they are either directed to technique or technology, or entertainment and art.

Nietzsche saw the problem of nihilism, but he thought he could manufacture a myth that would make life for the strong worth living (“the eternal recurrence”). I think this is another symptom of the insane hybris of modern thinkers who think their scanty and threadbare ideas – their little bit of learning suffices to make a world (again, Descartes springs to mind, with the World being the title of his posthumously published magnum opus, though he limited himself to the natural world).

It would be a very good thing if people stopped revering intellectuals and operated from the basis that none of us know very much. One reason I like monotheism is that it accepts our need to divinize and serve, but also restricts it to one power. I am astounded, for example, by how little Marx and Nietzsche knew, compared, say, to Herder, who seems to have never stopped finding out stuff – not that I know that much, but my point is that none know that much compared to the infinite quantity of what there is to know.

ZJ: Since you mentioned Descartes, the question arises – his mechanical model of the world and man, his nature, whose operations can be explained in scientific terms, does not make room for values?

WC: Modern myths are really “make believe” and they are predicated upon conscious decisions. I think pre-modern myths work exactly in the opposite way, which is why pre-modern myths are so fecund and modern ones so narrow and limited in their social appeal. This also relates to the other part of your question about national culture and globalism. National culture was a name after it was a fact, or rather an amalgam of practices, commitments, processes, appeals, symbols etc. long before there was such a thing as “nationalism.”

Thus, it was that when nationalism became a coherent ideology, it required retrieving a past and its symbols as powers for intensifying the solidarity that was already there in a particular collective formation – people felt part of something before they gave a name to what they were doing and had been done. The nation was actual before there was nationalism; nationalism, though, was invoked to overthrow powers that could be identified as serving other national or imperial interests. (Of course, the modern nation and modern nationalism also introduced novel political elements which were part of the great transfer of power between political elites).

Typically today academics see something like the nation as a confirmation of their belief that societies are constructed – the presumption being that they can create/ construct the kind of society they want. I think they confuse what it is they are doing and want to achieve with what other people before them have done. They focus upon intention, and completely miss the vast array of world-making that simply happens and is neither conscious nor intended.

ZJ: Once, in our private conversation, you mentioned Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind. The Great Books Program, of which Bloom was a great defender goes back a hundred years. if I am not mistaken, Harvard University Press or the University of Chicago Press were the first to introduce a set of readings – books – that every American should read. The Great Books Program became a standard of education in the US.

Bloom’s Closing started a furious debate over Western civilization in the States. Even Jesse Jackson, not known for his learning of Western Classics, said, “hi, hi, ho, ho Western Culture’s got to go.” It’s gone. The consequence – serious education disappeared from American college campuses, which became a mecca of cultural barbarism.

Here are a few questions. What kept Americans together, what formed national glue, was the reading of Great Books—the European Classics, which kept them close to Europe in the 20th-century.

What kept, or still keeps Australians (culturally) together? How did you ensure the sense of European identity in Australia?

WC: Let me first say something about Great Books in general, their importance and Bloom, then the US and lastly Australia.

I have taught the great books ever since I started academic life. One course that I taught for many years at the University of Adelaide had the title, “Great Ideas of Western Civilization;” another “Great Ideas in Literary Texts.” (Though the problems that have come to light with Australian universities wanting to stop, or undermine, the attempt to introduce courses in Western Civilization by the Paul Ramsey Foundation, indicates that, in many campuses, I might not be able to run courses with such titles today).

The reason I taught these books is that for a book to be considered great, it has to have had a great impact. The greatest, say, the Bible, the Koran or the Iliad have been people/nation-forming. The next greatest have been human-type forming. And finally, less impactful, but still important, the genre or subject forming or developing. Socrates and Plato formed a new human-type (the philosopher). Of course, the Pre-Socratics are their precursors in this project. Aristotle does not do that, but he certainly improves and contributes to philosophical ideas in a “great” way: One simply cannot talk about the Middle Ages without talking about the Medieval university and scholasticism – and as soon as one talks of them, one must speak of Aristotle. For Aquinas, Aristotle was simply referred to as “the philosopher.”

A great book is not just a matter of quality. This is where I think Harold Bloom got it wildly wrong and why his book on the Western Canon ends up as a list that exponentially increases because there are more and more people writing and a lot of it is very good. In some cases, the literary quality of a great book may have nothing to do with its greatness. Goethe’s Faust is a great book in its depiction of the modern predicament. But as a work of literature it is terrible – poorly cobbled together (over a life-time), haphazard, and containing episodes of very uneven quality, ding-dong poetry, etc. But none of that matters. To be greatly crafted and even imagined does not mean a work is canonical.

While Harold Bloom makes too much of literary qualities when it comes to great or canonical works, Alan Bloom makes another kind of mistake – though he is so much better than most of his critics who were just ideologues. Alan Bloom (in this he is just like his teacher, Leo Strauss) treats the great books on the basis of their perennial character. Like Strauss, he detests relativism and historicism. I don’t want to go into the grain of the arguments concerning historicism. And as for relativism, I think it is just a very unhelpful word, and I am suspicious of the way that disputes, where the details matter, become cordoned off into an “-ism.”

But what Alan Bloom and Strauss (to those who read German, this pairing of teacher and student is pretty amusing) tend to do is make of their student homo perennial as well as the book. So, once they start engaging with Plato or Machiavelli or Rousseau, you also find yourself caught up in the American constitution as well as arguments that ultimately require you to give yourself over to how Alan Bloom or Strauss see the world, which is ostensibly very reasonable, and which ostensibly owes so much to Plato or whoever. All sense of “growth,” of collective engagement and lessons that transpire over time and across the ages, that arise from very different kinds of circumstances and ways of world-making is simply brushed aside as “historicism.”

I don’t like this at all, because I think their students are usually very weak in their ability to enter more closely into other worlds and deal with problems that are not their problems, but which if they took seriously might considerably broaden their horizons, and their imagination and their capacity for empathy as well as their appreciation of human and collective nature and development. I have always found Straussians somewhat like Marxists. Girard tends to attract similar types: they all think what they know is essentially what they need to know.

So, Great Books – yes, great. But their point – for readers of today – is not merely to draw us into one person’s take on the real – no matter how brilliant. Rather such works serve as entrances into worlds far beyond what we think we know. They are revelations, founding acts of creation, as well as entrances into the creation of a new “world.” And one must realize how much contestation is going on within them, and how they are an opening to a great array of circumstances and problems and points of view, and they do not spare us our own tribulations and need for resourcefulness. There is no human master whose feet we can sit at while supping forever off their words. Life is one great trial after another.

ZJ: How does it relate to Australia, your sense of identity, and can one claim, as Americans did, that identity can come from reading certain books?

WC: As for the US and Australia and great books, as far as I know, the curriculum in the Arts and Humanities in Australia (up until the 1980s and 1990s) generally included works that would also be considered great. At the same time, I think already in the 1920s and 1930s, a scientistic spirit had entered into the university as behaviourism, and positivism took hold of the social sciences. Philosophy was beginning to focus upon problem-solving and moving away from a knowledge of the history of its subject.

But it was really the 1960s politicization of the curricula that led to the disciplines and their founding/core texts (great books) undergoing such a transformation that the minds of the students who entered them were left in tatters, only glued together by ideology. The same process, more or less, happened in Australia.

I think the identity that was cultivated had far less to do with universities, which were for the relatively few, and far more to do with schools and churches, and also clubs and associations. Here the Bible mattered a lot. As for Plato or Rousseau, etc., not that much. I suspect, but am happy to be corrected on this, that Montesquieu and Locke mattered far more for the historic moment in which Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton et. al played their part (and because they are founders, their ideas and reading really matters) than in times when the creation, diffusion and variety of ideas and practices are implicated in events that don’t have overly much to do with humanities subjects in universities.

Indeed, my criticism of Alan Bloom and Strauss is apposite here, in trying to figure out the values and collective decisions that were important in the U.S. and Australia. In the second half of the nineteenth century, or much of the twentieth century, I would not be primarily looking to universities, certainly not primarily to the study of Plato, Hegel, etc. when thinking about the US or Australia but to larger events and more variegated narratives, and the insights of journalists, writers, clerics and other well read cultural figures: the cultural unity was not primarily philosophical because it was not an ideational/ ideological fabrication. The importance of the Bible I just mentioned confirms the point I wish to make: the Bible is not a book of “ideas” – indeed it confounds rational explications of human behaviour or ethics. It is a book of stories, events, mysteries, relationships, trials and failures, broken and kept promises, sin and redemption. It is a story, a love story between the Lord and His “servants,” told across many ages, involving many people and events – not a philosophy. It spawns countless interpretations because it is full of contingencies – which is the way life is; philosophies, on the other hand, smooth out contingencies to make them align to what we or someone can rationally think about them.

However, in the 1960s, I think this changes because there we can definitely recognize (a) that the rise of mass education will impact upon those who go into professions and (b) that the ideas which were part of the social revolution of the 1960s have gained increasing social traction – in part again because teachers, journalists, etc. go to universities where these are the narratives and ideas they get trained in. This also happens to occur at times when the other sites of social induction (the church and clubs and associations) decline in terms of influence.

So, the attack upon authority coming out of the universities, which then enters schools, newspapers, tv shows, movies, etc. changes the entire culture and aesthetics of appeal and value, and indeed the moral economy, so that now being hostile to tradition is affirmed by one’s grades, employment opportunities, moral status.

To put it bluntly, the destruction of national identity, which is common to the entire Western world, is a direct corollary of the creation of an elite group of educators that is essential for the social reproduction of professionals who are needed to run the private and public sector. It was this class that created the Russian revolution, and it is this class that is creating the global revolution. And in both cases what was being thrown away was the features of identity and solidarity that are not the results of elite manufacturing.

Unfortunately, our elites can only think in terms of elite manufacturing. This is our tragedy – that our social and economic dependencies are dependencies of destruction – conscious attempts to rip up ways of life in which many people still have a stake, and replace them with new ones in which the stakeholders are mainly paid for words, ideas, and enforcement of those words and ideas, and practices that fit them.

ZJ: Several years ago, the Polish philosopher, Ryszard Legutko, published The Demon in Demon in Democracy, the book you read and liked. It sold 16,000 copies within a year. It may not be Bloom’s million, but it is totally unprecedented. It was translated into German, French and Spanish. It provoked good reactions for the most part. How do you explain its success? What is it about Legutko’s book that explains why so many people read it?

WC: When Closing of the American Mind came out a lot of people could see there was a kind of madness coming out of higher education, especially, but by no means only, in the USA. That book gave an explanation for it, and it also offered hope that there was a better cultural way. Sadly, I think that way has no institutional support.

Having said that and perhaps to offset my pessimism, it is also the case that institutions are bearers of spirit, and spirits die; and then it is up to us to give birth to new institutions that better enable us to carry on across the times, as we gather and transfer our powers to future generations. So, what I am seeing in its destructive throes is also the occasion of new unpredicted responses and creative acts that may well help us outrun these diabolical stupidities of the modern mind and heart.

Legutko’s book, which I learnt about through Nick Capaldi, is about the diabolical nature of over-politicization and the tendency of that within democracies. One should bear in mind about democracies that they have never endured for very long; and that while they solve problems, they also create a problem for any class or group that wants its way. This is the problem being faced now – democracy is taught as a good thing and is defended by journalists, etc. until the moment when the electorate do not want what their elites – especially those who live off narrative formation, instruction, etc. – want.

The EU is the model of the Western post-democratic future, though it may just fall apart. Again, I think there are many people who agree with the diagnosis provided by Legutko of how liberal-democracy is proactive in forming a totalitarian mind-set – confirmed, of course, in practice, by the hostile student attempt to stop him speaking at Middlebury. Again, it only showed how desperate our ideas-brokers are to preserve really bad and fragile ideas.

ZJ: What I find surprising, and I do not say it to diminish the originality of Legutko’s book, is that we do not find anything shocking in the book, and yet it became a philosophical bestseller. When I read it, I thought, it is very good, persuasive, very well-written – but he says things that should be obvious to everyone. Yet he infuriated the professors and students in America, at Middlebury College, for example, to the point that his lecture had to be cancelled because the college could not guarantee his security.

Under Communism, we would have loved to hear a speaker who said things which were controversial. In today’s America, we shut down people who even dare to think differently. Is the situation in Australia the same?

WC: Identical! Again, it has to do with class rather than culture; or, more precisely, class can also affect culture. The Left thinks it is making such great strides in human emancipation when it is just ensuring that we are replaceable, that we are resources to be managed and directed by those who have the ambition to rule, manage, and control the future on the basis of their certitudes about the nature and purpose of life. This is why global corporations can, and indeed do, ally themselves with socialist or “woke” “radicals” and causes – BLM, Antifa, etc. Forgive me being bleak again – but this is why the faith I have in humanity comes from spontaneous, unpredictable acts of loving kindness, friendship, etc.

Those people who booed and shut down Legutko showed that they are the real enemies of creative freedom and are the enemies of a more convivial future. But they cannot see themselves. If, as they get older, and they wake up a little from their “wokeness” and look back upon what they have done, and if they have any spark of soul left, they will be ashamed of what they have done. The millennials are just re-enacting what my generation did some fifty years back; and so a number of us also look back in shame at our younger selves.

ZJ: Let me go back a bit. You do not have, and have never had a Great Books program; nor did the Canadians. Only Americans did. All three of you were former British colonies, yet only in America’s case was the national identity guaranteed by “pumping” European heritage into the students’ minds; not in Australia, not in Canada. How do you explain it? Is the presence of British heritage stronger there than in America? Or is it connected with the idea that the U.S. had become much earlier a country of immigrants from all over the world, rather than from Europe or Britain?

WC: As I mentioned, I did teach Great Books, and for a long time. Although people did not teach subjects called Great Books, parts at least of the curriculum of the BA was steeped in Great Books. English literature students studied Paradise Lost, some Shakespeare, Blake, etc. Philosophy students some Plato, or Hume and Locke, and so on. So, I think the kind of “pumping” process was occurring. But as I said earlier, I think, the Bible excepted (and even that spreads through rite and ritual), the cultural formation should not be understood solely through books.

The British heritage was strong in Australia – but not so much now, though the other cultural forces are more diffuse. But the American influence (music, television, film, books, ideas) is huge. I don’t want to segue too far into American identity, but I will just say that I think Americans tend to see the world as themselves writ large, and Australians also tend to do this. There is, in my opinion, too much blah-blah about identity. Where real identity exists, one often doesn’t talk about it; one just carries on a certain way. Where people insist upon identity for political gain, it is usually because they want to dictate how people with certain features or interests must behave. It is very self-serving, and has little to do with any reality. It is true that if one’s world is under threat, then identity may be important. Context matters – there is a big difference between identity being appealed to from the ground up to bind people together because they are genuinely under threat and are treated as identical by enemies wishing to harm them than an elite defining what constitutes an identity so that they can make clients and dependents of a group with certain common features.

ZJ: Americans are obsessed with their founding. Each year we have another book about the American Revolution, and how great it was that we separated. One of the myths is “persecution” and “freedom” – which from European and particularly British perspective, sounds strange. It was the dissenters – the troublemakers – who fled, colonized the continent and, as a distinguished English historian, Jonathan Clark, sees it, 1776 was the last war of religion, and the unfolding of European history in the New World.

This is not so in Australia (or Canada where the Royalists fled [and known as the United Empire Loyalists). You do not have the same national myths, and your relationship with your “mothership” does not seem so stormy. Where might such a difference come from? What is Australia’s relationship to Britain now?

WC: We were settled by convicts, though not South Australia. The Australian myth is one of rebellion, mistrust of, and refusal to kowtow to, authority. Our founding myth is the Anzac defeat at Gallipoli. We are a nation of losers, so to speak. But there is also a sense of betrayal by the mother-country, of us being sacrificed in a larger game which we did not control. The other part of the myth was the Outback. But Australians largely live on the coast and most are urban dwellers.

Now the tertiary educated, who dominate our ideational narratives, see Britain as a colonial power wreaking destruction on the world, so we should distance ourselves from it. (They are so historically ignorant that they do not see the relationship between resource competition, the scale of territorial power, military conquests and alliances, the need to find resources to maintain military power, and hence the logic of empire as expansionary but also cross-cultural).

Thus, we went from having a bit of a chip on our shoulder about the British, to seeing ourselves as their moral betters – though we still have bits of shame and guilt to pour on ourselves with respect to the treatment of indigenous people. Given that the British, like the Americans, are also caught up in their own guilt and past shame, this too is a more global phenomenon within the West – Chinese and Muslims certainly are not using their own sense of shame as a means of moral, economic and institutional opportunity or gain. What matters for them is pride in their past – and their shame comes from the power they have lost, not the power they inherited!

Our old myths really have little leverage in Australia today. And all myths to the contrary, we are, in fact, a terribly bureaucratic country. The urban/regional split also means that those Australians who are more like the mythical Australian (laconic, irreverent, more given to practical action than talking) tend to be seen as stupid by urban Australians.

One only has to tune into our national public broadcaster to see that our tertiary educated urban population are a nation of groupthink. Try questioning climate change in any public forum, or within a university – good luck! So, we are a torn country. Presently, many argue we should not celebrate Australia Day because it is celebrating conquest, if not outright genocide. Our professional classes are as given to moral absolutes and hyperbole as the Americans and other Western European professional classes – on very similar issues. Once again, it is symptomatic of the globalisation of industry and ideas, and the divide between the old national members and the new globalized elites.

ZJ: Let me recall a historical fact that few people remember or know of. In 1975, the Australian Parliament got dissolved by the British Queen because it suffered from gridlock. In other words, it became dysfunctional. We cannot do this in the US. In fact, we cannot do it anywhere with full democracy. In your case, it worked and it proved that a mechanism like that is needed because a parliament or congress cannot dismiss itself. Monarchy – however limited – seems to work. Look at Brexit… Parliament is helpless.

WC: Well, in that instance, it was the Queen’s representative that broke the gridlock. Many still call this a constitutional crisis, even though the election quickly followed the sacking of the elected Prime Minister. In a sense you have answered your own question. Britain is a monarchy; but parliament is helpless in times of a crisis. A political system is ultimately only as good as the political culture which sustains it. Thus, our crises are cultural crises played out within systems – and tearing them apart. A system does have a fair amount of cultural capital stored within its practices, but that cannot last forever where the wills of its opponents are powerful and unified.

It is probably obvious from the answers I have already given that I think Western democracies are in serious trouble. There are structural and cultural aspects of that crisis. Structurally, the crisis has come about through the elevation of a class who see themselves – and indeed have become – global and national leaders. They are like Nietzsche’s higher men – except they actually achieve their elevation by deploying narratives of equality and identity, narratives Nietzsche associated with the herd.

This is actually cleverer than Nietzsche (and it is not even the kind of clever that was consciously decided; rather, it is clever in terms of the interests it unifies through self-serving decisions), because Nietzsche failed to realize that the new elite would need to be seen to be serving the mass, even if they were creating a scaffold for their own in-breeding (the elites don’t generally marry down) and taste.

ZJ: 1492 – for centuries now, the date was associated with Columbus’ discovery of America. Today, in the US, it means genocide! Genocide of the Indians. Several cities in the U.S., including Washington DC this year, renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. You, as Australian, probably have views on the question. But before I let you answer, let me make a few remarks.

First, even if one would grant some validity to the objection, the problem is of judging the past by the standards of today. Second, it is a childish way of looking at history, thinking that it would have been good, but bad people made it evil, which is a demonstration of lack of knowledge as to what happened everywhere; that people would conquer other lands; and, as the philosopher you know well, Hegel, said, history is a slaughter bench on which millions have been sacrificed. This is not to say that we should continue slaughtering each other, but since it was a mechanism of history, people who claim it was genocide, do not seem to know how anything operates.

WC: This is exactly the problem. A knowledge of history that also takes into account social formation and transformation, and where conflict and resource competition fits into the picture, should cure people of utopian idealism – though there are plenty of historians who still read history as if they were God presiding over the Day of Judgment, and hence relate history as if history were a morality tale, and that its actors could and should have done differently.

History is neither a metaphysical nor a moral problem, but the accumulated experiences of decisions, actions and circumstances that have created the world we have to dwell in. What we also know is that our political moralists of today have what they have because of their history – which is our history.

To want to create a better world may be admirable, but one cannot forget that one is part of a world in which sacrifice, strife, competition for resources and group survival were primarily existential choices, not purely moral ones. This is as much the story of the ancients, of tribes, cities and empires, as it is of the moderns with our civil and world wars.

But genuine social betterment requires genuine alignments of solidarity, common loves and commitments, not the enforcement of principles and ideas. Having an idea that humans are basically good, or that we actually have rights that were not derived out of political and social experience, or that we can just apply a set of axioms about human behaviour, is the opposite of helpful. We have to work on the little bit of reality before us; and if we do not see forces that threaten to extinguish a group as we are focussed only upon our ideals, then we will go under.

ZJ: A few years ago, in Vienna, where there was a monument dedicated to the Polish king, John III Sobieski, who stopped the Turkish forces from invading Europe, in 1688. It was desecrated and a sign attached: “Genocide.” The king who was celebrated as defending Europe from Muslim invasion stands condemned for the very same reason – as the defender of the West, just like Columbus, stands condemned for bringing the West to the New World. Do you see a similarity, and what exactly, in your opinion, stands behind the two so different occurrences?

WC: When Columbus first arrived in the Bahamas, he thought he had found a new world free from violence. He quickly learnt otherwise. The idea that the Europeans created violence in the new world is a fantasy. Think, for example, of how the enemies of the Aztecs assisted Cortes. That Europeans brought a new kind of havoc that had really terrible consequences for the indigenous peoples of the “New World” is not something I dispute. I simply note that imperialism is a very ancient modality of social and political organization, and that scale and technology matter.

In part, though, I do see the hostility to certain founding myths as a fair enough response – up to a point. That is, the 1960s generation and their more left-leaning professors from a previous generation were not wrong to expose peaceful foundational myths as untrue. But this does not mean that the “New World” did not have its own survival strategies in which violence was a common enough occurrence.

I would also qualify this by saying where resources are spread widely and groups are small enough and can stay out of each other’s way, then it may be avoidable – at least up to a point. But anthropological finds of grave sites do indicate how common violent death generally was amongst tribes. The city and the empire are also, in part, a means for walling out violence. But, of course, as groups grow and empires subsist alongside each other, violence again enters into the picture on an even larger scale.

The problem is not that we should not be honest about conquest and violence – and once the United States was formed and the land expansion drove out the native Americans in the 19th-century, it was really shocking, though not altogether unlike how other tribes within antiquity had acquired land. A case can be made that, had the U.S. remained under the British crown, its history may have been far less bloody.

Of course, counterfactual history is only partially helpful. But that so many Western educated people believe that the West was somehow unique in its deployment of violence for securing territory and resources is silly – and, I repeat, making moral judgments about the past is meaningless, especially when the people making them are the beneficiaries of the bloody deeds that are their own history: What was unique was the technology and accompanying systems of commerce and administration which created greater opportunities for power enhancement and expansion.

But the idea, to take your second example, that Islam was not an imperializing enterprise from the very beginning, or that Muslims were pacifists and innocents, and Christian nations uniquely imperial, is historically mad (those poor Turks attacking Vienna!). But once you simply treat Muslims as a minority, you will project all sorts of virtues onto a group because they suit the narrative that you live off of and define your place in the world by.

Likewise, those Muslims who have aspirations to really fulfill the injunction to bring the world to peace through all submitting to Allah, will gladly support this narrative, and will gladly represent themselves as victims of genocide in Vienna, as if they were in solidarity with native Americans, whose people were subject to genocidal levels of violence. But, unlike the Westerners who fall for this, they at least know what they are doing.

ZJ: Given the logic of the genocide argument, we should conclude that neither conquest nor colonization should have ever happened – which means, no Persian Empire, no Greek colonization, no Roman Empire, no Mongol, Ottoman, British, Portuguese, French, Spanish Empires. What I have enumerated is only a tiny portion of what history looked like, which does not give much support for politically correct claims and visions of history, let alone human nature. But given all the PC activists’ ignorance of history, the question emerges: Does PC behaviour stem from ignorance or something else?

WC: I think I have already made clear what I think about PC anthropology. It is, as others have rightly labelled it, “Disneyfication.” As you know I am a great admirer of J.G. Herder, who unfortunately is usually just viewed as a “romantic,” when he is a complicated and a very profound thinker.

Herder made the point (one which you can also find in Augustine) that a group’s survival depends upon it having something lovable about its world. So, just as I cannot accept the romantic view of indigenous life, a life that like all social forms, has strict and often brutal means of enforcing group survival,

I do not deny that it was a dwelling place on earth with its own rewards and sacrifices. Hence, too, I also do not want to underestimate the cost of civilization. Our conversation is largely about the sacrificial component of civilization and how precarious our circumstances are right now.

And, as much as I disagree with the liberal-progressive view of life, I also acknowledge that it exists because of all manner of problems (including the last World War) which provided the backdrop for people wanting to “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine” a better world. So, I think, one may well have important discussions about different life-ways; and what is won and lost as one world is destroyed.

Now the indigenous worlds were destroyed because they had found ways to survive that ultimately (and I do not mean this in any disparaging way) curtailed the need for the kind of human inventiveness that developed with empires, and at their most sophisticated levels with the crucible of the West and its wars and revolutions.

I have said it many times now: Inventiveness is forged in the furnaces of war and horror, which is as true for the scientific revolution as for the formation of the modern nation state. The experience of the West was such that one crisis after another led to a certain kind of “advancement” – specifically, technological, administrative, socioeconomic and even political.

Fortunate were those (at least relatively) who could stave this off, until, that is, they found themselves in competition with outsiders over their resources. History cannot be unmade, and so any strategy of solving our problems which requires cultural romanticism is doomed to fail. Worst of all, it condemns the living to a lost past, so that they themselves become like ghosts and more like pieces in the imaginations of those who wish to dictate their own narratives and future for the living.

Culture, like everything else, is not an essence but an adaptive process. So, pretending that the powers of the modern world can be simply blocked out by a romantic retreat is to condemn people to powerlessness in their world. Although policy and public narrative commonly romanticize the past, imagine a government that said: “Sorry we did wrong, so what we will do is give you back a vast amount of territory, then build a fence, and leave you alone. No phones, cars, roads, hospitals, medical supplies, TVs or anything else that modernity has made will be available to you. You are free to return to a past world. We will not mine there or allow any of our people to enter. But once you go back you are not allowed to return.”

Can you imagine the outcry of indignation? Being in a world comes with a price. Our freedoms come at the cost of widespread depression, anomie, ennui, isolation, medication, infantilism, and so many other afflictions, including romanticism and utopianism and their institutional ensconcement.

The reason I am an Augustinian when it comes to human nature is that we all live off the violence and crimes – the sins – of our forefathers. Real dialogue is impossible, if we start with a mythic idealisation.

ZJ: Are the contemporary problems of the USA, Canada, Australia those that the Britishness of those countries created, by which I mean Protestant religion, common language. Again, to be clear, many of the problems that feminists see, such as the use of pronouns (he and she) are laughable from the point of view of someone who knows languages and knows that gender (masculine, feminine and neuter) is grammatical; it is not social categories. But in the English-speaking world, precisely because English no longer uses gender in its grammar, these problems have been created, which could not have sprung-up elsewhere. Yet, these English-language problems, because of American dominance, have become global problems.

WC: I think it is Europeanness rather than Britishness (and I would refer you to one of my favourite books, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s Die europäischen Revolutionen und der Charakter der Nationen – a different version of that book for an American audience was, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man.

If I think of the suicidal tendencies within the West today, it seems to me that they do come out of the appeals to freedom and social equality that are the outgrowth of the European experience and responses to their circumstances, including, perhaps most significantly, wars and revolutions.

That the European experience is predicated upon Christian culture, as well other sociological and geopolitical contingencies, seems to me very obvious. Calvinism, in particular, though not of British influence plays a decisive role in helping shape what will become modern republicanism. It will also play an important role in generating a moral and aesthetic orientation to personal and social life that will then become secularised.

I really like John Cuddihy’s book on the Calvinist influences upon the USA, No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste. A certain sensibility, which combines a sense of (divine/ moral) election, the overcoming of all evil, the doctrinal (moral) transparency of all souls within the community (see, Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America) has prevailed within our elites (and this is as much the case in Canada, the UK, Australia, as the USA) – which is manifestly Calvinist in original form. but with the kind of content that comes out of the atheistic socialistic, progressive mind of the nineteenth-century.

This sensibility simultaneously combines guilt and a desire for the “kingdom.” So, without Christianity, it is pretty impossible to imagine this modern elite and our narratives of emancipation. But they are also anti-Christian and heretical, diabolical even – total faith in human knowledge, the human will, and the self/identity. The Islamists, the Chinese, the Russians, etc. think the West is killing itself. That is what I fear as well – and I hope I am completely wrong.

ZJ. Thank you so much for this conversation, Professor Cristaudo!

The image shows, “1807, Friedland,” by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonie, painted 1861-1875.

What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?

We are so very thankful to The Critic to allow us to bring to our readers a new series – History Talks – which are podcasts by Professor Jeremy Black, in conversation with Graham Stewart, The Critic’s political editor.

The purpose of these podcasts is to inform and also delight. Each month, Professor Black answers an important question, explores an interesting web of ideas, or simply tells us about things we may not know about. This means that each of his talks is nothing short of a “Grand Tour” of the past, providing exquisite nuggets of historical details that you can carry with you as delightful souvenirs.

We begin this month with an intriguing question – Why was 18th-century Britain so innovative? The ideas and inventions that emerged on this little island in the 1700s changed not only Britian but the entire world.

Things that we take for granted would have been impossible if they had not been invented and created in Britain, such as, free speech, a free press, consumerism, industrialization, urbanization. All this is finely summarized in Rupert Brooke’s famous words:

For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go…

But why did all this not happen in any other country? Why did it happen only in Britain? Let’s listen to Professor Black for the answer.

What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?

The image shows, A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun or The Orrery, by Joseph Wright of Derby, painted ca., 1766.

Why Did Italy Declare War In 1940?

Scholars and lay readers often assume that Italy joined Germany in 1940 because “the end of the war appeared to be on the horizon, Mussolini concluded the best choice was to join the Germans in their war against France and Britain, in order to seize territory in the Mediterranean. Malta, Corsica, Savoy and Nice – the Italian territories possessed by foreign powers – and Tunis; and along with other African lands, these were meant to compensate Italy for the the ‘disloyal behavior’ that London and Paris had exhibited in 1919.”

I had this opinion too, until by chance, in late 2009, I had to prepare a detailed paper on the Italian point of view about the French 1940 Armistice. I should mention that the subsequent paper I wrote on this topic achieved remarkable success when presented – in Paris at the Ecole militaire, on January 15, 2010. Later, I developed the idea into a book, which was published in 2014, in Italian.

Back in late fall 2009, in order to understand the French Armistice clearly, I began with the war itself, and with the plans – if any – made before the war. So, I began from secondary sources, mainly official publications, such as, the accounts of the Italian Alpine campaign of 1940, and the Italian military occupation of France, along with the addition of Galeazzo Ciano’s diary and some other sources. While collecting all the data, I found some things which clashed with the commonly held view, and which, when brought together, yielded a new perspective that should at least be revealed and discussed.

The problem of why Italy entered World War II was at that time, in 2009, still unclear. Traditional historiography tends to give Mussolini the simple desire to gain some territory at the lowest possible price; while other authors suppose that war was declared only because the Duce wanted to demonstrate that the Italian people were warriors. Both these major explanations are not so convincing, unless one is firmly believes that Mussolini was completely devoid of cold judgement and reason and was playing a sort of poker with the worst cards. Now, apart from any kind of consideration about Mussolini’s mental faculties, when gathering all the strands of the economic and political situation in Italy in 1939-40, the mosaic that results is very different than the one proposed till now by Italian and non-Italian historiography.

While it is certainly true that the person who decided the Italian involvement in war was Mussolini, the question we need to answer is: How did things appear to him? What was his – and the Italians’ – perception of the situation, which could be quite different from how matters actually stood. This question is never answered; or, at least, this question has never had a really satisfying answer, one which might allow us to understand why Mussolini took that fatal decision. The problem has certainly been discussed in Italy and outside Italy, in various ways – but nobody has to-date offered an explanation which might lead us beyond mere suggestion, or a bias, or a notion.

There is an astounding lack of documents from Mussolini about this question. There are many memoirs and journals by other people, but one must be very careful with these, because they were all published after the war, when their authors wanted above all to try to justify themselves to the people and to history. Ciano’s Diary, The diary written by Giuseppe Bottai, one of the smartest men of Fascism, appeared only after his five-year service with the French Foreign Legion in 1944-49.

There are also books and memoirs written by civil and military officers, sometimes top officers, but none offer anything substantial, other than an occasional detail. And, thus, the problem remains always unsolved: Why did Mussolini, who had no intention of going to war, suddenly decide to declare war in June 1940?

It is also clear that given the above caveats, one cannot pretend to demonstrate the truth. It is only possible to suggest an hypothesis, a tentative answer to the afore-mentioned questions; and it will up to the reader to decide whether the hypothesis can be accepted or not, fully or in part, or totally rejected.

When seeking to understand the reason why a certain decision was made, the only doable thing is to gather all the information about the man who took that decision. Then, one can see if, by chance, after having considered the facts, there is anything which may be helpful in finding an answer.
Therefore, what was Italy’s situation during this period, militarily speaking? Was Italy put under any kind of pressure? And if so, what kind of pressure, from where and by whom? Could Italy sustain a war, and, above all, a war as an ally of Germany? What outcome could Italy expect?

Now, in view of contemporary military, diplomatic anad economic documents, the answer appears to be quite complex, and most definitely surprising and very different from what is commonly supposed.

The first facts to consider are economic data, because money defines and determines what the military can do. Italy’s financial situation, in the Spring of 1940, was terrible. This is very well known by Italian economic historians, but is normally not taken into consideration by Italian military historians, and appears to be completely ignored by non-Italian military historians and by lay readers, whether Italian or not.

In fact, actual sources are really very few. Apart from the well-known (in Italy) book by General Carlo Favagrossa, Perché perdemmo la guerra (Why We Lost the War), published in 1946, and by the former Mussolini Finance minister, Felice Guarneri’s Battaglie economiche (Economic Battles), published in 1953), a scholar can only look at basic sources, such as, the figures given by the Central Institute of Statistics in Rome, the reports and official publications by the Ragioneria Generale dello Stato (State General Auditing Board) about the Italian budget, that is to say, Il bilancio dello Stato negli esercizi dal 1930-31 al 1941-42, and Il bilancio dello Stato negli esercizi finanziari dal 1942-43 al 1947-48, and the annual reports of the Governor of the Bank of Italy to the shareholders from 1939 to 1946.

Books too are quite few concerning this topic of Italy’s economic situation during the years under consideration. These books include, Giuseppe Mayer, Teoria economica delle spese militari (Economic Theory of Military Expenditure), published in 1961; Epicarmo Corbino, L’economia italiana dal 1861 al 1961 (The Italian Economy from 1861 to 1961), published in 1962; and Giuseppe Toniolo, La Banca d’Italia e l’economia di guerra (The Bank of Italy and the War Economy), published in 1989. The most recent, and perhaps the best work about this issue, is Luciano Luciani, L’economia e la finanza italiana nel secondo conflitto mondiale (Italian Economy and Finance in World War II), published in 2009.

The economy was not going well at all in the 1930s, and unemployment was common. Studies about this aspect are still rare and seldom published; and one is tempted to ask how much Fascist propaganda had the lingering effect to convince people that all worked well. Anyway, one can find something in Enrico Cernigol and Massimo Giovanetti, Ricordati degli uomini in mare (Reminiscences the Men in the Sea), published in 2005), which consists of interviews with survivors of submarine crews. When answering the question, why did they enlist, most of the answers are more or less “because of the lack of work in the Thirties.” Something similar is found in personal accounts or memoirs of people who did not have important positions at that time and who were interviewed; or this reason is indirectly admitted in some contemporary documents.

Wars in Ethiopia and Spain, and the short campaign in Albania, were a huge financial drain on the Kingdom of Italy. Since 1935, two thirds of the annual state expenditure had been on armed forces. Italy’s global expenditure rose from 33 billion liras in 1935–1936 to 60 billion in the fiscal year 1939 – 1940; and the deficit progressively and constantly grew from 13 billion liras in 1935–1936 to 28 billion in 1939 – 1940. And when considering the disagreggated data, we find that military expenditure, because of war, was solely responsible for the deficit.

There was also another problem. The Italian state’s income depended on only 28 percent taxation, and 72 percent on revenue. This meant that given the normal diminishing of commerce in the time of war, the state would never have been able to retain the 72 percent, and thus a consistent reduction of income had to be foreseen. At the same time, it was clear that if limited wars like those in Ethiopia and Spain had been so expensive, a World War against France and Britain would be harder, if not impossible, to sustain.

So, here we have the first fact that Mussolini was well aware of: The impossibility of managing a medium- or long-term war against great powers because of lack of money. And Mussolini knew this well, since minister Guarneri clearly warned him, and soon was forced to resign.

The second aspect to be considered is that of the Armed Forces; and this was strictly linked to the lack of money. If the State had no money, and Italy lacked raw materials to achieve a general rearmement, it was impossible to fill the need for ordnance and restock the depots emptied by the recent wars in Africa and in Europe. The standard interpretation concerning the state of the Italian Armed Forces in 1939 is that they possessed old equipment, useless in a modern war. This is a fallacy. Their equipment was as good as other European armed forces in 1939, except perhaps the Germans. The problem was that the Italian Armed Forces lacked sufficient equipment to carry out the operations with which they were tasked. They did not have enough vehicles, weapons and ammunitions. And they could not acquire the material it needed in sufficient quantities because Italy lacked an effective industrial system.

Comparative figures for war production of high-technological ordnance, such as, aircraft are quite revealing. For example, in 1939, Italy produced 1,750 aircraft; in 1940 3,250. The next year, 1941, marked the highest point of production with 3,503. Then, Italian production slowly decreased: 2,813 in 1942 and 1,930 in 1943, for a total of 13,523 planes throughout the entire conflict. In 1942, Japan made 9,300 planes, Soviet Union 8,000, Britain 23,671, United States 47,859 and Germany15,596. That is to say, in only one year, Germany produced more aircraft than Italy did in four years of war. German aircraft were faster, more effective, powerful and modern than Italian ones. During the period 1939-1945, Japan produced 64,800 aircraft, the Soviet Union 99,500, Germany 125,072, Britain 125,254 and United States more than 300,000. These figures have been officially published by the Italian Air Force in Rodolfo Gentile, Storia dell’Aeronautica dalle origini ai giorni nostri, (Florence, 1967), and in Vincenzo Lioy, Cinquantennio dell’Aviazione italiana, (Rome, 1959).

So, lack of money, weapons and automotive transports meant the impossibility of managing a modern war, such as the Germans carried out against Poland. In fact, according to the report presented by Graziani on May 25, 1940, the divisions of the Italian army were too lightly armed. They had 23,000 vehicles, 8,700 special vehicles, 4,400 cars and 12,500 motorcycles. Tanks numbered some 1,500 useless light tanks, and merely 70 medium battle tanks. This meant the that Regio Esercito possessed only half the number of vehicles it needed to manage something similar to the German “Blitzkrieg.” It was impossible – as Graziani said – to fill the gap, because the country simply did not have enough cars and trucks. Artillery was old and had little ammunition. Fuel was sufficient for only a few months. Italy produced 15,000 metric tons of crude oil annually. Albania provided 100,000 more metric tons. Normal Armed Forces consumption was 3,000,000 tons in peacetime; in war it increased to 8 million. Libyan oil had been discovered, but it was too deep to of use.

All this is fairly well-known. But what seems rather unknown, or little evaluated, comes from an official document, quite a relevant and reliable one, published quite long ago, namely, the minutes of the meeting held at the General Armed Forces Chief of Staff’s office in 1939. The first volume – from January 1939 to the end of December 1940 – begins with very interesting statements. During the first meeting – which included only the Army, Navy and Air Force Chiefs of Staff and the General Chief of Staff, Marshall Badoglio – held on 26 January 1939, that is to say soon after Monaco, but eight months before the war, Badoglio opened the meeting stated: “Above all, His Excellence, the Chief of the Government, declared to me that, concerning rivendicatons against France, he has no intention to mention Corsica, Nice and Savoy. These are initiatives taken by single persons, who in no way enter into his plans of action.

He declared to me, moreover, that he has no intention demanding territorial cessions from France, because he is convinced that France is unable to accept – for, by doing so, he would put himself in the condition of drawing back a possible demand (and this would lack of dignity), or to enter into a war, (and this is not his intention).”

When speaking of initiatives taken by single persons, Mussolini meant something rather well-known at that time and quite recently as well. We know about this through the memoirs of one of the most important personalities of Fascism, Baron Giacomo Acerbo, a World War I hero, who had joined Fascism before the March on Rome. He was the leader of the Abruzzo region and who was not only a remarkable world-renowned expert in economics, but an expert in agriculture too. Plus, he was a member of the Great Council of Fascism and one of the only four members of this Council who voted against the issue of the anti-Jewish racial laws. At that time, he was going to be appointed President of the General Budget Committee in the Chamber of Deputies, and in 1943 he was the last minister of finance Mussolini had before resigning in July.

Acerbo wrote:

“Mussolini’s obstinacy not to deprive himself of the cooperation of his son-in-law [Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who had married Mussolini’s oldest daughter, Edda] appears more incomprehensible and deplorable when thinking of what happened on November 30th 1938. I mean that sitting of the Chamber when, during a speech by Ciano, and as soon as he [Mussolini] heard Ciano’s voice, stated the ancient territorial claims which Fascist Italy did not intend to renounce – all while some thirty deputies shouted, “viva Nizza,” and “viva la Savoia” and “viva la Corsica,” etc. And this happened while the new French ambassador, François-Poncet, was in the diplomatic seat and who had arrived after just a week in Rome, and after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries… At the end of the session, a hundred people in Montecitorio Square shouted the same things. It was a comedy prepared by Ciano himself, with the cooperation of the Party Secretary, Starace. And at that moment, we thought that it did not lack the preventive consent of Mussolini, who attended the session. On the other hand, just that evening, Mussolini, when opening the work of the Great Council censored what had happened with a curt tone: “I take exception to the scene which occurred today in the Chamber (these were almost exactly his words), and I take exception both because it was done without my knowledge and because those who organized it did not reflect that it was at least unsuitable, seeing that only a few days earlier we had resumed full relations with France.” The two responsible remained indifferent as it did not concern them… Everybody expected the resignation of the two responsible, but they conserved their places more firmly than ever.”

So, territorial claims against France was Ciano’s and Starace’s idea – and it was so far from Mussolini’s mind that he wanted to make sure Badoglio knew this, and, through him, the Chiefs of Staff. This is the first surprise: Italy – Mussolini – deprived of the supposed desire for getting into a war, and, above all, a war against France. If one might wonder whether this document is reliable, the answer is: 100%. Minutes were written and later submitted to each of the partiipants, who signed them. Only later they were submitted to Mussolini in person, and – especially in this case – there was no negative reaction, no correction, no change. In other words, Mussolini implicitly admitted that his opinion was just as Badoglio had reported.

It is certainly true that Italy was not overly friendly with France, but this was due to problems born in 1919 and never resolved. Italy perceived France and French policy toward, and in, the Balkans as a threat. That is why, for instance, the first operational plan made by the Italian Air Force in 1929 was the “Ipotesi Est, Ipotesi Ovest, Ipotesi doppia” – “Hypothesis East, Hypothesis West, Double Hypothesis” – where “East” meant war against Yugoslavia, “West” war against France and “Double” war against both nations. But all this was intended in a purely defensive way, as becomes evident when reading the plan itself.

In fact, the most important and general doctrine was the Directives for the coordinated employment of the Army Air Units. “Directives” were divided into three main parts. The first contained general issues and orders for actions above the ground; The second was about fighting at sea; the third concerned antiaircraft defense, reconnaissance, emergency airfields, emergency redoubts, and so on. The only known copies are those owned by Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff De Pinedo. These now lies in Rome, in the Army Archive, fondi acquisiti, non catalogato. The “Ipotesi Ovest, Ipotesi Est, Ipotesi doppia, considerazioni generali” exists as an incomplete copy in the same Army Archive, in fondi acquisiti, non catalogato. A complete copy, however, has been found by John Gooch in the same Archive. The only study existing about the Directives is my own, “The First Air War Doctrine of the Italian Royal Air Force, 1929,” a paper presented at the 67th annual conference of the Society for Military History – Quantico (VA), the U.S. Marines Corp University, on April 28, 2000.

French policy also gave Mussolini a lot to worry about. From the Italian point of view, France appeared to have a peculiar ability to act in such a manner as to draw the ire of other countries. In those years, not only did Italians view French attitudes as hostile toward Italy, but also premier Leon Blum made two policy errors, which further alienated Italy. The first was a Franco-Spanish pact, where Spain allowed French troops transit through Spanish territory to reach North Africa in case of war against Italy. The second was France’s announcement of sending weapons, ordnance and men to support the Spanish Republic. Mussolini did not care about Spanish affairs, but if French intervention rendered Spain a sort of French protectorate, or strategic ally, Italy could find both the exits from the Mediterranean closed to Italian shipping. The Suez was owned by a French-British company. The Straits of Gibraltar were passable because Spain owned the African side, despite British possession of Gibraltar. What if France indirectly controlled the African side as Britain controlled the European one? This could pose a threat to Mussolini’s and Italy’s strategic interests.

Errors made by politicians could occasionally be made worse by blunders made by a single official. So, it was with great astonishment that the Italian press, in spring 1939, reported that, while speaking to a meeting of French Army non-commissioned officers, French general Giraud thought it a great idea to state that a war against Italy would be “a simple walk in the Po valley” for General Gamelin’s Army. After such a declaration, made by a prominent French general, how could Italy not consider France to be a concrete threat?

But did Italy really believe a French offensive was possible? Did Italians really suppose this possibility was real? The answer is, Yes. Leaving aside unfriendly French attitude during 1935 to 1939 period, the possibility of French aggression had been carefully considered by the Italian General Staff – but always from a defensive point of view. We never find, during the whole 1939 and during the first months of 1940, anything other than putting up a defence against French attack. There is never an intention to carry out an attack against France, in Africa or across the Alps, nor any consideration of landing in Corsica or in Provence. On January 26, 1939, Badoglio told his colleagues that Mussolini, in case of war against France, had ordered: “Absolute defensive on the Libyan front, and that there was nothing to fear from Yugoslavia, and not to worry about Egypt, that is to say,the British. A bit later, during the same meeting, when speaking of possible action on the Alps, he added: “The Duce decided on only some defensive concentrations, on both the Alpine and Libyan borders.”

There was no further mention of war against France till April 1940, when, during the meeting held on April 9, Badoglio presented the “strategic rules given by the Duce,” and said, “So: defence, and no initiative on the Western Alps. Surveillance in the East. In case of collapse, exploit it. Occupation of Corsica is possible, but not probable. itis foreseen the neutralization of the air basis of the island is foreseen.” Then, action against England in Africa and in the Mediterranean was discussed. But, about the French, Badoglio remarked that “the real risk for Libya is the Army of Weygand.”

General Weygand was, at that time, considered by his Italian colleagues as the best French (even worldwide) general of his time. And this good opinion reached the man in the street through the press. This was a symptom of something different and quite more complex than the simple admiration for a good commander.

It is quite interesting, and revealing, to read comments published in the Italian press, in Spring 1940, especially given that Italy was under a dictatorship, so that what appeared in print was approved by official censorship. In effect, if something was published, it was substantially approved by the Fascist regime and reflected the regime’s mind. Thus, comments published in Spring 1940, about the military situation in Norway, and, later in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, by one of the most well-known and most fascist Italian reporters, Mario Appelius, spoke of Weygand with a deep respect, although Appelius was quite harsh about other Allied generals, such as, Ironside, Lord Gort, or Gamelin.

Appelius covered the war since early opearations in Poland. Then, he was in Finland, and, on May 9, 1940 he was in Amsterdam. The following day, he reached Brussels under German bombardment, and soon left the city by the last train out to Paris. He vividly described what happened in those days, after his own experiences.

And, on May 15, Appelius wrote about the French: “Nobody doubts the bravery of the French Army. Summoned by the mistakes of its own politicians to sacrifice itself once again to defend England, the French Army will surely fight with the same bravery of 1914.” This is revealing of a certain propensity towards France by the Italians. In 1940, of course, one could not help but bear World War I in mind: It was the same French Army that had stopped the Germans on the Marne, in Verdun and, in 1918, in Arras and Reims. The same French Army had demonstrated during the Great War that it could lose some battles, but win the war, emerging victorious from the most desperate situation. In other words, Italians were France-friendly.

But were the French Italy-friendly? Considering the Italian “coal affair” of 1940, one could very much doubt it, at least in Italy. Mussolini and the Italian top generals, in Spring 1939, were well aware of the joint military conferences held by the British and the French in Europe, Africa (in Djibouti), and Asia (in Singapore) to define a coordinated action against the Germans, the Japanese and the Italians in case of war. And Italian top-brass knew very well that the main problem was that of maritime warfare.

Italy could sustain for a short-term, a land war, with resistance in the Alps. Air war was sustainable too, but African colonies could not be kept without maritime communications. This led to another big problem that Mussolini was aware of – the Italian fleet was not yet ready – and Allies knew it. And this problem was dire, for it hinged in the fleet, and on which depended ultimately national survival. It was the problem of coal.

As it is well known, as soon as the war began in late summer 1939, Italy announced it was “not belligerent,” which meant something similar to neutral, but was not exactly the same. What is often forgotten is that as soon as the war began, Britain and France, but above all Britain, imposed an official blockade on German goods, which evolved into an undeclared blockade of Italian merchant ships – and which above all else was against Italian coal imports.

It was a real disaster for Italy, because 75 percent of the coal needed for daily life came from other countries – by sea from England, Belgium and above all Germany. Normally, Italy needed 17-18 million metric tons of coal per year. In 1940, Italian production was 5,355,000 tons for the 17,882,000 tons needed for the year. In 1941, 17,945,000 tons was needed, while only 6,363,000 was produced, forcing Italy to reduce its import to 11,582,000. In 1942, one third of the needed 16,504,000 tons came from national sources, whilst the remaining – 10,793,000 – was imported. The Royal Navy did its best to make the blockade against Italy as strong as possible, especially from December 1939 onwards. After having met the British ambassador Sir Percy Lorraine in Rome on 30 November, Foreign Minister Ciano wrote in his Diary on December 5, 1939 that Sir Percy was going to Malta to push the British Admiral to soften the blockade and control of Italian ships. Thus, from August 1939, 847 Italian ships were stopped and their goods confiscated, for a financial loss of more than a billion liras; and ships were forced to stay in French or British ports up to one month. There was no alternative, because railway traffic was impossible without locomotives.

The same situation affected other fuels. On June 10, 1940, Italy had a 2.4 million ton reserve of liquid fuels; and in the period of June to December 1940, Italian and Albanian production did not exceed 80,000 tons, with an annual consumption of 2 million, whch, during the war, and up to September 1943, came to 8,799,000 tons. Italian production was clearly insufficient, and thus Italy depended upon imports (from June 1940 to September 1943 amounted to 3,572,000 tons from Germany, 2,150,000 from Romenia and 53,000 from other countries).

And the Allied game appeared clear when, in the winter, England officially announced that it would provide Italy the coal, if Italy accepted to provide the Allies with aircrafts, cannons, weapons and heavy equipment. In other words, Italy would receive coal, if it accepted to deprive itself of weaponry entirely and become the Allies’ arsenal. This would have been paid with coal. No mention was made, or seems to have been made, of crude oil.

The Allies did the same kind of blockade in World War I, especially in 1916-18, to pressure Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark; but that time they asked for “loyal cooperation,” which consisted of organizing local trusts that gave their word to the Allies that what was bought by their own countries would be consumed in their own countries, and not sold to Germany. Thus, the Dutch Trust, the Swiss Economical Surveillance Society and the Danish Merchants’ Cooperative were established. All worked very well, especially in Switzerland, where the Swiss agreed to stop buying abroad and selling to Germany, and bought raw materials producing goods for Allied powers. Basically, in 1940 Britain seems to have looked for a similar arrangement with Italy.

Italian industrialists were quite interested, because Italian societies were selling a lot of trucks and weapons to the Allies in that period. But for the Italian government to officially accept such a proposal would mean exposing Italy to the risk of a German attack with no possibilities of defending the country, given the lack of heavy weapons, and no possibility of moving and manoeuvring troops, given the lack of oil. And this had to be done by accepting British conditions and receiving coal at a price fixed by England. Could Italy risk its integrity to receive coal to be paid in weapons at British fixed price? It was suicide. It was absurd.

So, in autumn 1939 Mussolini substantially had the alternative between the war against the Allies and the acceptance of the Allied ultimatum, that is to say an immediate war against Germany with no possibility of defence. And how could Mussolini hope to receive any help from the Allies, seeing what they gave to their friend and ally, Poland?

Some authors say that the Allies wanted to gain Italy’s help simply to turn German resources from the western front against Italy. If they failed, and Italy entered the war together with Germany, this would only weaken the German war effort, given that Germany would have been obliged to support Italy. As said, there are some Italian authors who suggest it. The most important is the late Franco Bandini, who introduced this idea in his book Tecnica della sconfitta (Technique of Defeat).

The situation appeared quite grim, especially because in that same period British and French fleets began deploying a number of their vessels in the Mediterranean. In the autumn of 1939, the Allies had seven battleships (five British, two French).

According to official information, at the end of December 1939, France had eight battleships (the Courbet, Océan, Paris, Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine, Dunkerque, Strasbourg) and England fifteen (the Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, Valiant, Malaya, Barham, Ramillies, Resolution, Revenge, Royal Oak, Royal Sovereign, Repulse, Renown, Hood, Nelson, Rodney), not considering the Richelieu, first (and only) of a class of four, which was going to join the fleet, as well as the British King George V, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Jellicoe and the Beatty. Germany had at that time the two old battleships the Schlesien and the Schleswig-Holstein (soon declassed to school-ships) and the more modern Deutschland, Admiral Scheer, Admiral Graf von Spee, Scharnorst and Gneisenau, with the Bismarck under construction. So the Pact of Steel had nine scattered battleships, against twenty-three concentrated battleships; and it could hope to have – that is after the end of construction and with no further losses in battle (after having lost the Graf von Spee in the Rio de la Plata on December 17th, and if the Tirpitz could be had on time) to a maximum of sixteen against thirty-two, (and not considering the just sunk Royal Oak, by a German U-boot in October 1939). Thus, the Allies had a one to two advantage.

The Italian fleet, at that time, numbered only two old refurbished battleships – the Giulio Cesare and the Conte di Cavour. By June 1940, two more old refurbished ships (the Caio Duilio and the Andrea Doria), along with the first two super-dreadnoughts of the «Littorio» class (the Littorio and the Vittorio Veneto).

It was clear that under such conditions, in case of war against the Allies before the end of Spring 1940, Italy would have had its fleet immediately destroyed and all its coasts devastated, with annihilation of its merchant traffic, and of many of its major cities, such as, Palermo, Naples, Genoa, Trieste, all along the Leghorn, and up to Venice.

As admiral Romeo Bernotti, the most important Italian naval strategist and theorist, stressed in December 1940, six months after Italy’s declaration of war: “In August 1939, during the period of diplomatic stress, and because of the possibility of the Italy entering the war, the Anglo-French concentrated in the Mediterranean most of their naval forces. At the same time, merchant traffic was displaced from that sea. The displacement ended during Italy’s not-belligerence period, but was presumed three weeks before our intervention. In Anglo-French plans, it was foreseen that the displacement from the Mediterranean would have had a provisional character, would have been a short-termed one, supposing Italy would have been forced to collapse, as a consequence of its naval inferiority and of the quick economical asphyxiation.”

Hitler came to the rescue, and Germany promised, giving its word to Italy, to supply all the needed coal, sending it by rail, and also providing wagons and locomotives. But how do the Germans really feel about Italy? Could Italy trust them or not? Here was another problem.

When Mussolini signed the Steel Pact with the Germans, he signed from a fully defensive position; and the same thing happened at the time of the Antikomintern Pact. Mussolini felt surrounded and isolated and he choose the only alliance he was offered. It was not the best possible alliance Italy and Mussolini could hope for – it was the only one possible. It was far from the best, especially because the German behaviour was not very encouraging. Hitler greatly admired Mussolini, but his staff did not. And, if there was any admiration, it was only for the Duce – it did not extend to Italy and the Italians.

In Berlin, Rome had two quite good officials, in the persons of Ambassador Bernardo Attolico and military attaché General Efisio Marras. Neither one was enthusiastic about the Germans; both were clear-eyed and objective. Attolico was hostile to an alliance with Germany; or, at least, of an alliance as strong as the Germans desired at that time. Attolico’s official correspondence to Rome was filled of warnings. On September 10, 1939 Ciano wrote in his Diary: “Attolico reports that… great popular masses… begin to demonstrate an increasing hostility and that words such as betrayal and perjury are frequently uttered.”

Germany expected – pretended to have – complete Italian support for its policy, right down to the last man and the last drop of blood – but with no independent decision-making power left to Italy. Here is one clear proof: Mussolini was not informed of the invasion of Poland before the attack began, despite what the Steel Pact clearly stipulated. According to the Germans, Italy could only follow the Reich and its policy, as evidenced by Attolico’s reports.

The Germans, Ribbentrop, did not like Attolico at all, and often asked that he be recalled, which happened in Spring 1940, because he was very ill and thus forced to leave the embassy and go back to Italy, where he died soon after.

But if Attolico’s reports were always dimly viewed in Rome, because of Attolico’s well-known attitude, it was not the same with Marras’ reports. General Marras was quite well liked by the Germans, who held him in good regard. He was also considered as being attuned with official policy than Attolico. That is why his evaluations were carefully considered by both Ciano and Mussolini. And we can easily see the results that his reports had.

On August 25 and 26, 1939, Marras he wrote to Rome about the atmosphere within German high command and political circles as, “Decisively close to breaking-point” with Italy, largely thanks to Ribbentrop who had done his best to convince everybody that Italy was ready to march along with Germany at the first shot.

Thus, the “non-belligerence” declared by Mussolini had a terrible and negative impact in Germany, and it was immediately reported to Rome from different sources that it had been described as “the second betrayal,” (the first betrayal being the change Italy did in 1915 when it entered the Great War on the side of Allies).

Apart from Marras’ reports, there were many other signals that could be cause for worry. All these are reported in Ciano’s Diary; and it would be onerous to repeat them all here. On September 9, 1939, Ciano reported that the Hungarian minister in Rome “…spoke clearly. He said which threat would hang over the world, Italy included, should Germany win the war… Anti-italian hatred is always alive in the German spirit, also if the Axis for a short time chloroformed it. The Duce was shaken and very upset.”

Then, there were rumors from Austria of annexing Trieste, or the whole of the Po valley. A Czech reporter described a harsh anti-Italian speech by a Nazi official in Southern Germany in 1939. There were similar reports and warnings from the Hungarian ambassador. All these added up to a hostile and wide-spread anti-Italian sentiment in the German population. It is possible that Mussolini did not care at all about these minor bits if information. But what certainly made him quite worried was the oral report Marras made directly to him in Rome, on March 4, 1940.

Ciano was there and later reported in his Diary that Marras was rather pessimistic about the German attitude toward Italy: “In spite of formal respect, he is convinced that the Germans have unmitigated hate, and worse, contempt, for us, for what they call the second betrayal. No war objective would be as popular in Germany, for the old and new generations, than an armed descent to the blue skies and warm seas. These and other things Marras honestly told the Duce, who was quite badly shaken by this.”

So, it was surely not by chance that Mussolini ordered the construction of the so-called “Alpine Wall of the Littorio,” that is to say, the mountain fortified system which was supposed to stop every entrance into Italy. The order was issued in the winter of 1940, and people worked 24 hours per day, under the artificial glare of photoelectrical light of the Army during the night, and using up all the iron and concrete available in Italy. At the same time, the Army staff concentrated Italian armoured units in the eastern part of the Padana Plain, to guard against an attack from Austria by the Reich.

Eyewitness geometrist Angiolino Savelli (in his talk with me in 1989), who had director in winter 1939-1940. In spite of all the efforts, the result was not very impressive. Engineer Corps Colonel – later Brigadier – Guido Lami, who directed a portion of the works on the eastern alpine border at that time, angrily commented: “The Germans have the Siegfried Line, the French have the Maginot and we have the Dull Line,” as Mrs. Elda Lami told me in 1990.

After the war, an author questioned the reason for such a double measure – standing and mobile defence, respectively represented by the Alpine Wall and the tanks unit – and some critics said that it was proof of tactical uncertainty and a waste of resources. But, apart from the fact that it had clearly been done after the 1917 experience, when, after Caporetto, the standing defence had been unable to stop the amassed and fast-moving enemy, and there had been nothing on the rear-line to stop them – now, in 1940, it was not a mistake, but the only way to stop a motorized German offensive able to pass through the fixed mountain defences.

And what was the German reaction, if any? Marras reported that the German general staff, in Spring 1940, long before the attack on the Netherlands and Belgium, had hinted that it had increased the forces in Southern Germany and, as Marras wrote, perhaps as a silent response to the rumors published by the press about the Alpine Wall.

When considering all these factors, it is most interesting to follow the evolution of Mussolini’s attitude toward the war during winter 1939-1940, according to what Ciano reported in his Diary. In early 1940, Rome warned Brussels and Amsterdam that Germany was planning an attack on them. By doing so, it meant to stymie the path that the Germans had chosen. And on January 3, 1940, Mussolini sent Hitler a friendly and decisive letter, which was received on 8 January 8th. In it, Mussolini suggested that Hitler reach a negotiated peace with the Allies, leaving Poland as a demonstration of good will, and he told Hitler that Italy reserved the right to enter the war only at the most favourable moment.

Ribbentrop summoned Attolico and asked for an explanation. Did Italy think, or was Italy insinuating, that the Reich was not able to win the war? And what was that “most favourable moment?” It was clear that Italy had no intention of remaining fully allied with the German plans and desires. Unfortunately, it was too late to change Italy’s position.Mussolini’s mistake was made back in 1938, when, after the so called “Easter Accords,” where England officially recognized Italian rule in Ethiopia, and until the signing of the Steel Pact, Italian foreign policy had the opportunity – a 10 months long opportunity – to leave the rigid trap in which Germany was putting Italy, and it was mainly because of Mussolini that this opportunity was lost.

And later? One can easily imagine how the “Italian betrayal” would be repaid by the Germans.

Here, I think there is room to open a broader discussion, as to whether or not this was the major and most probable reason for Italian engagement in World War II. According to what has been discussed here, one may conclude that it was not to gain territories (by the way, Mussolini had foregone all that in January 1939), although the new situation could permit to take something, and even permitting Mussolini to think of territorial acquisition. It seems also more than possible, if not probable, that Italy declared war because Germany was going to win the war, and England was going to lose, while the United States could not enter the war because American public opinion rejected this possibility and their President had first to think of his re-election in the fall of 1940.

The American Presidential election in 1940 was gearing up to be the harshest ever had in the USA, because the Democrats had nominated Roosevelt for the third time, and the Republicans opposed him saying that no Presient had ever ruled for more than two terms. In order to win, Roosevelt inserted two Republicans – Stimson and Knox – in his cabinet, giving them the War and the Navy Secretariates, and, above all, promising the people not to involve the USA in the European war. The result was quite good in terms of State ballots – Roosevelt gained 38 out of 48 – but inferior to the previous election in number of ballots, because in Autumn 1940 Roosevelt received 27,243,466 votes and his adversary 22,304,755, that is to say, Roosevelt got 54,98%, whilst in 1936 he had received 24,751,597 against 16,697,583, that is to say, 59,71%, and he got 46 out of 48 States. Under these conditions, it is obvious that nobody in Winter and Spring 1940 could be 100% sure about the prosecution of Roosevelt’s policy after December 1940, because there were some doubts about his victory in the Presidential election in November; and, above all, it was quite hard to even suppose an American intervention after what Roosevelt had promised.

And, above all, because June 1940 was the month when the Italian fleet got four battleships the Caio Duilio, the Andrea Doria, the Littorio and the Vittorio Veneto, with a fifth one forthcoming, the Roma. This ensured naval parity in the Mediterranean, the safety of the coasts, the protection of maritime traffic with the colonies the end of the British threat, which had begun in September 1939. In effect, Italy was looking at equalling the British in weaponry, siding with the indicative winner of the war (Germany), and in order to give Germany no possibility of attacking and destroying Italy after the victory over the Allies.

It may all seem absurd now, but only because all are accustomed to think that Mussolini declared war to gain something as a jackal and no more. But if we carefully consider the situation as found in the documents and as seen in the Italian economic, political and military situation of that time, I wonder whether any doubt can still remain. Mussolini feared German victory and was practically sure that Germany’s next move would be, soon or later, against Italy; and Italy was too weak to resist. Russia was allied to Germany, the United States – better, the American people, except for their President, who was ending his second term by the end of 1940 – were far removed from the idea of going to war to support England. And, as for England – hostile – was beaten on land and sea, France was invaded and destroyed. What remained for Italy? Who would and could support Italy? Franco? Salazar? Japan? Against Germany? Unbelievable.

Let’s go back to Acerbo’s rather rhetorically written memoirs, where we find a confirmation, which, errors excepted, is the only existing one: “In taking his decision, it is also possible that he [Mussolini] feared the Teutonic dragon, which he himself had fed and which would swallow the whole of Europe, and damage, in the process, the interests of Italy which had already lost its traditional position of influence. As an effect of the incredible German victories, which embodied the Nazi concept of the ‘Lebensraum,’ Mussolini, attracted by the sound of this concept, also quickly inserted it into the list of our claims, not caring if this concept suited our specific needs, or if it strengthened the Reich’s pretension. But ‘Lebensraum’ was inherited from the Second Reich, that is, the need of the German nation to have a way down to the Mediterranean through Trieste. And one must add that the exalting of that people’s super-nationalism, grown red-hot by of the military victories, now menaced to undo the agreements concerning the Upper Adige… So, according to Mussolini, it was better not to linger anymore in taking sides with the winner, if we wanted to avoid irreparable misfortunes on us, and, at the same time, to participate in the sharing of the booty. It is not to my knowledge, by the way, that Mussolini, during military meetings or occasional talks in the days before the intervention, pointed out this argument, to support his decisions. One began talking about it only later, when the fortunes of war were taking a turn for the worse for us, to justify the irreparable step taken.”

So, according to Acerbo, the fear of what the Germans could do after their victory existed, but how should we be surprised if Mussolini does not mention it in 1940? For a long time, he had glorified Italy’s power, exalted Germany’s friendship, and attacked France and Britain. Thus, how could he now say that he was joining Germany in war because he not only distrusted it, but because he feared it? Would he not cut a very poor figure? So, it is no surprise that these two reasons are never mentioned, not even in the slightest of conversations. Mussolini did not say these reasons, because he could not lose face.

As for everything else, all that Acerbo reports is true and can be verified through, for instance, Ciano’s Diary. Thus, it is true – and Ciano reports it – that in Austria and in Germany people, from the lowest level up to some Gauleiters, openly spoke of taking Trieste and the Friuli. It is true – and Goebbels wrote it more or less clearly in his journal after September 1943 – that the Reich liked the idea of pushing its border south of Venice. And it is true that, despite the formal agreements about transferring people (those who chose to do so) from Upper Adige to Germany, the Germans were involved in chicanery, in the autumn of 1939, so that it seemed that everything was delayed until the end of 1942, while in actuality, the transfer was to proceed a lot faster.

Therefore, Mussolini chose war. Again, Acerbo reports that he was made aware, by Marshall Rodolfo Graziani, after the war, while they were both in jail, on Procida Island, awaiting trial: “…of a briefing Mussolini held on April 10th [1940] with the commanders of the military (including the Crown Prince) and the Army Corps, and that he secretly announced that Italy was going to enter the war, specifying, ‘not together with Germany, nor for Germany, but on the side of Germany.’”

Immediately thereafter Acerbo comments that it was: “One of those alliterations he loved so much, and with such clumsiness, he was sure, in his last years, to unravel however an intricate a matter might be, and thus to overcome every obstacle and pass over the steepest position!” Acerbo knew Mussolini quite well and spoke about him carefully. But we must admit that this phrase may also be explained that Italy entered the war because of the fear of Germany – thus, not allied to the Reich, not to give the Reich advantage, but on the side of the Reich; and, we might add, in order not to give the Reich a reason to attack Italy afterwards.

Was Acerbo the only eyewitness? No, there is further evidence, starting in the spring of 1939. On March 15th, Ciano and Mussolini were concerned and worried about the German annexation of

Czechoslovakia. Quoting Dante Alighieri, Mussolini told Ciano that the thing to do was “To accept the German game in order to avoid being ‘unpleasant to God and to His enemies.’” In the days that followed, Mussolini and Ciano talked about this issue. Ciano wrote: “Egli thinks the Prussian hegemony in Europe is already established. He thinks that a coalition of all the other powers, including us, could slow the German expansion but could not stop it… I asked whether in such a condition it is convenient for us to make the alliance; or, instead, to keep our full liberty of choosing in the future, according to our interests. The Duce shows himself to be clearly in favour of the alliance.”

This is not exactly an admission, but there is more. News about the bad attitude of the Germans toward the Italians came through many channels, and on August 18, 1939, five days after having seen Hitler in Berchtesgaden, Ciano wrote that Mussolini “fears Hitler’s wrath. He thinks that a denunciation – or anything similar – of the [Steel] Pact convince Hitler to abandon the Polish issue get Italy to foot the bill.”

But this too must be considered carefully, for it could be a sort of self-defence by Ciano. However, it becomes additional evidence when you we place it in context with what Acerbo wrote. Regardless, we have more.

On September 9, 1939, the Hungarian ambassador told Mussolini that, should Germany win the war, a terrible threat would descend upon the whole world, including Italy.
On September 10, the Italian ambassador to Berlin visited the Duce and told him that the German people, when told of Italian non-intervention, started speaking of betrayal.
On September 30, according to the minister of National Education, Giuseppe Bottai, when speaking of fuel supply-chains needed by the Army and the Air Force, Mussolini said that he did not want to start the war until he had them: “With whom and against whom? A quick hint: ‘… until these reserves are met, we shall not engage – not with group A, nor with group B.’ The possibility of a choice between two rivals yet existed.”

On December 8, 1939, there was a long meeting of the Great Council of Fascism about the Italian position. After an order by Mussolini, Ciano detailed the whole situation. Ciano related all the tricks and lies of the Germans up to that moment. In his Diary he briefly mentions this, but Bottai reported that Mussolini said: “Italy? She declares her loyalty to the pacts (“don’t we have, by the way, also a pact with England?”) – and waits the outcomes. Here there are two empires in a fight, two lions. We have no interest in an overwhelming victory of any of the two. If England should win, she will not leave us other than the sea for taking a bath. If Germany [should win she will not leave us] even any air to breathe. One can only wish that the two lions tear each other to pieces, leaving just their tails on the ground. And that we go and pick up their tails.”

A few more rumors of unfriendly German attitude were reported in the next few weeks. Then, on March 4, 1940, the Duce met General Marras, the Italian military attaché in Berlin. Ciano reported: “I accompany the Duce to General Marras, who is rather pessimistic about the German mind toward us. “In spite of formal respect, he is convinced that the Germans have unmitigated hate, and worse, contempt, for us, for what they call the second betrayal. No war objective would be as popular in Germany, for the old and new generations, as an armed descent to the blue skies and warm seas. These and other things Marras honestly told the Duce, who was quite badly shaken.”

According to Ciano, on April 10, 1940, after the German occupation of Denmark and landing in Norway, Mussolini said: “The King would have us join in, just to pick up the broken pots. Hope they will not break them on hour heads!”

Who were “they?” Ciano does not say; nor does he say whether Mussolini later was clearer about it. But when considering the contemporary situation at that moment, it’s hard to think that “they” could be the Allies.

It is true that after August 18, 1939, Ciano never wrote that the Duce feared the Germans. But he told other people, at least Bottai, who, on March 29, 1940 noted in his diary that Ciano, when speaking of Mussolini, told him: “Germany winning by herself alone frightens him.” Said this way, this may mean that Mussolini was frightened, as he thought that Germany could act against Italy after having won in the West. But this may also mean that if Germany won without Italian help, Italian diplomatic situation would be weaker. Which of the two? We don’t know. But there is additional evidence of Mussolini’s fear, and we get it from Filippo Anfuso who, at that time, was the Chief of the Office of the Foreign Minister Ciano. Anfuso wrote in his memoirs that when, in Spring 1940, Mussolini noticed that Goering asked the new Italian ambassador in Berlin, Dino Alfieri, the date of the Italian intervention, he said: “… if Goering spoke that way, it seems clear that we cannot back down. After France, one day, it could be our turn, and it would beat everything to have signed a Pact called a Steel Pact and then to be invaded by Germany and be on top of the anvil.”

That should be enough, but we have more. General Roatta, who had been the military attaché in Berlin before Marras and later became one of the foremost army commanders, wrote that Mussolini, during the period of neutrality: “… considered the possibility if not to enter the war on the Allied side, the at least to have to face some excessive German demands and prevarication. He perfectly realized, at that time, the German mentality and the dangers she could pose for us. In November ’39, when I was back from Berlin – where I had been military attaché – to be appointed Army Deputy Chief of Staff, Mussolini asked me what I thought about the future intentions of the Reich, and about the countries occupied during the war, and I decidedly answered that, in case of victory, the Reich will annex, in one way or in another, not only the occupied countries, but also the states nearby, excluding none, and introducing in all of them what in Berlin was called “die deutsche Ordnung,” that is to say “the German order.” This assessment the Duce heard without any surprise.”

This is important, but not definitive, because it took place about November 1939. Although this is less important, or had lesser influence, than what Marras said in March 1940, nevertheless, together with the others, it too provides additional evidence for the larger view, and underlines a continuity between what Roatta said and what Marras confirmed six months later.

The second source is provided by general Emilio Faldella, in his L’Italia e la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, first published in 1959. Faldella was a veteran who had been in the military intelligence and then was the chief, in 1937 to 1939, of the Italian Military Mission in Spain to General Franco. Later, Faldella was appointed to many important posts, and had deep inside knowledge about a lot of things. In the first chapter of his book, he wrote three times that Mussolini (in 1939 to 1940) feared German revenge or retaliation. Faldella wrote that on May 11, 1940, after having received the message dated on May 9th, announcing to him the German attack on France, Mussolini “revealed to Sebastiani his intimate thoughts: ‘If we continue with neutrality, as many would like, we too will get a nice Pope’s indignation telegram to be flapped in front of the occupying Germans!’ The fear of German revenge increased as time passed.”

The second mention of Mussolini’s fear is made by Faldella quoting the already mentioned witness by Anfuso. The third is Faldella’s own opinion. He writes: “The more the possibility of a German victory appeared certain, the more Mussolini feared Hitler’s revenge.” We have two problems here. The first is that the latter assessment, if Faldella’s own (and whoever has dealt with Italian military history knows how reliable and cautious he was), he wrote, one can easily assume, by way of personal knowledge, derived from his position before and during the war. The second problem is about Sebastiani’s quotation. As is known, Osvaldo Sebastiani was Mussolini’s personal secretary from 1934 to 1941. Unfortunately, Faldella, as was normal at that time, did not mention the source of that Sebastiani’s quotation. Sebastiani mysteriously disappeared in 1944 when some unknown people picked him up at home. It would be very interesting to know where Faldella found that information. But that is now impossible find. But we can admit that given Faldella’s uncontested reliability, what he wrote must be true indeed.

The last eyewitness is the former Minister of Colonies Alessandro Lessona, who, in his memoirs, wrote twice that Mussolini entered the war because he feared the Germans.

Here, we have an additional reliability problem, Lessona left the ministry by the end of 1937, and in 1940 was simply a professor at the university of Rome. His memoirs appeared only in 1958 and must be taken cautiously, for he could have modified facts here and there. Of course, one of Lessona’s cousins was General Pirzio Biroli, an army commander, and Lessona was on very good terms with many prominent people of the Regime, including Badoglio, Balbo and Bottai. Thus, he could have known from one or some of them about what he wrote; that is to say that in 1940 Mussolini felt the victory to be on the German side and. “Thus, convinced of serving Italian interests, he intervened in the war to prevent the winner getting his revenge on Italy, when the winner was disposing the future of Europe.” Many pages later, he says, “The tragic decision of entering the war (I, who was absolutely against it, must say that) has a moving reason: That of having thought to give the Italian people at last the hoped-for prosperity, and to safeguard the people against revenge in case of a German victory.”

It is impossible to assess whether what Lessona wrote was due to what he knew from a first- or second-hand source; and, if the latter, we do not know which source it was; nor we can determine whether (in case it was only his personal opinion) it was grounded in political reality, or was simply an attempt to justify Mussolini. Regardless, when added to other evidence. Lessona’s witness is validated, whose reliability is indirectly confirmed by all the others I have already quoted. Thus, it is an additional brick in our construction,

In order to avoid the war with Germany, the only thing Mussolini could have done was to join Germany, thus calming the Germans and depriving them of the possibility of complaining and protesting for the lack of any Italian commitment. Thereafter, he would fight a parallel war – as it was called – by continually avoiding German involvement with Italy, and to gain whatever was possible. But most of all to wait, and keep Italian forces as much intact as possible, in order to resist German encroachment, and, if possible, meet the clash with Germany which one could predict was not so far off in the future. Italy did not want such a clash and had done what it could to avoid the war. But now neutrality was no longer possible. It was either war alongside the Germans, or war against the Germans. But absolutely, war. Thus, on June 10th. Mussolini made the announcement to the world.

We know that Mussolini imagined that peace talks would begin shortly; with only a few weeks of war and a few casualties. The few casualties, however, had their own political and military impact. Moreover, as said and as an appalled Marshal Enrico Caviglia remarked in his journal, Italy had practically no money, as the competent minister admitted in front of the Chamber of the Fasci and Corporations – the new name of the Chamber of Deputies.

The situation remained critical and Mussolini decided to safeguard Italian military power in case of a German-Italian clash in the post-war era. In the best-case scenario, the current war would weaken Germany so much that Hitler would prefer not to attack Italy. In the worst-case scenario, Italy would at least have the power to resist. Conversely, the Germans looked with suspicion and derision at Italy. Marshal Caviglia wrote that under these circumstances, Italy undertook a very strange strategy – to declare war on France and Britain but only move forces when the end of the war was near. This way, Mussolini could demonstrate that his troops were fighting and it would be sufficient to claim territory as compensation for participation.

Additional proof of this approach by Mussolini may be given by the armistice with France. As is well known, the Italian offensive on the Western Alps was a failure; and it is also well known that no attempt was made against Corsica, Provence, or the French colonies, such as, Tunisia and French Somaliland. It is true that a landing in Provence would have been difficult, given the French stronghold of Toulon. But one must also remember that if Italy did nothing against France, France had a lot against Italy, despite the brief shelling of Genoa and some other irrelevant shelling along the Ligurian coast.

What happened after ceasefire ceased well known too. Italy was on the winning side but asked for only 83.271 hectares, that is to say 832 square kilometers and three quarters. It was definitely not much, especially when discovering that during the Italo-German meeting held on June 18, 1940 in Munich, Hitler recognized the right of the Italians’ demand to occupy continental France up to the Rhône, as well as Corsica, Tunisia and Djibouti. But this was not enough for Hitler: He also advised Italy to widen the occupation to a belt along the Swiss border, to link the German occupation zone to the Italian one, thus isolating non-occupied France. Hitler hoped to extend the Italian occupied zone right up to the Saône, including any good railway line which the Italians were free to take. General Mario Roatta, the former commander of Italian volunteers in Spain, who spoke excellent German, on June 20th chose the line linking Chambéry, Dijon, and Bourg-en-Bresse and submitted his project to Hitler in person, who then also approved the project of giving Italy another similar railway into Spain, such as, the Avignon-Nîmes-Perpignan line, consequently widening the Italian occupation of Southern France.

But Mussolini refused. In fact, Roatta and the Italian mission had achieved a great result, far more than what one could expect after what was done on the Alps. So, why did Mussolini not accept it? And, above all, why did he not accept, when considering that on June 23 German military attaché Enno von Rintelen gave Roatta a personal telegram from Hitler, in which Hitler asked Italian troops be sent to a zone twenty kilometers from Geneva, in order to join the German forces, and when considering that the Wiesbaden Italo-German agreements of June 29, 1940 left to Italy a portion of French territory up to the Rhône?

This seems to be quite different from what is normally known after the surviving draft of the minutes written by P. Schmidt. But while German documents were mainly destroyed during the war, practically all the Italian documents survived. So, both the Italian official accounts published by the Italian Army Staff’s Historical Service were written after a careful and long consideration of the original documents, still conserved in the Army Archive in Rome. Further details could come from General Roatta’s private archive, which is still the property of the Roatta family, and remains inaccessible. The only point the Italian documents have in common with Schmidt’s draft is that Hitler asked Mussolini not to ask the French for their fleet, explaining that he feared this could push the French to give the British all their ships.

The reason is given by the official Italian account about the occupation of France, where is highlighted an aspect previously remarked upon in other official accounts about the Western Alps campaign. When Mussolini asked Roatta how many divisions were needed to garrison occupied France, Roatta answered that, before the foreseen disarmament of the French Army, Italy must keep there at least fifteen divisions, which later could be reduced to ten, but never less than ten. Mussolini replied that he could demand from France nothing more than what had been already been taken. that is to say, nothing or a just little more. This has always been seen as a bad conscience and the acknowledgment of the poor performance by Italian troops on the Alps. But, as both the official accounts underline, in June 1940, the Italian army had in Italy only fifty-three divisions; and sending fifteen divisions would seriously deplete the army. That is, or at least could be, a concrete reason to explain why Mussolini refused. And it a far more concrete reason than either conscience or shame.

Hitler would use a widened Italian occupation as a way to reduce the number of German troops garrisoning in France. But Mussolini probably looked at it as a problem. Having a huge number of troops far from their supply points, close to the Germans and separated from Italy by the Alps meant too many troops, too far away – thus, too much risk, too many problems. Thus, best to do nothing at all. Both official accounts suggest that Mussolini acted this way because he was thinking of further conquests and needed troops. My opinion is that this was added demonstration of what was probably Mussolini’s fear – he considered the Germans more a risk and potential enemy than as an ally, and thus he preferred to keep in hand as many troops as possible. The discussion – if any – is open.

Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, is the Secretary General of the Italian Commission of Military History. He is the author of 25 books, and more than 400 other smaller works\, published in Italy and abroad, and mostly dealing with modern and contemporary Italian military history and policy.

The image shows An Italian of Mussolini, an aerial portrait by Mario Carli, painted 1931.

Notes From The End Of Philosophy

Rémi Brague, in Anchors in Heaven: The Metaphysical Infrastructure of Human Life, is concerned with what has become a central question in prosperous Western societies: Should we have children? If the human species should go on existing (which is taken for granted in the book), what assumptions are required for us to keep it going?

This question becomes all the more urgent as we witness what Aron called the demographic suicide of Europe. Implicit in the latter concern is the suicide of European culture as opposed to Islamic families in Europe for whom this is apparently not an issue. This seems, as we shall see, to be a special problem for Western intellectuals.

One can offer many causes for this demographic suicide, but Brague is not interested in causes but in reasons. That is, he is interested in the philosophical rationales for not procreating that have appeared throughout the history of philosophy but which have intensified since the 19th-century vogue for nihilism.

Brague seeks to understand how philosophy could have evolved into this morass. In his short book, he launches into an impressive philosophical tour-de-force that will make quite a few demands on the reader. The subtitle of the book is “The Metaphysical Infrastructure of Human Life.” As I understand his account, metaphysics evolved into the central issue of “being,” or a concern with the fundamental truths.

While “Being” in classical and medieval thought was originally focused on the world as a whole, modern philosophy (Descartes onwards) changed the focus to how we come to know being, the “truth” about being, or a shift to epistemology. This evolved even further with Kant into a concern for the “human being” or knower. In the 19th-century, it became even more clear that the knower actually projects meaning or truth onto the world and this projection has both a history and many varieties. This led in turn to the question of whether what we project is “good?” Unfortunately, we no longer had any reference point for answering this question. It was a short step from this to the conclusion that there is no way of anchoring the “good.”

Philosophically, “life” had lost its meaning. Further elucidation did not help. While we might no longer fear death, we might fear the losing of our life. But even this fear does not amount to an argument for “giving” life in the act of procreation or “sacrificing” one’s life for someone else’s life. We might love (enjoy) living but this does not entail that we should love giving life. In fact, armed with a little bit of philosophical nihilism we might justify wallowing in what Nietzsche described as the life of the “last man,” focused only on personal pleasure.

What is required is a new kind of reason to give life. Once more returning to the philosophical tradition, Brague references those thinkers like Mirandola who saw that free will (not reason) is what was unique to humanity. Brague maintains that this makes preserving freedom an end-in-itself; and that, given our personal finitude, giving life to others (or sacrificing for others) through procreation is or should be our highest aspiration. In this, he claims to have established “The Anchors in the Heavens.”

Brague’s scholarship is impeccable and wide-ranging. One cannot but agree with his identification and formulation of the issue. In addition, I would subscribe personally and whole-heartedly to his conclusion that what distinguishes us is our free-will, that freedom is an end in itself, and we should give life to others. In what follows I want to arrive at the same conclusions by a slightly different route. I note with approval Brague’s referencing literary figures and others outside of the narrow field of philosophy.

What follows might seem like a lengthy digression, but the capacity of intellectuals to muddy the waters (this does not apply to Brague) seems to be without limits. The field of philosophy itself contributes to the problem.

The Troubles With Philosophy

I maintain that professional philosophy is an obstacle to understanding. I shall offer three arguments. The first is that a careful study of the history of so-called “philosophy” will show that philosophy has defined itself out of existence. Second, one major strand of contemporary philosophy, analytic philosophy, appeals to science in such a way that to do so is to allow science to engage in the assisted suicide of philosophy. Finally, the other major strand of contemporary philosophy, Continental philosophy, has reduced philosophy to mindless advocacy.

One of Brague’s earliest, and to me, most important points is terminological. “Metaphysics,” which is supposed to be the most fundamental part of philosophy, was originally, in classical Greek, ta meta ta physika, the title of one particular book or collection of Aristotle’s lectures. It is not a term from Plato or any earlier thinker. The expression might mean “after” or “before” the book entitled “physics.” It is not clear whether this was a name given by a librarian to identify the position of a “book” on a shelf, or perhaps meant to be read before the “physics” and therefore somehow more fundamental. A version of the expression appears in the third century Greek and in Arabic in the ninth century. The expression becomes a noun “metaphysics” in a twelfth-century translation into Latin, and its history continues thereafter.

I think a similar account can be given of the term “philosophy” itself. Is it a kind of book, a noun, an adjective, or a discipline? There is no continuous and unambiguous history of the discipline of “philosophy.” You would look in vain for an entry on “philosophy” in a contemporary dictionary of philosophy, or an encyclopedia of philosophy. To be sure, there is an Academic discipline called “philosophy,” but you would be hard-pressed to distinguish among “philosophers,” “teachers” of philosophy or “historians” of philosophy. Likewise, there are people called astrologers, books on astrology, etc., people who are paid to cast horoscopes as well as offer advice and make predictions. But, unfortunately, there is no connection between the positions of heavenly bodies and human destiny.

What does the History of “Philosophy” show us? In the beginning, no distinction was made among intellectual disciplines. One popular formulation of the differences (Frankfort) has been among three things:

Mythopoeic thought > Hebrew monotheism > Greek Philosophy (world explains itself).

Among the latter, Plato and Aristotle (responsible for two perennial but alternative modes of thought) have been the most influential, down to the present. Aristotle offered a history leading up to him; such teleological accounts keep reappearing depending upon who the historian is. This makes the history of philosophy and philosophy itself all about “me.” An important feature of this kind of history is the assumption that the same principles explain both the non-human and the human world.

An important transition occurred with the advent of modernity (Descartes to Kant), the recognition that meaning is something human beings project onto the world. Copernicanism upends the whole tradition – knowledge = how human beings understand the world. How we understand ourselves is fundamental; how we understand the non-human world is derivative.

Within the foregoing framework, the seventeenth-century introduced the distinction between natural philosophy (non-human world) and moral philosophy (human world). In the eighteenth-century, the human world became more complicated, as it was recognized that how we understand ourselves obviously has an historical dimension. This raises the current ongoing issue of relativism.

Hegel was, officially, the last philosopher to put it all together, specifically by making the knower and the known identical and by recognizing the historical nature of the whole. Hegel also recognized that the arts, religion, and philosophy were all different ways of expressing the same truth. It was now not clear what philosophy could be hereafter except a limited canon with some pretentious terminology. Some writers (Fukuyama on Kojeve) have interpreted Hegel so that liberal societies are the end of all history. Apparently, nobody has informed the Chinese about this.

Philosophy came to an end with Hegel. This is not meant either to praise or bury Hegel but to call attention to a discipline now without a role. It is my hope that this will also shed some light on the waste in the contemporary intellectual landscape. Nor is this meant to delegitimize everything done by people now associated with this “passé” discipline. Anybody in any discipline, who attempts to clarify concepts, identify basic presuppositions, and discuss the origin, history and evolution of our conceptual framework can be said to be doing philosophy.

Moral philosophy has subsequently evolved into myriad disciplines, known as the so-called “social sciences.” Here, the dance begins to repeat itself. Some understand the model of all science to be mathematics or physics; others prefer biological models; still others insist that the “social” sciences are not really sciences but either sui generis or ideologies masquerading as science.

Psychology, for example, claims to be the science of how we understand ourselves; but psychologists are split among those who think such a “science” is either “mechanical” (physics is the model), “organic” (biology is the model), or sui generis. If psychology is some kind of hard science, as analytic philosophers maintain, then philosophy has just defined itself out of existence. Philosophy can be no more than an account of the methodology and history of science, something done in other disciplines. What does philosophy mean now that it is not a separate discipline or subject matter?

Those who understand that the human/social world is sui generis, for example, Hayek, point out that both Hume and Kant saw that science rests upon values that cannot be scientifically certified. Some other kind of understanding is necessary. The best example of someone who makes this case today is Wayne Cristaudo in his recent (2020) book Idolizing the Idea. Philosophy is not about eternal truths. The proper role of philosophy is not to answer questions which require all sorts of extra-philosophical knowledge, but to question the questions that lead our inquiries about ourselves. In order to do this adequately requires a hermeneutical, dialogical, and anthropological approach.

The contemporary alternative to analytic philosophy is Continental philosophy (structuralism, deconstruction, postmodernism, etc.) They are all philosophies of anti-domination and limitless freedom. These too suffer from the failure to understand how the world came to be the way it is and why it is the way it is. Both major movements have become a major source of social ill, folly, and division.

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 Frenzied Woman by Odd Nerdrum, painted 2005-2007.

Victorian Values

Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-89) was a once eminent but now unfairly forgotten Victorian. He had many virtues – a major figure in the Student Volunteer Movement, a pioneer in the study of African literature and the object of Karl Marx’s hearty dislike.

If remembered, it is for his didactic moralising, his prose taking the form of blank verse, which culminates in his classic epic, Proverbial Philosophy. Each Tupper line, truth be told, contains its own little piece of wisdom.

In an age of vacuous and godless relativism, his sonorous proselytising is a veritable breath of fresh air. At least twice, I have read out many lines of Tupper at wedding receptions, counselling the radiant bride and randy groom as to how they might best comport themselves in later married life, and have been deemed a jolly fine fellow for so doing. Whether you are happily married, eager to marry, or merely intellectually curious, I entreat you to share these fine Tupper lines with me. First though, here’s a joke. What did the servants of Mr and Mrs Martin Tupper call their food storage containers? Tupperware™

Excerpt from Martin Tupper, Proverbial Philosophy, ‘On Marriage’

Mark the converse of one thou lovest, that it be simple and sincere;
For an artful or false woman shall set thy pillow with thorns.
Observe her deportment with others, when she thinketh not that thou art nigh,
For with thee will the blushes of love conceal the true colour of her mind.
Hath she learning? it is good, so that modesty go with it:
Hath she wisdom? it is precious, but beware that thou exceed;
For woman must be subject, and the true mastery is of the mind.
Be joined to thine equal in rank, or the foot of pride will kick at thee;
And look not only for riches, lest thou be mated with misery:
Marry not without means; for so shouldst thou tempt Providence;
But wait not for more than enough; for Marriage is the DUTY of most men:
Grievous indeed must be the burden that shall outweigh innocence and health,
And a well-assorted marriage hath not many cares.
In the day of thy joy consider the poor; thou shall reap a rich harvest of blessing;
For these be the pensioners of One who filleth thy cup with pleasures:
In the day of thy joy be thankful: He hath well deserved thy praise:
Mean and selfish is the heart that seeketh Him only in sorrow.
For her sake who leaneth on thine arm, court not the notice of the world,
And remember that sober privacy is comelier than public display.
If thou marriest, thou art allied unto strangers; see they be not such as shame thee:
If thou marriest, thou leavest thine own; see that it be not done in anger.

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, “The Wedding Register,” by Edmund Blair Leighton, painted 1920.

The Failure Of Conservatism

Michael Anton is the man who today best communicates the fractures among the Right. He identifies, and exemplifies, growing incompatibilities among conservatives, both on the issues of the day and in beliefs about desirable political structures. Anton first came to public notice under a pseudonym, Publius Decius Mus, writing in 2016 during the brief life of a pro-Trump blog, the Journal of American Greatness.

In September of that year, Anton published a famous essay, “The Flight 93 Election.” His first point was that, like the passengers of Flight 93, Americans opposed to the permanent boot-stamping dominance of the Left had an existential choice. They could, as it were, charge the cockpit by taking a chance on Trump. Or they could passively accept Hillary, and face certain political death. His second point was that their behavior when faced with this choice showed that the conservative movement, as it exists now, was wholly worthless. These claims were, no surprise, controversial.

Within a few weeks Anton revealed his identity; after the election he worked for several months in the Trump White House, in the national security apparatus, until the swamp creatures managed to come to dominate the West Wing and the populism of Trump’s early months evaporated. So he departed for Hillsdale College in Michigan, and, for now, the life of a public intellectual. I hope he doesn’t spend the rest of his days in that role; he would probably agree that we have enough public intellectuals and not enough doers. My guess is that soon enough, in the unsettled times ahead, he will find a new role.

This 2018 pamphlet reprints the original “Flight 93” essay, a follow-up “Restatement” also published prior to the election, and a new essay, “Pre-Statement on Flight 93.” This last tells us what, exactly, it is that Anton wants our politics to be, to meet the criticism that he had earlier offered only a negative vision. In all these essays, Anton’s basic point is the same one as I am always hammering—we are in a new thing in American history, an existential struggle between the forces of Right and Left, respectively good and evil, and there can be only one. The Left has always known this and acted accordingly, with malice aforethought; the Right, or part of the Right, is coming to realize it. Between the modern Left and the principles of virtue there is no middle ground; there is no compromise; there is no universe in which the principles of the Left can continue to be allowed a seat at the public table. They must be defeated, and suppressed, root and branch. We must awake, and those Lotos-Eaters putatively on the Right who refuse to rouse from slumber must be thrown overboard. So says Anton, in essence, and I could not agree more.

Anton begins with a “Note,” a recap of the reception of his original essay. This primarily means its reception on the Right; the Left didn’t pay much attention then, deafened by their collective baying for Hillary’s imminent ascension, and has not paid much attention since, either, which is probably a mistake. Within the Right, because the sclerotic organized Right of think tanks and little-read journals was Anton’s main target, the backlash against Anton was fierce, though it was all of the pearl-clutching variety, free as a bird from all logic or reasoning.

Those same segments soon enough coalesced into the noisome #NeverTrumpers, rats following their diminutive, tubby Pied Piper, Bill Kristol, who has unfortunately not led them into the mountain to disappear forever. Here, and in the “Pre-Statement,” Anton in his usual pithy style refutes what few coherent objections to his claims have been made. I will note those later, but Anton is willing to admit one, and only one, failure in his earlier essays—that in his original essay, he was insufficiently generous to and appreciative of Donald Trump.

In his “Note,” Anton also explains his choice of pseudonym at more length, a name borne by two Roman men, father and son, who each sacrificed himself on the field of battle. He cites interpretations by both Leo Strauss and Harvey Mansfield to rebut his critics, using close readings of my favorite Machiavelli text, Discourses on Livy. Anton’s basic point is that Machiavelli “says that a republic may be led back to its beginnings ‘either through the virtue of a man or through the virtue of an order’ and goes on to say that ‘such orders have need of being brought to life by the virtue of a citizen who rushes spiritedly to execute them against the power of those who transgress them.’ In other words, orders and men are both necessary and neither is superior to the other; virtuous men are necessary to execute good orders.”

Anton here leaves some ambiguity as to his own goals. He says that “In 2016, I judged the modes and orders of my time—and especially of conservatism—to be exhausted and imprisoned within an inflexible institutional and intellectual authority. I believed that its conclusions on the most pressing matters were false and pernicious and that its orthodoxy therefore required smashing.” Despite Machiavelli’s warning that “nothing is more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage, than to put oneself at the head of introducing new orders,” Anton chose to do so. But to what end? He refers to being led back to beginnings, but he also speaks of new orders. Which is it? That is one of the things I will examine here, after first evaluating the three essays.

In the original Flight 93 essay, Anton notes that all American conservatives agree that things are very bad in America, have been for some time, and are getting worse. If conservatives truly believe the critical importance to society of all the problems we face, from family breakdown to out-of-control government to an inability to win wars, they must conclude “we are headed off a cliff.” But—they don’t really believe it, as Anton illustrates with an article from the Weekly Standard (ironically, in retrospect, given that journal’s fate), recommending for all problems the usual tired litany of conservative solutions, such as decentralization, federalism, and civil renewal. “Which is to say, conservatism’s typical combination of the useless and inapt with the utopian and unrealizable. . . . ‘Civic renewal’ would do a lot of course, but that’s like saying health will save a cancer patient. A step has been skipped in there somewhere. How are we going to achieve ‘civic renewal’? Wishing for a tautology to enact itself is not a strategy.”

This is the gravamen of Anton’s complaint—conservatives keep offering the same solutions that have solved nothing, to solve problems that only get worse, as their power gets less and the Left grows ever more dominant. You can’t believe that things are awful and getting worse, but also that they can continue on their current path indefinitely; it is a contradiction. And that’s what today’s conservatives, that is, those in the public eye, believe. (In fact, since Anton wrote, “leading” conservatives such as Jonah Goldberg have come right out and admitted that they are happy to lose and for the Left to win completely, just a little slower, please).

Even those few conservative solutions that have been tried have failed or been quickly erased by the Left. “The whole enterprise of Conservatism, Inc., reeks of failure. Its sole and ongoing success is its own self-preservation.” Such claims have made Anton a prime target of the happy losers whom he attacks, ranging from Goldberg (who specifically targeted Anton in his terrible 2017 book, Suicide of the West) to Michael Gerson. For reasons I will discuss below, Anton’s only organized allies appear to be the Claremont Institute, and perhaps The American Conservative magazine—both powers on the Right, to be sure, but isolated from the invitations to cocktail parties and pats on the head from the cultural elite of the Left that are so important to Goldberg, Gerson, and the other similar indistinguishable nonentities who cluster together.

So what passes for today’s American conservatism is of little or no value. I can get behind that. That doesn’t mean all alternatives are virtuous, or desirable. Anton makes a point I am often found making, that Trump’s mere existence is a sign of the times, not of good times, but as of an angel breaking a numbered seal. “Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise. It is therefore puzzling that those most horrified by Trump are the least willing to consider the possibility that the republic is dying.” Sure, if you’re part of the professional-managerial elite, the past two decades have been pretty good to you.

For everybody else, and for the fabric of society, the opposite is true, and if you can’t see it, you’re too embedded in the ruling class, or too dependent on their tolerance and largesse for your daily bread. Others have expanded on this point, from Tucker Carlson to Richard Reeves to Kurt Schlichter, though few have made the focus of their ire the conservatives who are supposed to care about such things.

The non-Trump Republican presidential candidates, had any of them won, wouldn’t have done anything to stop or turn back the tide of the Left, since “their ‘opposition’ is in all cases ineffectual and often indistinguishable from support.” But a Hillary win would be a fatal disaster for America, cementing its destruction. It “will be pedal-to-the-metal on the entire progressive-Left agenda, plus items few of us have yet imagined in our darkest moments. Nor is even that the worst. It will be coupled by a level of vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent hitherto seen in the supposedly liberal West only in the most ‘advanced’ Scandinavian countries and the most leftist corners of Germany and England.

We see this already in the censorship practiced by the Davoisie’s social media enablers; in the shameless propaganda tidal wave of the mainstream media; and in the personal destruction campaigns—operated through the former and aided by the latter—of the social justice warriors. We see it in Obama’s flagrant use of the IRS to torment political opponents, the gaslighting denial by the media, and the collective shrug by everyone else.”

That all this would have come true is proven by the Left’s behavior since the election. They do what they would have done under Hillary, but lacking the power of the executive branch, the damage they can do is somewhat limited. On the other hand, their rage at losing to Trump has fueled the fire. Not having executive power, for now, doesn’t stop, among other evils, endless violence against any public display of support for Trump; aggressive campaigns on the state level to legalize infanticide and push the latest in sexual fluidity as the moral equivalent of abolitionism; mass censorship of conservatives on all social media platforms; and the personal destruction of anyone within their reach, or within the reach of their allies in all large corporations, the media, or the universities. And, most of all, we see it in their two years of whipping up hate in the media and using bogus “investigations” to cripple Trump and persecute anyone associated with him.

Swinging around again to his punching bag, the weak betas of Conservatism, Inc., Anton notes that they certainly aren’t going to lead resistance to the horrors of a Hillary administration. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t, since all opinion-making is controlled by the Left. But they don’t want to; they “self-handicap and self-censor to an absurd degree. Our ‘leaders’ and ‘dissenters’ bend over backward to play by the self-sabotaging rules the Left sets for them.” (I have complained before, for example, of the conservative lust for pre-emptive apologies, a perfect example of what Anton complains of).

What we need instead is a leader who will fight, who will punch back. He will stop importing millions of Third World migrants, who erode our economy’s strength and vote in lockstep for the Left. He will adopt trade and antiglobalization policies that benefit all Americans. “Who cares if productivity numbers tick down, or if our already somnambulant GDP sinks a bit further into its pillow. Nearly all the gains of the last twenty years have accrued to the junta anyway.”

What we can’t have is Hillary. Conservatism, Inc., is “objectively pro-Hillary.” Anton concludes that if we do get Hillary, in the longer term, “the possibilities will seem to be: Caesarism, secession/crack-up, collapse, or managerial Davoisie as far as the eye can see . . . which, since nothing lasts forever, at some point will give way to one of the other three. Oh, and I suppose, for those who like to pour a tall one and dream big, a second American Revolution that restores constitutionalism, limited government, and a 28 percent top marginal rate.” We will return to these options, and whether any are desirable, below.

Anton’s initial piece got just about the warmth of reception one would expect. Actually, it got no reception at all, until Rush Limbaugh read the entire thing on his radio program. (That conservatives dominate talk radio is intolerable to the Left, and censoring it a prime goal of theirs. The ability of new thoughts like Anton’s to gain traction through that medium is why, even though talk radio can never set what the news is or what polite public opinion is allowed to be.) But then a wave of hatred and bile from those conservatives attacked (that is, nearly all of them) crashed into Anton, along with some tut-tutting from a few conservatives who saw that their rage was merely proving Anton’s point. Anton responded a few days later with “Restatement on Flight 93.”

Here he briefly addressed the most cogent attacks on him. Using the passengers of Flight 93 as a metaphor was simply standard drawing of inspiration from heroes. It wasn’t “disgusting.” “It’s quite obvious that’s what really is disgusting to these objectors is Trump.” Trump isn’t too immoderate to be President; he may be a “buffoon,” but “one must wonder how buffoonish the alleged buffoon really is when he is right on the most important issues while so many others who are esteemed wise are wrong.”

Trump is not too radical; in fact, on the surface he’s more progressive than other recent Republican presidential candidates. He’s actually quite moderate in his policies of “secure borders, economic nationalism, and America-first foreign policy.” The problem is that he is a threat to what is now called the Deep State, as outlined by John Marini: he might win, and he threatens “the current governing arrangement of the United Sates, [which] is rule by a transnational managerial class in conjunction with the administrative state.” Trump is not “authoritarian,” which is a meaningless term as used here (and as I have shown at length by analyzing post-election writings, merely means in practice “erosion of the power of the Left”). Trump does not want to “trash the Constitution,” which anyway is laughable, given that the Left’s entire, open and acknowledged, program of the past hundred years is to trash the Constitution.

No, reiterates Anton, he was right the first time. Conservatism is a miserable failure. Doom is at the door, and if you choose to let it in, your fate will be upon your own head.

We all know what happened next. Trump won. The Left lost its mind, and unleashed fresh helpings of savage hatred upon the land. (I did not predict this; I predicted a new era of optimism and limited comity. More fool me.) They marshaled all their resources, from that disgusting hate group the SPLC to Rod Rosenstein to Facebook to the FBI to Jonah Goldberg, in order to stop Donald Trump from fulfilling any of his promises. And we are still living through these days of rage, which are, probably, merely the foothills of our own coming hot civil war.

Anton, however, appears to have been stung by the claim that he only offered a negative vision, although on its face that claim is untrue. He therefore wrote a new piece, “Pre-Statement on Flight 93.” Anton seems grudging about writing it; noting that since the Left’s project is destruction, of all opposition and of all non-Left “people, institutions, mores and traditions,” “It’s a bit rich to be accused by nihilists of lacking a positive vision.” This piece is, I think, the least successful. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s excellent. The problem is that while it rejects what Conservatism, Inc. has to offer, it repeats an equally unrealistic prescription, namely a turn back to the Constitutional and political framework of 1787 and 1865.

A combination of political philosophy, political argument, and history, in the Pre-Statement Anton cites Aristotle for the basic claim that all human activity aims at some good. Beyond food, shelter, and security, “mere life,” the good life is happiness or felicity, which is achieved by developing our capabilities to reach the telos of man, “the completion or perfection of those traits which are uniquely characteristic of man.” “Radical individualism and private hedonism,” the goals of (though Anton does not say so) the Enlightenment, undermine human flourishing.

This much has been known, in the West at least, since the Greeks, but the American Founders brought political order in the service of these goals to near perfection (which was perfected by the post-Civil War amendments). Federalism, limited government, and representative republicanism created the best system ever. But it is not one that can be exported to all peoples in all times, nor can it work if there is inadequate “commonality in customs, habits, and opinions.” As everyone with any sense knows, diversity is the opposite of our strength.

This near-perfect system has been attacked repeatedly since 1787, Anton tells us. First, by the followers of John Calhoun, unsuccessfully. Second, by the early-twentieth-century Progressives, successfully and causing great damage. And third, fatally, by the acolytes of John Rawls, purveyors of so-called social justice and of forced equality, and the New Left, advocates of the tearing down of America, group rights, and oppression theory. All these attacks are incoherent and destructive, but they have collectively succeeded in destroying the Founders’ vision, and erecting in its place a system that maintains many of its outward forms but within is crawling with decay and worms.

As the Left’s power grows ever greater, they must either “compound the lies, or suppress and punish dissent.” They choose both, following the dictates of Herbert Marcuse and his heinous “repressive tolerance.” We need to “return to life and the conditions of life: the rule of law, responsible freedom, confidence in our civilization, patriotism, and concern for the common good instead of only the particular good of groups claiming oppression or disadvantage.”

I agree with nearly all of this as an analytical matter. As a prescriptive matter, though, it is sorely lacking, other than that Trump is somewhat better than Hillary in these regards. If I have a core political organizing principle, it is that you cannot go back; the way is shut. Truly insightful modern conservatives realize this and make it the starting point of their thought. But Anton seems to shrink from this conclusion, unwilling to realize, or recognize, that the vision of the Founders is dead. There is no path to return to it, and if we did, the massive changes in the world and in America would make their system a failure if re-implemented today. It was good, in a unique time and place, for a small and homogeneous country built on a politics of virtue.

The modern world is so very, very different from that; what the modern world needs is indeed a return to the principles of Aristotle, but not just those relating to the purposes of man, rather also those of varieties of political structure other than democracy, which Aristotle, and everyone else who matters, has always recognized as the worst form of government, for proof of which today we need only look around.

Anton is, therefore, a reactionary. I divide reactionaries into various camps, but the two relevant ones here are Straussians, followers of the German philosopher Leo Strauss, and what I call Augustans. Straussians, although they have various internal divisions, believe that the desired end of political history arrived already—and was left behind. Therefore, today’s Cthulhu State, a multi-tentacled horror of unlimited and unaccountable power, exemplified by the monstrous administrative state that finds no warrant in the Constitution, should be destroyed and the Republic restored by the simple expedient of turning back the political clock.

Augustans, on the other hand, focus on power and its uses. A more common term for this is Caesarism, but that is a misnomer, since Caesar merely toppled a tottering system. It was Augustus who created a new one, in which the forms of republican government remained, and even some of its application, but the real power shifted, toward a mixed government with heavy monarchical and aristocratic elements. Rollback is not the goal; the goal is seizing the levers of power as they exist now, and overthrowing the great as the opportunity presents itself, creating a new thing entirely. Thus, the focus is power guided by virtue, but always power.

In his original Flight 93 essay, Anton came across as Augustan. But he blurred this with his Pre-Statement, which is Straussian. Straussianism, while internally coherent, offers nothing, because there is no path to reach its goals. It is Reaction in the sense of turning the clock back, when what is called for is Reaction in the sense of building a new thing guided by the wisdom of the past. Anton is extremely intelligent, and I suspect he is deliberately hiding the ball. I think what he really wants to call for is either of two of his three stated alternatives to Trump winning: Caesarism (that is, an Augustan state), or secession/crack up.

This conclusion is strengthened by the sarcasm with which Anton refers in his original essay to “a second American Revolution that restores constitutionalism, limited government, and a 28 percent top marginal rate.” Other than tax rate, that’s basically the Straussian solution, and he laughs at it. And since Anton says managerial Davoisieism will end up in Caesarism too, that suggests that the only two options left are the ones he wants to pick from. Trump, though, is not a good Caesar; he is a holding pattern, a finger in the dike while other pieces are being moved on the board. We are just waiting for the Man of Destiny, to be named later.

I don’t know Anton, but my bet is that he realizes that he can’t marginalize himself further by calling for the formal destruction of the Republic, even if it has already been destroyed in practice. He has to make a living, of course, and I don’t think he’s rich (despite Jonah Goldberg’s sneering, yet bizarre, efforts to slur him as rich). But he clouds the air by failing to make a choice. I see why he can’t, and instead tries to have it both ways. Me, I don’t have to make a living as a public intellectual, and “marginal” grossly overstates my relevance, so I’ll happily get behind an Augustan state, or the crack-up of the United States, or both. We’re going to get there anyway, after all – the only questions are how fast, with how much unpleasantness, and whether the destination will be the Pax Romana or something less pleasant. I’m all in for a Pax Romana updated by Christianity, the other innumerable blessings of the West, and modern science. Whether we’ll get it, I don’t know.

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

The image shows, Solitary Figure in a Theater, by Edward Hopper, ca, 1092-1904.

The Dead-End Of Liberalism

This is a special review. It is special because it is the last of its kind. I no longer intend to spend my time, and your time, on books that I know to be completely wrong, merely to show they are completely wrong. I am keenly aware of what I call “the closing door,” embodied in the words of John 9:4 – “the night cometh, when no man can work,” which Samuel Johnson had engraved on the inside cover of his pocket watch. This does not at all mean that I am stopping writing, only that I will no longer write in the vein of correcting errors of the political Left. For the hour is late, and the Right has better things to do.

Thus, I will no longer review, or read, leftist claptrap. That includes a substantial majority of modern popular works; essentially all books on history and politics that receive wide publicity, from the latest anti-Trump screed to anything on race, along with a great deal else. It also includes many, though not all, older leftist works that are leftist canon. Does it profit me to read any such book and demonstrate its innumerable falsehoods and logical errors? No, because I know the truth already, and I know the minds of all these writers and the vast majority of their readers are a closed circle, filled with lies and impervious to the truth. I will discover nothing new; and they benefit by me wasting my time, because opportunity costs.

True, my writing about such books might profit others who are less informed or have spent less time evaluating leftist claptrap, and who are drowning daily in the disinformation spewed out by leftist media and culture. But I can add the same value for those people by sometimes discussing leftist propaganda when I am discussing legitimate works. All the leftist agitprop I am now going to ignore is worse than worthless. It is total lies, which, fascinatingly, is a relatively new departure for the Left.

Over decades, the Left was rewarded for slanting and twisting the truth, never punished, and now that they have total control over the organs of communication, culture, and power, simply disregarding the truth in the service of power, serving instead lying propaganda, is the inevitable consequence. What you reward, you get more of. For the Left, since 1789, after all, the ends justify the means, and the purported goal of their Utopian cult is now in sight, so any tool is justified. So I understand why they lie, and how and why the New York Times today became no different than the Pravda of 1988. But I see no reason I should legitimate their webs of lies.

It is all a question of priorities. My core priority is to establish the Foundationalist state, under which human flourishing may again occur. What is the chief obstacle to the Foundationalist state? The power of the Left, and the corruption of the West it has wrought, by rejecting the pursuit of excellence and accomplishment, and by corroding individual virtue. Working to demonstrate that the Left lies as it breathes merely grants power to their lies. As I have said, the only way out is through, and that means, most of all, offering a positive vision of what the future can look like, as opposed to the world visible around us wrought by the Left—and them implementing that vision.

More broadly, I no longer care what any organ of the Left, or any individual leftist, thinks or says about any topic. At all. I don’t need to understand them better; I already understand them completely, and what they have to say that is not lies, is evil that has led us to our current degenerate and decayed society, for which they bear primary responsibility. Nor is it important to understand better their motivations: greed, love of power, millenarian fervor, sheer stupidity, love of destruction, hatred driven by racist ethnonarcissism, animal rage generated by envy of beauty and accomplishment. No, there is no reason whatsoever to engage the Left, except in the act of utterly and permanently breaking their power and imposing a decent society. The time for debate with the Left is over; the time for the re-imposition of reality arrived long ago.

The Left, always and everywhere, has known the existential nature of the struggle, and the exterminatory character of their program, and in every case acted to the extent its power allowed. Today in America, they no longer pretend the Right is even permitted to debate; after all, error has no rights. They are now imposing their final end-state on us, a project they will soon complete if they are not stopped. Our only goal should be to smash the Left and impose the will of the Right, in a complete reformation of our society—if we can, a topic for another day. What form that imposition of will might take remains to be seen. It could be a democratic turn to a Viktor Orbán-type leader, though more aggressive, who combines economic populism and nationalism, and is not afraid to use existing tools to break the Left. It could be a fragmentation of the country, along Kurt Schlichter lines, where the Left is confined in their own new country to descend into Venezuela, or worse, and the Right can form a renewed society. It could be many other things, each prefigured by history. But the path leads inevitably to war, whether hot war or cold war. It already is war, though a war fought only by the Left. Time to fight back, effectively.

Oh, I will read plenty of books I disagree with, in whole or in part. But those will be books that illuminate the way forward. I will no doubt still find much to criticize in some books. I will continue to read and analyze books that I know are partially wrong, such as those written with a whole or partial Left bias that are not works of politics or history (e.g., science or economics), because in those something of value can often still be found.

I may sometimes read books that I strongly suspect are completely wrong, say anything new from Jonah Goldberg, but that could still contain something of interest, especially books whose readership may include those on the Right working toward victory. I may read classic Left works, because they are classic, thus they may contain something of value, and moreover I know they inform my enemies, so knowing their contents is of use. Lenin, for example. (Not all old Left works are classic, of course. Take Edward Said’s Orientalism—I tried reading that, and it was worthless, lying trash, and laughably, obviously so.) But for the most part, I will read either books that are not political at all, but of interest to me for other reasons, or books that I see as useful in building Foundationalism.

More generally, I intend to spend as little time as possible discussing political matters with the Left. They can read my works, or not, and there may be exceptions to my general rule. But why discuss political matters with leftist commenters on my writing, or with my left-leaning relatives? Their worldview consists wholly of lies, destructive lies, lies that corrode all societal virtue and wholly block all societal accomplishment. They cannot be convinced otherwise; like any cult member, and cult is what the Left is, as shown by that their ideology does not permit any new fact to contradict their prebaked conclusions.

Someone must rule; now it is them, and changing that is the challenge of the next decade, followed by the suppression of their evil works and the proper education of both our children and our brainwashed adults. Meanwhile, with leftists with whom we have a social relation, we can talk about other things—although since the Left insists on politicizing all of life, there is, sadly, often very little we can talk about.

But before I call it a day, let us discuss this book. In it, childlike naivete alternates with low malice, combining in an execrable stew. I read Why Liberalism Works because it claims to be an answer to Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, a key text of today’s post-liberal Right. To my disappointment, other than in its title and one unbelievably stupid sentence inside, this book completely ignores Deneen’s book, and also ignores all claims and arguments of today’s post-liberals. Instead, it substitutes, for engaging with ideas, heated repetition of bogus ideological claims. It’s crushingly boring and tiresomely predictable. But reading this book made me understand more fully why and how we are all force fed propaganda, of which this is merely an exemplar, on a daily basis, and led me to the decision outlined above. I’m happy for that, at least.

The author, Deirdre McCloskey, is what we can call a “choice extremist.” This is a type of libertarianism, but not confined to limiting the state. Rather, it is an endorsement of man as mayfly, impelled by no other desire than maximizing pleasure, and insistent that any limitation on such pleasure is evil incarnate. People like McCloskey, who claim to be centrists seeking human flourishing, offer the distilled essence of the worst of the Left, without the leavening concern for social fabric that some of the Left offers, or used to offer. A clean sweep will begin with these people, McCloskey and his [indeed, his, ed.] neoliberal allies, many long falsely seen as conservatives. For me, this book was unpleasant to read, and this review a drag to write. Still, I read the whole book, every word, hacking through the ignorant writing and annoying tone of unjustified superiority combined with a jarring, oily pseudo-femininity. You’re welcome.

Totally aside from its other defects, McCloskey’s book is poorly structured, because rather than writing a new book, he cobbled together numerous existing short writings, added some filler, divided them into four rough groups, and presented the results as a tasty pottage to his masters at the American Enterprise Institute and other similar bastions of mendacious toadies to leftism and chaos. Constant repetition is therefore the hallmark of this book; it could have been a fifth of its length and said the same things. Again, you’re welcome. Rather than analyze the fifty essays in this book sequentially, I’m going to summarize the author’s key claims, which are merely repeated with slight variations and emphasis throughout the entire book. Let’s get on with it.

First, McCloskey draws the line of demarcation that snakes through the entire book. We have “true liberals.” And we have everyone else. True liberals are awesome. Everyone else is bad, and bad precisely to the extent he differs in any way from true liberals. By “true liberal,” McCloskey means someone who is a fan of the core tenet of Enlightenment political philosophy, of emancipation from all unchosen bonds, an atomized free actor in every facet of his existence. True liberals, you see, adhere to the Golden Rule, which is, properly viewed, merely Adam Smith’s principles of free trade applied to all activities of life. In fact, total emancipation is dictated by God—McCloskey claims that some fictional “Abrahamic egalitarianism” is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and in case we are unclear, calls Smith, ad nauseum, “the Blessed Adam Smith,” who revealed the correct interpretation of the Gospel, which previously had escaped all of us.

The rest of the book is merely endless variations on ascribing superlatives to “true liberals” and attacking everyone not a “true liberal,” though flavor is added by changing the adjective occasionally from “true” to “humane,” “sisterly,” or “motherly.” To support this division as an intelligent way to view the world, McCloskey’s tool is not evidence or reason. Rather, his only tool is ignoring or totally mischaracterizing opposing arguments while using tendentious, emotion-laden terms. In the second paragraph of the Preface, for example, he contrasts true liberals, who have “splendid arts and sciences,… toleration,… inclusiveness,… cosmopolitanism” with “illiberal regimes,” from whose “violent hierarchies” true liberals have liberated us, though “brutal, scaremongering populists” such as Viktor Orbán are still fighting their inevitable defeat by the true liberal paladins. The rest of the book does not vary from this pattern.

Second, in order to praise true liberals as the source of all that is righteous, McCloskey offers a puerile and false chain of historical causation. It is hard to exaggerate how simplistic this book is. In a nutshell, which is all we are offered, in the late 1700s, true liberalism began, when demands for emancipation and atomized liberty, that is, the Enlightenment, began. This political philosophy created the “Great Enrichment,” “economic betterments for ordinary people,” by “giving voice” to people who were formerly voiceless and utterly passive. This has continued, so now we are rich and getting richer, which is all that matters.

Now, McCloskey does recognize the glaring problem in this set of claims, which is that only clowns believe that the Industrial Revolution had any connection to the Enlightenment. So he dodges by trying to separate the supposed Great Enrichment from the Industrial Revolution. He claims that the latter was a mere commonplace, frequent throughout history, of doubling income, but that the Enrichment was a new thing in history, created purely by true liberalism. In one of the most bizarre passages of a book that is filled with them, McCloskey claims that equally important industrial revolutions also occurred in Islamic Spain and Song China. Before 1800, you see, progress was regarded as dishonorable and sinful, something “economists and historians are starting to recognize”—led, of course, by the most insightful historian of the modern age, McCloskey himself. Our unexceptional industrial revolution continued, creating the Great Enrichment, because “liberalism inspirited the masses to devise betterments and to open new enterprises and to move to new jobs.”

These are radical historical claims, but no evidence at all is offered for them, or any other historical claim. McCloskey is a historian by trade, but almost zero history appears in this book. To be fair, that may be the nature of such a cobbled-together book; he mentions his trilogy of other books about “bourgeois values,” with a passing claim that those books support what he says here, so perhaps one has to read those too to get any actual arguments from history. I won’t read them, because life is too short.

But back in the real world, there is no mystery as to how the Industrial Revolution created the economics of the modern world, and there is no such thing as a separate Great Enrichment. The West, starting in England, combined the advances of the Scientific Revolution (created purely by Europeans) with the right cultural practices, such as hard work and the rule of law, added some other factors endlessly debated (coal? intelligence? sea power?) and thereby escaped from the Malthusian Trap, which had never occurred a single time anywhere else in the world. Once created by the West, this package feeds on itself, and can be exported to any culture willing and able to adopt the gifts of Western technology and culture.

Some are; most aren’t either willing or able, and haven’t been for the past two hundred years. If they do, and to the extent they are willing to adopt these cultural and technological practices (which do not include frippery such as democracy), countries are lifted out of poverty, a process continuing, in fits, starts, and steps backward, today. The end. The rickety and ahistorical claims that McCloskey makes are simply objectively false, which he probably realizes, since beyond announcing conclusions, he makes no effort to support them. (No surprise, McCloskey ignores China’s and Singapore’s adoption of Western technology and methods to escape the Malthusian Trap, since those successes alone disprove every single claim he makes).

Third, there are enemies of true liberalism, who want to cast the whole world into darkness and end the Great Enrichment by opposing choice extremism. These are, today, primarily the parties democratically elected in Hungary and Poland, though occasionally Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are thrown in too. As with all of his odious neoliberal caste, McCloskey hates and fears those in power in Hungary and Poland, because their success and popularity prove everything he says false, and he is afraid their powerful ideas will spread to dominate throughout Europe and the United States (a fear that is, fortunately, well on its way to being a reality).

McCloskey does not deign to tell us why Hungary and Poland are bad, or how the policies enunciated by their governments will end the Great Enrichment. He just mouths the usual total lies that the press is attacked and the rule of law eroded, without any actual attempt to demonstrate those claims. In reality, of course, censorship and erosion of the rule of law is far more prevalent in the United States and Western Europe; but that’s censorship and erosion of the rule of law McCloskey likes. He’s very much a fan of flexible principles – for another example, despite his claim that we should all operate only on “sweet talk,” he openly celebrates in this book how he helped destroy the life of J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern University professor who failed to adequately celebrate sexual degeneracy.

In addition to Viktor Orbán and some Poles, there are also domestic enemies. McCloskey hates American conservatives, that is, anyone on the Right not a corporatist, Koch-type Republican, with an ill-concealed burning passion. No surprise, he never once engages their arguments, even though he chants “let’s listen, really listen, to the arguments of our supposed enemies, and consider their logic and evidence.” The core of McCloskey’s “thinking” is a crude logical trap. We should have “a society held together by sweet talk among free adults rather than by coercion applied to slaves and children.” What if that sweet talk concludes that most people want to, let’s say, ban pornography? That’s coercion! So, in other words, McCloskey wants talk, as long as that talk has no chance of ending in conclusions other than the ones he has already mandated as the only acceptable ones for society. That’s just dishonest. But that’s this book.

We reach the nadir of McCloskey’s hate and stupidity in the single sentence devoted to Deneen. I was excited to get there, figuring I would get an actual response to post-liberal arguments. What I got was this, in toto. Brace yourself. “Liberalism, intones Deneen, entails ‘the loosening of social bonds’ (bonds such as slavery in the British Empire), ‘a relentless logic of impersonal transactions’ (so unlike the transactions of pious Israelites selling lumber to Egyptians, say), and the proposition that ‘human beings are thus, by nature, non-relational creatures, separate and autonomous’ (as for example in the non-relational exploration of human relationships in the bourgeois and liberal English novel since 1700).”

That’s it. That’s the entirety of McCloskey’s “argument.” The first parenthetical, about slavery, is apparently meant to be a refutation of Deneen in some way I cannot fathom. I have no idea what the second and third parentheticals, about Israelites, lumber, and English novels, are trying to say; they are not tied to anything else McCloskey says elsewhere. I am still scratching my head. But I can assure you that McCloskey thinks he has crushed Deneen, which says a lot more about him than anything else.

Fourth, for McCloskey, there are no enemies on the Left. Sure, some on the Left are mistaken, notably Thomas Piketty, on whom McCloskey spills a lot of gently-phrased words. But everyone on the Left is “earnest and amiable,” just a little wrong, like the “sweet slow socialist” George Soros or McCloskey’s unnamed “beloved and extremely intelligent Marxian friend.” The New York Times is wrong sometimes, but “sweet” and “benevolent.” Anyone on the Right, though, is “vicious,” a “thug,” or any of innumerable similar terms, and McCloskey certainly has no friends who are conservatives.

Fifth, true liberalism must struggle against bad policies, some of which are pushed by evil people and some by ignorant people. Any policy that has any element of “coercion” is bad. The worst policy of all is any restrictions whatsoever on immigration. We are told that “bad people” in the United States “wish to deport law-abiding and hardworking immigrants, in response to a scientifically bankrupt economic notion, which is anyway unethical, that immigrants take jobs away from natives, or a scientifically bankrupt sociological notion, also unethical, that their children will never become properly American.” If the “Hungarian farmer or West Virginia coal miner” complains that he can no longer feed his children, he has no legitimate complaint, rather, “what is being complained about is change, and as it happens desirable change.” We know it is desirable because it is happening because of the free market, for “Profits are a signal of general worthiness.” The end. Really.

You can see why neoliberals love this stuff, but the normal reader wonders why no effort, none at all, is ever made to demonstrate the truth of these claims and why we are never, not once, given any suggestion that we should perform cost-benefit analysis on any social policy. McCloskey’s claims and demanded social policies are uniformly and without exception wonderful and costless, and this truth is self-proving. Any questioning proves you are “authoritarian” or “fascist,” not “humane” and McCloskey’s “dear friend.”

Sixth, total emancipation in all areas of life will lead to total human flourishing. We are guaranteed that it is an absolute certainty that so long as we are true liberals, unlimited wealth will be ours, which will make us happy (not for McCloskey any wondering about the relationship, beyond a certain point, of wealth to happiness). And not just happiness—the resulting “enrichment will cause . . . a cultural explosion, casting into the shade the achievements of fifth-century Athenian drama and T’ang poetry and Renaissance painting.” His evidence for this? That the 1960s, the dawn of emancipation in America, were culturally, especially in art, far superior to the Renaissance. Yes, that’s what he claims.

Woven throughout the endless repetitions of this six-point plan is much other dumbassery. We are lied to that the “classical definition of liberty/freedom is the condition of being liberated/free from physical interference by other human beings,” which is the exact opposite of the truth. Pericles would reject everything McCloskey says out of hand, then have him flogged for corrupting the virtue of the body politic. Economic fallacies abound, most of all the exaltation of GDP as a measure of human flourishing (combined with the only other measure of human flourishing, the absolute right, derived from nothing in particular, to not be “pushed or bossed around without voluntarily given consent or contract”). “Leisure… should be accounted as income.” If you can’t find a job because an illegal immigrant took it, you are still making money, peasant, so stop complaining! Third-rate thinkers like Tyler Cowen and Eric Hoffer are extolled as brilliant. If some things are better now, everything that exists now must be good. And, most of all, culture doesn’t matter for anything, and no human motivation other than the desire for maximized freedom exists.

I’m not going to waste any more time on the claims of this book, but I want to examine what this book means. That is, on its face, nearly everything in this book is shockingly dumb, and I don’t think McCloskey is dumb (though he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is). So why did he write it? Ah, there’s where it gets interesting, and indicative of our politics today. Every so often the real agenda’s slimy face peeks through. We see it in the occasional obeisances [sic] to a free-floating “dignity.”

McCloskey’s project is to endorse a vision of humanity completely atomized, and he knows that to sell this he has to claim that all the worthwhile advances of the modern world are created by atomization. Okay, but why is McCloskey paid to purvey propaganda under the guise of being a purveyor of history and ideas, and then lionized across many forms of media? It’s because this is merely one small facet of the giant propaganda machine that spews its output across our society today.

We are everywhere surrounded by endless propaganda designed to push an agenda that simultaneously pushes the Left goal of emancipation combined with forced egalitarianism while lining the pockets of our neoliberal overlords. Every movie, computer game, or other form of media involving violence or the military features a complete inversion of reality, where female warriors exemplifying alpha male characteristics triumph over weak men with feminine characteristics. Every movie and TV show, for children or adults, celebrates homosexuals and sexual degenerates. Advertisements do the same. Wise Latinas instruct stupid white people. The propaganda machine is kept going by aggressive censorship across all media and social media, silencing the strongest voices of opposition and ensuring that those that remain self-censor to avoid deplatforming.

Still, at the end, this is a clarifying book. It made me realize what I started this review with—that debate is a waste of time, and the choice is utter defeat by the Left, or destroying the Left. Dispose yourselves accordingly.

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

The image shows a detail from the Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych, by Jan van Eyck, ca. 1430 and 1440.

The Young Person’s Guide To Fine Dining

A guide to fine dining, especially useful for wholesome families who wish to please our esteemed correspondent Dr. Zbigniew Janowski. It is accordingly intended for children, not kids.

1. Wash your hands before you start eating. Sing ‘God Save the Queen,’ but only the first verse, in its entirety while you do so to allow adequate time to kill germs.

2. Wait till the adults have taken their seats before you take yours. Very good children hold a chair for a senior member of the family.

3. Do not interrupt Grace, or still less attempt to eat anything before the Lord is duly thanked.

4. In a graceless household (I fear there are one or two), ask ‘Please may I start eating?’

5. When you want food to be passed to you, see if others need anything first, and if the food is some distance away, don’t grab it but ask someone near you to please pass it and quietly thank them when they do so.

6. Do not help yourself to everything from the above serving dish/plate. Remember that others need to eat too.

7. Don’t talk with your mouth full and related to this, don’t eat with your mouth open. Others do not wish to behold the contents.

8. Do not on any account put your knife in your mouth. And while you’re at it, don’t hold your knife like a pen.

9. Do not perform another function while still holding cutlery, eg scratching your head. My Grandfather, Colonel Stocker, would say ‘Don’t scratch your head with your knife’. Ideally head-scratching and nose blowing (with a linen handkerchief) are best conducted elsewhere. In which case, ask ‘Please may I leave the table?’

10. To non-vegan households: if you are eating a chop or chicken leg and your cutlery is no longer useful, lay the latter down. You can then pick up the piece of meat and chew it, Gladstone style (see below), using ONE hand to hold it. Yes, you will get grease on your fingers. In most households, the napkin should suffice. In super refined households there may be a finger bowl provided, but I am not advocating this here, as it is a potential source of danger to those less versed in etiquette. Some ill-advised people may wish to drink from it or pour its contents on to their pasta or curry: this is not recommended.

11. Use your table napkin (it is not called a serviette) where appropriate. Remember, it is not a handkerchief.

12. Don’t heat too hurriedly. Chew your food, especially your meat, thoroughly. My parents would say ‘Mr Gladstone would always chew his meat’. Mastication is the operative word. Whatever were you thinking? No, that’s rude.

13. Outside China, don’t slurp your soup or noodles.

14. Do not attempt to drink anything at the bottom of a glass with a straw, as it makes a foul noise.

15. Finer points – if you lay down your knife when it’s not needed, transfer your fork to your right hand.

16. Only say good things to your Mother about the quality of her cuisine, however humble.

17. To the grown-ups – do not put a milk bottle or carton on a table. If the beverage is either canned or bottled, decant it into a goblet. This can be cheaper glass for the more humble, not necessarily crystal. No smoking at dinner, not even between courses.

18. In conversation, the following are forbidden: sex, including organs, bodily functions, especially the bowels, abortion, intimate details of love affairs (for adolescents of all ages), most aspects of politics and religion.

19. When you have finished your main course, place the knife and fork together in the centre of the plate. Ideally invert the fork – AA Milne told Christopher Robin that if somebody fell through the ceiling and landed on the non-inverted fork, this could be somewhat painful.

20. Don’t gulp your pudding, and don’t loudly demand seconds, especially if it’s obvious that there aren’t any.

21. When you have finished, you should ask ‘Please may I leave the table’ or ‘Please may I get down’ and wait for a parental answer.

[Thoughtful elder children may then wish to make loose leaf tea or plunger coffee for their parents. Tea bags and ‘instant’ are not encouraged].

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 The Potato Eaters, by Vincent van Gogh, painted 1885.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 2

Dr. Mark Stocker continues his merriment this month, with just a few more arty(?), artsy(?) jokes. Here he is, then, thrumming his wit for Thalia…

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What was Angelica Kauffmann’s advertising slogan?… Put the Madam into Adam!

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Which fin-de-siècle German artist is especially admired for his tenacity?… Max Klinger.

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What is the name of the lovely new bathroom in Wardour Castle designed by the son of Sir Terence Conran?… Jasper’s John.

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What did the unemployed 19th century French art historian say when she landed a job at the zoo?… “Je suis pleine de Bonheur!”

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Scene: The pearly gates of heaven…
The late David Watkin: You’re a very fetching guardian angel, but I have to tell you I observe a solecism in that portico.
Angel: Sorry Dave, our quota of architectural historians of the classical tradition is full. On yer bike!

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Exhibition installer: I’m looking for a painter who will enhance the red tints of this wall.
Curator: Use Henner!

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A well-known and obliging late Victorian architect would tell his clients:
“Shaw will do! But by George it won’t be bad. You could always go to the Webb site, and if you need an indoor pool, there’s obviously Waterhouse!”

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What was John Bratby’s response to the impact of Abstract
Expressionism?… A sinking feeling.

Dr. Stocker describes this painting by John Bratby as “iconic” which makes us at The Postil slightly worried about his spiritual beliefs.

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What is the name of the latest book on Bratby and the Kitchen Sinkers?…
Life is a Lavatory, Old Chum.

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John Bratby was a hugely popular artist throughout the UK, whose fame and acclaim stretched from Bogside, Londonderry to Looe, Cornwall.

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In order to laugh even more uproariously at Dr Stocker’s jokes about John Bratby, find out more about this fascinating artist courtesy of the Daily Mail.

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 La Clairvoyance, by René Magritte, painted in 1936.

The Failure Of Woke Morality

A large portrait of William Shakespeare was torn down at the University of Pennsylvania in December 2016 , and a portrait of Audre Lorde, a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” was placed on the wall in its place by student protesters.

Students did this to express their disgust with the perceived male chauvinism, white privilege, racism, straight sexuality, and poor judgment of UPenn and the Western canon of literature. When no action was taken against the rebels, and when the change of portraits was allowed to remain, as an alum of the Univ. of Pennsylvania, I had a brief correspondence with the chairs of the English Dept and of Graduate English Studies at Penn.

They assured me that Shakespeare was still actively taught. Thus, the mere fact that Shakespeare continues to be taught justifies their rationalization that (1) it’s only a picture, (2) kids will be kids, (3) throw them a bone (the new portrait on the wall was the “bone”) and they will be satisfied, and (4) life goes on in spite of caving in to student expressions of pique. They felt no need to publicly affirm Shakespeare’s rightful place on the wall, nor that student vandalism is unacceptable.

In a similar vein, during September 2020, the University of Edinburgh’s David Hume Tower was re-named 40 George Square because of some deplorable remarks Hume, a great 18th-century philosopher, made at one point about “negroes.” However, the University assured the public (just as UPenn had two years ago) that it will continue to teach Hume, and had a cadre of specialists more than able to do so.

The author of this article, Julian Baggini, took the tack of splitting hairs to explain and ultimately justify the name change. He’s against the dead “getting a free pass” on prejudice as being too lenient, but on the other hand, trying to punish them in absentia by today’s “higher standards” is too harsh. Instead the author equivocates and writes, “So before abolishing or renaming memorials to those who have views that offend or even distress us, maybe we should instead challenge our understanding of what such memorials are for. They are not there to encourage hero worship, to elevate certain figures above criticism.” What does this say about the University’s ultimate decision? He means it was too harsh, but he does not have an alternative.

Sadly, Mr. Baggini is legitimizing this action, and thus is still splitting hairs about this controversy. Actually, the name change is wholly ILLEGITIMATE. Changing the building’s name but still teaching Hume is like telling someone they still have a right to food, shelter, and clothing, but they can’t go out of the house because they should be ashamed to show themselves in public. At one point in my career, I taught the background of the Civil War in the U.S., and traced Abraham Lincoln’s attitudes towards blacks throughout his political career….

The Lincoln who opposed the popular sovereignty idea of Stephen Douglas was not as compassionate as the Lincoln who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, nor was that Lincoln as humble and godly as the Lincoln who prayed on his knees with black workers (not slaves) in the White House or the Lincoln with the passionate sense of God’s judgment in his Second Inaugural Address. He set the slaves free, but he was not always thinking that, who knows, maybe another Isaac Newton is now a slave, and being held back from his true destiny. Although he fully understood the justice and holy truth of emancipation, he did not repudiate totally the Confederate rebels who had brought about so much death and destruction. His hope in Christ had increased dramatically during the years of his presidency, and forgiveness was a central theme despite his anti-slavery commitment. If we took some earlier snippets of Lincoln’s views than the ones that emerged during the war years, we might find some reason to fault him or purge his name even. Instead, we purposely see the greatness of the whole man.

Of course some people are so evil that they are remembered for their wickedness, but in most cases that does not apply. “The good a man does lives after him, and the bad is oft interred with his bones.” Dishonoring someone for having had some opinions that seem wrong to many is a debacle. Hume did not go out of his way to harm any black folks. Slavery finally came to an end in the British Empire in 1833. To rename the Hume building is not just a wrong emphasis in thinking as the article suggests, but a case of egregious pandering to the racial demagogues.

Looking for reasons to debunk heroes of Western Civilization for their whiteness and supposed inappropriate statements – that supposedly reflect a deeply entrenched and abhorrent racism – has become a cottage industry in our political and educational institutions.

Not only do we see it at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Pennsylvania, but we see it in the self-confident ranting of a Scottish Member of Parliament, a man of Pakistani descent, SNP Justice Minister, Humza Yousaf. In August, he expressed his outrage that except for two seats belonging to two men of Pakistani descent, himself and one other man, the Scottish Parliament and so many other public officials who were – here’s the horrible word: white. This he proposes is white privilege run amuck. He is shocked and offended that in Scotland almost all the leadership is white.

Yet, a friend of mine, well informed about ethnography, wrote to me that “1) The northern parts of Pakistan are white – like the Kailash and the Kafirs, who are largely blued-eyed blondes and red-heads. Are they ‘white?’ According to Yousaf’s logic, they are not. 2) The rest of the population of Pakistan is Indo-Aryan – notice the term ‘Aryan’ – which means they are an Indo-European population (i.e., genetically, ‘white’).” This reality suggests that by having more Pakistanis in office, Scotland would be extending its pattern of whiteness, not counteracting it as Yousaf states. Despite his ethnographic ignorance and illogicality, Yousaf’s rant on Youtube led me to some radical introspection.

Why is it all the members of my birth family are… white? Is this a dreadful exclusivity? How dare they marry and procreate with people who look like themselves, and have similar mores to themselves?! And am I therefore now on the moral high ground because I married an Asian woman? My wife is Asian, but our daughter LOOKS white. That must mean that part of her is racist – against herself!

And why is it that so many of those in government in the West who are white believe in liberty while ignoring their white privilege? Why am I not relieved that my centuries old hypocrisy masquerading as “liberty” and “natural rights” is now being exposed?

Many are starting to say how “bourgeois” and inauthentic those words from the 18th-century now sound, how middle class and how WHITE (!) those calls for liberty and rights seem to be. The liberty talk we frequently hear, we are told by the left, is a cover for entrenched Western – especially American — racism. And worse still, this racism is linked to sexual militancy against LGBQ and especially T for transgenders. Think of it, neither Scotland nor the USA has had a head of state who is a transgender woman.

When we hear UPenn condemned or the Scottish Parliament condemned for its racism, do we not simultaneously tremble at the thought that trannies have been so systematically excluded from political leadership? There is a repugnant intersectional bias in Scotland and elsewhere, even too repugnant to be mentioned by Mr. Yousaf.

If we believe in liberty, are then people not free to have any genitalia they please – and to be elected for their stability of mind, values, and knowledge with or without their birth genitalia! Isn’t this the deep hypocrisy that the portrait of Shakespeare or the tower named after Hume exposes? Certainly, the rebels and iconoclasts on our campuses and in our legislative bodies believe this. Once persons admit they are racist, that puts pressure on them to admit they are also trans-phobic. And the phobic road is a long road indeed.

However, as we reflect on racism in the West (with its implied links to other generic, gender prejudices of custom and psyche via intersectionality), we see it extends beyond education and beyond public office. It is embedded in the warp and woof of society as a whole. This is true according to the latest big-name race baiting guru of America, Ibram X. Kendi, née Ibram Henry Rogers.

“You’re either racist or antiracist; there’s no such thing as ‘not racist’,” Kendi says. But then Mr. Kendi goes on to say that people are in a variety of complex situations with regard to race. In the criminal justice system, they may be racist, but in regard to the environment they are not racist. When it comes to healthcare they may be antiracist, but then in regard to education they are racist. The complexity does not have the effect of diluting racism, but instead helps perpetuate it. Complexity feeds racism rather than breaks its back.

And if you are white, you are hooked into racism by your attachment to capitalism, and you may be hooked into racism by saying you believe in assimilation. However, anti-racism is not compatible with assimilation. Ultimately, M. L. King Jr. got it wrong.

Thus, I attended an alumni day at the University of Pennsylvania a few short years ago, and was surprised to learn that there was a black segregated dorm on campus. The integration model of the civil rights movement had given way to a new black-initiated segregation. Listening to Kendi, I better understood why my beliefs in de-segregation were now being rejected. Anti-racism cannot identify with assimilation.

Kendi asserts this unequivocally. His view thus incorporates the Nation of Islam ideal of black separatism. But if it is true as stated in the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that “separate is inherently unequal,” then separatism by blacks is not announcing equality and not announcing inferiority.

Therefore, it appears that black separatism is a cover for black dominance and contempt for persons of European origin. However, by saying this, a white can be accused of trying to make blacks appear prejudiced, which itself brings out yet another accusation by blacks of racism.

Every verbal move – even a logical move – is considered a white racist gambit. Mr. Kendi and his ilk, like Mr. Yousaf from a different starting point in Scotland, are driven by the same demons, the same paranoia, the same demagoguery, and, on a kinder note, the same insecurities.

Jeffrey Ludwig is presently a lecturer in philosophy and has taught ethics, introduction to philosophy, American philosophy, and philosophy of education. He also spent many years teaching history, economics, literature, and writing. For ten years he served as pastor of Bible Christian Church; and his theological focus is on the five solae. He has published three books, the most recent, The Liberty Manifesto, being a series of essays about the importance of reasserting liberty as a social, political, economic, and theological value. His other two books are The Catastrophic Decline of America’s Public High Schools: New York City, A Case Study, and Memoir of a Jewish American Christian.

The image shows, “Auf der Flucht [On the Run],” by Magnuz Zeller, painted in 1920.