Revel: A Liberal between Paris and Washington

Known and recognized for his talent as a polemicist and his unquestionable erudition, Jean-François Revel added to these qualities the strength of his personal convictions against the current of his time and his country. Of his time—he defended an uncompromising liberalism against all forms of totalitarian temptation when almost no one was grumbling against the Marxist doxa. Of his country—he was an atypical exponent of a pessimistic and skeptical current in the nation that has probably deposited more militant faith in the transforming capacities of politics. However, as we shall see later, these two considerations need, if not total amendments, at least partial ones.

A Liberal of the Land who Loved Ideas

Born in Marseille in 1924, a student of the elite École Normale Supérieure and a philosophy graduate, he taught in Algeria, Mexico and Italy before abandoning teaching and devoting himself to an independent intellectual and journalistic career. He was a cosmopolitan spirit, an attitude that radiated in his writings and was reflected in his philias and phobias, but very French in an essential sense: that of the utmost fidelity to that national spirit summed up in the formula that the British historian Sudhir Hazareesingh coined for his How the French Think: “that country that loved ideas.” For, although every great nation considers itself to be an exceptional homeland, France’s particularity is that it associates that status with the genius that allows it the greatest theoretical feats and the greatest intellectual prowess. As a historian of ideas, philosopher, journalist, literary and political editorialist, director of collections in various publishing houses, Jean-François Revel’s biography fits like a glove with the epochal sense of what Michel Winock baptized as “the century of intellectuals.”

In his case, however, the slogan so often repeated in the Parisian 1960s can be reversed: unlike a whole generation seduced by that “cabal of devotees” (title of the book in which he criticized the intellectual caste infected by totalitarian ideologies), Revel preferred to be right with Aron rather than wrong with Sartre. He challenged with the weapons of the committed intellectual the kind of anti-capitalist and anti-liberal gnosticism that manifests itself in the disdain for facts and the real man. Against the prophetic attitude of his guild, which proclaims itself, as Voegelin noted, “connoisseur of the means to save the human race,” Revel dared to proclaim the nakedness of ideologies surrendered to radiant futures that pass for unwavering and sanctimonious adherence to the iron fist wielded by the salvific powers of the earth. As his boss wrote in the newspaper l’Express, Olivier Todd, he was a declared enemy of jargon, systems, gurus, social projects and utopias.

But this is, as we have already warned, only a half-truth, which leaves Revel, so to speak, on the good side of history in view of the well-known outcome of the Cold War. Because Revel’s liberalism came from the humanist left and he did not end up separating himself from a certain idea of socialism that he cultivated since his youth as a resistance fighter during the German occupation of France. He wrote his first works against the right (Lettre ouverte à la droite), against General de Gaulle and against the monarchical architecture of the Fifth Republic. He came to the conclusion that the greatest enemy of the socialism he desired was communism. He knew Mitterrand very well, and even became a candidate on his electoral lists during the long desert crossing of the socialist leader, whose political youth was, as is well known, quite different from his own (perhaps for that reason Revel was one of the first to portray that cold and impenetrable sphinx who arrived at the Elysée Palace in 1981). To put it in Oakeshott’s terms, Revel’s liberalism proceeded from the politics of faith but ended up being anchored, perhaps to his regret, in the politics of skepticism. Though never quite.

In How Democracies Perish, Revel warned that liberal democracy risks being a brief parenthesis in history, if the mental framework of Western leaders and public opinion remains a prisoner of bad conscience and political blindness. Almost naturally, and perhaps hastily, he shifted his interpretation of the red totalitarian threat to a new actor that was to replace it after the establishment of the New World Order: Islamist terrorism. This coalition of enemies explains to a large extent his bet on the American model, even though Revelian liberalism was, however, decidedly anti-Fukuyamaesque. In fact, he could rather be reproached for an excess of pessimism in his prognoses. The astuteness of reason seemed to lean toward the perverse side of history. Precisely at the moment when humanity perceived the need for a universal democracy, Revel understood that the Western democratic system “is corrupted, denaturalized, falsified at its core.” Little trace of messianism or democratic soteriology in his worldview.

An unrepentant liberal, Revel proposed in his works various remedies against democratic defeatism. This historical therapy could also be interpreted as an inner struggle against the psychological needs that the various forms of totalitarianism satisfy: overcoming nationalism, re-establishing the separation and balance of powers, matching the progress of knowledge with the efficacy of political action and decision. His theory of useless knowledge is, in this sense, symptomatic of his civilizational pessimism. The increase of knowledge in multiple fields of knowledge does not, according to Revel, have repercussions in a public space impervious to the rationalism of facts that thrives in civil society. By their attachment to the legends and prejudices of ideologies, the political-intellectual clercs continue to lead the masses along the path of chimeras.

This general attitude makes their increasingly enthusiastic defense of the United States a problematic and symptomatic element of their thinking. “If you erase anti-Americanism, you erase eighty percent of French political thought, both left and right,” he went so far as to say in an interview. This position undoubtedly reveals his public dissent. However, even he did not manage to remain aloof from the deformed image of the United States that prevails in the Hexagon.

Neither Marx nor Jesus?

For Revel America practically invented the idea of the future. While all previous societies, including modern ones, had their models in the past (the anticomania, for example, of the French revolutionaries, marvelously restored by Claude Mossé), the United States populates its imaginary with a society to come, a city on the hill to be inhabited by new men without stain. And Revel aspired precisely to a type of planetary democracy born of a second world revolution. According to the daring interpretation of Ni Marx ni Jésus [Neither Marx or Jesus], this second coming of the revolutionary spirit could only sprout by virtue of the particular historical dynamism of the United States of America, a “laboratory society” called to infect its way of life to all the countries of the world, for “revolution breaks down into two words: crisis and innovation.” It is here where one of the great errors of his understanding of historical facts can be pointed out.

Undoubtedly, he was right in understanding, perhaps before anyone else, that the revolution would not come from Moscow but from America. But, neither Marx nor Jesus? The American revolution is nothing but a particular and heterodox way of other Christians for another socialism. There is the Woke spawn to prove it, religious acrobatics, unhinged heresy of iconoclastic followers of both Marx and Jesus, twinned in the common devotion of victimocratic religion. It is no coincidence that the new European left expresses an undisguised admiration for this liberal and progressive America that fits in perfectly with its aspirations. When Revel was vituperative of the residues of totalitarian mentality in the European left despite the undeniable failures of real socialism, he was not wrong: his socialism could feel better represented in Washington. In a way, Augusto del Noce’s formula can be repeated: Marxism failed in the East because it triumphed in the West.

Edgar Morin, who by his own admission had lived his militancy in the French Communist Party during the forties and fifties of the last century as a form of religious mysticism, returned ecstatic from his stay with the “socialists” of California in the sixties. Thus he found an ideal that rejuvenated him and which he could not have defined in better terms: “Neo-Rousseauism, yearning for Christian purity, childlike warmth, libertarian tradition, utopian communism, Kathmandian rejection of the West.” Jean-Marie Domenach put it less nuanced in Esprit magazine in the 1970s, shortly after the publication of Neither Marx nor Jesus: “The United States is today the greatest communist country in the world.” Annie Kriegel recalled that communists “in their own way love America, as they feel attuned to its aspirations, its needs, the expectations that preside over the persistent use of the New World metaphor.” And he added: “Whether the entrance into the Promised Land is through migration or conversion, in both cases it has been necessary to tear oneself away from the ancient land of the Fall and Sin; it has been necessary, in person, to choose, to choose a new way of being in the world. The emigrant and the communist share the same brutal experience which is that of rupture.”

Trotsky, for his part, in a particularly revealing text, confirms this essential anthropological reality that nests in a revolutionary spirit common to modern Promethean projects: the Founding Fathers of Bolsheviks and Puritans share the same ancestors. After the Revolution, noted the creator of the Red Army, human life has become a Bivouac, that is to say, one of those camps set up provisionally to spend the night outdoors while waiting for the definitive dwelling. He wrote: “What is the use of solid houses,” the old believers of yesteryear asked, “if we are waiting for the coming of the Messiah? The Revolution does not build solid houses either; to compensate, it moves the people, crowds them in the same premises and builds barracks. Provisional barracks: such is the general aspect of its institutions. Not because it awaits the coming of the Messiah, not because it opposes his ultimate goal to the material process of organizing life, but because it strives, by constant research and experimentation, to find the best methods for building its final home. All its actions are sketches, drafts on a given theme.”

French Liberal… and American

Revel could have joined the mainstream of French liberalism, which is not that of giants like Tocqueville, but that other one portrayed by Lucien Jaume from his studies on Jacobin democracy and the 19th century. Far from enthroning the individual like the Scottish Enlightenment, French liberalism erases him. The French-style liberal individual, consecrated by the Reformation and confirmed by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, must contend with the sovereign state of the Bodinian matrix, which, far from being weakened, was strengthened by the Revolution. In figures such as François Guizot and Victor Cousin, this effort to erase the individual by submitting him to the geometric spirit of administrative centralization was manifested. French liberalism was an eminently statist liberalism, also colored with a missionary and collectivist spirit, of genuine republican civil religion. The liberalism of figures such as Madame de Staël or Benjamin Constant, supporters of the protection of individual conscience and the rights of the individual against the State, did not join the main stream of the majority liberalism in France. The Jacobin anticomania leaned to the side of the liberty of the ancients, which demands that the interest of the City should absorb the energy of all. In The Republic of the French Republicans, the interpretation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was always selective. The Frenchman would only be recognized as a citizen in the capacity of soldier, taxpayer, voter or pupil of the republican school. The long shadow of Rousseau did not fade with Robespierre. French liberal humanity, beyond the universalist rhetoric, circulated along the path of a citizenship domesticated by the State. Paradoxes of French liberalism, Jaume calls them.

If we expand on this point, it is simply to point out that Revel could have perfectly followed the course of this French-style liberalism without betraying the foundations of his thought. If he did not do so, perhaps it was because Paris was no longer the Mecca of the Revolution and Moscow could not be. Washington remained as the Third Rome of socio-liberal cosmopolitanism. There was no lack of philosophical sources on which to base an American-style progressive liberalism. In fact, in the United States the liberal is, broadly speaking, a praying social democrat. This is the line of Herbert Croly, who called for the creation of a New Republic of “Jeffersonian ends with Hamiltonian means.” These are aspects that Patrick Deneen reminds us of in Why Liberalism Failed? For this new American liberalism “Democracy could no longer mean individual self-reliance based upon the freedom of individuals to act in accordance with their own wishes. Instead, it must be infused with a social and even religious set of commitments that would lead people to recognize their participation in the ‘brotherhood of mankind.'” Baptist pastor Walter Rauschenbusch deepened this sensibility by proposing a Kingdom of God on earth, a new form of democracy that would not accept human nature as it is, but move it in the direction of its improvement.” Dewey proposed a “public socialism” and Croly a “flagrant socialism,” but for both of them this socialism was at the service of the construction of a new individual freed from the bonds of the past. It is a current that reaches as far as Saul Alinsky in the 20th century, Obama’s inspiration, Robin Hood of the Chicago suburbs, friend of the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (another convert, alas, to Americanism) and the subject of Hillary Clinton’s doctoral thesis.

Aron recalled in his memoirs that at the end of the 1970s Revel still considered himself a socialist, although in the paradoxical sense that “only liberalism can fulfill the hopes of socialism.” A liberal by the name of socialist, this particular vision manifested itself in a privileged way in The Totalitarian Temptation, whose first lines read: “Today’s world is evolving towards socialism. The main obstacle to socialism is not capitalism, but communism. The society of the future must be planetary, which can only be realized at the cost, if not of the disappearance of the nation-states, at least of their subordination to a world political order.” It is not forcing things too much to affirm that this bet on socialist-liberal, globalist and anti-national, de-ideologized and technocratic future-centrism makes Revel an intellectual precursor of Macronism, that is, a form of international-socialism of a Saint-Simonian cut operating behind the mask of European institutions impatient to dissolve the nation-states that founded them—institutions immersed in a federalist race that only disguises, with a kindly countenance, the true reality of the American hegemon to which they have bowed, at least since Jean Monnet. “He is not the man of the Americans,” de Gaulle said with derision about the French investment banker and “Father: of Europe, “he is a great American.”

Liberalism: A Socialism with a Human Face?

When a country subordinates its foreign policy to its domestic policy, that is to say, to the well-being of its citizens,” said Revel, “it can be considered more socialist than when it acts the other way around.” Here, at last, is the socialism with a human face so often invoked on the other side of the Wall. A socialism centered on the administration of things from which emanates the idol of material well-being. And autistic in terms of the internal concord and external security that defines the government of men. It was nothing new, in fact. It was not for nothing that Baron Hertling had already warned of this turn in contemporary politics in 1893: “It was not so long ago that word politics exclusively designated foreign policy. The respective strengths of the various states, their reciprocal relations, friendly or strained, their varying alliances, their projects and aspirations: such was the exclusive object of interest to diplomats and statesmen… Then the political interest changed direction, falling especially on questions of internal order, such as the constitution and administration of the state, brought up to date by the then so-called constitutionalism.” It is a tendency that Revel tirelessly cheered in his work, however much his pessimism made him lament, once again, the lamentable nationalist resistances of the nation-state. Socialist internationalism is perfectly expressed in this affirmation of the “liberal” Revel: “As long as the system of nation-states persists, democracy will retreat. And as long as democracy regresses, socialism cannot be established.” This socialism is nothing other than the liberal utopia of a disembodied democracy. And we can say that never has so much progress been made as in our time in this suicidal direction. Would Revel have deplored it?

The reality is that the political model of the European Union has long since veered towards a new form of liberal-socialist Welfare totalitarianism, a system, therefore, that defies Revel’s rigid antitheses: the convergence of liberal democracy and a new form of totalitarianism without violence. Did Revel forget the lessons and prophecies of the great Tocqueville about the disturbing horizon that looms over a democracy given over to paternalistic despotism? Would he have celebrated this evolution or would he have interpreted it as the fulfillment of his darkest prognoses about the inevitable infection of totalitarian ideological residues in the weak Western democracies? If so, if liberal melancholy had definitively prevailed over his socialist faith, the hypothetical Revelian analysis would resemble today the one offered to us from the post-communist East by authors such as Ryszard Legutko, who in The Demons of Democracy presents a merciless diagnosis of the European Union: the EU is today the EURSS. Contrary to what many think,” says Legutko, “the demoliberal world does not deviate too much, in important aspects, from the world dreamed by the communist man who, in spite of his enormous collective efforts, was unable to build within the communist institutions. To tell the truth, there are differences, but not so great as to be appreciated and accepted unconditionally by someone who has had first-hand experience with both systems and has passed from one to the other.” It is precisely this biographical experience that places this Polish philosopher, MEP of the conservative group, above the outdated vision of Revel, who never really suffered totalitarianism in the flesh, even though he always denounced it with vehemence and courage. Compared to this lucidity coming from the East, his judgments today seem petrified in a world that is no longer ours.

Yankee Apocalypse: The Return of Trotsky

If Revel ignored the fact that the totalitarian utopia was introduced under other guises in the mainstream of liberal democracies, his bet on the United States also overlooked a feature that John Gray masterfully exposed in Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. This apocalyptic tendency of American politics was especially aggravated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks of 2001. ” In claiming a foundation in a universal ideology,” Gray asserts, “the United States belongs with states such as post-revolutionary France and the former Soviet Union, but unlike them it has been remarkably stable.”

Revel’s ideological evolution does not differ much from that of the old leftists of the Trotskyist matrix who in the United States founded the Neocon current, such as Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Daniel Moynihan or Midge Decter. Michael Novak confirms: “Practically all of this group had been men and women of the left, and more specifically, of the sectors that were further to the left than the Democratic Party, perhaps among the most left-wing 2 or 3% of the American electorate. Some were economic socialists; others were political social democrats.” Gray, for his part, is very explicit about the revolutionary Marxist invoice of the thinking of this group of authors: “It is too simple to view neo-conservatives as reformulating Trotskyite theories in rightwing terms, but the habits of thought of the far Left have had a formative influence. It is not the content of Leninist theory that has been reproduced but its style of thinking. Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution suggests existing institutions must be demolished in order to create a world without oppression. A type of catastrophic optimism, which animates much of Trotsky’s thinking, underpins the neoconservative policy of exporting democracy.” It is the policy that Revel supported in his last years, albeit in the minority of a French atmosphere very hostile to the United States and its geopolitical projects.

Like the neocons, the planetary project of disembodied democracy defended by Revel retained a utopian matrix that dispensed with the national body, presenting both (democracy and nation) almost as opposites. Revel even spoke out in favor of the humanitarian right of interference, together with Bernard Kouchner and Mario Bettati. The latter, a French jurist and professor of international law, retains his good or bad reputation thanks to his terrible apothegm, worthy of appearing in the pages of the Yankee Apocalypse: “sovereignty is the mutual guarantee of torturers.” Very bad company. It was not necessary to wait twenty years of US military occupation in Afghanistan to understand that a democracy without a body is a much more utopian project than that of a body without democracy. The return of the Taliban to power is a great lesson against the multicolored democratism of the armed missionaries and against the discourse of the beautiful souls who support it.

Sovereignty as the Origin of all Evils: The Leap towards Utopia

It is one of the great errors of Revel’s political vision, which manifests itself in his rejection of the idea of national sovereignty. To a large extent this error is explained by his typically modern conception of political concepts. He probably understood, not without reason, that the French understanding of sovereignty, which starts with Bodin’s absolute and perpetual power and culminates in Rousseau’s general will, was incompatible with the liberal society to which he aspired. But this is precisely the impasse of a certain liberalism. Instead of betting on an alternative model of popular sovereignty, such as Althusius’ medieval one, it bet on the anti-political denunciation of national sovereignty. With modern sovereignty Revel despised not only a historical concept that can (and should) be criticized but the very essence of the political, which cannot be rejected without denying reality itself. It is what is called in France jeter le baby avec l’eau du bain (throwing the baby out with the bath water). Liberalism’s distrust of political power is all the more paradoxical because liberals began by conceding everything to the Leviathan in the construction of the new man and the new society. To take back with one hand what they have given with the other: this is the uncomfortable position of the liberal soul, eternally in conflict between its anarchic pole and its macro-archic pole.

Raymond Aron, who was personally fond of Revel and who collaborated with him in their common journalistic vocation, masterfully portrayed in his memoirs the aporias of his thought: “What impressed me in him as a writer was the simultaneous presence of an authentic culture and the art of making the polemic comprehensible to all readers. His books, which simplified without vulgarizing the great debates, were inspired by an anti-communism that he himself described as ‘visceral’ and found a large audience on both sides of the Atlantic, which demonstrated his success in such a difficult genre. At the same time, I was cross—and I told him so when our relations became closer—at his insistence on calling himself a ‘socialist’, of the leap he was taking towards utopia by rising up against national sovereignties, in his opinion the evil par excellence, the origin of all evils.” Once again, there is in Revel a skepticism that does not get off the ground, a utopia that refuses to die.

Indeed, Revel had written in The Totalitarian Temptation that Maurras had triumphed and Marx had failed. A puzzling judgment: with the principle of national sovereignty and the cult of the nation associated with the State, the principles of absolute monarchy were clandestinely triumphing in the modern world. This partly explains the anti-Gaullist origin of his intellectual career and his support for Mitterrand. His first works, Le style du général [The General’s Style] and L’absolutisme inefficace [The Inadequacies of Absolutism], fired their argumentative ammunition against General de Gaulle and the monarchical architecture of the Fifth Republic. As an interpreter of the genealogy of ideas he was not without reason but, in this respect at least, he failed to see that in contesting the Gaullian enterprise against the incipient Europeanist federalism and the military hegemony of NATO he was siding with another totalitarian temptation, a temptation perhaps more subtle but ultimately also more effective than that embodied by the Soviets.

In the 1980s, with the reprinting of his book against de Gaulle, he did not renounce his judgments against the general and what he considered as historical errors of his interpretation, but he ended significantly with these words: “De Gaulle was great, not because he was infallible, but because he was capable of that speed of decision and action which is the only mark of true leaders, and which allows us to say that, had they not been there, better or worse, the world would in any case have been different. Of how many can the same be said?” Had he finally understood that the greatness of the great stylists of politics ends up being in the end indispensable to sustain, not only democracy but also the prosperity of free peoples? We do not know what Revel would have said or written about the course of events between his death in 2006 and today. But perhaps this sentence pointed in a more stimulating direction than the one he reflected in previous writings.

Carlo Gambescia has masterfully portrayed in Liberalismo triste the features of a realistic liberal tradition, sentinel of the facts and attached to the regularities of politics. It is a melancholic tradition that knows well, as Berlin pointed out, that “from the twisted wood from which man is made… nothing entirely straight can emerge.” This sad liberalism has its feet firmly on the ground and feels awkward trying to lift them off. “It is melancholy proud in Burke; benevolent in Tocqueville; Faustian in Weber; aloof, perhaps too much so, in Pareto; restless, notwithstanding scientific habit, in Mosca; reasoning in Ortega; feverish in Röpke, methodical in Jouvenel; serene in Aron; humble in Freund; autoironic in Berlin.”

There are no willows in Revelian melancholy to inhabit this Olympus of thought. His vision did not entirely expurgate the utopias which, on this or the other side of the Atlantic, imagined “new heaven and a new earth” for men. He did not become a true sad liberal. Fortunately, he was not a sad liberal either. Let’s keep that.

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

Do You Know René Girard?

On April 16, 1978, the famous French weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, published an article by Michel Serres, philosopher and historian of science, with the now legendary title, “Do you know René Girard?” In it, the author presented Violence and the Sacred, the latest book published by a hitherto little-known French literary critic and university professor based in the United States. It was, according to Serres, a work called to illuminate the unfathomable abyss that surrounds the mystery of the foundation of human cultures. All of them are tombs and “Girard has long endeavored to decipher their tombstones.” Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, cities are created by men with their hands stained with innocent blood. Blood of brothers and also of strangers, those scapegoats whom myths and rites remember in the life-giving commemoration of the founding murder.

Violence is at the root of all institutions, but it is veiled, disguised by culture. By all cultures, except for one: “One culture, just one, is the exception and starts to uncover the secret. It starts to say that the victim of these murders is not responsible for all the evils. It starts shouting the innocence of Abel and Joseph. It is the Jewish culture…. The prophets are the first ethnologists. Girard dares to reopen Scripture, at the very moment when it is most forgotten, at the hour when to do so seems scandalous…. Read this clear, luminous, sacrilegious, calm book. You will have the impression of having changed your skin. You will crave, you will need peace…. With Darwin’s fire, remember, the old assemblages collapsed, everything was directed towards time, towards the general time of evolution, by means of operators of an unexpected simplicity. The same thing happens with Girard’s fire. We had not had a Darwin on the side of the human sciences. Here we have one.”

Isaiah Berlin, inspired by a proverb attributed to the Greek poet Archilochus, reminded us that there are two kinds of people: foxes and hedgehogs. The fox knows many things, while the hedgehog knows only one. December 25, 2023 will mark a century since the birth of one of the greatest hedgehogs of all time and perhaps the most significant of the 20th century. But Girard was a fascinating and uncomfortable hedgehog. Scorned by the intellectual clergy mimetically subjected to the fashions and jargons of the moment, whether those of existentialism or poststructuralism, ignored by the French academic establishment, he eventually came to be admired and repudiated for the same reason: for having had the audacity to propose an encompassing theory (from desire to religion to violence) at a time when every conception of the world of universal scope was deconstructed and destroyed by the sorcerers of suspicion. But Girard’s suspicion was even greater than the gregarious prejudice disguised as skepticism that came to proliferate among the buffoons of postmodernism.

As Xabier Pikaza has written, “Girard accepts and in a certain sense develops the anti-religious critique of the 19th-20th centuries: not only does he assume the attitude of the masters of suspicion, but he can take it to the end, without the risk of anthropological dissolution.” With Girard sounded the hour in which disbelieving reason dares to overcome the clichés and axioms of narrow rationalism and rigid positivism. The negation of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud was always partial, an intellectual epiphenomenon of the threatened bourgeois conscience, while Girard revolutionized our understanding of violence and built a new anthropological defense of Christianity. New because he began to listen anew to what many others only heard without paying real attention: what Girard once called “the ill-known voice of the real.” A voice silenced among myths and primitive rites but that resounds like a distant echo in the murmur of the Scriptures. It is the voice that changed the world forever.

There are thinkers who acquire the category of event because, as Francesc Torralba has written, after them the way of thinking is radically transformed. René Girard falls into this category. Jean-Marie Domenech called him the “Hegel of Christianity.” Pierre Chaunu called him the “Albert Einstein of the human sciences,” and Paul Ricoeur said of him that he would be as important for the 21st century as Marx or Freud were for the 20th. A sort of Guelph among the Ghibellines and Ghibelline among the Guelphs, Girard felt himself to be a disciple of Durkheim without renouncing the lineage of Pascal. An untenable position if ever there was one, but fertile as few others.

The Logos of Heraclitus versus the Logos of St. John, the violent message of the myths versus the love of the Gospel, the city of men versus the Civitas Dei. In Girard’s work, the same dynamism emerges, the same search is manifested, the same spiritual breath beats that beats in the heart of the doctor of Hippo. In any case, the Christianocentric turn of Girard’s work was the last scandal of a thought that developed book after book over five decades. It was a thought that reached the very Apocalypse along the path marked by the great classics of modern literature and anthropology. An unparalleled theoretical itinerary. “When I want to know the latest news, I read the Apocalypse.” Léon Bloy said it, but it was René Girard who took this sentence to the extreme of its theoretical possibilities in his work.

Benoït Chantre presides the Association des Recherches Mimétiques, a French research center dedicated to promote and disseminate studies related to the anthropological and social theory of René Girard. He is also the author of the first complete biography dedicated to the great French-American theorist (René Girard, Biographie. Grasset, 2023). It has been published, not by chance, in the year of the centenary of his birth. Because the task of writing the life of this singular thinker was long pending. An intellectual biography of almost twelve hundred pages that is supported by numerous unpublished texts and a rich correspondence. In them we discover the man behind the imposing mimetic theory, a theory he elaborated with the handwriting of Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, James George Frazer, Durkheim, the prophets, St. John, St. Paul and Clausewitz. Between science and faith, the existential and intellectual journey of this authentic meteorite of Western thought who dared to bring together everything old and new in the long history of knowledge and learning.

Life of Girard

René Noël Théophile Girard was born in Avignon on Christmas Day, 1923. At a very young age, he passed the entrance exam to the Chartes School in 1942. Student in Paris during the Occupation, witness in Avignon of the American bombing of the city, the war left a deep mark on him. He was only 23 years old when he crossed the Atlantic. It was 1947 and he was unaware at the time that he would spend an entire academic career in the United States, a career that ended at the prestigious Stanford University. Girard, writes Chantre, lived on American campuses “like Hölderlin in his tower.” This exile to the American university, where researchers enjoy (or enjoyed) exceptional working conditions, was the opportunity of a lifetime. He did not miss it.

At the age of 38, he returned to the Christian faith, which he had lost during his adolescence. He had not set foot in a church since then. It was, as he often said, a conversion fruit of a grace mysteriously linked to his intellectual work. In his monumental Diccionario de pensadores cristianos (Dictionary of Christian Thinkers), Pikaza refers to Girard as “perhaps the most significant of the Christian converts of the 20th century.” For Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, “Girard’s project is certainly the one that today is presented to us with the greatest drama in soteriology and, in general, in theology itself.”

Much later, in 2005, in his eighties, Girard took Bossuet’s place at the Académie Française. The “fille aînée de l’Église” welcomed as an immortal of French letters the man who, in the words of the writer Roberto Calasso, should be described as “the last Father of the Church.” John Paul II, during his trip to France in 1980, asked the question: “France, first-born daughter of the Church, are you faithful to your baptism?” With Girard’s election to Chair 37 a discreet “yes” was heard within the old walls of the venerable institution founded by Cardinal Richelieu. However, Girard remained on the sidelines of the sterile ecclesiastical debates between progressives and conservatives, an epochal trifecta resulting from the globalization of the Church. The Avignon-born anthropologist could have agreed with Ernesto Sábato, who recalled this maxim of Schopenhauer: “Sometimes progress is reactionary and reaction is progressive.” This allowed Girard to place himself in a personal and singular way before the great themes of modernity and to cross the sinister century of ideologies and political religions, with their mental ties and their odious fanaticism, without paying any toll. For Michel Serres, Girard’s wager represented “the most fruitful hypothesis of the century.” His thought even inspired the homilies of Father Rainier Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household since 1980, who recalled something that should not be forgotten regarding his work: “Many, unfortunately, continue to cite René Girard as the one who denounced the alliance between the sacred and violence, but they do not say a single word about the Girard who pointed out in the paschal mystery of Christ, the total and definitive rupture of that alliance.”

May this Christmas season more than any other bring us, with his first one hundred years of life, René Girard (1923-2015), always young and returning to us—for the work of this giant of the 20th century sealed forever that which his compatriot Georges Bernanos wrote: “It is not the Gospel that is old. It is we who are old.”

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

The Pareto Void

Next August will be the 100th anniversary of the death of Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) and it seems unlikely that the political class he studied with care, which is otherwise so fond of morbid commemorative rituals, will commemorate the Italian economist and theorist of the circulation of elites. We Europeans have forgotten Pareto, if we ever had him in mind. Historical memory, democratic memory, memory of the victims. Vilfredo Pareto fits none of these. You can test this out with search engines. Not a trace. At best, references to Pareto before being the great Pareto. Little Pareto, yes. Big Pareto, no. Economist Pareto, mathematical Pareto, statistical Pareto… Harmless Pareto. Pareto optimality, Pareto 80/20 law, Pareto efficiency law. But no trace of the Pareto whom James Burnham placed—along with Machiavelli, Michels, Sorel and Mosca—among the neo-Machiavellian “defenders of freedom.” There are, of course, exceptions. If not, then read the article by Jerónimo Molina Cano dedicated to the political class.

It would be fair to call this—in order to compensate for such a great injustice, a new social legality bearing the name of our egregious political theorist—”the Pareto void.” The Pareto void prevails in that society, regime and/or public opinion in which the teachings on the political class by Vilfredo Pareto or, as the case may be, by some other member of the so-called Italian elitist school (Mosca, Michels) are ignored. In such a society, and in accordance with Pareto’s void, the level of political freedom and control of the rulers tends to zero, while corruption, incompetence and nepotism of the ruling class tends to infinity, thus fully complying with Gómez Dávila’s aphorism: “The more serious the problems, the greater the number of inept people that democracy calls upon to solve them.” Thus, every society tends, according to Pareto, to the Pareto void. And this explains the ignoring of Pareto. Regularity of the political: “We do not know what happens to us and that is precisely what happens to us” (Ortega dixit).

In the political assembly of a healthy republic, together with conquerors, founders, missionaries and—preferably—a scarce but necessary representation of corrupt compatriots who remember our common and sinful humanity (since there is no people or nation that can be free of it), there should also be, in a place of honor, a small but visible portrait of Vilfredo Pareto. Seeing this scrutinizer of the political class, with all its miseries and evil intentions, deputies, senators and governors would expectedly lower, at least for a second, their gaze before perpetrating their purposes of the day. The presence of this portrait would have an added benefit—to remind everyone of the mortality of political regimes and also that of their ruling elites. A portrait of Pareto is a memento mori for every political class. History is a cemetery of aristocracies, wrote our man with an image worthy of appearing in the Apocalypse.

More than a Biography

If biography is never a scholarly curiosity, in the case of Vilfredo Pareto this simple truth reaches astonishing levels. On July 15, 1848, he was born in Paris to a French mother. His father, the Marquis Raffaele Pareto, lived in exile in the French capital. Thus came into the world, “italiano ma anche francese,” Vilfredo Pareto. The date and place of his birth have a powerfully emblematic significance. According to Hayek, the century of European socialism begins in 1848, which is also the year in which the Communist Manifesto saw the light of day. “The most important event in the entire modern history of Europe,” said one of its most astute scrutinizers, Lorenz von Stein. Initiated in France, the so-called Springtime of the Peoples of 1848 spread throughout Europe. Decisive in this contagion was the accelerated level of development of communications (telegraph and railroads) within the framework of the Industrial Revolution. Pareto dedicated the beginning of his professional career as an engineer to railroads. Railroads or also “iron roads,” in its French etymology (chemins de fer). Perhaps a nod to his future mission (as he would later call it) as a sociologist of politics, for politics also has its iron roads (or laws). In any case, returning to the indicated date, it is a known fact that the political, social and moral crisis of that fateful year probably marked a profound rupture in the order of beliefs of the old continent, constituting the political watershed of contemporary Europe.

From a pure Genoese family, Pareto’s father, a Mazzinian aristocrat and typical product of the Italian Risorgimento, went into exile, as noted, in France because of his support for the new revolutionary movements. This explains why his son, named Vilfredo Federico Damaso, was born in Paris and began his studies there to continue them later in Turin, when his father benefited from a pardon in 1858. Schumpeter says that the same cannot be said of Vilfredo Pareto’s classical education as would be said of all the educated people of his time. This is not sufficient description for “the profound knowledge of the Greek and Roman classics which he had acquired on his own, in the ceaseless toil of his sleepless nights.” In any case, in 1869, Pareto obtained his doctorate in engineering at the Politecnico di Torino with a thesis on the Fundamental principles of the theory of the elasticity of solid bodies and research on the integration of the differential equations that define their equilibrium. At that time, there was nothing to suggest the birth of future research on other types of bodies.

As an engineer, as already mentioned, Pareto began a successful professional career in the Italian railroad sector. This fact is also fundamental for the long series of disappointments that marked his life. Pareto, son of disappointment. Our man could have embodied the new elite defined by the Saint-Simonian creed, but it seems that he ended up eluding this self-image at the same time that he moved away from the humanist and enlightened convictions of his father. These convictions also describe his first political commitments, which were also eventually disappointed. A defender of economic freedom against the protectionist enemies embodied in a decadent, weak and cowardly bourgeoisie—the favorite target of his diatribes—Pareto gradually began to make a name for himself in the area of economic thought, eventually occupying no less than the chair of Leon Walras in Lausanne.

By then, Pareto, disgusted by the climate of transformism (gatopardismo) of the elite perched in the bureaucratic apparatus, had already given up the political illusions of his youth. He would devote the rest of his life to teaching and study. Like other Europeans disenchanted with politics, he settled in Switzerland. Thus, he remained for history, portrayed as the loner of Celigny, a Swiss commune where he enjoyed his last years before his death in 1923. From his period as an economic theorist comes his imposing, Manual of Political Economy. As a result of his tireless dedication and work, came about his last works, Les systèmes socialistes (The Socialist Systems) and, above all, the monumental Trattato di sociologia generale (Treatise on General Sociology). Professor Arthur Livingston, who translated the Treatise into English, summed it up with a powerful formula: two thousand pages, one million words. As Raymond Aron would later recognize, “The Treatise on General Sociology occupies a special place in sociological literature. It is an enormous book, in the physical sense of the word, outside the great currents of sociology, which continues to be the object of the most contradictory judgments. Some regard it as one of the masterpieces of the human spirit; and with the same passion, others assert that it is a monument to stupidity. I have heard these judgments from the lips of people who can be considered perfectly qualified. We find ourselves,” Aron admits, “before a truly rare case.”

The First of Us

We will deal later with the reasons for this rarity, but at this point we can hazard a hypothesis about the profound significance of this singular figure. Pareto is an exemplary archetype of the metamorphosis occurring in a current of fin-de-siècle European thought. In a way, Pareto is “the first of us.” That is to say, the prototype of post-industrial, post-liberal, post-ideological and even post-modern man. He announced, in his own way, the political disenchantment of the world when the enchanters were still legion. He followed in a certain way the path of critical liberalism that opened its way with Tocqueville, but Pareto’s critique went further. It was the man of flesh and blood who discovered himself in the mirror behind the veil of the myth of the new man sculpted in the utopian vulgates, be they liberal or socialist. If we eliminate the religious aspect, there is in Pareto something of Pascal. Like the author of the Pensées, the loner of Celigny was the man capable of inventing the calculator or of demonstrating emptiness without any of this ever quite satisfying him. Dissatisfied with the promises of rationalism and technique, there was something in him that pushed him to dive further or down deeper. Where? In the depths of human psychology, which, although ensconced in the error of lies and self-deception, continues to determine the essence of collective behavior in social and political life. It is in those regions where, if we recall Hannah Arendt’s formula, thinking becomes dangerous.

Pareto has been reproached for his style (next to Marx’s Capital it may seem a model of composition) but the unprecedentedness of his proposal goes beyond formal issues. In his sociological consideration of the influence of the irrational on human behavior, his proposal on “residues” and “derivations” stands out in particular. In Pareto’s language, residues represent the constant, irrational core of human nature. It is what remains, the residue, when the veil of moralizations and false rationalizations is removed. For man, Pareto dares to affirm, rationalizes most of his acts. And this is precisely what derivations consist of. They are the camouflage or pretext; that is, the intellectual systems of justification and the “rational” alibis by which individuals or groups mask their passions. Stripping away our declared intentions, Pareto’s moral translator exhibits us in our pure animality. Behind every human action presumably motivated by the noblest and most rational pretexts housed in the neocortex, there is an unmentionable, irrational residue hidden in the paleocortex. Thus, Pareto distinguished between logical actions (those of the mathematician or the engineer) and non-logical actions (those of the masses or the ruling elites). In a simple way, he was dismantling the ideological mode of thought that concealed behind the mask of science and reason, disguised under benign appearance the irrational face of human motivations. His interest in Gustave Le Bon’s psychology of crowds is a significant indicator of this trend in his thinking. The Paretian theory of residues and derivations has, as can be seen, an air of family with that triangle of suspicion that brings together Nietzsche, Marx and Freud in the secret fraternity of the spoilsports of modernity. The fundamental difference is that this suspicion was not directed by Pareto towards religion, the economy or sexuality but towards the epicenter of social life—the political class. An advanced disciple of Machiavelli, Pareto distinguishes between truth and social utility. Could this political master of suspicion have subscribed to Heidegger’s apothegm, “only a god can save us?” Undoubtedly, for false gods can “truly” save the people who worship them. There is no need to appeal to René Girard to understand this.

Marx of the Bourgeoisie?

“Pareto thinks manifestly, and in the first place against his father (and perhaps against the convictions of his youth),” writes Aron. Indeed, like Freud, Pareto wanted to symbolically kill his father’s ideas. However, the one killed here was not God, nor capitalism or patriarchy, those favorite scapegoats of emancipatory and revolutionary ideologies. Pareto assassinates with his father the humanitarian dogmas of the new democratic religion and, with it, the anthropotheism of secular dogmas. “Adversary of all those who have believed in man and in the peaceful and humane future of societies, he becomes”—Aron added—”the adversary of all the political religions of the nineteenth century.” After Pareto we can no longer write “Reason,” “Progress” and “Democracy” with capital letters. On Pareto’s keyboard almost all capital letters are erased and those that remain are under suspicion. This is something we can thank him for.

It has been said of Pareto that he is the Marx of the bourgeoisie. An emphatic but misleading and mischievous formula. Marxist ammunition designed to hide the fact that the author of the Treatise on General Sociology drowned with his demystifying gesture the hegemonic critique of established intellectuals (and especially that of Marxists). As Schumpeter writes, “I doubt whether a man who wasted no opportunity to express the great contempt he felt for the ignorant and cowardly bourgeoisie can rightly be called ‘bourgeois.'” In The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote that “all historical movements have hitherto been movements of minorities for the benefit of minorities.” For what other reason than theological or metaphysical would the proletarian revolution escape that rule? Magic or sorcery, perhaps. As Julien Freund, who dedicated a monograph to Pareto, writes, “with a lucidity as insightful as it is profound, Pareto saw that Marx’s concept of ideology was also ideological.” It is not Marx who explains Pareto but Pareto who explains Marx.

There are many reasons, as can be inferred, that made Pareto an accursed man in the history of ideas, but we cannot avoid the one that has to do with his presumed condition of inspirer of the first fascism. It is speculated that Benito Mussolini attended his classes during his Swiss exile. Emilio Gentile credits him for this. The only certainty is that, after the march on Rome, Pareto was appointed senator for life. A photo finish in a black shirt? Nothing worse could be imagined for the reputation of a skeptic. Certainly, shortly before his death, Pareto wrote that “Mussolini has now revealed himself as the man Sociology can invoke.” However, it is easily forgotten that the political situation in Italy at the time led other important disenchanted liberal thinkers such as Benedotte Croce, who would later become a fierce enemy of the regime, to support Mussolini. It seems unlikely that the declared enemy of nineteenth-century political religions would become an adherent of those born in the twentieth century.

In Main Currents in Sociological Thought, a work of unavoidable reference, Raymond Aron places Pareto alongside Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, Tocqueville, Durkheim and Weber; that is, alongside the great founders of the discipline. Let us not forget that Pareto also figures among the ten great economists in Schumpeter’s work of the same name. However, the courageous recognition of the sociologist Pareto is far from uncontroversial. Pareto never managed to be fashionable, even if sociology was. Perhaps the reasons must be sought in a significant difference of approach. Mainstream sociology allowed the historical dimensions of social facts to be silenced. In Pareto, on the other hand, the comparative-historical method comes into its own. Faced with the predominance of invariant structures of long duration that transcend all epochs and with the microscopism of social facts analyzed synchronically at the margin of all historicity, Pareto’s sociology returns, dodging its rationalist reduction, all its protagonism to the anthropological-vital. It is the basis of the theory of circulation, which in Pareto is essentially the circulation of elites. While the dominant sociological method eludes facts, chronologies, biographies, metamorphoses and political events, eclipsed by the everyday, the practical and the economic (present without past or future), Pareto’s sociology reverses the chain of fundamentals by raising historical becoming in an interpretative key. Instead of transforming history into sociology, Pareto recovers history for the cause of sociology. By insisting on the determinant role of elites, Pareto enhances the role of ruling minorities as opposed to an anonymist type of sociology that is only interested in the cold aggregates of mass as resulting from the impersonal interaction of individual atoms. Moreover, before the fashions of interdisciplinarity made their way into the academic Tower of Babel, Pareto’s work shocked those who refused to build bridges between disciplines or rejected anything that would widen the scope of economic reductionism or social unilateralism. It is impossible to pigeonhole him, Schumpeter points out again, because he did not worship any -ism. All this explains, perhaps, why Pareto is, as Julien Freund says, “an irritating, sometimes unbearable author.”

Not much will be said about Pareto on the centenary of his death, but his validity is indisputable. And the void he leaves is like the elephant in the room. If Pareto had not existed, today he would be born again. He, who had already denounced in his day the “absurd mercy for the evildoers” of the bourgeoisie of his time, would today better than anyone else expose the dark interests hidden behind the veil of that malicious philanthropy represented by the victimocratic ideologies promoted by a decadent political class and given to the myth of the Big Other. Pareto would be to sociology today what the Houellebecq of Submission has been to literature.

Franz Borkenau, one of his early biographers, writes that it is not known whether he had children, for even that part of his biography remains obscure. Perhaps we Europeans do not yet deserve to be called Pareto’s children. We can only hope for the day when we recognize him as our father. A father whom we could not kill without, at the same time, committing suicide.

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

Political Exorcism: Democracy And Its Demons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass

The Birth Of The Catholic Reason Of State

I. France, The Anti-Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Machiavelli, The Afrancesado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV. Political Creation Outside The Polis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V. Laicization And The “Catholic” Reason Of State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.