What is Dictatorship?

In politics, whether we know it or not, we are always fighting against an enemy, whether stationed on our borders or camouflaged within the city. But there is also another form of enmity, much more subtle than the one that bubbles at ground level, incarnated by men who have an ideology or a culture, perhaps a religion or a barbaric anthropology, incompatible with our own. It is the enmity derived from political concepts, polemically handled and exploited against the “moral element,” the criterion by which the true capacity of resistance to the hostility and offenses of the enemy is measured.

What I want to say, now by way of example, is that certain assumed definitions, transformed into taboos, enervate the will, having previously worked the intelligence by “brainwashing,” an expression that, suspiciously, has ceased to be used at a time when political pedagogy is dedicated only to that. Some pontificate on the benefits of ethnic, religious and cultural pluralism—the pluralism of values, in short—and others suffer its consequences: loss of cultural identity, social conflict, babelization. Nor is it strange that the same people who praise “miscegenation”—vaguely in the legal system, but with more determination in public universities and in the Press and Propaganda Section of the mass media—then maintain that races (or cultures) do not exist. It has also become normal for the zealots of “defensive” pan-Melanism—Black Lives Matter is not new, it was previously invented in the 1920s—to promote as just and necessary an anti-white racism and to demand that we finance our own re-education.

War, even in its current “pacifist” variants, takes place in space, that is to say, on the earth, because to control it and to reasonably order life on it is the primary object of politics. The much more decisive and brutal quarrels over concepts are settled in time. The struggle for the meaning of words, for the “story” that obsesses all modern princely counselors—today called “political analysts” or “advisors,” young people with no experience of life, generally coming, as Jules Monnerot used to say, from an educational system dedicated to “the mass production of artificial cretins”: as opposed to those who are so by a natural disposition; those who flourish massively today are “cultivated cretins, like a certain type of pearl.” Once the political logos and dictionary have been colonized, that is, the national “political imaginary,” any capacity for resistance is radically diminished. Then, and only then, the defeat of the external or internal enemy can be presented as a victory or a political and cultural “homologation” with the executioners. Indeed, a few days ago we in Spain spoke, with a sense of opportunity, of the “afrancesados,” Spanish archetype of a colonized political imaginary.

It is therefore necessary, in a certain sense, to “decolonize the imaginary” and give back to political concepts their precise meaning, which is neither invented nor developed in a Think Tank, but is part, however modest its aliquot, of the truth of politics. It is necessary, in order to know where we stand. I do not know if “political realism” has a specific mission; perhaps, some would say, the elaboration of a “decalogue” or program that can be implemented by a political party, a faction or a movement, but I do know that its raison d’être lies in the demystification of political thought. One of the concepts that needs this mental cleansing is “dictatorship,” a frightening notion about which the greatest confusion reigns—a self-interested Confusionism, exploited by those aspiring to power, presenting their rivals as vulgar supporters of authoritarian regimes and themselves as “democrats”—as if that term had a precise meaning beyond the mental tropisms that adorn the demo-liberal right.

Everything conspires against the reputation of political demystifiers. However, writing about the war-phenomenon does not presuppose a bellicose personality; probably only a meek man can write a theory or a sociology of war. A theory of decision… an indecisive one. And a theory of dictatorship is perhaps only within the reach of someone incapable of exercising it.

It is not easy to look “dictatorship” in the face, a highly inflammable political concept that gravitates over particularly intense political situations and which is entangled with legislation of exception, states of necessity and coups d’état. People believe that a dictatorship is what the “anti-Franco vulgate” teaches, but they do not lose sleep over a government that can illegally shut down Parliament and deprive the whole nation of freedom of movement. Anti-parliamentarism has many forms and those of today are nothing like those of a century ago. It would be very interesting to write a palingenesis of dictatorship, for it is periodically reborn and its singularity should be recognized. To turn one’s back on its reality is to culpably ignore the momentary concentration of power, a reality that happens outside our moral or ideological prejudices, independently of our will. Not knowing what it consists of compromises our position vis-à-vis the enemy who does know what it is and how to use it.

Dictatorship is a fundamental institution of Roman public law. It consists of a lifting or suspension of the juridical barriers in order that the dictator, generally pro tempore, faces the exceptional political situation (sedition, civil war, foreign invasion) and restores the public tranquility to the city. Once restored the order or expired the foreseen period, the extraordinary powers of the dictator are cancelled, whose prototype is Cincinnatus. But there are also in Roman history examples of dictators of undefined undertaking (Sila) and those lifelong (Caesar), even omnímodo or, as we would say today, constituent (lex de imperio vespasiani).

Roman pragmatism had grasped the political essence of dictatorship: it is a concentration or intensification of power that opposes the pernicious effect of the impotence of the established power, besieged by the enemy, generally internal. From a conceptual point of view, it is not strictly speaking a “political regime,” but a “political situation,” transitory by definition. Any manifestation of power always generates criticism from rival parties or factions, but in a particularly intense way criticism is aroused by dictatorship, secularly associated with the personal usufruct of command.

Every dictatorship constitutes a political fact, imperfectly subjected to a legal status. Jean Bodin’s notion of sovereignty is, in this sense, the attempt to make normative a particularly intense moment of command. Such is the glory of Bodin and of the French legists of the 16th century.

During the 19th century, dictatorship gradually lost all its former respectability, as a consequence of the generalization of a new juridical ideology: constitutionalism. Liberal historiography, in its fight against the “enemy,” the absolute monarchies, reworked the classical political tradition and generalized the denigration of the dictatorial institution, arbitrarily associated with tyranny and despotism.

However, the constitutional movement has always recognized, implicitly, that political necessity knows no law when it modulates states of exception, siege and war, denominations which push dictatorship into the background. Dictatorship became a political taboo after the coup of Louis Napoléon (December 2, 1851), the most important coup of the 19th century. But the technical meaning of dictatorship remained and developed in the constitutional states of exception. For the first time, the raison d’être of the classic dictatorship was legally enunciated, but without mentioning it by name: the suspension of law to allow its subsistence. Otherwise, liberalism, which at the time was never, to a certain extent, a “neutral and agnostic” doctrinarism—a legend spread by conservative illiberalism—would never have built the prepotent European nation-states.

Dictatorship formally denies the rule it wants to ensure materially, a doctrine established by Carl Schmitt in his research on the evolution of the institution: Dictatorship (1921), a book of conceptual history, diaphanous and without equivocation, whose non-readers (a very interesting intellectual fauna) figure, against all odds, that it is an apology for Nazism. According to the German jurist, “the essence of dictatorship from the point of view of the philosophy of law consists in the general possibility of separating the norms of law and the norms of the realization of law.” At the same time, dictatorship also implies an effective suppression of the division or separation of powers. Schmitt, being in need of the necessary conceptual demarcation as a jurist, contrasts commissariat dictatorship with constituent dictatorship, categories currently received in the healthiest part of the theory of the State and constitutional theory. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s doctrine of the general will plays a crucial role in the transition from one to the other.

Hermann Heller, a brilliant jurist, like Carl Schmitt, politicized by his leftist militancy and also committed to national socialism—but the opposite side of the other national socialism—was equally concerned about legal taxonomies. Less perspicacious than his colleague, rival and friend when political or juridical realism (concepts) come into conflict with ideology (positions), for Heller, dictatorship, condemned en bloc, is nothing more than a personalistic and corrupt government (“individuality without law”) opposed to the rule of law (“law without individuality”); in short, “a political regime manifestation of anarchy.” Simplifying a lot, this is the idea of dictatorship generalized among constitutionalists since 1945, the heyday of the “Potsdam democracies.” Carlos Ollero Gómez explained very effectively the constitutional “archaism” that weighed down these regimes.

The commissariat type of dictatorship, an updated formula, at the beginning of the 20th century, of the Roman dictatorship, presupposes a prior mandate or commission, spontaneous (royal call or invitation of a parliament or national assembly to assume extraordinary powers), or forced (pronunciamiento, coup d’état). The commissioned dictator’s mission is to restore the violated constitutional order without going outside the constitution or questioning its essential decisions (form of government). A good example of this is the Spanish dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, the “iron surgeon” expected by all. Have political and legal historians ever stopped to think why dictatorship got such a good press after World War I? They should read more Boris Mirkine-Guetzévitch, for example, a left-liberal constitutionalist, and think less about the ANECA, cancer of the Spanish university.

Sovereign dictatorship, on the other hand, pursues the establishment of a new political order, using for this purpose a power without legal limitations and operating as a constituent power. Charles de Gaulle in 1958 (dictator ad tempus). This type of dictatorship is associated in the 20th century with totalitarian regimes (total states and popular democracies), while the commissariat dictatorship falls more into the field of authoritarian regimes (Boulangism, authoritarian states and, however bizarre the term may sound, “Catholic dictatorships”). The possible effects of revolution having been limited by the experience of the Paris Commune, the lessons of which led to a turning point in insurrectionary techniques, the alternative to violent subversion is from then on the surgical coup d’état or legal revolution.

In its modern (Baroque) meaning, coups d’état are “audacious and extraordinary actions that princes are forced to undertake, against common law, in difficult and desperate affairs, relativizing the established order and legal formulas and subordinating the interest of individuals to the public good.” Thus speaks, in a secret book, Gabriel Naudé, so mistreated by political ignorance. Naudé, a librarian by profession and a harmless spirit, considers coups legitimate and defensive. Their usefulness depends on the prudence of the prince and, above all, on his ability to anticipate, for “the execution always precedes the sentence”: thus “the coup is received by the one who weighs to give it.” The reputation of a coup d’état depends on those who exploit it: it will be beneficial if it is carried out by friends or allies (salus populi suprema lex esto) and disturbing if it is plotted by enemies (violation of the constitution, counter-coup). Judgment thus depends on the relative position of the observer and his commitments and objectives.

The contemporary sequel to Naudé’s Considerations politiques sur les coups d’Estat (Political Considerations on Coups d’Etat), (1639), is Curzio Malaparte’s Tecnica Del Golpe De Estado (Technique of the Coup d’Etat), (1931). Malaparte, on whom the opprobrium of the right and the left falls indiscriminately, discusses the nature of coups in order to teach how to defeat them with a paralyzing “counter-coup” (coup d’arrêt) and defend the State.

Triumphs like Mussolini’s March on Rome (1922), wrapped in an aura of political romanticism, may never happen again… in the same way. After World War II the general impression was that the coup d’état is an infertile technique. All the more reason why, because of its congenital romanticism, the pronunciamiento can no longer have any effect. From all this we can only expect, as the theoretician of the State Jesús F. Fueyo used to say, an “acceleration of disorder.”

The violence of the coup is logically unacceptable to public opinion in pluralist constitutional regimes. However, that same “public opinion,” by inadvertence or by seduction, can willingly accept what Malaparte calls a “parliamentary coup,” in the style of the one executed by Napoleon Bonaparte on the 18th Brumaire (1799). Carl Schmitt calls it “legal revolution” in a famous article of 1977, written against the non-violent and electoral strategy of the Western communist parties (the Eurocommunism of Santiago Carrillo, a senile disease of Marxism-Leninism, a political religion then beginning to decline, although they, the Western communists, do not yet know it). In reality, the same result can be reached without going through the “legal revolution.” For this, it is necessary to count on the artful political strategy of occupying the constitutional courts—much more than a “negative legislator”—to turn them into the architects of an unnamed constitutional mutation, the greatest danger for the constitutions they are supposed to defend.

But it was not these communists, neither the Soviets nor those of the West, but Adolf Hitler, who, almost half a century before the publication of Eurocommunism and the State, set up the leverage to build a constituent dictatorship with totalitarian roots. Unlike dictatorships of the other species, the authoritarian, the totalitarian dictatorship pretends to have a mission not only political, but also moral, even religious: to give birth to the new man—Bolshevik, Aryan or Khmer Rouge—by disenfranchising the old.

The futility of the Munich coup of 1923 instructed Hitler on the tactical convenience of the electoral struggle and the possibility of legally attaining power in order to activate from the government the de facto abrogation of the constitution. It is a matter of exploiting the “legality premium” to revoke legitimacy. It is precisely against this process of constitutional subversion that Carl Schmitt warned, once again the Cassandra, in the summer of 1932.

The history of the Weimar system is well known and its last gasps have a name: the Authorization Law or Ermächtigungsgesetz (1933), a bridging constitution that suspended and emptied the Weimar constitution of content, opening the door to a constituent (totalitarian) dictatorship that ended up becoming a political oxymoron: a permanent regime of exception.

One of these bridge-constitutions, the Law for Political Reform of 1977, also served as a fuse for the “controlled explosion”—as it was called during the Transition—of the regime of the Fundamental Laws. The truth is that in Spain no one was fooled at that time; or, to be more exact, only those who allowed themselves to be fooled were fooled: “From the law to the law, passing through the law.” It portrays a generation of constitutionalists that no one has dealt with that bridging constitution. In reality, these jurists have powerful reasons to avoid it, since in very few European constitutional processes its character of supreme political decision is so evident, beyond the Kelsenian supercheries and fictions about the Grundnorm or fundamental normal on which everything hypothetically depends. Another fantastic exception to constitutional normativism is found in De Gaulle, playing, for the love of France, the Solon of the Fifth Republic.

The same school as the German National Socialist law of 1933 has held the Hispanic American populism since the end of the 1990s. The case of Hugo Chavez is a paradigm that transcends Venezuelan politics: from the failure of his 1992 “coup d’état” to the success of the “legal revolution” that began with his victory in the 1998 presidential elections and his famous oath of investiture on “the dying constitution” by virtue of which he had been elected.

The politically neutralized constitutionalist has no answer to this political challenge exported to almost all Latin American republics. He is paralyzed by the paradox. It is the ankylosis of Karlsruhe.

Jerónimo Molina Cano is a jurist, historian of political and legal ideas, translator and author. He is a corresponding member of the Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas in Madrid. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La gaceta de la Iberosfera.

Featured: Cincinato abandona el arado para dictar leyes a Roma (Cincinnatus Leaves the Plough to Dictate Laws to Rome), by Juan Antonio Ribera; painted ca. 1806.

Political Demographics

Soil and natality are the two pre-political realities, both horizontal and profane, which absolutely condition the political—the vertical condition is the sacred—Utopia (Thomas More) and uchronia (Charles Renouvier) are not politics, but its inverted and uprooted literary imitation. Political realism can use them polemically, as a literary genre, to elaborate a critique of the political situation. But one cannot live politically in suspense, out of place and out of time, contemplating the acceleration of decadence and waiting for the apocalypse, while landscape and countryside are destroyed with ferocious laws—those that raze the fields and those that rewrite history—the laws of memory, the perfect analog of the former. It is necessary to deal once again with the land (iustissima tellus) and the man engendered on it, for the laws to which I allude are not a Spanish anecdote, but a category of the decadence of Europe—the West is now as vague as the Free World of the Cold War-.

Geography and history are politics from other points of view—that of space and time, of identity and memory. The name of the “profound link between the material and spiritual aspects [of human coexistence], between land and culture” is “homeland” (John Paul II). The man who buries his dead is an earthly being in a particularly intense way. As the dead are seed—buried seed—they are at the same time inheritance, tradition projected in time, that is to say, history.

Politics is “the urgency of living,” as it is said in one of the West’s seminal books. It is an imperative here and now (hic et nunc), because fortune passes without remedy—certus an, incertus quando, like death—from one city to another (Machiavelli). Surviving is not easy. History is not only a graveyard of oligarchies, but also of political communities that have become unrealized, generally without a clear idea of their end. We know nothing of those lost civilizations, submerged in the sea, buried in the desert or devoured by tropical jungles. Although we know about Greece (and Rome) because, as Xavier Zubiri would say, “the Greeks [and the Romans] are us,” it is moving to think that this could also be our destiny. A Roman destiny or way, as suggested by Rémi Brague—to survive political extinction like Rome, culturally conditioning the posterity of the empire’s site—the Polish sociologist Ludwig Gumplowicz did not think of speaking of a Phoenician way, but, coincidentally, he used to say something very similar about the ineffable imprint that the extinct Phoenicians have left on the Mediterranean world.

As opposed to natural politics—Julien Freund would call it the political (politics the political)—deterritorialization and dehistorification constitute the “inconcrete asceticism” of a political class that lives, literally, in airplanes, outside reality, “delocalized” and also alienated from itself. Its spatial sense is, so to speak, liquid, maritime or ethereal, homogeneous, without discontinuities. Its historical sense is the romantic chatter of the end of history and the end of time pointed to in the agenda of an eternal present. They despise the soil and those who live on it. They are cosmopolitan and normativist, enemies of concrete orders; they are delicate, but not subtle.

In Hermann Heller’s theory of the State, territory (space) and people (time!) are two constituent elements of political unity. Francisco Javier Conde, whose ontology of the political (no more than a notebook: El hombre, animal politicoMan, Political Animal) is a precious footnote to Aristotle’s Politics—of very few books can this be said in the last 2,300 years—points out something similar: space and plan configure the political form. The immediate object of politics is the ordering of space, since it is on it that human coexistence is configured and persists (the plan). An unequivocal symptom of decadence is spatial withdrawal, the loss of territorial positions in the world, and depopulation or, more specifically, the collapse of the birth rate (the dénatalité of French demography, which, not in vain, has been constituted, since the end of the 19th century, under the sign of the fear of depopulation and its most severe consequence, the finis Galliae). A political community without territory disappears. A political community without births, becomes extinct. The spatial conscience of a people is geopolitics (political geography), the temporal conscience is demopolitics (political demography)—although Dalmacio Negro would say, rather, cliopolitics, the dimensions are the same.

Hannah Arendt recalls that “natality, and not mortality [is] the central category of political thought, since politics is based on the fact of the plurality of men.” However, the political articulation of this pre-political fact (the birth of new men and, as a consequence, the succession of generations) is not univocal, but is conditioned by the demographic metabolism of each human group, that fantastic animal that grows and decreases, subject to laws that in reality we do not know and over which we have the illusion of being able to influence. We can therefore speak, in this broad sense and not only in the restricted sense of Michel Foucault or Giorgio Agamben, of biopolitics.

Biopolitics has, by the way, two faces, one populationist (anti-Malthusian) and the other anti-populationist (Malthusian). Populationalism and anti-populationalism transcend the Right-Left dichotomy, purely accidental and opportunistic, and devoid of content, an “equivocation” from which it is advisable to get out of as soon as possible, as Arnaud Imatz says in Droite / gauche. Pour sortir de l’équivoque (PGDR 2016). So, it should come as no surprise that the original socialism, militant socialism, was populationist—Proudhon said that in the world there is no one left over… except Malthus—and that, in the 1960s, already triumphant, it became anti-populationist. In the conservative “right” the opposite has happened, in general terms: from anti-Malthusianism to Malthusianism. These attitudes towards population growth or decrease have a striking correlation a) with space and b) with war. Thalassocratic powers tend to be anti-population and naval in their concept of war, a struggle “in which superiority is a matter of wealth and technique, both of which require relatively few combatants.” The continental powers, on the other hand, “live with the obsession of the fragility of their frontiers, of the strength of modern armies and of the appalling consumption of men in recent wars” (Gaston Bouthoul). Carl Schmitt also detected, in the 1930s, the dependence between the principles of the new international law claimed by the maritime powers and their pressure to reduce the birth rate, an “argument… immoral and inhuman, but in which an individualistic and liberal conception of the world is recognized.”

In the same way, although in a different context, there is a policy that is fully engaged in its fight against death (mostly violent). However, after the demographic transition, silently operated in the bedrooms of all Europe since the French Revolution, there is another policy that strangely girdles itself in its fight against life. Thus, it is that the so-called “culture of death,” isolated from its moral or theological radiations, expresses itself politically in a policy of birth control or low birth rate. This anti-natalist political inertia has been nourished since the 19th century by an unprecedented trend in history: the conversion of procreation into a voluntary and reflexive act. The demographic phenomenon of social capillarity perfectly expresses this mutation. Gaston Bouthoul has described this transformation of the traditional (demographic) mentality: when procreation was normal, reflection conditioned sexual abstinence; on the other hand, nowadays, when normal behavior seems to be non-procreation, it is the very act of procreation that requires a conscious and reflective evaluation. This is the paradox, of enormous political relevance: procreative inhibition, a consequence of rationalization, has become the “norm” and “unthinking.”

In the treatises on political geography, particularly in those of the Interbellum, the laws or regularities of geopolitics used to be enumerated: the aspiration towards the domination of the whole of a hydrographic basin, the search for an outlet to the sea, or the aspiration towards the opposite coasts and adjacent islands, not to mention the siren songs of “natural frontiers” and the motive of national unity. Political demography, still in its infancy as a “social science,” also has its commandments or laws. Gérard-François Dumont has dealt with them in his Démographie politique. Les lois de la géopolitique des populations (Ellipses 2007). In his treatise, Dumont explains how demography influences and is influenced by geography according to the laws of numbers, age and gender composition, attraction and repulsion (of migratory flows), including diasporas, a universal phenomenon (“every diasporic group, nolens volens, by its mere presence, has geopolitical effects on its country of residence, on its country of origin and on the geopolitical relations of these two, among themselves and with third countries”).

Alfred Sauvy used to say that demographic problems are so important that the more they are ignored, the more terrible the revenge they take. In a way, the political demographer, even more than the geopolitician, is a voice crying in the wilderness. A good example of this is the scant attention paid to the Polish-born German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn, updater of the demographic debate on the “youth bulge” in his book Söhne und Weltmacht. Terror im Aufstieg und Fall der Nationen (Orell Füssli 2003). In other words, how does a percentile of 20% or more in the cohort of those between 15 and 24 years of age have an influence, particularly on conflict, whether internal or external—riots, revolutions, emigration, wars (emigration to the beyond, as Bouthoul said), conquest? This bulge, hump or thickening of the youth cohort is referred to by the expression “youth bulge,” devised at the end of the 1960s and which has surfaced again in the media in 2011 on the occasion of the “Arab revolutions.”

Heinsohn argues that the cause of war is to be found neither in poverty nor in religion, two of the most popular pacifist clichés since the founding of the UN and UNESCO, but in the demographic structure. That of young peoples is a polemic demography. That of old peoples, on the other hand, is polemophobic. Of course, the doctrine relating population movements to aggressiveness and war is not new. The first scientific developments, exposed in the 1930s, aim to refute the (falsely pacifist) judgment of Marxism that blames wars on an economic causality (economic materialism). But demographic materialism, a substratum of the French polemological school (one of the most representative texts is Cent millions de morts, by G. Bouthoul, Sagittaire 1946) and of American demographers sensitive to the effects of the “Youth bulge theory” (a stupendous status quaestionis can be found in The Youth Bulge. Challenge or Opportunity? (Idebate Press 2012), has illustrious and remote antecedents. Montesquieu, to go no further back, speaks of the beneficial “bloodletting of the Republic”—he is referring to war—that “dissipates the vehement heat of youth.” In Spain, an extraordinary piece is a secret report from the end of the 17th century by Captain Vicente Montano in which he ponders the benefits of war as a “great evacuation” that cures and purges the “sinful and seditious humors.”

But what is decisive is the social “use” of the “demographic dividend,” i.e., of this overabundance of young people (overjuvenation). The European conquest of the world since the end of the 15th century, particularly the last great seizure of land (Carl Schmitt) that took place in the 19th century, was the outlet of a population that had regained its growth after the demographic collapse of the Black Death. The closest thing to that, according to Heinsohn, but with a disproportion unknown in history, is the immense “demographic dividend” of the Islamic countries. If in the 20th century the European population grew from 460 million to 600 million, in the Islamic countries the leap has been exponential in the same period: from 150 million at the beginning of the century to more than 1.2 billion today.

From a Paretian point of view, there is no difference in nature, perhaps only in degree, between Wokism and so-called Islamic fundamentalism, apparently antagonistic. Will the lesson of demographic materialism be learned, which warns Europe, like Cassandra, of the terrible return of the flame of European colonization: the imperialism of the decolonized?

Jerónimo Molina Cano is a jurist, historian of political and legal ideas, translator and author. He is a corresponding member of the Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas in Madrid.

Featured: Das Volksfest auf dem Chodynka-Feld, Mai 1896 (The folk festival on the Khodynka field, May 1896), by Vladimir Makovsky; painted ca. 1897-1899.

The Political Class

An expression of society, in the sense of Georg Simmel’s “forms of socialization,” the articulation: oligarchy-the masses, the ruling class-the people, the rulers-the governed or the elite-the masses constitutes a constant historical regularity or factor, like the sacred-profane, friend-enemy, command-obedience or community-society polarities. There is no historical epoch that escapes the dynamics of oligarchies. It leaves its mark on social institutions, but also on the creations of the spirit, from urban planning and architecture to literature and even cinema. Giuseppe T. di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game and other such masterpieces unintentionally transcend their time, for they contain a universal lesson, a superior and forgotten banality: the persistence of a political class—beyond men and their rhetoric.

But the discovery of the “political class” and its empirical analysis are relatively recent. It is a phenomenon that is barely registered in the sociological literature from the twentieth century onwards. It is true that there is already an acute awareness of it in Greece and Rome, even for its effects on the government of the city. It is no accident that classical political philosophy—the Western one for us, although there are other comparable traditions—has only been possible once life as freedom—primarily external (freedom of movement) and deployed in public space, in the agora and the forum—was discovered, and how it could be disturbed by the oligarchic dynamics inherent in the political cycle. At the equinoxes of the cycle, between the concentration of power (monocracy) and its disintegration (pluralism), there have always been opposing processes of oligarchization and desoligarchization of government, of construction, destruction and reconstruction of the political class. A Spanish singularity, conditioned by the weakness of the State and by our inextinguishable 19th century, is the absence of a solid political class.

There was already, in a way, an implicit sociology or theory of the political class in the great historians of antiquity, who described these cyclical processes with the greatest naturalness. There is also, no doubt, in the brilliant Tingitan Moor, Ibn Khaldun, anticipator in the 14th century of the Paretian theory of the circulation of the elites, with his meditation on the “esprit de corps” (asabiyyah), which animates the ruling class until its decline, impossible to contain, in the span of four generations.

From the 19th century onwards, examples of a sociology of the political class, latent and rarely expressed as such, abound, from Saint-Simon (“Parable of the Industrialists“) to Joaquin Costa (Oligarquía y caciquismo–Oligarchy and Caciquism), passing through Lorenz von Stein (social movements and monarchy), for whom the conflictive dynamics between the established power (political class or elite), the insurgent power (counter-elite) and the people (dependent and politically null masses) is the key to the laws of social movement and, particularly, of the general subversion triggered by the French Revolution. A more polemical coloration has the diffuse perception of the phenomenon of the power elite, besides Karl Marx, in Franz Oppenheimer and his anti-political critique of the predatory state and its ruling class, and in Thorstein Veblen and his study of the idle class.

But the great moment of the theory of the political class is in the early years of the last century, previously conditioned by the understanding of the phenomenon of contemporary crowds (Gabriel Tarde, Gustave Le Bon and, later, José Ortega y Gasset). Leaving aside the studies on political parties by James Bryce (The American Commonwealth) and Moisey Ostrogorsky (Democracy And The Organization Of Political Parties), the sociological doctrine of elites is forever fixed in the work of the neo-Machiavellian masters: Vilfredo Pareto (Treatise on Sociology), Gaetano Mosca (Elements of Political Science) and Robert Michels (Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchial Tendencies of Modern Democracy). In these books, the iron law of oligarchy is reinvented rather than invented.

The “elite school” of sociology textbooks, after World War II, saw very different developments on the two sides of the Atlantic. In the political sociology of Harold D. Lasswell and Abraham Kaplan (Power and Society), Charles Wright Mills (The Power Elite) and Robert A. Dahl (Polyarchy), focused on the expression of real and apparent power in pluralistic democratic societies. And in the metapolitics with polemical overtones cultivated by Giuseppe Maranini (Gobierno parlamentario y partidocracia) and Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora (La partitocracia), for whom there have never ever been non-oligarchic governments. Christopher Lasch’s critique of contemporary elites and their “betrayal of democracy” (La rebelión de las elites) deserves special mention.

The fundamental social dichotomy is, according to Pareto, that which separates the population into a “lower layer, the non-elite class” and an “upper layer,” divided in turn into a “governmental elite,” the political class in the strict sense, and a “non-governmental elite.” On the other hand, as Mosca points out, the struggle for power does not pit the ruling class against the people. This is a self-serving illusion maintained by all aspirants to power. The competition for power is in reality a family affair: a struggle between the ruling class and its opponent, who struggles to assert itself at all costs. Or between the de iure political class and the de facto ruling class, which brings together what Carl Schmitt has called “indirect powers” (potestas indirecta, indirekte Mächte).

Nothing of what has been said prevents a “molecular renovation” of the political class, incorporating elements of the rival class or of the lower classes. This is, according to Pareto, the “circulation of the elites” or, rather, as Michels corrects him, the “amalgamation” of these with the lower classes. There is, then, in the dynamics of the elite, a “continuous endosmosis and exosmosis between the upper class and some fractions of the lower class” (Mosca), a variable dose of unpremeditated gatopardism. In this sense, the major quarrels of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—the constitutional question, the social question and the cultural question—are an expression of the process of renewal and replacement of the elites to which the people attend, by force, as spectators. The reactivation in the 21st century, on a maximum scale, of an equivalent conflict over identity and roots, does not leave the people any more room for maneuver. For the ruling elite advocates revolution from above, while those who aspire to power advocate revolution from below.

The transformation of the political class is a process that has a surprising endogenous cause, since the prolongation in time of a leadership depends only on its faith in the legitimate acquisition of its right to rule. Effective power, what can we do, has impure sources. Whoever has lost this kind of certainty is politically hopeless.

The historical materialism of the Left, faced with the failure of Marxist eschatological forecasts about the revolution, resorted, with the forced footing of an elusive final victory, to the issuing forth of cultural hegemony (Gramsci) to correct the course of events. The Paris Commune has long overshadowed revolutionary history, much more so, if possible, when comparing France with the success of the October Revolution, for it makes one think that something like that, that of Moscow, could not come to fruition west of the Vistula.

With time, the New Right of the 1970s also acquired this business of hegemonies, with ephemeral enthusiasm, transferring it later, in the 1990s, with its deserters, to the systemic, liberal and conservative Right. The latter, without a long-term political strategy, leverage on Gramchism and its moderate variant of the Kulturkampf, the “cultural war,” not of every day, but of the great occasions, rarely shows its face, waiting perhaps for its turn. In Spain it is like that.

From the perspective of the circulation of the elites, Gramchism, Left or Right, is a pure hallucination, a gimmicky but inane gesture. It never bears the promised fruits, that sort of “infant colic” in which ends, as Carlo Gambescia usually says, the folklore of the “politics of culture,” both of the Left and of the Right, but mostly of the latter.

Since the end of World War II, what has been truly profitable for the Left is “psychological warfare,” generalized in the West by Marxism-Leninism—and today also exploited to the full, but in a different way, by various ideological substitutes. At its height, during the Cold War, psychological warfare, according to the original definition of Jules Monnerot, inventor of the term, “aimed to destroy the adversary as an organized force,” but also, and this is decisive, “to strip him of all his reasons for living and hoping” (The war in question). The Gramchist policy is a decoy that hides the real objective of the attack—to raise bad conscience in the political class, to laminate its sense of legitimacy and to make it believe that everything is already lost beforehand. The remorse of the ruling class, often imaginary and motivated by fatigue or fear, together with the instinct of survival, shed light on unheard-of, seemingly inexplicable cessions and twists—the “controlled blowing up” of the State of Fundamental Laws (a suicide of the old political class assisted by the new political class) or Wokism (mostly a strategic diversion practiced by an insidious enemy to morally disarm our capacity of resistance).

The elite, whether political or economic, can compromise the success of democratic regimes, particularly their representativeness, which is often the principle that suffers most from the iron law of oligarchies. Faced with the inexorable rigor of this sociological law, which transforms democratic representativeness into co-optation (even conjugal) or hereditary succession, all kinds of countermeasures have been devised: the imperative mandate; the plebiscite and other institutions of “direct democracy;” the Party, it is understood to be communist; the (futile) renunciation by the ruling class of its privileges; and (tedious) “citizen participation,” which tends to politicize everything. The “countermeasures” or “political formulas” (Mosca) prop up an elite that has lost almost all its civic virtues and needs new sources of legitimization: French resistentialism or Italian liberationism of the second postwar period or Spanish anti-Francoism. The formula may change, but not its stabilizing political function in a period of transformation, in which the loss of the elites’ sense of reality is accentuated.

Unaccustomed to effective command—since their governance is often vicarious—or reluctant to deal with inferiors, with the “retarded of history” (Chantal Delsol), perhaps sick with sentimentality, perhaps frivolous, the declining elites are characterized today by their paradoxical conformity with subversive models. Enduring them has become exhausting for the citizen, particularly in his facet of subject or fiscal subject.

There is a generalized political weariness. Mass, plebeian politics—mass political parties, mass media, mass-man, vulgarized “political science” and, simplifying, populism—has sunk intelligence to abyssal levels. The European “political class,” not to mention the Spanish one, has been coming, for too many years now, from cultural nothingness—for it, a provisional guarantee of adaptation and success. The reverse selection of the elite, a democratically exploited process, is the delayed and unexpected effect of universal suffrage (Monnerot, a reader of Maurras).

Notwithstanding their usefulness, subtle fools flourish in the leadership—the “pure positive stupid” as described by Julio Camba: individuals in whom stupidity “is not a limitation of intelligence, but a substitution of it. The positive stupid reasons with stupidity. Stupidity is his form of intelligence” (Alemania. Impresiones de un españolGermany. Impressions of a Spaniard). Although it can be more diabolical than stupid, a good example of this is the “Sado-Leninist,” a human type of little substance who emerges from the inexhaustible quarries of “post-structuralist theory,” and at whom Aquilino Duque fired some of his darts, with curare, and more current today than in 1975 (La estupidez de la inteligencia).

With the hierarchical and implacable logic of merit, the current Spanish political leadership—present until the general elections—a band of rogues determined to live off the political cattle, to avoid being depredated themselves, could occupy, with luck, socially subaltern positions. However, no matter how much the political flood of stupidity rises, it has to go down, and it will go down, to normal and functional percentages for the regime.

The electoral polls are clamoring away. And also the drawing up of the lists, a touchstone for the reconfiguration of the demo-liberal political class. Exposed once again to the big game—any serious political theory is the scholium of a primordial political hunting—the Hobbesian state of nature must be, in comparison, like spending the afternoon in kindergarten. No one escapes Pareto’s curse: the circulation of elites. What will become of all those dullards and second-timers who hope to cling to a general directorate, a section chief or a councilor’s office, a small seat, a miraculous bush in the ravine of politics, when the waters recede? For their personal drama, glimpses of our electoral cycle, they would deserve that, at least, their name be attached to the monument of the unknown dismissed. A consolation prize for those who remain in the stream and will no longer have the opportunity to take root in the passive classes.

The inexorable renewal of the power elite, more or less rapid, that is what matters, has an impact on the social structure, since it also has its modest demographic facet. Arrivals and departures move up and down the social ladder—and the administrative ladders—and can arrive, like barbarians, to camp out in tribes or families, even by parity vouples, vulgo connubio, in the heart of the State or outside, in its periphery, occupying more imaginative or more discreet positions.

It will be seen at last, perhaps, that neither the political bosses—now macho-alphism, a “sexualized” and banal expression, but obedient to the biopolitical logic of the supreme art of vengeance—nor the dynasty—now caste—nor the entourage—now rabble and, again, after so much Wolf-Ravine disaster, mob—are outdated political categories. Much less will they be Francoist… except for those who, without realizing it, by associating “Francoism” and “regularities of the political,” transform the accidentalism of a “constituent dictatorship of development” (Rodrigo Fernández-Carvajal) into a superstring theory of politics to which is attributed the quality of explaining everything. Senile memory (Aquilino Duque) has unprecedented returns: Franco and Francology, the beginning of everything!

Jerónimo Molina Cano is a jurist, historian of political and legal ideas, translator and author. He is a corresponding member of the Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas in Madrid. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Gaceta.

Featured: The Red Tower, by Giorgio de Chirico; painted in 1913.

Julien Freund: A Tribute To A Great Master

Julien Freund (1921-1993) is one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. But his ideas and work have often been poorly understood and thereby harshly and unfairly judged. To commemorate his birth centenary, Éditions Perspectives Libres PYR have just republished L’aventure du politique (The Adventure of the Political), which are a series of interviews, by Freund, of Father Charles Blanchet (1923-2004), who taught philosophy at the École des Cordeliers, in Dinan. In these interviews, Freund reflects upon his own life and career, his ideas and his work.

Through the kind agreement of Éditions Perspectives Libres PYR, we are indeed very pleased to bring to our readers the first English translation of an introductory essay by Jéronimo Molina Cano, who is one of the best scholars of Julien Freund’s thought. Cano is member of the Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas and professor of political science at the University of Murcia. His expertise includes the thought of Raymond Aron, Gaston Bouthoul, Carl Schmitt, and Wilhelm Röpke. He is the author of several essays and books on Freund, including Julien Freund, lo político y la política and Conflicto, gobierno y economía. Cuatro ensayos sobre Julien Freund. He also wrote the erudite preliminary study of The Essence of the Political, published by the Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales, in 2018.


Julien Freund was born on January 9, 1921, in Henridorff, a small village of barely six hundred inhabitants in the Moselle department of Lorraine, a border region between French and Germanic culture. In a culturally centralized France, Freund, who was perfectly bilingual, experienced in his youth the misunderstanding of compatriots who did not see in him the Frenchman, but only the man who spoke a Germanic language.

Julien was the eldest of six children born to Emile Freund and Marie-Anne Mathis. His father, a railroad worker, was a “red socialist” in the German tradition—a kind of social democrat who went to Mass every Sunday and ignored the anticlerical prejudices of the French socialists. Marie-Anne, his mother, a simple and pious peasant, was for a time in charge of the public baths of Sarrebourg. The young Julien did his secondary studies at the minor seminary of Montigny-lès-Metz, without ever intending to take his vows.

In 1938-1939, after his baccalaureate and preparatory classes, he enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy in Strasbourg. The socialism that he displayed at the time was spontaneous, natural, instinctive and “utopian,” a bit like the elementary and congenital communism of the Italian Ignazio Silone, whose work he appreciated. At the same time, he assiduously read Jacques Maritain, a sort of discreet tutor who introduced him to the understanding of politics, but who nevertheless remained absent from his quotations and bibliographical references. Further, the writer and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was one of the authors who contributed most to the formation of his literary sensibility. The premature death of his father in 1938, on New Year’s Eve, when he was barely seventeen years old, upset his plans and made him head of the family “in spite of himself.” From then on, Freund studied philosophy as a free student at the university in order to combine his studies with agricultural work.

Freund’s destiny once again changed, during the Second World War. In less than six years, he lived almost all the lives of a Frenchman of the dying Third Republic: hostage of the invader, refugee, clandestine, terrorist, prisoner, escapee, maquisard, journalist and politician. In 1940, during the day, he helped with farm work and took care of his mother’s beehives; and at night, he helped people flee occupied France. On November 11, Freund was summoned by the Gestapo in Sarrebourg. He went to the summons without much concern, but one of the political police henchmen warned him that he was on his way to Dachau (Sie werden nach Dachau kommen!).

The Kreisleiter, the NSDAP representative in Sarrebourg, asked him about his activities. Freund answered frankly that he would like to leave Lorraine. The German authorities were quite happy to get rid of him and allowed him to leave for the Auvergne, which he did the same day. Like a shipwrecked man, Freund found himself among the thousands of French people in exodus and arrived in Clermont-Ferrand on November 26, 1940. Out of a taste for adventure and admiration for his Strasbourg professor Jean Cavaillès, he joined the Liberation movement. With his group, he engaged in small-scale sabotage, even though the word is excessive to describe the actions, sometimes facetious, of young people who painted graffiti and stole the official portraits of Marshal Pétain. A search of his apartment and the discovery of the portraits, which had been amassed for destruction, led the police to believe that he was some sort of obsessed but harmless Vichy supporter.

Freund plotted while preparing for a graduate degree. In January 1942, he joined the Groupe Franc de Combat. Without realizing it, he crossed the line between diversion and real danger, between academic rebellion and terrorism. After some hesitation, he embarked on direct action. The use of explosives transformed his nocturnal adventures of a young non-conformist into political terrorism. He was arrested on June 27, 1942, the day after the foiled attack on Laval, then president of the Council of Ministers. Released in July, he was arrested again in September. In the first trial against the Combat group, Freund was sentenced to six months in prison. As the charges against him mounted, he was transferred to several prison camps.

In the summer of 1944, shortly after D-Day, he escaped from the citadel of Sisteron and joined the communist maquis (the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans de France). He was soon confronted with the abjection and moral degradation of the communists, and later recognized that his conception of the world would become that of a mature or experienced man.

The Resistance was the defining experience of Freund’s life. He describes it in a collective book of “decisive personal experiences,” Was meinem Leben Richtung gab. These years taught him that one cannot engage oneself fully in politics and claim to come out with clean hands. To believe that this is possible is only a sinister fantasy of a political intellectual or an intellectual who indulges in party politics. “My hands are stained, I admit it, but I don’t boast about it,” he confessed in 1975 to a German radio station. And again: “I do not belong to the brotherhood of Jean-Paul Sartre,” who confused the problem of political violence in a self-serving way and moralized it for his own benefit.

Once the war was over, Freund’s political action shifted from open struggle to editing newspapers, such as L’Avenir Lorrain, and to the regional offices of political parties. In less than a year, he was a delegate of the Mouvements Unis de Résistance (MUR) in the Allier, a delegate of the Mouvement de Libération National (MLN) in Moselle, and finally the departmental secretary of the Union Démocratique et Socialiste de la Résistance (UDSR), a non-Marxist socialist party, also in Moselle. But he was soon disappointed and even dismayed by the maneuvering and scheming during the establishment of his party’s electoral lists. A few months earlier, at the end of 1944, he had given up his circumstantial membership in the Communist party. But the exclusivism of the Communists of the time would stop at nothing, and Freund, who “knew too much,” was harassed and threatened with death by “ex-friends” of the PCF.

In June 1945, after an election meeting on the market square in Sarrebourg, a communist, ambushed him, shot at him from 30 meters and miraculously missed. A year later, disgusted by his experiences, he definitively stopped all political activity and decided to prepare for the competitive examination to become a philosophy teacher. He already had the main idea for his doctoral thesis: “What is politics, Was ist Politik? The book, L’essence du politique (The Essence of the Political ) [1965], the result of a long and mature reflection, allowed him to overcome his political disappointment.

Freund became a philosophy teacher at the Lycée Mangin in Sarrebourg in 1946. In the summer of 1948, he married Marie-France Kuder. He became a town councilor in Sarrebourg, while preparing for the agrégation in philosophy. In 1949, he joined the Lycée Fabert in Metz as an associate professor. In 1953, he moved to the Lycée Fustel de Coulanges in Strasbourg where he taught hypokhâgne classes to future students at the Ecole normale supérieure. Seven years later, in September 1960, he became a researcher at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), in the sociology section, thanks to the sponsorship of Raymond Aron, who was his thesis director.

On June 26, 1965, at two o’clock in the afternoon, Julien Freund defended his doctoral thesis on the essence and meaning of the political. Raymond Aron solemnly opened the session: “It is extraordinary that a Resistance fighter should have written such a thesis. That is why I ask you to stand up.” Commenting on the passages at the end of the book on courage, Aron took the opportunity to praise physical and moral courage, but especially the intellectual courage of the doctoral student. Freund was speechless. With great emotion, he finally spoke: “The work that I have the honor of presenting for your approval was born of a disappointment that was overcome. The disappointment, for which I do not hold others responsible in any way, but only my capacity for illusion, found its nourishment in the experiences of the resistance, that is to say, on the one hand, in the events of the time of the Occupation and the Liberation, and on the other hand, in those that it was given to me to face in the modest sphere of political and trade union activity that I carried out for a few years.”

In the packed Edgard Quinet amphitheater, where the defense was held, the most intense moment was the debate raised by Jean Hyppolite on the central political element: “If you’re really right, I’ll just have to cultivate my own garden,” said Hyppolite, who was initially the provisional director of his thesis before giving up, alleging: “As a socialist and a Hegelian, I can’t sponsor a thesis like yours at the Sorbonne.

Freund replied without hesitation: “I think you are making another mistake, because you think that you are the one who designates the enemy, like all pacifists. ‘As long as we don’t want enemies, we won’t have any,’ you reason. But it is the enemy who designates you. And if he wants you to be his enemy, you can make the most beautiful protestations of friendship. As long as he wants you to be the enemy, you are. And he will even prevent you from cultivating your garden. Hyppolite’s answer was tragic: “I have no choice then but to commit suicide.”

A great reader of Machiavelli, Freund did not agree to be classified as a “political realist;” and this is largely due to the confusion introduced by the false semantic friends of the concepts of Political Realism or Power Politics, which originated in the Anglo-Saxon theory of international relations. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, either about himself or about the nature of his political analysis, he returned to the subject in the appendix of the 1985 edition of The Essence of the Political. The distinction he makes is quite simple: to be Machiavellian is to have a “theoretical style of thought without concessions to the moralistic comedies of power.” To be Machiavellic, on the other hand, is to adopt a practical conduct in the political game that consists in committing “generous villainies”: do as I say; don’t do as I do.

A Machiavellian, Freund was the great proponent of Carl Schmitt in France. The damnatio memoriae never affected his will. He always laughed at defamation and, to be honest, at his colleagues who preferred to read about Schmitt’s reputation rather than read the Schmittian corpus. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that Schmitt did his utmost to disseminate the work of his French counterpart in Germany. Regardless of the theoretical differences between the two thinkers, no author has developed the Schmittian friend-enemy dialectic, which is one of the presuppositions of the essence of the political, as much as Freund. This criterion, which he made his intellectual motto, appears to him as a transcendental discovery. Its reality is verifiable and within the reach of every mind, because it “has the evidence of simple ideas” and does not need demonstration because of its “immediate evidence.” It is, after all, a superior, forgotten banality.


Julien Freund was a polymath, a scholar, a rigorous erudite whose repertoire of knowledge was as vast as it was varied. Metaphysics, political philosophy, sociology, polemology, political science, legal philosophy and sociology, painting, architecture! The list of his scientific and philosophical “vis,” as well as his irrepressible curiosity for the spectacle of the world, did not end there. Although he was not a film buff, and cinema is more about the imaginary than the real, his book Sociologie du conflit opens with a note on Marcel Carné’s Les enfants du paradis. In the pages of Philosophie philosophique, a treatise nourished by personal confidences, it is the unforgettable actor Louis Jouvet who suddenly appears. Moreover, no one could say that his “Alsatian” studies are minor or that they are only for lovers of the singularities of the Alsatian region and its folklore. Even if they are circumstantial, they always bear the mark of the master. But this being so, the heart of Julien Freund’s political philosophy undoubtedly lies in his theory of essence. Essence is inseparable from experience; it is the result of reflection on the constants that characterize the different human activities. The essence constitutes “a reality which lasts in time and which does not die out under the action of the circumstances.”

With the theory of essence, Freund sought to discover the criteria that fix each of the six essences discerned in the framework of social relations. On the political level, he asks the question: “Are there conditions that make politics political, so that when they are missing, the social relation is no longer political, or only secondarily political?” But of course, the notion of essence is not limited to the political domain. There is an essence of politics (the political) as there is of economy (the economic), of religion (the religious), of aesthetics (the aesthetic), of science (the scientific) and of ethics (the ethical). But then why six essences? This number is the result of a continuous reflection on ideas and experiences, which does not exclude possible correction. Nevertheless, Freund considers that these are the founding and irreducible essences of human nature. All other activities or social relations can be reduced, in one way or another, to one or other of these essences; or else to an antinomic dialectic, fruit of a conflict between two or more essences. The exact description of this dialectic relation, peaceful or polemical according to the circumstances, is the “mediation” of the essences.

The quid of each essence resides in the “prior and determining conditions” that make each activity possible. These conditions are the “presuppositions.” In the same way, the essence would only be an invention if it did not respond to “something ineffaceable” that belongs to human nature, a kind of irreducible residue. This residual data is natural, consubstantial to the man, “present in every man,” permanent and invariable. Correlatively to each datum, there exists, by necessity, a singular “finality” or “specific goal,” not interchangeable with those of the other essences, since the final cause of each of them is different according to the datum. Finally, if each human activity—historical and sociological reflection, so to speak hic et nunc, of each essence—has a privative finality, it can be reached only by specific means: “One cannot reach the end of a determined activity by just any means.”

In summary, the notion of essence is defined by four facets: data, presuppositions, purpose and means. “Thanks to the notion of data, I can answer the question of the foundation of an activity. Thanks to that of presupposition, I can determine the conditions of the exercise of this activity. And thanks to that of finality, the goal that man pursues by relying on this activity.” And, finally, the means, reveal how to reach the goal in each case.

“There is an essence of the political” is the pithy statement that opens The Essence of the Political. Once its existence is established, the notion of the state and, in general, of any other historical political form, is automatically superseded. The distinction between the political and the State appears on the very first page of Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political. The concept of the state presupposes the political concept: “Der Begriff des Staates setzt den Begriff des Politischen voraus.” There are few of Schmitt’s books which do not start off like a rocket. Similarly, a strong idea runs through The Essence of the Political: the distinction between the political and politics, which is itself a reaction against the diluting sociologism of the political in the social system: “The political is a power of society that politics translates into concrete and contingent acts of organization.” As opposed to the political as nature, politics is adventure, the “concrete way of negotiating” the political in human life according to historical situations, regimes, ideologies.


Uncomfortable with the baseness of university life, instrumentalized by educational unionism and the left’s desire for hegemony, Freund took early retirement at age 58, claiming for the first time in his life a privilege of resistance. “I didn’t feel comfortable at the university anymore, and then I had something else to do than to constantly counter the whims of the so-called progressives and democrats.” In reality, university life was another of his great disappointments—along with politics, union life and even religious life. In a letter to his teacher Raymond Aron, dated April 10, 1967, he confessed: “I cannot overcome the disappointment that has lasted for more than a year; that is, since I became familiar with university life.” Apparently, as he kept telling his thesis director, he had always felt embarrassed and uncomfortable in academia “because of my plebeian temperament.” He did not flee, but retired to Villé, “his good retreat,” “su buen retiro,” as Carl Schmitt says in Spanish, alluding here to the home of the kings of Spain. In Villé, his locus amoenus (an attractive, even idyllic place), Freund found his San Casciano, as Schmitt found his Plettenberg. “It is better to make internal emigration the only possible form of resistance under the present conditions.”

In any case, always faithful to his political profession of faith, Freund, the Frenchman, Gaullist, European and regionalist, read and wrote in complete freedom, which is rarely the case for an author. He maintained contact with a few faithful and remarkable students, while drawing new students as well. But he had no real disciples, nor successors, not even in France. He gave lectures in a few foreign universities, especially in Canada and Belgium, the most important being those of Montreal and Louvain. But in France, in his homeland, his voice was silenced; it was stifled in Germany. It is said with disdain that he frequented the circles of the New Right or that he gave lectures at the Club de l’Horloge… Freund did not ignore what it means to carry such a stigma. Nor was he afraid of being seen as a “franchouillard,” or of risking being told that he wears a beret everywhere “to be noticed.” But here again, the reality was more subtle than the clichés. According to Dr. Bertrand Kugler, nephew and godson of Julien Freund, his godfather “wore his beret in all circumstances as a sign of commemoration and homage and loyalty to all his companions in the Resistance, especially those who had died for France and for freedom. For him, this apparently banal gesture was of great importance.”

He suffered from loneliness, but he never lost courage. He did indeed go to the various forums and he would go to many others… if he were invited, but in truth he was not. The circle of silence is the price to be paid by the Machiavellian. In spite of everything, he gave conferences in Greece, Spain, Italy and Argentina. At the end of June 1982, he also went to Chile, invited by the Fundación del Pacífico and the University of Chile. That same year, his lectures were collected in a volume, entitled La crisis del Estado y otros escritos (The Crisis of the State and Other Writings), which included a large number of texts from a book that had never been published in French, Capitalisme et socialisme. He also had the opportunity to visit Peru (1982) and, two years earlier, Brazil (1980), at the invitation of the University of Sao Paulo. At that time, he shared with Raymond Aron, albeit discreetly, his opinion of military regimes and did not want to remain silent in order not to be an accomplice to the lie. Military dictatorships compromise political freedoms, but do not always affect civil liberties… But in the end, the article he wrote for L’Express at Aron’s suggestion was not published.

Freund was allergic to the labels of right and left, epidermal, accidental and changing notions, incapable of specifically characterizing the political. Although he was above this “moral hemiplegia” of the intellectual world, he knew that it did not depend on him to be pigeonholed, by enemies of the right or the left, even for his alleged “intentions.” He is a fascist for some, a Marxist for others, and if the latter are less numerous, they are even more uninformed than the former. Freund was not a conservative for writing about decadence, nor was he a socialist for being invited by socialist organizations, nor was he a member of GRECE (Groupement de Recherche et d’Études pour la Civilisation Européenne) for “speaking in New Right circles.” There is perhaps something palinodic in his comments in 1981. And even if not, I think the wound was hurting him. The “hunter of sacred shadows on the eternal hills”—to use the expression used by the Colombian Gómez Dávila to qualify himself—was already tired by the 1980s, but he nevertheless kept a vigilant eye, always attentive to the “regularities of politics,” like a guardian of the facts.

In any case, Freund was not the kind of person to make friends with the enemy, nor to cede to him the foundations of political definitions. With paradox, he knew how to disarm the mechanism of political demonization and stigmatization. He clarified not only the tactical but also the metapolitical meaning of his personal label by saying: “I am a reactionary of the left,” an “authentic revolutionary, [that is,] a conservative.” As a reactionary, Julien Freund refused to follow the herd. He knew how to say “no.” Always exposed to the elements, his spiritual strength was extraordinary; one cannot endure defamation without a large dose of intellectual courage.

Because of his character (he would probably have preferred to say his “inclination of mood”), Freund was always predisposed to be rebellious and annoying. He had little tolerance for accommodation, compromise, and even less for cheating reality. He did not want to compromise on what was essential and indispensable. His vehemence was hardly conciliatory and he perhaps lacked the skill, the astuteness, the worldly gentleness of a Raymond Aron, always affable. I am,” he said, “more turbulent in my behavior, more belligerent in my interventions, more polemical in my work.” For having cultivated the spirit of paradox, but above all for his idea of the political, which was refractory to the mystifications of the right and the left, he was marginalized and silenced. At the end of the 1980s, he confided to Chantal Delsol, who had been one of his doctoral students a few years earlier: “They don’t call me from anywhere.” His mistake, wrote Delsol, ten years after his death, was “to have been right before his time.” Sometimes overwhelmed by the triumph of the Marxist intelligentsia, Freund nonetheless continued to question the meaning of his work on the “eternal political,” which could well have been written two thousand years earlier by an informed politician or a disappointed political thinker like himself. But nothing ever distracted him from his passionate political vocation—or rather from the passion of politics—not even disappointment, that spur to intelligence: “I prefer the reading of Book VIII of Plato’s Republic to the follies of Alcibiades.”


Julien Freund’s work is impressive, as the successive bibliographies of Piet Tommissen, Juan Carlos Valderrama and Alain de Benoist attest. Its reception in the academic world is, however, far from doing justice to this work that projects itself into history and transcends the politics of the moment. But time filters out the essential, and Freund’s political philosophy, like his polemology and his profound meditations on decadence, undoubtedly have a promising future, which will be counted in centuries. His lineage is that of Thucydides, Machiavelli and Carl Schmitt. The same cannot be said of many other geniuses of the past century whose political understanding and work were marked by the Cold War and outdated like it.

This being said, it is perhaps not useless to recall here, to orient the reader, that the present book, L’aventure du politique (The Adventure of the Political), an extraordinary and moving dialogue with Father Charles Blanchet, whose first edition dates from 1991, has also been the object of two recent translations and editions in Spanish and Italian (Encuentro 2019 and Il Foglio 2021). This French edition would not have been possible without the generosity of M.M. René and Jean-Noël Freund, Julien Freund’s two sons, and his godson, M. Bertrand Kugler. It would not have been possible either without the interest and the love of risk of the publisher, Mr. Pierre-Yves Rougeyron, to whom I am particularly grateful for having asked me to write an introduction to this precious dialogue. With this edition, my debt to Mr. Arnaud Imatz is even greater.

Also noteworthy is a bilingual French and German edition of the epilogue to La décadence: Europa im Niedergang? (2020), and an anthology of texts, perhaps too brief, presented by Alain de Benoist and Pierre Bérard: Le Politique ou l’art de désigner l’ennemi (2020). Two other works were also reprinted, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Julien Freund’s birth, La fin de la Renaissance (2021), a book once rejected by Calmann-Lévy, and La décadence. Histoire sociologique et philosophique d’une catégorie de l’expérience humaine (2021), whose 1984 edition was not without its difficulties either. Finally, a long-awaited book was recently published, Lettres de la Vallée (2021), a political realist meditation with Rousseau’s Lettres écrites de la montagne as a counterpoint.

2021 was thus the year of Julien Freund’s return, with all honors.

Jerónimo Molina Cano is a jurist, historian of political and legal ideas, translator and author. He is a corresponding member of the Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas in Madrid.