Echoes Of The Great War Resound Differently In Poland

The famous book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by British professor Christopher Clark, investigates World War I, diagnosing it to be more of a tragedy than a crime. The Great War was started by the “sleepwalkers” of the title, who were unaware of the historical scale of the catastrophe they were perpetrating. Not only did the hecatomb of victims and the scale of the destruction prove to be cataclysmic – but, above all, there followed the collapse of the European political order, admired by many to the present day as the “beautiful 19th century.”

Six years ago, when the centenary of that war took place, Clark’s book became the “political bible” for politicians and intellectuals who, smacking their lips with appreciation, discussed its thesis at countless conferences, always concluding with the same caution against repeating the “sleepwalking” precedent.

Looking from the Western European perspective of la belle époque, which was brutally interrupted by that war, one may say that this kind of narration dictated to Europe by Clark is not only logical but also nobly moral. However, what must strike a Pole in this narrative is the radically different experience of the 20th century in Central and Eastern Europe. And it is a difference that a contemporary French, Italian or even German probably does not notice, let alone accept.

One of the most famous passages from Polish literature, kept in the memory of every Pole from school-days, is the prayer from the Pilgrim’s Litany by the greatest Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz: “For universal war on behalf of freedom for the nations, we beseech Thee, O Lord!” This prayer is regarded as a prophesy about the outbreak of war which, after more than a hundred years of occupation, would finally bring Poles freedom and the possibility of living in their own country. In this Polish narrative, 1914 is neither a “crime” nor a “tragedy.” Quite the opposite – it is a historical declaration of freedom restored four years later. And the unexpected result of that war entailed the fall of the three occupying emperors: German, Russian, and Austrian.

This was a key moment for the Polish understanding of the world and the position of Poland in it. Having won the war, England and France paved the way for Poles to regain freedom; and thus, these two powers were inscribed as “friendly” and “allied” in the code of Polish political self-awareness, passed down from generation to generation. But that is not all. Every child in Poland knows that the victory was only possible because of the fact that the Americans entered Europe for the first time in history. When they left the continent shortly after, disgusted with the quality of European politics, it did not take long for the tragedy to strike again – the Second World War. So, this belief in the almost “magical” power of American presence in Europe became deeply rooted in the political DNA that shaped the identity of Poles.

The Polish state, reborn in 1918, could not think of itself other than in terms of some broader Central European union. Obviously, it was a memory of the old days gone by when the Lithuanian Jagiellonian dynasty ruled a vast federal power with two capitals in Krakow and Vilnius. Although there were other ethnic categories (for which the Polish national movement was leading the way in the new statehood) – the fact that Józef Piłsudski came to power (on the day of the historic Armistice of Compiègne on November 11, 1918) meant that it was not “nationalists,” but “Prometheists” that came to define the post-war mission of the Polish state. The military alliance with Ukrainians and Belarusians (who were also liberating themselves from Russian domination), meant to re-establish a union in Central and Eastern Europe, broke down under pressure from the Bolsheviks.

Thus, there was barely enough strength left to defend the endangered Polish statehood against the Bolsheviks who, in the summer of 1920, gathered just near the outskirts of Warsaw. It was also impossible to marshal enough energy to renew the idea of a union in Central Eastern Europe. Although such a union was not formed then, and this part of Europe was soon to become a battlefield of nationalism, nevertheless, immediately after the Great War, this period became an echo constantly resounding in Polish politics throughout the last century until today.

Primarily, it is an echo of a dream of political integration which could no longer be established specifically in the centre of the Eastern part of Europe. Over time the inability to maintain such a state of affairs became more and more obvious. However, the dream could be realized through a great European integration project for the whole of Europe. One should bear that in mind in order to understand the enthusiasm of Poles for their own accession to the European Union in the 21st century, but also the enthusiasm for its enlargement to include Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia. The peculiar “transfer” of the Union to the East has built the political mission of the contemporary Polish state; and without awareness of this fact, it is impossible to understand the Polish policy of the last 25 years.

Unfortunately, there is also a distant echo ringing loudly in Poland’s memory of the fact that at a time when in 1920 all Polish plans threatened to fail, as did the very existence of the Polish state, the “allied” and “friendly” European powers, in particular England under the rule of Lloyd George, paradoxically took the side of the Bolsheviks. This was at the same time as the Spa Conference when the Polish government was forced to surrender to Soviet Russia half of its territory – that is everything that the Russian Tsars forcibly appropriated themselves in the 18th century.

Never again has it been possible in Poland to eliminate this intuitive distrust of European “friends,” a distrust further strengthened in September 1939 and which, in fact, continues to this day. In turn, however, the still resonating echo of those events also provokes a particular Polish sensitivity to harm and the rejection by Europe of Ukrainians and Belarusians, i.e. the only nations that a century ago faced the Soviet threat with armed force, alongside the Poles. Everyone who wants to understand today why over a million Ukrainian immigrants, who have been welcomed with open arms, live and work in Poland need only remember this previous anti-Soviet alliance. Also, we will learn about this alliance at the European Union Summit, where the Polish Prime Minister is (successfully) striving for a plan for extensive economic support of Belarus which is to start when its citizens manage to remove the tyranny that has prevailed there so far.

In his famous book, Professor Clark proved that the echoes of the Great War are clearly heard in contemporary politics. And this is certainly true. However, the Polish echoes resound a bit differently from those heard by the great British historian.

Jan Rokita is a Polish philosopher, opposition activist in the communist era, former MP and deputy of the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish Parliament).

This article was published in the monthly Wszystko Co Najważniejsze (Poland) as part of a historical education project of the Institute of National Remembrance.

The image shows, “Cud nad Wisłą” (“Miracle on the Vistula”), by Jerzy Kossak, painted in 1930 (Museum of the Diocese in Torun).

Why Is The Sacré-Coeur Basilica Hated?

The Sacré-Coeur, that is, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is one of the most emblematic places in Paris and in all of France. It is the second most visited monument each year in the French capital with more than 10 million visitors. But this historical monument was never officially regarded as a historical monument, despite the fact that it was erected more than a century ago.

On October 13, the Ministry of Culture and the regional commission for heritage and architecture of Ile- de-France, the region that includes Paris, finally decided to register this church as a historical monument. It was begun in 1875, completed in 1923 and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sacré Coeur Paris, interior.

The reactions to this administrative decision have not been long in coming. And the furious criticisms of this decision to protect this well-known church, in fact, hide an important anti-Catholic component, especially from the Masonic and Communist sectors.

A Church Of Atonement

The deep animosity that this basilica arouses among these sectors is because of what it represents: An expiatory church in the face of the defeat by Prussia. Months later, the Paris Commune arose in 1871, which caused thousands of deaths and was responsible for the murder of dozens of people, including many clergymen and Catholics. With these painful events, the expiation of so many crimes also had its place among those who wished to build this church.

[The Paris “Commune” and its proposed method of government, namely, the dictatorship of the proletariat, gave rise to the terms, “communism” and “communist”].

Thereafter, and for decades, the Sacré-Coeur has been a target; and as recently as 2017 a popular initiative registered a petition in the Paris City Council with the aim of demolishing this church that “insults the memory of the Paris Commune.” Obviously, the petition went nowhere, but it did show the hatred that the Left and Freemasonry both have towards a church that crowns Paris on Montmartre and where the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has not been interrupted for a second in 135 years, neither in times of war nor of epidemics.

According to the Ministry of Culture, it is because of “a misreading of history” that the Church of the Sacred Heart had not yet been declared a historical monument. And according to its critics there is a reason why that had not been done.

Attacks By Freemasons, Communists and Socialists

Philippe Foussier, former Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France, protested on Twitter against the classification of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre as a historical monument, calling for a “discrediting.” In his opinion, this decision is “an insult to the 30,000 dead of the commune.”

This violent revolutionary process is an icon and a reference point for Communists, as it already was for Marx himself. And to this day it remains a symbol for the French and international Left.

Ian Brossat, leader of the Paris Communists, has sworn, on several occasions, to dismantle the Sacré Coeur and replace it with a “space of solidarity.”

Further, the socialist Lionel Jospin, former prime minister of France and former presidential candidate, when asked in 2017, which monument would he destroy if it had the power to do so, answered without hesitation – the Sacred Heart of Paris, as he said it is a symbol of “obscurantism, bad taste and the reactionary.”

Father Jacques Benoist, one of the leading experts on the Montmartre basilica, explains that the accusation of “reactionary” that is thrown at the Basilica comes from the Communist Party. And this is confirmed by the Communist senator Pierre Ouzoulias, who affirms that the Sacre Coeur “is not a monument like any other,” but created to “expiate the crimes of the Commune.”

The Reasons For This Hatred

For the religious, the official text of the consecration, engraved on a marble plaque placed in the corridor of the Sacred Heart around 1914, bears witness to these crimes. Here one cam read phrases, such as, “amend our sins,” “obtain the infinite mercy of the Lord,” “forgive our faults,” or “put an end to the misfortunes of France.” The Communards are not mentioned, although this event was certainly in the minds of the builders of the church – however, its construction had been decided upon six months before the Communard revolts.

The crimes themselves are indisputable. In fact, the church was erected in the same place where on May 26, 1871, 49 hostages were massacred, including 10 clergymen, by an angry mob. And this act was not isolated. Then came the government repression at the hands of Adolphe Thiers, which ended the commune. “The communists have not forgotten this, who, under the influence of Marx and then Lenin, integrated this event, turned it into a myth, in their collective memory”, explains Father Jacques Benoist. Thus, speaking of expiation for the crimes of the Commune is something that quickly inflames the French Communists.

As for the accusation that the Sacred Heart of Paris is a symbol of “obscurantism,” Father Benoist is surprised by the declarations of the Masonic leader because “those who were in charge of France, from the beginning of the 1870s, were really your [Masonic] spiritual ancestors. There were two types of Republicans: the Blues and the Reds. The Blues, Thiers and Gambetta. Where the Masonic influence was powerful was the bourgeois republic, which feared the Reds, the extreme Left. In 1871, the first massacred the second.”

The Real Origin Of The Basilica

It must be borne in mind that according to the history of Montmartre, the hill where the Sacré Coeur was built, was always a religious place. It was first a druidic place; later, the Romans erected a temple dedicated to Mars and Mercury; and, later, numerous Christian buildings were built there. Moreover, the very name of Montmartre derives from “Mount of Martyrdoms.”

In 1559, a fire destroyed a Benedictine abbey located on top of this Parisian hill, but the religious presence remained. And in 1794, the last abbess, Mother Marie-Louise Montmorency-Laval, bravely climbed the steps of the guillotine. The link, therefore, between Atonement, National Vow, and Mount of Martyrdom was clear.

And so, in order to offer a public penance, to atone for the historical sins of France and to counteract the impending apostasy, the great desire of Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury was the construction of a church on the hill, to illuminate Paris and act as a point of reference for the distracted and indifferent citizens of the 19th century metropolis.

Translated from the original Spanish version by N. Dass.

The image shows the Sacré Coeur Basilica.

Political Exorcism: Democracy And Its Demons

Democracy no longer appears in the 21st-century in the guise of the Greek philosophical discussion about the best form of government. If for the Greeks the very possibility of democracy was the result of a long history of “disenchantment” (Weber, Gauchet), for postmodern man democracy is burdened by a set of historical presuppositions (religious, moral and ideological) from which he can no longer be unlinked.

However, after the ideological overdose of the century of European civil war and the conflict between secular religions, supposedly settled in three crucial episodes (1918-1945-1989), democracy seems to suffer, in the 21st-century, an “abstinence syndrome” that places it in a state of indefiniteness and again disenchantment with post-totalitarian emptiness. This horror vacui largely conditions the current state of affairs.

The emergence of democracy in the course of Western history cannot be separated from what the Austrian Hellenist Fritz Schachermeyr called the Greek “untying” (Entbindung). According to this renowned scholar, Eastern cultures reached a state of Verhaltenheit, that is, a relatively static or immobile civilization, defined by a rigid setting within a traditional system of rites or beliefs. They are, in short, examples of “stopped civilizations” (Toynbee). The intimate essence of these civilizations is characterized by Schachermeyr with the word Bindung, “ties,” where everything is fixed by a marked “consciousness” (a key element, as will be seen later) of the natural and necessary character of this characterization.

According to Schachermeyr, the novelty offered by the Greco-Roman civilization is that it begins to “untie” (entbinden) the old “ties.” Although Schachermeyr does not explain what this dynamic consists of, it cannot but be the progressive desacralization, demanded by critical reason, which enters history to definitively close the phase of the primitive mentality of humanity (Lévy-Bruhl), at least for a significant portion of said humanity, which will progressively expand with the successive unfoldment of the Greek spirit. By virtue of this new spirit, a new cultural and anthropological atmosphere is inaugurated, in which democracy comes to be engendered.

This humus is marked, fundamentally, by the following elements: The autonomy of the individual, the self-government of the city, and philosophy. This substrate projects a mentality sharply tending towards individualism and relativism. As Jean Gebser explains, we move from the impersonality of the aperspective world to an awareness of the individual self that defines the perspectival world. Now, as this philosopher of the transformations of consciousness also emphasized, in the progressive evolution of the successive states of consciousness of humanity, the definitive burial of previous states does not take place, but rather their distorted transformation in the current aspect of the human. In other words, the primitive mentality of the tribe (the archaic and original structure) continues to operate in the rational state of individualized humanity. And this is of decisive relevance for understanding the evolution of democracy.

Ever since the Hellenic civilization was imposed, there has been a directionality in history much more marked than before. The principle of Entbindung (or, breaking of ties) resurfaces, renewed and reinforced; and, each time, by way of a setback, there is a return to the state of Bindung, or ties. It is not strictly a linear version of time, but of cycles which proceed in a spiral (Vico), with advances and retreats. In any case, in this inherent tendency towards desacralization, from the sacred kingdom of the gods, we pass to the government of heroes, to reach the self-government of men.

The Hellenic phenomenon thus represents an essential fracture in history. Jaspers spoke of the so-called “time-axis” to refer to the period from 600 to 200 BC, in which a series of peoples achieved a new consciousness of spiritual emancipation. However, it was in Greece, to a much greater degree, that the decisive element appears: The self-conscious individual, who creates an autonomous society, governed by rules subject to change. Hence, without direct or indirect Greek influence, outcomes as characteristic of the rational spirit as democracy are not found outside Greece.

What must be understood is that the true breaking point does not occur between democracy and other forms of government, but between a (magical-mythical) mentality closed to the very possibility of politics and a mentality that frees that space to conquer it – for politics. If the political (as essence) is not born from the consequence of that hiatus, it can at least be said that the consciousness of the political is born there. The free interrogation about society and its rules that political thought supposes is impossible in societies founded on myth and rite (Philippe Nemo). In fact, we do not find in them political theories but “myths of sovereignty.”

René Girard’s mimetic theory also allows us to understand that this absence of the political in the magical-mythical universe is not an accidental fact but something deeply embedded in the way of life associated with the structure of “violence and the sacred.” The mythical order is a global order, indistinctly cosmic and social, and in it the political does not emerge as an autonomous space but as a subsidiary of the all-encompassing sacred universe.

However, in the field of human behavior and politics, logos interferes from a certain moment, with the spontaneous forces of life, to create new forms, new doctrines and new styles of thought or behavior, new “ties,” as it were, replacing those already destroyed by its impact. In other words, the aperspective continues to subtly infiltrate the new perspectival mentality. The “new ties” cannot really resurrect the old structures of the magical mentality, although they do reflect the nostalgia for unity and order lost as a consequence of the crisis produced by the disorientation and confusion of the relativistic disorder generated by critical reason.

From this point of view, movements such as the Socratic or Platonic reaction are manifestations of this will to reinvent the traditional order with rational schemes. Plato’s political pharmacology collects the Egyptian medicinal art (Jan Assmann), and his claims point to a reactionary nostalgia for sacred unity, although with a foundation consistent with the desacralizing unleashing: Political philosophy, from then on, will be a rational and not mythical medicine. Plato is the first anti-democratic philosopher to propose an ideal rational republic. In it the king is no longer a god but a philosopher. The new “rational tie” thus slows down the tendency of democracy towards dissolution.

The thesis that I here defend is that democracy continues to live today under the influence of a new “tie” created from the ideological sedimentation of some of its own presuppositions, producing a new form of Verhaltenheit, which requires a model of rigid framework, which democratic principles (converted into sacred dogmas) must impose. Unlike reactionaries like Plato (or Rousseau), the new tie of our times is not anti-progressive, nor does it pretend to chain itself to a traditional community lost in the original past. On the contrary, its chains point towards a city in the clouds, the only paradise in which democratic man aspires to establish his definitive residence.

Our democracies, in effect, seek to surpass themselves in a purely self-referential framework. Hence, the everlasting call to “deepen” democracy. Every democracy always seems little democracy to the recalcitrant democrat. You can never go any further than democracy. It is the Plus Ultra of democratic religion. The problems are solved with more democracy and they are because of the fact that there is not enough democracy. It seems that man is always disappointed when looking in the mirror of the gods.

Today, we live under the splint of a new ideological-religious “tie” that takes different forms, all of which coincide in their essential and common tendency to subjection and mooring: The tyranny of consensus, the religion of human rights, the moralism of the Empire of the Good, the imposition of technocratic knowledge, political correctness, the Manichean demonization of the political adversary, the End of History. After all, what the Greeks called democracy presupposed accepting the desacralizing heritage of a critical skepticism that freed the political space from the control of the gods.

Today, other gods have appropriated the agora. Christopher Dawson described in his posthumous book (The Gods of Revolution) the process of the expulsion of Christianity by the culture generated by Christianity, and its replacement by a humanistic and rationalistic idolatry. “The archaic would always be here, haunting us. Behind the reign of the individual, behind secularism, the pre-eminence of the economy, democracy, the spirit of free examination, the monsters would only be waiting for the opportunity to dominate men again and to be worshiped by them ”(Pierre Pachet, “D’un archaïsme tout à fait contemporain“, Les cahiers de l’Est, 1, 1991).

Vilfedo Pareto’s sociology, with its well-known theory of residues and derivations, did not stop insisting on the necessary analysis of that archaic background of the human psyche, always ready to continue connecting with an irrational universe of gods and myths. For Pareto, this imaginary space operated in modernity with presumably rational entities that in practice violated the most elementary rules of logic, behaving like the deities fighting for or against the Greeks in the Iliad. Among these entities (in addition to abstract ideas, such as, freedom or equality) was also democracy, alienated in its theoretical structure by the presence of a mythological drive born in democracy’s own bosom and thus difficult to eradicate.

On the other hand, part of the problem evidently lies in knowing whether people can live for a long time in what Claude Lefort called “democratic indeterminacy,” resulting from the new scenario established by the reality of the “place empty of power” (lieu vide du pouvoir) – that is, if a political community can subsist without projecting outside of this reality, deifying it as a sacred incarnation of itself in the form of unitary sovereignty – or, without exhibiting and conjuring up a phantasmagoric incarnation of the other or of evil in the form of a scapegoat (Poliakov’s diabolical causality).

The political carries, as a founding genetic stain, the weight of this beneficent/malefic ambivalence that reappears under different guises in the course of the “rational” history of humanity (thus, for example, with sacred monarchy in feudal society). The progress of politics (and, particularly, of democracy) is based on the substitution of competition for war; or, if you prefer, sacrifice for envy. “Bullets or ballots” the Americans used to say. Bertrand Russell affirmed with force that “envy is the basis of democracy.” And he added: “The democratic movement in the Greek states must have been inspired almost entirely by this passion. And the same can be said of modern democracy.” In any case, as with the pharmacy, everything is a question of dosage; and politics disappears when the unit or the division becomes absolute.

We no longer live “in” democracy but “under” democratism (Freund), a “political myth” (in the sense of Raoul Girardet), born of moral and religious dogmas hardly compatible with the onto-theopolitical emptiness operated by the Greek revolution. The place empty of power has been occupied by a new religion. Is democratism the hidden enemy of democracy?

Understanding democratism requires summarizing the history of democracy in its historical and sociological aspects. Thus, it is the history of democratization, or democratic imperialism, that is, the extension of the democratic-egalitarian ethos outside its natural political space. By going out of its habitat, like any empire, democracy weakens in its own terrain. By assuming a social profile (Tocqueville’s democratic condition), moral or religious, democracy is depoliticized. On the other hand, the state political form, in turn expansive by definition as a consequence of war (Jouvenel’s law of political concurrence), ended up merging with democracy in an apparently predictable embrace. In effect, the state tends to dissolve hierarchies and to standardize from above by a power apparatus that ends up escaping the control of the monarchs.

The relationship of the state with the political is equivocal. In its attempt to neutralize politics, the state ends up politicizing everything (totalitarianism). This is undoubtedly one of the causes of democratic imperialism or democratism. The modern state promotes, after 1789, the democratic politicization of all subpolitical and prepolitical spaces. By politicizing life that is not strictly political, the state depoliticizes directly political life. Hence, the current dissolution of the boundaries between the public and the private. By neutralizing conflicts, the state deactivates political initiatives and the vigor of civic virtues in public life, devitalizing democratic life in its popular or community aspect.

By conquering the moral mantle of religious legitimacy, democracy becomes hyper-legitimate and naturally tends towards Manichaeism, thus fueling its own mythology of sovereign unity (Rousseau’s general will). J.L. Talmon had demonstrated the constitutive duality of the modern democratic concept in his penetrating study of the origins of totalitarian democracy. In this way, mythological democracy threatens with its own weapons the axiological pluralism that presumably grounds it.

The democratic historical fruit thus contaminates the root of the democratic philosophical tree. On the other hand, the ideological sanctification that accompanies democratism erodes the agonistic-conflictive dimension of political democracy. If democracy does not guarantee peaceful concurrence (Aron) within it, political concurrence will occur outside of democracy. In order to save the purity of ideological orthodoxy – through recourse to Manichaeism that transforms the political adversary into absolute evil – democracy abdicates its popular legitimacy to expel the people into outer darkness.

Also, at this point, democracy chooses to “tie itself” to its ideological descendants, forgetting that it was born because of an”untying” from its magical ancestors. There is in ideology a dark form of regression to the necromancer’s sleight of hand. Like the sorcerer, the ideologue aspires to ontologically extirpate evil. Hence his obsession with closing the era of politics in the name of secular messianism. Unlike the hygienic puritanism of the ideological discourse, political realism understands that it is always necessary to coexist and (if necessary) to make a pact with evil in the search for a compromise that guarantees external security and internal harmony (the purpose of politics as Julien Freund recalled).

Politics, the art of the possible to avoid the worst, ends up yielding today to the dreamlike universe of idealistic utopias that populate ideological discourses. And the withdrawal from politics is also the withdrawal of democracy as a form of government.

To the depoliticizing panorama that emerged as a consequence of the hegemony of ideological discourse (certainly presented in its postmodern version of “weak thinking”) is added the concomitant factor of globalization. The unification of the world is a historical fact in principle alien to democracy as such, but it has not hesitated to accept it, first as a “fellow-traveler” and later as an inseparable friend (democracy allied to the universalism of human rights). Politics is said to make strange bedfellows; but the assertion is valid as a description of the unspeakably opportunistic wiles of professional politicians, though not at all applicable to theoretical principles that are difficult to reconcile.

As the unsuspecting Emmanuel Todd recently put it with a provocative aphorism of his own making, “if a lot of xenophobia destroys democracy, a little xenophobia can bring it back.” In the idea of democracy, the historian and demographer added, there is always an element of “founding xenophobia.” By forgetting that man is a “dependent rational animal” (Alasdair MacIntyre), the atomistic angelism of postmodern mysticism destroys the roots (Simone Weil) that define the human condition.

In this way, by dissolving the ties of belonging to national political communities, the instances of collective action associated with the democratic ethos are weakened, thus facilitating the task of the new global power occupied by the globalist elites that lead supranational instances. By submitting to these vagrant elites, the national political class discredits the popular legitimacy on which the democratic mandate of political representation continues to be based. The foreign friends of democracy prostitute democracy. Maybe democracy should look for new friends.

The last aspect of democratism, as the enemy of democracy, can be found in the cultural field. Here, too, a new idol has been erected, although in reality it may be an unwanted child of Christianity, as Chesterton suggested. Political correctness has, despite its deceptive appearance, very little of politics. However, the consequences for political democracy are very dire. In its ideological defense of victims, political correctness promotes the censorship and demonization of the adversary. In this way, it sponsors denunciation, ideological exile, and silences any form of dissent through the imposition of a taboo strictly controlled by the new well-thought-out courts of the “Empire of the Good” (Philippe Muray). Automatically, the irreverence that nurtures the democratic moral disposition (the anaideia of the cynics) ends up being ruined in front of the new censors of soft totalitarianism.

Soft McCarthyism does not, for the moment, build new concentration camps for dissidents, but it justifies civil death and thought police, by way of the educational Big Mother and the multicultural Big Other. Victimist ideologies (third wave feminism, anti-racism, animalism, etc.) represent the vanguard of this new liberticidal witch-hunt led by the latest version of the “Revolution of the Saints” (Michael Walzer). The porno-calvinist ideocracy seems, in the long run, little compatible with political democracy.

In sum, the monism of postmodern democratic ideology seems difficult to reconcile with the pluralism inherent in democracy as a form of government. The disappearance of political otherness as a consequence of the fall of communism has increased the polarization of this opposition. It is still striking that liberal democracy adopts the eschatological dress of its main enemy up till then (Marxism) and dresses in the messianic cloak of the end of History (Fukuyama). The mystique of democratism, however, is gradually extinguished by the absence of its enemies.

Hence the efforts of neo-puritan ideologues to imagine spectral representations of evil encoding and recoding reality through mass media. Democratic theology voluntarily adopts the Manichaeism of Islamist fundamentalism (Axes of Good and Evil). Its deleterious effects are manifested in the internal dynamics of democracy as a pluralistic form of government. As Chantal Mouffe has written, “agonistic” democracy (democracy as pacification of political conflict) has been replaced by democracy of consensus and extreme antagonism (democracy as moral and religious ideology).

Today neither bullets nor ballots serve to revive dying democracy. By moralizing itself, democracy is depoliticized. The exacerbation of this conflict can end democracy, and can eliminate it also. Montesquieu seems to have seen it clearly: “Beware of a city where the noise of any conflict is not heard because tyranny will not be far behind.” Tocqueville’s prophecies pointed in the same direction. The two bodies of the king (Kantorowicz) are expressed today as two bodies of democracy: The mystical body (democratic ideology) and the physical body (political democracy). Political democracy also seems to die by the same cry as monarchs: Democracy is dead! Long live democracy!

The place is not empty of power today. In place of the totalitarian Egocrat, we have the democratic ideocrat-technocrat. The two entrances to the democratic castle seem impenetrable to criticism. The ideocrat is also a holy monarch. To this is added the validity (increasingly threatened by its frank lack of realism) of statism, that is, of depoliticizing politicization. The political neutralization caused by the state necessarily generates a form of impolitical democracy.

Transformed into pure and simple administration from the cradle to the grave, the antipolitical democratic-state holds presumed citizens in the position of simple subjects (when not suspects), reduced by multiple mechanisms (the control of education, culture, taxation) to an infantilism incompatible with the presumed coming of age of democratic life and the civic virtues necessary to nurture it. Thinkers like Sloterdijk, with his proposal for voluntary taxation as a banner of civic responsibility, have drawn attention to this paradox.

On the other hand, the so-called “democratization” (or Tocquevillian democratic condition) has accelerated the process of standardization and leveling in the spiritual field, impoverishing the pluralism that political democracy feeds on. In this sociological undifferentiation (driven by technology, mainstream culture, spiritual Americanization and globalism) ideocracy also finds its anthropological basis.

To this must be added the growing distance between globalized political elites and the people they claim to represent democratically. It is known that democracy does not escape the iron law of the oligarchy (Michels) but its application in the democratic context (illusion of identity between representatives and the represented) implies a much higher cost for its legitimacy than in the case of other forms of government. “Universal suffrage does not pretend that the interests of the majority triumph, but rather that the majority believe it,” wrote the Colombian, Nicolas Gómez Dávila.

The problem today is that most have stopped believing it. And the masks also fall on the other side of the costume ball. The political elite no longer hide their contempt for the people, their traditions and identity, which are hardly comparable with the emancipatory rhythm of the alleged progress that they intend to promote. That the popular acquires a pejorative meaning (populism) in a democratic context is an unequivocal indication of the identity crisis of the democracies of the 21st-century. Populism is today, above all, a symptom of the degenerative disease of undemocratic democracy. By clinging to ideological legitimacy, democracy disregards its popular legitimacy.

In short, today the rebellion of the masses (Ortega y Gasset) and the rebellion of the elites (Lasch) converge. But 1945 and 1989 represent two fateful dates for the ideological substratum of “political illusion” (Ellul). With them “religious democracy” has lost its flock even though it retains its clergy. Other ideologies of substitution (feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, animalism, transhumanism) aspire to fill this void and articulate their proposals with the same totalitarian grammar of the maternal state. The democracy that has come to us has already traveled through religious space, depoliticizing itself along the way – but today it is a dead faith. By becoming the demiurge of the life of the people, it has devitalized their natural and community sources.

Real suicide (the leading cause of unnatural death in the West) and demographic suicide represent the two faces of silenced death in the democratic paradise. The parallels with the world of real socialism begin to be disturbing and remind us of certain authors who have already proclaimed that socialism failed in the East because it triumphed in the West (Augusto Del Noce). However, the dreams of reason produce monsters; and socialism only wins in the tricky world built by the fallacies that inhabit the nirvana of postmodern ideologues. There is no more opium from the intellectuals (Aron), but the ambitions of the new well-thought-out clerics continue to nurture democratic hyper-legitimacy.

Plato’s observation is still valid: Democracy is an irresistible force of change that tends to instability. His Eros leads to his Thanatos. Democracy can survive as long as the agony of the conflict continues – but its overcoming in consensus-mode represents its death certificate. The perpetual peace promised by ideologies is disguised in the messianic garb of final reconciliation. Although our liberal democracies may boast, in the face of bloodthirsty totalitarianisms, that they have not fulfilled these promises in the death camps, they cannot deny that their aspirations lead politics directly to the graveyard.

Democratic disease requires, in the pharmacological vision linked to politics as medicinal knowledge, a remedy. Faced with the civilizing crisis caused by the utopian and futuristic politics of ideologies, there is only room for the skeptical response of political realism. It is what the Italian sociologist Carlo Gambescia calls “sad liberalism.”

Political democracy can only survive by returning to its first desecration root that today demands the proclamation of ideological atheism. A deeply religious spirit like Simone Weil’s had no qualms about speaking of “purifying atheism.” Oakeshott also contrasted the politics of faith and the politics of skepticism. To regain effective political will, it is necessary to promote a re-secularization of European public life.

Pierre Bayle claimed that demons prefer idolatry to atheism. “If it is merely a question of organizing an earthly paradise, there are plenty of priests. The devil is enough,” wrote Gómez Dávila. “Demons squat on our adaodoned altars,” said Ernst Jünger. Democratic soteriology has ended up directing politics from the world of men to the heaven of the gods. This Promethean impulse of the “Black Mass” (John Gray), a political demonology, supported by the legitimizing mantle of a mystical discourse (Saint-Simon‘s “new Christianity”, Pierre Lerroux’s “religious democracy”), nests in the “ myth of the new man ”studied by Dalmacio Negro.

Cultivated by philosophical modernity and disputed in a regime of mimetic rivalry (Girard) by modern ideologies that promote collective intramundane self-salvation, this myth removes democracy from the land that men tread on, to elevate them to the false condition of angels. “Qui fait l’ange fait la bête,” (“He who becomes an angel becomes a beast”), Pascal said. Democratic theology is an anthropotheism that bestializes man in the name of his divinization.

The remnants of secularist criticism (actually a confused symbiosis of moralism and materialism) preach the pressing need for a definitive expulsion of the merchants who pollute the public space. Necessary but not a sufficient measure. The reconquest of the agora requires above all the recovery of the public virtue of irreverence in the face of “democratic fundamentalism” (Gustavo Bueno).

Only the moral and intellectual force of sacrilegious skepticism will work the necessary miracle of the banishment of “the faith of demons” (Hadjad). Unable to “tie” to heaven by way of the desacralization generated by “Christian subversion” (Ellul), the spiritual forces of demons are chained to “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12). In this sense, the fight against the political religions of the princes of this world is inevitable. Democracy against demonocracy. There is more than a play on words in this opposition. Perhaps it contains the dramatic historical dilemma that is presented to the future of Western political societies.

There is no other medicine that cures the sick: Only wicked exorcists will save democracy from itself.

Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020.

The image shows The Parthenon, a watercolor by Frederic Edwin Church, painted 1871.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass

The Birth Of The Catholic Reason Of State

I. France, The Anti-Empire

Any attempt to build a metaphysics of nations is doomed to failure. There remains, however, the possibility of affirming a definition of the intimate affinity of nations with certain political forms based on their historical biography. In the case of France, however, this biography arises historically from a truly disconcerting paradox. France, the only nation that retains the name of the Germanic tribe that restored the Empire in Europe, has been the nation that has fought the most. According to Erwin von Lohausen: “Among the various powers that, one by one, were facing the Habsburg Empire, France became, more and more after Louis XI, the soul of the rebellion. While French royalty had the same origins as the German Empire, France was, by nature, the anti-Empire.”

Austrian General Erwin von Lohausen, one of the great experts in geopolitics of the twentieth-century, a veteran of World War II under Rommel, insisted in his analyzes that the meaning, and the relationship with space, of the necessities and the passions of people are engines of world history that no religion or ideology can counteract.

These considerations may seem shocking when applied to the definition of the historical personality of the French nation. Has it not been the country that has poured forth with genuine conviction (at least in its declarations) at the service of a universalist mission, be it religious (the Crusades) or secular (the Rights of Man)? And has not this nation also been one to never hesitate to use these “sacred causes” (to take up the expression of Michael Burleigh) to “profess a fierce national egoism” and a “prejudice for the Fatherland?” It is not easy to find any other European people better able to bear the heavy burden of an impossible symbiosis between sacred universalism and chauvinistic nationalism. Hence the German geopolitical analysis of authors like von Lohausen is so valuable.

It was scholars like these who pointed out the striking freedom of France in choosing its own historical causes in comparison with other nations, conditioned by a geography that limited its scope for action in contrast to the comfortable French geopolitical position: “For German geopolitical scientists, France, because of its geographic situation, enjoys a freedom of action that neither Spain, nor Italy, nor Germany ever had. Historically, these three countries had to directly confront the Saracens, the Slavs and the Magyars. They could only act in relation to their needs. France, however, had the freedom to really choose its policy, to proclaim the Crusades and the Rights of Man.”

Indeed, far from seeing in it an insurmountable opposition, perhaps it is its privileged geostrategic position that explains to a large extent France’s historical fondness for leading the great sacred causes of each era and serving them, by attending first to the interests marked by the politics of national individualism. In France, the universal missions are always framed within the friend-foe political duality.

The peculiar historical configuration of the French identity is one of the most relevant keys to understanding the success with which it confronted empires politically, without ceasing to defend, on paper, the sacred causes with which the latter justified the legitimacy of their hegemony. The first-born daughter of the Church was the Catholic nation that most effectively fought the Holy Roman Empire. Thanks to the testimony of France, we better understand the ineradicable political dimension of the so-called “wars of religion.” Not even in that historical context, of mystical fervor in defense of the faith, could the friend-foe dialectic be translated without historical falsification into any other kind of completely crystalline moral or religious duality. There was France and the policy of its kings to deny it.

Once again, France “chose” its policy with full freedom; and did so against the empire and in the name of the same religious cause. The empire never had a fiercer enemy, because not only did France frustrate its expectations of supremacy with the strength of its armies, but France did so with the authority of its bishops and cardinals, as well as the countless Popes affected by the efforts of her first-born daughter. Although separated very soon from the imperial destiny of Charlemagne, France nevertheless preserved the genetic and foundational mark of a divine mission in “mimetic” competition with the empire. It is perhaps one of the most defining features of France’s identity.

Who is to blame for the French superiority complex, the self-assumed grandeur de la fille aînée de l’Église (“greatness of the first daughter of the Church”)? Psychologists speak of the “child emperor” syndrome to refer to children who end up dominating their parents. It is a curious formula since, in the case of France, the syndrome paradoxically afflicted the nation called to fight the empire pushed by the primogeniture privilege of its affiliation with the Church.

And just as psychologists point to the responsibility of parental education to understand the character formation of these imperial children, so in our case we must also point to the parents of France (the Empire of Charlemagne and the Catholic Church) as mainly responsible for an education conducive to the affirmation of a national pride based on the supreme legitimacy of a divine mission. “The bishops made France as bees make the hive,” wrote Joseph de Maistre. This observation is not without value but even it seems too restrictive. It was the entire Church that fed the religious vanity of the French nation. It was the Church that shaped it, that nurtured it, while continuing to excite and glorify with its education the achievements and conquests of its favorite daughter.

II. A State Against The Empire: Richelieu, Founder Of Modern Europe

A large part of the tensions of the history and identity of France are attuned to the aporia of the political form with which it has wanted to serve its universal mission. The State has been a particularist tool that has determined a good part of the historical dynamics that explain the French opposition to the empire. The victory of France in the seventeenth-century against the Spanish hegemony was also the victory of the state political form over the imperial political form.

Where are the historical roots of this crossroads to be located? The Colombian, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, wrote: “The modern State is the transformation of the apparatus that society has developed for its defense into an autonomous organism that exploits it.” France developed an apparatus for its defense. And the architect of that apparatus was Cardinal Richelieu.

The key to understanding the genesis of this apparatus is found, in full harmony with the Hobbesian thesis, in the civil war that bled a France increasingly divided into religious, political and social factions. As Philippe Erlanger, Richelieu’s biographer, recounts: ”No one was a greater creator than Armand du Plessis. When he took the nation in hand, France was not just a nation adrift; total anarchy devoured it. Its weakness in the face of other powers made it a kind of vacant good, an almost virtual entity. Nothing seemed impossible: Its disaggregation, a Protestant republic of the Midi, provinces that proclaimed their independence, others that fell into the hands of the Habsburgs, a fractionation, a satellization, a decadence similar to that of Italy.”

It is at this juncture that Richelieu’s founding idea and policy appear. The political exceptionality of France destroyed by the wars of religion opened the historical horizon to the affirmation of new possibilities of political definition. As Dalmacio Negro writes: “In the founding moments of a political unit – an important classical locus of political philosophy practically abandoned – the situation is in itself exceptional; the decision then being essential. For the political exception is never about something objectively existing and determinable, but has the character of innovation according to a guiding idea. It is a historical decision, about the future; to make a historical possibility viable. In it, other possible options are discarded, in favor of what is chosen and imposed.”

Erlanger exposes it in his own way by raising the historical dimension of the figure of Cardinal Richelieu to the condition of founder of a new political nation after the construction of the first modern State worthy of the name: Louis XIII wanted to restore greatness and cohesion to this lost kingdom. Relying on this royal wish, Richelieu did much more – he remodeled France, transforming it by a revolution quite similar to those of the twentieth-century, and forced it out of its chrysalis to become a modern nation.”

France was undoubtedly the most advantageous candidate in Europe for the definitive construction of the new political form. Educated by the Church, she also imitated the empire that was reborn with the Frankish dynasty. The new French model took many elements from both one (the Church) and the other (the Empire); and no one better than a French Catholic cardinal, devoted to the service of the Capetian monarchy, to lay the foundations of the new political order that would establish the fortress of the newly inaugurated State, despite many internal enemies and imperial external threats.

In practice, the action and work of ecclesiastics such as Cisneros, Wolsey, Richelieu or Mazarin were decisive for the consolidation and configuration of statehood. […] All of them under the imprint of the still dominant ecclesiastical way of thinking, which determined general attitudes. The result was that the State, (…), imitated and took from it (the Church) much more than power. For example, the secularized idea of the political body derived from the theological concept of the mystical body in which the ontological individual becomes a social individual; or, the idea of hierarchy and a large-scale bureaucratic administration; and, in the background of all this, as the driving force and justification of its activity, the aforementioned dynamic idea of mission, now applied to temporary security.”

In his biography of the Cardinal, Hilaire Belloc christens Richelieu nothing less than the “founder” of modern Europe: “The consequence of this, finally, and above all, was the creation, in the center of Europe, of a new modern nation, highly organized and subjected to a strong monarchical centralism, which, quickly reaching the heights of creative genius both in literature, as in the arts, as in military science, was to constitute a model that would serve as an example to the new nationalist ideal. This new organized nation was France; and the man who carried out all this was Richelieu. He was the one who, subordinating everything to the monarchy he served (and, therefore, to the nation), had to place everything under the authority of the crown… He was the one who, by work and grace of his own will, managed to consolidate the seventeenth-century, and with it, although involuntarily, the Europe of yesterday. His work is modern Europe.”

It is necessary to interpret the work of the new cardinal-minister (or the minister-cardinal, to be more precise as per his historical performance) in the light of the theoretical battle between the rights of religion and those of politics. This far-reaching battle was fought against the backdrop of the wars of religion that shook the old continent, and only reached a solution after the political success of Richelieu’s work at the head of the State apparatus built by him to serve the people – the French monarchy.

According to Marcel Gauchet, the history of the relations between the political and the religious begins with millennia of religious colonization of politics, that is, millennia of religious “occupation” of a political terrain used to living in a protected minority, by an archaic mentality of a mythical-sacred character. It should not be forgotten that “the political came from the bosom of the sacred,” as Dalmacio Negro reminds us.

With the advent of Christianity, “the religion of the departure from religion,” a new framework of relationships was established, in which the political began to gain its independence. In triumphant modernity, the tables were reversed and we witness, on the contrary, the political colonization of religion (political or secular religions represent perhaps the most advanced stage of this process). Today we perhaps arrive at the philosophical-universalist colonization of the political by the humanitarian ideology of religious democracy and human rights, a new form of secular and antipolitical gospel that claims its privileges with messianic fervor.

Octavio Paz pointed out that politics limits one side with war and the other with philosophy. Philosophy represents, in effect, the limit-form of a universalism that was always the focus of the imperial political form (pagan or Christian). Faced with it, the state-form, with a particularist matrix, is defined by the limit and the frontier of enmity, formulated from political criteria, and tending to progressively eliminate moral or religious residues.

What does Richelieu’s work represent in Gauchet’s transhistoric scheme? In the tension of the double condition present in the figure of Richelieu, minister of a Catholic monarchy who ended up blurring a prince of the Church, the modern transition from the religious pole to the political pole is embodied as an epitome. The significance of this epitome may not be (apparently) distinguished from other cardinals with similar political responsibilities, such as Cisneros or Wolsey – but its decisive relevance in the construction of the ratio-status, which the new hegemonic power of Europe was going to impose, necessarily endows it with a superior role.

Richelieu’s work should be interpreted as a declared exercise of affirmation of the primacy of (State) politics and its friend-foe logic over the demands of the religious script that a pastor of the Church was supposed to attend to. What is striking in this case is that this statement does not occur within the framework of the new relationships generated by the Lutheran thinking with which the predominance of the new State hegemony is frequently associated, but in the context of catholic monarchy, the oldest in Europe.

Richelieu’s new State at the service of Louis XIII asserts itself inwardly against the remains of the feudal aristocracy, against the Levantine high nobility, and above all, against the “State within the State,” represented by the Huguenot minority yet infiltrating the political and social body of the nation. In its determined will to fight abroad against the Austro-Spanish Empire, Richelieu’s State also deploys its energies against the internal enemy, the devout “collaborationist” party that, for essentially religious reasons, presented itself as a French ally of the monarchy of the Habsburgs.

The failed coup against Richelieu, on the famous “Day of the Dupes,” ruined the last hopes of the devout pro-Spanish party. As Etienne Thuau summarized in his study on the reason of State in Richelieu’s time, “in relation to organized society, this authoritarianism translates the will to destroy infra-national solidarity in the same way that it destroys the supranational solidarity of the res publica christiana.”

The strengthening of the new State apparatus required the complete submission to the new order of the old estates, as well as of the dissident Huguenot elite, in significant contrast to the tolerant pastoral care that Richelieu had sustained in his time as Bishop of Luçon. But now the cardinal did not act as a man of the Church, but as the inflexible executor of the policy that would ensure the new greatness of the French monarchy. The success of the minister of Louis XIII is inseparable from the new European order that will follow his death and which can hardly be separated from his work. The Ius Publicum Europaeum enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia was, at heart, a Ius Publicum Richelaeum.

We noted earlier that the logic of the minister-cardinal’s work was defined by his novel hierarchy of principles in directing the affairs of the kingdom, both internally and externally. Whether against the Huguenots, against the nobility, against the devout party or against the Empire, the line of action of the former bishop was based on the spirit of the primacy of politics, and more specifically, in that maxim of consistent political intelligence, according to Raymond Aron, in turning yesterday’s enemy into today’s ally. The Catholic monarchy of Louis XIII did not hesitate to make a pact with foreign Protestant forces while fighting the Huguenot cancer of La Rochelle. All this in the name of the new reason of State. The Cardinal, according to the portrait drawn by his enemies, carried the breviary in one hand and Machiavelli in the other.

It is worthwhile analyzing the result of this new logic of political purity in international and domestic relations. The new scenario was translated intellectually into an intensification of the secularization of political thought and power. For the political legitimation of a Catholic power as emblematic as the French monarchy, Richelieu’s endeavor required, especially in the context of the wars of religion, an argument from authority that went beyond the strictly theological dimension with which they used to hide many of the conflicts that were presented on the geopolitical arena.

In this sense, Armand du Plessis’s gamble contributed to the purification of a political thought hitherto accustomed to disguising itself in the name of moral and religious causes, counteracting with all the theoretical energy (and with essentially theological ammunition) the growing impact that Machiavelli’s unmasked proposition was beginning to have. At the level of the concert of nations, the politics of France began to find its own moral argument; but it was an argument of political morality that attended to the danger represented by a unipolar Empire which threatened the geopolitical balance of Christendom. Thus, in a line very similar to that which the theorist of Action française, Charles Maurras, later defend in his work, Kiel et Tanger (and which General De Gaulle came to apply strictly in the Fifth Republic), France was rising for the first time as a defender of multipolarity in the international arena. Its place and its mission consisted in being the arbiter or mediator of Christianity to preserve its constitutive balance.

Faced with Spanish ambition, the most powerful state in the West now had the duty to free Christianity from the threats that weighed against it. Furthermore, the expression of the will of French power did not exclude the desire to restore an international order. Thus, by affirming itself, the national State recognizes other States. For this reason, in the numerous writings that specify or exalt the role of France in Europe, an idea stubbornly persists: That of European balance which will ensure the freedom of the different States.

“However, in the second quarter of the seventeenth-century, a European balance no longer existed. It had been broken by the inordinate ambition of Spain, and it was up to France to assume the mission of putting things back in their state. Statist writers currently claim for the French the glorious titles of “liberators” and “arbiters of Christianity.” This way of speaking was one of the most official. Richelieu himself defined the objectives of French policy in these terms: “…To help restore freedom to its former allies, reestablish peace in Germany and put things back in a just balance because, in the present state, the House of Austria, in no more than six years, when it has nothing more to conquer in Germany, will try to occupy France at our expense.

“In the name of the cause of European emancipation, Richelieu justified his intervention in the affairs of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. In every military or diplomatic action, it was about liberating a people or a prince from the “oppression of the Spanish,” from the “tyranny of the House of Austria,” from the terror caused by the “insatiable greed” of this House, enemy of the rest of Christianity, and to stop its “usurpations,” to save Italy from its “unjust oppression,” to seek its salvation.”

Although it is paradoxical, this provocative propaganda against the House of Austria did not sublimate the awareness of careful observation of France’s main political enemy, an observation that reached the rank of self-taught education by the method of strategic rivalry. Luis Díez del Corral recalled that “Richelieu admired the organization of the Spanish Monarchy;” although such admiration did not become the pure and simple emulation of its political-administrative structures: “The image of Spain is present in every act, on every page of the Cardinal. Many were the teachings that he received, but not so much to imitate as to replicate, becoming the configurator of a new type of political organization that contrasts with the Austrian Monarchy, and serves to illuminate its historical nature and destiny. The Spanish theme appears especially in the Cardinal’s Political Testament, a work that Carl J. Burkhardt considers Richelieu’s chef d’oeuvre, ‘a compendium of political art, a profoundly French method that will always preserve the value of a model.’”

Indeed, this meticulous observation of the movements of the imperial enemy did not translate into a “mimetic replica” of the structural configuration of the Spanish imperial model, but rather into a replica of an antagonistic State model. This “profoundly French method that will always preserve the value of a model” was, in effect, the result of the war led with an iron hand by Richelieu, who must be considered the founder, not only of Modern Europe (as Belloc pointed out), but also of the state-centered political organization that accompanies it to this day.

As Dalmacio Negro pointed out: “The war was a struggle between the Spanish people and the most perfected State of the time, which has always been the paradigm or prototype of statehood since Richelieu. The Revolution and Napoleon made it the formidable Nation-State to which it owed its superiority.”

The awareness of the superiority of the French model for the war that was being fought also reached those who stood as opposition to it; but the survival of the imperial forma mentis prevented a mimicry in the opposite direction towards the centralization and concentration of power that it implemented. The French crown was marching at a forced pace. The bringing of the Bourbon dynasty into Spain was necessary to initiate, and not without resistance, the slow implementation of the neighboring state- model.

It is well known that Philip IV rejected the suggestion in this sense of the Count-Duke Olivares, having realized that what Richelieu was doing in France – making it the first great state power, with full awareness of what modern sovereignty means in order to centralize political power. According to Jouvenel, Olivares thought like the Cardinal that the good of the nation and of the State justifies violating any law and privilege, that is, crossing the limits that distinguish the power of the potestas.”

The notion of the French theorist, Bertrand de Jouvenel, on the law of political competition in the narration of “natural history” and of the “growth of power,” offers a very adapted historical-theoretical mold to understand the direct relationship between a war fought by the two Catholic monarchies and the formation, at Richelieu’s initiative, of the new French model of a centralized State.

These natural jealousies between the powers engendered, on the one hand, a well-known principle, the momentary forgetting of which demands a heavy payment from States – that any territorial increase by one of them, by expanding the base from which it draws its resources, forces the others to seek an analogous increase to restore balance. But there is another way for the State to reinforce itself, which is more fearful for the neighbors than territorial acquisition – the progress of power to exploit the resources that its own territory offers it.”

Jouvenel himself points out Burke’s cutting observation in understanding this same phenomenon as an experience to remember after the French Revolution when, in 1795, he wrote: “The State [in France] is supreme. Everything is subordinate to the production of force. The State is military in its principles, in its maxims, in its spirit, in all its movements … If France had more than half of its current forces, it would still be too strong for most of the States of Europe, as they are constituted today and proceeding as they do.”

Jouvenel draws a general lesson from this dialectic between war and the growth of power: “Any progress of power with respect to society, whether obtained in view of war or for any other purpose, gives it an advantage in war.” Such an equation can alter the order of the factors involved, without diminishing its degree of historical validity; and it is in this second sense that the tendency towards the concentration of power, which this mimetic bid between antagonistic powers has pushed, must be understood.

Thus, if, on the one hand, every advance of power serves war, then war, on the other hand, serves the advance of power. This dynamic acts as a sheepdog that urges reticent powers to reach the most advancement in this totalitarian process. This intimate link between war and power appears throughout the history of Europe. Every State that has successively exercised political hegemony has sought the means to do so through a more intense pressure on the people than that exerted by the other powers on their respective peoples. And to confront these precursors it grew necessary that the powers of the continent be placed on the same level.”

The author of On Power understood that this process is closely linked to the French resistance to the Spanish Empire, as happened in England: “The development of absolute monarchy, both in England and in France, is linked to the efforts of both dynasties to resist the Spanish threat. James I will owe his great powers to the army. If Richelieu and Mazarin were able to elevate the rights of the State so much, it was because they could continually invoke external danger.”

The testimony of Fontenay-Mareuil (1594-1665), who was a diplomat and military man in Richelieu’s time, is especially relevant, in Jouvenel’s opinion, to give us “an idea of how military urgency contributed to liquidating the old forms of government and cleared the way to absolute monarchy.” In the words of the French ambassador: “It was really necessary to save the kingdom…that the king had sufficiently absolute authority to do everything that pleased him, since he had to deal with the king of Spain, who has so many countries to obtain everything he needs. It is clear that if he had had to gather the Estates General, as is done in other places, or depend on the good will of parliament to obtain everything that he needed, he would never have been able to do anything.”

The increase in number of the French military under Richelieu’s command is quite a telling indicator of the transformation carried out in France as a result of the political and armed confrontation with the Habsburg Empire: Richelieu, who found that all the forces in France had been reduced by Marie de Medici to 10,000 men, raised them to 60,000. Then, after having fought the war in Germany for a long time, and ‘reaching for the purse rather than the sword,’ he raised an army of 135,000 infantry and 25,000 cavalry – forces that France had not seen in eight centuries.”

There is nothing better than the testimony of Richelieu himself to understand this exorbitant growth of the resources made available to the new State machinery. The cardinal justified it all by the “incessant purpose of stopping the advance of Spain.” The war, midwife to absolute monarchy, not only buried the old aristocracies in this way (confirming Vilfredo Pareto’s assertion about the circulation of the elites) but also prepared for the funeral of the Spanish imperial form, without whose threat there would be no emergence of the gigantic apparatus that, brought about by force of circumstances for the defense of the French nation, was already creating the path to that autonomous body eager to exploit it, as suggested by the scholio of Gómez Dávila.

III. Machiavelli, The Afrancesado

In France, the success of this new national model in competition with the Empire could not fail to be understood outside of the historical demands of an adaptation of the discourse to the particular relationships that, within the framework of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, were imposed between the religion and politics. In this doctrinal and theoretical corset, political knowledge struggled to reach the full margin of autonomy possible, in order to meet the demands of a confrontation between opposing Catholic powers.

In this cultural context, it was evident that France had everything to lose against an imperial power as universalist in its aspirations as the Church itself, and for the same reason, more theoretically legitimized to impose its rights to political hegemony before the doctrinal court which protected the ideas and mentalities of a time in need of theological justification. In this sense, Richelieu’s commitment to the propaganda of the ideas of the so-called “State Catholics” should also be considered as one of the successes of his work of directing the political affairs of the French crown.

An intellectual battle was raging, paralleling the political and military battle; and the critical reception in the Catholic world of Machiavelli’s work was central to the controversy. In France, given the nation’s needs for its defensive geopolitical position in the face of the supremacy of the imperial order, there was an urgent need for a split between Christian ethics and morals and the demands derived from the exercise of political power that had now begun to be assumed.

Meanwhile in Spain, there was no room for assimilating a Machiavellian discourse which was directly opposed to the national legitimizing talismans since the Reconquista (however, Tacitism has been judged as a form of “crypto-Machiavellianism,” very widespread in Catholic countries): “The work of Machiavelli, with its political and historical critique of Christian morality and the papacy, could not compete in a Spain in which the State made Catholicism more and more its basilar foundation and which placed the mythical principle in the refuge of Covadonga of its state-construction and imperial expansion.”

Undoubtedly, this frustrated assimilation by the Spanish elites of the new political discourse of propaganda deserves attention which, at the service of the French monarchy, increasingly vindicated the legitimate autonomy of the reason of State within the framework of Catholic thought, all the while denouncing as spurious the theological arguments with which the Spaniards tried to disguise, according to this interpretation, a political and military hegemony that exclusively served their own interests.

Already in 1623, la France mourante showed what danger the policy of the King of Spain posed for France: ‘…If we allow his conquests to be strengthened, it is very certain that he will become master of all Italy, and dominator of the Germanies, and by this means he will encircle this crown everywhere by powers so great that it will be impossible for to resist it…’ The Discours sur plusieurs points importants (1626) denounces ‘…those who have always aspired to the Empire of the Universe.’ La Lettre déchiffrée (1627) attacks Spanish politics that wants to ‘…raise the affairs of heaven to the level of those of Madrid,’ and for whom ‘everything that is done by the Vatican is criminal if it is not ratified in the Escorial.’ In 1626, the preface of Pierre de touche politique specifies the inspiration for the book: ‘…it uncovers the purpose that the Spanish have to oppress all their neighbors under the pretext of Religion and Charity, and to establish by that means their Universal Monarchy, and shows that this nation has always had the interest of God and the Church on its lips, and it has never had it in its heart.’ After the accusation of imperialism, the reproach most frequently leveled at the Spanish is that of using the spiritual for temporal purposes.”

This new anti-imperialist argumentative arsenal was not manufactured in a completely spontaneous way. It was driven by the theoretical ammunition of Cardinal Richelieu himself, who did not hesitate to point out the political servitudes of the “Spanish theology” of the time.

“Richelieu, in his Memoirs, denounces the Spanish pretexts. Foreign policy pamphlets did not stop attacking the ‘new theology’ manufactured by Spain to cover its ambitions… It is therefore well established in the political creed of the ‘good French:’ When the Spanish defend Christianity, we can be sure that it is Christianity that defends the Spanish.”

In the combat between the Empire and the new state-form of the French model, a struggle was also taking place in the field of political thought. In particular, this theoretical controversy took place within the religious framework of Catholic legitimacy, in which France seemed to count, by her birthright as eldest daughter of the Church, with credentials that could compete with those of the Holy Empire.

Despite the undoubted superiority of the state-form to respond to the demands and challenges of the confrontation that was drawn on the geopolitical board, Spain could not assume those new usages that clashed, head-on, both with its own legal and political traditions and with its political history of national reconstruction (the Reconquista), and so attached to a legitimizing religious discourse that there was no room in it for the slightest split for the reason of State independent of the guardianship of the faith.

On the other hand, this national character and this historical-political-religious personality seemed to fit much better with the imperial narrative, especially at a time marked by a Protestant Reformation that reinforced the rights of justification of religious orthodoxy to impose the universal order of the sword of Rome. These roots explain, to a large extent, the costly assimilation of the state-model in Hispanic lands.

As for Spanish political thought, it was forced, in Abellán’s words, to have to live ‘in fact’ under a political form, ‘the State,’ in which, however, ‘it did not theoretically believe.’ And perhaps it is true that the Spanish authors did not believe much in the ‘modern State;’ not so much because religion prevented it, but rather because they believed in something that was not exactly the modern State: A Catholic Empire.”

Unlike Spain, France had all the reasons in the world to believe in the political form of the State; and if reasons were lacking, there was no hesitation in inventing them as much as necessary. The autonomy of the demands of politics from the imperatives of religion was undoubtedly the central philosophy of the new propaganda of the French monarchy and the core from which all these reasons emerged. And it was Richelieu himself who fully advanced it, by asserting, in a famous phrase and with all the religious authority of which a prince of the Church was capable, that the interests of the State are different from the interests of the salvation of the souls.

“Placed between its Protestant allies and Catholic Spain, Richelieu’s France faced a difficult choice. State or religion. Such was the dilemma that arose in the conscience of many French people and the writings of the time attest to their discomfort… In another respect, Richelieu did not say otherwise and, in the instructions to Schomberg often cited, we read: ‘”Different are the interests of the State, which bind the princes, and different the interests of the salvation of our souls”.’”

The link between this new secularization of political thought and the state- political form is of interest in this regard. In addition to the interest that this commitment to a political realism freed from religious ties supposed for theoretical propaganda in the service of the Cardinal, there is an undoubted favorable propensity of the state-scheme towards the intellectual figures of the most secular political thought. These figures found it difficult to break through the legitimacy structure of the imperial form, too impregnated by the weight of the sacred (the “Holy” Empire) and by the will to impose a cosmocracy of universalist ambitions that, in the manner of Campanella, it necessarily contaminated or dissolved the political dualities of the conflict in its purest sense (friend-foe).

IV. Political Creation Outside The Polis

Sheldon Wolin has analyzed the creative facet inherent in political thought and its recurrent disruptive contribution, between the lines of continuity of the inherited Western tradition, as well as the relationship of these creative leaps with the historical transformations of political forms. For Wolin, originally, political thought was related to the characteristic problems of the polis, that is, to its size, problems and intensity, features that offered a general framework marked by a very defining effervescence of a way of living and living together in public space.

This simple intuition immediately translated into another question. If political thought is a thought related to the problems of the polis, can that same model of thought survive in the contexts related to other political forms? In other words, how does an alien spatial configuration affect the spatial limits, concerns, and conflict intensity of the polis in political thought?

The contrast between the “nervous intensity” of Greek political thought, attached to the dimensions and effervescence of the polis, and other human sensibilities, characteristic of a different spatial conception, was raised for the first time in relation to the “the mood of later Stoicism which leisurely, and without the sense of compelling urgency, contemplated political life as it was acted out amidst a setting as spacious as the universe itself.” This first contrast already heralded the decisive influence that this new universalist spatial sensibility, defining the imperial form, was to imprint on the configuration of political thought, impoverishing and blurring its essential categories.

“…Yet the central fact from the death of Alexander (323) to the final absorption of the Mediterranean world into the Roman Empire was that political conditions no longer corresponded to the traditional categories of political thought. The Greek vocabulary might subsume the tiny polis and the sprawling leagues of cities under the single word koinon, yet there could be no blinking the fact that the city denoted an intensely political association while the leagues, monarchies, and empires that followed upon the decline of the polis were essentially apolitical organizations. Hence if the historical task of Greek political theory had been to discover and to define the nature of political life, it devolved upon Hellenistic and later Roman thought to rediscover what meaning the political dimension of existence might have in an age of empire.”

The way to overcome the difficulties associated with the new social representation of space (the enormous distances that were now imposed in the face of the customary relationship of citizen proximity that defined the Greek political atmosphere) consisted in a recovery of the sacred symbolism, which was then thereafter to merge with the discourse of legitimacy of the imperial forms.

Where loyalty had earlier come from a sense of common involvement, it was now to be centered in a common reverence for power personified. The person of the ruler served as the terminus of loyalties, the common center linking the scattered parts of the empire. This was accomplished by transforming monarchy into a cult and surrounding it with an elaborate system of signs, symbols, and worship. These developments suggest an existing need to bring authority and subject closer by suffusing the relationship with a religious warmth. In this connection, the use of symbolism was particularly important, because it showed how valuable symbols can be in bridging vast distances. They serve to evoke the presence of authority despite the physical reality being far removed.”

The impact of this new configuration of the dimensions of the relationship of the men subjected to the new imperial power not only ruined the classical categories of citizenship of Greek thought but also altered the moral and concrete structure (that so characteristic symbiosis of ethics and practical sense) of a perception of the political, marked by a closeness to the real problems of public space and a direct experience of its associated conflicts.

Faced with this hyperesthesia of Greek political realism, an increasingly abstract conception of political life was now rising, which required, to the same extent, the help of a theoretical and symbolic apparatus, twinned with the morphology of a community, without defined contours, and that overflowed the limits and borders of vivid representations, in order to enter the infinite space opened by universal concepts and categories.

With the development of imperial organization, the locus of power and decision had grown far removed from the lives of the vast majority. There seemed to be little connection between the milieu surrounding political decisions and the tiny circle of the individual’s experience. Politics, in other words, was being conducted in a way incomprehensible to the categories of ordinary thought and experience. The ‘visual politics’ of an earlier age, when men could see and feel the forms of public action and make meaningful comparisons with their own experience, was giving way to “abstract politics,” politics from a distance, where men were informed about public actions which bore little or no resemblance to the economy of the household or the affairs of the market-place. In these circumstances, political symbols were essential reminders of the existence of authority.”

The new cosmic sensitivity, initiated by Stoic cosmopolitanism and which adapted so well to the ethos of imperial power (personifying itself even in egregious figures such as Marcus Aurelius), was called to be united, if not to merge, with soteriological ambitions of a religious nature, especially when, in time, the Empire form was to proclaim Christianity as the official religion: Another and far stronger impulse, but one that was equally apolitical, was to suffuse power with religious symbols and imagery…This was a certain sign that men had come to look towards the political regime for something over and above their material and intellectual needs, something akin to salvation.”

From then on, and despite the theological reservations of a Saint Augustine in relation to Varro’s political theology, the historical-political moment was in the best position to correlate religious and political categories to the point of fostering a politics legitimized by theology and a theology endorsed by existing political forms: “This belief in a political savior, as well as the persistent attempts to assimilate the ruler to a deity and to describe the government of human society as analogous to God’s rule over the cosmos, were themes reflective of the degree to which political and religious elements had become deeply intermixed in men’s minds. In a variety of ways, in the conception of the ruler, subject, and society, the “political” quality was becoming indiscernible. At the same time, from the fourth century B.C. until well into the Christian era, men repeatedly thought of the Deity in largely political terms. Thus the paradoxical situation developed wherein the nature of God’s rule was interpreted through political categories and the human ruler through religious ones; monarchy became a justification for monotheism and monotheism for monarchy.”

It is not necessary to appeal excessively to the imagination to understand that this new mentality contributed unexpectedly but decisively to progressively blur the purity of political concepts that had grown in the heat of the conflictive intensity of Greek city life. The political categories that had populated the minds of the leading Greek philosophers were not born out of abstract speculation but out of civic life that, significantly, many of them had experienced in their own lives.

In this way, the advent of the imperial era washed away, if not the ruin of the political categories inherited from Greek philosophy, then at least the experience inherent in the Greek logos mode of political thought, thus generating a collective temperament far removed from it and increasingly apolitical ways of thinking: “In looking back on the kinds of political speculation that had followed the death of Aristotle, it is evident that the apolitical character of life had been faithfully portrayed, but no truly political philosophy had appeared. What had passed for political thought had often been radically apolitical; the meaning of political existence had been sought out only in order that men might more easily escape from it.”

Inevitably, from that very moment, through the infection of sacred symbolism in imperial forms, a path was already opening for the penetration of moral Manichaeisms that were to progressively overlap with the defining dualities of the essence of what political, as studied, for example, by Julien Freund, especially the friend-foe duality for foreign relations and the command-obedience duality for internal ones.

The political world, for this new moralism, was from now on divided into “good” and “bad” (that is, faithful and unfaithful, orthodox and heretics), thus breaking the spatial and theoretical delimitation between the political and the ethical, built by the realism of authors like Thucydides.

From now on, there was no longer a “political” morality (that is, a morality adapted to the demands of political reality), but rather the political (everything political, with its theoretical and practical arsenal) was subjected to “the” moral, a unique and universalist morality called to be colonized, over time, by a faith (the Christian one) that, unlike the other two monotheisms (the Jewish that preceded it, and the Muslim that succeeded it), paradoxically, never harbored any political ambition: “Instead of redefining the new societies in political terms, political philosophy turned into a species of moral philosophy, addressing itself not to this or that city, but to all mankind… Seneca’s suicide was the dramatic symbol of the bankruptcy of a tradition of political philosophy that had exchanged its political element for a vapid moralism.”

From this new scenario, which ultimately prevailed, we can gather striking precedents that, as symbolic advancements, were presented in the unprecedented Alexandrian imperial experiment. Eratosthenes incarnates, avant la lettre, before history the figure of an anti-Schmittian advisor, who conquers for morality the territory hitherto untouched by politics: “When Eratosthenes advised Alexander to ignore Aristotle’s distinction between Greeks and barbarians and to govern instead by dividing men into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ this marked not only a step towards a conception of racial equality, but a stage in the decline of political philosophy… Eratosthenes’ advice indicated that political thought, like the polis itself, had been superseded by something broader, vaguer, and less political. The ‘moral’ had overridden the ‘political,’ because the moral and the “good” had come to be defined in relation to what transcended a determinate society existing in time and space.”

In conclusion, the historical decline of the polis, understood as a spatial relationship adapted from the human to the political, dragged political thought, originated by the polis, towards an intellectual, religious and moral habitat less adapted for its intellectual survival.

In this environment, which was that of Empire first and feudalism later, political philosophy languished. Although it preserved its theoretical validity in a mausoleum, in which the echo of a vocabulary born from a claustrophobic microcosm of internal rivalries was frozen over the centuries, it awaited its resurrection, by awaiting an ideal environment for palingenesis:The decline of the polis as the nuclear center of human existence had apparently deprived political thought of its basic unit of analysis, one that it was unable to replace. Without the polis, political philosophy had been reduced to the status of a subject-matter in search of a relevant context.”

The relevant context for the regeneration of political thought appeared in a universe that was partly reminiscent of that of the ancient Greek polis. The turbulent air that was breathed into the Italian republics of the Renaissance oxygenated minds capable of restoring a fuller understanding of new (and old) political realities, presenting themselves again under a new day. Machiavelli was the theoretical epitome of the modern political firmament, but the atmosphere explains the phenomenon. “Almost a century before The Prince was written, a viable tradition of “realism” had developed in Italian political thought,” states Wolin.

However, this new sensitivity to political issues would take time to break through and achieve definitive recognition, for the inertia of the old world continued to weigh on it with the tradition of political-religious symbiosis. It is not surprising that the political butterfly did not finally emerge from the chrysalis until these new categories were assumed precisely in the religious habitat that conditioned it.

The nascent national monarchies offered an incomparable setting for the testing of this new offer of understanding of the political fact. In monarchies headed by statesmen who were at the same time princes of the Church, as in Richelieu’s France, the obstacle of theological legitimation could be overcome with greater ease. In the geopolitical context of religious wars, whose moral demands could hardly be reconciled with the incipient reason of State, the fusion of the political with the religious, far from being an obstacle to the autonomy of the former, was presented as its only (and best) platform for its launching.

The following reflection by Wolin, much broader in scope and intent, nevertheless, allows an interpretation in a French way that offers a powerful framework of analysis to understand the progressive secularization of political thought in France ruled with an iron fist by the “man in red.”

“The growing merger of political and religious categories of thought was an intellectual footnote to the spread of political control over national churches. When these tendencies were joined to the growing strength of the national monarchies and to an emerging national consciousness, the combined effect was to pose a possibility which had not been seriously entertained in the West for almost a thousand years: an autonomous political order which acknowledged no superior and, while accepting the universal validity of Christian norms, was adamant in insisting that their interpretation was a national matter. But while Reformation Europe could accept the practice of an autonomous political order and disagree primarily over who should control it, there was greater reluctance to explore the notion of an autonomous political theory. As long as political theory contained a stubbornly moral element and as long as men identified the ultimate categorical imperatives with the Christian teaching, political thought would resist being divested of religious imagery and religious values.”

There is no doubt that the new political and religious scene had little to do with that of the Greek polis in which men such as Plato, Aristotle or Thucydides had been born and lived. Almost two millennia had passed and the men of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries lived immersed in the dogmas of a faith unknown to the ancient Greeks.

However, far from what might seem at first glance to be the spirit of secularism that genuinely characterized the letter (and spirit) of the believers in Jesus Christ, there yet awaited a favorable context for the definitive conquest of a political autonomy that did not contradict, said its postulates, as seriously as in the case of those who followed the law of Moses or Muhammad.

Furthermore, as Jerónimo Molina notes, the anthropological pessimism of the political conception of a Machiavelli was an unwitting debtor of Christian theology; and, although the echoes of the creator of The Prince seem to resonate in the history of the Peloponnesian war, the profundity of the intellectual equipment on the condition of man, which distinguished the Florentine, as a result of more than 1500 years of Christian tradition, was not within the reach of a military man like Thucydides.

This pessimistic strain, which grew out of the realization that the new knowledge must be conversant with evil and that its major concern was to avoid hell, confirms that it was a post-Christian science rather than one inspired directly by classical models. The assertion that ‘all men are wicked and that they will always give vent to the malignity that is in their minds when opportunity offers’ was one which Greek political science never entertained and Christian doctrine never doubted.”

V. Laicization And The “Catholic” Reason Of State

In this context of French opposition to an imperial power that based its political legitimacy on an authority that appealed to arguments of a religious nature, the autonomy of the political did not appear as the result of an independent intellectual construction, but rather from the demands of a propaganda at the service of military and political action determined by an atmosphere of religious hegemony in the field of argumentation about temporary realities.

Discovered or rediscovered by the statists of Richelieu’s time, the idea of the autonomy of politics does not come from pure speculation, but from a whole series of concrete conflicts: The dispute over Gallicanism, the problem of relations with the Protestants, and above all the Franco-Spanish conflict. The principle of the independence of politics was the anti-Spanish weapon par excellence.”

All of this explains why the course of the debate led to probably unforeseen conclusions. This is proved by the fact that the cardinalist propaganda accepted the challenge of the religious foundation of the theoretical reasons to present in the face of Spanish demands. Spain had chosen a bad enemy to uphold the sacred superiority of her cause. The first-born daughter of the Church would not hesitate to connect with the foundations of a divine mission so frequently highlighted by the Petrine See: The religion of the monarchy could not but confirm the French in the idea that their country had a mission and that it continued the tradition of the Gesta Dei per Francos so well expressed by the words of Joan of Arc: ‘Those who make war on the Holy Kingdom of France, wage war on King Jesus.’”

Nevertheless, the religious dialectic used in the conflict did not cease to be, for the political interests of the French monarchy, a defensive weapon designed specifically to counter the offensive of the Habsburgs, no matter how few actually used it with full conviction. Little by little, strictly political arguments came to the fore, while religious rhetoric was progressively located in the space of stage decoration. After all, the confrontation of the two greatest Catholic powers of the time was not the most appropriate terrain for a resolution of the conflict on a religious basis. As it is a markedly political struggle, it was inevitable that the political arguments would gradually come to occupy the space with the greatest protagonism.

The Catholic State was not just a name of one of those government pamphlets serving Richelieu’s policy. The name chosen for that publication indicates the general inspiration for its content. Undoubtedly, this periodical, which appeared at the beginning of Richelieu’s ministry in 1624, was distinguished by its doctrinal vigor, in its defense of the cardinal’s new policy. The exact title was Le Catholique d’État ou discours politique des alliances du roi très chrétien contre les calomnies de son État. As the scholars of the press of the time pointed out, this pamphlet constituted the hardcore of propaganda in the service of the minister of Louis XIII.

The cardinalist pamphleteer revolted against the intellectual and moral contempt that at the time was directed at the association of the figure of the “Catholic” and the idea of “State policy.” In this way, it placed with pride in its very title the spirit of this association, elevating it to the rank of national and religious communion and apologizing to those who, like the sovereigns of France, knew how to combine the interests of the State and the Catholic Church. However, in the end (and beyond the immediate intentions of its promoters), the thrust of its doctrinal argumentation contributed to progressively dissociate the foundation of the political order from any religious horizon, reworking the foundations of a matched political realism to the interested analysis of the French position in the conflict against the Spanish Empire.

The paradox of the Catholique d’État resides in the fact that after having founded absolutism on an authoritarian conception of religion, it came to separate politics from religion. It does not approximate the power of God except to better ensure its independence… Rejecting the religious arguments of Spanish propaganda and underlining the separation of politics and morals, the Catholique d’État placed the conflict between France and Spain in its true light – that of the confrontation of two national interests.”

As a consequence of this growing translation – from the space of religious definition to the field of political definition – the terminology of the cardinalist writing progressively colors the friend-foe duality of the political opposition with national and non-religious characters, thus affirming a delimitation of intellectual conflict in terms ever closer to the real meaning of political confrontation: While foreign pamphlets separated men into Christian and ungodly, the Catholique d’État took a different view… Thus, in the cardinalist writing, the friend-foe distinction, capital in political thought, was based from now, not on religion, but on nationality and patriotism.”

Thus, from the study of propaganda publications, such as, the Catholique d’État, it is possible to analyze the general meaning of a process of gradual doctrinal decantation. Although the opposition against the Catholic Empire forced a response in the theological field (or more exactly, in the theological-political field), the prolongation of the conflict imposed, in addition to the refutation of the foe’s religious “pretexts” with the same Catholic ammunition that it used, a necessary transfer of the epicenter of the intellectual confrontation towards a political territory, not sown by the theological-moral seed. Without this historical circumstance (fundamentally political and military, as well as religious) that surrounded the cardinalist publication, the “para-doxa” of the Catholique d’État cannot be understood.

Not without its literary qualities, the Catholique d’État contains, in abbreviated form, the theory of the authoritarian State of the reign of Louis XIII, and defines the ideal of a ‘political Catholic,’ of the ‘good patriot.’ Its paradox consists of starting from a religious conception of power in order to separate politics from religion; or, more exactly, from a religion understood in the Spanish way… By developing a new conception of politics, there is a sense of that laicization of power that became the dominant feature of Richelieu’s time.”

The new climate brought about by the Franco-imperial conflict was to propitiate a state of mind tending to consider with suspicion the religious pretexts adduced by a Spanish-Austrian foe maliciously inclined, in the eyes of cardinalist propaganda, to locate the theoretical epicenter of the confrontation in the doctrinal space most adapted to its own benefit. This suspicion unconsciously contributed to disavowing the religious legitimation of political causes, presenting it as a veil, self-interestedly used by a hand determined to hide the true face of its owner.

The similar arrangement of the pieces on the board between the two contenders (Catholic powers competing in moral authority in an atmosphere of religious hyper-legitimacy) originated the unexpected transformation of the rules of the game, until then in force, and with it the consequent secularization of the political thought. It can be said that the Spanish imperial hegemony gave rise to a reason (Catholic and French) of State.

The consequence of this process to Spain and its supporters was, without a doubt, to make religious justifications in politics suspect. Here is a curious detail of the history of political thought in the seventeenth-century: The idea that religion is a deception of the rulers and a secret of domination has been spread by publicists of the very Christian king writing against the pamphleteers of the very Catholic king. The conception that makes religion an imposture of the powerful has been, if not produced, at least reinforced by the confrontation of great nation states. Thus making religion suspect, what could remain as the law of international relations but the interest of each State and natural law? And indeed, if one looks for the basis that the statist writers give to Richelieu’s policy, it is found that they increasingly invoke the national interest and the reason of State. They certainly do not make the kingdom of France a secular state, but they are led to separate more clearly than their predecessors and their opponents the interests of the State from those of religion. The fact that Spain and its supporters insisted on the union of faith and politics undoubtedly contributed much to this secularization… If they still mixed religious arguments and rational arguments, the predominance of the latter is noticeable.”

Thus,” Etienne Thuau writes, “reason of State prepared to become the main argument of Richelieu’s policy.” This “politics of sleeplessness,” a peculiar form of French-style Machiavellianism in a national-Catholic guise, must be understood as the necessary reaction to a given context. The uncomfortable truth of a political realism, purged of moral mystifications and theological disguises, could not break through without attending to that context.

It seems that in Richelieu’s time pro-Spanish publicists and French pamphleteers opted for a veiled politics to that of wakefulness… Thus, in the eyes of many seventeenth-century Frenchmen, Gallic ‘naivety’ was opposed to Spanish hypocrisy. This naivety consisted, at the outset, in revealing to a limited public the levers of power and in taking the layman behind the scenes of government. More profoundly, it tended to desecrate power and detach it from the moral and religious justifications with which it was often illegitimately cloaked. It is not always pleasant to speak the truth, and it is to his lucidity that Richelieu owes, as with Machiavelli, his bad reputation.”

The reference to Machiavelli is not without meaning and perhaps helps to place the doctrinal debate, limited by the circumstances of Richelieu’s time, in a broader context. The “French” reason of State does not arise from the intellectual import of the “letter” of the Florentine’s thought, but rather from the adaptation of its “spirit” to the concrete historical plane of a conflict marked by very precise connotations. And, fundamentally, because of the remarkable personality and ambition of a figure of the stature of Richelieu.

The enigmatic Richelieu in fact embodied for his contemporaries the type of politician marked by Machiavellianism… Faithful, if not to the letter, at least to the spirit of Machiavelli’s doctrine, they made political thought progress since, thanks to them, under the Richelieu regime, the Machiavellian current came to merge with that of the Reason of State.”

The peculiar religious circumstances of the conflict between the French monarchy and the Habsburg Empire help to understand the emergence of this “Catholic” Machiavellianism in Gallic lands and the scope of the contradictions that it carried within it. Another factor that should not be forgotten, when interpreting the period and the historical precipitate (essentially involuntary) that happened to it, is the existential personification of these contradictions. By this we mean that the undoubted political motivations of its main architects were not combined with their religious responsibilities at the cost of a tribute to cynicism or hypocrisy, as a certain distorted and caricatured exhibition tried to underline later, especially in field of literature (The main responsibility, in this regard, is that of Alexander Dumas and his three musketeers).

The genuine religious spirit of men like Richelieu and Father José, the most intimate collaborator of the cardinal’s politics, but also a Capuchin steeped in a fervent missionary ideal, should not be underestimated with chronocentric criteria, if one does not want to blur the real significance of the events of the time (The most representative work on the historical significance of the figure of Father José and his contribution to Richelieu’s political career remains that of Aldous Huxley, Gray Eminence). The sincerity with which these ministers and religious lived their own internal conflicts genuinely fed the sense of politics and the thinking of the main protagonists of the moment, leaving a legacy that would decisively influence the future of a new Europe.

Richelieu may not have had his breviary and Machiavelli at his table, but his Machiavellianism was as indisputable as his faith. Father José dreamt of the Crusade at the same time that he worked for the ruin of the very Catholic Monarchy… The thought of the statists, like that of the men of the seventeenth-century, united the contradictions. They glorified the prince, vice-king of God, responsible before his Creator and, at the same time, invoked the irresponsibility of the reason of State… In good logic, the opposing ways of thinking in life are summoned and completed. Inconsistencies also have their logic… What seems to us incoherence is, to a certain extent, the very mark of life. Those seemingly incompatible principles that coexist are actually the past and the present facing each other.”

Although the sense of criticism of figures like Richelieu usually insists on the amoral character of their political endeavors and on the religious instrumentalization of their power interests, the truth is that many of the men who collaborated with those endeavors were also moved by a sincere desire for religious purification. The delimitation of the respective fields of politics and religion should not only serve to liberate politics from religious servitude but also, and for the same reason, to emancipate religion from bastard political ties.

Closer to reality, the statism of Richelieu’s time, assuming violence to overcome it, tried to agree on force and reason. Attempting to reconcile violence and reason, flirting with Machiavellianism to overcome it, statism propagated a new conception of the relationship of men with each other and of man with God. By secularizing political thought, Richelieu developed natural law and a new theology. Statists reject in the first place any religion that mixes God too much with human affairs and that is preached by people ‘more political and carnal than spiritual.’ as Theveneau put it. They judge very suspiciously political-religious endeavors in the Spanish fashion, such as the League, the Evangelization of the Indies, the holy war against the heretics or the infidel. They aspire to a purer, more interior religion, oblivious of material interests and the narrowness of dogma.”

The characteristic realism of this “Catholic Machiavellianism” could thus enlist the support of sincerely religious men, without whom the contemporaneity of its emergence could hardly be assimilated with the appearance of eminently spiritual figures such as Pascal (1623-1662), and his decisive and parallel contribution to both scientific and religious thought.

“Reason, for the seventeenth-century, is therefore, to a certain extent, daughter of the State of Richelieu,” as Etienne Thuau pointed out, and continued: “The brutality of the time of Louis XIII made political apriorisms impossible… But this oppressive thought is also an instrument of liberation. In its positive aspect, the statist works of our period contribute to secularize the State and the League of Nations, and the most remarkable fact of this influence is that the progress of rationalism is parallel to that of the State.” The environmental secularization of the spirit of the time undoubtedly purified the political analysis but also engendered a new moral and religious sensibility, announcing, on the other hand, the new ideological and cultural winds of the great revolutionary rupture of the late eighteenth-century.

This Christian statism placed ample confidence in the human will to build civil society. It is based on ancient and modern rationalisms and gave great autonomy to the State… It is the same with the political polemics of Spain, as with Pascal’s polemics with the Jesuits: They did a lot to secularize thought and expand the morals and politics of honest men. Equally distant from Spanishized theology and from Machiavelli’s atheism, the politics of honest men – or, more precisely, that of the bourgeoisie, men of law and civil servants – tends to be based on natural law, a Christian rationalism and, very often, deism.”

To relate the links of this great (and indeed foundational) “French Machiavellian moment” with the revolutionary hecatomb, which will take place a century and a half after the death of Richelieu, constitutes the task of a work that goes beyond the limits of this one. Instead, we will content ourselves with pointing out, by way of a conclusive synthesis, that the Catholic reason of State that stands as the main novelty of French political thought at the time of Louis XIII, which in his reign allowed the great Cardinal to fulfill his incomparable foundational and restorative dictatorship,” is a paradigmatic example of that creative factor that accompanies the history of Western thought – in that permanent tension between continuity and innovation, analyzed by Sheldon Wolin, as we have highlighted throughout this brief study as hermeneutical support of our interpretation. This creative factor is undoubtedly linked to that imaginative dimension inherent in political thought, as highlighted by the American author, but also to the socio-historical circumstances that incardinate the imaginative leaps of the philosopher.

The varied conceptions of space indicate that each theorist has viewed the problem from a different perspective, a particular angle of vision. This suggests that political philosophy constitutes a form of ‘seeing’ political phenomena and that the way in which the phenomena will be visualized depends in large measure on where the viewer ‘stands.’”

In other words:

The concepts and categories of a political philosophy may be likened to a net that is cast out to capture political phenomena, which are then drawn in and sorted in a way that seems meaningful and relevant to the particular thinker. But in the whole procedure, he has selected a particular net and he has cast it in a chosen place.”

Although Richelieu’s time did not have the support of a political philosophy similar to that of an observer of the English Civil War such as Thomas Hobbes, it nevertheless developed an analogous propaganda apparatus for self-defense, mutatis mutandis, which we have met in the twentieth-century. The interests of the cardinalist press constituted that socio-historical context to which Wolin refers, and which no longer represented so much the perspective adopted by the “observer” (who is associated with an impartial and almost scientific agent), but the approach taken by whoever he observed and at the same time influenced events, in a position similar to that which defined the trajectory of the diplomatic Machiavelli. “The political philosophy of the Richelieu regime is therefore less the fruit of disinterested reflection than of the mask of the will of the State and an instrument of domination. The impression of incompleteness that his works offer comes from his practical aspirations,” Thuau also pointed out.

It is no coincidence that this scholar of reason of State during Richelieu’s time emphasized that “thanks to creative distortions and respectful falsifications, jurists, theologians and men of letters worked for ‘statist crystallization.’” The reference to the creative factor and the fundamentally proactive position of its new interpreters (observers and actors at the same time) clearly delimits the peculiar socio-historical dimension of the imaginative character that we can attribute to the political thought that germinated to the beat of the cardinal’s work. The fusion of the jurist, theologian and man of letters came to be represented, with a similar political role, by the twentieth-century intellectual.

The echoes of this desacralization sponsored by the propaganda demands of the French throne defended by Richelieu were felt, over time, beyond the space-time coordinates of the Spanish-French conflict that saw it born, attacking the descendants of Louis XIII with arguments similar to those used by cardinalist advertising. Only two centuries later, the argument for the desacralization of politics that favored the geopolitical interests of the kingdom of France ended up ruining its own internal foundations.

However, the antecedents that culminated in the French Revolution had, in the meantime, become contaminated with the infection of a new secular matrix moralism, an enlightened humanitarianism that undoubtedly inherited the transcendent desacralization of power that was initiated involuntarily at the initiative of the propagandized, in the service of the Cardinal, but which reoriented the religious potential of the French tradition towards intramundane purposes. Hence, we must ask ourselves about the weak intellectual offspring of the crude political realism that emerged as a result of the claims of affirmation of the French monarchy of Louis XIII.

One feature of the cardinalist propaganda deserves to be noted: Its tendency to offer a brutal vision of reality… The cardinalist press therefore tended to present political life as a confrontation of forces, a harsh view that seemed to “free spirits” a sign of truth. This feature of Richelieu’s time is striking when his accomplishments are compared with those of a later time.”

Perhaps the French theory of reason of State that emerged in Richelieu’s time died as a consequence of its success. French absolutism was to dominate European geopolitics from the treaty of Westphalia. The requirements of his policy, from then on, were to be different from those under the command of the man in red. If Richeulian Machiavellianism is to be fairly considered as one of the golden ages of political realism, its profound nature is better understood if it is seen, in the pre-Westphalian European context, as a brief parenthesis between theological moralism that it preceded and the immanentist secular moralism that buried it.

We can indeed wonder if the time of Richelieu, who made Machiavellianism flourish, was not the moment of truth of the century. Indeed, the seventeenth-century, a century of violence, seems to have been a “Belle époque” for political realism… The Middle Ages lived in a world that was made bearable by the presence of God. The Age of Enlightenment, without ignoring the miseries of the human condition, nurtured a humanitarian ideal. Our gloomy period only looks at the gross facts without any ray of light coming to illuminate them.”

This is the paradox that perhaps summarizes the history of the vision of the political, which is also the history of its visionaries: That all light outside their domain is not a light that illuminates but a light that blinds.

Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020.

The image shows a portrait of Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne, painted ca. 1633-1640.e, painted in 1648.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

From Salonika To Odessa: Allied Interventions After World War I

The final phase of WWI was especially bitter and cruel, not only for the grimness of the fight between exhausted warring parties (except one, the US), but also because it became clear that alliance against the Central Powers was a mere façade. The growing Allied division emerged with a peculiar stance toward one enemy, the Ottoman Empire and a (former) ally, Russia.

And in this light, the year 1918 could be considered not only the year of the end of the war, but the beginning of a new era, marked by new dynamics and an attempt to reaffirm the old power structures.

The Allies approach was the re-proposition of “playbook” actions, which had always dominated the policies, mainly of Great Britain and France, since the 19th century, toward these two entities. And to them, with different motivations, may be added Italy, US, Japan, Serbia (with the new formation of Croatia-Slovenia), Greece, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Thus, behind the mask of a cohesive policy, the main target was the demolition and partition, among the winners, of the Ottoman Empire and the re-establishment of a weakened Russia; and, where this was not possible, replicating the planned fate for the Ottomans with the establishment of a galaxy of puppet states.

The strategic target of both Paris and London was multifold: extend their own area of influence (directly and/or indirectly), push back any threat against their own national strategic interests, and stand in front of their allies, especially if minor ones, with an eye on the growing polarization with Italy, especially by France. In this gigantic plan, the personalities of Lloyd George, Churchill and Clemenceau emerged as dominant; and perhaps, like never before, the political use of military force.

The level of Allied forces deployed in the two areas, at least by Western standards, were limited in comparison with the millions of men deployed on the different fronts of WWI. But they were highly influential and played a decisive political role, though a small combat role.

After The “Garden Of Salonika

The fighting along the Macedonian Front in September 1918 might not be as well-known as the Somme, Ypres or Verdun (and certainly less bloody), but in terms of delivering the fatal blow to the German war machine, it was unsurpassed. “It was upon this much-abused front that the final collapse of the Central Empires first began,” Winston Churchill wrote.

Controversy had marked the life of the Allied “Armée d’Orient” ever since it began deploying three years earlier through Salonika, the Greek port city that provided the southern gateway to the Balkans, and after the disastrous French-British attempt to take by force the Straits of Dardanelles which sought to blow up the Ottoman Empire and provide support to Russia. The Allies had great difficulties facing the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians on the Eastern front.

The force (consisting of 600,000 men), formally under French command, included French, British, Serbian, Italian, Montenegrin and Russian contingents; added later were Greek and pro-Entente Albanian units. The management of this army persistently reflected the divergent objectives of the participants.

For example, the British contingent constantly tried to minimize the impact of the French command and directives. Also among the French-Italian contingents, the relations were at best controversial, and the collapse of the Central Powers, following the attack in September 1918, underlined the fault-lines among the Allies, not only political but also militarily.

British troops, immediately after the ceasefire, were sent in to secure the Turkish straits; the Italians went to protect Albania; and the French remained committed to their staunch support of Serbs, with the aim of setting up a South pan-Slavic state in the Western Balkans, under the influence of Paris, and initially also with Greece.

After a visit by Talaat Pasha, the Grand Vizir, to other Central Powers capitals in September 1918, Constantinople realized that there was no hope to win the war. On 13 October, Talaat and the government resigned. Ahmed Izzet Pasha was appointed as Grand Vizir and two days later, he sent the captured British General Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend to the Allies to seek terms for an armistice.

London interpreted that to mean that Britain would conduct the negotiations alone. As of today, the motives of this are not entirely clear, whether it was the sincere British interpretation of the alliance terms; or fears that the French would insist on over-harsh demands and foil a treaty; or, again, there was a desire to cut the French out of territorial ambitions promised by the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Townshend also indicated that the Ottomans preferred to deal with the British; he did not know about the contact with America, or that Talaat had sent an emissary to the French as well; but that emissary had been slower to respond.

The British cabinet empowered Admiral Calthorpe to conduct the negotiations with an explicit exclusion of the French. The negotiations began on 27 October on board of HMS Agamemnon. The British refused to admit to the talks the French Vice-Admiral Jean Amet, the senior French naval officer in the area, despite his desire to join. The Ottoman delegation, headed by Navy Minister Rauf Bey, indicated that this was acceptable, as they were accredited only to the British, not the French (and even less, to the Italian, Greeks, and Serbs).

The French were certainly displeased, and the French Premier Georges Clemenceau, the “Tiger,” complained about British unilateral decisions in so important a matter. Lloyd George countered that the French had the same approach in the Armistice of Salonica, which had been negotiated by French General Franchet d’Esperey, without consultations with the commanders of the other Allied contingents, while Great Britain (and Tsarist Russia) had committed the most troops to the campaign against the Ottoman Empire on different fronts (the Palestine, Mesopotamia, Arabia Peninsula and Caucasus fronts).

As part of the armistice’s conditions, the Ottomans surrendered their remaining garrisons outside Anatolia and granted the Allies the right to occupy the forts controlling the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, as well as any Ottoman territory, “in case of disorder,” or if a threat to security occured. Later, this vague and obscure clause was widely used by the Allies for their massive interference in Turkish affairs The Ottoman forces were demobilized, and all ports, railways and other strategic points were made available for Alled use. In the Caucasus, the Ottomans had to retreat to pre-war borders with the Russian Empire. Following this armistice, the occupation of Constantinople and the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire started.

Thereafter, it took 15 months of tough negotiations among the Allies (Britain, France and Italy) to establish which territories each of them would get. As for the other defeated powers, the military clauses were bitter. The Army of the defeated powers was restricted to 50,000; the Navy to a few old ships; and no air force. The treaty included an inter-allied commission of control to supervise the execution of all the military clauses.

The Treaty of Sèvres, which formalized the partionist plans of the winners, could be read as a simple variation of a long-planned design to dismantle an enemy power (and then implemented with some important variations, like the inclusion of Greece). In fact, these policies were already in place ever since the signing of the Treaty of London, the St. Jeanne de Maurienne Agreement, the “Sikes-Picot,” and even the so-called Venizelos-Tittoni Agreement, a post-facto sub-agreement from the Peace Conference of Versailles.

The Treaty of Sèvres showed the worst face of the imperialist dreams of the winning powers, not only as in the above-mentioned military clauses, but with the establishment of Zones of Influence, which resulted in an imposition of a kind of multinational protectorate over the defeated country.

Under the treaty, within the territory retained by Turkey (excluding Armenia and Kurdistan), France received parts of Southeastern Anatolia, including Antep, Urfa and Mardin. Important parts of Cilicia including Adana, Diyarbakır and large portions of East-Central Anatolia up to Sivas and Tokat were declared a zone of French influence, garrisoned by troops of the newly established ‘Armée du Levant’ (on 7 October 1918), moving and expanding from their landing spot in Beirut (Octover 11). The first elements of this force came from the former “Armée d’Orient” with the ad hoc established “Division of Cilicia” (consisting of the 12th Infantry, the 17th Senegalese, 18th Algerian Regiments, and the Armenian Legion). A second unit, the “Division of Syria” (consisting of the 415th Infantry, the 3rd Zouaves, the 19th, 21st, and the 22nd Algerian Regiments) was rapidly set up, and tasked to expand French control in the assigned areas, while disarming Turkish and Arab troops in Syria and Lebanon.

Italy was given possession of the Dodecanese Islands (already under Italian occupation since the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912,) despite the Treaty of Ouchy, according to which Italy should have returned the islands to the Ottoman Empire. Large portions of Southern and West-Central Anatolia (the Mediterranean coast of Turkey and the inlands), including the port city of Antalya and Konya, were declared an Italian zone of influence. Antalya Province had been promised to Italy since the signing of the Treaty of London; and the Italian colonial authorities wished the zone to become an Italian colony under the name of “Lycia.”

Italian troops landed on 28 March 1919 in Antalya and then occupied Fethiye, Marmaris, Bodrum, Konya, Isparta and Aksehir. The Italian force was limited in terms of figures (13.000 troops with 3 regiments of infantry and support units) to control so expansive an area, which coincided with continuous infiltrations of Greek troops into Western Anatolia from the enclave of Smirna, about which there was complicit silence at the Spa Conference for the “Megala idea” of Venizelos. Independent of this contingent was an Italian infantry battalion in Constantinople, and another one was assigned in April 1919 to garrison Konya under British command. Great Britain did not establish any zone of influence; but within the terms of the ‘Sykes-Picot’ agreement, they took over almost all Mesopotamia, thus reinforcing their firm hand over oil resources of the region, and strengthening imperial control out to the Far East.

On 13 November 1918, the Allies landed in Constantinople with 2,616 British, 540 French, 470 Italian troops, supported by 50 ships (two days later, this grew to 167 ships).

On February 8, 1919, the French general Franchet d’ Espèrey, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in the East, officially entered the city on a white horse, emulating Mehmed the Conqueror’s entrance in 1453 after the Fall of Constantinople, thus signifying that Ottoman sovereignty over the imperial city was over.

One year, after the Allies numbered 51,300 troops (27,419 British, 19,069 French, 3,992 Italians and 795 Greeks), garrisoning not only the city but also the neutralized zone of the Straits, largely assigned to units of the 122nd and 156th French Infantry Divisions and 28th British Division.

The Greek and Turkish police and gendarmerie forces operating in neutralized area were subordinate to Allied control; and the Constantinople area was garrisoned by British MPs (in Pera), The French Gendarmes (in Istanbul) and Italian Carabinieri (in Scutari) were supported by Turkish Jandarma personnel.

The Corps d’Occupation de Constantinople (COC) was formally set up on 6 November 1920, after more than one year of de facto occupation, when the drawdown of the Allied forces drastically reduced the level of their strength. Nominally multinational, it was nevertheless a harsh fight between the French and the British.

The COC was assisted by a military committee, formed by the commander of the national contingents and with three High Commissioners (in which, generally, the French and British were military and the Italian a diplomat). The job of the COC was focused on occupation duties and was affected by the bitter and growing polarization between the French and the British, while the Italian presence was little more than nominal.

The growing split among the Allies is widely attributed to the fact that the partition of Turkey had given to France too small a share. The Italians, too, were dismayed to the concession made by London to Athens, at Rome’s expense. This discontent gave rise to Franco-Italian support of the Turkish nationalist movement, both in Anatolia and in Constantinople, even if at the beginning, Paris supported to the end Greek expansionist dreams.

At the regional level, France had strong grievances against Britain, for it felt that British policies were contrary to prior agreements. For example, Britain did not want to share oil exploitations in the Mosul area, and, according to Paris, it stirred up Emir Faisal (the leader of the so-called “Arab revolt”) to attack French troops in Syria. In other words, France labelled the British approach as selfish and imperialist, although Paris applied the same policies in many other regions, like the Balkans, the Baltic Sea, Silesia, Poland, against not only their former enemies, like Germany, but also their present allies like Italy (and Britain).

The Allies had begun to split already in 1919, because of competing interests in Syria, Mesopotamia, Cilicia and the Aegean. TRhus, both France and Italy were eager to dismantle Turkey as a unitary state. But when their interests were undercut, they changed their plans. Also, Italy, because of prevalent domestic issues, confined its imperial aims in Turkey to just seeking out profitable economic concessions.

In the summer, the internal situation in Italy became untenable and Rome started the withdrawal of its troops from Anatolia and abandoned the dreams of territorial expansion in the Levant. The last troops left Anatolia in 1922. This happened mainly for two reasons. First, Italy obtained the Dodecanese islands, and second, there was a growing anti-Greek policy in Rome. But Italy kept small contingents in Constantinople and Adrianople, with a Carabinieri unit in Constantinopole until the general evacuation of foreign troops in October, 1923.

The functionality of the COC was seriously affected by the arrival, in the region, of 150.000 White Russian refugees (the army and civilians who fled after the defeat of General Wrangel in the Crimea), as well as the issue of the remnants of the Tsarist Black Sea Navy.

The other major, and final, crisis of the COC came after the defeat of Greek forces in Anatolia. The Greek-Turkish War saw a major shift in alliances among the Allies. At the beginning, France supported the demands of Greece, as Britain, in order to keep firm control over Turkey, kept out France. Then, Britain supported Greek expansion while. France, of course, along with Italy, moved to helping nationalist Turks.

The crisis was the trigger event of a failed and polarized political alliance, and the military contingents in the neutral zone operated in a disconntected way, reflecting the divergent stances of London, Paris and Rome vis-à-vis the development of the Greek-Turkish war. The final Allied withdrawal came under gloomy conditions, marked by ethno-religious violence between the Greeks and the Turks. When the withdrawal was formally signed into place, it ended the Allied entente of WWI.

The Russian Quagmire

Looking at the issue from an ethical or legal point of view, the Allied intervention in Russia was even worst than it was for the Ottoman Empire, where, at least, there existed a set of documents and treaties. For Russia, there were only ideological fears, old playbook and indolent behavior.

On 23 December 1917, the day after the beginning of the Brest Litovsk talks, delegates of France and Great Britain in Paris concluded a convention for the dismemberment of Russia and the establishment of zones of influence. London looked to the Baltic provinces and the Caucasus (especially its oil); France chose the Ukraine, from Belarus to Bessarabia and Donetz (for the iron, coal, iron and steel basins), as well as the Black Sea shores including Odessa and Crimea.

Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 a three-year Civil War broke out in Russia. The initial phase of the war lasted for one year, and it was marked by rapidly shifting front lines and sporadic engagements by small units. At the beginning, the Bolsheviks generally expanded from the few urban areas in their hands to root out centres of opposition in the periphery of the vast country. This expansion began in the winter of 1917-1918, and it led to the formation of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army, led by Generals Mikhail Alekseyev and Lavr Kornilov in the Don Cossack region, thus creating the southern front of the war.

Half a year later this was followed by the revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion (despite the name, in reality it was a force of the size of an army corps) on the mid-Volga and Siberia, which assisted the formation of two anti-Bolshevik governments, each with its own army – the Komuch in Samara and the Siberian Government in Omsk.

The Red Army of Lenin’s Bolshevik government was rapidly formed to replace the irregular Red Guard partisan units only at the end of this phase, in the fall of 1918.

The second and decisive stage of the Civil War lasted from March to December 1919. First, the White armies of Admiral Alexander Kolchak in Siberia and General Denikin in Southern Russia advanced resolutely toward Moscow (the last one appeared to be the most decisive push against the Reds). In the Caucasus and Crimea operated General Wrangel (probably the best of the White generals). In the North-West General Yudenich tried to attack Petrograd.

As in many other civil wars, foreign powers intervened in the conflict. Britain played a leading role in this intervention and had a significant effect on the course of the war. Without this foreign intervention on the White side, the superiority of numbers in manpower and weaponry of the Bolsheviks would have quickly overwhelmed their opponents.

British Intervention In Southern Russia, 1918-1920

Despite massive support, the entire British action remained uncertain and split between an ideological battle against Bolshevism and the strategic imperative to protect India and investments in the oil industry in the Middle East (Persia and Mesopotamia). Consequently, the action of Great Britain, while strong in Southern Russia, and massive (two divisions) in the Caucasus and Central Asia – in Northern Russia and Eastern Russia (Siberia) it a lot less intense.

Further, the controversial demobilization scheme, the requirement to keep the public unaware of the extent of the military efforts, and the risk of bolshevism infecting the troops contributed to the incertitude of the British (and French) actions.

From November 1918 the Allies succeeded in supplying regular provisions to the White Armies mainly through the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. The British military mission arrived in South Russia in late 1918, and provided General Denikin’s White army with an enormous amount of matériel. This included full British army kit for half a million men, 1,200 field guns with almost two million rounds of ammunition, 6,100 machine guns, 200,000 rifles with 500 million rounds of ammunition, 629 lorries and motorcars, 279 motorcycles, 74 tanks, six armoured cars, 200 aircraft, 12 500-bed hospitals, 25 field hospitals and a vast amount of signal and engineer equipment. All this was sufficient for an army of 250,000 men and it was much more than Denikin was ever able to use, as the combat strength of his army never exceeded 150,000 men. Ammunitions destined for South Russia also included 25,000 poison gas shells. Churchill had described mustard gas as “ideal weapon against our beastly enemy.” But British personnel were instructed to use it only if the Bolsheviks started gas warfare first.

The British mission also organized the training and equipping of White Russian troops with British weapons. This made the material aid much more effective. Even in small numbers, many of the British instructors, following a personal and ideological commitment, took part in fighting the Bolsheviks, despite the orders of their government.

In real terms, financial and material support from Great Britain pushed Denikin’s army in a far more favourable position than the Bolsheviks in 1919, and very close to being the key element of the victory of the Whites against the Bolsheviks. But the White army of Denikin suffered, like the Tsarist army, of which it was but an extention. This led to serious problems. White officers were unimaginative; their mindset remained obsolete; and they were incapable of organizing the logistics of their army. There were also fundamental defects in the morale of the White troops. These limits affected all the other White armies operating against the Bolsheviks, without mentioning the bitter rivalries among the White generals themselves.

In addition to all the political mistakes of Denikin’s movement and a general inability to adjust to the complex situation in Revolutionary Russia, the Whites suffered a clear military defeat. In South Russia, the Whites were defeated not because of the lack of British aid, but rather despite it; and their defeat was decisive for the victory of the Reds elsewhere.

The British presence in Southern Russia, as mentioned, was limited to few hundred specialists and trainers and non-combat troops (72 servicemen -18 Royal Navy, 41 British Army, 13 Royal Air Force personnel – were killed in South Russia in 1918-1920).

Further, they were scattered over the immense area of Southern Russia, where several White units operated, of which the Denikin one was the larger, but also Wrangler’s that extended to the Caucasus.

The missed arrival of a massive British combat force led to the first rift between the Whites and London. British combat troops were deployed, and in a limited number, only in the South Caucasus to secure the oilfields there (the Baku area); and this situation increased the suspicions of White Russians over the real, future aims of British aid.

The real strategic reason for the massive support of Denikin, who operated mainly in the “zone of influence” assigned to the French, was because of the failure of previous, but also because of the defeat of Admiral Kolchiak’s offensive in Siberia. But lagely these troops came to protect the interests of London over the oil resources in Baku and surrounding region.

After Denikin’s army was decisively defeated at Orel in October 1919 (some 400 km south of Moscow), the White forces in southern Russia were in constant retreat, reaching the Crimea in March 1920. In July 1920, the White forces left Crimea for Constantinople. This ended the British Mission in Southern Russia.

The fate of the British military mission in South Russia followed the fate of the Whites, with constant relocation of the training teams under growing pressure from the Reds. First this progressive impairment, and later the demise of Denikin’s and Wrangel armies impacted the broader plans of London to set up “friendly” states in the South Caucasus – the real strategic objectives of British military expedition in the former allied territory.

At the end of August 1919, the British withdrew from Baku (the small British naval presence was also withdrawn from the Caspian Sea), leaving only 3 battalions at Batum. After a British garrison at Enzeli (on the Persian Caspian coast) was taken prisoner by Bolshevik forces on 19 May 1920, Lloyd George finally insisted on a withdrawal from Batum early in June 1920, thus disbanding the 27th Division (The British Salonika Army was split within Macedonia [22nd Division, disbanded in 1919], the Danube [26th Division, disbanded on May 1919], Turkey (28th Division, disbanded on December 1923], and the Caucasus [27th Division, disbanded in 1920]). Financial concerns forced a British withdrawal from Persia in the spring of 1921.

The French Intervention In Southern Russia

The French intervention in Southern Russia was initiated in February 1918, with 50 million rubles in gold to the Ukrainian Rada. But the first official sign of French preparation for direct military intervention in Southern Russia came on October 7, 1918, when Clemenceau designated General Henri Berthelot to head a military mission with responsibility for operations in Romania and the Ukraine. While an important task of this expedition was to assure the retreat of German and Austro-Hungarian forces from the Ukraine and Romania, Clemenceau’s instructions stressed the need to set up an economic encirclement of the Bolsheviks and help along the fall of the new government in Russia.

However, French intervention in support of the Whites (also in this case for ideological reasons to hinder the path of the Reds) was much shorter and much more confused than by the British – and was shut down only after a few months.

The French expedition had come to Southern Russia under three assumptions, which emerged to be totally baseless: A) that the Whites representing a majority of the people; B) that the Russian people welcomed Allied intervention against Bolshevik; and C) that the bulk of the fight against the Reds would be on the White forces, requiring only moral and technical assistance from the French forces.

In fact, the Ukrainians preferred the Bolsheviks to the Whites; the local population resented Allied intervention; and the Whites had limited capabilities. Disillusionment with intervention increased as officers and soldiers alike realized that the entire population of Southern Russia looked upon their presence with undisguised hostility.

As one officer in Sebastopol declared, Bolshevik propaganda had little effect upon the troops, but the hostile attitude of the local population had a profound impact on troops already exahusted by the tough Salonika campaign.

At initial meetings with Russian Whites, Berthelot promised up to 12 Allied divisions as expeditionary forces in Southern Russia, when in reality only three divisions were in theory available. However, six weeks after first landing in Odessa, the Allied force did not exceed 3.000 ground troops (three infantry regiments [176th, 58th French, 1st Regiment de marche africain, elements from the 10th Algerian Regiment, the 21st Chasseurs Aborigines, the 129th Senegalese Batallion, the Batallion Chasseurs d’Indochine, 4th Chasseurs á cheval d’Afrique]; other support elements [the 19th and 242nd Colonial Artillery, 7th Engineer Regiment]; landing parties of the French naval squadron, augmented by a sizeable Greek contingent, and smaller units of Polish, Romanian and Czech troops). But they did seize Nikolaev, Kherson and Tiraspol, so that Allied forces controlled an arc of territory in the Western Ukraine, along the northern shore of the Black Sea, between the Dniester and Dniepr rivers.

The absence of reinforcements further increased the French command’s skepticism about intervention. But the major problems were the open and tough hostility of the local populations, as a result of Bolshevik propaganda, and the splits among the anti-Reds, the split among the White generals (who wanted to re-establish Tsarist Russia), and local Ukrainian independence movements (split among different factions, running from ultraconservative to anarchist groups).

As among the British, the French also had several dozen advisors and staff personnel, who similar to their British counterparts expressed criticism and doubts about the performance of White leadership and troops and even White military capabilities.

By March 1919, pressure frm the Bolsheviks forced the Whites (and consequently the French and Greeks) to evacuate initially Kherson, and then Nikolaev, putting serious doubt on the validity of the entire operation in the Black Sea. Red attacks over Odessa only grew greater.

The anti-Red coalition was marked more and more by bitter rivalries, which quickly undermined the White armies; Greek forces were more concerned about the safety of the Greek national community there and the beginning of the operation in Asia Minor against the Turks. This weakend further the French-led effort in Southern Russia.

The situation became so untenable that General D’Esperey went urgently to Odessa from Constantinople, realizing that were no other option than to withdraw from there (the evacuation came finally on 6 April). But he did this without consulting the Whites (Denikin was informed ex post facto by Franchet d”Esperey).

The Odessa evacuation left the Crimea as the only remaining area of direct French military intervention. Clemenceau had urged to hold the Crimea as a bastion for future actions in Southern Russia, again creating the impression of a firm French commitment. Yet, from the outset, the French presence in the Crimea had been marked by the same difficulties that plagued the intervention in the Ukraine – but this time, there was the brave White General Wrangel, who could not hold, despite considerable efforts to re-establish good relations with the local populations (that fully supported the Reds). This led him to a desperate evacuation to Constantinople at the end of April.

The withdrawal from Sebastopol was marked by a serious disciplinary situation, especially on board French naval ships operating in the Black Sea. This was the persistent and growing mutinous attitude among the French forces operating in the area.

The Black Sea mutinies have acquired legendary dimension among Marxist historians, largely as a result of André Marty’s somewhat exaggerated claims, and as a result of the “martyrdom” of those sailors condemned by military tribunals. There is no doubt, however, that the mutinies were serious and extensive.

The first uprisings took place among ground troops. On the 4th of February, the 58th Infantry Regiment refused to fight at Tiraspol on the far bank of the Dniester.

On March 8th, two companies of the 176th Infantry Regiment rejected an order to attack at Kherson. April 5 saw the same refusal among elements of the 19th Colonial Artillery Regiment in Odessa, where sappers of the 7th Engineer Regiment fraternized with, and left equipment for, the Bolsheviks. Then, from 10 to 30 April, major mutinies of sailors take place. In Romania, at Galatz, the chief mechanic André Marty planned to seize the torpedo FNS Protet, lock up the officers and rally the Bolsheviks to Sevastopol. The plot was discovered, he was arrested on April 16, and sentenced to twenty years of hard labor.

On April 17, on the cruiser FNS France, protests broke out; four sailors were put in the brig. But two days later, the revolting crew freed them, elected delegates, and demanded the return to Toulon.

On the 20th, the red flag was hoisted on FNS France, FNS Jean-Bart, FNS Justice, along with the singing of the L’Internationale. In the afternoon, sailors who had demonstrated in Sevastopol with the population returned fire of Greek soldiers. Calm returned in the days following; and the delegates, who initially obeyed, saw their role decrease. But FNS Jean-Bart as well as FNS France returned to Toulon and Bizerte.

Another mutiny took place on the 25th on-board FNS Waldeck-Rousseau stationed at Odessa. A committee of sailors decided to revolt, demanded the freedom of Marty and the return to France. In the following days, control was exerted over buildings in Odessa, as well as over all ships in the Black Sea. But the excitement continues into May and June, in the naval bases of Toulon, Brest, Bizerte, Greece (and on board FNS Guichen, led by Charles Tillon) and even in Vladivostok.

As mentioned, the Sebastopol episode marked a climax in a series of mutinies, and rather extensive indiscipline among troops throughout the Ukrainian and Crimean interventions; and the French command was well aware of the low morale and war-weariness among the ranks. Whether this attitude reflected a widespread sympathy for Bolshevism is less clear. The majority of the French soldiers had no desire to fight in Russia and demanded repatriation.

However, some fully supported the Bolsheviks; and the demonstration in Sebastopol revealed a degree of political support for the Russian Revolution that was of considerable significance. But it is not clear that a majority of the soldiers and sailors were prepared to embrace the revolution at this point. Above all, it is an exaggeration to claim that the mutiny in Sebastopol was because of an untenable military situation. Instead, it was because of several factors, already discussed, without mentioning the lack of political support of France from other Allies despite the fury of Clemenceau.
The French military intervention in the Ukraine was a sobering lesson in the perils of intervening in another nation’s civil wars.

Conclusion

The action of Allied powers, in the two cases discussed, revealed the persistence of an imperialistic stance of some countries, despite their exhaustion and their formal adherence to the 14 Points Declaration of President Woodrow Wilson.

This contradiction is the result of a wild era which existed well before the breakout of WWI, behind the façade of economic and social developments at the end of the 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries.

Appendix

Turkish Post-War And Straits Occupations 1918-1923

26.04.1916: Agreement of St.-Jean-de-Maurienne between France, Italy and Great Britain.

16.05.1916: Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Great Britain.

30.10.1918: Armistice of Mudros: Turkey to cease hostilities, demobilize, open the Bosporus Straits, and repatriate POWs. The Armistice found the British occupying most non-Turkish territory of the Ottoman Empire (Palestine, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan), and Arab insurgents in control of the Hejaz and parts of Syria.

12.11.1918: French troops land in Constantinople.

13.11.1918: British troops land in Constantinople.

08.12.1918: Allied occupation of the Bosporus, the Dardanelles, the eastern coast of the Sea of Marmara, islands of Imros, Lemnos, Samothrace, Tenedos, and 15 km deep into the eastern shores; the zone of the Straits is demilitarized (by Greek and Turkish forces) but garrisoned by Allied forces.

18.01.1919: Peace Conference opens in Versailles.

Jan. 1919: Turkish garrison in Medina surrenders to the forces of the Arab revolt.

03.02.1919: In Paris, Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos demands the entire of East Thrace and the Aegean shores of Anatolia, including Izmir to be annexed to Greece.

07.02.1919: Italian troops land in Galata (Constantinople).

08.02.1919: French General Franchet d’Esperey, commander of the Allied Army (later the Constantinople Occupation Corps), enters in Constantinople mounted on a white horse.

04.03.1919: Damat Ferit Pasha, brother-in-law of the Sultan, appointed as the new Grand Vizir (Prime Minister).

29.03.1919: Italian troops land in Antalya.

08.04.1919: British Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, proposes Istanbul become a neutral zone under the administration of the League of Nations (also French Prime Minister Aristide Briand proposes the creation of a “free city,” a sort of protectorate under the League. The city of Constantinople would be a first free city in 1920. As such, Constantinople would have its own municipal government, but which would be devoid of any of those functions of government exercised by a sovereign state, such as, defense and foreign relations).

30.04.1919: Sultan Vahidettin sends Mustafa Kemal to Anatolia as Inspector-General.

06.05.1919: Allied powers agree to allow Greeks to occupy Smyrna.

15.05.1919: Smyrna occupied by the Greek army. Journalist Hasan Tahsin shoots a Greek flag bearer, firing the first bullet of the Turkish resistance.

16.05.1919: Mustafa Kemal leaves Constantinople.

19.05.1919: Mustafa Kemal arrives in Samsun. Turkish War of Independence begins.

24.05.1919: Demonstration at Sultanahmet in Istanbul against the occupation of Smyna.

22.06.1919: Mustafa Kemal issues the Amasya Declaration stating that the independence of the nation will be saved once more by the determination and decisiveness of the people.

28.06.1919: Treaty of Versailles signed by Germany.

23.07/07.08.1919: Erzurum Congress. It is decided that there will a struggle with the enemy of the people in the Eastern provinces which are an inseparable part of the homeland.

10.10.1919: Allied forces officially take military control of Western Thrace.

22.10.1919: Inter Allied administration of Western Thrace begins with French General Charpy appointed Governor.

04-11.09. 1919: Sivas Congress. A mutual decision about the “homeland being an indivisible whole” is reached. All the local resistance organizations in the country are united and a “Committee of Representatives” is formed.

01.11.1919: Grand Vizir Damat Ferit Paşa resigns.

27.12.1919: Mustafa Kemal arrives in Ankara.

12.01.1920: Opening session of the last Ottoman Parliament.

10.03.1920: Allied Military Administration of Constantinople and Straits Zone formally established.

16.03.1920: Constantinople officially occupied by Allied forces.

20.03.1920: Italian troops withdraw from Konia.

05.04.1920: Damat Ferit Paşa reappointed as Grand Vizir.

11.04.1920: Ottoman Parliament dissolved by Sultan Vahidettin.

19-26.04.1920: The San Remo Conference of the Allied Supreme Council determines the allocation of the League of Nations mandates for administration of the former Ottoman ruled lands of the Middle East by the victorious powers.

23.04.1920: The Turkish Grand National Assembly opens in Ankara.

20.05.1920: Greece annexes Western Thrace.

22.06.1920: Greek offensive in Anatolia begins.

08.07.1920: Greek forces occupy Bursa.

12.07.1920: Greece moves into Eastern Thrace, setting up Adrianople as headquarters.

15.07.1920: Greek forces occupy Edirne and the entire East Thrace.

10.08.1920: Ottoman government signs the Treaty of Sèvres with the Allied nations. Hejaz, Armenia and Assyria are to become independent. Mesopotamia and Palestine are assigned under mandate to the tutelage of the UK, Lebanon and an enlarged Syria to that of France. The Dodecanese and Rhodes with portions of southern Anatolia are to pass to Italy, while Thrace and Western Anatolia, including Smyrna will become part of Greece. The Bosphorus, Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara are to be demilitarized and internationalized, and the Ottoman army is to be restricted to a strength of 50,000 men. The treaty is rejected by the Turkish republican movement in Ankara.

06.11.1920: The Corps d’Occupation de Constantinople (COC) formally is set up, led by French General Franchet d’Esperey (frmr. CinC of Eastern Allied Forces).

03.12.1920: Ankara signs the Gümrü Peace Agreement with the Republic of Armenia.

09-11.01.1921: First Battle of İnönü. Greek advance inside Anatolia halted.

20.01.1921: The first Turkish Constitution is ratified by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

21.02/12.03.1921: London Conference. Representatives of both Istanbul and Ankara governments are invited to the conference which aims to revise the Treaty of Sèvres. It does not achieve any results.

16.03.1921: Bolshevik Russia recognizes the new Turkish State.

27-20.03.1921: Second Battle of İnönü. Greek offensive fails.

25.05.1921: Italians troops withdraw from Marmaris.

21.06.1921: Italians withdraw from the Antalya region.

05.07.1921: The city of Antalya is returned to the Turkish government by Italian military authorities.

10.07.1921: Greek forces launch a new offensive;

18.07.1921: The British General Harrington is made CinC of COC, replacing the French General Charpy; the (British) Black Sea Army is re-named as British COC of Constantinople; the 28th British division is dissolved.

19.07.1921: Turkish forces retreat towards Ankara.

10.08.1921: The Allied Supreme Council declares neutrality with respect to the Turkish-Greek conflict;

23.08/13.09.1921: Battle of Sakarya. Greek forces retreat after a failed offensive.

20.10.1921: Peace agreement signed between Turkey and France.

23.10.1921: Treaty of Kars between Turkey and the USSR. Turkey cedes the city of Batumi to the USSR in return for sovereignty over the cities of Kars and Ardaha.

11.01.1922: Mustapha Kemal proclaims the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate and the establishment of the Turkish Republic; Sultan Mohammed VI flees Constantinople on board a British warship.

31.05.1922: Last Italian troops leave the area of Antalya.

05-19.07.1922: USMC troops from the USS Arizona land to guard the US Consulate in Constantinople;

26-30.08.1922: Battle of Dumlupınar. Decisive Turkish victory against the Greek forces.

09.09.1922: Turkish troops take Smyrna; massive killing of Greek and Armenian populations.

15.09.1922: British government appeals to the Dominions for military support in the Turkish crisis, but the Dominions decline; France and Italy also refuse help.

15.09.1922: Greek occupation ends.

16.09.1922: A British force lands at Canakkale, Turkey.

03-11.10.1922: Convention of Mudania; the Allies agree to return Eastern Thrace and Adrianople to Turkey, and Turkey accepts the neutralization of the Straits under international control.

11.10.1922: Armistice of Mudanya signed between Turkey, Italy, France and Britain. Greece accedes to the armistice three days later. East Thrace as far as the Maritsa River and Edirne are handed over by Greece to Turkey. Turkish sovereignty over Constantinople and the Dardanelles is recognized.

20.10.1922: Peace Conference opens in Lausanne.

01.11.1922: The Sultanate is abolished.

17.11.1922: Sultan Vahidettin leaves Istanbul on board the British warship Malaya.

04.02.1923: Talks in Lausanne interrupted because of Turkish protest about the contents of the Lausanne conference.

23.04.1923: Talks in Lausanne resume.

24.04.1923: Treaty of Lausanne signed between Turkey, Greece and other countries that fought WWI and the Turkish Independence War. Turkey recovers full sovereign rights over its territory.

10.06.1923: Turkey takes possession of Constantinople.

24.07.1923: Treaty of Lausanne formally replaces Treaty of Sèvres.

06.10.1923: Occupation forces begin withdrawal from Constantinople.

13.10.1923: Ankara declared as the capital of the new Turkish State.

06.10.1923: Units from the Turkish 3rd Corps, commanded by Şükrü Naili Pasha enter Constantinople.

23.10.1923: Last allies (British contingent) troops evacuate Constantinople.

29.10.1923: The Republic of Turkey is proclaimed.

Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).

The image shows, “The Flight of the Bourgeoisie from Novorossiysk in 1920,” by Ivan Vladimirov; painted in 1920.

Art And The Beauty Of The World: A Conversation With Mark Stocker

It is indeed a high privilege to present this interview with Dr. Mark Stocker, the voraciously productive art historian. Readers of the Postil will know Dr. Stocker from the varied ramblings and amusements that he has been offering in these pages. Therefore, it is great delight to have him speak of his real work, his true métier, which is art. He is being interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski whom our readers also know well. Dr Stocker is the author of over 230 publications, including 10 books and edited books. His latest one, When Britain Went Decimal: the Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021. His extensive research interests include Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Mark did his History of Art degree many years ago at King’s College, Cambridge, but firmly denies being either a spy or even a King’s leftie.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): I would like to begin this conversation by reading to you an incident from Leszek Kolakowski’s “Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie” (published in his My Correct Views on Everything, 2005).

“In 1950, in Leningrad, I visited the Hermitage in the company of a few Polish friends. We had a guide (a deputy director of the museum, as far as I remember) who was obviously a knowledgeable art historian. At a certain moment – no opportunity for ideological teaching must be lost – he told us: ‘We have in our cellars, comrades, a lot of corrupt, degenerate bourgeois paintings. We have never displayed them in the museum but perhaps one day we will show them so that Soviet people can see for themselves how deeply bourgeois art has sunk. Indeed, Comrade Stalin teaches us that we should not embellish history.’ I was in the Hermitage again, with other friends, in 1957, a time of relative ‘thaw,’ and the same man was assigned to guide us. We were led to rooms full of modern French paintings. Our guide told us: ‘Here you see the masterpieces of great French painters – Matisse, Cézanne, Braque, and others.’ And, he added (for no opportunity must be lost), ‘do you know that the bourgeois press accused us of refusing to display these paintings in the Hermitage? This was because at a certain moment some rooms in the museum were being redecorated and were temporarily closed, and a bourgeois journalist happened to be here at that moment and then made this ridiculous accusation. Ha, ha.’”

To someone who lives in the West – unless you happen to be a student of Communism or Russia – what Kolakowski says may sound surreal. But what is going on in the US – the destruction of monuments, removal of paintings and sculptures, suspension of purchases of European art by American museums, purchases of minority art, changing names of buildings and streets – is all too familiar and brings to mind the feeling of déja vu. What is your reaction to Kolakowski’s story; and do you see parallels between it and what is going on today?

Mark Stocker (MS): My reaction is to laugh in order not to cry. The 1950 response is chillingly reminiscent of the notorious Nazi ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition – this is of course one of many resemblances between different forms of totalitarianism. Not for the first time, I feel compelled to ask “What’s the difference?” The convenient change of party line by 1957 is a step in the right direction in at least having such art on display, but the same man is suffering from convenient memory loss.

Before I go on to answer your question, I would like nonetheless to put in a plea for not suppressing the “official art” of that time. In this period, art school training in Eastern European countries continued on precisely the traditional lines, valuing technique and crafting, that you and I both admire. I remember being quite moved by a collection presented to a New Zealand art gallery by the Soviet Institute of Cultural Affairs over 50 years ago. No, I am not a “useful idiot.” I believe that however admirable or repellent the regime, art has a life of its own and should not be lazily written off in a determinist way.

To answer your question, I think there is still a way to go before we reach the parlous and risible state of affairs in the Soviet Union of the 1950s. But we must be vigilant and vigorous in terms of arguing for a genuine diversity in what the public sees.

Maurice Askew, Landscape with a circle of ancient standing stones. (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu).

ZJ: Indeed, Kolakowski’s story may seem laughable. But to me, a former denizen of the “socialist paradise,” where I spent the first 25 years of my life, it is not. This is what “socialist realism” was like. In 2020, in the countries of liberal-democracies, we seem to be “back to the future,” in that what is shown in museums must reflect “approved” and “correct” ideology. Indeed, in a umber of museums in the US (and Europe), the purchase of Western art has been suspended; some museums are selling objects from their collections in order to buy more minority art.

Until relatively recently, museum and art-gallery collections were for the human gaze, for observing. This was the understood purpose of such institutions. This is not so today. Art galleries and museums are now at the forefront of the ideological battle. Several months ago, I wrote a piece “The Power of Beauty and the New Museum Barbarians.” In it I made a point which you also made in an official letter to an art institution – that the function of museums is not “raising social consciousness” but to guard artistic heritage. Do you see what some curators are now doing as a betrayal of their mission?

MS: Any “betrayal” probably happened 20 to 40 years ago. We’re too far down that trajectory to apply this term – younger curators in many cases simply don’t know any better. The prime aim of curators and art historians should be to focus on beauty, aesthetics, style, patronage and iconography. Raising social consciousness can be very worthwhile but, in my view, it comes second to these things.

I am very conservative about selling from collections – I wouldn’t want to leave my own art treasures to any state institution, if there was a real danger they would be deaccessioned. If, however, it’s a duplicate print and not in good condition, then it would be silly for the museum in question to be rigid about this. But hocking off anything that’s unfashionable is unforgivable. Why, why, why did the Met see fit to do this with Frank Salisbury’s superb portrait of The Sen Sisters which the artist generously presented to the Museum? He paid a terrible price for being unapologetically academic and a near contemporary of Picasso. An intelligent museum should have both artists represented.

Frank O. Salisbury, The Sen Sisters, ca., 1928

ZJ: That’s the point – unfashionable! Would you apply this term to the Elgin Marbles, Rubens, Watteau, Rembrandt, Veronese, and a host of other greats? The situation in which we found ourselves in the 20th century is singular, I would say. Fashion became a criterion; so that art now is no longer valued for its intrinsic quality, its beauty, but some subjective feeling about “justice.” Of course, there is also the commercial aspect, in that a certain artist is worth investing in, as his work may go up in value. Thus artistic value cannot so easily be separated from profit.

MS: One of the problems that Modernism created was to open a kind of Pandora’s box. Subjectivity and relativism became all the thing, provided you heeded the elite critic’s or curator’s choice, in many ways a contradiction of that. Older, shared criteria of beauty and the concept of art as skill were thrown out the window.

An old friend of mine, now sadly dead, though a big fan of Modernism, said that in architecture, the classical language and Beaux-Arts training guaranteed a base level of consistency and decency, whereas Modernism rejected this. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not dissing modernism – I very much admire Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, for example, and some of Picasso himself – but we sacrificed a great deal for it and people, even art professionals, are too ignorant to realise this.

ZJ: Do you see this problem as something that creates the danger of confounding artistic quality with the buyer’s inability to separate artistic beauty from monetary value in the art market?

MS: Modernism certainly made it much harder to judge.

ZJ: One can also say that this inability opens the gates for artistic charlatans who prefer to shock the audience with images, rather than enchant them with quiet spiritual elevation?

MS: Understated beauty has certainly been a victim of 20th century clamorousness. How many people today can judge the nuances of watercolour washes, as we can see in the work of my good friend Maurice Askew (who died recently aged 98); or, indeed, the deft inking and biting of an etcher’s plate, as in D.Y. Cameron’s sublime Winchester Cathedral?

D.Y. Cameron, Winchester Cathedral, 1925.

I don’t totally believe in rejecting the “shock” factor, so long as it is underpinned by skill. Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion is a good case in point; an unforgettable, unavoidable work. But, as Bacon himself found, it was a damn hard act to follow, and his subsequent attempts to shock, certainly after the mid-1950s, just don’t do it for me. Bacon up to the 1960s cannot be fairly described as a charlatan – but I think he came perilously close to being one later in life, using the same painterly tricks and making people who should know better say “Wow!”

What he did become, as many an artist before and after Modernism, was formulaic. The charlatan charge is one that’s easy to level but is in danger of closing the arguments. Certainly the “de-skilling” of art that Modernism encouraged increased the charlatanry component. Damien Hirst – not a skilled painter at all but a brilliant project manager. Josef Beuys – arguably more of a charlatan than a shaman. Marcel Duchamp – he skirted very close to it and stole from others (a time-honoured practice); but he was, I have to concede for all the damage he did, bloody clever.

ZJ: I can’t really abide Duchamp, but let’s move the discussion back to when, earlier, you said, “Raising social consciousness can be very worthwhile but, in my view, it comes second to these things.” Here is my problem: who decides? The curators? Many of them have recently succumbed to social pressure and peddle ideology, sanctioned by state authority – as used to be the case under communism?

Secondly, I’m all for being directed by someone, advised by Dr. Stocker, when I decide what to buy; but social consciousness is a group phenomenon. This raises another question: what are we trying to achieve by raising consciousness? Aesthetic appreciation? Not really. It is a call to social action, an attempt to change society. If so, curators are revolutionaries.

This is not the same as teaching a book. When I say, “Read the Bible, I think you will find it interesting,” my intent is not to make readers into believers. I am leaving the judgment to the reader. It is a process of appreciation.

Richard Sharp, the author of The Engraved Record of the Jacobite Movement, once gave me some excellent advice: “The best way to learn how to distinguish good quality prints from average ones is to look at them; after some time, you will train your eye and you will be able to discern good from average prints.”

MS: Sharp is right. You see what you know, as Gombrich says. As for social consciousness, it can be a dangerous trap and shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the prime concerns of curatorship. It’s a cop-out, but I would leave it at the curator’s discretion as to how much or little a part it should play. But I would be worried if I had a curator colleague who let it loom too large.

There are aspects of social consciousness which I think could and should be raised and which I find interesting – when for example an artist is outstanding but is the victim of changed fashion or economic decline. The collapse of the printmaking market following the Wall Street Crash is tragic to behold and it would be callous to disregard it in any history, even if the intrinsic qualities of the prints are ultimately more relevant to “pure” art history. Geniuses like F.L. Griggs were ruined. In turn, without becoming a socialist, you can admire someone like William Morris whose conscience was stirred by ugliness, pollution and grinding poverty. His close friend Edward Burne-Jones, though less overtly politicised, wanted to bring beauty into ordinary people’s lives – and his excellent exhibition at Tate Britain a couple of years ago was a powerful vindication of that ideal.

Edward Burne-Jones, Laus Veneris, 1873-1875.

ZJ: One term that is part of the liberal toolbox is “cultural appropriation.” It largely means that the artists has gobbled the best of minority culture and falsely presented it as his own. Recently, Elvis Presley was accused of cultural appropriation (he supposedly “stole” themes and music); Olga Tokarczuk, Polish Nobel Prize Laurate, was accused of cultural appropriation because she wears dreadlocks. In the past it was called fashion, a borrowing. Today it is called “cultural appropriation.”

No culture is entirely self-sufficient; we borrow elements of thought, visual representations from different places, and, by transforming them according to our own perception, create something new, something original. Picasso comes to mind, as does van Gogh, who had a considerable collection of Japanese prints, which inspired him. There is a difference between “appropriation” and “inspiration;” but today inspiration is called “appropriation,” a term frequently and easily interchanged with “theft.”

MS: It is a boring and unhelpful word and concept, and is used all too often by pompous and politically correct academics to close the argument. I would like to remind such people that Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Appropriation wasn’t always seen as a crime. The respected New Zealand Māori artist Selwyn Muru was asked many years ago who he thought the great Māori artists were. “Well, there’s Picasso!” he replied. As for musical appropriation, do Jamaican reggae lovers despise Led Zeppelin for their magnificently appropriated ‘D’yer Ma’ker’? (Get it?). I very much doubt it. They’d see it, surely, as a testament, a tribute, to their culture – attacking it would be a sign of vulnerability.

ZJ: I want to give you two examples: Rembrandt and Stefano della Bella (both 17th-century artists). Apparently, both were fascinated by the 17th-century Polish Sarmatian dresses. Rembrandt even painted his own self-portrait as Polish Nobleman; his student van Vliet made a print, after Rembrandt, of a Pole. Stefano della Bella did several engravings of Poles.

Rembrandt, Jan van Vliet, Stefano della Bella, Polish Noblemen

Is this “cultural appropriation?” In Britain, we see a similar fascination with other countries. In the 19th century, Orientalism was widespread. Lawrence of Arabia comes to mind.

MS: As I say, it isn’t a helpful concept. Weren’t the classicists “appropriating” the ancient Greeks? Did the Greeks complain? Get real.

Edward Said has a lot to answer for on that front. He essentialised Orientalism, and though he was a far cleverer and better-read person than me, his effect on countless admirers was to have ultimately trivialised it. Politically correct academics have continued to repeat his litany over the decades, blahblahblah. Full marks therefore to Robert Irwin for intelligently taking him on!

There is much, much more that of course could be said on this front. Sometimes ignorant appropriation can cause understandable offense. I was asked at one stage by Royal Doulton, if in all innocence they could use a Gottfried Lindauer portrait of a Māori chief as a character jug. I told them that this offended on almost every front – the head is tapu (taboo) in traditional Māori culture, and eating and drinking is governed by strict protocols – putting milk in the head jug – OMG – no! They heeded me, thank goodness. But this was an extreme case. Let me give a couple of more New Zealand examples – most people should get my drift.

The white New Zealand artist Gordon Walters received a lot of ill-informed, and I would say pretty offensive criticism in his brilliant use of the fern frond motif that you see in traditional Māori architectural decoration, such as roof beams. But this is by definition “low” ornament and you can’t very well claim he is appropriating your intellectual property.

So, inevitably the question of appropriation must be applied on a case by case basis. Oh – it can work in reverse – the Arawa people made the carving of Queen Victoria, that was presented to them, uniquely theirs – by erecting her on a traditionally carved post and protecting her with an elaborate canopy – Queen Victoria became Kuini Wikitoria – get it?! She was even told about it in the last few weeks of her life, and was genuinely moved by the loyalty of her subjects.

Bust of Queen Victoria, Ohinemutu, Rotorua, ca., 1908 (National Library of New Zealand).

ZJ: As you say, the concept is not helpful in explaining the quality of art. But those who use it are not interested in art. They are in the business of fighting Western culture. By saying “appropriation,” they say there is nothing original in Western culture, and that the West is not a civilization that created great wonders, or liberated mankind from poverty and injustice – something the present day “reformers” claim to champion.
Many years ago, Mary Lefkovitz wrote Not Out of Africa – a detailed analysis of the baselessness of the claim that the Greeks had “stolen” their philosophy from Africa – for which she was attacked on all fronts.

What underlies this reasoning is: if we cannot take down all the monuments, remove all paintings from the museums, let’s denigrate them, let’s show the Westerners – the Whites – those who defend Western tradition – that there is nothing special, unique or original in it. On the contrary, it is imperialistic, genocidal, unoriginal, and so on.

MS: Although you’re doing a bit of a reductio ad absurdum, I can’t deny a lot of what you say. I wish it wasn’t like that, but it is all too prevalent. Perhaps it was my luck as an academic that the majority of my colleagues were considerably more intellectually subtle – and in the best sense liberal – than your bleak picture suggests. The better academics put Lefkowitz on their reading lists; and to be fair, Bernal’s Black Athena was rapidly shot down.

ZJ: When you were a student at Cambridge, some 40 years ago, would you ever have thought or suspected that art and art criticism would be gone in the future, and that what you, and others, who had decided to study art, would be under attack?

MS: Perhaps I’m fortunate but my (almost) 30 years teaching at the academy were remarkable for not being attacked. Only once, many years ago, when I did a seminar defending (yet still criticizing) Camille Paglia, which was almost riotously well-received by most students and several staff present but not by a few angry left-wingers, was I reprimanded by my head of school. Call me cowardly, but out of self-preservation and a wish to advance my career, I took a deep breath, put the culture wars aside and settled down into writing a succession of entries for the Grove Dictionary of Art – on the patronage and artistic interests of Louis XV, Louix XVI, Marie-Antoinette and Louis-Philippe respectively. Perhaps this was a subtle form of subversion! So rather than buckle under any criticism, I’ve simply done my own thing, publishing a very large amount of what I hope is useful, factual research, often on no grants whatsoever, and enjoyed doing so in the process.

ZJ: I often wonder what Sir Kenneth Clark would say? What would his fabulous BBC program turned into a book – Civilization – look like in 2020?

MS: Well, they recently attempted to do a “Civilisation revisited” called Civilisations, with Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga. It was well received, but got some criticism for focusing too much on class and oppression, and not enough on the core aspects of art that I identified above. Relativism replaced discerning aesthetic judgement and as for Clark’s beautiful language – creating art when talking about it, well, something surely was lost here. A few years ago, I published a blog-post whose sub-text was “Come back Kenneth Clark, all is forgiven!” My admirable Pacific colleague Sean said he enjoyed it and learnt from it – that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Kenneth Clark in front of Notre-Dame de Paris, 1969.

ZJ: Over the last several years, we have witnessed another phenomenon: tearing down and removing monuments. The first was done by hooligan demonstrators, the second by city officials, who often, as happened in Baltimore, removed monuments during the night, when the public was asleep. Many monuments were not just representations of someone others disapprove of, but pieces of art. Do you see any hope for saving public monuments?

MS:  Actually, I see some hope from the British Tories (though I often disagree with them elsewhere) in the very latest news. They are planning legislation to take decisions away from councils and make statuary subject to the minister’s edict. So long as the government is sound here, that will make it very much harder to molest public monuments, and cathedral and church monuments in turn. I’ve recently come across a specific instance of this in regard to a taxpayer-funded academic research project on the Napoleonic tombs in St Paul’s Cathedral. The proposal read positively scarily: “Unlike the early- to mid-20thC monuments to Confederate soldiers, the St Paul’s Pantheon is unlikely to be removed in the long term.” You bet it won’t be, now that I alerted the Church Monuments Society and the London Times – I (indirectly) received a hurried reassurance to this effect just days ago. But the very fact that the project hinted otherwise, and got government funding, shows there is no cause for complacency on this front.

ZJ: What about selling them?

MS: I like your idea of selling monuments but I don’t think there would be a big market for them. With a couple of sculpture-nut friends, we’re currently trying to find a home for a HUGE relief of very fine quality, celebrating Africa but carved by a white British sculptor in the early 1960s and nobody wants to know – it’s all too “sensitive,” you see; well, my response is to say “Bah!” It’s a history lesson in stone, and fascinating for it. Somebody who should have known better described the sculpture as “patronizing.” If you could travel back in time and tell the artist this, he wouldn’t be offended so much as baffled and bewildered. The past is a foreign country – and imposing presentism on it in this way is quite simply bad history (and bad art history).

Gilbert Ledward, Africa in Travail: Africa Awakening (Bronze).

Art And The Public

ZJ: Recent events – destruction of monuments, changes in the museums’ policies – raise the very serious problem of “art ownership,” not ownership in the ordinary sense, where I own an antique-piece or a house. The question is – who is entitled to a work of someone who has been gone for centuries and whose work was created in a very different world-view. Do we – today – have the singular claim of deciding what the “proper” subject of art must be – or indeed what the artist should have thought and what he should represented in his art?

But today, if someone happens to disapprove of something, we destroy it or remove it.

MS: There’s a big risk of not wanting to look at the monument in its own terms, to neglect the history surrounding it and say our history must dominate – in other words presentism. If it’s a statue in a public place, it belongs to the people but is being held in trust/custody for them, and we disrespect this at our peril.

ZJ: In the early 1980s, the Greek government wanted Lord Elgin’s Parthenon marbles back, claiming they are part of Greek national heritage. This claim is not as strong as it appears to be. Modern Greece is not a continuation of ancient Greece. That cultural continuity had been broken many times, especially during the Ottoman rule. Secondly, the Greek heritage, because of the unique place of ancient Greece as cradle of Western civilization, is as much English and European as it is Greek. Finally, the place that deserves guardianship of ancient relics is that which can preserve best them. 

MS: They still do. I could write 5000 words on this and I have. The arguments for and against are quite closely balanced. To me, bleeding heart liberal if you like, the unfair thing about them was that it was not a “level playing field” when Elgin brilliantly and opportunistically exploited the wording of the Ottoman Empire’s permit to remove them – a matter of 20 years or so before the Greek War of Independence. The Greeks had no say about them. Short term, they had everything to be grateful for in Elgin “rescuing” them from what could well have been fatal destruction. But for 150+ years they have been saying “We want them back, please!”

The question of modern Greece not being the same place is one of the strengths of NOT returning them; this must be conceded. But having them in the locality of where the whole great world of Western art – and democracy – started is an emotional one that many people find compelling. A good comparison would be if Paris or Munich owned Boadicea’s chariot!

Parthenon Marbles, Three Goddesses, East Pediment

ZJ: A critic can argue, however, that the best place for it is the original site. But, once again, one can counter-argue that the original site is not necessarily the safest. The prime example is the Roman city of Palmyra, vandalized and partly destroyed by ISIS a few years ago. By contrast, the Pergamon Altar was preserved because it was removed and beautifully preserved in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

MS: Or was till the anti-Satanist nutcases recently struck. In regard to the Parthenon marbles, Enoch Powell said clean up the Athens pollution and then put them back in situ. I got what he meant even if practicality (and emotions) meant that his typical intellectual logic was shouted down.

ZJ: True, the Elgin Marbles, the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate were taken away; yet, were it not for the passion of those who carried out this “theft,” they might well be entirely destroyed now – their “theft” in turn preserved them. This also tells us that the heritage of civilization belongs to those who can secure its welfare the best.

MS: At the time, the 1810s, I think even the Greeks would have conceded that. What they argue is that they are now a liberal democracy, part of the European Union, which Britain was till so recently, that they have the means, facilities and expertise to house these treasures in a beautiful, accessible way, just metres from where it all began. My feeling is that the return of the Parthenon marbles is about 60% justified – quite narrow.

Where I am totally opposed to the restitution of art objects is when you cannot trust the government that wants them back. Some years ago, there was a genuine, albeit politically incorrect worry that the consequences of returning Benin bronzes to the government of their country of origin would be Lamborghinis and wives’ shopping sprees in Harrods and Aspreys! Any “returning” institution needs to be given a pretty copper-bottomed guarantee that their treasures will be beautifully housed, displayed and loved. If not, they should stay put.

ZJ: My second question is a variant of the previous one. Ever since the French, American and Russian Revolutions, we have to deal with a new concept that implicates art in a way it was created for, in that art is the property of the people. Hence all kinds of claim can be made. It is a people who are true owners, not individuals. The proper place for art is museums; and private collections, even if they legally belong to private citizens, cannot be taken out of the country, sold in other countries, because, the claim goes, it is part of “national heritage.” How strong is such a claim in your opinion?

MS: This is a long and complex one to answer. Obviously if you believe in liberal democracy, you believe in the rule of law and the sanctity of the ownership of property (statue-topplers take note). The last, however, needs to be balanced with caring for the national heritage.

In the absence of protective legislation or the purchase of masterpieces by the government and private donors to keep them in their country of origin or long-term custodianship, the consequences can be disastrous. The New Zealand Māori in the first instance and our culture in the second suffered from the despoiling of ghastly, latter-day grave robbers.

Even when the repatriation is legal, the consequences can be near tragic – Japan exported so many of its glorious colour woodblock prints, the country was effectively despoiled of them and any uninformed international tourists who went there to see them were disappointed.

Modern Art And Architecture

ZJ: I would like to move to modern or 20th-century art. It is the period which is very often criticized. As far as painting is concerned, this era is often appreciated by art critics more than the public. Ordinary people find modern art difficult to understand (especially abstract painting), lacking in immediate aesthetic appeal, sometimes even appalling. Similar criticism can be applied to architecture.

In its simple form, criticism of art and architecture can, in my view, be reduced to three claims: it is “ugly,” i.e., lacking in aesthetic dimension, like in “this building is ugly.”

Second, it is ugly because it has no relationship to tradition, surroundings, regional and national features (this is true of much of modern architecture). Such art and architecture follows abstract geometrical patterns rather than traditions; thus, the ornaments which beautify buildings are absent.

Thirdly, it is ugly or not appealing because the purpose of a painting or a sculpture is not to convey a sense of beauty but to embody a social message, which turns art into a vehicle of ideology. Of course, there can be an overlap, something can be both ugly, rootless and ideological; and so because it is rootless it is often ugly.

Which of these three assertions would you consider to be the greatest problem for modern art? I realize that not all three apply to the same degree to architecture, sculpture and painting.

MS: That’s a big question. I do think your approach to modernism is too broad-brushed. I genuinely think that a lot of it is a lot less elitist than when it first appeared. Look at the crowds of people looking at Rothko. My old house in Christchurch was a charming slightly Lego-like postmodern affair that showed an obvious awareness of Mondrian.

Let me say this about Modernist architecture: when built on a strict budget, housing or officing (new word) the masses, it can be little short of ghastly. That great old architectural reactionary Sir Reginald Blomfield was unfortunately spot on when he called early Modernist buildings packing-cases. However, when it is built on a big budget, sometimes – depending on the sensibility of the architect – Modernism can look genuinely impressive. There’s been a tendency towards a kind of neo-modernism since the end of the century which focusses on lightness, whiteness and airiness – and people really like it.

ZJ: Let me invoke Nikolaus Pevsner, author of several important books on art and architecture. According to him, England’s “contribution to Western art has been stronger in the practical art of building than in the more esoteric arts of painting and sculpture.” And, Pevsner also said, “English political strength” turned out “detrimental to art:” “…The democratic rule by committee and majority. Building today more than ever before is decided by committees. Committees can never be hoped to be the best judges in matters aesthetics. To demand or merely to license a bold building requires a bold man.”

MS: How prophetic – and we’ve had 65 years of committees ever since! He’s proved to be somewhat wrong about English sculpture (Henry Moore anyone? Barbara Hepworth? The excellent Elisabeth Frink?) and I think he still had some way to go in ever warming to Victorian painting, though he did so splendidly to architecture.

ZJ: These words, as you noticed, were written in 1955, and we are as far away from solving the problem as we were then. I just spoke with an architect, who, to my rather dreadful remark – which I made jokingly – as to what we should do with architects who litter our cities with buildings which are admired only by fellow-architects, said: it is the investor who is responsible; we do what investor wants. I find such an answer to be nothing other than a cop-out, an easy excuse that covers architects’ lack of talent; or worse, it’s a total disregard for “the public,” traditional surroundings, or national culture.

MS: As I said earlier, one of the tragedies of the 20th century was when capitalists realized that cheap Modernist architecture was the way to go! So, your friend does have a point. But architects also have themselves to blame – they are arrogant and self-referential. Look at architects like Morris Lapidus, who was brave enough to design for the people – despised by his profession, and in old age he destroyed his drawings and models – tragic.

Morris Lapidus, Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami, 1952.

ZJ: We have three choices, it seems: the committees, the public, or the bold man, who always realizes his own vision, not necessarily shared by the rest (as Pevsner suggested). Personally, I would go for the second, but would add that the committees offer us – the public – a range of, say, ten designs, submitted by architects, and have them displayed in a big public place, and let the people cast a vote. After all, it is the public and future generations who will live with it, not the architect, not the coterie of members of the committee. Which option do you think is the best?

MS: They all have their pros and cons. Going against my liberal instincts, I have a soft spot for the bold man – provided his taste doesn’t totally offend me. The people aren’t always right – they are often very conservative in turn. Sometimes they have to catch up with an artist and realize his or her validity. Henry Moore is a good example, even if a lot of his later corporate work, loved by committees, is boring.

But sometimes time cannot heal an “in your face” ugly work of art – Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc is a prime example, as is “Brutalist” architecture of the 1950s and 1960s – a fair bit of that probably remains in Poland in cheap public housing. My friend Amanda was very upset when I published a letter saying a whole lot of Brutalist flats weren’t worth keeping in Wellington, utterly lacking in the “period charm” of their Art Deco predecessors of 20-30 years earlier!

ZJ: Only yesterday I had a conversation with an architect who used the language of “experimentation” in art, saying that a piece of architecture “was an interesting idea.” My response was that there is no question that Centre Pompidou is “interesting” as an idea; it never occurred to anyone before to show the inside of a building. But it is ugly.

Here I would like to suggest a topic for reflection. The two towers of the World Trade Center in New York were, for decades, seen by the public as a symbol of New York itself, the New World. When the towers collapsed on September 11, the question became – should we rebuild them? But no one entertained this for long. Rebuilding certain architectural objects is not new; it says something about national spirit, attachment to history, tradition. An example is the old city of Warsaw, razed to the ground during WWII. It was rebuilt as exact copy of the city from before 1939.

Most recently we have the example of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It was a heart-breaking sight to see it in flames. There was no question that it will be rebuilt as it was, perhaps with small details which will be modern.

The two objects – the Twin Towers and the Notre Dame – are good examples of where the problem lies: -beauty of a building, as opposed to “an interesting idea.” I doubt whether the same French public would ever entertain the idea of rebuilding the Centre Pompidou if anything were to happen to it.

MS: What you’re saying is that there is something humanist that is enshrined in old buildings, that the public love and which we badly miss when they are gone. I can’t argue with that even if some old buildings were or are no great shakes. There are open and shut cases of ugly buildings – often, but not exclusively, Modernist – which nobody mourns if they go. And I don’t think merely being there for 40 years or more can redeem them.

The “Brutalist” flats in Wellington I mentioned earlier, known as the “Gordon Wilson flats” after their architect, had a certain “to-hell-with-you” quality when they were erected, and they haven’t mellowed – they were ugly then and ugly now, which you can’t say for a lot of Victorian architecture. Frankly, I wouldn’t grieve to see them go. Any decision has to be on a case-by-case, empirical basis. Personally, I don’t agree with you about the Beaubourg – when I first saw it, and I was definitely a bit of a fogey – I was impressed by its quirky, funky qualities, and it was obvious that in the piazza in front of it, buskers, jugglers, tourists and Parisians, took to it like a duck to water.

Gordon Wilson Flats, Wellington, 1959.

ZJ: Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gaudi. They are giants of 20th-century architecture. The first two were giants of the new 20th-century style; the other two are modern too, but they are steeped in tradition; their knowledge of history of architecture is undeniable. Gaudi’s Sacrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona is not a medieval cathedral, but only someone unfamiliar with history – Gothic architecture – could confuse it with something else. Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, his use of stained glass, wood, triangular roofs, bricks, in short, traditional material, make us feel “at home.” None of this is part of van der Rohe and Le Corbusier’s vision. It is pure geometry of new material, which makes us feel alienated from the environment and history. Such “creativity” is responsible for much of the problem with modern art.

What is your take on it?

MS: A lot of Le Corbusier’s theories were cranky and it grieves me that he had so much influence on generations of architecture students – to be terribly provocative I tell them they should have looked at Corb’s contemporary, Ernest Trobridge, architect of startling “ye olde” suburban houses in Greater London, instead. Le Corbusier’s architecture is, dare I say, hit and miss – the much-lauded Unité d’Habitation was a flop; I haven’ been to Ronchamp but I’m pretty certain I would admire it. Mies van der Rohe had a genuine sensibility towards proportions and materials – his actual buildings are rather great – the problem is that lacking that sensibility, lacking that big budget, being a second-rate Corb or Mies – is a recipe for aesthetic, social and political disaster.

Ernest Trobridge, House at Chaldon, Surrey, 1920.

ZJ: Let me approach the idea of conservatism in art. It is a category external to art. If it makes sense to talk about conservatism in art, it concerns national attitude, national characteristics rather than artistic qualities. Pevsner wrote an interesting book, The Englishness of English Art, in which he pointed to certain creative stubbornness, so to speak, of the English.

Christopher Wren, for example, had to redo the plan for St. Paul’s cathedral, because the clergy refused to accept such “un-English a shape.” Wren also suggested that completing Westminster Abbey in Gothic style was appropriate because “to deviate from the old Form, would be to run into disagreeable Mixture, which no Person of good Taste could relish.” (A point that is relevant in rebuilding the Notre Dame in Paris). Pevsner’s book abounds in examples of this kind. What we deal with is “Englishness,” if I may say so, or English conservative attitude in general.

This was all a long time ago; things changed! In the 1990s Prince Charles left the confines of his regal realm and made a name for himself by his criticism of English architecture. He even wrote a book, A Vision of Britain. Another critic of English architecture is Sir Roger Scruton – one of its most vocal critics, in fact. Can you explain this criticism?

MS: The architectural consequences of Prince Charles is an interesting topic and would really repay research – a book in itself. There are not a few examples of how late 20th- and early 21st-century architecture ‘kept in keeping’ with pre-existing structures – a really good example of this is Downing College, Cambridge, which is pretty awesome and which Scruton doubtless admired. And the model village of Poundbury where pundits’ opinions are divided but whose residents appear to love it.

Prince Charles himself influenced the admirable addition to the National Gallery – his critique of the original plans is where it all started. So, this kind of architecture happens – not as often as I would like because, I’m afraid, of the mania for change, cost effectiveness and architects’ egos – not least their over reverence for 20th-century heroes. Where a less admirable form of traditionalism continues to thrive is in the mania for period features in British domestic housing, especially neo-Georgian.

I generalize, but a lot of it is awful, tacky and pretentious. Cambourne, outside Cambridge, falls into this trap. It’s bad, but I laugh at it and don’t feel appalled by it – I can see it worming its way into my affections if I lived there myself. Indeed, I have a feeling that maybe in 50 years’ time, if it lasts that long, it will have accrued a period charm, as the much-mocked mock-Tudor with its painted “beams” and gables of the inter-war years has done.

ZJ: George Orwell, in his essay, “England Your England,” attempted to come to terms with Englishness, the English national character. The essay covers a lot of ground, but one thing that struck me was his claim that the English have no aesthetic taste; and, second, that England does not have great art, great painters. If one compares England with Italy, that is certainly true; but if we take Orwell’s claim at face value, every nation would lose to the Italians. Do you agree with Orwell?

MS: It’s a complicated question but he’s being unfair. The pioneering modernist critic Roger Fry said something on the lines of “the fact that our school may be a second division one does not prevent it from being intensely interesting.” But the ginormous elephant in the room when you make this generalization is the phenomenal, the beautiful, the remarkable English and to a lesser extent Scottish country house – and its garden. British art historians should be shouting from the rooftops about how its landscape architects made the paintings of Claude Lorrain (some of the most gorgeous in art history) three-dimensional reality. It worked better in the cooler, damper British climate than it would have ever done in Claude’s Roman Campagna.

And another major point: a lot of British painting from about 1750 is remarkable and too many critics remain obtusely patronizing about it. I love artists like Burne-Jones (as you’ve gathered), Leighton, and much admire Watts. And in the 20th century, we have Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer, Lucian Freud – and those godawful YBAs, yet who have a huge place in the world of contemporary art. I don’t think it’s profitable comparing Britain to France or Italy – and I think it’s stupid, as the Courtauld Institute did for far too long – to ignore what’s on your doorstep and only bother to look at France and Italy. Many people are snobs like that about cookery – oh they LOVE Italian food. Well, all I can say is that dining out in Rome in 2003, despite using the normally reliable Lonely Planet, was a terrible disappointment and the best Italian meal I had was in Los Angeles, but I digress.

ZJ: You mentioned English art around 1750. The painter of this period that comes to mind is Hogarth. Nikolaus Pevsner, praises Hogarth, who in his The Analysis of Beauty (published in 1753) speaks of “the line of Beauty.” Or, in Pevsner’s words, “a shallow, elegant, undulating double curve. Now the fondness for these double curves is actually, although Hogarth did not know that, a profound English tradition… one that runs from the style of 1300 to Blake and beyond. But it is also an international principle of the Late Baroque and Rococo, and it will be found without any effort in individual figures and whole compositions of Watteau in France, of Tiepolo in Venice, of Ignaz Günter… Hogarth’s Baroque modelling and brushwork and international quality created something in England that had not before existed within English possibilities, in the case of serpentine or zigzag compositions and attitudes, an English quality in Hogarth and an international quality of Hogarth’s age worked hand in hand.”

MS: Firstly, let me say how I deeply admire Pevsner. Initially a card-carrying Modernist on his arrival from Nazi persecution (and the poor man’s biography reveals how seriously – almost like Chamberlain – he underestimated their true evil), he got increasingly hooked on his country of adoption and his attitude to Victorian art and, particularly architecture, intelligently mellowed. I am dubious, however, about this “line” of generalization.

As Pevsner himself realizes, it wasn’t peculiar or particular to the English. And there are strongly linear artists who don’t necessarily go to town with the undulating double curve – Flaxman and Gill for example. If you’re looking for English characteristics, I’d say that the bleak, almost drab palette that is so long dominant in landscape painting – Pre-Raphaelites aside – would be an important one – it explains why watercolour is so strong and we see it in Spencer, Freud and the wonderful L.S. Lowry.

All this relates to Britain’s long, bleak autumns to springs and is almost hard-wired in the English – Scottish even more (look at Joan Eardley). The art historian John Onians – author of Neuroarthistory and a good friend – would certainly agree. By the way, note how many artists I mention are modern ones – I am not some fogey who believed that all was good in art predates 1837 or 1914.

Eric Gill, Self-Portrait, 1927.

ZJ: Point taken! Sometimes I worry about you being a little too trendy! Seriously, there are other names, Richard Wilson, a great Welsh/English painter, who even wrote about the superiority of English art, and, of course, Turner. I may be mistaken, but it is unlikely that an art historian writing the history of modern painting can bypass these three painters. Perhaps Fry’s criticism in his Reflections on British Painting, from which, I believe, the sentence you quoted comes from, does not do justice to English art?

MS: No. I’m quite a big admirer of Fry, for all my misgivings about Modernism. I can even understand his reaction against bourgeois Victorian conservatism and complacency, though art history has shown his denunciation of Alma-Tadema to be terribly wrong – Alma-Tad was a far better artist than almost all of Fry’s Bloomsbury cronies, as the late Quentin Bell, son of crony-in-chief Clive Bell, generously conceded to me. Fry was certainly beating the Modernist drum, which he understandably felt was all the more necessary in the context of British artistic conservatism. In the process, he gravely underrated Edwardian art, some of which looks superb over a century on, and overrated his Bloomsbury “luvvies.” But critics can, do and even should make mistakes. Fry’s liberalism in the best sense was shown in his admission that British art was “intensely interesting.” Roger, Roger!

William Strang, Bank Holiday, 1912.

Artists And Art Historians

ZJ: Much of how we look at art is influenced by art criticism – that is, what we read. Many ingenious insights, which we could not come up with, do come from reading books by experts. I want to throw at you a few random names of art historians: Nikolaus Pevsner, Richard Wollheim, Sir Banister Fletcher whose History of Architecture, even today, has no rival, Sir Kenneth Clark, Erwin Panofsky, and Ernst Gombrich. I skipped many names of outstanding people who made contributions to more narrow fields, or who wrote about individual artists or epochs. How do you like my list? Would you like to add a few names?

MS: They are the greats, though I always found Wollheim unintelligible and overrated – and he was more of a philosopher of art than an art historian. The art historians I would add are H.W. Janson (a Russian German in origin), Robert Rosenblum (the two authored a magisterial history of 19th-century art in the mid-1980s). Then there’s Hugh Honour – a great writer and scholar; and from a slightly younger generation, I have affection and respect for Frances Spalding who is still alive and kicking. Fiona McCarthy, with her biographies of Morris, Burne-Jones and Eric Gill, is damn good too! She died very recently.

An outstanding populist who never got the national honour he deserved is Edward Lucie-Smith. Though he was a critic more than he was an art historian, Robert Hughes was one of my heroes too – though personally a nasty piece of work. One of the most interesting and original art historians is John Onians, author of Neuroarthistory, who looks at the impact of the mind, childhood and environment on art history in pellucid prose and with convincing reasoning. John would love what I say about Claude Lorrain and country house gardens; he was also the genius behind the World Atlas of Art. By the way, Neuroarthistory was generally panned by the academic left, so it must be good!

ZJ: Let me return to Sir Kenneth Clark, whose biography by James Stourton, Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilization, appeared in 2016, and which makes Sir Kenneth a real 20th-century art history hero.

Neil McGregor, formerly the director of the National Gallery and the British Museum, said about Clark: “[he] was the most brilliant cultural populist of the 20th century… Nobody can talk about pictures on the radio or on the television without knowing that Clark did it first and Clark did it better.”

Would you agree that “to come after Clark” is an unenviable situation for today’s art historians? Not being an art historian, each time I read him, I envy him – this man spent his entire life moving through a world that looked more like an enchanted garden, so different from the lives of ordinary people who live in a world of aesthetic poverty which then prevents them from escaping their social and economic realities.

MS: I couldn’t agree more. Clark is a wonderful man – that comes over in my blog. He was my hero when I was a teenager. He was also a war hero, bringing piano music free to all visitors to the National Gallery when all the paintings had to be removed for safekeeping. He inspired me – and I bet a fair few other people aged 60+ who won’t admit it – to become an art historian. “What do you want to be?” I was asked at my Cambridge interview. “Another Kenneth Clark!” was my modest reply. I didn’t quite make it but I certainly tried. I did so in the wide range of themes I have researched and published – one of the aims was to flummox and irritate other academics who remained stuck in the same groove.

Back to Clark – anyone who could write with authority on Rembrandt, Leonardo, the landscape, the nude and don’t let’s overlook the Gothic Revival, his first, underrated book, has got to be a good thing. The other thing that I admire in him is his beautiful and accessible writing. In everything I write, I ask, “Would Kenneth Clark approve of this?” I hope so: we ignore him at our peril, and the Stourton biography along with the Tate exhibition are both timely reminders of this.

ZJ: John Ruskin said that beauty was everyone’s birthright. This brings me to the question that should make people like you, art historians, very concerned. Art education is probably the most neglected discipline in popular education, in every country. For years I made the reading of a few pages from Clark’s The Nude part of my “Introduction to Philosophy” course, where I sent my students to a museum to write a very specific paper connected with what we had read.

This assignment was probably the most fruitful educational tool I possessed. Student reactions were comparable only to the reaction they had when we read Plato, Nietzsche or Dostoevsky.

You write a regular blog, something that has very limited readership. I sent your piece on Dürer to several of my former students. The reaction to it was probably more than you would expect. Given how people, particularly younger people, react to art, why is art history so marginalized in Western education? Can anything be done about this lack? Getting students on a mandatory trip to a local museum so that they can awaken to art?

MS: It’s a big problem. I wish my blogs had a bigger readership but unfortunately my attempts to publish them on a wider front were not supported by my former museum – partly issues of copyright unfortunately complicated matters. The paradox is that never have more people been going to museums, before 2020, and wanting to see the latest exhibitions; but never in the past 30 years have fewer people formally enrolled to study art at university – and it was even proposed to discontinue the British History of Art A-level. I have several answers to this: the punitive fee regime at university, with careers advisers and family members saying “What’s the relevance of art history?” And the corresponding incentive to study STEM subjects.

And here’s another answer: art history is an overwhelmingly female subject in terms of its students. This is for two or three reasons: firstly, I think men are usually slower in responding to aesthetic matters than women; and secondly, at the risk of being controversial, art historians are ultimately the “servants” of art (or should be); women, in their traditionally supporting roles, adapt to this more easily than hunting, gathering, stomping, blundering men. With the ever-greater gender equalities of the past 30-40 years, which I generally welcome, women have become more masculinized in the choice of what they study. Art history has been the unfortunate victim of this.

ZJ: In the last 30 years or so, leftist art critics – mainly academics – turned art into an ideological instrument. Enough to glance at The New York Times art section, which peddles ideology under the mask of art. By contrast, the WSJ’s art section is still traditional; informative; and reading it one gets the impression that not much has changed since the 1970s or the 1980s. After reading pieces on art in the WSJ, it makes you want to visit a museum.

A long time ago, Roger Kimball of The New Criterion wrote an important book which he titled, The Rape of the Masters. Kimball, who is not a scholar but an editor, a very able art critic and a true art lover, did a great service to the American public by pointing out what is wrong with what passes for art criticism today.

Let me quote what he said in an interview: “For what we see in the academic art historians I discuss – it is something you see in literary studies, too – is an effort to discount, to deny the essential reality of things in order to enlist them in an ideological war. A family portrait of four young girls is no longer a family portrait of four young girls but a florid allegory of sexual conflict and gender panic. And so on. If one had to sum up the essential purpose and direction of the new academic art historians, one might say that, notwithstanding the variety of their political commitments, they are all engaged in an attack on the idea of the intrinsic. They start from the contrary of Butler’s proposition: nothing is what it is, it is always something else – and, they might add, something worse than it seems.” Do you agree with Kimball?

MS: In a word, yes. Too many of the new academic art historians are a bit, let’s say, messed up in the head. They want to politicise bloody everything. Too many of them are scared of just looking. I wish there were more Kimballs in the university but their younger versions probably, sadly, realise that after their BA, certainly their MA, it is not the place for them.

Talking of the painting of girls, the funniest instance of this – oh how I wish I had kept it – was a po-faced feminist discussion of “agency” in Sofonisba Anguissola’s painting, The Chess Game, which referred to the three main participants as “women.” Sorry, but apart from the wary looking maid, all three, even the eldest (certainly at the time) are girls!

Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game, 1555.

And while I’m at it, Sofonisba’s painting is somewhat provincial, even somewhat inept – she was 20 when she painted it and she made her heads look a bit like puddings – perhaps in a Ruskinian way I love the painting for its very awkwardness. I’m slightly digressing, but the feminist response was a classic case of somebody who reads too much and doesn’t look nearly enough.

As for art criticism, perhaps I’m a bit of an exception but I’ve written probably 100 reviews, including a fair few in the Burlington Magazine – there’s still scope for the art historian to be a critic though there is a strange lack of competition which enabled me to go to the top, so to speak, here.

Always, always, I try to summarise what the exhibition is about, what its aims are, how well it succeeds, and of course I try to appraise the quality of the works too and their impact on me. Sometimes I’m converted by an exhibition – I found myself admiring the British 20th-century painter William Coldstream.

More rarely I’m repelled, as with the Australian painter Rupert Bunny who deserved to be shot! At times I am necessarily political – as when I reviewed 20th-century Jewish art and more recently Pre-Raphaelite women – but it’s essential to keep a sense of balance and not neglect these other, core aspects. I hope to keep up this criticism for a fair while yet – pandemics permitting – as there’s so much great – and indeed “intensely interesting” art out there in the world – to experience and share.

Although he could be maddeningly contradictory, John Ruskin powerfully and beautifully stated how the primary aim of the artist should be art and nature, not changing the world: “Does a man die at your feet – your business is not to help him but to note the colour of his lips.”

ZJ: John Ruskin, I love you! Thank you, Dr. Stocker, for this delightful conversation!

Zbigniew Janowski is the author of Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude, Index Augustino-Cartésien, Agamemnon’s Tomb: Polish Oresteia (with Catherine O’Neil), How To Read Descartes’ Meditations. He also is the editor of Leszek Kolakowski’s My Correct Views on Everything, The Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on Philosophers, John Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings. His new book, Homo Americanus: Rise of Democratic Totalitarianism in America, will be published in 2021.

The image shows,”Ruins in Rome – Colosseum, Italy,” by Joachim von Sandrart. Print from 1676.

The Unique Basque Country

We are so pleased to offer our readers the very first English translation of the “Prologue,” by the great scholar of modern Spain, Professor Stanley Payne, to the new book, Vascos y navarros: Mitos, historia y realidades identitarias (Basques and Navarrese: Myths, History and Realities of Identity), by the renowned historian Dr. Arnaud Imatz whose work we have had the great privilege to present in the Postil.

In another place I have observed that all history is individual and singular, and that of all the lands of the West none has a more singular history than Spain. Within Spain, there is no other region as unique as the Basque Country, not even the Catalonia of the fet diferencial.

The Basque Country is especially individual for several reasons – its native language, its specific institutions (individualized by provinces even within the region) and its history. However, it also participates in the same general social structure and common culture of Spain; and its anthropological basis is, despite everything, and if we follow the conclusions of Julio Caro Baroja, probably more similar than the ultra-nationalists want to admit.

Arnaud Imatz is a French writer and intellectual who has devoted a long time to the history and problems of Spain, although he is not as well known within the country as he deserves. His important works published in Spain have dealt with Francoism and other significant issues, from Al-Ándalus to current problems. As a Basque-French with a long background on both sides of the Pyrenees, it is only natural that he has devoted a lot of attention to Basque history.

A dominant aspect of current Spanish culture is the misrepresentation of history, both within and without the country. And the part of Spain whose history that has been the most misrepresented is the Basque Country proper. All nationalism, without the slightest exception, mythologizes the history of the nation; but the myths of Basque history are even more outlandish than those of some other nations or regions.

That is why Arnaud Imatz has prepared this book on Basques and Navarrese, which constitutes a profile or tracing of the most important events, personalities and factors in Basque history, with the goal of presenting the facts and realities of this story.

In addition – which is equally important – it offers a much more complete perspective, because it includes the history of the French Basque Country and Navarre. Given the oppressive self-absorption of historiography in Spain, this fuller perspective is usually lacking, however indispensable it may be. For this reason, such a historical profile by Imatz constitutes a unique work, indispensable to understand the basic historical structure of “both” Basque Countries, and also how Navarra is related to this history, while also following its own history.

I would like to illustrate the complexity of this story with a personal anecdote, which has to do with the very origin of my own interest in the Basque Country, and which refers to the personality of the original Basque Lehendakari, José Antonio de Aguirre, who has been, as Imatz says, both the most famous and the most popular of all those who have occupied that position. Unlike the other Republican leaders in exile, Aguirre spent most of World War II in the United States, a circumstance that no doubt had to do with the perpetual search at that time for an international sponsor.

During the war, I had presented a short cycle of lectures at my university, Columbia (USA), and my thesis supervisor, who had known him, provided me with a personal letter of introduction, because in 1958, I had thought to start my first research trip to Spain, with a brief stay in Paris to meet the main republican exiles, some of whom helped me generously.

Aguirre received me immediately and with great cordiality at his office at the “Délégation d’Euzkadi” on rue Singer de la Rive Droite in Paris. The President had a great gift for being with people, and was easygoing and open in his dealings, with a lot of human warmth. Furthermore, he had the time to chat for an hour with an unknown 24-year-old North American PhD candidate, in part because nationalism was at a low point in those years.

I visited him again in June 1959, after my research in Spain, and he received me in the same cordial manner. With his great personal geniality, Aguirre spoke extensively on the history of nationalism and the Basque Country and was very open to questions. In other venues, he was undoubtedly a lot more controversial; but on a personal level he was not controversial at all.

As an example of his frankness, I will mention the fact that it was Aguirre who first explained to me that in 1936, opinion in the Basque Country was divided into three, with a third in favor of nationalism, another in favor of Spanish Catholic rights and the last, a third, supporting the Spanish left, which was true. Or, as Imatz says, the Spanish civil war was also a civil war between Basques. Aside from the historical issues, I will always remember the Basque President with the greatest affection for his generosity and kindness.

He also introduced me to other personalities, especially the great Basque bibliographer Jon Bilbao, who would soon be a good friend and colleague for life. Jon, who had been born in Puerto Rico, was an American citizen but had been a young gudaris officer in the war. He later earned a Ph.D. at Columbia, where his professors, somewhat baffled by the uniqueness of the Basque language in which Jon wanted to specialize, placed his research project in none other than the Ural-Altaic languages section, another example of the perplexity raised by the language (as Imatz will explain).

Years later, Jon became the librarian, and special, advisor at the Basque Studies Program at the University of Nevada, the first in North America with that specialty. Then, during the brief period of my research on the Basque Country (1971-1973), it was Jon who insisted that I expand my limited monograph on nationalism under the Second Republic, requested by the Rivista Storica Italiana, into a short book on the entire first phase of nationalism. In those last years of the Franco regime, it was the first professional study on a subject that later, in the democratic era, would become an extensive industry.

For these and other reasons, it is a real pleasure to write this foreword to the work of Arnaud Imatz, which because of its unusually broad perspective and its objectivity constitutes a unique book, short but absolutely basic. His text is sober, exact, very concise, objective and demystifying, but without controversial tones. It is especially useful at this time for any reader interested in knowing the fundamental data of the history of the Basque provinces and Navarra – without myths.

The image shows, “The Little Village Girl with Red Carnation,” by Adolfo Guiard, painted in 1903.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

Overcoming Scrutonism, Finally

A disease is going around. No, not the Wuhan Plague. This malady only affects the Right, and I name it “Scrutonism.” The symptoms of Scrutonism are a razor-sharp ability to identify one’s enemies and to understand their plans to destroy us, combined with a complete inability to imagine any way in which those enemies can be defeated. For a sufferer of this disease, his headspace is occupied by nostalgia and fear, in varying proportions – mostly the former in the late Roger Scruton’s case, mostly the latter in Rod Dreher’s case. Scrutonism’s harm is that it makes sufferers ignore the only question that matters for the Right today: what are you willing to do, given that your enemies are utterly committed to destroying you and yours?

I used to be a Dreher fanboy, until he lost the plot with the Wuhan Plague and, more generally, descended into constant unmanly maundering. I’m still a fan, however (to steal a line from Aaron Renn, though he was talking about Tim Keller, not Dreher). And Live Not by Lies has partially restored my opinion of Rod Dreher as a pillar of today’s Right. It is an outstanding book, tightly written and tightly focused. That does not mean it is complete, for reasons I will lay out today, but it is good for what it is – the sharp diagnosis of the ways, means, and ends of our enemies.

The outline of the book is simple. Dreher shows how life in America (and more broadly much of the West, though America is his focus) is swiftly becoming indistinguishable from life under totalitarian Communism, in its essence, if not yet all its externals. The Left, now as then, will do anything to impose its evil will across all society. (This is obvious on its face and established in detail in many of my other writings, and also at enormous length on Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative). The Left’s political vision is wholly illusory, while at the same time utterly destructive. A necessary part of their plan, again now as then, is suppression of all dissent, especially religious dissent, through controlling all aspects of every citizen’s life. This plan is already largely implemented for many sectors of American society, although Dreher claims this is a “soft” totalitarianism, different in degree from the “hard” totalitarianism of Communism at its height.

He talks of Czesław Miłosz and the pill of Murti-Bing, of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, of Hanna Arendt. He deftly draws parallels between the rise of Communism in Europe and our present situation. He identifies the appeal of the Left, and of its totalitarian ideology. He talks of progressivism as religion and of the cult of social justice. He talks of woke capitalism and the surveillance state built by the Lords of Tech. He talks of the oppressive social credit system in China (under the funny heading, “The Mark of the East”). These chapters are uniformly excellent and I strongly recommend them to anyone not already familiar with these truths.

But my purpose here today is not to summarize what is happening now. Many others have summarized this book well. And to be clear, as with most of my book reviews, I am not actually reviewing Dreher’s book. Rather, I am delivering my own thoughts. If you don’t like that, well, you’re in the wrong place.

A crucial internal ambiguity pervades this entire book. Dreher’s frame is totalitarianism. He channels men and women who suffered under the evilest regimes the world has ever known. He paints a picture that offers gruesome tales of torture as a regular instrument of state control. The epigraph he uses, from Solzhenitsyn, says such evil “is possible everywhere on earth,” and Solzhenitsyn was not talking about a social credit system, but real torture and death. Yet Dreher disclaims, repeatedly, that this might happen here. Instead, he suggests a Huxley-ite future, or Murti-Bing, or Shoshana Zuboff-ite/PRC-type consumerist monitoring. At the same time, though, he talks about ever-growing state and, more, private corporate actions that are not yet physical torture, yet are meant as severe punishment, such as job loss and social ostracism. The reader is confused. What, precisely, is the future Dreher predicting, and why? The question remains unanswered.

Dreher does, however, offer a type of solution. In the face of these poisonous headwinds he prescribes spiritually-centered private organizing, in essence his famous Benedict Option. “[The Christian dissident] needs to draw close to authentic spiritual leadership – clerical, lay, or both – and form small cells of fellow believers with whom [he] can pray, sing, study Scripture, and read other books important to their mission.” He must be prepared to suffer, because in the new dispensation, he will suffer, if he refuses to worship the new gods. Dreher, in short, recommends the “parallel polis,” with a strong religious component.

He has discussed this before. I have also discussed this before, and that it will not be allowed, because our enemies have learned from their earlier defeats, and as Dreher himself repeatedly says, they have vastly more powerful tools than their Communist forbears did. Thus, for example, he is correct that families are resistance cells – but our enemies see this too, which is why families will not be allowed to be resistance cells, but will be forcibly broken up if parents dare to instruct their children aright. No, the parallel polis will be of short duration, if indeed it can be set up at all, and the Benedict Option, without an armed wing, is dead on arrival.

Dreher does not offer any non-passive mechanism for success (but I will – just wait a few minutes). Dreher recommends Christian witness such as that of Václav Benda and his family. He recommends retaining cultural memory, and accepting suffering. But nothing succeeds like success. We know about the Bendas because Communism fell. And Communism fell both because of its internal contradictions and because it faced massive external pressure put on it by the West.

Dreher is unclear as to what exactly he expects the future to bring to people of today situated like the Bendas. In essence, his argument seems to be that it ultimately worked out for dissidents under Communism, so it will, someday and in a manner yet to be shown, work for us. Maybe. Or maybe not. In other words, Dreher seems to think that the parallel polis is self-executing, as long as strong religious faith is kept.

Moreover, whether Dreher sees it or not, we are indeed heading to hard totalitarianism, not merely soft totalitarianism. To our enemies, justice delayed is justice denied. That inescapable inner logic, combined with Girardian scapegoating, means soft totalitarianism will never be enough for them. We already have soft totalitarianism, for any white-collar worker; and anybody can see that the demands for compliance are accelerating, not slowing down.

The reader sees no reason at all why we’re not heading to “prison camps and the executioner’s bullet,” because Dreher doesn’t give one, while at the same time talking a great deal about the Gulag, the Rumanian torture camp at Pitesti, and so on, continually recurring to such history. Then he says “American culture is far more individualistic than Chinese culture, so that political resistance will almost certainly prevent Chinese-style hard totalitarianism from gaining a foothold here.” This is whistling past the graveyard – how has this supposed individualism slowed down our enemies even a whit? Soft totalitarianism may lie on the far side of hard totalitarianism (as it was with late Communism), but it will get worse long before it gets better. The reader gets the impression Dreher is pulling his punches, afraid of being seen as too extreme, too “out there,” in our controlled political discourse.

Hope is not a plan. Dreher should see that; he even quotes a Slovak dissident, “If they had come at us in the seventies, they might have succeeded. But we always remembered that the goal was to turn our small numbers into a number so big they could not stop us.” Dreher doesn’t acknowledge that getting those big numbers is crucial to success, along with a will to action (used in later Communism for mass demonstrations), and he has no plan for getting them. “Only in solidarity with others can we find the spiritual and communal strength to resist.” True enough – but what is “solidarity” here? Is it meeting in the catacombs to pray for a better day? Or meeting to plan action? Apparently only the former.

Yes, Dreher offers some legislative solutions. They make sense. But, as Bismarck said, politics is the art of the possible. He meant compromise is necessary, but if your enemies have all the power and have no need to compromise to get everything they want, what is possible of what you want, is nothing.

Nobody with actual power will even associate his name in public with Dreher’s legislative proposals, because they are cowards, and they refuse to be seen opposing globohomo. Political proposals in the current frame will not come to fruition; they will die like the seeds in the Parable of the Sower, either among the brambles, or fallen on rocky ground. Legislative proposals are not a mechanism for success.

Scrutonism, of which as you can see Dreher has a bad case, is a call to be a beautiful loser. But you can’t inspire anyone with a program that offers being a loser. People cowering under fire want a plan; they want a leader to point not only to what Christ would do, but how that will help them, and more importantly their children, come out the other side, cleansed and victorious.

What Dreher offers instead is a call to martyrdom. This is theologically sound, but not politically. And unlike Communism, the modern Left, globohomo, faces no external pressure. This is a strategic question, of passivity versus aggression. When I think of 1453, I think not only of the priest, celebrating the Divine Liturgy as the Turks tore into the Hagia Sophia, turning to the eastern wall and walking into it, from whence it is said he will return when the Turks are expelled (which will hopefully be soon). I think also of Constantine XI Palaeologus, the last Emperor, cutting off his imperial ornaments and rushing out to die with the common soldiers. How about some of that?

Dreher talks very often of the Bolsheviks. He never mentions the Whites, who after all could easily have won, or other heroes who actually did defeat Communism, such as Francisco Franco or Augusto Pinochet. My point is not that we need to encourage violence, though I am not opposed in the least to violence in the right circumstances – quite the opposite. My point is that people need positive, active heroes, not just heroic sufferers.

No man is an island, in the John Donne cliché, but that means that very few have the internal resources to passively suffer. They need inspiration about how the future will be better, both in this world and the next. Dreher does not offer it. He instead offers a variation on The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, a book I read (said to be second only in popularity to the Bible), and thought was depressingly passive and navel-gazing. People like me may go to the back of St. Peter’s line – or maybe not, since we did not take what we were given and bury it in the ground of personal introspection, but rather grew it.

So, if you do not have enough people or enough power at this moment to impose precisely your vision of the world, where do you start? You form alliances with those who have similar goals. Yet Dreher never talks about alliances, except briefly in connection with Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia. As Dreher mentions, most of Charter 77’s participants weren’t Christian, and some were radical Marxists. But he suggests no equivalent for the religious Right today, alliances with those with alien views who, together with us, oppose the totalitarianism of the Left. Why? Because he has been instructed that policing one’s rightward boundary is what he must do, before anything else. (There are no possible leftward alliances for us; what are sometimes called “good faith liberals” are merely willing dupes in the Left’s totalitarian agenda, and of no use in this fight).

This policing has, for many decades, been the original flaw of the Right, for which William F. Buckley bears most of the responsibility – hobbling ourselves by permitting our enemies to dictate with whom we may ally. Dreher may not even realize it, but his enemies have crippled him before he can leave the gate.

I’ll give Dreher a short break here, for this problem is not his alone, but general. A few months ago the generally excellent Sohrab Ahmari, who is much more aggressive than Dreher, was hyperventilating, on his own initiative, that VDARE (a racially-tinged anti-immigrant front in which John Derbyshire is prominent) was absolutely, unequivocally, beyond the pale and nobody at all should have any interaction with it. (He was complaining that Trump advisor Stephen Miller had shared VDARE links years ago while at Breitbart). His support for this was, I kid you not, an article from the far-left Guardian newspaper, a British paper, extensively quoting the odious so-called Southern Poverty Law Center, a noted hate group.

This shows that, still now, even the dissident Right of men such as Ahmari voluntarily debilitates itself by letting the Left set limits for it on what is acceptable discourse and what are acceptable alliances. This is no way to win. Utterly smashing the SPLC is the way to win. Does that mean I think we should ally with racists and the like? Yes. Yes, it does. Absolutely. Six days a week and twice on Sunday. We should ally with anyone who will help us win.

I resisted this obvious conclusion for a long time, but it’s true. Who then should be sought, now, not tomorrow, as allies? First, the neopagan Right, exemplified today by Bronze Age Pervert, a movement of great appeal to many young men, who are the backbone of any winning radical political movement. Second, the racialist right. The Left is explicitly and totally openly racist today, whipping up anti-white hatred everywhere, and it’s just dumb to pretend this isn’t obvious. They abandoned the colorblind ideal long ago, yet demand we pretend they are not racist to the core. Racism may be a sin (although it is no special sin, merely one of innumerable examples of the cardinal sin, pride, and far from the worst of those).

But I’m happy to ally with all sorts of sinners, and so is every politically-minded Christian, if he is being honest. The violent. Those who dishonor their parents. Adulterers. Homosexuals. In fact, it may surprise you to know, I myself am a sinner! I may not want some sinners in my inner circle, or around my family and children, but in pursuit of common goals, worthwhile goals, why not link arms?

We instinctively reject this obvious truth, because to cripple us, and gradually destroy us, the Left forbids it, and we, since the late, unlamented Buckley, have let them so dictate, to our destruction. No more, if we have any sense. The Titans must throw off the chains forged by their enemies, and that means working hand-in-glove with all the people the Right has traditionally excluded on ideological grounds.

Of course, neither the neopagan Right nor the racialist Right, nor other subcurrents on the right (integralists and anarcho-libertarians, for example) have any relevant power or influence today. The idea is not that allying with open racists will be the key to power (although it might well be in the future, if the Left continues fomenting racial hatred, and white people finally react defensively). It is that doing exactly what benefits us, and making decisions on that basis only, defangs the Left. We must ignore their demands that we spend enormous energy policing our rightward boundary, while they never, ever, for a single second, police their leftward boundary. I see no point in allying with clowns, men like Richard Spencer – because they are ineffective and incompetent, not because of their views. I have no interest in working to implement fantasies of ethnostates. But if the white nationalists or the anti-Semites want to work with me to destroy the Left, let’s go. That doesn’t mean all alliances are simultaneously possible, or that they will be necessarily permanent. I think that black people and other ethnic minorities should overthrow the grifters whom they let speak for them, and I’d be happy to then ally with them to destroy the Left, if enough of them wanted to do so. Still, even if that were to happen, I doubt that a durable coalition of the general dissident Right (e.g., Ahmari), white nationalists, and based black people would be possible. Too much divergence in worldview would likely make such a coalition untenable except on narrow issues, or against powerful outside enemies.

On the other hand, historically speaking, all tribal and ethnic groups had contempt for each other, as is human nature, yet managed not infrequently to work together – the Ottoman Empire is one such example. But they were not infected with modern ideologies. More broadly, I doubt if a modern country, with modern communications, can be successful at all if the people within it have too little in common; the United States tried, with the melting pot, but that was probably a special moment with special circumstances that can never be recaptured. Probably the future is a fractured United States with some degree of ethnic sorting, and within those new states, ongoing alliances of various types to ensure the Left never rises again.

But those are problems for Future Charles! Let me be positive for a moment. Unlike Dreher, I see a path to victory against the totalitarianism of the Left. First, in every Warsaw Bloc country, what sustained the Left in power was not the guns of the government, but the guns of the Soviet government. We don’t have that problem, and in fact we have guns ourselves, a lot of them. Unless we let them take the guns, we can only lose so much power, if we have the will to resist. Second, under Communism, it appeared that dissidents were only a tiny fraction of the population. This was a deliberate lie, and the same lie is told here. Globohomo only seems triumphant, because our enemies propagandize us, using their total control of modern media, that it is triumphant.

I don’t think globohomo is like the German government in the times of Franz Jägerstätter, of whom Dreher often talks (an Austrian Catholic executed by the National Socialists, and the subject of a 2019 film by Terrence Malick, A Hidden Life). Jägerstätter faced something that actually was unstoppable – not only a strong and determined ideological government, but one supported by the vast majority of the population (as José Ortega y Gasset wrote, force follows public opinion), that was fighting an existential war, and run by Germans, not by low-IQ fat trannies with butch-cut green hair. I think our current ideological opponents appear strong, but are weaker than they appear, probably far weaker.

Third, regardless of power balance, unreality cannot continue forever. What ended Communism in Eastern Europe was not a wish for blue jeans, or liberal democracy, but a wish to return to ordered, Christian liberty. Because what the Left offers can never satisfy (most of all it cannot satisfy the young – they will not tolerate endlessly being fed porn in their pods), the wish for reality that satisfies will always rise again. Dreher quotes a Slovak dissident, “[This soft tyranny] will end. The truth has power to end every tyranny.” He notes that no dissident leaders under Communism, in the 1970s and 1980s, expected Communism to fall in their lifetimes, and they were completely wrong. Yes, hope is not a plan, but being on the side of reality is an asset.

What specific mechanism, then? Some, including Dreher in some moods, argue that we can go on as we are at this moment forever, that we will get semi-competent digital totalitarianism as far as the eye can see, offering Murti-Bing along with Ryszard Legutko’s coercion to freedom. This is false. Perhaps the most important truth to recognize is that our society is so very, very fragile, as the Wuhan Plague has exposed. Even Dreher seems to recognize that collapse is more than possible, it is probable. “It only takes a catalyst like war, economic depression, plague, or some other severe and prolonged crisis that brings the legitimacy of the liberal democratic system into question.” True, his conclusion is typically pessimistic: that the Left will use the crisis to end any freedoms remaining. That’s silly. We’re going to get, and we should welcome despite the likely hardship and cost to ourselves, a hard reset, which is coming whether we want it or not. Whatever it is (most likely economic collapse), a great many people will be very, very unhappy and desperate as a result.

There lies opportunity, which we must seize. Yes, one possible short-term result is that our current rulers see their thrones of power shaken, and respond by assigning people like us the role of scapegoat. (Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World proceeds somewhat in this vein, though presumably we can ignore the eschaton for the current analysis.) This is where guns come in. The other possible short-term result is that those prepared to throw our rulers from their thrones, and bring about a new order of things, can use such a fracture to restore the world.

I am perfectly well aware that this sounds insane to those on the Left, who really believe that they are on the right side of inevitable history, and that I am spinning a lurid fantasy of doom followed by victory to comfort myself at their certain triumph, which they know, they just know, will bring the secular eschaton, any day now. But I have history on my side, not them; if one thing characterizes today’s left, other than evil, it is lack of historical knowledge. Someone is Pollyanna, but it is not me.

Naturally, given the likely future, we should be preparing. There is a great deal good with Dreher’s recommendations of spiritual preparation, and it dovetails well with the creation, now, of networks of those who will adopt a more aggressive, active, coordinated role upon the onset of a societal fracture. If those networks are not formed now, they will be difficult to form later, when the time comes. (If the time never comes, that is just the way it is, but that seems unlikely.) What those are, I don’t really know yet, though I have some inkling. What I do know is that, despite attempts at censorship, modern technology allows those potentially involved to find each other, and we should be doing that – in secret, at least in part, to blunt the inevitable attacks.

After the reset, what we’ll get is new politics. Dreher says, “As far as we can tell, there is no new political religion brewing in beer halls or coffeehouses.” He’s wrong there; whatever it will be already exists, although it is unlikely to be wholly new. It just lacks the right leaders and the right fertile ground, and those will arrive. I do worry, though, that even a reality-based, reborn, yet still rich, society will find fresh new ways to be stupid. I imagine a society that can be great, the High Middle Ages with rockets, but what is the evidence that, given human nature, that society can ever exist? Maybe human nature just won’t permit it; maybe people want comfort and vice, if they can afford it, not great things, and always will. But that is also a problem for Future Charles! Or, more likely, his great-grandchildren.

And when, after the fire, we have won? Dreher quotes dissidents who are very proud that Christians did not seek vengeance after the fall of Communism. That’s very nice of them. But what it ignores is that neither did they seek justice, the reification of which is often indistinguishable from vengeance, the difference lying only the in the heart of the punisher. This was a gross error.

Once the Left is broken, and their nasty ideology permanently discredited, whatever the mechanism, meting out justice and ensuring that ideology never rises again are both essential. The best historical example of a process along those lines is post-World War II denazification, but not one cut short by new geopolitical reality as that one was, rather a permanent one. Yes, there will have to be rigorous punishments for some on the Left, just as there were at Nuremberg.

Mostly, though, it will have to be permanent denial of civil rights, such as public political participation, or the ability to teach, and denial of the ability to cause trouble or influence others, such as forbidding all access to media and the Internet. Is that itself a modest type of “soft totalitarianism?” Yup. Someone must rule; classical liberalism, where the ideas of John Stuart Mill underpin society, doesn’t work. Dreher, in another one of his confusions, calls for a return to classical liberalism, which he fails to see inevitably led to where we are today, and only ever tolerated men like him on sufferance. No thanks. I’m fine with doing to the Left, forever, what Dreher accurately complains they now do to us. If they don’t like it, they can find a new country. Let’s get on with it.

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, Scotland Forever,” by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler, painted in 1881.

History Is Not Manichean: A Conversation With Arnaud Imatz

This month we are so very pleased to publish the English version of an interview with Dr. Arnaud Imatz, the renowned French historian, who has published over a dozen books and numerous articles in both European and American journals and magazines. Dr. Imatz has contributed several times to the Postil. Here, Dr. Imtaz is in conversation with La Tribuna del Pais Vasco in regards to his new book, Vascos y Navarros (Basques and Navarrese).

La Tribuna (LT): How did the idea of writing the book, Vascos y Navarros, come about?

Arnaud Imatz (AI): I started by writing a chronological article in French and was surprised to see it published in a tourist guide in which they did not even mention my name. As a result, I decided to considerably revise and expand that article. More than anything, it is a small tribute to my ancestors. They were Basques, Navarrese and Béarnais. They were fishermen, bakers, vintners, public works contractors, military men, carpenters, tobacco growers, booksellers, restaurant owners and hoteliers, located for the most part in Hendaye.

I was born in Bayonne, but after a few months of life I was already going with my mother to the beach at Hendaye, La Pointe, right by Fuenterrabía. A beautiful place, now gone, having been replaced by the beautiful but conventional marina, the marina of Sokoburu. With my wife, my son and my two daughters, I first in Paris and then for twenty years in Madrid. I have unforgettable memories of Madrid and close friends (even a true “spiritual son”). But I spent most of my time – more than forty years – in the Basque Country, an exceptional place in the world.

Of course, my Galician, Breton, Andalusian or Corsican friends may disagree. This is normal. My children and grandchildren, who live further north, and my wife, born in the Ile-de-France (although of partly Biscayan descent), sometimes make fun of my excessive attachment to the land. But what difference does it make! I also had my doubts and reacted with skepticism when in the distant 1980s a Basque friend, a professor of Law, who had been a member of the tribunal that examined my doctoral thesis, answered my questions: “How about La Reunion? La Martinique?” etc.: “Well, well, but you know that when you see Biriatu ….” He didn’t even bother to finish his sentence. Now I know he was right.

LT: So your family has deep roots in the Basque Country?

AI: Yes, indeed. My surname, Imatz or Imaz, meaning “wicker,” “of wicker,” “pasture,” or “reed,” is found, above all, in the Basque Autonomous Community, but it is also present, although less frequently, in Navarre and the French Basque Country. On my mother’s side of the family, there are a good number of Basque surnames. Most were born and lived in Hendaye. Some moved away, went to work in different cities in France or Spain (Madrid, Palencia or Andalusia), even in America. But sooner or later almost all of them returned to their native town in the French Basque Country.

My maternal grandfather was Basque, Carlist and of course Catholic. He kept a beret his whole life which was given to his family by Don Carlos. He worked in hotels in Guayaquil and London and later in the María Cristina de San Sebastián, when it opened in 1912. During the First World War, he was a gunner in the Battle of Verdun. Once demobilized, he returned to Hendaye to take over his parents’ hotel. He spoke Basque and French, but also Spanish, like most of the members of my family at that time; and by the way, they were very closely connected with Spain and the Spanish.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, my great-grandfather had a brother, who was parish priest in Biriatu. He was dedicated to his priesthood, but he also liked to play pelota. Yes! And always wearing his cassock. He became very involved in the defense and safeguarding of the Basque language and culture. Such were the famous French-Basque priests of yesteryear.

My great-aunt used to play the piano and she taught me, among other things, the Oriamendi and the Hymn of San Marcial. From her house, located on the banks of the Bidasoa, she could see the Alarde de Irún and at night hear, although very rarely, the whispers of the smugglers. My great-aunt and great-grandmother (a strong widow who had been the director of the Hendaye Casino in the 1920s) told me many memories of our border family.

LT: Can you tell us about some of these memories?

AI: Some anecdotes. A few months before he died, my Carlist grandfather, naturally in favor of the national side, negotiated with Commander Julián Troncoso, a friend of his, for the exchange of a friend from the Republican side, Pepita Arrocena. As a result of the attempted Socialist Revolution, in 1934, Pepita had crossed the border with her driver and with the socialist leader, Indalecio Prieto, hidden in the trunk of her car.

Also, French friends of my grandfather participated in the unsuccessful assault on the Republican submarine C2, which was anchored in the port of Brest. I must say that during the Civil War, many foreign correspondents used to stay at my grandparents’ hotel.

At the end of the war, my grandmother, now a widow, was close friends with the wife of Marshal Pétain, French ambassador to Spain. But two years later, being in the so-called “forbidden” area, in the middle of the Nazi occupation, and despite her friendship with Annie Pétain, the “Marshal,” my grandmother sympathized with the Gaullists and participated in anti-German Resistance. She was in contact with the ORA (Organization de Résistance de l’Armée) of the Basque Country, along with her friend, Dr. Alberto Anguera Angles, from Irune, who was in charge of routing messages of those escaping from France.

The other branch of my family, the paternal one, was Béarnaise, from Pau and Orthez. My paternal grandfather was a Catholic Republican, a non-commissioned officer who was one of the most decorated soldiers of the First World War. Handicapped by the war, he settled in Hendaye in 1919, with his wife and four children as a tobacconist and bookseller. His son, my father, was born in Hendaye six months later.

My father was a great athlete, who was four times French pelota champion in the 1930s and 1940s, with the long bat (pala larga) and in the plaza libre (court). My paternal family was then divided between the stalwarts of Marshal Pétain (my grandfather), and the supporters of Charles de Gaulle (his four sons, among whom were my father and my godfather). The oldest of my grandfather’s sons was seriously injured at Dunkirk.

All these family memories made me understand very early that history is not Manichean, that it is always made of light and dark, that there are no absolute good and bad, that there are no so-called historical or democratic justices as peddled by the traffickers of hatred and resentment, who are miserable political puppets who live to play with fire.

LT: In your opinion, do more things unite or separate Basques and the Navarrese?

AI: To answer in detail it would be necessary to refer to the long history of the medieval Basque counties, the kingdom of Navarre, Spain, the Hispanic Empire and the French nation-state. These are topics that I address, albeit briefly, in the historical summary given in my book. I would of course be unable to summarize all these substantial issues in a few words. I concede that personally, despite my nationality, and due to my Spanish-French culture, I sympathize much more with the Hispanic Catholic Empire of Charles V and Philip II than with the Gallican-Catholic French nation-state of Richelieu, Louis XIII, Louis XIV and the Revolutionaries of 1789 and 1792. We already know that the “reason of state” of these French politicians was greatly influenced by Machiavelli and indirectly by the writings and attitude of the Protestants. That said, five, ten or fifteen centuries of common history cannot just be erased, manipulated, or misrepresented.

Now, if in your question you refer essentially to our own time, I will tell you that, paradoxically, there are more and more things that unite the Basques and Navarrese and less that separate them. But, beware! This does not mean that I fall into those independence or separatist dreams. What I think is happening is that both these peoples are losing their specificities and are gradually uniting – but unfortunately into nothingness, in the great meat-grinder of globalism.

Let me explain. At this point, we are all victims of globalization, consumerism, commercialism, demographic decline, multicultural individualism, the decline of religion and the Church and Christianity – all these many plagues that have shown themselves, in the long run, to be much more corrosive and deadly for both the Basques and the Navarrese (and also in general for all the peoples of Europe) than the “forty years of Franco’s dictatorship,” or the “Bourbon centralism of the 19th century,” or “French Jacobin centralism.”

It is true, thank God, that our lands (which have sometimes been marked by savage violence unworthy of human beings) have not endured the horrors of Nazism, or worse still (because of the sheer number of deaths) the monstrosities of Marxist-communist totalitarianism. In this, the radical nationalists are completely blind and are totally wrong as to who the enemy is. Torn apart by the hodgepodge of Marxist internationalism and what Americans call “cultural Marxism,” the radical, Abertzale left has become the perfect ally of hypercapitalism or globalist turbocapitalism. The two, globalists and nationalist-separatists, are tearing apart the best of the Navarrese and Basque values, the deepest roots of both peoples. In the background are two grips of the same vise.

LT: In your opinion, what does Euskara mean for the reality of Basques and Navarrese?

AI: It is an important factor, but not enough to define the entirety of Basque identity and reality. Just as important are ethnicity, demographics, culture, and history. There are Euskaldunak Basques, because they speak the Basque language. There are Euskotarrak Basques because they are ethnically defined as Basques, even though they express themselves in French or Spanish. And there are Basques who are Basque citizens because they reside in the Basque Country and love the Basque Country. In the Autonomous Community of Navarra, which is founded on a long and brilliant history of its own, it is another story: there are Basques who feel Basque and many Navarrese who are not and do not feel Basque.

What the Basque Government does to defend the Basque language seems to me to be quite successful, despite all the cartoonish and meaningless actions that have been taken against the Castilian language or – better said – Spanish, which is one of the two or three most widely spoken languages in the world. We already know that language is not enough. In addition to this, it should not be hidden, the results of the policies in favor of the Basque language are rather negligent. The reality is that there is no nation or country possible without a historical legacy, combined with consent and a will to exist on the part of the people. Nicolas Berdiaev and other famous European authors such as Ortega y Gasset spoke of unity or community of historical destiny. Well, without the harmonious combination of the historical-cultural foundation and the voluntarist or consensual factor, without these two factors, there can be no nation. And that is why there is no longer a true Spanish nation today, as there are no true nationalities or small nations within Spain today.

The same can be said of the rest of Western Europe, whose power is in clear decline, if we compare it to the current great powers. In France, it is very significant that a professional politician like Manuel Valls, who always believes he has an ace up his sleeve, has recently admitted that “French society is gangrenous, fractured by Islamism.” For this very reason, the Catalan authorities and Catalanists, who emphatically declare or hypocritically imply that they prefer North African immigration that does not speak Spanish, considering it more prone to learning Catalan, than a Catholic and Spanish-speaking Spanish-American immigration, are ignorant and incoherent. With them the days of fet Catala are numbered. At least, and for the moment, the immigrationist nonsense of the Catalanists does not seem to prevail so strongly among the radical Basque nationalist militants.

LT: How would you define the Navarrese feeling of identity?

AI: I think I have already answered in part. For me, Navarrismo is in the past; its hallmarks were Catholicism and traditionalism. It was the same as the Requetés, the red berets that my maternal grandfather admired so much and that today only exist in homeopathic doses. I would say the same about the figure of the noble, catholic, deep-rooted, hard-working and honest Basque of yesteryear.

It seems that the “elites,” the Basque and Navarrese oligarchy or political caste have chosen, I do not know if definitively or not, the path of harmonization and alignment with the values and presuppositions of globalism or alter-globalism (which does not matter), or of the so-called progressive transnationalism. They pretend to believe that the Basque and the Navarrese are defined only administratively or legally from a document or an identity card. It seems that they are eager to populate the future Basque and Navarrese territories with the homo economicus, asexual, stateless and phantasmagoric, so criticized in the past by the Basque-Spanish Unamuno, and by the most important figures of Basque nationalism.

If to this we add the ravages of the terrible demographic crisis, undoubtedly the worst in all of Spain and possibly in all of Western Europe, the prospects are not very encouraging. And, all the while, young Basques listen to Anglo-Saxon music, play “Basque rock,” eat hamburgers, consume drugs (young Abertzales more than anyone else), demand the opening of borders, immigration without limits, aggressive secularism, gender theory, transhumanism, hatred of the state and the history of the Spanish nation, and all the bullshit imported from American campuses. I could just say in French or English: “Grand bien leur fasse /Best of luck to them.” But I have the intimate and terrible conviction that if there is not a quick reaction against them, they will bring us a bleak, raw and bloody future in which our descendants will suffer.

LT: What do you think of Stanley Payne’s statement in the Prologue to your book, pointing out that “The Basque Country is the most unique region in Spain?” What are your feelings towards the Basque Country and towards Navarre?

AI: Stanley Payne belongs to that tradition of Anglo-Saxon historians who almost never lose their cool, or they say things with a certain degree of caution and balanced composure. He is a researcher and historian; but he is also a man and not a robot. That is why he opines, judges and interprets, although always with a certain sobriety and consideration. In the Prologue, he refers to the uniqueness of the Basque language, institutions and history (ignoring ethnicity). Now, he is American. I am not. And if I say that I agree with him when he says that “the Basque Country is the most unique region in Spain” many will say that this is due to my personal preference. Precisely as a result of that Prologue by Payne, a friend of mine, not without a sense of humor, wrote me: “This is very good, although I think that Galicians are more particular than Basques.”

In the book Vascos y Navarros I have tried to be as rigorous, honest and disinterested as possible. I have always thought that true objectivity does not lie so much in a hostile withdrawal, as in a kind of well-intentioned will that is capable of understanding and explaining the ideas of others without giving up one’s own reasons. That said, let me say and repeat here that, despite recent evolutions or regressions and the shortcomings of the pseudo or self-proclaimed Basque-Navarrese political “elites,” the Basque Country and Navarre are my favorite lands.

LT: How do you see the recent history of the Basque Country and Spain from the point-of-view of the French Basque Country?

AI: Partisanship, ignorance or disinterest, not only of the majority of the French but also of the majority of French politicians and journalists, for the history and politics of the Basque Country and Navarre, and more generally for Spain in its entirety – is abysmal, unfathomable. The trend is slightly different in the French Basque Country due to the proximity of the border and the presence of a weak but not insignificant Basque nationalist electorate, representing 10% to 12% of the general electorate. Generally, many feel Basque, but as in the rest of France, most are disinterested in the history and politics of the peninsula, unless a momentous event occurs. As for the small Basque nationalist minority in the north, they tirelessly recycle Hispanophobic clichés, although they sometimes fear being swallowed up by their powerful brothers to the south.

In my case, I have not surrendered. With the help of a handful of young and veteran French historians and courageous editorials, I continue and will continue to explain, denounce and refute black legends, misconceptions, censored data, instrumentalized facts and Hispanophobic nonsense, spread by the ignorant, the wicked and, unfortunately, by a good part of the Basque, Navarrese and Spanish political caste.

The image shows, “Landscape Of The Basque Country,” by Charles Lacoste, painted in 1925.

The Spanish version of this appeared in La Tribuna del Pais Vasco. Translation by N. Dass.

History As A Revolutionary Tool

This month we are so very honored to present the English version of an interview undertaken by Jesús Palacios, with Professor Stanley Payne. The launching point of this valuable discussion is the move by the current Spanish government to “re-fight” the Spanish Civil War by way of lawfare. Versions of this “fight” are t be seen throughout the West. As is widely known, Professor Payne is the world authority on modern Spain, whose most recent books include, The Spanish Civil War, and Spain: A Unique History. Jesús Palacios is a Spanish essayist and writer and is the co-author, with Professor Payne, of Franco: A Personal and Political Biography.

Jesús Palacios (JP): When Zapatero came to power, after the state of national shock that was 11-M – the great hidden black hole of democratic time – the subsequent Law of Historical Memory of December 2007 broke the so-called spirit of Right-Left concord of the Transition; and with it, the reconciliation between all social groups by way of two amnesty laws, promoted and defended by the Left and the Communist Party. Thirty years later, the PSOE broke all this by linking its political legitimacy with the revolutionary process of the Left in the Second Republic. In that law, the decoy and trap, was the search for, and the burial of, the victims of the Civil War, but exclusively those of the Left. This opened, as a first step, the Civil War as a dialectical confrontation.

Stanley Payne (SP): In the Democratic Transition, the main parties agreed that no one should use historical questions for partisan and confrontational purposes, leaving history to historians, researchers and writers. In other words, a categorical decision was made to leave the Civil War as a fact of history, so as never to enliven it. Later the Left, or a part of them, argued that a “pact of silence” was made so as not to touch “memory” or history. Nothing was more false. During the initial decade of the Transition, more attention was devoted to this fratricidal war than at any other time, with all kinds of research, studies, books, newspaper, magazine articles, public lectures, plays and movies. Quite the opposite of the myth that has been concocted.

JP: Examining the bill presented by the Socialist Party in Congress at the end of January 2020, which has gone practically unnoticed, and whose draft was approved by the Government last September, we must come to the conclusion, given its substance and content, that underlying the misnamed Historical Memory – now updated as “Democratic Memory “– is the implantation of a new extreme Left regime. It is like a silent revolution that is being carried out by way of power.

SP: The new project represents the ambition to completely dominate the historical and political discussion, together with the entire educational system, encompassing, in effect, the courts, and with that the entire rule of law. It would be the highest expression of turning history into a political weapon for the greatest sectarianism.

But this new law will constitute the maximum attempt, to date, of the spurious politicization of the Civil War and the Franco regime; the new phase of a process that began in earnest almost twenty years ago, and which must be approached from two perspectives:

The political culture of the West on the one hand, and the current strategy of the Left in Spain on the other. The first represents an almost universal strategy in all Western countries, including Latin America. You hate and you want to repudiate history and “cancel” it, because history has not been Leftist in spreading culture and traditional values, which for the Left are abhorrent. Thus, the United States seeks to repudiate almost the entire history of the country by demolishing statues, a process that becomes so nihilistic that they even demolish statues of historic Leftists.

JP: Based on the culture of so-called victimhood.

SP: Exactly. In this culture of denunciation and the destruction of history, the so-called “victimhood” plays a fundamental role. The unique thought of radical progressivism inverts all cultural and moral values, and unlike the traditional culture that respected and consecrated the heroes, the revolutionary culture extols the victims. For them, history deserves no more attention than that of “unmasking” “oppression,” where heroism and heroes do not deserve the least respect, because they cannot be conceived as anything other than “oppressors,” giving the place of honor to the victims.

As for the Second Republic and the Civil War, a person outside this culture would think that the recognized victims would be the tens of thousands of people massacred by revolutionaries, since the first republican revolt of December 1930 (even before the Republic itself) – up to approximately 55,000 people murdered – sometimes tortured in the most sadistic way – by the Left during the war.

However, the revolutionary culture intends to “cancel” and “erase” any aspect of history that it does not like. Thus, the only victims are the many thousands killed by the Right wing, or in reprisals, or after military trials during the war, or under Franco. The history of the others disappears, as in the manipulated history in the former Soviet Union.

On the other hand, in the West in general, the destruction of current democratic systems is sought, because with free elections and an objective rule of law, it is always possible for the center or the Right to win. Hence, they want the current system of constitutional and parliamentary democratic monarchy in Spain to be illegitimate, and it seems easier to try to make it illegitimate in its historical origins by discrediting it for its “Francoist roots,” than to try to overthrow it directly.

The current Left would have wanted to have another civil war, but that is not what the vast majority of Spanish Leftists believed in 1976. Then there was the true “historical memory” of the Republic and the Civil War, not this ghostly simulacrum, a true fairytale that is now being sold.

JP: Since Zapatero set in motion the machinery of the so-called Historical Memory, it has been insisting in many areas that what the Left wanted was to win the Civil War eighty years later by way of propaganda. But that was a huge mistake. What the socialists, communists and separatists want is to make a revolution by way of power to bring about a new state, a new regime. That and no other is the objective of these laws that are actually perverted memory.

SP: Yes, but they seek to reverse the outcome of the war, introducing another version of the “benefits” of that radical and authoritarian republic that still existed in a quarter of Spain in the first months of 1939. Now, in the form of the monarchy, for the moment, the objective is to connect with the Second Republic, but not with the democratic system that existed between April 1931 and February 1936 (except for the revolutionary attempt of October 1934), rather with the revolutionary process that began from the falsified elections of this last date.

As Moa has pointed out, the contemporary political history of Spain has developed in cycles of approximately 65 years (1808-1874; 1874-1939; 1939-2004; 2004-). Of these, the last complete cycle encompasses the modernization of Spain under Franco and all the governments from the Transition to 2004.

The current moment is a phase of decline that began with the overturning of the elections as a result of the terrorist acts of 11-M, accentuated by the deconstruction of Spain as a nation that took place under the Zapatero government, followed by the Great Recession and the ravages of the current pandemic, combined with the disastrous Sánchez government.

JP: Therefore, it is not basically about the Civil War, the victims, Franco and the Franco regime, or the outlawing of foundations and associations. These are tricks, lures.

SP: All of them are mere factors or individual weapons in the struggle to achieve a metapolitical goal. Which is not to say that the Left parties do not take seriously this apparatus that they are setting up. All these initiatives are opportunities to propagandize, repress, intimidate and drug the mind of society.

JP: We are facing a totalitarian project to create a new extreme Left regime that will annul all kinds of protests by the dissenting party, who will be persecuted and silenced with fines, plunder and sentences, under the accusation of exalting the Civil War by those who won it, and of Francoism or dictatorship, promoting the figure of the “snitch,” and the creation of a “Council of Memory,” a Checa by way of the “Truth Commission” earlier.

S.P: That’s right. It would be a kind of “Western Sovietism;” or, something in more contemporary terms, a “European Chinese system.” But, of course, without the Chinese economic strength. It would be more like Venezuela (the country that is the origin of the financing of Podemos), which is an unmitigated disaster. A basic aspect is that it can be used as a tool to try to stir up the public spirit by creating a system of “agitprop” (agitation and propaganda) as a great element of distraction from social and economic suffering. And, also, to further weaken the already fully weakened leaders of the center and the Right, most of whom have participated so meekly and cowardly in this whole process of intimidation by fleeing from it. It goes without saying that it would be a project confronted by the Constitution, which they don’t give a damn about, because in the long term they would impose another constitution of a revolutionary type.

JP: In the totalitarian government project that is being pursued for the new state, education is fundamental, whose curriculum will include “Spanish Democratic History,” from primary school to university, by way of which freedom of thought and teaching will be eradicated at the root, without discussion or controversy. We will have new generations indoctrinated from childhood.

SP: Perhaps the most fundamental thing is the elimination of freedom of education and expression. A main part of revolutionary culture is “re-education” with respect to the past and in many other things. The cultural revolution is probably the most important aspect in the long-run, second only to the domination of power itself. They are the steps for the creation of “light totalitarianism,” which is emerging as the great danger of the West in the 21st-century. It is an irony of history that after the triumph of the West over Nazism and Sovietism, it is on the verge of succumbing under its own kind of totalitarianism, a product of the modern West in its last phase, and emerging from the evolution of democracy, itself arising concretely from the radicalism of the 1960s and from all the ideas of deconstruction and postmodernism.

JP: The writer Iñaki Ezquerra in an essay called this process, “soft totalitarianism.”

SP: This was revealed in the United States, the first Western democracy, under the presidency of Obama, the first anti-American American president (while with the Left in Spain it is normal for there to be an anti-Spanish Spanish president). By 2020 this process has reached a well-developed level in the United States, something that is perhaps not so surprising, because the current doctrine of radical progressivism (or “political correctness”) is the first modern radical ideology created largely in North America. not in Europe, although Europeans have contributed to it. It is about the new secular religion or “political religion” of a post-Christian society, a doctrine also based, in part, on victimhood, on the evolution and distortion of Christian doctrines.

JP: There have been many thinkers critical of the democratic system in the hands of elites who pervert and degenerate it – Schmitt, Nietzsche, Michels and especially Tocqueville, who predicted that it could become the worst of dictatorships because of the political corruption of its rulers.

SP: The original prophet of this was Alexis de Tocqueville. In his great work Democracy in America, originally published nearly two centuries ago, Tocqueville warned how it might be possible for egalitarian democracy to evolve into what he called “soft despotism,” without violence or great repression, but with the distortion of elements of democracy itself. Tocqueville was brilliant, the best analyst of classical American democracy, just as he was the best analyst for the origins of the French Revolution. He was the prophet of our time. Right now, the best American analysts refer to Tocqueville, and his ideas are applicable to Spain as well.

JP: We are facing an extreme situation. We have a generation indoctrinated or stunned in hatred through the machinery of propaganda; an opposition, that has been part of the system’s bipartisanship, not only corrupted, but muzzled by the fear of being branded as Francoist; and some groups and political parties who want nothing more than the destruction of Spain – so they support, in this way, a government whose president and second vice president are amoral and are supported by two parties bathed in corruption.

SP: The situation in Spain is unique, in part, as a consequence of its recent history and the existence of not one but multiple separatisms (which are also growing, as in the case of Navarra, where the Basque region is in a position to fashion another entity, with its own identity, like Navarra). However, from a certain level of abstraction, it can be said that, as in 1808, 1820, 1873 or 1936, the current moment in Spain is the most radical or most advanced of what has emerged as a self-destructive process throughout the West.

JP: Stan, as you know, I’ve been maintaining for a long time that the ’78 regime has collapsed. That regime was a partitocratic system, whose institutions were corrupted over time by the interference and control of the two main government political parties (PSOE-PP), but which both are interested in maintaining for the moment, with the PSOE deployed for the conquest of a new revolutionary state, and the PP used for sheer survival.

Now, there is a new political group (Vox) that identifies more with a social movement. But if there is not a reaction from society alienated by government propaganda and the media that society finances, a reaction that will prevent this revolutionary process of a totalitarian takeover, things will be very difficult. I am not saying that the battle is lost, but we do see a Church that has surrendered and the crown tacitly kidnapped, although Felipe VI has reacted lukewarmly to the government’s ban on traveling to Barcelona. And we have already seen the communist fury, and from the government as a whole that has been unleashed against the King.

SP: Yes, to paraphrase Cardinal Sarah, the hour is late and it’s getting dark. Historically, Spanish rights have depended heavily on Catholicism, and in a secular society they are without protection. Its dialectical weakness is truly impressive.

Most seem to lack the desire to make a serious resistance, while the Catholic hierarchy has, as you say, surrendered. In a decadent society, elites collapse and have no real will or capacity to react, which is the definition of decay. With a certain historical perspective, it can be concluded that in the Spanish case the pandemic and its economic depression have created the equivalent of the First World War for Russia.

The extrapolitical crisis offers the conditions for a more centralized and dominant government, to then move on to the revolution, with the difference that Spanish society is very passive, partly because of the crisis, partly as a consequence of constant brainwashing, and partly because of sheer decadence and inertia. But in Spain the Left does not intend to recapitulate 1917 but rather the Spanish experience of 1936, with the revolution led by a theoretically parliamentary government, although in disguise.

The image shows a drawing by Mercedes Comellas Ricart, a 13-year old girl caught up in the Spanish Civil War. The caption at the back reads, “Esta escena representa el día de la evacuación cuando al ir a subir al tren vimos a un avión que ya tiraba y tubimos de ir a un refugio de alli cerca” (“This scene represents the day of the evacuation when we about to get in the train, we saw an airplane that was firing and we had to get into the nearby shelter”).

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.