The Legutko Affair

Ryszard Legutko is one of the leading philosophers of Poland, and has long been on the faculty of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious center of higher learning. He was elected to the Polish Senate, and served as the Education Minister and then as Secretary of State. He is currently a member of the European Parliament, and sits as a Fellow at the Collegium Invisible, in Warsaw.

His scholarly focus includes ancient philosophy. He has published a massive study of Socrates, as well as works on the Pre-Socratics, toleration and the problems of capitalism (all in Polish). His books in English include, Society as a Department Store: Critical Reflections on the Liberal State, The Demon in Democracy and more recently, The Cunning of Freedom.


Ryszard Legutko, Polish philosopher and a member of the European Parliament, has two exceedingly rare qualities: He has a mind of his own and courage to speak it. He demonstrated this most recently in his Open Letter to the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, in Krakow, in which Legutko, an emeritus faculty-member, urged His Magnificence to close the newly established Office of Equal Treatment. Considering how much value we attach to the idea of equality today, this is a shocking proposal. However, to those who have read Legutko’s bestselling, The Demon in Democracy. Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, his stance should not be surprising.

Legutko’s letter to the Rector of the oldest Polish university, founded in 1364, and whose most famous alumnus was Nicholas Copernicus, is not a piece of extravaganza. It points to something that the Poles 30 years ago, when communism collapsed, would never have thought could happen – that universities would become meccas of ideological formation again.

Legutko, 72, scholar of Plato and the translator of his dialogues, was editor of the underground (illegal) journal ARKA, under martial law in the 1980s. He began teaching in the 1970s, when Socialist-egalitarianism was the norm and “equal treatment of students” meant, among other things, that the “sons and daughters of the laboring class and peasants” would get “preferential points” (known as quotas in the US), so that they would get accepted into the university, in case there were doubts about their scholastic aptitude – offering tenure to mediocre but ideologically committed faculty members was not so uncommon.

This was a time when every department had in their ranks a guardian of the official Marxist orthodoxy; and when the idea of socialist equality was an official article of faith. All that was detrimental to a healthy intellectual life of the country. The fight against communism was not merely a war on the nonsense of socialist economic planning, which ruined the country and deprived ordinary people of basic goods – but first and foremost it was a war against equality.

One thought and hoped, as the Polish anti-communist opposition did, that shaking off the burden of socialism would put an end to ideological mind-pollution, and that objective criteria in science and freedom of thought in the humanities would be respected for the good of intellectual and cultural life. However, as the Letter of Legutko’s former colleagues in the Institute of Philosophy shows, the danger is not gone. A new mind-enslaving ideology of equality is operating in full force, and the new philosophers are even more ideologically driven than their cynical counterparts in the past.

From among thirty-some faculty in the Institute of Philosophy, only one refused to vote against Legutko, and one abstained from voting. This is perfect unanimity, which reminds one of how the communist Polit-Bureau voted. The explanation of why Legutko’s former colleagues voted the way they did should not be sought in their fear of being sent to a labor camp, a prison, being interrogated by secret police, or even losing a job. The explanation is that 1989 was not a moment of the burial of ideology but of the replacement of one collectivist ideology (communism) by another collectivist ideology (democratic liberalism), which demands total mind obedience.

Cases of similar behavior among academics are well known from the life of American campuses. In fact, universities in America lead the way, and American academics belong to the most ideologized intellectuals in the world. However, their actions are to some extent understandable: in contrast to the Poles, they never experienced communism; they do not know how destructive ideology can be for the life of the mind; and they are ignorant of what ideology can do to the cultural life of the nation. This may explain their behavior to some extent.

This explanation, however, should not apply to the Poles today, including the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, who surely remembers the “old bad times,” but who, like the faculty in the Institute of Philosophy, chose not to draw the analogy between the past and the present. When someone like Ryszard Legutko dares to refresh their memory of how intellectuals behaved under communism, they use the old method of condemnation of one of their most distinguished colleagues.

There is a difference between today’s academics and those under communism, however. The fight of today’s professors has little to do with “the sons and daughters of the oppressed working class and peasants” whom the communists wanted to push up the social ladder to replace the old class and offer them access to real humane and scientific education that one must acquire to have a better future.

The new “oppressed class” is not the destitute underdogs of old, but the people whose sole preoccupation is their sexual identity and sexual preferences that they force others to accept as a new cultural norm. Since the great majority of the population is resistant, they seek recourse to institutional actions. Equality offices are created for this very reason. However, such offices are not places of learning, but places where the new ideological commissars impose their own egalitarian rules on others. And if you keep resisting, let alone stand up, they offer a collective condemnation.

How does the Office of Equal Treatment inscribe itself in the university’s intellectual and cultural life and that of a country? It does not. Matthew Arnold once wrote: “Culture is the eternal opponent of the two things which are the signal marks of Jacobinism—its fierceness, and its addiction to an abstract system.” The response of the Faculty of Philosophy to Legutko’s letter confirm Arnold’s diagnosis. Equality, like other notions which belong to the same family – brotherhood and social justice – is an abstraction; and let us not forget, all previous attempts to implement it – beginning with the French and Russian Revolutions – brought about terror and cultural destruction. If one wants a proof, one should visit American universities. It is a world in intellectual ruins.

It is unlikely that the study of equality can be helpful in graduating another Copernicus. Considering that the English scientist and Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt was expelled from his post at the University of London and was forced to step down from the Royal Society for casting doubt on equality, and Albert Einstein has been accused of racism, one can only guess that something like that could happen to Copernicus today as well. Thank God, back then Jagiellonian University did not have the Office of Equal Treatment to ensure that everybody is on the same (ideological) page.

Zbigniew Janowski is the author of several books on 17th century philosophy, and most recently Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America and editor of John Stuart Mill’s writings.

[Editor’s Note: Below, we provide the translated versions of Professor Legutko’s letter, as well as the letters from faculty members and the student body. We also asked various scholars to respond to what occurred in Krakow. Their responses follow the letters].


The Letter By Ryszard Legutko To The Rector Of Jagiellonian University

His Magnificence, the Rector:

I was astonished to learn that the Jagiellonian University has created and for some time now has been operating an Office dedicated to “equal treatment of the entire UJ student and doctoral community.” This is a very disturbing signal, because it indicates that the Jagiellonian University wants to join the bad practices we see today at universities all over the Western world.

During my long life, I remember a time when members of the academic community were treated really unequally, and this happened during the communist era. At that time, academics all over Poland meekly tolerated political pressure; they submitted to it without protest, and in some cases, they “tasked” themselves – I apologize for the jargon of the communist regime. It would seem that with the collapse of the old regime, the problem of unequal treatment disappeared, and it should certainly disappear as a systemic problem. After all, as I hear, we no longer have one ideology reigning over everything; and there is an academic ethos; there are independent collegiate bodies; and there is the academic community itself representing the highest intellectual elite of the country. Isn’t it enough to maintain good rules of coexistence at the oldest university in Poland? What kind of inequality does the university Office intend to fight against?

I’m not familiar with the activities of this Office, but I know how similar structures function at other universities in the Western world. It’s no secret that in the last few decades, universities have become a breeding ground for aggressive ideology – censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work. Groups of student “Hunwejbins” insult dissenting lecturers, break up lectures, and sometimes even carry out physical attacks, all in the face of passivity on the part of partly intimidated, partly conformist faculty.

In all such situations, anti-discriminatory structures become deeply involved, but not on the side of the persecuted but on the side of the persecutors. Sometimes such actions inspire and they justify. I cannot understand why the Jagiellonian University, one of our most serious national institutions, has started to flirt with something that is fatal to the university and to human minds. What inequalities and discriminations do you see at the Jagiellonian University or in Polish academic life today that would justify setting up separate bodies to fight against them?

If we create a structure that is paid for and specially programmed to look for inequalities and discrimination, it is obvious that it will find them quite quickly to prove the reason for its existence, and sooner or later it will take steps that are taken at hundreds of other universities. Besides, the theory that justifies such tracking, which is something like the modern equivalent of Lysenkoism, is constructed in such a way that it will always find inequalities. I know of no case where its application has produced a negative result. The conclusions invariably proclaim the need for increased ideological vigilance and more vigorous counteraction, which predictably generates consequences along with the pathologies indicated above. I have just read that, based on this theory, a “fully scientific” study has been launched at the Jagiellonian University to determine the level of gender inequality. You don’t have to be exceptionally intelligent to know that gender theory lives solely on inventing inequalities, and the more genders it takes in, the more inequalities it finds – and the more drastic measures it demands to combat them. And so, fatal theory justifies fatal practice.

I appeal to you, Rector, to stop similar undertakings and to disband this grotesque university Office. I’m writing this appeal not as a politician, but as a person well acquainted with academic customs and as someone who, being connected with the Jagiellonian University all his adult life, has observed the ups and downs of the university environment. We are dangerously approaching a time of the next Great Trial.

Please accept my respects.

Ryszard Legutko


Response Of The Faculty Of The Department Of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University

The position of the Scientific Council of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University, regarding the open letter of Professor Ryszard Legutko to His Magnificence the Rector of the Jagiellonian University.

Recently, our former colleague, Professor Ryszard Legutko, decided to write an open letter to his Magnificence the Rector ofthe Jagiellonian University. This letter is in connection with the recent attacks on the Jagiellonian University by the Malopolska School Superintendent and the response given by his Magnificence the Rector.

The theses contained in Professor Legutko’s letter are so grotesque that we would gladly drop a veil of compassionate silence. However, we decided to speak out because of the fact that the author of the letter presents himself not as a politician, but as a concerned scholar and long-time employee of the Jagiellonian University. Were we to remain silent, one may get the impression that Professor Legutko’s letter expresses the views of a significant part of the scientific community, or at least of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University. This is not the case. The views presented by Professor Legutko are extremely contrary to the consensus accepted by the majority of the academic world, including the majority of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University.

It is about the most fundamental framework of respect for another human being which, in the context of the University’s work, affects to the greatest extent the relationship between the University and the student. Professor Legutko’s letter highlights the sad fact that these things are still not obvious to everyone. Let us therefore repeat them briefly. We would like to firmly emphasize that the staff of the Institute of Philosophy stands absolutely by the side of female and male students, regardless of their life choices, sexual preferences, and gender identities. Defending freedom of choice, tolerance and pluralism are values that are indispensable to us, both in our daily teaching practice and in our understanding of philosophy. For this reason, we do not agree with attempts to limit the freedom of scientific research, even if the researchers use terms and theories that have been cursed by circles that currently aspire to the rule of souls in Poland. The task of science is not to promote a single worldview option, but to enrich knowledge about the world through free discussion and the search for new ways of understanding the world.

For the same reasons, we protest against political interference in the actions that the University undertakes in the interest of the freedom, equality, and security of every person in our community. The University is, by its very nature, a community of learners, of which administrative staff are an important part – a community in which everyone has the right to feel welcome and comfortable. In our view, the actions taken by the University’s Office of Safety and Equal Treatment aim to do just that – to be fully in line with the ethos of a European university. Since these actions are an attempt to recognize the actual state of affairs, and not a top-down imposition of some ideological interpretation, and to name the real, and not imaginary or imagined, problems of the participants of the academic community, we find the analogies in Professor Legutko’s letter to the situation of science and the university during the communist era and to the practices of totalitarian systems in this regard (“Lysenkoism”) completely inadequate. Their tendency and perverse nature is particularly evident when the author of the letter, claiming to be a defender of academic freedom, demands that the Rector of the Jagiellonian University take restrictive measures: to abolish the university’s Office of Safety and Equal Treatment, and to officially renounce “gender theory.”

Therefore, we treat Professor Legutko’s open letter not as a polemical statement within the framework of an academic discussion, or as a civic “free voice, insuring freedom” in defense of the common endangered values and academic freedoms – but as an element of political propaganda and a top-down campaign against the academic community, referring to the social resentment against this community and all elites as something alien and, by definition, undesirable. We express our surprise and regret that our university colleague, whose scientific competence and genuine achievements we respect, has joined this campaign, even if most of us definitely do not share his radical political commitment and do not accept the strictly partisan way of functioning in so-called real politics.


A Letter Addressed To Professor Ryszard Legutko By The Students Of The Jagiellonian University

June 26, 2021.
Open letter from the students of Jagiellonian University
To Professor Ryszard Legutko

Dear Professor,

It is with great sadness and shame that we have read the open letter you sent on 22 June to his Magnificence, the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Jacek Popiel. Due to its exceptionally offensive nature, we perceived the letter as an action aimed not only at the authorities of our university, but above all at the entire academic community. Seeking to do the right thing, we want to respond to words that violate the dignity of another human being. By the same token, we want to oppose all forms of discriminatory actions carried out by persons performing public functions, especially those whose professional life is connected to the Jagiellonian University.

As students, we have been raised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for others. Our concern for the fate of others is expressed in the acceptance of human difference, including different identities and sexual orientations. Reducing the idea of human dignity expressed by us to any political viewpoint or ideology is not truthful. Your call for the elimination of the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe Harbor is not a good idea.

Your demand to close down the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe UJ, which is a consequence of you reducing your concern for human safety to an ideological action. This postulate, due to its great harmfulness, requires our criticism and rejection. According to the regulations in force at the university, in particular § 4 section 2 of the UJ Statute, it is the university’s duty to prevent discrimination and ensure equal treatment of all members of the university community. One form of such activity is that carried out by the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe UJ. The quality of the work of this Office of the university has always been highly rated by us. Expressing our approval and gratitude for the daily work of the employees of this Office, in last year’s edition of the Student Laudations, on the strength of the votes of the student members of the Senate, an Honorary Laudation was awarded to Ms. Katarzyna Jurzak, the head of the Safe UJ Office.

We note that since 1964 Jagiellonian University has used the motto Plus ratio quam vis (Latin, meaning, “More reason than strength”). See, W. Wołodkiewicz “Plus ratio quam vis – a universal maxim,” in Palestra, 1-2 (2019), p. 11.. Prof. Estreicher, who proposed this motto, supposed it to mean “the advantage of reason over opportunistic reforms imposed on universities,” and to express opposition to the Soviet policy of limiting the freedom of thought! Unlike you, we firmly believe that the opportunistic reforms that may threaten the university today are not those associated with unspecified Western and “aggressive ideologies.” The real threat to Polish universities today is the actions of some politicians, including the Minister of Education and Science, Przemyslaw Chernek, whose aim is to gradually reduce university autonomy.

We have no doubts that your statements concerning unknown ideologies that have taken over the university and Polish public life are only made for specific political needs, in order to arouse voters’ fear of non-existing, external threats. Using the authority of an academic teacher and philosopher for such purposes is deeply inappropriate and should never happen. Furthermore, your repeated invocation of the Christian worldview in formulating this damaging content, given that some of us share similar values, is incomprehensible. Similarly, as it was expressed by his Magnificence, the Rector of Jagiellonian University, Prof. Jacek Popiel, we do not expect apologies. Instead, we ask you to think about the people who, belonging to a minority, have attended or will attend your academic classes in the future. It is in the interest of these people that we have decided to write this letter.

Students of the Jagiellonian University.


Reactions By International Scholars

The official university reactions to the letter by Professor Legutko confirms that the Brave New World of ideological control is no longer a strictly North American phenomenon, but is succeeding in fulfilling its international ambitions. The Office of Equal Treatment, certainly a worthy example of Newspeak, the cause of the affair, seems intended to perform the same roles once fulfilled by the Politruks in the bygone Soviet Era. This is especially worrying at an academic institution, since such witch hunters never employ rational criteria, the basis of science, but rather subjective moral and emotional arguments. Their “scientific” findings are never independently verifiable, those who oppose inculpate themselves, true to Christian Morgenstern’s aphorism “For … that which must not, cannot be.”

We are witness to the rise of a new totalism, in which through denial of objective reason sophisms are construed and implemented. “-Isms” by definition presume that individuals can be classified by subjective criteria which then can be defined “morally” (in its modern definition quite different from “mos” or ἠθικός) into “good” or “bad,” “oppressed” vs “oppressor,” driven by a self-proclaimed elite’s power-hunger, tempered only by self-deception.

That such relativism, in which actions are held to be good or bad, not by their own merits, but according to who does them, is of course by its very nature “morally” self-defeating, which naturally escape’s this ideology’s acolytes.

These Offices, that of the Jagiellonian University is no exception, while proclaiming equality, promotes its antithesis, according to said artificial, ideologically motivated criteria, which transcend and negate knowledge, in inventing victims on the one hand and naturally their oppressors on the other. This presupposes human history has no object of experience with no intrinsic eidos, from which there is no possible escape, hence no notion of freedom, individual or otherwise. This sadly escapes Professor Legutko’s detractors, whose response to his eloquently motivated exhortation was but oblivious ideological slander. While the Soviet Union may have lost the Cold War, Sovietism prepares to take its victory lap. When humanity loses its desire to free Prometheus, it inevitably enslaves itself.

Prof. Dr. Robert M. P. W. Graham Kerr
Research Director
Inârah, Institute for Research on Early Islamic History and the Koran
Saarbrücken, Germany.


I am writing in support of Professor Legutko’s letter, and to express my utter dismay at the response of the Faculty at Jagiellonian University. If experience and history are any guide, Professor Legutko’s warning about the trajectory of “equality” committees (“censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work.”) is worthy of serious consideration. The same history, unfortunately, also shows that in times of crisis the position of the faculty is always supine. One would think that by now we would have learned that moral virtue does not depend upon intellectual virtue.

The faculty seems to have lost touch with the traditional role of the university and to have been captured by its recent fashionable post-modern alternatives. As a reminder, the purpose of the university is to provide a setting in which leaners can seek and express the truth. One of the most important ways in which it does this is to engage in the critique of any alleged expression of the truth. Recall Popper’s view that subjecting one’s views to falsification is a necessary test of its truth. We are not free if we are not free to disagree and to criticize.

“Gender theory,” for example, is not a theory; we are not allowed to inquire into the conditions of its potential falsification; we are not allowed even to search for or to present scientific empirical evidence to disprove it. “Gender theory” is an ideology that demands obedience. To disagree with the ‘theory’ is to be told that one is showing disrespect.

I am reminded that those who objected to Marx, to communism, and to socialism in a previous era were denounced as running dogs of Capitalism. I also recall being told that objecting to Freud’s theory was an expression of one’s own sexual inadequacy. I was even informed once by a Dean that silencing those who disrupted a meeting or speaker is to violate the protester’s right of free speech. Do we now live in an Orwellian community of discourse?

On the contrary, I show my respect for your intellect when I engage in polite rebuttal of your views. If I am dealing with a child or an intellectually challenged person, then I use a different rhetoric. It is to be hoped that the faculty and student body of Jagiellonian University are not composed of such groups.

In place of the search for truth, the faculty (whose letter is a text-book case of informal logical fallacies and innuendo) now sees “The task of science is not to promote a single worldview option, but to enrich knowledge about the world through free discussion and the search for new ways of understanding the world.” What is the meaning of ‘knowledge’ if there is no truth? This is but the rhetoric of those who have given up on truth. By castigating Professor Legutko, they are suppressing that very free discussion.

Moreover, are the faculty suggesting that there be, for example, a Office of “Astrology?” After all, professional astrologers (which at one time included Copernicus and Kepler) must be very adept at mathematics, and there is a wide audience for its literature. Are we to award everyone a Ph.D. for fear of offending their feelings or promoting intellectual insecurity? On what basis does the university decide where to employ its finite resources?

I suggest, as well, that students learn the difference between ‘tolerate’ and ‘respect.’ I do not tolerate your ownership of private property, rather, I respect it because I deem your ownership to be legitimate. To ‘tolerate’ is to accept the existence of something that one considers false. The demand to make someone or a view feel “welcomed” and “inclusive” is to demand legitimacy. We are not here to ‘respect’ what is false but to demand the opportunity to criticize it. It is disingenuous to claim to ‘respect’ what is false when all that is needed is toleration.

Nicholas Capaldi
Legendre-Soule eminent Chair of Business Ethics, emeritus
Loyola University, New Orleans


I read, not without some sadness but basically without surprise, the answer of the faculty of the Jagiellonian University to the letter of Professor Legutko. One finds there all the usual method and arguments used and abused by the sheep of the Panurge, anxious not to irritate the jealous guardians of the Empire of the good.

It is the endless recourse to the so-called consensus or even to the pseudo-scientific argument to refuse the debate and to attack the freedom of expression. It is the inevitable mantra, repeated ad nauseam, which manipulates, instumentalizes and prevaricates the concepts of democracy, human rights and European values.

The faculty members do not appreciate being compared to the communist censors and inquisitors of yesterday, but unfortunately they have all the tics and all the defects – they think they know, but they do not know that they believe.

As for the young students who support all this, who are they? How representative are they? In a democracy, what counts is the legitimacy given by the people, not the legitimacy that a minority of activists claim to have.

Professor Arnaud Imatz
French Historian


It has long been my hope that Eastern Europeans could avoid the mental disorder that is now raging in this country and with even more force throughout the Anglosphere and among the Germans. LGBT indoctrination, hatred of the white races and its cultural achievements, and the emphatic denial of intrinsic gender distinctions all belong to this spreading pathology, which has attained epidemic proportions in what is still euphemistically called “higher education.”

Until recently I imagined that the Poles had been spared this virulent pandemic; and I might have entertained that hope at least partly because the advocates of our intersectional Left in what regards itself as the “free world” condemn the Poles as bigoted reactionaries. The Vice-President of the EU, Katarina Barley, who was formerly the German Minister of Justice, rails against the Polish and Hungarian governments as almost equally backward and prejudiced.

While Barley and other German Social Democrats have not yet called for cutting off of economic relations with Poland, as they have done in the case of Hungary, the condemnations of such shrewish hate-mongers made me think that Poland is still in good shape morally and culturally.

Then I learned about the fate of Professor Ryszard Legutko at the Jagiellonian University, a venerable institution founded in 1394, whose faculty Legutko has graced for decades as an outstanding political thinker. His work, The Demon in Democracy, is a book I wish I had written. It is one of the most incisive critiques of the democratic mentality and democratic creed that I’ve encountered. Ironically his present troubles with the Rector and his colleagues at the Jagiellonian University might be explained by reference to this study, which points out the relentlessly egalitarian thrust of democratic ideology. Professor Legutko’s unpardonable sin seems to be his stated disapproval of the Office of Safe and Equal Treatment at his university, which was set up to uncover gender and lifestyle prejudice.

According to his critical response, which was sent to the university rector, offices that are set up to detect discrimination against designated victim group always succeed in coming up with supposedly outrageous cases of what they are established to uncover. Otherwise, they would not be justifying their existence and the moral importance ascribed to their participants. The entire history of our civil rights revolution and the agencies they birthed to combat prejudice would substantiate Legutko’s self-evident observation. But Poland is now being flooded with “American values” in their present form; and in the end, it might like asking sea tides to change to try to stop his institution from looking more and more like our “woke” universities.

But he is right to try to control the zealots among his colleagues by pointing out where their obsession with removing fixed identities has led on these shores. The witch hunt goes on and on without giving evidence of diminishing. And its enthusiasts never recognize the unnaturalness of what they are engaging in, or the scapegoating to which it gives rise.

What Legutko regards as the “grotesque” practice of setting up an anti-sexism department at his institution will likely get worse if it corresponds to the American model. Soon the Jagiellonian University will be hiring transgendered faculty to teach the virtues of transgenderism and creating an entire department to teach Critical Race Theory. I can’t conceive of this nonsense ending with anything as bland or innocuous as ferreting out sexists. Any attempt to arrest this revolution of nihilism, as I argue in a forthcoming book, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade, is associated with “fascism” and by extension, Hitler’s Final Solution. Poland may already have made the fateful turn and is already on the road to antifascist madness.

Dr. Paul Gottfried
American Philosopher and Historian


Yesterday I learnt of the letters by the Philosophy Faculty and some students at the Jagiellonian University denouncing Ryszard Legutko. The occasion of these letters was a letter by Legutko to the university Rector requesting disbandment of the university’s “Office of Safety and Equal Treatment.”

While real philosophers are not pack animals and rarely agree about anything, the Faculty (bar two, I believe) replied that Legutko’s claims were so “grotesque” that they wished that compassionate silence would have sufficed to deal with him (i.e. academic smarmy code for “he is a lunatic”). But that compassion could not be sustained (we are dealing with very moral humans here), because people might have got the impression that Legutko “expresses the views of a significant part of the scientific community, or at least of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy at Jagiellonian University.”

Your usual run-of-the-mill philosophers might have quibbled here about which ethical approach might prevail? Utilitarianism? Deontology? Virtue ethics? This lot, though, have come up with a new one – which boils down to someone’s argument about what is morally right giving the false impression that everyone in a community believes it. Future generations may call this the Jagiellonian philosophy position – we can formulate it thus: Compassion should give way if it creates the impression that people ascent to a position advocated by a member of their community. Even if it should have its own name, I think it fits nicely into the totalitarian handbook of ideological hackery. And I am sure they would be very proud of this.

Anyway, the Jageilonians then press on that: “This is not the case. The views presented by Professor Legutko are extremely contrary to the consensus accepted by the majority of the academic world, including the majority of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University.” While this is the kind of reasoning and appeal that gets by in politics and dinner party conversations, one would have hoped that of the 28 out of 30 members of the Philosophy Faculty who agreed to the contents of this letter, one might be able to name at least one serious philosopher who has ever said something is true because the majority accept it.

I do feel sorry for Professor Legutko being in a Faculty whose members are so bereft of philosophical integrity they can formulate such nonsense with po-faced sanctimony that has now become the gesture of every ideological and managerial hack defending the bureaucratic machinery of virtue installation For, “It is about the most fundamental framework of respect for another human being.” Really? That is the kind of drivel one expects from bureaucrats, managerialists, but not from philosophers or members from other disciplines within the “scientific community.”

I am as critical of Analytic philosophy as anyone, but the slovenly manner of formulation (what does “It” refer to exactly?) goes hand-in-hand with the moral pomposity that speaks in general vacuities and abstractions, and the grand appeal that is supposed to make all of us sit up, shut up, and bathe in the normative rhetorical sweep of the sentiments being aired: “freedom of choice, tolerance and pluralism are values that are indispensable to us.” A real philosopher would know these words are not answers to anything very much at all, but occasions of countless philosophical conundrums and disputes.

Given that Legutko has written an entire book on freedom, just one of these bright sparks might have made some philosophical effort in acknowledging the complexity of the values they parade as self-evident goods. Indeed, the entire letter is a masterpiece of emulation of what in the West now guides politicized administrative policy and legislation.

Yet the letter disingenuously asserts that Legutko is the partisan and ideologue, while totally ignoring the substance of his major concerns:

  • That “similar structures function at other universities in the Western world…that in the last few decades, universities have become a breeding ground for aggressive ideology – censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work;”
  • That “If we create a structure that is paid for and specially programmed to look for inequalities and discrimination, it is obvious that it will find them quite quickly to prove the reason for its existence, and sooner or later it will take steps that are taken at hundreds of other universities.”

The Philosophy Faculty, for all their sanctimonious huff and virtue puff, did as little to demonstrate that Legutko’s concerns were unreasonable, or that he was some kind of moral monster, who should not be tolerated within a university, as it did to make the case for the necessity of the “Office of Safety and Equal Treatment.” That Office would, of course, be the last place that Professor Legutko could call upon when being calumnied by students or staff at his university. It did, however, make a pretty good case for the Philosophy Faculty being closed down and replaced by real philosophers.

Given the shocking state of affairs of the Philosophy Faculty, one might spare some pity for the pitiful nature of the offended students who are full of “sadness” and “shame” at the letter. Had they been talking about the Faculty’s letter they may have had a point. But, in keeping with the Alice-in-Wonderland-world they have been schooled in, they are talking about Legutko’s letter.

Not to be outdone in the virtue stakes, the students inform Professor Legutko that they “have been raised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for others. Our concern for the fate of others is expressed in the acceptance of human difference, including different identities and sexual orientations.” Like the philosophers, they cannot distinguish between a virtue and a bureaucratic apparatus.

Perhaps it really is ignorance of what is occurring in the West that enables them to write: “Reducing the idea of human dignity expressed by us to any political viewpoint or ideology is not truthful.” For the idea of human dignity seems grand and innocuous enough; but when that term is attached to a normative perspective that is passed off as being the “true” black/gay/ women/trans perspective, as it is done in endless courses, administrative programs, and policies in Western universities, then it is nothing if not ideological and political.

The university of which I am still an adjunct, by default I think and perhaps not for much longer, is in Darwin, Australia. A few weeks ago, the new vice chancellor wanted (I kid you not) the entire university to celebrate and partake in LGBTQ activities (the mind boggles) that had been planned for the week. This week the university sent around the new guidelines on pronouns. To think this is not what a university should be doing strikes me as perfectly reasonable, and has nothing to do with violating human dignity.

Given the condemnatory and denunciative tones of the letters by the Philosophy Faculty and “students” (how many I wondered really thought like this?) at the Jagiellonian University, one would be forgiven for thinking Professor Legutko might be trying to stir up a pogrom against gay or other “different” people. But no – he is raising serious questions about what such a transformation of the university’s “operations” (to speak managerialese for a moment) does, not only to the university, but to society at large. If one wants to know – look Westward and see everywhere nations torn apart, and depleted of any common spirit or sense of future direction about what is worth living and dying for.

The latest Legutko case (like the earlier one undertaken by a couple of students acting on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights’ attempt to eliminate Christian symbols in schools) is an attempt to silence one of Catholic Poland’s more outspoken philosophical critics of a sensibility and social orientation that has created such havoc in the West.

He is all too aware that the West today is divided into two halves – those that can be a member of the elite and benefit, and those that can’t and don’t. It is true that as far as elites go it is a very sizable one stretching from trillionaires, politicians, public servants, to professionals, journalists, and primary school teachers.

But this grand alliance looks for all the world like a run-away train – as the alliance is primarily held together by what and who it is against. And in order to exist it has to create an imagined enemy – in the United States it is the bogey of “the white supremacist” – they were supposedly behind the storming of the capitol, an “insurrection” in which none of the insurrectionists were armed, and the only death from it was that of an unarmed “white supremacist” woman (whose bona fides in the white supremacist stakes were only too obvious – she was a Trump supporter).

The grand alliance consists of people of colour (though Asians not so much) who hate whites, women who hate men, gays who hate straights, trans who hate cisgender, anti-Israelis, socialists who hate capitalists, tech capitalists who hate people saying what they think when it contradicts them. Much of the time they are throwing each under the bus – much as the Bolsheviks did against the Socialist Revolutionaries, or the Mountain against the Girondins.

Brexit and the election of Trump had given those who hate this elite a sense that they might be able to defeat this program of wokeness. As much as I sympathised with people who thought this, I could never see how this was anything more than a momentary setback. Whether I was right or not, COVID ensured there were would be no more setbacks.

Now the Central Europeans, by not getting in step with the EU in its (elite driven) globalist (anti-Christian and anti-traditional) values program and migration policy, have generally been another set-back to the Western elite with its globalist vision.

The Legutko affair perfectly reproduces the tactics of the elite in their Nietzschean task of the “transvaluation of all values.” At the risk of repeating this yet again, the elite combines their Nietzschean self-belief in their right to create values with Marx’s tactic of claiming to represent the oppressed of the earth. It is a very clever tactic and the extent of its success is that it may well be the Trojan Horse to once again deprive the Poles of their traditions and nationhood.

The Philosophy Faculty at Jagiellonian University and the students behind this attack upon Professor Legutko seem to me to be the EU equivalent of the Western intelligentsia during the Cold War.

Also to repeat – there can only be one winner, in the geopolitical fallout of all this. And it will not be the EU, nor the US, nor anywhere else in the West where the triumph of abstract human dignity is but the pretext for the destruction of social solidarity between people who, different as they may be, do not break up the world into the pursuit of endless identity needs so that they can become empty, compliant entities content with a life of sexual frivolity and universal welfare so that the few may dictate who and how the many live, and die in their diabolical enjoyment of the fruits of the earth.

Professor Wayne Cristaudo
Charles Darwin University, Australia


Dear Editor

I was made aware of the exchange of letters between professor Legutko and Jagiellonian University.

If one looks only at the surface of the answers he got, one may think that he is worrying too much. But the longer one reads, the stranger things become.

I mean, in a normal situation, the answer by the Rector should be enough. Thus, why here Legutko got no answer by the Rector, but got one from his former colleagues and another one from “the students,” instead of just one from the Rector he addressed?

Does the Rector suppose that a national feature like Legutko does not deserve an answer by him? That would be quite amazing. Thus it is possible that an answer by the Rector will come, but… But what we have here is a different attitude. The “villain” is attacked by his own “home;” by the members of the college of Philosophy who charge him of being a political tool against academic freedom, and by “the students.” It is a clear attempt to deprive Legutko of his reliability: “if your own people do not agree with you, the best you can do is not to speak.” this is the message.

Moreover, this kind of “collegial answer” is not new. The double letter – from the faculties and from the students – including the administrative staff (which in Europe is normally neglected and almost never mentioned by faculties, students, by the university in general and by the media) sounds like the typical conclusion of the Pravda articles from the Moscow trials in 1937: “The whole Soviet People stands up and claims the criminals to be punished!” Hence, could this be a sort of Eastern European heritage from the Cold War Era? Who knows?

Moreover, I wonder, who are “the students?” All the students of the Jagiellonian University, who, one by one, were notified about his letter and agreed on the answer and signed it, again one by one? If so, I’d like to see the signatures. And, if they are not the whole student body, who did sign in the name of all? And had he/she the right to sign that way?

In my opinion, if I wrote the letter professor Legutko wrote, and got the answer he got, I’d ask to know the names, one by one, along with the signatures, to see if and how many students were aware of such a letter. There might well be a big surprise. The first being a very nasty reaction. But, if so, I’d care to turn it into a national affair, sending it to the press, and then I’d like to see what came next.

What they wrote sounds openly – let us say – amazing to whoever knows how things are going in the USA and in UK universities. And if they really believe what they wrote, they are as blind as newly born kittens.

Legutko did what he thought to be right; and, according to the Politically Correct style, such an intimidating and threatening answer was the minimum he could expect.

The “attention to the minorities” is the typical version of how a wide majority is forced to accept the interests of some members belonging to a small minority. This is truly antidemocratic. Moreover, I wonder if this happens just now by chance or not. At the moment, the EU Commission is trying to enforce Poland and Hungary to accept a pro-gay vision of society; and just now the Jagellonian University stands on the EU Commission’s side against the Polish Government, thus providing the EU Commission with a major asset: the nation’s highest intellectual organization sides with the EU against the conservative Polish Government. I’d like to think it to have happened by chance. Also, as an expert historian, I know that such coincidences are quite rare. Perhaps it was a matter of Kairòs and both the sides in Krakow and Bruxelles too advantage of the opportunity. Who knows?

Ciro Paoletti
Italian Historian


Apelles, we are told, was the most renowned painter of the ancient world, whose art was eagerly collected and sought after by men like Alexander the Great and later Julius Caesar. Most of it, sadly, was lost when Caesar’s house caught fire and burned down.

The story is told that a rival painter falsely accused Apelles of plotting to assassinate Ptolemy IV Philopater, with nearly dire results, for a public execution was narrowly avoided. This led Apelles to create his most famous painting of all, which he called Calumny, in which an innocent man is baselessly accused by the allegorical figures of Deceit, Envy, Treachery and Ignorance. The original work is now lost, but the theme remained popular, and Botticelli’s version is now well-known.

When I first read Professor Legutko’s letter and the ensuing responses (from his peers in the Department of Philosophy and the “students” of his university), I was immediately reminded of Apelles’ painting. We indeed live in calumnious times (aka, the “outrage or shaming culture”), where decency, which once was the golden thread that bound one human being to another, is now a lost virtue. And so, examples of Deceit, Envy, Treachery and Ignorance are readily found in the letters penned by the mob that is the faculty members and the “students.” In the absence of virtue, there can only be the barren wind of political slogans.

Professor Legutko is the Apelles of our day. His books, like those paintings of old, speak truths far greater than can be contained in shibboleths. And when men no longer hunger for truth, but are content with the mush of political cant, there is only endless destruction. That is what Professor Legutko elegantly summarized in his letter and in more detail in his books.

If the decriers think that they can silence men like Professor Legutko, they have already lost the battle and the war. To Apelles is attributed the famous phrase, “Ne sutor ultra carpidam,” (Cobbler, go no further than your shoes). In other words, “Academics – stop being social-engineers!” Truth will out, and truth will win.

Nirmal Dass
Publisher, The Postil Magazine


The featured image shows, “Calumny of Apelles,” by Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1496-1497.

Breaking The Monopoly Of The Mainstream: An Interview With Ryszard Legutko

It is a high honor indeed to publish the first English version of this interview with Professor Ryszard Legutko, which he gave to the Polish newspaper, Dziennik Polski, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Professor Legutko, of course, needs no introduction, being the author of the well-known works, the Demon in Democracy and The Cunning of Freedom. The journalists interviewing Professor Legutko are Wojciech Mucha and Marcin Mamon.


Dziennik Polski (DP): In your appeal to the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, you write about the “academic ethos.” How do you define it? Does setting up an office that has as its banner the equal treatment of all students undermine this ethos?

Ryszard Legutko (RL): We’ve had a problem with the academic community for as long as I can remember, that is, since the beginning of my work at the Jagiellonian University. We used to explain to ourselves that it was the fault of communism, people’s fear of the Party, because you can’t play games with the regime. Academics were not the bravest of professional groups. When the regime became a thing of the past and Poland became free, we thought that the ethos would be rebuilt. But it didn’t happen. This ethos is based on trust, application of the rules of impartiality, objectivity, fair-play. If the ethos is strong enough, then no additional regulations are needed. I imagined that since the communist system collapsed, a “live and let live” approach would prevail.

Ryszard Legutko. Photo Credit: Alicja Dybowska.

DP: Are you saying, they don’t let you live?

RL: I was defending the Jagiellonian University when I had an unpleasant experience at one of the American institutions when a student group and professors there, fighting – of course – for openness and pluralism, had my lecture cancelled. Later, in an article published in America, I wrote that such a thing would not have happened at my Almae Matris. But even then, it wasn’t entirely true, because several speakers, whose views were questionable, had already been denied entry.

DP: In your letter to the rector of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Jacek Popiel, you criticized the Office that is supposed to deal with equal treatment of the whole community of undergraduate and doctoral students at the University. What is it that you don’t like?

RL: Yes, I was very concerned. One of the things that has changed in universities is certainly the corruption of language. There are supposedly warm, friendly words, but they actually turn out to be sinister. When we hear about the “Equality Office,” it is clear that it is about tracking down dissidents. Pluralism? It’s nothing more than maintaining a monopoly of power. In all the places I know, all such structures work the same way. For example, at the American university I visited, it was demanded that any candidate for a guest lecture be approved by two “equality” bodies: one student and one faculty.

DP: These are global trends. We assume, they won’t change.

RL: Polish academics love authority figures, so I refer you to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of July 22nd and the article, entitled, “The University as a Risk Zone.” According to it, universities are becoming a place where all kinds of unorthodox ideas are tracked down. The danger does not come from politicians. It’s the professors and students themselves who do it — even though no one is forcing them. No one forced the Jagiellonian University to ape bad practices and introduce structures that work the same everywhere and are a disaster. Mimicry is a terrible affliction of our universities.

DP: Professor Popiel, the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, claims that you and Barbara Nowak, the school superintendent of Małopolska region, do not realize the importance of the problems in Polish education. According to him, we are facing increasing discrimination based on gender, religious or political identity. As he said in the pages of our newspaper: “However, we can’t compare the reality of 20 years ago to today; the consciousness of three or two decades ago to the sensitivity and needs of the younger generation.” Or maybe you just don’t see these changes, you don’t know that we have to move with the spirit of the times?

RL: Indeed, something has changed, but for the worse. The mania to track discrimination with tools to invent discrimination in every sphere – this is one of the problems. Genderism was created several decades ago. Before that, it did not exist. For the past decade or so, it has become the ideological orthodoxy of the entire Western world: the media, corporations, international institutions, governments, and, of course, universities. It is utterly improbable that a single theory, and one of dubious quality, has gained such reach and power. It generates social engineering, changes culture, and revolutionizes social structures. And yet it is only a novelty. Universities should keep distant from such things, treating them with the skepticism typical of a scientific attitude.

DP: Are you implying that the Jagiellonian University is no longer skeptical?

RL: Universities were the first to start incorporating new trends, instead of discussing their pros and cons. I would say that they do it with fanaticism. With this attitude, it is clear that “discriminations” will always be tracked down, identified, and then condemned. There are even countries, like Canada, where the wrong use of a pronoun is punishable by imprisonment. And the threat of ostracism or losing one’s job is virtually everywhere. The Jagiellonian University, in its passion for imitation, has already created a complete set of instruments to follow the same practices. Now we have to wait for the sad results.

DP: Poland is trying to catch up with this revolutionary progress. But we don’t want to believe that this is already a common thing, that the steamroller will level everything…. So where to look for normality?

RL: Certainly not in this formula of a university “with a risk zone,” to use the title of the aforementioned article. There are various centers and lecturers who have preserved the academic ethos, but it must be admitted that there are not many of them. The Left with its strategy of constant social engineering is currently on the prowl, also thanks to international institutions.

DP: This wave is overtaking the scholars themselves, and it is hard not to see them becoming part of it. Not many dissenting voices are heard. They say about you – he’s eccentric.

RL: There are very disturbing cases at our universities – suffice it to mention Professor Ewa Budzyńska from Katowice. Could anyone of us have thought 10 years ago that a Polish professor would be repressed for saying that the family is based on a union between a man and a woman? And this is exactly what is happening. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but have you heard about any protest of any faculty council or university senate concerning said issue? Rectors of Polish universities have several times criticized Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski’s homilies for wrong words about genderism, but not once have they defended Professor Budzyńska, or condemned the students’ aggression against members of the Constitutional Court.

DP: In Poland, however, someone will at least write a letter. Open letter or otherwise…

RL: We have to act, because the situation is getting more and more dangerous. My former Faculty Council wrote that I do not fit into the “university consensus.” What kind of word is that anyway? Consensus at a university? Who saw that coming! That’s a straight path to conformity. It’s amazing that in this day and age, when everyone talks about pluralism and diversity, so many ideologies are embraced by consensus – not just genderism, but in other aspects as well: immigration, climate, energy, education, so-called women’s rights. And since there is a consensus, there is no reason to discuss and argue. But those who do not fit into the consensus should be condemned and maybe even punished.

DP: Douglas Murray, in his book, The Madness of Crowds, wrote that with the end of grand narratives – religion, nation, philosophy – people are looking for, and plunging into, new battles, such as, gender, race or identity. Could it be that we are about to wake up in a world with no fixed rules, because everything will be questionable with multiple narratives?

RL: In my opinion, we are not dealing with a multiplicity of narratives, but with a mono-ideology, analogous to the communist times; only that, on the other hand, there is a great arbitrariness in it. During the communist era there was also talk about the “only right ideology;” but let us remember that everything could change depending on who was in power: on Monday Gomułka was the great Secretary of the Polish Socialist Party, and a few days later, he was the greatest pest of the system. Today it is similar – the new ideology is revolutionary but it is also progressive; so it breaks its own rules in the name of progress.

DP: It’s true. Hilary Clinton in the 1990s supported her husband’s “Defense of Marriage Act” to prevent gay marriage. Today she is in the forefront of the fight for so-called LGBT rights.

RL: Yes, because ideology is advancing. Once there was talk of civil unions as an insurmountable limit of freedom; today it is already an obligation to demand same-sex marriage and adoption of children; and whoever does not do it discriminates and is a dangerous homophobe. Not only has discrimination been multiplied in this way, but also the number of sins, thoughtcrimes and enemies. Paradoxically, there are many more of them today than during the communist era. Today the Left is in power, and the Left has always specialized in tracking down enemies and thoughtcrimes – so now it has gone wild. The more it fights for tolerance, the greater the range of enemies, and the more difficult it is to say something without risking condemnation.

DP: Why is this so?

RL: Modern man is becoming dumber and dumber, because ideology has detached him from European culture, which he does not know and does not understand. When I talk to European politicians, supposedly educated people, I see that the world before 1968 does not exist for them. They live only in today’s idiom and contemporary patterns. A man, as he was described by classical philosophy, great literature, and Christianity, does not exist for them either. That is why they are so arrogant – because they try everything on this primitive creation, created by their primitive ideology. That is why they think that it is possible to interfere in everything, to deconstruct and construct everything – the family, human sensitivity, national identity, history, etc. They have no respect for human beings, for the output of human thought and experience. In this they also resemble the communists who despised culture and created new ones by political means.

DP: You are talking about elites. Let us give you an example. Dziennik Polski was successfully published on paper 20 years ago, and today probably 80 percent of our readers choose the digital version on their smartphones. It is easy to imagine, that in a flood of other content, an interview with you or an earlier one with the rector of the Jagiellonian University are less digestible than a gallery of pictures you can scroll through with your finger. The same is true of the entire conservative formula and, more broadly, of in-depth content in general. The professor himself says that we are getting dumber, so why bother with elites.

RL: We are becoming dumber because we have lost the ability to learn from others and from the past. We know everything and can only make pronouncements. It is best not to read Polish Nobel Laurate Henryk Sienkiewicz’s In Desert and Wilderness because it’s a wrong book, drenched in the sin of racism. His Trilogy? Also wrong, because it is nationalistic, xenophobic, sexist, etc. Under communism, literature, art, and history were used to justify current views. The same is true today. Besides, it is symptomatic that former communists feel perfectly comfortable in today’s world and have smoothly entered the so-called mainstream, where they feel among their own people. And let’s not forget that education is constantly changing in the West, because ideological subjects enter schools. Not yet in Poland, but this is what the biggest international institutions demand, with the approval of some of our compatriots and politicians.

DP: Today’s young people are not particularly concerned about the past or the future. All that matters to them is the present because it seems most attractive. Why should they waste their time reading? The Left says openly that school cannot be “history, religion and damned soldiers.”

RL: That’s much better than the Left’s “gender, LGBT, abortion and safe sex” educational agenda. As far as young people are concerned, of course, there are new challenges. It’s important to remember that ultimately everything, or a great deal, depends on the teacher and the parents. If there is a good teacher and he puts in the effort, if the parents do let go of their laziness and convenience to mold their children, then maybe this monster won’t turn out to be so threatening. Attitudes must be changed. We must not accept the dogma that we are governed by some historical necessity, that the world is developing inexorably toward universal stupidity, and so my children must also be stupid. Rather, we should adopt an attitude of a kind of serfdom toward the world, and reject the attitude of a slave. We may not have influence on the world, but we do have influence on our immediate environment. And we should take advantage of that, regardless of what various “wise men” tell us.

DP: What is to be done?

RL: Shto diełat (laughs). I don’t have a detailed agenda. I have never liked adjusting to reality. Maybe this is not a very good tactic from the perspective of a politician, but I have also never managed a newspaper company like you do – which affects people’s lives in a way – where adaptation is often necessary. I’ll use the analogy again. I remember a time when everyone thought that communism was self-assured and not because there were Russian tanks, but it was said that this system was characterized by historical necessity. Let us reject such thinking today, even if we are sometimes overcome by despair. Can one be a conservative while reading on a smartphone and not on paper? Obviously, a smartphone cannot dictate to me who I am and who my loved ones should be.

DP: And the conservative counterrevolution that offers hope for ordering the world is nowhere in sight….

RL: Conservative parties are still successful, though not in many places. In England, the formations are theoretically conservative, but not really in practice. That’s why so many people in the West look at Poland and Hungary with hope. It is possible that the right will be strengthened in Western Europe by the entry of conservatives into government. Maybe eastern Europe will also hold on. Politically it is extremely important to break the current monopoly of the mainstream, which has taken over the EU and most of its institutions. Can it be done? If I thought it couldn’t be done, I would withdraw from politics.

DP: But, at the same time, as you yourself said, in our reality: “the Polish-Polish war makes everything more difficult.” How to end such a war and realize community goals? Is it at all possible?

RL: For the time being there is no such possibility, which I say with great sadness. The European Union fuels this war and will not rest until it liquidates all dissident governments and movements. That is why it is so important to balance the forces in Europe and introduce guarantees of pluralism. Perhaps this would calm the dispute in Poland. But the dispute that is taking place in Poland has a long and unfortunate tradition. For several centuries, sovereignty-independence forces have clashed with forces seeking the protection of a stronger protector. Unfortunately, it often ended in victory for the latter. If they were to win this time again, we will lose our sovereignty again and we will dream of Independence, as so many times in the past. The words of Jan Kochanowski, the Polish Renaissance poet, that a Pole “is stupid before the loss and stupid after the loss” will be confirmed.


The featured image shows, “The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Army,” by Philip James de Loutherbourg, painted in 1792.

From The Gulag To Freedom

This month, we are so very delighted to present this unique interview with Nikita Krivoshein who was born in Paris, in 1934. His family of Russian noblemen, fled communism during the First Wave of emigrants. His grandfather, Alexander Vasilievich Krivoshein, was Minister of Agriculture in the Russian Empire and Prime Minister of the Government of Southern Russia, under General Wrangel. His father and uncle were decorated fighters in the French Resistance during World War II. His father was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Buchenwald and then Dachau.

Nikita, along with his father and mother, returned to the Soviet Union, in 1948, thinking that they were going back home to peace and security. Instead, his father was soon arrested and sent into the Gulag.

Nikita himself was arrested in August 1957 by the KGB for an unsigned article in Le Monde about the Soviet invasion of Hungary. He was convicted and sent into Mordovian political camps (the Gulag), where he worked at a sawmill, as a loader. After his release from prison, he worked as a translator and simultaneous interpreter, from 1960 to 1970. He was able to return to France in 1971. His parents also returned to France in 1974. He lives in Paris. He has just published a book about his Gulag experiences.

Nikita Krivoshein is interviewed by Christophe Geffroy of La Nef.



Christophe Geffroy (CG): You have had an unimaginable journey. Birth in France, then departure for the USSR where you came to experience the gulag and return to France. Could you summarize it for us?

Nikita Krivochein (NK): Heaven was merciful and generous. I was able to return to France, to reintegrate myself, to bring my parents back, to found a home. Among the young emigrants taken to the USSR after the war, those who had this chance can be counted on the fingers of one hand. From Paris, I was able to see the collapse of the communist regime, and this without bloodshed! A great wave of murderous settlements of accounts was more than likely. We survived in the USSR physically as well as in our faith, our vision. But how many “repatriates” preferred to make themselves invisible, to depersonalize themselves to survive. My return to France was, and remains, a great happiness!

CG: Why did your parents return with you to the USSR in 1948, when the totalitarianism of Soviet communism was manifest?

NK: In the immediate post-war period, the totalitarianism was muted and less obvious. From 1943 onwards, Stalin had noticed that the Russians were not very keen on being killed by the Wehrmacht in the “name of communism, the radiant future of all mankind,” so he changed his tune and started to invoke “Great Russia,” its military, its culture, and reopened the churches. He changed the national anthem and renounced the motto, “Proletarians of all countries, unite,” revived the officer corps. In 1946, he returned to the repression of the Church. In 1949, he launched a very dire wave of arrests (including that of my father). But during the war the illusion of a renunciation of communism worked.

CG: What was the most important thing about your life in the USSR and your time in the camps?

NK: I have intimately felt and internalized that Hope is a great virtue. It would have been enough to stop living it, even for a moment, to sink into the great nothingness of “homo sovieticus.”

Our family was one of the few in the Russian diaspora in Paris who did not live in misery. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, my early childhood was happy. With my parents, we lived in a large three-room apartment on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Eiffel Tower. We lived in a comfort that was rare at the time, especially in the families of Russian emigrants. My father had studied at the Sorbonne and had become a specialist in household appliances. When I was born, he was chief engineer at Lemercier Frères. My father owned a black Citroën, and with my mother they traveled a lot. I was an only child, born late.

In June 1946, Stalin organized a vast propaganda campaign – amnesty was proposed to all former white emigrants in France, with the delivery of a Soviet passport and the possibility of returning to their homeland. Pravda came out with a new, flashy slogan: “For our Soviet homeland!” – instead of “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” And the radio no longer played The International but Powerful Russia… The Russians thought that “debolshevization” was indeed launched.

I found myself in the USSR in 1948 and then for many years I was obsessed with the idea of running away. Our ship, which left from Marseille, docked in the port of Odessa. It had on board many Russians who wanted to return to the country. The next day was May 1st. We were waiting. A soldier in a NKVD uniform entered our cabin, asked my mother to open her purse and confiscated three fashion magazines. “This is forbidden!”

We were told – you are going to Lüstdorf, an old German town near Odessa. On the landing pier, trucks were waiting for us, driven by soldiers. We were taken to a real camp, with watchtowers, dogs, barbed wire and barracks! We were transferred to Ulyanovsk in a wagon (40 men, 8 horses, 12 days trip). In 1949 my father was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in the camps for “collaboration with the international bourgeoisie.” My happy childhood was over. I relate all this in my book.

CG: In your book, you warmly evoke the beautiful figure of Canon Stanislas Kiskis, a Lithuanian Catholic priest. What place did religion have in the Gulag and what relationship did it fashion among Orthodox and other Christians?

NK: This question would require a whole study. In 1958, when I arrived at the camp in Mordovia, an old deportee said to me in French: “Allow me to introduce you to Canon Stanislav Kiskis.” That meeting marked my entire stay in deportation. Our friendship continued after our release.
He was a short, stocky man. His face, his head, what a presence! One could immediately sense that he was a strong person in every respect. A week had hardly passed when Kiskis was transferred to our team to load trucks. There were about ten of us, almost all from the countryside, war criminals, quite a few Ukrainians and Belorussians, all of them certainly not ordinary fellows.

Kiskis had chosen the method of Socrates’ maieutics for his mission.
I guess he had practiced his speech in previous camps. On the subject of the “nature of property,” for example, without addressing anyone in particular, Father Stanislav would ask, “And this pile of stones, who owns it? What about the land on which the pile is located?” The answers were obvious. “To no one.” Or, “to those stupid communists and Chekists!” Or, “We don’t know.”

Stanislav and I used to analyze Roman dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception, the rational proof of God’s existence and papal infallibility. We did this exclusively from an analytical and historical point of view. The canon-psychotherapist had to express himself in a more delicate and confused way than when he was dealing with property, but he succeeded in demonstrating what distinguishes work as a punishment inflicted on Adam from that which is the principal sign of our likeness to God. He even succeeded in establishing a quality, a usefulness and a saving side to certain aspects of forced camp labor. On his return to Lithuania, he was warmly welcomed by the Catholic hierarchy.

CG: You knew Solzhenitsyn. What do you remember about the man and, more than twelve years after his death, what can we say today about the historical role he played?

NK: My father was in the First Circle camp at the same time as Solzhenitsyn. It was a lifelong friendship between them. When I left the former USSR, Alexandr Issaevich honored me by coming to say goodbye and encouraging my decision to emigrate.

CG: More generally, what was the influence of the dissidents in the USSR? In what way are they an example for us today?

NK: It is certain that the resistance fighters in the USSR (preferable to “dissidents”), by their actions, hastened the collapse of the system. They are an example because, according to Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, they did not accept to “live in a lie.” But the Communists continue to hate and vilify them.

CG: When we read in your book, the amount of suffering that you and your parents had to face, haven’t we in the West lost the tragic sense of life?

NK: It is enough to be aware of mortality. One can very well do without the Gulag to be aware of the tragedy of existence.

CG: How do you analyze the current situation in Russia? Has the page of communism definitively been turned?

NK: Alas, no! As long as the “stuffed man,” as we used to call the tenant of the mausoleum, remains in his quarters, nothing is irreversible. Stalin worshippers remain numerous, and monuments to this criminal are even erected clandestinely here and there.

CG: While Nazism was unanimously rejected, the same cannot be said of Communism, whose crimes do not arouse the same repulsion (statues of Lenin can still be found in Russia). Why such a difference? And why should Russia not engage in an “examination of conscience” about Communism?
NK: National Socialism never promised anyone a happy life. Communism, on the other hand, has managed to gain acceptance as the “bright future of all mankind.” When a genuine Nuremberg-style decommunization takes place, I will celebrate it wholeheartedly. But the utopia of the earthly paradise has the gift of not setting free its followers.

CG: You are a believer. How do you see the future of our societies, which are moving further and further away from God? And how do you see the future of relations between Orthodox and Catholics?

NK: Five generations of believers have lived under a deicidal regime. The martyrs cannot be counted. The Christian revival was felt in Russia long before 1991. The period of agnosticism that we went through is coming to an end. Man cannot live on bread alone for too long a time. A new generation, not genetically infected with “homo sovieticus,” has appeared. The parishes are full of young people.


This articles appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.


The featured image shows, “Rehabilitated,” by Nikolai Getman, ca. 1980s.

Roman Joy

We will never tire of Rome. There is an ever-present joy in descending from the Quirinale, where the lies the mummy, Draghi, and entering the Field of Mars. A first love glows every time. You spend your day crisscrossing this heavy city, crushed under the domes, sedimented under the layers of time and ruins. Rome resembles a scraped and re-scratched palimpsest. On a speech by Cicero is inscribed a sermon by Augustine; on an elegiac poem, a lustful sonnet by Pietro Bembo. The precept of Lavoisier in chemistry becomes a rule: Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.

The Sol Invictus, luminous and virile divinity, was adored by the military and by Aurelian. According to Paul Valéry, this glaring fault holds within it the power of creation, the drive of life, good health. In its wake, Saint Faith of Rome, a martyr of the second century, daughter of Sophia, sister of Elpis and Agape. Hadrian arrested them, was captivated by their beauty and piety, but decided to put them to death. Faith was stripped, tortured; from the torn off breasts flowed milk. Supported by her mother in her ordeal, her head was cut off.

In Via Veneto there is the Martini sign, fizzing in the night, red-orange, like a new sun; a huge invitation to party – new rites and mysteries of a modern temple: Consumption. Rome is the concrete idea of permanence.

Visiting Rome over the years consists of constantly sifting through treasures with your eyes. First, thinking about the elementary things and then ending up moving for a painting by a 16th century painter in a church that opens only one day a week. And so begins the Roman adventure. What one has visited, one must see again. The traveler must, like a Sisyphean task, revisit what he has seen, revisit what he believes he has seen and what he would like to see again. On the next trip, everything will have to start again. A perpetuum mobile. The mystery of Rome is the closed palaces, full of beautiful things; the lit rooms that you can see from the street at night and to which you have no access; the doors of monasteries and convents that close onto rose gardens and palm trees. The city nurtures the desire, the lack and the urge always to go and see, further.

The Romans play a worldly carnival all year round. In the center, near the Palazzo Madama, a broom of officials and non-officials, carefully tied, brushes through the streets; priests from all over the world, old and western, young and Asian, flood in. The cassock is forbidden. You can still find journalists and intellectuals from the 1970s, with their unattractive physique as in Ettore Scola’s The Terrace. These shirt-wearing commies, with windshields as glasses, still take methodical routes through the city, a gazette under their arm, a pipe in their mouth. Here, a beautiful mother, there, a former TV presenter finished off by the scalpel. Roman nobility rubs shoulders with the marginalized; Russian fortune tellers, bums, obese people on Vespas in vest, a cigarette butt between lips. Rome answers to the celestial and terrestrial Venus, to the great beauty, and to the Fellinian vrenzole. It is torn between total luminosity and the most obvious vulgarity.

However, three Roman figures seem to me incredible in their taste of the beautiful, the good and the true.

Lucius Licinius Lucullus, after having known successes and political failures, withdrew from public life, retired, and settled in his properties to live the high life. His name remains attached to the splendid gardens at the site of the Villa Medici. It is necessary to imagine a vast plain above the city, excellent orchards with numerous citrus fruits, peaches, apricots. Lucullus had the taste for fountains, porches in the shade, thermal baths lined with exquisite mosaics, deep in perspective, powerful of face. In Tusculum, above Frascati, he had planted the first cherry trees of Europe. Lucullus also excelled in the art of the table, cultivated the great refinements; what Plutarch noted with severity by recalling this anecdote. When his cook brought him only one dish, he retorted: “This evening, Lucullus dines with Lucullus.” The cook thereafter made sure to always plan a banquet when Lucullus dined alone, with many dishes, bottles, and the desserts.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, Scipione Borghese was the great cardinal of pleasures. Between the nymph and the gladiator, his eminence showed himself as a great builder, restoring churches, building the great villa to which he gave his name. There he collected paintings and priceless works: a Hermaphrodite from the second century, as revealing of his penchant for men as for women; paintings by Caravaggio, and those of the Cavalier d’Arpin and Raphael. He was also the patron of Bernini, whose art culminates in Daphnis and Chloe, a masterpiece of life and death frozen in fingers that transform; a body that molds itself into bark, hair that passes branches.

Mario Praz, in the twentieth century, chose modest elegance. An art critic, he lived in seclusion in a Roman palace where he collected twelve hundred objects – paintings, drawings, furniture, sculptures from the last century; Napoleonic works but also neoclassical English paintings; conversation pieces; some wax bas-reliefs. The House of Life is his masterpiece, in which he speaks of his life and his work, as if they were the rooms of a house.

Rome is conducive to drunkenness and good food. Happiness is everywhere, desire flows, with all its variety – the lively joy in the sun, the relaxation in the afternoon, the light madness in the evening. What joy it was for me to befriend Julien Rochedy. How we feasted at Al Moro, a landmark for ministers of the regime, on seppioline with artichokes, gamberi al pomodoro, and spaghetti alle vongole. Familiar delicacies take on a double flavor in Rome. Try Giolitti’s ice cream, with almond and hazelnut, topped with panna montata. Genius. The Judeo-Roman cuisine is also excellent. In the street that leads to the theater of Marcellus, admirable as a set of legos among the columns, the Oratorio Venditorum Piscium, the apartments embedded in the heavy stone, you will find the Jewish kitchens, with their oriental air. Moshe will serve you fried artichokes as an appetizer, salted, crunchy to the tooth, fried brains, stew or a piquant and fragrant cod couscous.

The streets of Rome are characters. Via Giulia behind the Campo dei Fiori looks like a dowager alternating knitting and rosary beads. It is straight, austere, gray on one side, held together by official and severe buildings. A bridge crosses the street, covered with ivy, like a dark mantilla of a woman in mourning.

Via dei Coronari is a kind of woman of the century, one foot in the old world, the other in modernity. The antique stores are full of preciosities, trinkets and relics in silver and gold, official portraits of popes, swords, furniture, massive candlesticks. Proof of this strange feminine paradox, the conversation and the permeability to progress; a store sells plastic ducks dressed as the Queen of England, Michael Jackson, Trump; next to it another one sells only lead figurines of the Napoleonic empire.

Via Margutta, on the other hand, is the most sensual; kind of feline, playful, whimsical, sparkling. Its walls are warm, yellow, ochre, saffron, taupe, sometimes washed out; ivy climbs up the walls, pearl-like roses. It is a young socialite, home to gallery owners, jewelers and artists. In its streets that go up and down, André Suarès, even at noon, this great madman, roamed the city in search of the terrible absolute of the beautiful, the good and the true. In the evening, a French bribe-taker coming out of a cantina would fight with a cursed painter with a rapier. In the morning, the writer of the Jet-set, Jep Gambardella returns home, after a party; no more drinks, no more contact lenses, smoking, and finding on the Aventine, a monk come out of the monastery to say a final goodbye to his sweetheart.

The statues in Rome also live. In the church of San Francesco a Ripa, which gave the title to a short story by Stendhal, Blessed Ludovica Albertoni is in ecstasy. She holds her chest, ready to leave it. Here, there is no fourth wall of the theater of which Henri Beyle speaks, no spectators as in the Cornaro Chapel where Saint Theresa is ecstatic at the other end of the city. The layout is more sober, the line more sure, more incisive in the last productions of the artist. The dress is agitated, swollen by the waves of love, while her face remains virginal. Her body betrays terrible convulsions while her gaze carries the delicate vision of paradise.

In Sant’Andrea del Quirinale is the most successful work of Pierre Le Gros the Younger, a French student of Bernini. One reaches the camera del polacco. What is it? It is a room where is the recumbent Stanislaus Kotzka, a young Polish Jesuit, who passed through Vienna, and died when he came of age in 1568. It is a baroque pearl. The young man sleeps, dressed in a black marble that contrasts with his white porcelain skin. The success of the statue lies in the way the rigid cassock is rendered as if it were encased in cuttlefish ink colored marble. His face is soft but his feet are icy.

What can you say about Michelangelo’s Christ in the Basilica in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva! It is a mass, a rock, extra pure. It is the Redeemer who manifests himself to us as a truth that takes up all the space in a life. Christ poses, swayed-hip, naked. The knees are so delicate that Sebastiano del Piombo said they were worth all of Rome.

But finally, Pasquino, does he have something to begrudge these sculptures, the darling of the people? It is a statue from the third century. In 1501, a hand placed a pamphlet on it predicting the death of Alexander VI Borgia. The term pasquinade was then derived, referring to an anonymous pamphlet often written in Roman dialect. With time, Pasquino became the first talking statue of the city, bearing popular reactions, the bloodshed and the acid laughter of the Romans. There are still salacious messages, claims and heart-felt messages: “Berlusconi, figlio di Minghia,” “Nun si necessità sesso, er governo fa er culo ogni giorno!” “er Premier è un vampiro, certo, ma li Italiani nun hanno piu sangue, dispiacce!”

It is more than natural, it is said, according to the custom of tourists, to sigh with admiration before the supreme beauty of the Sistine Chapel. For once, let us leave these marshmallows chewed up into liquid, sky-blue sky dishes and let us admire the Christian mosaics of the first centuries. Let’s start with the mosaics of the Basilica of Saints Como and Damian. After passing the courtyard and the fountain with dog heads covered with moss, you open the door and what jumps at you is a cobalt blue sky, marked by red clouds, under the feet of Christ, who descends from the sky in front of Peter, Paul, Como and Damian. The vision stops you dead in your tracks and grabs you.

Not far away is the Basilica of St. Clement. The mosaics are more careful and finer. We see on the apse deer drinking from a spring that feeds a kind of bush, representing a forest, from which grow branches, woods, trees that take up all the space and shelter monks, hermits, shepherds. The cross in the center is represented as the arbor vitae. In this religious jungle, you can see Saint Gregory and Saint Ambrose. Above the cross, in the sky, the only hand of God sends his son for the salvation of the world.

In the Rione dei Monti, there is the Basilica of Santa Prassede. You have to go to the left chapel, put a coin in the machine to turn on the light. Illumination! Largesse! The Chapel of Saint Zeno is illuminated. It looks like the miniature of a Greek Convent of Meteora. A kind of gold coin box. You have never been so close to the quivering mosaics, glittering like yellow, golden and blue fish scales. You have to see this simple and sober Christ supported by four angels. The faces are pretty, little sketched, almost naive, but the whole of it enfolds you with a warm joy. You even forget that Bernini delivered his first youthful work right next door.


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef. Translation from the French by N. Dass.


The featured image shows the mosaic of the vault of the Chapel of Saint Zeno, from the 9th century.

Those Pesky Poles! Forever Defying Totalitarianism

1. Polish Peskiness Brought Down the Soviet Union, While The Soviets Transferred The Baton Of Imbecility To Educated Westerners

Is it the Bigos (hunter’s stew), is it the Zurek, is it the Blintzes, is it the Pierogi, or the Krupnik which makes the Poles so damned obstinate, so pesky?

Or is that a people, whose nobles went against the current in the sixteenth century by devising a noble system of democracy (an elected monarch with a functioning parliamentary legislature) when other European countries were becoming increasingly absolutist, really don’t like being bossed around by bumptious authoritarian idiots?

Or is that a people who were written off the map for more than a hundred years don’t like being written off or out of history, and that a people who fought and successfully defended themselves against the Bolsheviks in 1919-21, only to be invaded by the Soviets and Nazis, don’t like being victims of the deranged imperial dreams of others?

Or is it that a people who were duped into becoming a communist country and Soviet vassal have inoculated themselves against being duped again by ideas that promise to be very heaven but turn out to be hell?

Or is that a country whose Catholic identity was just too strong for the communists to successfully suppress continue to hang onto their religious identity when Western Europeans view their own history, and religious heritage, with a mixture of ignorance and shame (unfortunately without being ashamed of their own ignorance)? One Polish refugee from communism, Aleksander Wat, in My Century, thought that

Poland’s mainstay was not in revolts but in “disengaging from the enemy,” specifically, the country’s overwhelming Catholicism, precisely that parochial, obscurantist, and often vulgar Polish Catholicism, which, however, purified itself and grew deeper “in the catacombs” and truly found its shepherd in the person of the Primate, Cardinal Wyszyński. That Catholicism made the Polish soul impervious to the magic of “ideology” and the knout of praxis, and it was not the rebellious writers and revisionists who caused the Polish October but – apart from Stalinism’s crumbling power and cohesiveness – the steadfast, constant, unyielding mental resistance of that Catholic nation, its “dwelling” in transcendence.”

Whatever it is, though, those Poles sure are pesky for anyone who thinks they should roll over and take a boot on their necks. They probably vote in such large numbers for the Conservative Law and Justice party just to give the finger to the Western Europeans elites who all want the Poles to come to their party of endless progress – and self-annihilation.

In the upside-down world represented by the European Union and mainstream Western European political parties, it is authoritarian to oppose dismantling the values of Christendom which gave the West its greatest achievements. Likewise, West European elites cannot stand the fact that a predominantly Catholic country has the temerity to want to defend its Catholic tradition from a group who might be more smiley than the previous Soviet bullies, and who generally tend to like to get their way with promises of giving or withholding large pots of money rather than bringing in tanks. But the pesky Poles wipe off their smiles and make them hot under the collar when they say thanks for the money and trade deals, but no thanks to the tactic of welcoming Muslim migrants and refugees to transplant not only themselves in their flight from economic and political hardship but their traditions and, in too many cases, their pan-Islamist aspirations on a remaining national bastion of Christian soil. The Western European elite wants all opposition to its values and institutional overhauling to fold in exactly the same way as they themselves are folding to their geopolitical enemies. They seem to struggle to understand why a country, whose workers openly took to the streets against the communists in 1956 and then again from 1980 formed the union, Solidarity, to defy, with eventual success, their Soviet masters, won’t simply take the money and obey. Why they think they will succeed where the Soviets failed is but one more example of how all the mountains of bureaucratic EU drivel is a cipher of mental vacuity, merrily redesigning the world in the image of its own emptiness – the confirmation, if one will, of an intelligentsia which once spawned, Being and Nothingness, merely becoming nothingness. And whereas the Western elites, like their US counterparts, all accepted the eternally enduring presence of the Soviets, the Poles became the spearhead of what would ultimately inspire others from Soviet satellite countries to also stand up to their Soviet masters.

Yes, there were many things that bought about the demise of the Soviet Union, from a disastrous war in Afghanistan to a nuclear power plant accident, which revealed the dangerous incompetence of trying to preside over nuclear power with a system in which raw power and ideology always trumped over truth and competence, to a US president, depicted by the intelligentsia as a cross between Bozo the clown and a third rate actor who thought he was a cowboy, who defied the conventional wisdom – that the Soviet Union was an undefeatable superpower – by upping the arms race to levels which bought an already ailing economy and a gerontocratic power, loosening its grip through age and a generational power transfer, to its knees.

But one could not underestimate the peskiness of the Poles when it came to the fall of communism. There was the outspoken and very pesky Polish Pope who had inspired the formation of Solidarity, and who refused to go along with the rot in the Church that was all for Christian Marxist/communist dialogue, and liberation theology, itself little more than a Soviet propaganda front posing as Christian teaching. And then there was the pesky Polish priest who was closely connected with Solidarity, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was murdered by members of the security service. His murder only served to ensure that Solidarity would be an even bigger thorn in the side of the communist government than it had been before.

Generally, though, it is the sad fact that when the Soviets were well on the way to losing the military war, they were already defeating the West in the propaganda war. Their victory was pyrrhic because their attempts at open-ness and reform proved to be as disastrous as the rest of their attempts to realize the dreams of a bunch of ideas spearheaded by people who thought their knowledge and philosophy could create a system that was both perfect and unprecedented. All that was left was to leave their communist allies presiding over their satellite dependencies in the lurch, and walk away from a political system that was taped together by lies and people spying on each other, and an economic system that could not produce enough bread, let alone computerised arms systems to rival the US. (Whether to their credit or not remains to be seen, but the Chinese had already decided to drop the economic system while holding onto the political system). So, the Soviets had a bargain basement jumble sale where Western grifters and con-men like William Browder, the grandson of the American communist party leader Earl Browder, and the local mafia scooped up the assets of a country.

And while almost all the Soviet scholars went over night from being media talking heads and clueless political scientists explaining why détente was a very good deal, to historians scratching their heads over why the biggest event since the Second World War took place without them having a clue it was coming – that wannabe American cowboy Bozo and a handful of his anti-Soviet advisors, who had been reading a few astute economists who had identified the gigantic budgetary hole covered by creative accounting, which involved simply transferring next year’s income to this year’s, who saw what the Poles saw – that Soviet power was just one more in a long line of heavily guarded Potemkin villages.

Though to be fair to the smarts of the Soviets, while they could not run a country, they sure knew how to dupe the minds of Westerners. For just as from the time of Lenin’s take-over to Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, the Soviets had managed to convince many of the leading minds of the intelligentsia in North and South America, Western Europe and Australasia about the virtues of Soviet communism, up until its demise, the Soviets had created all the key critical phrases and “talking points” that radicals of the 1970s and 1980s would use when it came to the power politics of the Cold War. They would all castigate Regan as a warmonger for calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, for devising a bomb that would kill people without destroying buildings, for walking back on détente and upping the arms race, and for having the temerity to plan a missile shield system that was thereby, according to the radicals and Soviets, increasing the likelihood of nuclear war, even though, they would add, with absolute assuredness and without a blink, it was a scientific impossibility. The dialectic of imbecility had already been a successful experiment, conducted by the Soviets upon the better educated saps in the West.

For anyone who can recall, the media reported almost daily on the well-meaning protesters in Western Europe wearing gum boots, rainbow dyed tee-shirts, peace signs and carrying their kiddies on their shoulders – while on MTV, Sting, like so many singers who believe that being able to knock out a good tune gives them a terrific handle on geopolitics and how to achieve world peace, having taken time off from saving the Amazon, was earnestly intoning: “If the Russians love their children too/ How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?? (Allow me to put it on the public record, so that on Judgment Day I can say in my own defense – for all my sins, Lord, no matter how hummable his tunes, I could never stand the sanctimonious strains of Sting.) All their anti-nuclear protests were directed at weakening military opposition against the Soviets – for, they intoned repeatedly, it was NOT the Soviets, but the USA who was bringing the world to the brink of destruction. This was of course before the next (pre-COVID) all-encompassing catastrophe – global warming/climate change, which would push aside nuclear disarmament as the source of hyperbolic panic requiring an elite of wise and all-knowing saviours.

The most radical Westerners thought they were super smart in being non-Stalinist, non-Soviet Marxists. But they were to use the phrase coined by the pesky (Lithuanian born) Pole, Czeslaw Milosz, “captive minds.” This is perhaps why, in spite of not being attracted to the grey lump that the Soviets had served up as communism, Western radical students could not tolerate Soviet dissidents being given any kind of platform. I was studying in West Germany in 1984 and recall a poorly attended talk by a Soviet dissident. The West German university students booed him for being a US Cold War stooge.

Today the tactics and narratives that the Soviets had fostered long before the Cold War in creating disunity in the USA by fueling racial strife so it becomes a civil war, are now not only commonplace in universities and schools but in corporations and the White House itself, which approves of critical race theory being taught even in the military. The communist strategy of subversion was all mapped out in detail by the KGB defector Yuri Besmenov, and his book, Love Letter to America, written under the pseudonym Thomas Schuman. But his warning was already a generation too late – at the moment, the US was poised to win the Cold War, it had lost its mind (its universities, its media, Hollywood and other idea-brokering institutions) to the same terrible ideas that the Poles and others were trying to shake off.

The legacy of the communist victory – leaving China alone to pick up the spoils – is now so obvious, that half the US sees it. And it is certainly not those US citizens who control the formation and circulatory flow of the ideas of the ruling class. It is also significant that two of the best recent books that are diagnosing the spiritual, intellectual and social suicide of the Western world are by Poles, Ryszard Legutko, and Zbigniew Janowski. The former is a member of the European Parliament as well as the author of The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, and more recently, The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols.

Legutko came to prominence a couple of years ago thanks to the stupidity and bellicosity of students and staff at Middlebury who, having slapped up posters and a Facebook page denouncing Legutko as a “f****ing homophobe and sexist,” prevented him from speaking about the dangers of totalitarian democracy engulfing “free societies.” The public talk having been cancelled, the professor who invited Legutko to the college had his nine students hold a secret ballot (yes, this is how free students are today in an American university) to see whether Legutko should give the intended lecture to them.

They voted yes (sanity prevailed for a moment), and he did manage to commence his lecture to the professor’s small class. But as more students filed in and word got out, that too was subverted and Professor Legutko was escorted off campus. I doubt if any of the staff or students had the wherewithal to even read his book, let alone ask whether their confirmation of the “thesis” of Legutko’s book was really making a better world. They were just like anti-Semitic Christians, who never understood that their tactics only served to illustrate the deficiencies of their own personal faith, character, and behaviour. Unfortunately, the world is made more by the deficiencies of who and what we are and do than by the neatness of our (ostensible) moral reasons and ideas. But good luck finding twenty professors in the USA who know or care about that.

Just as some Muslims kill people to protest against those who publicly dispute that Islam is a religion of peace by referring to violent imperatives in passages of the Koran and hadith, elite students and academicians of today want to end hate, serve social justice and overcome all oppression by screaming at and shutting down anyone who thinks that they are just a bunch of bullies, know-it-alls, and spoilt brats, who know nothing serious about society or even justice. Though there are spoiled brats in Poland (and members of its intelligentsia) who also want to join the mental and spiritual suicide being undertaken by their Western counterparts, and whom the Western elites are recruiting into its ranks.

Hence a group of them, who had sought to enforce a ruling of the European Court of Human Right’s work that proscribed all religious symbolism from schools, also hauled Legutko before a District Court in Kraków. His crime? Apparently, it was calling them “spoiled little brats.” Sadly, just last month, Legutko found himself attacked again by students and members of the Philosophy Department of the Jagiellonian University, where Legutko teaches.

The reason for this was his letter to the university Rector about the dangers of the university having put in place a Western style administrative department for equity grievances. The letters – which are appearing in the Postil – illustrate the same pathetic and sanctimonious reasoning, self-serving moral platitudes, and appeal to authority as are found today in every Western university – confirming yet again that philosophers are not inoculated against being seduced by their own moral vanity, and are no more inclined than anyone else to take on the burden of historical memory, when required to think for a moment about what ethically fragile and generally unwise creatures, such as we do with the machinery of abstractions, once it is set up to ensure social control.

Janowksi, like Legutko, grew up under communism, but he returned to Poland last year, after thirty-five years in the USA. From my correspondence with him, Janowski is a born teacher, and it seems that he found many US students who greatly appreciated what he had to teach. But he was worn down by the mental midget-ism and wokeness that had taken over the university, along with the university administration who would periodically carpet him for his contrarianism.

As anyone who knows the least thing about Western universities today, university administrators have mastered the racket of having students and the state pay their exorbitant salaries, while simultaneously shutting down, and clearing out all genuine intellectual work in the Arts and Humanities, and while creating the safe spaces so their students learn that all whites are racists and that the USA is the most racist country in history.

Janowski has captured this farcical replay of totalitarianism in the USA (if I may borrow Marx’s tweaking of Hegel on history) in his excellent book, Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America. But before looking more closely at the works by Legutko and Janowski, I want to briefly discuss that earlier generation of pesky Poles who were trying to bring down communist totalitarianism – one of them, Leszek Kolakowski, was Janowski’s PhD supervisor, and hence a direct source of inspiration for him.

2. Poles Against Communist Totalitarianism

While there is a very long list of Polish critics of communism, I suspect that the two most well-known to Western readers are Leszek Kolakowski and Czeslaw Milosz, the former a philosopher, the later a poet. Given that communism is a poetic fabrication, resting upon a metaphysical contrivance, it is fitting that philosophers and poets expose its centre as being nothing more than thoughtless and abstract words; that is, words that are void of the sediments of soul that good poets are attuned to access, or the conceptual sharpness that provides philosophical insight into our actions and the world.

The central feature of Milosz’s Captive Mind, written in 1951, when the young Kolakowski was still a believer in communism, is its depiction of poets and writers whose love of words and art eventually lead them all to betray their muse as they (for diverse reasons from their own ideological need to believe, and their self-induced blindness to economic and political opportunity to fear) succumb to mental captivity.

In Milosz’ own case, we are not dealing with a particularly political animal, even though the Captive Mind provides some valuable reflections upon how the ideology of communism and its “philosophy” of dialectical materialism kills the spirit. Milosz, though, was a man who could distinguish between what is truly venerable in poetry, and hence why commitment to it cannot be compromised by ideological fiat, and vacuous verbosity.

The cross roads that placed Milosz between the choices of following the power and opportunities that came from using his pen in the service of power or keeping true to the muse, was very similar to Kolakowski – who might have been an ideological hack had philosophy not remained his true love. And it was also his love of philosophy that enabled him to see the sheer untruth of the endeavour he was devoting his faith to.

Communism is a jealous God, and it is a philosophical God that requires total metaphysical possession of the mind (to be sure it is also a crippled philosophical God demanding crippled minds). Its claim to possess the scientific method, dialectical (historical) materialism, to enable its practitioners to identify the objective laws of history, and the larger historical meaning of the political and economic circumstances of the hour, is a big claim that reality rebukes at every opportunity.

Kolakowski had a keen metaphysical sense and that sense runs through his philosophical writings where the “big questions” remained his philosophical preoccupation until his death. Back in the 1950s, it was becoming clear to Kolakowski that dialectical materialism was a very small – and ultimately paltry – box of mental tricks when it came to dealing with the “big questions” that required really using the powers of the mind.

In some ways, communism was always about one’s mental powers, whether one really wanted to develop them, or whether one was happy to learn and apply a philosophical dogma and defend it at all costs. Marx would always resort to invective when anyone disagreed with him; and in that respect, he set the precedent of what one had to do – bully, threaten and silence one’s opponents – if one wanted to protect a set of doctrinal principles and commitments – the method of dialectical materialism – from philosophical critique.

Thus it was that Lenin, who had read very little philosophy, took time away from his revolutionary screeds and tactical writings to study Hegel’s Science of Logic (and just in case anyone might think he was not serious, it was not the shorter Logic of the Encyclopedia but the big thick one!) – the study remains clear for all and sundry to read thanks to his disciples preserving his notebooks as if they were holy writ.

The “study” is mostly transcription, and gloss with comments and marginal scribblings – all of which confirm that Lenin was completely clueless about what Hegel’s philosophy was. Thus like a deranged school master after all the screaming and dribbling (“Hegel conceals the weakness of idealism;” “ha-ha he’s afraid! Slander against materialism Why??”), he also found things in Hegel he could give big ticks to (“excellent!” “subtle and profound!” “a germ of historical materialism,” and such like).

Lenin already knew that history is made up of material forces which are dialectical, and that communism is the dialectical resolution of the class antagonisms of history. But serious Marxists believed that anyone who really wanted to enter into the inwards of the development of history had to read their Hegel. Albeit, by never forgetting that philosophy, as Marx had explained, consisted of two teams, idealists (those who thought the world came from their own heads) and materialists (the smart ones who knew there was a world outside of the head).

Thankfully, cholera had taken Hegel out before he had to read this nonsense, which was first aired by Marx’s pal, Ludwig Feuerbach, who failing to understand that when Hegel wrote a work on logic, he was writing (to be sure, it was a radical exposition and argument) on the process involved in how we think. Feuerbach, to great applause from Marx, criticized Hegel for not understanding that if he closed his eyes and wandered unawares into a tree, the bump would teach him the tree existed independently of his thought or knowledge about it. Pathetic, isn’t it?

Even Marx, as he got older, realized that really Hegel (he and Engels would refer to him affectionately in their correspondences as “the old boy”) was a much smarter dude than Feuerbach, who by then had taken his materialism to such dizzying heights as coming up with the formulation “one is what one eats” – in the German it looks cleverer – and thus becoming a forefather of today’s dietary obsessives.

Still, Marx thought that Hegel had grasped that history develops through antagonistic forces which give birth to an immanent resolution, which will ultimately enable man to reconcile himself with his essence as a cooperative labouring being. This was, to put it mildly, a cross between a trivial dilution and very silly application of Hegel’s rather profound, if ultimately unsustainable, account of how our thinking and knowledge (and hence the sciences) develop. So just as Marx and Engels had already told him, Vlad could now claim that Hegel, though a bourgeois, had been a real asset for the communists.

Lenin’s other great work of philosophical criticism was Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. It was, mainly, though not exclusively, a polemic against Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius (two philosophers very little read today). One might well ask what on earth would a critique of two post-Kantians, trying to identify the role of cognitive operations within modern science. has to do with overthrowing the Tsar and sparking off a global revolution against capitalism? Good question. The answer is – to repeat – that Marxism was always a philosophy, and that Marxist philosophy considered any other explanation about how to think, and even what should be thought about, as an existential threat.

One of the many dangers of making a metaphysic dictate the direction of social, economic, political and cultural development is that it is a recipe for paranoia – having exaggerated what it can achieve, it then exaggerates the damage which other ideas, which do not fit into that metaphysics, may do.

This was all interestingly bought out in the book Encounters with Lenin by the Bolshevik apostate, Nicolai Valentinov (who also wrote under the name Nikolai Valentinov-Volski). He had the misfortune of telling Lenin in a conversation that he found Mach and Avenarius interesting – at which point Lenin went ballistic, frothing at the mouth and screaming about two authors, which Volski points out, he obviously had not even read. (It was only later that Lenin would sit down with their books and belatedly prove the point that even when he read their books, he failed to understand their point).

So, really being a Marxist or a Leninist boils down to a very simple and stupid thing – believing that Marx and Lenin are always right about the essential way the world is and how to fix it. The fascist decalogue simply stated “Mussolini is always right,” which made it explicit that anyone donning the black shirt should also take out his brain. Mussolini though, preferred his brainless followers to believe in the myth of the nation instead of the scientific truth of historical materialism – so at least Mussolini knew the difference between myth and science (even if he knew as little about the science of society as the Marxists did).

By insisting that their brand of socialism was scientific, Marxists were really saying that Marx had discovered a method for understanding human nature, history, society and political economy which was unassailable. So, Marx was always right. The same line of reasoning then led to the faith that Lenin was always right/Stalin was always right/Mao was always right, etc. Little wonder that the Bolsheviks so effortlessly followed the fascists in making a complete unity of their leader, their party and their people (at least the ones that did not need to be liquidated or re-educated in slave labour camps).

Of course, as the schisms got too big to hide – which is the inevitable consequence of a thinking that is both uncompromising and murderous – Marxists had to have a Reformation and work back to the beginning. Which was why the post-Stalinist, New Left, wave of Marxists also returned back to the “salon” and classroom, where Russian communism originated, i.e., among the class of intellectuals and university students – only this time, they did have a developed world to take over, and the task of institutional capture had been set out by Antonio Gramsci. But that is a whole other story.

This long excursion into Marxism-Leninism as a philosophy is really to highlight the question, how could any serious philosopher not see that this is a path to mental captivity? That a number of people, who were philosophically gifted, nevertheless capitulated, is akin to Milosz’ account of seriously gifted writers and poets becoming ideological hacks.

Kolakowski may have started going down the road to ideological hackdom. In spite of the broad sweep of the claim, one cannot help but detect a certain autobiographical note in the title as well as the opening sentence of his book from 1988, Metaphysical Horror” “A modern philosopher who has never experienced the feeling of being a charlatan is such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.”

In Metaphysical Horror Kolakowski presents the horror through the optic of a Spinozian spin of Cartesian skepticism: “If nothing truly exists except for the Absolute, the Absolute is nothing; if nothing truly exists but myself, I am nothing.” For my part, I cannot help but see this as a metaphysical extrapolation of a soul that in saving itself from the Absolute of Marxist Leninism, but asserting its own foundational certitude, is left wondering – if all of its world and its life’s meaning amounted to nothing.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this which is pitched in a manner commensurate with the timelessness of the metaphysical disposition. But as I have said, both communism and modernity are the creations of the metaphysical imagination. And having freed himself from the captivity of Marxism, Kolakowski dives into the metaphysical imagination, with its Absolute, with the kind of resolve that only a true disciple of philosophy as the search for the Absolute and the absoluteness of life’s meaning, could muster: “Once we know,” he offers in that same work, “that errors and illusions occur, questions about a reality which can never be an illusion, or truths about which no mistakes are possible, are unavoidable.”

But whereas Marx and all his progeny end up being what Eric Voegelin, the Austrian philosophical contemporary of Kolakowski and refugee from Nazism, identified as “gnosticism,” then the search for the Absolute may become, as it did for Kolakowski, a humbling affair in which one realizes that there is, again from Metaphysical Horror, “No access to an epistemological absolute, and …no privileged access to the absolute Being which might result in reliable theoretical knowledge.”

How to face up to this without absolutizing one’s own self, with all its aspiration to know, and accepting the ceaseless limits of its knowledge, is to avoid falling into the trap of nihilism. Sometimes it takes a man almost a life-time to lay out the aspect of his soul that leads him to turn off the path that seems secure and easy, but is ultimately a dead end. Kolakowski’s metaphysical writings strike me as the expression of an aspect of his soul – his character – that had to be released through exploring the most pressing conundrums that have been woven into our civilization, through the symbols of religion and the questions of philosophy.

In any case the philosopher in Kolakowski realized as a young man, with everything before him, that the stodgy metaphysical mush that passed for philosophy in communist Poland was connected to the grim reality of daily life that passed for socialism. Not being able to simply go along with the idiocy and lies any longer – a visit to Moscow in 1950 had already shown him what idiots were running the show – in 1956, he fired off a number of missives that contrasted socialist myths and reality. One, “The Death of Gods” (available in the collection of essays, Is God Happy?) seems to be the work of a writer torn between the idealism of his old self and the determination of the new self to be uncompromising about the truth:

“When at the ripe age of eighteen, we become communists, equipped with an unshakeable confidence in our own wisdom and a handful of experiences, undigested and less significant than we like to imagine, acquired in the Great Hell of war, we devote very little thought to the fact that we need communism in order to harmonize relations of production with the forces of production. It rarely occurs to us that the extremely advanced technological standards here and now, in Poland in 1945, require the immediate socialisation of the means of production if crises of overproduction are not to loom over us like storm clouds. In short, we are not good Marxists. For us, socialism, however we go about arguing for it in theoretical debates, is everything but the result of the operation of the law of value. Defended with clumsy arguments cobbled together from a cursory reading of Marx, Kautsky or Lenin, it is really just a
myth of a Better World, a vague nostalgia for human life, a rejection of the crimes and humiliations of which we have witnessed too many, a kingdom of equality and freedom, a message of great renewal, a reason for existence. We are brothers of the Paris communards, the workers during the Russian Revolution, the soldiers in the Spanish Civil War.
We thus have before us a goal that justifies everything….
We believed that socialist rule would naturally lead to the swift and total disappearance of national hostility, nationalist prejudice and tribal conflict. Instead we found that political activity which goes by the name of socialist can encourage and exploit the most absurd forms of chauvinism and blind nationalist megalomania. In culture these manifest themselves in the form of naive deceptions and infantile sophistry, but in politics, concealed behind a thin façade of traditional internationalist slogans, they assume the much more dangerous and sinister form of colonialism.”

Another from that same year was “What is Socialism?” which is basically a list depicting the totalitarian reality of life in a communist country, that is preceded by the sentence, “Here, then, is a list of what socialism is not,” and first on the list was “a society in which someone who has committed no crime sits at home waiting for the police.”

It is true that Kolakowski was not alone in speaking out against what socialism had become and he was swept up in a hopeful wave of defiance and bravery. And it is this importance of this bravery that cannot be underestimated when one considers how totalitarian regimes come undone: ideas are nothing in themselves, they are made by people and they make people. That is to say, bad and stupid ideas only take off and become instruments of annihilation, cruelty and stupidity because they appeal to and help make people who are ready to kill, be cruel, imprison others who aren’t as stupid as they are, that is people who will stop at nothing to get their way and who have no doubt about the rectitude of their view of the world and the solutions to its ailments.

All the pesky Poles mentioned in this essay would have had an easier and cushier life in Poland and the USA had they just gone along with the cruel and stupid ideological conformists and enforcers, who had and have all lost their minds, hearts and souls. Milosz could not have come up with a more prescient title than the Captive Mind if he had to depict what is happening today. But the shocking thing is how easily today our Western intellectuals and academics have entered into mental captivity.

In part, this is because they had already swallowed the poison of liberal freedom that both Legutko and Janowski address. And whereas they had done so in the tenured and most comfortable of circumstances, the writers, poets, philosophers whom Milosz depicts in the Captive Mind had lived through a time of extraordinary suffering. The poet Beta (a pseudonym for Tadeusz Borowski), for example, had been in Auschwitz, and witnessed and chose to survive by doing all that was required of him by his Nazi masters.

Perhaps souls like Borowski were simply harder to ensnare, and perhaps we in the West have been breeding monsters of ignorance who have now become ignorant monsters, and they are so sensitive they suffer like someone upon the rack if they but think of anyone who does not believe that the sum total of their knowledge (which could fit on a tiny packet of cards) for understanding and judging the past, present and future of the human race suffices for total emancipation.

For, let’s be real –ideologues typically enter into a state of apoplexy when someone challenges their diagnosis or remedies of a state of affairs which they designate as social injustice because they do not want anyone challenging their authority – the “injustice” is just a “trigger” (hence the need for trigger warnings) sending them into states of rage. This is not to deny the existence of social injustices; but today’s woke would not know how to identify, let alone fix, an injustice (for that would require thoughtfulness, and nuance) if it were ripping out their entrails.

When one reads Milosz, one is saddened by humans with characters and talents who were lost to communism, when one reads today’s woke journalists or academics or listens to the hysterical screaming of the kids demanding the world be what will make them feel safe (no police, for example, or no “whiteness”), the sadness is not in characters that have been lost, but in characters that have been malformed from the moment they could talk, and thus who have no notion of what it is to think.

The first wave of pesky Poles had often initially swallowed the poison of socialism. Milosz and Kolakowski had both had promising careers with the communist regime – Milosz was a cultural attaché in the United States and Paris, though falling foul of the party, he was able to find political asylum in France and then move to the United States. His Captive Mind was an early exposé of what communism did to the soul and it which quickly became a modern classic.

Kolakowski’s intellectual journey away from socialism was a far slower one – from believer to “revisionist,” during the so-called “Gomulka thaw,” when the Polish communist party itself was seeking for new ways to socialism, to disbeliever. As an exile, first in Montreal (where he taught at McGill) in 1968, Berkeley (University of California) in 1969, and then Oxford in 1970, he was free to philosophically engage in the two topics that seem to me (though I have not read his entire corpus) to be his major preoccupation: the metaphysical needs of the human spirit, and the disaster of Marxism as an “answer” to that need.

In the West he saw first-hand how the kinds of ideas that he had believed in in his youth were being recycled by the New Left. The irony was that Kolakowski himself had been something of an inspiration for the New Left. To them , and any others who were interested, Kolakowski would have to spell out what everyone (except a historically insignificant number of Trotsky supporters and the New Left) knew – Stalinism had Marxist roots a theme that would be developed at length in his magisterial three volume study Main Currents of Marxism (written between 1968 and 1976, and originally appearing in English in 1978).

Prior to that, in 1973, the English historian and anti-nuclear weapons activist, E. P. Thompson, had written an extremely long piece, “An Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski,” for The Socialist Register. Thompson was a pioneer of the British New Left, and a founder of the Marxist journal, The New Reasoner which would morph into the New Left Review. He had achieved some fame with his book of 1963, The Making of the English Working Class. I bought the book, as an earnest young man, some forty years ago, and while, it contains serious history which indicates what Thompson could have been without the romanticism and Marxism, it is, nevertheless, about as riveting as a trade union meeting. (Thompson liked Blake – and I love Blake – but sadly Marx ruined his mind and nothing of Blake’s poetic brilliance seeped into his writing.) I quote from its opening paragraphs to give you an idea of the kind of Marxist casuistry, doggerel and dogma that cluttered his mind:

“This book has a clumsy title, but it is one which meets its purpose. Making, because it is a study in an active process, which owes as much to agency as to conditioning. The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making. Class, rather than classes, for reasons which it is one purpose of this book to examine. There is, of course, a difference. “Working classes” is a descriptive term, which evades as much as it defines. It ties loosely together a bundle of discrete phenomena. There were tailors here and weavers there, and together they make up the working classes. By class I understand an historical phenomenon, unifying a number of disparate and seemingly unconnected events, both in the raw material of experience and in consciousness. I emphasise that it is an historical phenomenon. I do not see class as a “structure”, nor even as a “category”, but as something which in fact happens (and can be shown to have happened) in human relationships.”

Hello! Are you still there?

In 1978, the bit about not seeing class as a structure would become the source of a theoretical dispute between him and the French structuralist Marxist Louis Althusser – he who strangled his, equally mentally disturbed, wife. Althusser even wrote a book about it, in which he revealed that his Mum was at the root all those problems in his life that capitalism was not to blame for – i.e. whatever part of his mind and soul Marx had not destroyed was finished off by Freud.

In any case, before Althusser was a garden variety philosophical wife-strangler (and funnily enough this domestic act did not irrevocably damage his brand with Marxist feminists), and an ex-asylum inmate roaming the Parisian streets in his pyjamas exclaiming, “I am the great Althusser,” he was the epitome of Parisian Marxist cool – close to the trés cool Derrida and Foucault – and hence a leading light for those wanting to lead the rest of us poor saps into a world free from the murderousness of private property.

The Althusser-Thompson dispute was a dreadfully tedious piece of rationalism, in which Thompson ostensibly defended Marxism as empiricism. To be fair, in the windbaggery department Althusser was a veritable Zeppelin in comparison to Thompson’s mere hot air balloon, and, to change metaphors, in the great Marxist “bake-off,” it was a rather drab English mince-pie, albeit garnished with some slices of wit, versus a delicate Parisian soufflé – light, with an airy texture that requires years and years of dedication to understanding how to generate enough hot air by merely blowing long and hard enough into one’s selected chosen ingredients – a little Marx, tossed with a dollop of Lenin, and throw in a pinch of Spinoza: voilà who would need to know anything more.

Long before this and even before the Open Letter, Kolakowski, who I suspect was more given to blintz than soufflé, did a review of Althusser in the 1971 issue of The Socialist Register. It concluded that Althusser amounted to “empty verbosity which … can be reduced either to common sense trivialities in new verbal disguise.” I mention this just to give those readers who were not there a picture of what was passing for serious thought among Marxist intellectuals when Kolakowski was teaching at Oxford, and around the time Thompson’s “Open Letter” was published.

The major purpose of the hundred-page Letter was to express Thompson’s personal “sense of injury and betrayal” that Kolakowski had left the team. In the typical self-congratulatory moral tones that have become the hallmark of the post-Stalinist left, Thompson instructed Kolakowski that he did not affirm his allegiance to the Communist Party (though he never realized that he did not need to do so to be their stooge in the nuclear disarmament campaign) – he was committed to the “Communist movement in its humanist potential.”

Even such a rhetorical gem – in an attempt to ingratiate himself with Kolakowski – as “Communism was a complex noun which included Leszek Kolakowski” could not conceal the fact that Thompson, for all his reading and historical digging, was a know-all and hence, in spite of all his learnedness, was another Western useful idiot. Thus, the irony in the title of Kolakowski’s “rejoinder” to Thompson: My Correct Views on Everything. For what is obvious to anyone who reads My Correct Views is that Thompson, whose Open Letter the Marxist critic Raymond Williams himself (most tellingly) calls “one of the best Leftist pieces of Leftist writing in the last decade” (one can only imagine how bad the others were) is an “embarras de richesses” of clichés and abstract vacuities, expressing a depth of moral self-delusion that enables Thompson to glide over the true suffering of people living in a system that politically ensures a society without private property. Thus, he is able to write with a great sweep of his quill that “to a historian, fifty years is too short a time to judge a new social system.” Kolakowski, as one might expect, does not let this pass. But the real strength of Kolakowski’s rejoinder is in his own admission of modesty:

“I share without restrictions your (and Marx’s, and Shakespeare’s, and many others’) analysis to the effect that it is very deplorable that people’s minds are occupied with the endless pursuit of money, that needs have a magic power of infinite growth and that the profit motive, not use value, rules production. Your superiority consists in that you know exactly how to get rid of all this and I do not.”

Near the conclusion of the rejoinder, Kolakowski takes up this theme of the complexity of the problem when he writes:

“This does not mean that socialism is a dead option. I do not think it is. But I do think that this option was destroyed not only by the experience of socialist states, but because of the self-confidence of its adherents, by their inability to face both the limits of our efforts to change society and the incompatibility of the demands and values which made up their creed. In short, that the meaning of this option has to be revised entirely, from the very roots.”

As excellent as Kolakowski’s three volume analysis of Marxism was, not least for addressing the spiritual longing that reside within its materialist heart – thus for Kolakowski, understanding Marxism requires thinking about Plotinus, Meister Eckart, Jacob Böhme, and Nicholas Cusa as well as the usual philosophical suspects of German idealism and the young Hegelians – it did not halt the Gramscian inflexion that had taken hold of British Marxism. That was mainly thanks to the New Left Review which had been translating Gramsci and hence introducing him to British intellectuals. Though by then Thompson had fallen foul of the far slicker and more theoretically savvy Perry Anderson and his faction within the New Left Review.

Also, sadly for the battle that Kolakowski was fighting, Althusser was but one of the Parisians who were to 1968 what the young Hegelians had been to 1844-48. A slew of “radical chicsters” were sexing up a philosophical, literary and sociological potpourri of Marx peppered with dollops of de Sade, and Nietzsche and sprigs of Heidegger – they were attacking totalizing narratives, and embracing the emancipatory potential of the marginals (Foucault extended his emancipatory largess from prisoners to paedophiles), who were deployed in the grand game of leading us to emancipation.

So. while Kolakowski was providing a lengthy and perceptive analysis of how the gulag gruel of communism came to be, the game plan had changed and the New Left were in the process of dropping the workers for any other group that could be construed as a minority. Old style British Marxists naturally enough were not so hot about all this – after all they (at least the serious ones) had wracked their brains over the three volumes of Capital, the Grundrisse, and the six volumes of Theories of Surplus Value – and they fought a losing battle against the French post-structuralists over who would be the hegemons of the university and the new society at large.

The theoretical disputes mattered as little in the late 1960s and 1970s as the disputes within and between Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries had mattered prior to the breakup of the Russian empire – what mattered was that a generation of educated young people with all their radical certitudes (in all their diversity) about power, oppression, capitalism, Eurocentrism and the panoply of social injustices and victims they would rescue were catapulted into positions of pedagogical authority by a society wishing to reproduce itself through educating its professionals. The Soviets knew exactly what was going on – for it was a replay of the process that had, albeit with the catalyst of the Great War, led to the demise of the Tzar, and were able to fuel the youthful arrogance of the class they could count onto hand them a (too belated) victory.

Kolakowski, though, could do nothing to stop this, any more than he could have stopped a flood with an umbrella – he was not only of the wrong generation, but on the wrong side of historical experience. He was the past and a man of considerable experience about the nature of communism. But it was the generation who saw themselves as being of the future who were indeed making the future– and their sense of experience was generally (with the exception of the casualties of the Vietnam war in the US and Australasia) one of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and educational and job opportunities.

Even when the economic impediments of the 1970s kicked in, the model of mass education for social reproduction had been set, and then it was just a matter of time before the curriculum had been so politicized that the universities would become what they are now – managerially administered industrial sites for the making of a compliant globalist workforce shorn of the old bulwarks of sociality from the family, to the church, to the nation, and refabricated on the basis of race, gender and sexual preference.

Apart from Kolakowski, Milosz and Wat, trying to get Westerners to see the how, what and why of totalitarianism, the Polish historian Andrezj Walicki, especially his writings A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism (1979), and Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of Communism (1995) provided an in-depth critique not only of Marxism, and its development but of the various ideological dreamings that helped turn Russia and its Soviet empire and satellites into a world that reflected back what designs of perfection actually deliver.

More to the point, the class of intellectuals in the West who might have benefitted from historical knowledge about the intellectual product of communism were not that interested in such writers or their diagnosis. Sadly, then, there was no contest, for the young professors and students, between Derrida/ Foucault versus Walicki /or Kolakowski –the former were superstars (and they were clever in the same way that a kid that can count to a hundred in Latin, balancing a stick on the end of his nose while juggling bunny rabbits for a while is clever), while the latter really knew they were talking about, especially when it came to how ideas of absolute liberty, and equality and the end of oppression would turn out.

But the professors and their students were interested in identifying all the things they were sure they could fix, not with learning about how little they actually knew. Ambition, arrogance, rhetoric, formulae, facileness, slogans – indeed the exact same ingredients of self-making that had been the brew and bake of the old left, was the brew and bake of the new left. Men like Kolakowski, Walicki, Milosz, Wat were voices for such old virtues as humility in the face of historical complexity and the need to accept the limits of human achievement and the inevitability of error, weakness and ignorance.

Around much the same time, as Kolakowski was starting his life in the West, another Polish writer and refugee from communism, Leopold Tyrmand, who had written a modern anti-totalitarian classic setting down the routines of communist daily life, The Rosa Luxemburg Contraceptives Cooperative: A Primer on Communist Civilization (1972), also (Notebooks of a Dilettante [1970]) reported that at a dinner party in America “a distinguished Negro writer” asked him what percentage of the population would vote anti-Communist if there were free elections in an Eastern European country.

When Tyrmand responded that, if the elections were really free and all positions could be presented, and if there were no fear of persecution, then it would be about 85 percent, the writer responded, “I don’t believe it”- a little later exclaiming more heatedly, when Tyrmand tried to explain how things worked in Poland: “It’s impossible! It’s against any logic!” And that really is the point: people who have no knowledge about something are convinced they do, provided they think it is the kind of thing they think is of political importance.

This is what ideology and education do. This is what the captive mind is. But in Milosz’ work of that title, minds were generally captured by circumstances harrowing, fearful and brutal enough to draw out a certain weakness of the soul. But today in the West it is liberty itself that has exposed the weaknesses of soul that now presides over the political and social institutions of the West. And whilst there are some fine diagnosticians of the current and very likely fatal pathology of the West, two Polish authors, Ryzsard Legutko, and Zbigniew Janowski have written works that take us into the heart of the matter.

3. Exposing The Dialectic of Totalitarian Freedom

When Hannah Arendt wrote what would become a class of political science, The Origins of Totalitarianism, liberal democracy was considered to be a form of government in which the state had clear identifiable limits. This distinction between a state that had limitations and freedom was not just a theoretical one – people wanting to escape from the control of the state and a particular ideology had, if they could manage to get there; somewhere to escape to.

Thus, it was that a number people, including the Polish intellectuals mentioned above, who could not stand the lack of freedom, the brutality, the ideological imbecility, the incessant brainwashing and ludicrous lies of communism fled to the West. It was much the same for people escaping from Nazi Germany – though the poor bastard communists who escaped from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union were frequently caught up in the anti-foreign campaign of the great purge and all too often found themselves in gulags or simply before a firing squad. One of the distinctive insights of Arendt’s book was her argument that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man did not serve as a means to prevent the rise of forces that would lead to totalitarianism, but rather exposed groups of people who lay outside the protection of the nation and thereby found themselves as victims of persecution within the nation.

This insight of Arendt’s is a good example of how an idea, or principle may develop into its opposite. And although Marxists generally loved to talk of dialectics, anyone who really thought dialectically could see that Marxism was a power for the extinction of all classes and ideological enemies that were perceived as obstacles to those who lived off the narrative that they enforced on others. That is, it was simply a will to power of a bunch of people who thought they knew how to rule their world to get what they wanted – which they think everybody wants – no private property, and no religion etc. for example.

One might say that the reason for this is that the dialectic that transpired was between the willfulness of a group wanting their world to be a certain way and the stubbornness of the world (i.e. lots of other people) to resist that way. The problem has to do with ideology itself. For reality (including real human beings) refuses to simply yield to abstractions that only exist due to not taking into account those parts of reality that the subject or knower simply has no inkling of or care for. Communism was just one example of that failure. Fascism was another. And liberalism is yet another.

Liberalism, though, has been somewhat slower in revealing its totalitarian essence (though some – to take three very different kinds of people – like de Maistre, Tocqueville, and Newman clearly saw its weaknesses), and, unlike Fascism and Communism, its shortcoming did not require death or labour camps. But the time of revelation is now upon us. Would that it were not the case – would that liberty could prevail over all else. But it cannot, for liberty is a concept of some complexity, and even then, it is, at best, only an aspect of a life, and when we seek to make any aspect of life the essence or condition of life – we mess up.

Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy, and The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols, and Zbiegniew Janowski’s Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America examine the mess.

Part of the mess simply comes from ideology itself – the desire to simplify the complexities of the real to conform to a narrative, pattern of policy and legislation and the institutions of social reproduction which will solve our most pressing problems. The problems of political obligation, of who has the right to decree what must be done to whom, and who must be followed in order keep the peace between members of the social body, are perennial.

Problems between “groups” and within them have led to a relatively limited number of solutions – this is because the problems are very similar as are the means for solving them: someone or few must make decisions that the community must comply with, there must be some way of passing on succession etc. In this respect all “political” organization is inevitably hierarchical and elite-based–obviously how the elite is selected and what is expected of them varies significantly.

Historically, that elite had evolved out of the power they displayed – usually this display was exhibited on the battlefield, though power to engage the gods was always another aspect involved in the power formation and distribution of the society. Monarchy and aristocracy are generally and essentially derived from military victory, and the power of the monarch is also derived from capacity to command the requisite alliances that sustain the peace between potential contesting powers.

Although Plato and Aristotle had envisaged a kind of political order based upon the best ideas and insights that could organize a society – until modern times this was merely a philosophical pipedream. But modernity itself, in its technological and administrative and economic and political innovations is inseparable from the emergence of a new elite, whose bread-and-butter was (as the philosopher John Locke called it) “the way of ideas.”

As the number of people appealing to and living off ideas spread the entire way of understanding political authority changed. Modern social contract theory was one symptom of the change – for each of the contract theorists envisaged a rational reconstruction of the origins of social and political development. More important than the fact that a handful of philosophers were writing about the rational foundations of society and political authority was the fact that a public who were interested in discussing ideas generally, and, more specifically, how a society should be organized was developing.

The tensions between the Americans and the British crown provided the opportunity for a relatively small group of educated men to draft a new political order in a world relatively unencumbered by past vestiges of authority, that would in turn inspire a class in a part of the old world able to find its moment in the ruins of a financial and social breakdown that it had helped on its way. For good and bad, France, albeit initially for only a relatively brief time, had provided the old world with a new way of doing and speaking about political authority.

For all the chaos of the French revolution, and the geopolitical consequences that it triggered, politics and ideology became increasingly entangled. The history of the very word ideology comes from one of the revolution’s great survivors, a philosopher and political economist, Destutt de Tracy. That is, politics became not only something that concerned people interested in ideas, it itself became equivalent to a practice which primarily required getting the right ideas to fit a world which would conform to the ideas that its educated elite had about it. There were ideological differences between different thinkers and members of the public, but thinking of politics as a political matter was becoming increasingly commonplace, so that political choices were invariably ideological choices.

This is the background against which Legutko’s book needs to be read. For the young students and staff who tried to prevent him talking at Middlebury are so sadly ignorant of where they fit within the larger forces that have bred them that they simply dismiss him as a conservative -i.e., they reduce him to an ideology – whilst seeing themselves as the guardians of freedom and justice and human decency.

The operative word though is that they are guardians, and they guard what they think, which is all too little to do justice to the scale of the problems we can divide between the perennial and the peculiarly modern. Were they aware of that, the first idea they would have to dispense with, apart from their own faith in their knowledge, is that the kinds of problems that all people including modern people inherit and generate do not all have a neat – if indeed any – solution.

The idea that there is a political pattern with a happy ending, a pattern that politically eliminates the tragic features of life is completely crazy – and even non-religious people, who are thoughtful, should be able to appreciate that one benefit of believing in the after-life is that we do not become burdened by things we cannot achieve – nor completely delusional about our capacities to do what only a God would have the power to do such as see how all things fit together. (Which is why of all the metaphysicians, I have always had a soft spot for Leibniz).

Not surprisingly, people who think they know how things all fit, and hence how to politically solve our problems tend to be very similar – irrespective of their particular ideological convictions. One is reminded of the French fascist author Drieu de la Rochelle agonizing about which team to choose as there was so little real difference between them.

In terms of his reputation, he chose the wrong one, his friend Malraux the acceptable one – but both chose murderous regimes. In terms of the character of the people who are drawn to become ideologically and politically involved Legutko observes of the transition in Poland from communism to liberal democracy how swiftly “former members of the Communist party adapted themselves perfectly to liberal democracy, its mechanisms, and the entire ideological interpretation that accompanied these mechanisms. Soon they even joined the ranks of the guardians of the new orthodoxy.” This is because they were first and foremost guardians, and in this respect no different from the Western politician who immediately adapts the ideological ideas to political realities that he must confront.

While guardians can quickly switch ideologies, today they are programmed to think ideologically. And, for me, the power of Legutko’s analysis lies in his recognition of the depth of the problem of ideology itself. For while during the Second World War, or the Cold War liberal democracy looked – and indeed was – so much better than the alternatives, the fact remains that it rests upon abstractions such as freedom and equality which, if taken as things in themselves, are not only socially damaging, but which also contribute to the elimination not only of actual freedoms, but of aspects of sociality which are intrinsic to humans convivially cooperating and bonding across time. Thus, the kind of love a parent has for its child, or that exists between husband and wife, and even between friends simply cannot be fathomed if we think exclusively in terms of qualities like freedom and/ or equality. Living relationships are intrinsically and necessarily sacrificial.

The broken families that litter the liberal democratic world, are testimony to the triumph of liberty in the formation of relationships, but they are also symptomatic of the problems that befall a society in which the sacrificial is ousted by a mélange of pleasure, comfort and abstraction. Where the problem of broken families makes itself most conspicuous is where the material resources which, though no surrogate for love, enable other forms of communal engagement are lacking – that is among the poorest sections of the society.

Being from privileged backgrounds or at least being able to access resources which gave them opportunities that those dwelling in ghettoes do not have, the Middlebury brats threatening to silence Legutko were particularly outraged by his diagnosis of the damage done by the sexual revolution, warnings against marriage break-down and abortion. For the ideologue such warnings must be ideologically dismissed because they are conservative.

But the truth, of Legutko’s warning, is palpable amongst the American blacks, that is amongst the class which these imbecilic brats claim to somehow speak for and represent, along with single mothers from the white underclass whose domestic life is so frequently one of violence at the hands of men who move in with them when it is convenient to do so, and out as soon as a better opportunity arises. (More’s the pity that most students who study the social sciences and humanities would have no idea of the writings of Theodor Dalrymple aka Anthony Daniels).

It is sheer thoughtlessness that could lead one to think that freedom is a panacea for solving the kinds of problems that can only be dealt with by foregoing freedom, by accepting sacrifice – and the sacrifice that is paid for by single mothers, abandoned by the children’s fathers confirms the dialectical entanglement in which freedom frequently generates its opposite.

Thus, it is that Legutko, and this is also true of Janowski, which has also led him to track down J.S. Mill’s complicity in this madness, warns his readers that the breakup of the world into the seekers and enemies of freedom is ridiculous.

As indicated by the subtitle of the Freedom book Legutko recognizes that liberal democracy’s promise of salvation is idolatrous. It is not that liberty does not have its place amongst those aspects of the human spirit that give meaning and value in a life or to a collective, but an aspect is not a god. The endless search for the realization of liberty ultimately becomes a tearing down of the social and personal dwellings of the spirit that give it a purposeful sense of place.

The cloud of the abstract replaces the solidity of real relationships, with their compromises and imperfections, and the regular routine duties which are the condition of their nourishment. Liberty today has become indistinguishable from the short-lived thrill of a sexual encounter – “the sexual revolution,” says Legutko, “is arguably the most extreme manifestation of the episodic nature of man.” That something as ephemeral as the sex act can become the basis of an identity to be used as a foundation for the structuring of society – thus requiring an endless array of writings and university courses about its importance – is indicative of a people infantilizing, and pleasuring its way into hell.

Progressives think that their virtue will not only spare them this fate, but will contribute to them creating very heaven. But these are people whose “virtue” has no benign existential bearing, nor even basic moral bearing in so far as they are members of a class whose power is predicated upon the narrative they learn, conform to, preach, and protect at all cost.

Hence, diversity, identity, equity and such like are the institutional paper currency of the will to power of a poorly educated, highly ambitious, envious, and endlessly egocentric elite who base everything upon identity and representation because they are so devoid of any real self. Their freedom is their emptiness – and their creation, as Legutko, names one chapter in his Freedom book, is “the wretched world of absolute freedom.” Such freedom is what Isaiah Berlin had defended as “negative freedom” in “Two Concepts of Liberty.” And when communism was offering something that was positively revolting, negative freedom looked like it had much going for it. Thus, Berlin’s essay, which Legutko had once considered to be inspirational, now appears to Legutko, merely a “collection of platitudes and falsehoods.”

For Legutko, far from being an ideal that was self-explanatory and invaluable, freedom has proven to be a philosophical problem – and in the West it has “got into the hands and minds of dogmatists who turned it first into a rigid, ultimately fruitless formula, and then into an ideological tool to promote a liberal model of society that I found increasingly dubious.”

The problem that has been revealed to anyone with eyes to see is the problem that “once one particular group’s freedom is confused with the legal framework of freedom, then the language of freedom is likely to become mendacious” – and that is exactly what has happened over the last two generations or so in the Western world. In an essay in the first volume of Janoswki’s collected edition of writings by J.S. Mill, Legutko had pointed out how the harm principle simply becomes the means for a group wanting to entrench practices previously considered socially undesirable making the mores, that had been intrinsic to social development, a pariah position – as has happened now with the dismantling of the traditional family and its roles.

The great myth of liberalism is that everyone’s freedom can be maximized – so as Legutko puts it – it is a society that would resemble “a department store in which everything is offered, everyone can find what they want, no one feels undeserved, one can change one’s preferences, and even the most selective desires can be satisfied.”

Peoples that were once enemies now get along swimmingly well because all get what they want – hey you can get the burka, and I can get the bikini briefs that best display my twerk – provided, of course, the submit to the rules, which require a severe surgical reconstruction of what one actually wants. This is the squared circle of a society, one in which two fundamentally incompatible loyalties – loyalty to one’s own community, and loyalty to an infinitely open system – are falsely seen as both desirable and achievable.

I used the word myth above, but the myth is really little more than a lie. And the chaos of the Western world is in large part the result of the exposure of the lie as lie, which has brought out the savage and tyrannical reaction of the “de facto rulers, educators, ideologues, guardians, and censors for all members of the society.” That chaos has been facilitated, in no small part, by the elevation of such abstractions as “human rights” which simply enable the proliferation of claimants for conditions which someone has to supply, and recognition for qualities and behaviour which someone has to give, which only fuel the expansion of a class who control not only actions, but words, and thoughts right down to which pronouns are permissible.

Against the modern doctrinal approach to freedom that has been enwrapped in a dialectic of tyranny, Legutko, drawing upon Aristotle and Plato, defends a more nuanced and classically developed notion of freedom that moves from the unlimited and unconstrained idea of freedom of a self with its vacuous sense of dignity and hedonistic drives to an understanding of the self as requiring an inner strength that results from cultivating the virtues and hence taking on the sacrifices that are the precondition of those virtues.

In Plato and Aristotle freedom as such was never a virtue, rather it is a quality of the self that is an out-growth of the development of the virtues. Readers familiar with Aristotle will recall his famous distinction between those who are slaves by nature and those who may through circumstances fall into slavery, which is suggestive of freedom being as much a disposition and not simply a legal or political one.

In this sense the classical position offers a stark reminder of how mistaken modern philosophy has been in taking abstract political goals and abstract characteristics as sufficient in themselves, whilst failing to take into account the cultivation of the self through service and obligation. Legutko reflects upon the positive freedom to be found in such lives as the philosopher, the entrepreneur, the artist and “aristocrat,” whilst drawing his reader’s attention to how each type easily becomes distorted in its modern formation because the modern self is based upon an original fundamental failure to understand not only the soul and its needs, but how the failure to cultivate its development results in the kind of mess we inhabit.

It is the lack of cultivation of free inner selves that Legutko identifies as what has been lost in the obsession with emancipation that has only emptiness as its goal. Near the conclusion of the Cunning of Freedom Legutko observes – “Living is a constant process of making sense of what’s finite in the light of what’s infinite, and of what’s contingent in the light of what’s absolute.”

The West’s tragedy is, in part at least, the ruin that comes from a failure not only to understand the laws of the spirit, but from the ideological spread of a way of thinking and being, in which those laws are buried under the weight of the finite’s own self obsession and delusions about its infinitude.

What we now have is a great mass of deluded selves constituting a pyramid presided over by the emptiest and most deluded, by the people who claim to know the All that needs to be known (the infinite as such), but who in fact know next to nothing about themselves or the world.

One only has to think of the fact that the academic study of literature in the most prestigious universities in the world does not teach how to better fathom human lives, souls, and characters, with their respective trials, circumstances, fatalities, triumphs and defeats, virtues and flaws, but to read texts as ciphers of power relations constituted by identity types. Professors and students endlessly repeat Althusser’s view of the social world as consisting of subject-less structural “bearers” in the grim and endless identity struggles for “emancipation.”

While the word emancipation is a void, defined by nothing more than the absence of oppression, we may glean some meaning of the word from the common French post-structuralist alignment of Sade (with his gargantuan mechanics of death for the pleasure of the killers), Nietzsche (with his fantasy of higher men and supermen who are beyond good and evil and are the creators of value), and Marx (with his view of unalienated life being bound up with our labouring cooperative essence).

As a vision statement it looks (in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten) ‘”Pretty Vacant,” but that is the point. For what we are witnessing now is a carbon copy of Russian’s nineteenth century with its alliance of intelligentsia and students: the complete preoccupation with emancipation and the dehumanization of any who impede their “emancipation.”

Thus, the meaning of life is read exclusively in terms of unequal power relations, and the dyadic norms that they see as all important – oppressor/ oppressed, privilege/ equity, inclusiveness/ exclusiveness, whiteness/ non-whiteness, diversity/ lack of diversity, rich/ poor, cisgender/sexual fluidity. In what became the Soviet Union, once the politicized Russian intelligentsia successfully broke down and then took control of all social and political institutions, they moved from having dehumanized their enemy (those on the wrong side of the normative dyad) into a phase of extermination.

It is the first phase of the totalitarian reality of the United States today that is the subject of Janowski’s Homo Americanus, a searing indictment of how every-day and valuable freedoms in the United States – especially the freedom to “openly or publicly” express “opinions which are not in conformity” with “what the majority considers acceptable at the moment” have become suffocated by a surfeit of democratic intrusions, into “virtually all aspects of man’s existence.”

Though it is not so much the opinions which the majority hold, but the opinions which the majority of the elite hold that are the problem. This is one of two instances where I think Janowski mistakes the sentiments and ideas that circulate amongst the ideas brokers in the US with the majority of the population.

The other is in the opening sentence, “Only few Americans seem to understand that we, here in the United States, are living in a totalitarian reality, or one that is quickly approaching it” strikes a note of warning. But given that now almost half the country believe that their president was not elected, were Janowski’s book more widely publicized I think it would have a huge audience. These are trivial matters in a book that I think is as relevant to today as Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind was a generation ago – though I think Janowski’s diagnosis is far sharper, and not given to the kind of (Straussian) idiosyncrasies that make Bloom’s version of history look like a library shelf.

Perhaps the sentence that best sums up Janowski’s “thesis” is: “The anti- communist opposition, just like Western political scientists, did not understand that 1989 was not a moment of liberation, but the moment when one collectivist ideology (communism) was replaced by another collectivist ideology (democracy).” I think this is a brilliant insight into the historically complex and dialectical entanglements which may help us identify the vast expansion of democracy beyond “its electoral confines” so that today “Equality is our New Faith.”

Although it is indicative of the high speed of acceleration occurring right now, as this elite program steam rolls over all resistance, that the word equality is viewed with less favour than it was even last year, when Janowski was still writing the book: for now, the New Word/Faith is Equity. Though, Homo Americanus is not so much an argument for this claim as a testimony of it. And for all the many authors Janowski engages with to depict the tragedy he is witnessing, the writing reminded me of none so much as Joseph Roth who chronicled the rising historically unstoppable evil of Nazism. St. Augustine’s Press are to be congratulated for publishing a book that is so urgently needed and yet so out of step with the pre-occupations and obsessions of mainstream academia today.

Nevertheless, the fact that it is a small independent (albeit quality) publisher that has taken on Homo Americanus rather than a major academic or commercial publisher is indicative of the times. For it would never have got through the gatekeeping staff within the major presses, who simply cannot get enough books on sexual or (non-white) racial identity, oppression, and emancipation. Mainstream publishing today is generally committed to ensuring that the USA follow its elite headlong into oblivion.

And it is doing so apace. For in less than a decade it has gone from the world’s leading democracy and global superpower, attempting to preserve free societies from their totalitarian enemies (sure they would, when forced to choose, support their dictators), into a country (is it, in any meaningful sense, a nation?) in which ideological imbeciles are not only elected but set the social and political agenda for the next two or three generations.

It is now a society of what Janowski calls “communist liberalism,” a society in which the media can brazenly close down stories which do not suit its political objectives (does anyone remember Hunter?), whilst manufacturing ones that do (I note that Russia-gate was just given a reboot the day I was writing this sentence by The Guardian). It has gone from being a society in which freedom of speech was widely valued as unnegotiable into being interpreted as a means of ensconcing white privilege.

It is a society which once schooled the finest minds of the Western world to encourage considered deliberation about the problems that must be confronted for the survival and betterment of a democratic society, a society which once protected (even if did not adequately value) independence of thought. It is a society that once could benefit from its social and political tensions by opening up new pathways of conviviality and community building.

Now it is a society in which every disagreement is but an occasion for expanding the endemic of the inimical, a society in which families and friends can no longer agree to disagree, where someone cannot be allowed to say what he thinks he sees – nor even deviate from the formulae of articulation that has elite consensual approval.

It is a society that regards those, like Janowski and Legutko, who warn about the perilous condition of the USA, as pariahs and enemies – terms such as “right wing” or “conspiracy theorist” now are loosely thrown about to dehumanize and delegitimize anyone who is not on board with whatever the consensus of the moment is.

It is a society in which freedom of speech is not even allowed in schools, or universities or upon the technological platforms which have become the most important source of public assembly in the twenty-first century – and which have rapidly become sources of surveillance and snitching upon those deemed politically undesirable.

Janowski’s diagnosis is a tour de force of the shrunken and sick soul that the United States has been cultivating for decades. Although Janowski was not merely a traveller to the US, the book has much in common with Tocqueville’s Democracy in America – a work Janowski draws upon frequently in Homo Americanus -, for it provides an optic of the outsider that can see the strangeness of things Americans take for granted as being what every sensible person thinks or does. In 1835 – the year that the first volume of Democracy in America appeared – Tocqueville expressed his admiration of the American experiment while also expressing warnings and criticisms of the dangers it posed for the individual and the collective.

Having become such an economic and military power, even in the relatively recent past it may have been easy to consider Tocqueville’s fear unwarranted – they weren’t. But what Tocqueville saw as ailments that were still in their incipient phase, are now totally debilitating derangements of the soul and collective. Take, for example, the following observation of Janowski that America is:

“a place where everyone is afraid of something or someone: the gays are driven by fear of straight people; the transgendered boys and girls by fear of rejection from natural boys and girls; blacks by fear of whites, whites by fear of blacks, women by fear of men, Americans by fear of foreigners, illegal immigrants by fear of Americans and the American Justice system, liberals by fear of “white supremacists,” and so on. The list seems to be endless. And their fears are presented by the activists as socio-economic and political programs.”

Or,

“We hear on a daily basis the expression “war on […],”as in the “war on terror,” “war on drugs,” “war on cancer,” “war on obesity,” “war on smoking,” “war on fats,” and so on. Another term, belonging to the same militaristic family, is “survivor,” as in “cancer survivor,” “abuse survivor,” “date rape survivor,” “assault survivor,” and so on. Signs with the word “zone,” such as “Hate-speech free zone,” “Smoke-free zone,” “Drug-free zone,” “Alcoholfree zone,” “Stress-free zone,” and “guns-free zone,” make the world appear to be a mine-field, with places that are safe and those that are not, and in order to survive in it, one has to be truly vigilant. …Universities offer phone apps so that potential victims can press a button and be saved from danger. Being constantly bombarded by the words “war,” “zone,” “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and “survivor” must have a psychological effect, as it likely creates a sense of threat even though it is rare that these threats are real.”

Thus, as Janowski also rightly observes: “Politics is not seen as a way of resolving conflicting interests, in which some groups win and others lose, or abandon some of their high-minded aspirations and lower their sails, moving onto problems which people with expertise can solve. The political realm looks like a spider-web created by loud fearmongers in which the rest of us are expected to entangle ourselves.”

As I have said repeatedly, this can only be gold for the geopolitical enemies of the USA is something so obvious yet so obviously ungraspable for the US elite and leaders of its intelligence agencies and military that one cannot help but feel the curtain has already come down – because there is no spirit of a nation left worth protecting.

At one point, Janowski notes of Homo Americanus – his “goal in life is to meet the demands of a purely rational social organization, devoid of eccentricity, individuality, spontaneity, and thereby life” – which is true, but what constitutes rationality in this world is one in which reason has completely been engulfed by feelings, and feelings by phobias, and phobias generated by a self whose real historical substance has been drained by an abstract and empty axiomatic ideal of equality/equity. Homo Americanus is:

“culturally impoverished, and his knowledge of other cultures is limited to occasional visits to ethnic restaurants. Any attempt to make him rooted in national tradition—through education, habits, and social mores—is seen as an onslaught on his thin identity. He even invented his own language of defense against becoming educated, that is, against the acquisition of a thick cultural identity. It is the language of “safe-spaces” and “trigger warnings.” It alarms him that there are others who claim strong cultural identity, that there are works of literature, philosophy, and art which were written from a specific perspective. Because he is not outer-directed, or is too afraid of facing the challenge of being in a world that he did not create, he builds his identity on the only thing he has— namely, his biology or sexuality, with which he experiments and which he believes can sustain him psychologically and culturally.8 His so-called culture is not part of long history of human experience that stretches to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Medievals, and others; it is a fragmented and arbitrary concoction of names and attitudes taken from different time periods and cultures. But even here, we encounter a new problem. His history is often simply made up—fictitious and of mythological rather than historical nature. It is easy to see that such a concept of identity has no continuous cultural history, and as such it must be hostile to any and every culture rich in records.”

That the malnourished selves are on a such a zombie-like rampage seeking to fill their lives with meaning should be no surprise. For people will do literally anything, believe anything to fill the void of meaning in their lives. All healthy cultures transmit spiritual meaning between generations.

In the US, though, where the traditional sites of spiritual transmission – the family and religion – are construed by its elite as oppressive, and where the young who go to college are inducted into a value system requiring abeyance to abstract moral ideals which ostensibly provide the key to social perfection, complete faith in their ability to fix all the wrongs of a hateful world, total shame, if white, in their traditions (which, curiously, is now commonly considered a racial phenomenon – if the US college is anything to go by, the Nazis seem to have won the day on that stupid idea).

These idols of self, “reason,” and morality are idols of death – which is why so many zombified college youth felt so alive last summer when they got to hang out with the black underclass and pillaged, looted, screamed and watched things burn so that they could at least feel – alive.

A famished spirit is as indiscriminate as a famished stomach. The feeling of least resistance is always pleasure. And hence if sex can be unmoored from the more traditional strictures as occurred in the 1960s then the starving spirit may find momentarily relief from its anomie, alienation and despair (at one point Janoswki notes that the US has the highest depression rate in the world).

Sex might be a quick release, but it also has other consequences from new life to disease and death, from joy to guilt, regret and jealousy to mental break-down and suicide, from a wedding to the break-up of families, a sexual act can topple a government and bring a kingdom to its ruin, – all of which are why traditional societies – even those like the Greeks and Romans (check out the harshness of their adultery laws), which seem to be so much freer than Christian societies have generally been extremely cautious about the rules and regulations surrounding sex. But, as Janowski correctly observes, in US Colleges,

“students show up in classes with T-shirts or with pins (the size of a hand-palm) on which it is written: “Consent is Sexy” (worn mostly by young men) and “I love Female Orgasm” (worn by young women). They are made to participate unconsciously in an ideological campaign, whose emotionally detrimental effects for their lives they are completely unaware. Knowledge of “how to do it,” taught by the “sex-masters” with college degrees, is a new rite of passage with which colleges send their graduates to the workplace. There they deepen their initiation into the American Brave New World by taking mandatory “sexual harassment training” and “sensitivity training.'”

One notes here the means in which the bodily pursuit though seemingly the objective of fulfilment is subordinate to the ideological – which for Homo Americanus today is the spirit in itself.

That sex features in such a conflicted and ideologically twisted way in the lives of Homo Americanus is evident in all manner of ways, from the hyper-sexualisation of children, to the gyrating, twerking of barely clothed nubile young women at sports events attended by families with small children, to an obsession with sexual harassment to the extent that now being a sexual harassment officer is a career, to a culture which encourages child masturbation and openness to consider non hetero-sexual relations as life style choices, to one in which sex has to be construed in terms of the nature of the power relationships involved between the parties, to tortured attempts to identify what exactly consent involves, especially when large amounts of alcohol has been imbibed, to cases of young women regretting their casual hook-ups and making false accusations of rape. Two examples provided by Janowski, which a number of readers may remember, well illustrate simply how insane the culture in the US has become when it comes to sex:

“Several years ago, we learned about two six-year-old boys—H. Y., from Canon City, Colorado and M D., from Aurora, Colorado—who were accused of sexual harassment. H.Y. was accused of kissing a girl (his age) on the hand; M.D. for singing a line from an LMFAO song, ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It,’ to a female classmate while waiting in the lunch line. The cases were considered to be of national importance judging by the fact that they were reported in The Washington Post and on national radio.
If you think this is crazy, hold on! Victoria Brooks, lecturer in law at the University of Westminster, rushed to defend Samantha against inhuman treatment when several of her fingers were broken. Samantha, it turns out, is a sex doll who ‘worked’ in a brothel in Barcelona. Human rights activists now want sex-dolls to be endowed with a consent chip. ‘It is a step toward a consent-oriented approach to sex dolls.'”

The extension of democracy into everyday life has occurred in tandem with the democratization of institutions whose historical value lay in cultivating noble qualities i.e., qualities that were decisively non-democratic – especially the classical ones of wisdom, prudence and moderation, piety, courage, and justice (as something that was concerned with the grains of complexity and traditional expectations rather than ideological formulae).

Thus Janowski draws upon Plato’s critique of the democratic soul from the Republic. For, as Plato had observed, in so far as democracy fuels the passions of greed and covetousness (pleonexia) it contributes to a psychic dissolution that crosses over into the most unconstrained, the most lascivious kind of soul and regime, the tyrant and tyranny.

When Janowski writes “to the former denizen of the Socialist paradise, the behaviour of today’s America is painfully reminiscent of the old homo sovieticus, and more the Chinese man of the period of the Cultural Revolution,” he is speaking not only from having read Plato but having lived in a satellite of homo sovieticus who also is historically astute to how easily students can be used as tools of tyranny, especially when, as happened in that revolution and is happening today, the energy of youth is harnessed to a leadership that empowers itself by destroying institutions that thwart its ambitions.

But whereas the cultural revolution was a momentary tactic in Mao’s elimination of political rivals, in today’s US, cultural revolution is the playbook behind the professional ruling class’s tactic of clientelism. This is all too evident in the acceleration of the decline of democratic institutions in the United States today.

When Janowski commenced this project, elected officials were not openly saying that the police should not be funded, nor its president and vice-president that America was a systemic racist country, and critical race theory was not (known to be) part of the curriculum in military academies. They say this because this is the kind of clientelism that has been bred into the professional classes who find a never ending supply of clients by no longer using the state to provide welfare for a group down on its luck, or experiencing the social hell of being born into a world built by the poor choices of its parents or grandparents, but recruiting permanent dependents and finding an infinitude of disparities (invariably natural, inevitable, and not even debilitating) which are proof that the system is biased and hence needs their political interference.

When a pronoun, or traditional name of a social role such as father or mother can be interpreted as a form of social injustice or oppression, one sees what an infinite front expands in the search for equity. While the Chinese have gone from overcoming the precarious position of the communist party prior to Ji taking over the reins, to inventing and expanding the deployment of 5 G, and perfecting (diabolical as it is) the nation/state/ market corporatist nexus through the Belt and Road Initiative, the US, has employed an army of lawyers and bureaucrats and HR officers to change all manner of forms and rules so that people can feel safe with their pronoun, and the CIA and FBI can now proudly recruit trans, gay and other people of “diversity.”

The US has so confused reality with representation that “The Greatest Showman” reveals more truth about US elite aspirations as taught in universities and as required by corporations – a circus and carnival celebrating the freakish – than anything that might be learnt by studying Economics, Philosophy, History, Literature (i.e., real literature, without the bollocks of theory).

On the pronoun front, Janowski discusses the case of Jordan Peterson, who refused to comply with university policy on suitable pronouns – that is because he believed (silly him) that for all their wisdom, neither university administrators, social justice advocates nor legislators had the power to command linguistic usage.

The articulate, mild-mannered, and rigorously rational Jordan Peterson who had achieved quite some fame as a Youtube personality giving Jungian inspired lectures on psychology, mythology, religion, and other matters which ideologues hate became a wanted dead or alive alt.right poster boy for a class that increasingly despises anything that deals with aspects of self-hood beyond their imbecilic formulae. What was so noticeable about the disgusting treatment dished out to Peterson by woke academics, journalists and political commentators lining up to execute Peterson for the tricoteuse among their audience – was just how politically innocuous Peterson’s teachings were.

In a normal world – one where he was not objecting against contemporary Orwellian speech mandates – Peterson would not be seen as a political thinker at all. From what I have heard of his political views, they are those of a fairly brown bread Social Democrat dealing with the limits and excesses of capital and the state. Only in a world whose elite is bent upon social extinction is such advice as try making your bed before trying to change the world seen as akin to Hitlerism. One Marvel comic, Captain America (who recently, after some six decades in the closet finally came out as gay) made Peterson a Nazi super villain.

How stupid can college educated people be, one may ask? The answer is – very. Which is why today there is a “general tendency in the U.S. to explain virtually all social, political, and economic problems as a result of prejudice or bias. No alternative diagnosis or explanation – individual or group behavior – of any problem seems to exist. Sooner or later, everything comes down to a problem of bias.”

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that reducing everything to bias also means that everything can be cured by those who train us about our biases and how to overcome them. Hence, as Janowski observes, in his chapter “Blind Psychology and the New Road to Serfdom” the widespread usage of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) in psychology courses in America, a test that is meant to disclose the false consciousness which our ideological and moral betters detect in us – and as everyone is biased, there is an endless need of training courses to guide us into the new civility that liberal democratic America requires.

Just as communist countries required a ceaseless dedication to the exposure of false consciousness, in America today everywhere and anywhere one must be on the lookout constantly (as is now openly request in Facebook and in university classes) for people who are either an “-ist” or a “phobe.” They are to be subject, if lucky, to public shaming, a public apology (that fine old Calvinist tradition which has swept America, and is the subject of the second chapter of Homo Americanus), or economic destruction. Janowski provides example after example of people publicly apologising, or losing their jobs or reputation due to the totalitarian fusion of state, corporations, and educational institutions operating in the US. The occurrences of this so common now that none could recall any than a mere fraction of them. I quote just some of the examples that Janowski reminds his readers of:

“In October 2017, Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, of which George Washington was a founding member and vestryman in 1773, pulled down memorial plaques honoring him and General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to the congregation, the church leaders stated that: ‘The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.” In August 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to designate the second Monday in October (Columbus Day) as ‘Indigenous Peoples Day.’ According to the critics of Columbus Day, we need to dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of the genocide of indigenous peoples. Some of the opponents of Columbus Day made their intentions clear by attaching a placard on the monument: ‘Christian Terrorism begins in 1492.’ In June 2018, the board of American Library Association voted 12- 0 to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award as the ‘Children’s Literary Legacy Award.’ Wilder is a well-known American literary figure and author of children’s books, including Little House on the Prairie, about European settlement in the Midwest. In a statement to rename the award, the Board wrote: ‘Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.'”

Just as statues of the wrong people or representing the wrong stance have had to go, none’s contribution to the world has been so great that they cannot be made to be publicly humiliated if they make the wrong kind of joke or remark. Janowski recounts the story of the noble prize winner Tim Hunt who made the following unforgivable remark: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

As Janowski continues: “Hunt’s friend and Nobel Prize co-recipient, Sir Paul Nurse… told the Telegraph that Hunt’s “chauvinist” comments had “damaged science.…” Finally, Sir Hunt was forced to resign from The Royal Society…In a statement, the Royal Society announced: “The Royal Society believes that in order to achieve everything that it can, science needs to make the best use of the research capabilities of the entire population. Too many talented individuals do not fulfill their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the Society is committed to helping to put this right. Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society.”

Lest anyone think that poets in North America are not as up to speed in the ideological denunciation and apologetics stakes, Janowski reminds anyone who may have forgotten of the following statement “from the editor of one-time prestigious and oldest American magazine, The Nation” after having printed a poem that apparently contained “disparaging and ableist language that has given offense and caused harm to members of several communities:”

“As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mis-take by choosing to publish the poem ‘How-To.’ We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back. Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem, we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.
We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more importantly, we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.”

Since Janowski completed the book thousands of even more crazy things have happened – as I write this last week, not only have statues of Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson been dismantled in Charlottesville, but of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea. Apparently, the Lewis and Clark statue has represented Sacagawea in an offensive manner.

Anyone familiar with Zamyatin, Huxley, Orwell, Koestler and such like can see immediately that the class that believes it is ushering in progress and a kind of utopia has already managed to build quite a dystopia in the US. And in Homo Americanus Janowski provides an excellent account of the fit between what is going on in the American soul and those and other prophetic works. Those of us of a certain age will recall the power that those books once exercised.

I recently read that a Professor at a US university had stopped teaching Brave New World because students today could not see anything wrong with Huxley’s world. And now what Orwell called Newspeak is as much part of our everyday world (hence over half the population think mainstream news is fake which only forces the elites to double down in their denunciations), as public denunciations and public confessionals. A “misword,” or off-color joke (as in the case of Hunt mentioned above) from a prominent figure (who is not so important to the elite that they cannot be sacrificed) inevitably leads to the process of public denunciation, public humiliation and temporary or permanent banishment.

The phrase the way to hell is paved with good intentions sprang to mind as Janowski demonstrates what far reaching consequences the seemingly, innocuous, though somewhat patronizing, concession to seventies feminists were gouged from demanding that the collective noun “man,” and pronoun “he” be interpreted as exclusively referring to the male sex, and hence a sign of women’s social subordination and exclusion. I will not repeat here the details of Janowski’s analysis, but will just say his position would probably have led to termination of his employment had he not packed up and left the USA.

When the very one-sided gender grammar war was being waged almost fifty years ago as part of a larger attempt by some women (generally authors, journalists academics and students) in the developed world to see all of history as subject to their particular socio-economic interests, concerns and claims, few asked why, if history had been so patriarchal, would women so swiftly have voting rights within a couple of generations of male suffrage? (Answer – the family was the most important unit of economic survival so it was in the interests of the labouring and middle classes to have women voting).

Feminists generally ignored the symbiotic character that is part and parcel of all group survival, or how roles enable the cultivation of certain aspects of selfhood and social being, while enabling different aspects of the real to be disclosed, accessed, and cultivated. Compulsion, like sacrifice, is a part of all social symbiosis – the part that is marshalled when the symbiosis is itself threatened by a member wanting its own gratification at the expense of the tasks it must fulfil in its role.

To be sure, the change in social reproduction and its economic conditions did involve a change of roles and hence a reaction against compulsions – and even some career obstacles that were no longer meaningful. And, yes, patriarchy had been real in so far as historically the father was invariably responsible for the protection of the family, which is a very different thing from women in the family simply existing for the pleasure of the father. (But why bother with historical and sociological complexity and nuance if you have read Marx and/ or Freud and are going to lead the world into a future free from oppression)?

Great changes require cool heads, and the euphoric mood and post-World War Two boom was one in which haste in social changes proceeded with very little caution about what it all might mean – indeed those with the most outlandish abstractions and utopian narratives prevailed, and those who had the temerity to defend the family and religion were mocked as fools.

When Monty Python’s Life of Brian came out, John Cleese and Michael Palin “debated” Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, on the historical and cultural merits versus dangers of the film. Not surprisingly given the times, many of the audience thought that undergraduate humor was more incisive than the serious issues about religious mockery raised by representatives of faith that has formed nations. Say what you like about Islam, but it is not about to be blown over by undergraduate style humour.

The so-called long march through Western institutions was more a short sprint through doors long since or largely open. In keeping with almost everything else in the post-War boom, it was more posture and play (John Lennon running around in military fatigues, and Richard Neville’s Play Power sum up the mood) than bravery or sacrificial struggle.

Thus too, long after women had received the right to vote, at a time when all traditional work roles were up for grabs (partly thanks to the sexual revolution, and the decline of the single family wage-earner and living family wage), and going to college was a common choice for women with professional ambitions, the cause of eliminating the collective noun “man” was just one more in a grab-bag full of demands by a radicalized youth demanding to take over the curricula (which in the Humanities was far too intellectually demanding for kids wanting to smoke pot, engage in talk fests, have sex and listen to cool music – anyway all you needed to really know was that it was just the system, ya know – capitalism, man).

To be sure, in the USA, and Australasia there was a reasonable element to the radicalization, viz. opposition to a war in a land that most people knew nothing about. But what may have been (if one ignores international diplomacy and the matter of honoring alliances) a reasonable opposition to the war went hand in hand with the adoption of the Soviet/Cold War style anti-capitalist propaganda – feminists not to be outdone in the stooge department frequently equated patriarchy with capitalism.

Like the woke youth of today and the Russian youth of the 19th century or the German youth of the 1930s, it was a youth who knew little about anything, but who were totally convinced that the little they knew sufficed to making the world a better place. For the feminists, any attempt to understand social roles and obligation through historical and cultural analysis were only permissible – courtesy of J.S. Mill – if the idea that men were the oppressors of women was the purpose for undertaking the analysis as well as its conclusion.

It is astonishing that the most educated and privileged members of this generation of young men and women, portrayed themselves as if their suffering (not enough sex, or drugs to go with the rock n’ roll?) was akin to the victims of the holocaust or gulags (though they rarely referenced the gulags.) Reflecting upon this hypocrisy and idiocy almost makes me want to join Black Lives Matter, were it not for the fact that movement is also full of white college educated kids as well as black privileged people crying, “Gimme gimme, I want I want.”

The significance of the easy victory over the meaning of “man” and pronoun replacement (none really cared that much to engage in a serious linguistic/ sociological/ historical fight over it, and any who did were made to look like chauvinist meanies) is not only visible in feminist studies and the like dictating our understanding of the past, but it has even entered this year into the US House rules that stipulate that “familial relationships like father, daughter, and niece will be replaced by gender-neutral equivalents like parent, child, and sibling’s child.”

That the US House has become the centre of the kind of language that is to be used throughout all the institutions is simply a forerunner to the fact that anyone and everyone will be able to be monitored on the basis of what they say and think. Big Brother has been cleaned up to be gender fluid.

And, one can be sure that there are plenty of educated young American women today who, if given a revised copy of 1984, in which the society were identical in every respect to Orwell’s original, other than it was presided over by Big Mother, would go around saying how they wished they lived in that world. But one might think, would that not be reinforcing traditional roles? To which the answer is: that’s OK when done in a good enough cause such as ensuring absolute conformity and compliance to our imbecilic orthodoxy.

Of the various prophets of dystopia, like myself, Janowski is particularly partial to the genius of Dostoevsky. He had looked into the soul of the radical youth of the generation of the 1860s and 70s and seen demons. He also foresaw the kind of diabolical world that would be requisite for the man-god, a creation of the scientistic rational calculable self. Ultimately this would be a world in which number replaces names so that all vestiges of the individual human soul could be eliminated. Zamyatin picks this insight up in his novel We, where his characters have numbers not names.

When one considers that naming is one of the most primordial acts of human orientation and how the transmutation of life is accompanied by the creation of new names, and the potential to reevaluate the old, one can appreciate that the creation of nameless selves involves completely eliminating the most elemental act of orientation and collective association.

It was the Enlightenment that first sought to rename the entire world on the basis of an understanding unperturbed by the fire of the imagination. We have not yet dispensed with names, but we have dispensed with their historical connectedness. In a world where the young can so easily equate Hitler with Churchill it is all too evident that names now are little more than numbers, more specifically algorithms (crafted by engineers for google, Facebook, Youtube, etc.) for passing on information in accordance with one’s taste and interests, but also in accordance with what the creators of the algorithms think you should be able to have access to.

Toward the conclusion of Homo Americanus, Janowski presents a number of proposals (the following are more or less quoted verbatim) for restoring sanity to the American soul and American society at large.

They include: limiting the egalitarian propaganda that permeates democratic societies; deregulating human relationships, so that the state, legal system, schools, and employers must refrain from telling people how to act; reviving the notion of civility, and condemning certain forms of toxic behavior that are justified on multicultural grounds; restricting police and legal involvement to matters that concern someone’s physical safety, whilst prohibiting them from involvement in ethical regulations concerning how men and women act under peaceful conditions; tempering environmental activism; limiting authority over our decisions, and common-sense and tradition; rescuing “education from the hands of the multicultural ideologues,” and reinstating “old intellectual criteria into education for the sole purpose of teaching students objectivity;” ensuring that colleges and universities return to the pursuit of truth; and completely abandoning the idea of equality that holds collectivist ideology together.

I do not object to any of these proposals, but the fact that such proposals are even aired as the solution to our problems suggest the extent of the social sickness and how little chance there is of a philosophical cure, at least any time in the foreseeable future. Janowski, like Legutko, is an observant and thoughtful man.

But the problem is that the modern West has created an elite where thoughtlessness – imbecility – and the pursuit of self-destruction are not only all of a piece, but are the professional requirement of institutional power. And while bad ideas are intrinsic to the problem, and while these ideas are the result of the perversity of thought that occurs through the mutation of (poor) philosophy into ideology, it is the sociological incarnation of ideas that towers over those of us who are able to get along in an imperfect world, but find living in an insane one a far greater tribulation.

And that is the problem we in the West now face with the alliance of bad philosophy, government, business and our educational system – at tertiary and school level. For these institutions are enthusiastically controlled by people with captive minds and souls who have no idea they are captive. They are the result and the perpetrators of the metaphysics of horror. We are living within a brainwashing operation of such success, that the people who are least affected by it are the people furthest away from the centres and institutions of “power.”

With all the hot air expended upon rights’ talk, rights do not sustain social virtues – our most valuable practices have to be repeated daily to be sustained. Our elite has no idea of what the best practices (to use another formulation that the managerialists have turned into a cliché) of the past have been because they have substituted the complexities of the real world for a small smattering of ideas, they have substituted what they contain in their paltry pea brains for the world.

We all have pea sized brains – and if we all fessed up to that, we might just be less inclined to equate moral rhetoric with moral substance, to embrace and enforce simple solutions which generate even more difficult problems, and a little more forgiving of each other. They think by endlessly appealing to emancipation and equity or chattering about oppression and inequality they are really dealing with reality. Of course, just a little digging would always reveal conundrums, complexities, paradoxes, which would quickly expose how paltry and inadequate these terms are.

The elite do not know, for example, because they do not bother to inquire, how widespread slavery has been and still is outside of the West. It matters for nothing that having allowed slavery to exist in the US meant that even those who wanted to eliminate it overnight had to deal with the question of what would happen to ex-slaves, how long would it take to find employment, how could they survive from day to day – of course, such economic fundamentals, as have been raised by Thomas Sowell’s “The Real History of Slavery,” in his Black Rednecks and White Liberals, are not the concern of people who know everything and just need to hold office and be on a payroll to spot who is biased and solve all our social problems with crayons, butchers paper, rotten fruit, the stocks, and the threat of unemployment.

Likewise, people who insist that nothing has changed for blacks in America since slavery care nothing for the fact that some 300,000 white men gave their lives up in the United States, to destroy slavery, at a time when it was still widely practiced in other parts of the globe.

Those who say nothing has changed, and we have to do more, like take a knee, give random reparations to any black person; or, if white, make sincere public displays of how sorry we are for being white, and how schooled we have been in the damage caused by whiteness – not only give up nothing but may end up as much on a winner as the white Robin DiAngelo who earns nearly a million dollars a year from book sales and speeches. They either do not care or know nothing of the history or extent of white enslavement. They love to use the word progress, but are indifferent to, or ignorant of the fact that the overcoming of slavery in the West was indeed an indication that finally, in some small way, the human race in some part of the world had made a little progress.

Instead of knowing how ubiquitous slavery had been, they have been paralysed by their past, have preferred myth to truth, and have sought to shame others for living in a world that has been intrinsic to the making of this one. They have believed that they are so much better than all that have lived before them. The truth is that people who think this way end inevitably up being so much worse. In the twentieth century the most toxic ideas were to believe that one’s class or race dictated who should prosper or suffer, live or die. Shockingly, those ideas did not die with Bolshevism and Nazism, but found new ways to circulate and seize the minds of those dedicated to progress.

One might recall that these ideologies loved talking about either equality and/ or community. And like our current Liberal totalitarianism: they were ruthless in denouncing and persecuting their critics; they required the most careful attention to what was said, and how it was said; they used every media at their disposal; they both drew upon the energy of youth and the ambitions of technocrats and the ideas that fitted the world-view of their respective intelligentsia; they received serious financial support (yes, the Bolsheviks too – see e.g., Richard B. Spence’s Wall Street and the Russian Revolution: 1905-1925); and they seized power in societies beset with serious problems by offering slogans and simple solutions; and when in power they delivered devastation. Societies need elites – but an elite that denies that it is an elite, which makes no sacrifices but decides who must be sacrificed, which gains its power by directing hate between groups, while claiming to be against the haters is nothing but a fraud squad.

Would that the elite of the West bother to learn something from those pesky Poles. In the meantime, we can at least celebrate that we have before us writings by those who refused to go along with the tyranny of imbecility and cruelty, as well as those who recognize some of the sources of the sickness that now afflicts the West.

I think all parents wish that their children would learn from the hard-earned lessons of their parents’ sufferings – but they rarely do. Not that I am speaking as a parent, but as someone who was lucky enough to belong to a generation whose parents had been in and emerged from hell, it gives people like myself who can see what the West is doing no joy in seeing them create hell. To the older ones (that is my contemporaries) who do it solely for profit and position, I say shame on them for not learning anything about life other than mouthing platitudes, deluding themselves and the young, and making money while doing so.

To the younger ones who are their stooges, I say pity them for their ignorance, youthful pride, and having been subject to even greater monsters of ignorance. To the pesky Poles I say praise and thanks to you for your bravery and thoughtfulness. I wish more in the West would learn from you.

And, finally, let us acclaim: pesks of the planet unite, you have nothing to lose but your subordination to an imbecilic elite, who are determined to sacrifice you for everyone’s good, especially their’s.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “The Resurrection of Poland,” by Władysław Barwicki, painted ca. 1918.

My Letter To Pope Francis

At the end of 2013, I wrote to Pope Francis suggesting we have a conversation about the fundamental questions facing Christians in the modern world. It was a naïve proposal, but it never reached him.

The main element and purpose of this article is actually the letter reproduced below, which I wrote to Pope Francis at the end of 2013, with a view to having it delivered by people I thought of as friends of mine who had access to him. It was written in the spirit of a politely-worded offer to assist the pope in clarifying things he had said in a number of recent interviews that appeared either to have been unintentional misspeaks or subject to misappropriation or misquotation. I also wished to dig deeper than any of those interviews had gone, asking the kinds of questions on the minds of serious Catholics rather than liberal-atheistic journalists, especially with regard to the problem of retaining faith in an increasingly pseudo-rational world. At the time I was convinced that he was simply being asked the wrong questions.

The idea was prompted by the first interview he gave to the veteran atheist Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, co-founder of the left-wing newspaper La Repubblica, which made the pope sound like an altar boy who had just served his first Mass. But this had been merely the final straw.

Whereas previous popes had tended to issue communications to the world through encyclicals, weekly homilies et cetera, Pope Francis pursued the kind of engagement more commonly identified with politicians — and a rather unconventional one at that. Sometimes, he made his most newsworthy statements apparently off-the-cuff — perhaps on a long plane journey, when he would approach the media section unannounced. Taken together, these interventions were presented as encapsulating his outlook on a range of important doctrinal matters.

From about September of 2013, just six months into his pontificate, the pope issued a series of rapid-fire pronouncements in a string of interviews, each of which seemed to outdo the last in disintegrating Catholic teaching on everything in sight. He apparently picked up the telephone and called Eugenio Scalfari, who had submitted, presumably, a routine request for an interview. “Why so surprised?” the pope asked Scalfari when he was put through. “You wrote me a letter asking to meet me in person. I had the same wish, so I’m calling to fix an appointment. Let me look at my diary: I can’t do Wednesday, nor Monday; would Tuesday suit you?”

In the wide-ranging interview that ensued, the pope spoke inter alia about the nature of good and evil, provoking whispered accusations of relativism from many surprised personages within the Church: “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them,” he told Scalfari. “That would be enough to make the world a better place.” Without naming names, the pope accused some of his predecessors of narcissism, and condemned “clericalism” as inimical to Christianity. He also informed Scalfari that he needn’t trouble himself with the “solemn nonsense” of traditionalists who insist that he “enter by the narrow gate.”

In the wake of the interview, the Vatican was forced into an official denial that Pope Francis had claimed to have abolished sin. Scalfari afterwards told the press: “{T]the most surprising thing he told me was: ‘God is not Catholic.'”

There was much commentary among “conservative” Catholic commentators on the question of whether the pope had been misrepresented. Scalfari never uses a recorder or takes notes. His style is to “recall” the conversations he has had with his subjects, and relate in his own words what he remembers. So far, having done multiple discrete interviews with Pope Francis, 99 per cent of what he has published as the Pope’s thoughts has gone uncontested. It has come to seem that, in speaking through Scalfari (an atheist and former fascist), the Pope was pursuing a deliberate strategy — whether for the purposes of sowing confusion or cultivating liberal approval remains a puzzle.

In a number of interviews just before the encounter with Scalfari, the pope had been musing publicly on the question of the Church’s priorities, postulating that it was too preoccupied with abortion and the destruction of the family. Some weeks earlier, an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, in which he spoke in what appeared to be a similarly “non-judgmental” manner about a number of the headline “moral” issues, was hailed as the manifesto of a pope who had “broken with the past” by announcing new doctrinal initiatives on matters like homosexuality, atheism and women priests:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” Pope Francis’s point here appeared to be that emphasising “moralistic” themes serves to suffocate the deeper message of Christianity.

In Ireland, a spokesman for the (generally liberally-inclined) Association of Catholic Priests said he was “absolutely exhilarated” by the Pope’s words. He complained that his association had been criticised for not being more publicly supportive of the bishops during a recent controversy about abortion in Ireland, adding that the Catholic bishops, who had criticized the Irish Government’s proposal to liberalise anti-abortion legislation, had “overegged their case.” Now, he said, “I see that Pope Francis is saying something similar” [to the ACP].

In fact, even while his remarks in this and the Scalfari interview were being digested, events occurred, and were reported sotto voce, that appeared to convey an entirely different impression concerning the pope’s positions and intentions. During a Papal Audience with MaterCare International as part of the group’s 10th international conference in September 2013, Pope Francis spoke clearly on abortion to a group of obstetricians and genealogists, emphasising that they had a responsibility to make known the “transcendent dimension, the imprint of God’s creative work, in human life from the first instant of conception. And this is a commitment of new evangelisation that often requires going against the tide, paying a personal price. The Lord counts on you, too, to spread the Gospel of life.”

“Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted,” he said, “has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord.” He urged them to abide by Church teachings, saying: “Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things. […] In all its phases and at every age, human life is always sacred and always of quality. And not as a matter of faith, but of reason and science.”

This statement gained close to zero traction in the media, a fact that the pope must surely have noticed. Yet he seemed content to court the attentions of “progressive” journalists without ensuring that they provided a balanced account of his views. The cumulative effect was to create an impression of relaxation in respect of certain core aspects of Church teaching to a media delighted to report that the pope had finally come around to agree with what journalists had been saying all along. The idea that the pope should not talk about such matters “all the time” is hard to argue with, but was hardly the issue. The problem was with giving repeated interviews in which what appeared to be a downplaying of these issues became the headline every time, giving succour to actors and interests with radical intentions concerning Church teaching.

In the first year of his pontificate, Pope Francis announced no new doctrinal initiatives, nor was his emphasis significantly different to that of his predecessor, who had, in the eight years he spent as head of the Catholic Church, accrued no credits at all with the kind of people who lionised Francis as the saviour of Catholicism and the liberator of its dissenting elements. Yet, the “liberal pope” headlines kept on coming. Pope Francis was named Person of the Year by Time magazine, which praised him for his rejection of Church dogma. Not to be outdone, Advocate, an American magazine for homosexuals, also named Francis its 2013 Person of the Year, for the “compassion” he had shown to gay people.

When you examined more closely the total texts of various interviews he had given, it seemed that the pope’s words were being manipulated by selective emphasis. In several passages that gained far less attention, he seemed to tread a more subtle path than the headlines suggested.

For example, when asked in his interview with La Civiltà Cattolica what the Church needed most at this moment, what kind of Church he dreamed of, Pope Francis began by endorsing the humility and graciousness of his predecessor and then continued: “I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. . . And you have to start from the ground up.

“The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.”

Superficially apprehended, it seemed that the problem ought to be dissipated by such passages, and yet it was not. As time passed and the pope became more identified with questioning Church doctrine than upholding it — and he himself remained silent when clarifications appeared to be necessary — the sense of a “progressive” papacy became more and more solidified.

Reading over a chapter I was invited to write for a compendium volume of articles on the Francis pontificate, and completed in February 2014, it is clear that I continued to struggle with these questions for some time even after I had completed the letter to Pope Francis. My contribution to the book was substantively a critique of attendant media culture and its responses to the new pope:

The media have chosen to turn the change of popes into a different kind of story — one that will sell newspapers or advertising space with a narrative of revolution and democratisation. . . Francis, like his predecessor, sees the human person in society as floundering in a mess of relativism and unhope, besieged by ideology and disinformation, driven away from the authentic course of the authentic human journey. Francis presents his explanations in the form of anecdote and analogy, placing the listener into a context where the meaning becomes clear on the basis of personal experience and the deep structural appetite for story that resides in every human heart.

In this passage and otherwise, my verdict on Francis himself might seven years later be described as naïve:

Pope Francis, then, is neither a “rigorist” nor a “loose minister.” He seeks to reconcile not merely those inside the Church with those who have fallen away, but also the necessary dogmatism that goes with Truth with the fluidity essential to a living, breathing faith. He is indeed a “breath of fresh air,” but not in the sense that journalists tend to report, or in the way those who oppose virtually everything the Church stands for would lead us to believe.

I had acquired something of a “special interest” in these matters. Over the first Pentecost weekend of his pontificate, on Saturday May 18th 2013, I stood alongside Pope Francis on the steps of St Peter’s and followed him in speaking to a crowd of 250,000 people, the assembled members of the world’s new evangelical movements. I was impressed with him on that occasion, just two months into his pontificate. I was also greatly moved by what seemed to be the latent power of his presence, the breadth of his charismatic skills in communicating. I was stuck in particular by his physicality — the way his whole body seems to be summoned towards the act of communication, and also by the way he spoke to the gathering as though to one person.

I was transported by his description of the necessity for the Church to move out of its stuffy room and take the risk of meeting the rest of humanity. “When the church becomes closed, it becomes sick, sick,” he said. “Think about a room closed up for a year. When someone finally enters there is an odour and nothing feels right. A closed church is the same way; it’s a sick church. If you go out in your car, you risk having an accident, but this is preferable to remaining closed up at home. We need to become courageous Christians, and go out and search for those who are the body of Christ!”

Catholics, he said, must “touch the body of Christ, take on the suffering of the poor. For Christians, poverty is not a sociological or philosophical or cultural category, it is a theological category,” because Christ made himself poor in order to walk the earth, suffer, die and rise to save humanity. “We cannot become stodgy Christians, so polite, who speak of theology calmly over tea. We have to become courageous Christians and seek out those who are the flesh of Christ.”

When I wrote subsequently about the Francis papacy, I leaned over backwards to extend him the fullest credit for the totality of these statements, concluding:

Those who love the Church know now, as they always have, that the “changes” being clamoured for in the world’s media are neither well-advised nor necessary. What is required, as always, is an ear attuned to the heartbeat of the world in time. This must remain the hope of sane people for the pontificate of Pope Francis. The question is: Can the pope stand firm in front of the Truth, against the dictatorship of apparent tolerance?

I was wrong in the substance of these assessments. As the months and years passed, it became clear that either of two things might be true: that the pope’s head had been turned by the favourable attentions of the world’s press (as he increasingly gave them what they wanted); or that he had been Janus-faced from the beginning and had been playing a game of subtle misdirection so as not to scare the traditionalist horses overmuch.

But, as time passed and the pope did almost nothing to disperse the growing disquiet among his own flock, the issue became more and more disconcerting for Catholics who were still disposed to take the Church’s teachings seriously.

One of the most vital questions, then, relates to the role Pope Francis himself may have played in the formation of the narrative surrounding him. At times, it has appeared that he was being, at best, naïve in failing to realize that the media would selectively report and manipulate his words. It also seemed that, in his emphasis on controversial issues, and his selection of sceptical, if not Catholic-averse journalists to communicate with the public, he seemed to be playing to the media’s obsession with issues like atheism, homosexuality, women priests et cetera. It was often unclear whether the confusion the pope left in his wake was a deliberate strategy or the consequence of a chaotic thinking process, but in any event he continued to give succour and comfort to those who hated the Church, while causing dismay to many of those who loved her.

More and more a side of him seemed to emerge that contradicted all attempts to place him in a line following on from Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II. More and more he seemed to become a political figure, not just issuing gratuitous and ambiguous statements on the headline moral issues — to the extent that he did indeed appear to be “talking about them all the time” — but relocating the Church in a political context in which it had not hitherto appeared comfortable.

In 2015, in his second encyclical, Laudato si’ , he said: “There is urgent need of a true world political authority.” And later:

“When we acknowledge international organizations and we recognize their capacity to give judgment, on a global scale — for example the international tribunal in The Hague, or the United Nations — If we consider ourselves humanity, when they make statements, our duty is to obey. . . We must obey international institutions. The is why the United Nations were created.’

Very frequently, it becomes impossible to avoid that the pope has become, in effect, the ally of the gravediggers of Europe, extolling Islam to the detriment of Christianity and mocking those who regard Christianity as the cornerstone of European civilisation. It is not just that he regularly contradicted Catholic theology and doctrine, but that he appeared to dislike Catholics who took these things seriously. He was sometimes heard sneering at Catholics who are in his view excessively “orthodox.” He spoke of “diversity” and “enrichment” in the manner of a spotty teenager infatuated for the first time with the absurdities of Woke. He talked almost non-stop about “ecumenism” but often seemed actually to despise the faith he was supposed to be leading. Whenever he heard talk of the Christian roots of Europe, he said on more than one occasion, “I sometimes dread the tone, which can seem triumphalist or even vengeful.” He refused to condemn Islamic violence and on occasion equated Islamist jihadists with traditionalist Catholics. He lacerates Church leaders who spoke of an Islamic ‘invasion’ of Europe. As I suggested in an article on the resignation of Cardinal Sarah back in February, what the pope has said about mass migration is a travesty of Catholic teaching.

As time wore on, things grew worse and worse. In January 2017, LifeSiteNews published a comprehensive review of events over the previous year, which gives a robust sense of how things stood at that time.

In October 2019, the pope gave another interview to Scalfari in which he seems to have told him that Jesus was not divine.

Scalfari wrote of that conversation:

“Those who have had the chance, as I have had at different times, to meet him and speak to him with the greatest cultural confidence, know that Pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, a man, not God incarnate. Once incarnated, Jesus ceases to be a God and becomes a man until his death on the cross.

“When I happened to discuss these phrases, Pope Francis told me: ‘They are the definite proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once he became a man, even if he was a man of exceptional virtue, was not God at all.'”

This time, the Vatican issued what seemed like a robust denial: “As already stated on other occasions, the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during conversations with him cannot be considered as a faithful account of what has actually been said, but rather represent a personal and free interpretation of what he has heard, as is quite evident from what has been written today about the divinity of Jesus Christ.”

Yet, the periodic “interviews” with Scalfari continued. The headline statements attributed to the pope — for example, that hell does not exist, that the souls of those who fail to achieve Heaven are simply annihilated rather than eternally punished — remained high up in the mix, while the “clarifications” were forgotten. The confusion of Catholics grew and grew.

Last year, at the height of the Covid-19 global scare, Pope Francis urged Catholics to follow the globalist directives and attacked those who protested against lockdowns. Interviewed for a book by one of his personal evangelists, Austen Ivereigh, he said:

“You’ll never find such people protesting the death of George Floyd, or joining a demonstration because there are shantytowns where children lack water or education, or because there are whole families who have lost their income.”

Did this statement — the holding up of a violent criminal as a worthy martyr and the avoidance of the fact that it was lockdown protestors precisely who drew attention to the escalating losses of incomes, education and hope — represent the real mind of Francis? It appeared so. Last year too, he endorsed the pro-abortion Joe Biden for the US presidency, over the incumbent Donald Trump, the most vocal anti-abortion president in recent history.

Increasingly it has seemed as if, in his own mind, the pope sees himself as something like a monarch or statesman, who contributes to discussion of the mix of forces in conflict in culture, but is in no way serious about the claims of Christianity from the beginning. How could he be serious about these, when he celebrates their antitheses and drops hints that the core teachings of the Church may be simply myths or fables?

My letter to Pope Francis requesting an interview, written as 2013 came to a close, was an act of naiveté on my part, at the time mistaking him for the naïve one. I thought to get to the pope at a time when it seemed he was being grossly manipulated and misrepresented, and, rather than dancing to the tune of the Church’s sworn enemies, have him speak about what was important for the role of the Church in the world.

My objective was not necessarily to have him contradict anything he had said, but to speak about more fundamental things that would not seem important to someone who was not a Christian or Catholic. But I also hoped to give him a chance to contextualise some of his more notorious statements, so that what I presumed at the time to be misquotations might be clarified for the benefit of increasingly confused Catholics.

In this endeavour, I believed I had the support of some senior people in a Catholic lay community, the Italian movement Comunione e Liberazione (CL/Communion and Liberation) which had strong links to the new pope. Although Wikipedia has it otherwise, I was not myself a member of CL, having simply accepted a series of invitations to speak to its membership all around the world over the course of a decade or so.

Initially, I raised my concerns with a senior member of the movement, who agreed with me about what was happening and actually made the suggestion of requesting an interview. At his instigation I wrote the letter, which he greeted with enthusiasm. I made it clear that I was not necessarily proposing myself as the interviewer — I spoke minimal Italian or Spanish, the pope spoke no English — but simply wanted to influence some kind of change in the way the pope was coming across, or at least provoke a more coherent sense of the connections between the pope’s refinements of the Church’s message and fundamentals of Christianity going much deeper than the most pronounced traditionalism. This “self-effacing” notion was repudiated: I should do the interview if it were granted.

The letter was presented to the leaders of CL in Italy, who immediately dismissed the idea — the first clear intimation I had that something more than papal naiveté was afoot. I remember subsequently speaking to the president of the movement, Father Julián Carrón, who told me that there was “no necessity” to clarify what the pope was saying: “Everyone is able to find out what the pope thinks. There is no confusion!” This response confused me a great deal. In due course I figured out that, since Fr Carrón had direct access to both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the chances were that the powers-that-be already knew that a change of wind had occurred and had decided they were not going to do anything that might risk the disfavour of the new boss. In any event, the letter was never delivered.

From that moment, my relationship with the movement began to undergo a radical cooling — from the CL side. This situation was somewhat confused by the fact that Ireland soon afterwards entered a lengthy period of public tumult concerning several of the kinds of issues the pope had seemed to be telling us were no longer important —marriage, parenthood, family, human life, and so forth — and I was to become visible in fighting these battles on what the pope would undoubtedly consider a “traditionalist” or “moralistic” platform.

I was also, very shortly afterwards, targeted by the increasingly virulent LGBT movement, which clearly regarded my presence at the centre of Irish journalism as a possible obstacle to its planned demolition of the Irish Constitution. In fact, although my views on these matters coincided with Catholic teaching, and I was myself a professed Catholic, these two circumstances were not interdependent. By then, my positions were well rooted in my own life experience, and would have survived even a total disenchantment with the Catholic Church.

I don’t know if I would answer to the name of “traditionalist” in any category. I believe in the power and value of tradition, but tend to think the “-ism” part leads to sclerosis, for example to a kind of theme-park Christianity that becomes more a hobby or identity-prop than anything else. As a boy in the last 1960s, I served the Latin Mass, and sang the High Mass in Latin at funerals. I believe the loss of Latin was a critical blow to the connection between the Church and the people. But my principal concern, as my letter to Francis abundantly conveys, was with the erosion of the transcendent imagination of the West, a factor that nobody, now the voice of Ratzinger/Benedict had fallen silent, appeared to be addressing.

The letter episode was more or less the beginning of the end of my relationship with CL. Invitations to speak at its events dried up overnight, apart from a handful of distant outposts where the memo did not arrive, and all of these have since succumbed. This caused me no little distress. I had been deeply attracted to the reasonable, Newmanesque elements of the movement’s founder, Don Giussani’s reflections on the meaning of Christ in the modern world, and also attracted to the spirit of cultural (not religious) modernity in his movement. When Francis arrived, this seemed to change overnight into full-on “progressivism.”

And since this letter of mine to the pope, I would in all modesty and gratitude say, might almost as plausibly have been written by Don Giussani, this left me in no doubt as to the total meaning and direction of things:


My Letter To Pope Francis

Holy Father,

I met you briefly last May, over the Pentecost weekend, when I made a short speech to the assembled members of the new evangelical movements, in your presence, and again next morning when we exchanged a greeting after breakfast.

I am an Irish journalist. For more than 20 yeas I have been a columnist with The Irish Times, which is Ireland’s equivalent of La Repubblica — a ‘liberal’ newspaper addressing the more educated elements of the population. During the time I have been writing for the newspaper, I have undergone many experiences, which I have tried to write about in my columns in as far as they relate to issues of a public nature or matters that may touch the lives of others. One of my themes has been my journey back to faith, which I have chronicled also in a book, Lapsed Agnostic, which I gave you on the morning of our second encounter last May. I perfectly understand that you may not have had time to read it, but the title conveys the general sense of its content. It is the reflection of someone who, having unthinkingly followed the course of the contemporary cultural slide towards unbelief, was arrested by circumstances and obliged to consider things more deeply.

We live in times that may be without parallel in human history. I have a daughter, aged 18, who is of a generation that has started out into a world radically different than the one I grew into a generation ago. Something fundamental has changed in our cultures, which appears to be related to leaps in communication — what technology appears capable of delivering for us now compared to even two decades ago. There is a sense that everything has changed, that some kind of cleaver has come down hard upon our culture, severing the lines of connection to the past — even to parts of the present. More and more people appear to be imprisoned within technological compounds in which their immediate desires and requirements are gratified, and yet their most basic questions are not merely ignored but actually denied, even suppressed. There is an escalating sense that people are slipping into an adjacent but unreal world, in which they can act out a fantasy of living while actually avoiding the reality.

These words of Gabriel Marcel seem apt: ‘At the very depth of ourselves, we don’t know what is happening. We don’t even know if anything is happening. We throw the net of our interpretations into depths that are impenetrable in every respect . . . We draw out only phantasms, or at least we cannot be sure that they may be anything else.’

In these conditions, what reality is has become distorted, so that both the plausibility of and the necessity for a belief in the transcendent have come into question. Faith seems superfluous to a life that might be made as comfortable and satisfying as humanly conceivable by the simple acceptance of a certain limited version of the human. Who needs hope? What is there to hope for? Why not abandon hope and live the moment instead?

In these conditions — which may have been implicit from the start but are certainly exacerbated in our times — it seems that the human person can connect truly with reality only in extreme youth, when what the world calls ‘innocence’ prevents him being caught up in the collective delusion, and in extreme proximity to death, when he realizes that nothing of what he has lived or learned in the cocoon of modernity serves his needs in those guttering moments. Without necessarily anyone planning it, we appear somehow to have generated a form of culture in which ‘not hoping’ appears to be the natural order, the most ‘reasonable’ response and the easiest way of ‘getting though’ life. Religion seems to offer only a desiccated certitude, a determined attempt to elide a total emptiness.

For several years now I have tried to elucidate the meaning of my own journey with a view to combatting these tendencies of our culture, but always struggling against the limits of language and the reductions which modern reality and its self-definitions and self-descriptions has succeeded in imposing on the great questions of existence. I have long felt that, simply by virtue of electing to speak of such things, one becomes trapped on one side of a veil of cultural prejudice, thus rendering it almost impossible to speak in ways that might alert and encourage the one who remains trapped behind that veil — still struggling to reconcile an ‘educated’ awareness of the modern world with an experience of being human that seems all the time to be excluded from everything that hurtles onwards as part of this caravan of modernity. I have tried to explain many times what I have experienced, what I have felt, what I have learned; but more and more it has seemed to me that I communicate only with those who believe they have already understood what I wish to say (and I’m rarely convinced that we speak the same language), whereas those whose realities most dramatically exhibit the conditions from which I have myself lately journeyed are too solidly settled in their assumptions, or too resistant to the kind of language I must necessarily use, to hear anything I might say.

If this syndrome could be said to afflict only myself and my attempts to explain my journey, it might not amount to a great problem. But I believe this condition is now widespread in what we think and speak of as ‘the modern world’. More and more, it seems, words and self-descriptions tend to trap us in definitions that really amount to no more than reactions, or counter-reactions, to phenomena that provoke, disturb or antagonise us. We become, more and more, political beings, whose self-descriptions and outward manifestations of our self-understandings tend to be off-the-peg identikits, which we inhabit by a process of willed certainty. We ‘invent’ ourselves by numbers so as to avoid the given nature of ourselves.

Our mysterious, given humanity, however, is a different matter. It remains bound inside the identikit personality, as though by an ideological girdle. Each of us is accompanied, whether we wish to focus on it or not, by the ineluctable idea of a total trajectory, a careering through the dizzying stratosphere of existence. That we can find no words for this does not change it. But what can indeed change it is the feeling — picked up from the common conversation — that, because we have no words for it, and because the words we do have seem to exclude it, this sense of a total trajectory in infinity must be an illusion. Only under the utmost pressure, or under conditions whereby reality encroaches with a radical determination, is the human person placed again in front of the questions that define him or her. We speak of our beliefs — or unbeliefs — but the language we use is necessarily of a collective conversation out of sync with both reality and with ourselves.

I have recently been re-reading Vaclav Havel’s speech to the 1989 Frankfurt Book Fair — delivered through the voice of the actor Maximilian Schell — when he won the German Booksellers’ Peace Prize that year (just a month before the Berlin Wall came down). Words, he said, ‘are a mysterious, ambiguous, ambivalent, and perfidious phenomenon.’ Were the words of Marx and Lenin, he asked, ultimately liberating or enslaving? Both at once, he hazarded. Were the words of Christ the beginnings of a new era of salvation or the seeds of the inquisitions? Both, too. The word ‘socialism’, he noted, had begun as ‘a mesmerising synonym for a just world’ into ‘an ordinary truncheon used by certain cynical, moneyed bureaucrats to bludgeon their liberal-minded fellow citizens from morning until night.

‘At one moment in history, courageous, liberal-minded people can be thrown into prison because a particular word means something to them, and at another moment, the same kind of people can be thrown into prison because that same word has ceased to mean anything to them, because it has changed from the symbol of a better world into the mumbo jumbo of a doltish dictator.’ No word, he said, comprises only the meaning assigned to it by an etymological dictionary. ‘Every word also reflects the person who utters it, the situation in which it is uttered, and the reason for its utterance. The same word can, at one moment, radiate great hope; at another, it can emit lethal rays. The same word can be true at one moment and false the next, at one moment illuminating, at another, deceptive. On one occasion it can open up glorious horizons, on another, it can lay down the tracks to an entire archipelago of concentration camps. The same word can at one time be the cornerstone of peace, while at another, machine-gun fire resounds in its every syllable . . .’

‘What a weird fate’, he declared, ‘can befall certain words!’

This tendency for words to change their meanings has always existed, but has recently been subjected to a kind of exponential acceleration due to the explosion of technological communication via the Internet etc. The periods of growth, vibrancy and disintegration experienced by particular kinds of words become more and more ‘speeded up’, due to the rapid-fire cultural processes and ubiquitous technologies available to modern culture. And these processes and technologies also have the power to provoke passivity — just as much as reactions — towards such developments in the hearts of observing humanity, and this has the potential to leave everyone behind while seeming to embrace whole races and peoples, for culture to exclude the heart of each man while seeming to address and speak for everyone.

I believe this question of the limits of language is one that needs to accompany us all the time when we seek to speak of what we believe and know. Don Giussani — for whom I know you have a great affection — spoke of finding ‘the least inadequate words’ (to describe the great mysteries of existence). Yet, our cultures and their collective conversations increasingly treat words as though in a courtroom, pinning meanings down to the point where nothing but the words is necessary. Modern societies tend more and more to regard words as if they were fixed and utterly reliable, or capable of becoming so. Positivism, the programme by which our public thought is processed, seeks to deny or ignore the organic nature of language. Ideology, in which not merely thought but also sentiment is disseminated, requires words to have fixed, legalistic meanings, aloof from life. This means that, by definition, we are all — each in his or her own cocoon — adrift from the understandings supposedly held in common, because each of us is mystery, especially to himself. (I would define mystery not as simply the unknown or even the potentially unknowable, but that which is ineluctable but beyond description — what we know but cannot show to someone who refuses to see.)

We use the least inadequate words. Words are really like loose stones that provide for makeshift paths across treacherous stretches of molten lava: If you move quickly you may be able to use them to reach your meaning. If you get stuck on a word, both you and your intentions are doomed. Really, we cannot ‘tell’ one another anything. We can but point, nudge, gesture and look for signs of recognition. If you try to hold one another to our words, they will disintegrate in front of our eyes. But if we take as read their ultimate unreliability to be anything other than stepping stones, we are at the point of take-off.

I am interested in talking with you about how we might go about overcoming these and other difficulties of the modern world. I have observed with great interest, and no little excitement, the manner in which you have entered into your pontificate. I have been struck in particular by your openness, your willingness to talk frankly and plainly about the crises facing the world, and the Church, and the connections between them. Much that you have said has moved me and encouraged me. But there has been, I feel, a certain lacuna, and this relates to what I have tried to outline in the few sentences above. I would describe this really as relating to the most fundamental question(s) of all.

The interviews you have given so far have been extremely helpful to many people — some Christian, some Catholic, but also some who have drifted from faith, or even reacted against it. But so far, I feel, the emphasis placed on the significance of your leadership has tended to dwell on matters doctrinal, political or even ideological. This has not been of your doing, I feel, but rather has to do with the selectivity and emphases with which your words have been presented by those who happened to be your mediators. Still, in spite of these limitations, you have made a striking entrance and caused many people to look up and consider again what might be missing from their lives.

And yet there are these blocks, which I referred to already, which I believe prevent your words penetrating as they need to, into the depths of present-day culture. I was greatly stuck on May 18th last, by your call to the Church to go ‘to the outskirts of existence’ to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The phrase seemed to me to gesture far beyond geography, or sociology, or ideology, or even the idea of allegiance to a faith, or even to faith itself. It struck me really as a call to me as a human being, a man, in my most fundamental essence – beneath everything I have learned, heard or come to believe — to call me to the question of who I am and what my destiny is.

This is why I would like to talk with you with a view to publishing our exchange. What I believe is required is a far more basic conversation, in which the most fundamental questions might be addressed with a clarity that, if I am right in what I sense about this moment, would cause the world to be struck in a new way.

I have in mind questions like this:

‘What is there to know?’

‘What prevents us from knowing?’

‘How do we reintegrate the mysteriousness of our own existence alongside our growing sense of knowledge about so many things that seem to propose a more concrete existence in the present moment, albeit an existence that leads nowhere?’

‘Even if I have arrived at the possibility that there is a “thou” who lives within me, how do I make what appears to be the considerable leap to calling this “thou” by the name of “Christ”?’

‘Is it possible for a modern, educated person to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?’ (The Dostoyevsky question).

‘When I speak of “the presence” of Christ, what do I hope to make visible that is not some sentimental construct, propelled by an insistent moralism? Can I speak truly, really, about such things and not think myself mad, let alone avoid being thought mad by others?’

‘What does it mean to pray? To whom do I speak — someone in the sky, someone within myself? How, in a world which insists on visualisation, do I make this reasonable to myself?’

These questions and many others occur to me. I am not a theologian. Neither am I someone with an agenda within the Church. I do not belong to any faction. I am neither a liberal nor a conservative. I am a man who wants to know, to find words to speak what I have discovered and to initiative conversations to help myself and others. I come to you only from the depths of my own humanity, seeking to formulate sentences which might allow me and others to see more clearly.

My questions are not about ‘the future of the Church’ but about the future of this man, that woman, the child not yet born. My obsession is not with doctrine, but with hope, not with politics but with life and what it may be. To conduct such a conversation would be very difficult, because it would be essential that the words used be of the utmost lightness, refusing the legalistic definitions usually imposed by the codes of journalism and the channels we use to say things.

This is where I believe the richness of Christianity remains vibrantly capable of speaking to the world. The word ‘Christ’ I would call a wordless word. It is a word that dissolves into the mystery it evokes. It takes us to that vanishing point and somehow suggests the possibility of accompaniment beyond. It names a man, but also defines the otherness which we know we belong to but cannot describe, and therefore risk dismissing. It names the Host who inhabits us, but also the Other towards Whom we walk in confidence and anticipation.

The word ‘Christ’ dissolves on the tongue. We can comprehend it in a literal, historical way, but we can also use it as a kind of rocket launcher, to take us elsewhere. It is a word capable of contradicting itself, as only a mystery can. But something strange has happened even to this word: Christ is capable still of animating our imaginations, of proposing a correspondence with our desires that has no equal in the world, and yet the very power of this hope is what causes it to be undermined because it so often seems that our skepticism — arising from our fear of hoping — is stronger, capable of destroying that which we sense can make us whole.

For me, then, the ‘outskirts of existence’ are to be found in each of us, at the extremities of what we think we know, and are able to speak — at that point where we are still able to state, in the most adequate words we can find, what we can say with clarity about what is and what might be. The trouble is that so few today feel equipped or emboldened enough to embark upon this journey, partly because we are incessantly told there is nothing to discover except darkness, and partly because our experience is that the words drag us into themselves, causing us to become lost in the literal and the concrete

There is, I believe, a way of going at these matters with words: to approach the use of words in a manner that will allow them to lift us off into the otherness beyond the literal and concrete, so that we leave all words behind. Any conversation about these matters must obviously bear this paradox in mind. In a sense, we speak words to take us to the vanishing point — to say what we are, what we believe, what we hope for — but then we continue, without words, into the wordless ether, free from everything, including our conventional selves.

So, I would like to go with you, to the very outskirts of human existence, to see what we can see, and see whether we can capture this in words. It is a difficult challenge, as I have outlined. But the very fact that we are aware of the difficulties may make them a little easier to overcome.

Yours in infinite curiosity,

John Waters


John Waters is an Irish writer and former journalist who was at the centre of his country’s cultural and political debate in the past 40 years of unprecedented onslaught on its culture and traditions. He is a playwright, songwriter and the author of 10 books, including two accounts of his efforts at spiritual survival in the encroaching secular tide, Lapsed Agnostic (2008) and Beyond Consolation (2010). His most recent book is Give Us Back the Bad Roads, an account of the unhinging of Ireland under the forces of cultural neo-colonialism (2018). He is a husband and father and lives between Dublin and the Wild West, where he was born.


The featured image shows, a portrait of Pope Francis.

And The West Invented Buddhism

In 2012, a group of English-speaking scholars published a book with the austere title, How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities. This was the first time that an epistemology of Buddhism was presented that was so historicized and documented, and remarkably coherent. In 2014, the French orientalist, Gregory Kourilsky, wrote a review of this work with an incendiary title, at least for those who have a sense of what is at stake: “Le ‘bouddhisme theravāda,’ cette autre invention de l’Occident” (“Theravada Buddhism, Another Invention of the West”). France, which prides itself on bilingualism to the point of now broadcasting commercials in English (with French subtitles in some cases), only put this remarkable synthesis on the Persée website in February 2019.

What is established in Kourilsky’s work can be summarized in a few lines: The expression “Theravada (or Theravadin) Buddhism” is an invention of twentieth-century European orientalists, which was gradually adopted in Asia by the Buddhists themselves.

The questioning of these concepts which have filled entire libraries is not so new. Already back in 2004, Peter Skilling, one of the authors of the book, had thrown a stone into the pond of Buddhist studies by questioning the relevance of the usage that establishes a necessary link between “Theravada” and the Pali Canon. He established that this usage is the product of norms established in Europe from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the following century and that this reinvented Theravada, mainly English-speaking, had progressively gained an international influence, including in the Buddhist communities of Asia.

In early academic publications, “Theravada” referred to the canonical corpus itself before designating a religious trend. Today, the term refers to the form of Buddhism systematized on the island of Ceylon during the first centuries of the Christian era, transmitted to Southeast Asia through its texts and its language, Pali. Although now universally accepted, the term appears in this sense only in Western sources, and not before the end of the colonial era. It is never used in the sense of “sect” or “school” in the religious texts of South, East and Southeast Asia. One would look in vain throughout the Tipitaka (the supposed Buddhist canon) for a single occurrence of this term and at most a dozen times in the Commentaries, and again never in the sense of “school” or “sect”. Theravada is only used to underline a symbolic link with the “elders” (thera in Pali), i.e., the five hundred disciples of the historical Buddha, and thus to claim the authenticity of their teaching).

A researcher from Manitoba, David Drewes, has recently established that three centuries of research have never been able to “scientifically” establish the Buddha’s embodied existence.

Todd LeRoy Perreira then examined the terminological uses to which scholars and observers have resorted to, to designate religious practices. He traced the history of these practices in Ceylon, Burma and Siam, which is already a key discovery. He examined in detail the orientalist works published over the previous two centuries and drew up a semantic history, from the first appearance of the term (in 1836) to its “official” adoption on the occasion of the Colombo Resolution in 1950; and he has gone so far as to tackle (or to focus on) other expressions familiar to the Buddhologist but which turn out to be just as much the fruit of academic constructions. For example, Hinayana.

The term Hinayana (“Small Vehicle”) only began to circulate at the very end of the nineteenth century, when a rivalry arose between the proponents of the Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”) and those of Pali Buddhism, whose reputation for authenticity they wished to delegitimize. At the time, the Sinhalese school was considered to be the purest expression of the Doctrine, and Mahayana was seen by Europeans as a degenerate form of Buddhism. As exchanges between Buddhists multiplied on an international scale, those who claimed to be followers of the Great Vehicle – the Japanese in the first place – were anxious to restore the reputation of their dogma, which they did by winning what Kourilsky describes as a veritable war of terminology.

This ideological opposition was superimposed on another which, although older, was no less artificial – that which opposed “Southern Buddhism” to “Northern Buddhism,” proposed by Eugène Burnouf and adopted by most Orientalists, although it referred to a somewhat simplistic geographical division.

In fact, Burnouf, an honest researcher who was considered the founder of Buddhology, had worked more or less alone, exploring a field of the history of religions about which little was known at the time. The conventional character of these designations did not prevent them from making their way into the Buddhist communities of South and Southeast Asia, whose members, receiving the growing influence of the West, appropriated them to the point of claiming to be “Theravada” Buddhists.

Thus, the nomenclatures that have been legitimately used are not based on vernacular sources but, to a large extent, on assertions imposed by the scientific community. The term “Buddhism” itself was challenged by a Sinhalese exegete as nonsense invented by Europeans.

Certain events constitute key stages in this process: the Orientalist Congress of Chicago, organized in 1893, and that of Colombo, in 1950. But before that, there were those ardent English, German, and Australian proselytizers, whom Perreira calls the “Europeans of zeal.” Renowned orientalists such as Eugène Burnouf, Thomas William Rhys Davids (founder of the Association for the Pali Language, a questionable researcher whose article modestly hides the fact that he was accused of embezzlement in Ceylon, where he was stationed and had to leave after a trial, and whose wife was a theosophist); the Russian Hermann Oldenberg; improbable theosophists like Henry Steel Olcott.

And there were also Buddhist monks whose European origin was hidden under a locally colored conventual name, the most representative of whom were Nyanatiloka (alias Anton Walther Florus Gueth) and Ananda Metteyya (alias Charles Henry Allan Bennett, the same one who imposed the expression “Theravada Buddhism” with the meaning we know today). Forgotten in this list is the most ardent propagator of Buddhism, Sylvain Lévi, who gave French Indianism all its weight, and whose disciple Jean Filliozat contributed to extinguishing the new breath of air brought by Daniel Schlumberger, who dared to question the dogma of the birth of Buddha.

The categorization of Buddhism into two “vehicles,” Mahayana and Hinayana, directly borrowed from European typology, was unknown in Siam before the second half of the 19th century. No Buddhist in Siam, before Chulalongkorn, could have defined his religious practices as belonging to one or the other of these two “schools.” It was under the influence of Europeans that Mongkut (who was to ascend the throne as Rama IV, then wearing the yellow robe) undertook to invent a Pali alphabet (called the Ariyaka) which he wanted to be universal, with the aim of interacting with his co-religionists in Burma, Ceylon, or other countries that shared with the Siamese this “authentic Buddhism” based on the Singhalese Tipitaka.

The adoption of a language (in this case, Pali) and a phraseology does not de facto imply an adequacy with the dogma usually associated with it. The Burmese ruler Kyansittha invoked Śāsana and Dharma not so much to affirm his fidelity to a “religion” (the modern meaning of which is unknown in Bagan) as to instrumentalize a rhetoric on which he could base his disposition of power and establish his legitimacy. This opened up a new research perspective for the King Ashoka, whose Buddhist character appears today as a dogma in the same way as the birth of the Buddha at Kapilavastu, never scientifically established, not even archaeologically.

(Note that the translation into English by T. Rhys Davids’ Dialogues of the Buddha was published under the patronage of His Majesty Chulalongkorn, King of Siam).

Whether one refers to the primitive texts or to the practices, whether one places oneself from the point of view of Asian Buddhists or European Orientalists, whether the methodology is that of the philologist or the epistemologist, the conclusions of the articles of these Anglo-Saxon researchers all lead to the same observation: “Theravada Buddhism” is indeed the product of an arbitrary taxonomy imposed for practical and, above all, ideological reasons.

In all this, the French colonial period is obscured, and consequently the geographical areas of the regions formerly administered by France (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) omitted. But this is rectified by Grégory Kourilsky, in his review, when he reminds us that “the process that led to the adoption in these regions of modern terminologies (Hïnayana, Theravada) is indebted to the initiatives taken by the administration of French Indochina to make Buddhism a vehicle for the unification of these states. redrawn by political contingencies. The Buddhist Institute, set up in Cambodia and Laos under the patronage of certain members of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (Louis Finot, George Cœdès, Suzanne Karpelès, Pierre Dupont), was one of the main tools of this dynamic, and the sources highlight the efforts made by the colonial authorities to assert the unity of “Hïnayana Buddhism” with a view to federating the Khmer and Lao peoples.

“This book,” concludes Gregory Kourilsky, “is proof that primary sources speak, to anyone who will listen, better than many of the self-sustaining theories that flood the current literature on Buddhism… In Buddhist studies, there will undoubtedly be a before and after How Theravàda is Theravàda?”

This makes perfect sense. Having said that, apart from specialists who are fluent in Pali or Sanskrit, who has access to the primary sources? A few months ago, the magazine, l’Histoire, was interested in the art of Gandhara. It was happy to reproduce, with a certain brilliance, Alfred Foucher’s thesis, which however has been revised by Daniel Schlumberger, and which recent works (especially those of the Russians) have made somewhat obsolete. It is that French Orientalism, dying, is now only represented by a few pundits who live off an intellectual heritage that has never been re-examined, and for the most part, is sclerotic. And it is these researchers who write in specialized journals for a so-called cultivated public.

But then, if these researches are so revolutionary, why don’t we abandon terms that do not correspond to the reality of what is called “Buddhism?” Why are we still happy to use them, despite our greater knowledge and caution? Why not give up these terms if they are wrong?

Because the consequences would be far-reaching. A whole bunch of charlatans living on the credulity of poor, spiritually lost and empty people would lose their golden goose. Most of the Buddhist or transcendental meditation institutes which claim to have a totally imaginary knowledge of Buddhism would have to be closed down. We would be freed from a whole bunch of scholarly chatter, including on the Catholic channels and Le Jour du Seigneur. Libraries would have to be emptied of the chattering and pedantic theses which clutter them up. It would become necessary to urgently inform INALCO and Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, whose father, Jean Filliozat, was the gravedigger of the idea supported by Daniel Schlumberger in 1962, and his new thesis on the date of birth of the Buddha, not to mention all the priests who have risen to the top of their rank and who strut and repeat pompous and vain ecumenism, fed by all the apparatus of a hollow erudition.

What a job!… So, on second thought, let’s not give up on these terms – not to mention the fact that were the research to be renewed, there would be a lot of unemployed people lining up at job centers. It would also make a lot of people worry about the only really important question when you take your nose out of your library – who do I believe in?

As for all those prelates who claim to educate the little people of God, it could lead them to ask themselves an even more decisive question: Who do I serve?


Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows the head of a Bodhisattva, Gandhara region, 3rd–4th century AD.

Traditionis Custodes: Mistep Into Incomprehension

Incomprehension is what predominates when reading the motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying letter to the bishops. One does not understand the justification or the necessity of such a document, and all the more so because the Pope has legislated on the basis of an incomplete argument and false information.

The Incomplete Argument

To say that John Paul II’s motu proprio Ecclesia Dei was motivated only by “an ecclesial reason to recompose the unity of the Church” is not accurate. Certainly, that was a major reason, but there was another reason omitted by Francis: “All the Pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in variety: of that blended ‘harmony’ which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit” (Ecclesia Dei n. 5-a).

False Information

Pope Francis affirms that the generosity of John Paul II and Benedict XVI was used by the traditionalists to oppose the Mass of Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council, by putting in danger the unity of the Church. He has thus said: “The opportunity offered by St. John Paul II, and with even greater magnanimity by Benedict XVI, to restore the unity of the ecclesial body, while respecting the various liturgical sensibilities, has been used to increase distances, to harden differences and to build oppositions that wound the Church and hinder her progress, exposing her to the risk of division…. But I am also saddened by the instrumental use of the 1962 Missale Romanum, which is increasingly characterized by a growing rejection, not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Second Vatican Council, with the unfounded and untenable claim that it has betrayed Tradition and the ‘true Church’…. It is increasingly evident in the words and attitudes of many that there is a close relationship between the choice of celebrations according to the pre-Vatican II liturgical books and the rejection of the Church and its institutions in the name of what they consider to be the ‘true Church.’ This is behavior that contradicts communion, feeding this impulse to divide.”

The very vocabulary used by Francis is that of the Society of St. Pius X. The “true Church!” No traditionalist, faithful to Rome, uses it! So, his statement is true if we limit ourselves to the Society of St. Pius X. But it is false if we apply it to the vast majority of the “Ecclesia Dei” movement; that there are cases that correspond to what the Pope says is true, but they are very much in the minority: why apply a collective punishment for the fault of a few? Would it not have been enough to crack down on those? Obviously, we do not live in the same world as the Pope or his advisors, because their world simply does not correspond to reality; they see it as a homogeneous world that is in fact that of the Society of Saint Pius X alone! Who is advising and enlightening the Pope on these matters?

Based on biased information about the real situation, it is made to appear that the Pope is responding to a demand that is only that of a small minority who have always been fiercely hostile to the Extraordinary Form.

The Pope’s Objective…

…and its predictable dramatic consequences: “It is to defend the unity of the Body of Christ that I am obliged to revoke the faculty granted by my predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of it is contrary to the reasons that led them to grant the freedom to celebrate Mass with the 1962 Missale Romanum.”

In wanting to defend unity, this motu proprio will bring misunderstanding, confusion, drama and finally stir up divisions instead of reducing them. It will achieve the opposite of its objective! In one stroke of the pen, it sweeps away 35 years of efforts by John Paul II and Benedict XVI to calm the situation and bring about a peace that is imperfect but real. Even the synthesis of the CEF, though not very benevolent towards the traditionalist world, recognized that Summorum Pontificum had led globally to a “calmed situation,” which our investigation has largely confirmed.

It will reawaken the liturgical war, exacerbate the resistance of the traditionalists, and, above all, lead to a number of departures towards the Society of Saint Pius X (which must be delighted with this motu proprio which will feed their troops and confirm what they have been repeating since 1988, namely that Rome cannot be trusted; thus confirming their refusal of any reconciliation) – all precisely what John Paul II and Benedict XVI had been able to avoid by their attention to this traditionalist world. This risks becoming an immense mess.

Let us add an important remark from a historical and psychological point of view. Paul VI was ready to make concessions on the Mass, if Archbishop Lefebvre had not rejected Vatican II (it was the famous declaration of November 21, 1974 against the “modernist Rome” of the Council that caused the problem). But John Paul II and Benedict XVI understood that liturgical appeasement was the necessary condition for the most reserved traditionalists to open up to the Council and assimilate it. By tightening the grip on the Mass, Francis will achieve the opposite result to the one legitimately sought.

Double Standards?

The tone of the motu proprio and of the letter is so harsh and severe against the Traditionalists that one cannot help but think that there is a double standard. While Francis insists so often on mercy, leniency, forgiveness – while he is so patient with the Church of Germany which is on the verge of schism – he, the common Father, does not show even a hint of love or understanding for those who are nevertheless a small part of his flock! In these documents, the traditionalists appear as harmful, who are just being tolerated in “Indian reservations,” until they fall into line; the stated objective being to make them disappear (without ever questioning whether they could bring something to the Church, in terms of youth, dynamism, vocations). Are there so many convinced practicing Catholics in the West that it is necessary to drastically limit a part of them?

Recent history has shown that despising and persecuting the Traditionalists in this way does not help them to evolve. On the contrary, it stirs up the resistance of the most hardened. They become more rigid; and this goes against the desired goal of promoting unity.

Let us pay tribute here to the French Bishops’ Conference for their communiqué of July 17, which shows esteem for the “traditionalists:” “They [the bishops] wish to express to the faithful, who usually celebrate according to the missal of Saint John XXIII and to their pastors, their vigilance, the esteem they have for the spiritual zeal of these faithful, and their determination to pursue the mission together, in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force.”

Contempt For The Great Work Of Benedict XVI

These two documents of the pope turn, without any nuance for the work of reconciliation of John Paul II, and especially of Benedict XVI, starting from an analysis of the facts which is false, and proceed right up to cancelling the essential contribution of the pope emeritus who had distinguished the two ordinary and extraordinary forms of the same Roman rite. In so doing, the Pope also eliminates the legal existence of the former Extraordinary Form (as if it no longer existed), thus plunging the Church back into an endless liturgical dispute over the legal status of the Mass of St. Pius V. We return to the regime of tolerance according to more severe modalities than those of 1988, that of the “merciful parenthesis…” which is hardly merciful anymore! That is to say, a setback of more than thirty years by a single act of government.

What Strategy Of Rome Can We See In The Background?

The two documents of Francis show very clearly that the Pope wants to eradicate the Traditionalist world in the Church, to make sure that the Mass of St. Pius V disappears – everything is done to prevent this movement from growing (prohibition of any new group and an obstacle course for the diocesan priest who would like to celebrate with the old Ordo). Everything is being done so that in the long run the traditional Mass will be celebrated only in the Society of Saint Pius X and its satellites.

It seems, therefore, that the Pope’s strategy is to push the recalcitrant towards the Society of St. Pius X, so that the whole of the Traditionalist world will find itself there – they will thus be perfectly controlled and isolated in an “Indian reservation,” cut off from Rome and the dioceses, but with which a minimum link can be maintained in order to avoid a formal schism. This explains why the Pope no longer seeks reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, but shows great generosity towards them by recognizing the full validity of marriages and confessions, by encouraging them to be received in churches during pilgrimages, etc. All this is consistent – and the exact opposite of all the past efforts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI – for the unity of the Church.

Liturgical Exclusivism?

Is this motu proprio not an opportunity for those institutes that refuse to celebrate the ordinary form (which, let us specify, are in the minority within the “Ecclesia Dei” galaxy) to question themselves very seriously about the liturgical, theological and ecclesial validity of this refusal?

Since 1988, the popes have invited us not to refuse the very principle of the celebration of the new Ordo (it is true that the positions of the Ecclesia Dei Commission have fluctuated on the subject, and not helping to clarify it), which in no way takes away from the charism proper to these institutes for the old Mass. Benedict XVI was very explicit in his 2007 letter to the bishops and, in this regard, it must be noted that the lines have hardly moved since then. By obeying the Pope on this crucial point, would not these institutes demonstrate, by their very example, that Francis is wrong in his analysis?

Conclusion

All this is sad because it is unjust; and it is therefore legitimate to complain about it, to argue, to ask tirelessly for a reform of this motu proprio, or for the most flexible application of this text possible, while respecting the authority and the function of the Pope. The bishops will have an essential role to play. Everything will depend on the way they apply this motu proprio – the first reactions observed are encouraging, and I thank those bishops who are concerned for their entire flock.

It is also up to them to bring back to Rome more accurate information about who the traditionalists really are. Recent history has shown that they are not used to letting themselves be done for without reacting. Let’s hope that most of them do not fall back into a “resistance” that turns into revolt and open disobedience. The example not to be followed is that of Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X; and we can see where that leads. It is hard to suffer for the Church, but it cannot fail to bear fruit.


Christophe Geffroy publishes the magazine, La Nef.


The featured image shows the Madonna of Misericordia, by Piero della Francesca, ca. 1460.

The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 2

Imbecility Leads The (Once) Free World

In spite of the United States being closer to a civil war more than any time since 1865, there is one statement that I think one can safely say would find few, if any, dissenters on either side of the divide: at least one of the two Presidents who have held since 2016 or now hold office is an imbecile.
Not being a citizen of the United States my interest in its politics was driven by broader geopolitical concerns, and wider fears about the West’s inabilities to survive its external enemies and its own self destruction.

For my part, in 2016 I had no feeling either way of who would make a better president. Both had serious credibility problems – Whitewater, the Clinton foundation, and Hilary’s mendacity made it impossible for anyone who knew about her history to believe a word she said, though she had had experience in foreign diplomacy, though the Obama doctrine had not made the West stronger; Trump had lost money for various investors numerous times, and when it came to the GOP nomination played very dirty. He also lacked experience. The one thing to an outsider that made him look interesting was that he was not playing by the old rule book in international relations, and that might or might not be a very good thing.

Any hesitations about what would happen if Trump won the election (which the US media assured all and sundry could never happen) were drastically transformed by the response of President Trump’s opponents on his taking presidential office. Trump playing dirty to defeat Cruz or Rubio was like a fist fight in kiddie league compared to the full scale assault upon Trump that immediately was pitched as the need for impeachment by journalists, celebrities and Democrats. Daily, I would read the media report that Trump said or did X, and then when I found footage of statement or deed, which had not been edited to fit the accusation, it had a totally different context and even content from what was being reported.

But as shocking as I found it that I simply could no longer trust reports from media which claimed to be reputable, the far more important concern for me was that the elite, who were supposed to be responsible for ensuring strength and unity at home, had shown that they were incapable of accepting the will of the people for an election term. Thus it was that the strongest geopolitical power for democracy in the Western world no longer had any kind of consensual centre from which it could issue genuine allegiance.

During his term Trump had kept the US from new wars (as promised), bought back some degree of border control (which his voters wanted), and, until COVID, significantly improved economic conditions by increasing employment for every identity group, as well as wages for many. COVID provided an opportunity for his critics not only to raise the hysteria already way beyond fever pitch to new cries of Trump being a mass murderer.

By the time the election of 2020 had come around I had come to the conclusion that the elite ideas brokers in the USA were representatives of the greatest threat to democracy I had witnessed in my sixty six years on this earth, and I certainly did not see how their depiction of what Trump represented – Hitlerism – had meant that their moral commitment was more about accepting the will of the American people than removing him from office.

Though whatever happened during the election, I also think there is a good case to be made that the damage done to democracy as a system of government and to the economies in dealing with COVID might be irreparable. Certainly the emergency powers assumed by states (and not just the USA), including the demand for strict compliance and narrative conformity about what the state has decreed to be the scientific answer to the problem – e.g. all efforts to go into vaccines rather than treatment studies and development, most obviously – has enabled those seeking to curb any kind of populist resistance to elite decision making.

Trump was as much sucker punched by this as he was by the changes to voting laws that enabled ineligible voting and voting interference to take place. He had also failed to halt the power against free speech that had moved from universities to the corporate world and finally into social media so that Trump would find himself banned from all major platforms, along with many other ‘conservative’ youtubers and podcasters who had previously had large followings of people sick to death of what the elites were dictating as the truth on everything from medicine to climate to race and the election.

In the concentrated effort to gain complete control of what people thought and said by ensuing that the political party and media which support it still required an election victory to seal the deal. And, there were two obstacles they had to deal with – who had the personality and popular appeal with voters to defeat a candidate that almost every journalist and pundit in the country had previously thought unelectable, and how would they ensure that their candidate got victory.

That these companies and the mainstream media openly supported one party and ultimately one candidate was not so untypical. But that the only candidate that they thought had the character and qualities to defeat Trump, and the character who ultimately managed to garner the biggest support amongst members of his party for his candidacy had to be kept in a basement and shielded from reporters in conducting his campaign was less typical. What was becoming clearer by the day, is the reason he was being kept in a basement was that he was an imbecile.

Given that whiteness and old men had become a regular term of abuse within the Democratic party perhaps it was not too much a stretch of the imagination to think that this kind of contradiction would not be noticed because the party itself had consisted of people who if not outright imbeciles (represented by the AOC wing of the party), could, at least, be treated as imbeciles. Or perhaps it was because the elite had come to the consensus that the country was full of imbeciles and only an imbecile could defeat an imbecile in an election that only someone made to look like an imbecile could win the presidency. Though, in Joe they hit the jackpot – he could not put two sentences together without looking like an imbecile.

As for Trump, being an imbecile, the day he announced his run for presidential nominee, his critics laughed hysterically about what a complete imbecile he was. And when he won office, they stopped laughing, and the question of his imbecility became a psychiatric matter that should be acted upon by the appropriate authorities (whoever they were – some hoped Rod Rosenstein would step up to the plate).

For sure, Trump was not playing by any known political rule book and he could be shockingly brutal, and make up all sorts of nonsense, and he used the word ‘bigly’ and he did pull funny faces and gesticulated pretty wildly sometimes. But his rallies were like parties where the crowd would whoop and holler and lap up his humour, which always got the loudest roar of approval when he went for ‘the dishonest people’ at the back. If this was an imbecile, one wondered how was it that not a single Democrat candidate could enthuse an audience like this imbecile. And in spite of Joe having zero in the charisma stakes, in spite of such zingers of repartee as ‘C’mon man’, maybe the Democrats really did think it took an imbecile to beat an imbecile, and that’s why with all the talent on display they chose Joe.

In any case, I think it fair to say that even those who really hated what the Democrats were supporting and doing, especially since Trump had taken office, only saw one of the possible nominees for the Democrat presidential candidate as a total imbecile. Like so many other wannabes in American political life – with the exception of the articulate, smart and attractive Tulsi Gabbard – the cast in the run off for the Democrat presidential candidate were as vacuous as they were instantly forgettable.

And while Harris, Warren, and whoever else there was were might have been political grifters, drenched in duplicity accompanied by boundless ambition, I doubt if the word imbecile is the first word that springs to mind when one considered them. ( It is true that VP Harris’s statement that the border crisis is caused by climate change is imbecilic, but I suspect this is what she thinks she should say to the imbeciles who support her – anyway AOC, with typical wide-eyed daring had gone the extra yard on that front in the imbecilic stakes by claiming climate change was the result of racial injustice. I have always harboured the thought that climate change might be the result of the dogs next door who yelp at all hours of the day and are responsible for everything that irritates me in retirement. But I have kept that imbecilic thought to myself).

While the Democrats chose an appeal in the run off, the fact was that while the media did represent the Donald as an imbecile, they also wanted to represent him as Hitler. And that only showed their accusation of him being an imbecile was not serious. For say what you like about Hitler, calling him an imbecile does not really cut the mustard, at least not until pretty late in the day, when yes he went fully deranged. Sure, his ideas about Jews were imbecilic, but taking the totality of the whole man, he was a master of political maneuvring, a master at capturing the mood of a people desperate to follow a leader who would restore their sense of purpose and national destiny, and a master of political rhetoric. And if he was an imbecile what does that say about Neville Chamberlain or FDR?

While Biden’s opponents see him as many things – a hair-sniffing, handsy creep, who made a career as a bagman for the DuPont family, who, attended the funeral of, and eulogised, the former KKK member Robert Bird, who has used his office not only to fill his family’s pockets, and used the FBI and media to shut down the story of his son’s crooked, possibly traitorous, and illegal personal behaviour, who was accused of sexual misconduct by his own staffer – none of these are incompatible with him also being an imbecile. And to be fair, even though his incessant plagiarism was pretty damned stupid, he was not so much an imbecile as a political hack for sale to the highest bidder.

But we know now that even his minders take him for an imbecile. A fact that Joe had to blurt out to the entire world when at a conference with the Russian leader, who none has ever considered an imbecile, that he had been given a list of journalists allowed to softball the questions – whose answers we presume he was supposed to have learnt by rote. Meanwhile the world could also see how Vlad was taking his sword to Western journalists who thought they could catch him out saying – “Yes you are the smartest most decent people I have ever admit, and now that I look deeply into my conscience, I admit it – I killed them all. Please forgive me.” While that didn’t happen Joe marched bravely on giving that big sparkling false tooth grin while pondering his favourite ice cream flavour.

If the media were unable to get their story straight about whether Trump was an imbecile or Hitler, from the get go they thought that because his supporters were deplorables, they were also imbeciles, like the rest of their audience, who they also treated as imbeciles. But by then the media had long since stopped bothering with facts – their stories constantly came from anonymous sources, or sources with partisan interests, and they could rely upon fact checkers to convince people that things that were not facts were facts, and vice-versa.

Thus it was that during the Trump presidency that the media, in complicity with the Democratic party and one of its fronts, conspired (yes, one does not need to wear a tin foil hat to note people making up and disseminating misinformation/ lies for political gain) to concoct a story about Trump being a Russian plant.

They also denied that Obama has authorised spying upon the Trump campaign, even though the Russian plant fabrication had involved the Democrats and their operatives in intelligence having to make the story fly by having its intelligence agencies identify people in the Russian conspiracy who they could not actually manage to interrogate (the dialectic of imbecility has established that when people say that Russians and Trump and his supporters conspired to hijack an election that is not a conspiracy theory).

They also denied what could be heard all over YouTube – i.e. that Biden had used his political office and threatened withholding US military aid to the Ukraine to protect the investigation of his son being on the pay roll as a highly paid consultant to one of the most corrupt energy company’s in the world, at the same time as they attempted to impeach Trump for a supposed overheard phone call threatening to withhold military aid if the Ukraine president did not investigate the son of an opposing presidential candidate.

By the time November 2020 came around the mainstream media had told so many porky pies that none in their right mind could believe them. But the remaining audience they did have had long since lost their minds, and they could be relied onto believing anything, including that Joe was the man to bring the USA back to a reliable centre.

To those who thought the media had been lying about Russia, the Ukraine, Hunter Biden and his lap top (there was nothing there to report!) and all manner of other things including they themselves (they were all white supremacists), the election result looked like just one more lie. As for the election itself, it certainly seems bizarre for example – and I quote from an essay by Joe Holt – that

In almost every county throughout the state (of Pennyslvania), the President was awarded a percentage of votes 40% less than the percent the President won on election day … If Trump won a county by 80% of the vote on Election Day, he won 40% of the mail-in vote for a county. If the President won 60% of the vote on Election Day, he won 20% of the mail-in vote in another county. This pattern occurred in almost every county with the only noticeable exception of Philadelphia, where the President only earned 30% of the vote on Election Day.

Thus it was after the elections occurred that social media had to step on board with the mainstream media to shut down any serious consideration of election fraud. The ostensible reason for this closing down of free speech was that such talk of fraud had created an insurrection, a putsch no less that was organized by President Trump.

Anyone who bothered to look beyond the mainstream footage could see that a demonstration that had got out of control, that included some thugs (spurred on by Antifa) and misguided over enthusiastic protesters, some of whom had entered through a door opened by some security guards, was far less violent than the Black Lives Matter Protests that had taken months earlier, where fire razed buildings to the ground, where businesses were looted, and some people were killed in what the media unanimously reported as being “mainly peaceful protests.”

Treating their audience as imbeciles it became increasingly common for all mainstream journalists to use identical formulations when reporting. Meanwhile in the capitol riot – an attempted putsch so they said – one unarmed woman, a protestor, was shot at point blank range by a security officer. The media intent on making a rabble look like white supremacist terrorists, having discovered that a policeman who had been on duty that day had subsequently died of natural causes concocted the story he was murdered by the same white supremacist terrorists.

In fact, the issues that led so many to cry foul about the election result were multiple. But if one was interested in why people were so convinced that the election had been rigged, one had to do a lot of hunting to see that the claims were about foreign interference and voting machines, which prior to this election had been problems identified by the Democrats, to ballot harvesting, dead and non-existent voters, the unprecedented cessation of counting, prevention of proper scrutineering, and much else beside.

But by January Google, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook started simply wiping numerous sites, posts and tweets that had been making the case – just as they did for those with medical credentials who were critical of Fauci.
The question of facts had become a question of narrative, and the issue was who controlled the narrative.

And what was the case was identical to the point raised earlier – on the one hand the elite pushed the narrative that only imbeciles voted for Trump, or believed the election was a fraud, or, indeed, did not get on board with the other topics that it was pushing – only an imbecile would not believe in climate change, only an imbecile would not believe the science on COVID as represented by Fauci.

Only an imbecile would think defunding the police was not a good idea because only an imbecile would not see systematic racism everywhere in the USA, hence too only an imbecile would not see that critical race theory should be taught in schools, corporations, universities and state departments, only an imbecile would think women had vaginas, hence only an imbecile would think it wrong for biological males to compete in women’s sports, and hence too only an imbecile would think it not a good idea to have transgender soldiers.

Only an imbecile would be opposed to diversity and hence only an imbecile would object to recruitment to US intelligence agencies and the military proudly displaying their commitment to diversity – in what everybody else could see was the most imbecilic advertising campaign that hat had ever been dreamt up (and that is really saying something).

The list is far longer and the logic/ dialectic relentless. It is the logic and dialectic of progress as understood, taught and forced upon the American population through its institutions. Nevertheless at least half the country think: only an imbecile could believe this shit. Which is why, and the Democrats never understood this, that while much support for Trump came from the forgotten working class, it also came from those frustrated by the most pressing demand of the dialectic of imbecility, i.e. that one forsake all independence of thought and get on board with the program.

Where one stands on the riven ness of the US today very much depends who one thinks are the imbeciles – Trump and his supporters, or Biden and those who want you to believe that they are making the world safer and better.

Read Part 1.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows “intrigue,” by James Ensor, painted in 1890.

Traditionis Custodes: To Guard And Defend Tradition?

Did you notice that the Holy Father affirmed extra ecclesiam nulla salus at the same time he set about limiting and ultimately extinguishing the Traditional Latin Mass? In his Letter to the Bishops accompanying Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis wrote, “to remain in the Church not only ‘with the body’ but also ‘with the heart’ is a condition for salvation.”

The internal quoted material in that passage comes from an anti-Donatist work of Saint Augustine, which was itself quoted in the Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, chap. 2, par. 14): On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book V, chap. 28, par. 39 (the last paragraph of that linked page).

As good is it is to see an affirmation of the necessity of the Church for salvation, the larger context is disturbing:

“In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors [to offer the TLM]. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962. Because “liturgical celebrations are not private actions, but celebrations of the Church, which is the sacrament of unity”, [24] they must be carried out in communion with the Church. Vatican Council II, while it reaffirmed the external bonds of incorporation in the Church — the profession of faith, the sacraments, of communion — affirmed with St. Augustine that to remain in the Church not only “with the body” but also “with the heart” is a condition for salvation” [25].

Implicit in that passage is the terrifying notion that the Roman Church’s own liturgical tradition bears within it the seeds of schism. Such logic not only constitutes an unthinkable attack on the Church’s own sacred patrimony; it also affirms the argument of those who say that the new Mass of Paul VI is the lex orandi of an alien religion. And this in a document whose stated purpose is to build up ecclesial unity.

The former Cardinal Prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, thinks that the use of the passage from Saint Augustine was inappropriately twisted for use in the Holy Father’s letter:

“The quotation from St. Augustine about membership in the Church “according to the body” and “according to the heart” (Lumen Gentium 14) refers to the full Church membership of the Catholic faith. It consists in the visible incorporation into the body of Christ (creedal, sacramental, ecclesiastical-hierarchical communion) as well as in the union of the heart, i.e. in the Holy Spirit. What this means, however, is not obedience to the pope and the bishops in the discipline of the sacraments [which is the meaning Pope Francis attaches to it in his letter], but sanctifying grace, which fully involves us in the invisible Church as communion with the Triune God” [explanatory bracketed comment mine].

Cardinal Mueller is not alone among bishops and cardinals in being openly critical of Pope Francis’ July 16 documents. He is joined by Cardinal Zen, Cardinal Burke, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, and the Dutch Bishop, Rob Mutsaerts.

Cardinal Burke asks and proceeds to answer a timely and important question regarding the authority of the Supreme Pontiff:

15. But can the Roman Pontiff juridically abrogate the UA? [Usus Antiquior (the more ancient use), which is what Cardinal Burke calls the TLM throughout his document –BAM] The fullness of power (plenitudo potestatis) of the Roman Pontiff is the power necessary to defend and promote the doctrine and discipline of the Church. It is not “absolute power” which would include the power to change doctrine or to eradicate a liturgical discipline which has been alive in the Church since the time of Pope Gregory the Great and even earlier. The correct interpretation of Article 1 cannot be the denial that the UA is an ever-vital expression of “the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” Our Lord Who gave the wonderful gift of the UA will not permit it to be eradicated from the life of the Church.

The Dutch auxiliary bishop, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, agrees, but is more blunt:

“Pope Francis is now pretending that his motu proprio belongs to the organic development of the Church, which utterly contradicts the reality. By making the Latin Mass practically impossible, he finally breaks with the age-old liturgical tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. Liturgy is not a toy of popes; it is the heritage of the Church. The Old Mass is not about nostalgia or taste. The pope should be the guardian of Tradition; the pope is a gardener, not a manufacturer. Canon law is not merely a matter of positive law; there is also such a thing as natural law and divine law, and, moreover, there is such a thing as Tradition that cannot simply be brushed aside.”

Many argue in favor of the Traditional Latin Mass using Quo Primum. This is good, but let us go deeper and realize that what Pope Saint Pius V did in that document was not only positive legislation. It was the Pope using his power to guard and defend tradition, and that tradition which long preexists Quo Primum still stands even if a pope were to have the temerity to attempt an explicit abrogation of Pius V’s bull.


Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel.


The featured image shows Pope Francis by Tony Rubino.