The Collapse of Anglo-American Liberalism, or The Genealogy of “Wokism”

A genealogy is here understood as analogous to a genetic analysis or family history. Later thinkers “inherit” or appropriate some genes from one source but some genes from other sources. Earlier thinkers would not necessarily understand, approve of, or agree with what later thinkers did with the original inheritance.

In its intellectual journey, the key question concerns the relation of the moral dimension to the political dimension.


The Hebrew prophets made the moral dimension define the political dimension. That is the whole point of being a “prophet.”

Greek Philosophy (Plato vs. Aristotle)

Plato: dualism: reason should control passion; ideal moral world (should) define the political structure. It’s the Laws, not the Republic, stupid. The role of government is negative, restrain the bad guys. Major relevant inheritors of this line of thought are Augustine, Protestant Reformation, Kant, and (yes) J.S. Mill.

Aristotle: monism: the social world is to be understood in the same way we understand the physical world. For Aristotle, this means teleology. Each institution has a goal; (b) institutions form a hierarchy; (c) the state is the supreme institution because it aims at the highest and most comprehensive collective goal. By making the state (the polity) the supreme institution, the political dimension defines the moral dimension: to be good is to conform to the natural goal of an institution. The political institution (state) has a positive/therapeutic role – to promote fulfillment; utopia (achieving fulfillment) is possible because the “form is in the matter.” Inheritors of this genetic line include Aquinas, Bentham, Reich, modern liberals, socialists, Marxists, and “wokists.”

Christianity (Augustine vs. Aquinas)

Augustine “Platonized” Christianity: As a dualist, he argued that we lived in two worlds: “passion” is the product of original sin and free will; “reason” becomes the insight or vision of the “whole” imparted to some by the mystery of God’s grace. Augustine’s “dedivinized the state,” detaching the spiritual/moral dimension from the political and legal dimensions. The moral dimension defines the political dimension. Personal (positive) fulfillment comes by participation in the spiritual/moral realm (Church). Public life (politics) is a necessary evil wherein the role of government is negative to inhibit or punish the bad guys.

Aquinas reconceptualized Christianity from an Aristotelian point of view. He transformed Augustine’s subordination of politics to morality to the subordination of politics to law understood as deriving in hierarchal and teleological fashion from divine law. The earth and all of its inhabitants are members of a divine community. The Church claimed leadership of the world by appropriating the Aristotelian notion of a totalizing and encompassing institution. The Church asserted its independence of and the subordination of political institutions to itself by claiming access to a natural law derived ultimately from divine law, codified as canon law. This sounds like Augustine but it is significantly different. The Roman Catholic Church offers therapeutic salvation through habitual practices such as the sacraments including confession and penance.

Institutionally, the hierarchical/monarchical structure of the Church terminates logically and historically in a Pope who eventually claims infallibility. Alternatively, some lay Catholics advocate integralism. This is but another way of saying the institutional/political structure defines the moral dimension.

Physical Science (a) Plato vs. Aristotle; (b) Newton vs. Descartes

(a) Modern 17th-century physics is totally Platonic, rejecting Aristotle’s naturalism and teleology. In its place we get mathematical models (Descartes, Leibniz, Galileo, Newton). Despite the popular distinction between empiricists and rationalists, every modern philosopher from Descartes onwards presumed that the mind in some way or other constructs our experience.

(b) The directly relevant contrast is between Newtonian atomism and Cartesian holistic plenum (denial of empty space and action at a distance).

The fundamental Anglo-American orientation is, historically speaking, a fundamental opposition to the concentration of power. This is originally directed against government. British Enlightenment philosophers conceptualize this opposition by opting for Galileo and (anti-teleological deterministic/mechanized) Newtonian atomism. Ethics (teleological) is replaced by moral philosophy. Initially, classical liberalism seems to be a political stance seeking a moral grounding.

Human beings are understood as atomistic strivers [Galilean Hobbes] wherein reason does not overrule passion [first law of motion, Hume] but operates, when properly contextualized (second law of motion), within a contractually harmonious social context [Hobbes, Locke, Mandeville; Hume and Smith on sympathy] sometimes guaranteed by God [Locke]. In political economy [joined by French Anglophiliac acolytes such as Montesquieu, Constant, and Tocqueville], the non-teleological moral dimension seemingly overrules the political dimension by demanding negative liberty on the assumption that self-interest is rightly understood (Bentham’s felicific calculus).

Hume will have misgivings and revert to a quasi-historical understanding. Absent Macaulay historicism, this is where the evolution and collapse of liberalism will be initiated.

French Enlightenment philosophers were not part of the liberal tradition because they were generally influenced by Descartes’ physics with its emphasis on a holistic plenum rather than atomism and hence its commitment to a kind of collectivism. This is clear in the philosophes, Rousseau, Comte but also in Marx who was swayed by the Comtean notions of sociology and scientism. The operative position was that the political (whole) defined the moral and thereby authorized a social technology. These theorists opted for social technology within a (nationalism-socialism) framework and/or fascism {totalitarian democracy (Talmon on why this is different from authoritarian conservatism)}, or (internationalist) Marxism but not “wokism.”

The German Enlightenment and its romantics were influenced by the Platonic and religious (Reformation) cultural inheritance with its emphasis on the individual control of desire as in Kant. This required Kant to reinterpret the whole of human knowledge from a transcendental Platonic perspective invoking alleged synthetic a priori guarantees for God, freedom, and immortality.

Curiously, both Kant and Hegel (Kojeve, Fukuyama) provided a moral foundation for political liberalism only recently recognized and appreciated.

Neither Kant, nor Hegel, nor Nietzsche has anything to do with Nazism. Nazism is the German version of (anti-semitic) nationalist-socialism eventually theorized as fascism (Schmitt) in opposition to liberalism and internationalist Marxism. Post-WWII Germany reverts to gemeinschaft-moral demands on their constitution as opposed to gesellschaft ones.

The Degradation of Liberalism

All modern moral philosophy began with the Renaissance (Mirandola) postulation of an individual human being choosing and pursuing his/her own directions of activity. What needs to be explained is what obligations we have to others. The negative liberty of the British Enlightenment presupposes a self (selves) pursuing its (their) self-interest properly understood. In a deterministic (Newtonian) world there is no telos that guarantees that any individual possesses an individual homeostasis or that a group of individuals has such a homeostasis that would enable proper understanding. This lack of a guarantee becomes all the more problematic in democratic societies (threat of the “tyranny” of the majority in Tocqueville and in J.S. Mill). Whatever the shortcomings of other positions, there is no knock-down argument that any individual is better off always respecting the interests of others (Hume’s sensible knave).

Absent such a guaranteed convergence, other alternatives arise. First, the British Idealists (T.H. Green, Bradley, Bosanquet) rejected the “atomistic” form of individualism. Instead, they argued that humans are fundamentally social beings who by their very nature owed obligations to help others. The British Idealists did not, however, reify the State but became what we know as Modern Liberals promoting a welfare state version of the felicific calculus in opposition to classical liberals. Other writers such as G.B. Shaw and the Fabians (Webb) promoted this view in popular culture

Second, (A.V. Dicey), socialistic ideas were in no way a part of dominant legislative opinion earlier than 1865, and their influence on legislation did not become perceptible until 1868 or dominant until 1880. Moreover (Dicey) the opposition between the individualistic liberalism of 1830 and the democratic socialism of 1905 conceals the heavy debt owed by English collectivists to the utilitarian reformers. From Benthamism the socialists inherited a legislative dogma [principle of utility], a legislative instrument [parliamentary sovereignty], and a legislative tendency [constant extension of the mechanism of government]. The specific ends of Benthamite legislation were subsistence, abundance, security, sexual equality, environmentalism, and animal rights “each maximized, in so far as is compatible with the maximization of the rest.” The principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number is inimical to the idea of liberty and to the idea of rights (Himmelfarb). Socialists acknowledge social dysfunction and even moral depravity as the product of the market economy’s threatening concentration of great power which requires, in response, using the political institution to correct or counterbalance the perceived degradation of the moral domain.

The third significant feature is the sexualization of liberalism, socialism, and Marxism. Enter Wilhelm Reich, incorporating his version of psychoanalysis into dialectical materialism. The most powerful and potentially self-destructive and socially disruptive drive in human beings is sex. In his mis-appropriation of Freud, Reich argued that neurosis (and all other dysfunction) could only be cured by having a proper orgasm understood as the full discharge of the libido in which you lose your ego and embrace your social self. Reich is the “founder of a genital utopia” (Sharaf). Reich has had a remarkable influence on popular culture from Foucault to Norman Mailer to films and pop music.

Liberalism in general has always known what it is against but not what it favors. It inherited a moral compass but it philosophically rejects custom and tradition and history as sufficient grounds. The consequence is no moral compass. Hence, the modern liberal welfare state does not have a clear conception of the nature and limits of the use of social technology. Instead, it has used social technology to redefine morality. It struggles to design education as a way of dealing with the challenges of parliamentary democracy, and continually expands the role of government until it becomes indistinguishable from democratic socialism. The perceptive Marxist critique of democratic socialism ultimately nudges it to discard the “democratic” qualifier as inhibiting long-term planning. Hence the embrace by some of “wokism” indistinguishable in practice from totalitarian Marxism and fascism.


From Hobbes to Bentham, the liberal view is that human nature is nothing but appetites. The role of liberty is to mediate between appetites unbound and the binding required by other appetitive beings. This requires removing the restrictions on appetites. The politics of emancipation in the Anglo-American world is the dialectical resolution of this role. It incorporates the satiation of one’s appetites, the right of respect for having one’s appetites and determinations (being/identity), control of education to enable the breaking up of traditional/oppressive forms of social reproduction to enable this appetitive self, as well as the political demand that this emancipated self receives the resources (reparations, career and office holding opportunities) distributed on the basis of one’s identity that enable its perpetuity. The emancipation of self requires for its realization a complete overhaul of the entire political, economic, pedagogical, and social spheres.

The alternative view of the self is that liberty is in the service of internal freedom or autonomy (self-control). That is why Mill rejected Bentham, and why he reconstructed utilitarianism to reflect all four versions of Kant’s categorical imperative, and reasserted the Platonic view that the “moral” defines the “political.” As opposed to the other forms of liberalism, Mill, following Kant, maintains that no one can or should promote or have an obligation to promote from the outside the moral perfection of another person because that contradicts and undermines the internal freedom that is a condition of moral perfection. Mill saved liberalism from itself, but it was too late.

Nicholas Capaldi is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans.

Featured: Collapse of the Roof, by Nicholas Evans; painted in 1978.

From the American Dream to the American Nightmare

Higher education has transitioned from a focus on affirmative action (AA) to a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). How did this come about and what does it mean?

In the minds of their advocates, both AA and DEI are aspirational public policies focused on rectifying “underrepresentation” in the workforce of groups historically subject to inequalities in education and in the workforce. The former policy (AA) was initiated in 1965 and focused on improving equality of access (opportunity). It was subject to lengthy and controversial legal litigation over the use of quotas. By 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “States may choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in governmental decisions.” (DEI) is a later version and continuation of (AA). It arose from several sources including Higher Education and Immigration Law. It is seemingly focused on training of current employees in the workplace, but job applicants are required to subscribe and committed to achieving some version of equality of outcome.

The following account traces the long and circuitous route by which these policies came about. My account of this transition has three interrelated elements: the intellectual origin, the institutional context or evolution of higher education in America, and finally the larger political context. It is important to keep in mind that these controversial policies originated within and were welcomed by the academy, and these policies remain aspirational in the sense that they have no firm legal standing either in legislation or in the U.S. Supreme Court. My contention is that (AA) and (DEI) seek to replace the American Dream of a meritocracy with the Nightmare of egalitarianism.

Part I: Intellectual Origin

The modern context of egalitarianism originated with the success of Newtonian physics and its ability not only to explain and predict natural phenomena but to give us control over them. As Bacon and especially Descartes expressed it, it helped to make us the “masters and possessors of nature.”

Inspired by Newton, the French philosophes developed the idea of the social sciences. Specifically, they sought not only to explain and to predict social phenomena but to gain control over the social world. They proposed to pursue a social technology as a reflection of their Enlightenment Project. Such mastery was not only intended to achieve power but to bring about a social utopia.

(Isaiah Berlin characterizes the Project as follows: “…there were certain beliefs that were more or less common to the entire party of progress and civilization, and this is what makes it proper to speak of it as a single movement. These were, in effect, the conviction that the world, or nature, was a single whole, subject to a single set of laws, in principle discoverable by the intelligence of man; that the laws which governed inanimate nature were in principle the same as those which governed plants, animals and sentient beings; that man was capable of improvement; that there existed certain objectively recognizable human goals which all men, rightly so described, sought after, namely, happiness, knowledge, justice, liberty, and what was somewhat vaguely described but well understood as virtue; that these goals were common to all men as such, were not unattainable, nor incompatible, and that human misery, vice and folly were mainly due to ignorance either of what these goals consisted in or of the means of attaining them—ignorance due in turn to insufficient knowledge of the laws of nature… Consequently, the discovery of general laws that governed human behaviour, their clear and logical integration into scientific systems—of psychology, sociology, economics, political science and the like (though they did not use these names)—and the determination of their proper place in the great corpus of knowledge that covered all discoverable facts, would, by replacing the chaotic amalgam of guesswork, tradition, superstition, prejudice, dogma, fantasy and ‘interested error’ that hitherto did service as human knowledge and human wisdom (and of which by far the chief protector and instigator was the church), create a new, sane, rational, happy, just and self-perpetuating human society, which, having arrived at the peak of attainable perfection, would preserve itself against all hostile influences, save perhaps those of nature” (The Magus of the North, pp. 27-28).

Thus, the intellectual origins lie specifically in the French version of the Enlightenment Project. The Enlightenment Project was the attempt to define, explain, and control the human predicament through science and technology. This project originated among the French philosophes during the eighteenth century, among whom the most influential were Diderot, d’Alembert, La Mettrie, Condillac, Helvetius, d’Holbach, Turgot, and Condorcet. The philosophes were inspired by Bacon’s vision of the liberating power of science, Hobbes’ materialism, Newton’s physics, and Locke’s empiricist epistemology. The Project was epitomized in the nineteenth century by Comte and in the twentieth century by positivism. Denying the Christian concept of sin but still choosing to play God, these philosophes initiated the modern hubristic search for a secular utopia. What the Enlightenment project did was to change our idea of what knowledge is and what it is for.

The legacy of the French Enlightenment persisted throughout the nineteenth century in the works of Comte and Marx. Voegelin maintains that this is a form of Gnosticism, the Christian heretical attempt to achieve heaven on earth. “In the Gnostic speculation of scientism this particular variant reached its extreme when the positivist perfector of science replaced the era of Christ by the era of Comte. Scientism has remained to this day one of the strongest Gnostic movements in Western Society; and the immanentist pride in science is so strong that even the special sciences have each left a distinguishable sediment in the variants of salvation through physics, economics, sociology, biology, and psychology” (Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, p. 127).

Egalitarianism is based upon a False Analogy to Physical Sciences

Our first claim is that affirmative action and DEI are policies based on the contention that there are such things as social sciences (Social studies, or the attempt to study and to understand the human/social world is not committed to the assumption that understanding means prediction and control. Nobel laureate Hayek’s understanding of economics and the market economy explicitly precludes prediction and control)—and specifically social technology able to explain, predict, and control social phenomena. The agents of this policy are deeply embedded in the social science programs of the modern university.

As we shall see, the most influential variants of this policy are Marxist in origin. Karl Marx believed not only that he had found an explanation of the social world but that he could predict its future evolution and identified the working class as the agents of reform through violent revolution. All of Marx’s predictions turned out to be false, so Marxist theory had to be revised. (It is worth noting in this context the modification introduced by Lenin, namely “colonialism,” the exploitation of non-western countries for their raw materials and low cost of labor. This alleged “exploitation” indirectly helped workers in the developed world to enjoy a higher standard of living and therefore not revolt. The same kind of argument can be read back into the domestic economy). The important relevant revision was provided by Antonio Gramsci in his doctrine of the “long march” through the institutions, specifically a revolutionary party needed the working-class to develop organic intellectuals who articulated an alternative hegemonic ideology critical of the status quo. Gramsci maintained that the agent of change was not the working class but the class of intellectuals and that the latter would bring about a peaceful revolution through the gradual take over of the major institutions in society like the university.

A. Hidden Structure Fallacy

Two features of “social” science allegedly analogous to physical science are worth noting. Modern physics does not explain phenomena (e.g. color) by reference to what is directly observable. On the contrary, modern physical science explains what is observable by reference to an initially hidden substructure, not visible to the naked eye (e.g. microbes, molecules, quarks, etc.). Subsequent experimentation gives us access to this initially hidden substructure by means of sophisticated equipment.

In an attempt to replicate this feature of physical science, the alleged “social” sciences explain the surface by reference to an initially hidden substructure (Marxist economics, Freud’s ego, id, etc., choices made behind Rawls’ “veil of ignorance”). So, today, for example, we are told that there is such a thing as “institutional racism.” However, there is a disconnect here. Instead of a hidden substructure that later gets verified or observed, the social sciences present a cornucopia of rival theories with no way to choose among them (libertarian, liberal, socialist, Marxist, Feminist, Critical Theory. Etc.).

To make matters worse, if one social scientist disagrees with another both can dismiss the other by claiming that the rival is a victim of a hidden bias. There is thus an infinite regress of hidden structures: your account, my account, your account of why my account is wrong because it reflects a hidden structure, my account of the hidden structure that explains why you cannot overcome your account (e.g. why “white” people who have not suffered “discrimination” cannot understand “black” people but “black” people can somehow understand and explain “white” people; likewise, “white” people can understand that “black” people suffer from the mental disorder of racial paranoia, etc.). This not only brings civil discourse to an end but it also gives enormous rhetorical advantages or power over the debate. The only social technology produced to date is the power to control debate.

B. No Replication by other Scientists

There is one final twist to the argument. A number of philosophers of science (e.g. Kuhn, Feyerabend, even Wittgenstein) have pointed out, rightly, that a theory in physical science is deemed “true” or in some sense viable if the theory meets the criteria (tests) agreed upon by the community of physical scientists. In short, intellectual acceptability depends upon a prior professional social consensus. Even Hayek pointed out that physical science rests upon assumptions that science cannot establish. Armed with this insight (anticipated by Vico in the 18th century and even to be found in Gramsci), social scientists contend that agreement amongst the community of “social” scientists is sufficient to establish the validity of a hidden structure account about the social world.

The foregoing analogy does not work. To begin with, physical scientists do not merely have conversations but engage in replicable experiments that do identify something “out there” independent of us. Moreover, the physical sciences have allowed us to extend human life, conquer diseases, engage in space exploration, etc. whereas, the “social” technologists to date have wrecked economies, engaged in needless wars, promoted social unrest, and provoked destabilizing mass migrations.

C. Concepts are not Things

In the “social” sciences, we meet only concepts and not things. Microbes and molecules are real; “systemic racism” remains a linguistic expression. There is also the question of who are the authoritative members of the community of social sciences (e.g. tenured members of the Harvard sociology department?). This may begin to explain why the contemporary university seeks to silence dissent and to discredit if not prevent certain kinds of research. Worse yet, the purveyors of this view need to appeal to a grand social consensus outside of their disciplines in order to identify their specific disciplines. Either they deny, for political reasons, that a valid social consensus exists (NO GRAND NARRATIVE) or they invoke an infinite regress. In practice, what this amounts to is that you only speak with others who already agree with you and shun, dismiss, or silence those who do not.

D. IAT Test: An Example of Unreliable Pseudo-Science

Let me give an example of pseudo-social-science. The implicit-association test (IAT) is intended to detect subconscious associations between mental representations of objects (concepts) in memory. Its best-known application is the assessment of implicit stereotypes such as associations between racial categories and stereotypes about members of those groups, e.g., associations involving racial groups, gender, sexuality, age, and predictions of the test taker. The IAT was introduced in 1998 and has been used as an assessment in implicit bias trainings (e.g. in diversity training) designed to reduce unconscious bias and discriminatory behavior.

IAT is the subject of significant debate regarding its validity, reliability, and usefulness in assessing implicit bias. Arkes and Tetlock offer “three objections to the inferential leap from the comparative RT (Reaction Time) of different associations to the attribution of implicit prejudice: (a) The data may reflect shared cultural stereotypes rather than personal animus, (b) the affective negativity attributed to participants may be due to cognitions and emotions that are not necessarily prejudiced, and (c) the patterns of judgment deemed to be indicative of prejudice pass tests deemed to be diagnostic of rational behavior.” (In press: H.R. Arkes, “The Rationality, Interpretation, and Overselling of Tests of Implicit Cognition,” in J.A. Krosnick, T.H. Stark, & A.L. Scott, eds., The Cambridge Handbook of Implicit Bias and Racism (Chapter 11, pp. 319-330). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2023).

Part II. Institutional Context: Evolution of Higher Education in the U.S.

Historically the modern American university emerged in the 19th century from a variety of sources: religious affiliation, local communities, and private benefactors. From the beginning the university consisted of factions with competing paradigms. The oldest paradigm, the Ivory Tower so to speak, originated in the small liberal arts college with a religious (usually Puritan) affiliation and famously romanticized by Newman. The purpose of liberal education was to preserve, critique, and to transmit our cultural inheritance. In seeking to subordinate itself to the outside world, the university would only compromise itself and become an instrument for commercial or political exploitation.

A teacher is one who initiates a student into a cultural inheritance. The inheritance only comes alive when exhibited in the living embodiment of an instructor. The teacher exhibits academic virtues by consistently and coherently organizing intellectual judgments and inviting the learner to share in that process. Teaching was successful when students learned how to construct a self-understanding inclusive of the inheritance, a particular way of ordering or appropriating the inheritance, and to do so in a way that leads to the acquisition of an intellectual personality of their own.

A second paradigm is the German research model of the university with its emphasis on the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, the graduate school and the training of professionals. In this model, knowledge cannot be in the service of special interest groups because knowledge knows no political boundaries. Although non-political, the spectacular success of this model in science and technology eventually encouraged government subvention.

The third paradigm is utilitarian, wherein the university is seen as an institution for solving various and sundry social problems. In this model, the university exists as a means to social ends defined externally to the university itself (e.g. an A&M).

Looked at from our contemporary perspective, it is now clear that Newman’s moral model of the university has evaporated or has been marginalized; the research model has been corrupted and coopted; the notion of the college graduate as a civil servant has evolved into the notion of a special class which aims to run society. It is the politicized utilitarian model that has triumphed.

At first glance it is clear that institutions that were supposed to be the locus of higher education have become entwined with and encompass an enormous range of social, economic, and cultural activities. In the process, they have become big businesses with vested interests. In attempting to encompass all of these activities, institutions of higher education have abandoned learning. In so doing, such institutions have evolved into fraudulent enterprises. This is not to say that everything that occurs within institutions of higher education is fraudulent; nor is it to say that this outcome was planned or even foreseeable. It is to say that institutions of higher education have evolved, and in the course of that evolution factors internal to and external to the institution, intellectual and non-intellectual, have contributed to the rise of a Tower of Babel, meaning that the experts can no longer communicate with each other and have no clear common purpose. Symptomatic of this problem is a lack of consensus on the meaning of concepts like “learning,” “higher education,” “university;” no one seems to know what “teaching” is as opposed to “instructing” or how to evaluate it; no one seems to know the difference between “research” and “scholarship.” We have, in short, lost all sense of purpose. The fraud consists in maintaining that all of the activities that occur within present institutions of higher education are legitimate, consistent with each other and capable of forming a coherent whole under the rubric of the pious rhetoric that appears in mission statements and commencement addresses.

Although seemingly serving these external interests, universities have become a home for the adversary culture, for all those groups that are hostile to the very activities the university seeks to encompass. What are we to make of this contradiction? Schumpeter has observed that most modern intellectuals (including clergy and media people) are generally at odds with the representatives of the business community even though academics are dependent upon commerce for their own existence and comfort. Part of this opposition is reflected in the firm commitment of the academic world to socialism even when it has been repeatedly shown that centrally planned economies woefully and of necessity underperform free market economies. Schumpeter attributes this opposition to jealously on the part of academics who resent the fact that the leadership of modern culture emerges from the business community instead of the academy. Here we have a clue as to what has happened, namely, something was transformed in the evolution of the university from a medieval to a modern institution.

Higher education is the initiation into an inheritance, and it was from the beginning institutionalized in universities. As medieval institutions, universities saw themselves as the elite defining institutions of the culture, as superior to and independent of the state, as playing both a Socratic role with respect to the culture as a whole and a potentially adversarial role with respect to individual institutions such as the state. The source of our difficulties lies in the conflict between these roles, the conflict between the Socratic initiation into the inheritance and the adversarial relation between a self-defined elitist institution and the rest of the culture.

As Western Civilization evolved the content of the inheritance evolved. Unfortunately, certain historically contingent aspects of the medieval world became mistakenly identified with the content. Given the late medieval context, academics believed in a collective, holistic, and hierarchical common good, a good to which the good of individuals was subordinate, a good that encompassed both the church and the state. Intellectuals, in short, see themselves as the high priests of the collective good The university as agent of the church not only articulated that good but enlisted the subordinate state to promote the conditions necessary to achieve that good.

The modern world is not the medieval world. There are two elements in the medieval view that are at odds with modern culture. The most distinctive institutions of modern culture are individual rights, the rule of law, a republican form of government, and a market economy. First, modern culture is post-Reformation and therefore does not believe in a holistic common good. There is, instead, the individual good rooted, at least initially, in the relationship of individuals to God. There is no holistic common good over which academics may preside, only a cultural inheritance. Universities, however, may still perform the functions of providing a context for learning and maintaining a Socratic role vis-a-vis the rest of the culture. Second, there is no one institution, and therefore no one group, that authoritatively articulates the cultural inheritance. Without a collective good, intellectuals in the modern world are merely trained communicators who might be spokespersons for a particular interest group. Schumpeter’s observations and diagnosis are not only accurate, but we can explain the situation further by reference to the medieval origins of Institutions of Higher Education. The now mythological holistic common good is the metaphysical phantom behind central planning.

The Enlightenment Project allowed academics to reassert the cultural hegemony of the university. College graduates were no longer mere civil servants but definers and implementers of the good. The good was understood as the medieval cosmic order now accessed by physical and social science. Since media people are trained by the academics, they too become advocates of the project. It should come as no surprise that the press is no longer Socratic but adversarial.
How did this happen?

The internal transformation begins with how the Puritan Ivory Tower underwent a remarkable secularization. Inspired by 19th-century Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau (environmentalist, author of “Civil Disobedience,” and whose support of John Brown turned abolitionism into a civil religion), these “heretical” Puritans (now a sect of Presbyterians) surrendered the concept of “original sin” and replaced it with a moral universalism in which it was assumed that all people were naturally good and corrupted only by their environment. As Santayana allegedly remarked, “Thoreau was impervious to the evidence of evil.” What began as WASP Hegemony evolved first into Wilsonian (President of Princeton University became President of the U.S.) Progressivism that assimilated all Americans in the 1920s but by the 1960s had evolved into liberal-egalitarian idealism applicable to the entire multicultural world. This view is expressed in a speech given by Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger to the American Historical Association (1942) titled “What Then is The American, This New Man?” Schlesinger declared that: “The American character … is bottomed upon the profound conviction that nothing in the world is beyond its power to accomplish.” In his 1989 essay, The End of History, Francis Fukuyama argued that American liberal democracy and modern technology had produced the final form of political association. Henceforth, all societies would, in time, inevitably take on the form of liberal democracy.

What will probably strike some readers as an aside or a remarkable coincidence, worth noting is that the 16th century English theologian Richard Hooker’s critical portrait of Puritan methodology in his Ecclesiastical Polity aptly catches what has become today “Woke” methodology in higher education and its attendant “witch hunt.” Puritans exhibited a Millenarian vision of spiritual redemption through worldly reform; severe criticism of social evils and the conduct of the upper classes; they are virtue signalers; experience themselves as the elect and distinguish themselves from the damned; concentrate popular ill-will against the establishment; recommend a new form of government as the “sovereign remedy of all evils;” turn a blind eye to any part of our intellectual inheritance that is incompatible with their doctrine; anyone who uses tabooed instruments of critique will be socially boycotted and defamed; there is a special role for women: emotionally more accessible, tactically well placed to influence husbands, children, friends, more inclined to than men to serve as spies/”commissars” concerning the state of affections in their circle, and more liberal in financial aid; they are impermeable to argument and have their answers well drilled – beyond shaking by argument; sacred documents had to be carefully chosen and the interpretation standardized; propaganda is a form of political action not a search for truth; where they control the means of communication, all theoretical argument is prohibited (Voegelin, pp.135-144).

Going back to the medieval origin of universities focused on educating the clergy, the faculty had always viewed itself as the moral and intellectual elite. The Puritan roots of higher education in the U.S. always had as its aim the notion of the college graduate as part of a special class which aims to run society. Heretofore, it had been assumed that knowledge cannot be in the service of special interest groups because knowledge knows no political boundaries. In the 1960s, the secularization of Puritanism came to mean that colleges promoted a specific political agenda, namely liberal-egalitarian idealism associated with transcendentalism or humanism. That agenda emerged from the so-called “social” sciences.

The alleged “social” sciences, acting as a kind of “fifth column” starting in the 1960s, achieved intellectual hegemony over the entire university curriculum. The humanities were social-scientized under the aegis of “deconstruction” seeking the hidden structure meaning of texts so that Shakespeare, for example, was now read not as someone who had important insights into the human condition but perhaps as a racist or homophobe. Here is a typical itinerary that reflects a forced interdisciplinarity: the student registers in a philosophy department; instead of the Truth for which she was searching all that she is offered is tiresome analysis; bored, she changes disciplines and ends up writing a thesis entitled “The Phenomenology of Moby Dick” or “How Class Struggle is related to Paternalism.” Following all this, she will be hired in a department of literature, or social sciences, or psychology and will satisfy in turn the disappointed philosophical aspirations of a new generation.

“Deconstruction” became the origin of the view that there are multiple but no authoritative narratives or grand theory. (According to Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, the postmodern condition rejects universalizing theories. Lyotard argues that we have outgrown our needs for metanarratives that bring together social practices. Any narratives we tell to justify a single set of norms are inherently unjust. Little narratives have now become the appropriate way for explaining social transformations and political problems. This is easily translatable as a rejection of Huntington’s “creed” and the promotion of multiculturalism). By a not so strange coincidence with Rousseau’s elusive “general will,” the substitute for an authoritative narrative was whatever the majority, or those who spoke in the name of the majority, voted for or agreed to. As we shall see, this had important implications for immigration policy.

The American Historical Association (the national professional organization for academic historians), issued a statement supporting the removal of Confederate monuments from the public square because the 1861-1865 War was about slavery. American historians and legal scholars acting now in a post-modern idiom for whom the “realities of race and slavery” stain and color nearly all events in antebellum history, just as Marxists stained and confounded everything they touched from an obsession with class struggle, will ignore or dismiss constitutional claims about the right of secession and by an act of will confer “factual” status on the official doctrine that the War was about slavery. And since most academic historians subscribe to that thesis, it is presented as something determined by “experts.”

In philosophy, John Rawls (winner of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award) was a barometer of the direction of academic thinking. In his youth, Rawls was influenced by Marx’s essay On the Jewish Question, criticizing the idea that inequality in ability justifies the distribution of wealth in society. G. A. Cohen, used Rawls’s writings to inaugurate Analytical Marxism in the 1980s, and the same can be said of Habermas and the Frankfort School. In the Law of Peoples (1999) Rawls embraces a form of multiculturalism)—eschewed and replaced even the historical account of our norms by articulating the method of “reflective equilibrium” to undercover the alleged “hidden” structure of our moral intuitions. Rawls’s theorized, in a series of articles written between 1957 and 1963 and a book in 1971, that justice meant “fairness” which really meant equal basic liberties, “fair” equality of opportunity, and facilitating the maximum benefit to the least advantaged members of society in any case where inequalities may occur.

(The qualification “fair” opens the Pandora’s box that leads ultimately from equality of opportunity to equality of result. See below on Hume’s discussion of “fair.” Notice as well the difference between a society which maximizes benefits for all and one which is focused on maximizing benefits for the least well off. The former defines itself in terms of its “most” successful while the latter defines itself in terms of its ‘least’ successful).

Rawls’ sympathizers and critics pointed out that he had not gone far enough. Even in a system of perfect equality of opportunity there would be some inequality of result. The children of super-achievers would have gained privileges that the children of others did not. Such inequality and the resulting resentment was, as Marxists argued, the root of all other social problems. It is at this point that cultural Marxists hijacked the liberal-egalitarian agenda in the academic world.

(Just as Hooker had in the sixteenth century exposed the logic of Puritan Gnosticism, David Hume had in the 18th century in the Enquiry Concerning Morals exposed the logic of inequality. First, there is no consensus on what is a fair distribution; second, you cannot in advance assign resources to who will make the best use of them because this is not something anyone can know in advance {refutes central planning}; third, if in the beginning you give everyone equal resources this will be followed by interactions that will lead to a new inequality of result; finally, all of this will require an all-powerful central authority to maintain the ongoing equality).

An important transition had occurred. Rather than demanding that Americans live up to their norms, it had now been revealed that those norms, the entire history behind them was inherently evil and exploitative. If so, then against that standard Western Civilization was a fraudulent form of exploitation. What followed was a scholarship of endless denigration of Western achievement. Not even the physical sciences could resist. Western physical science had, unbeknownst, all this time operated within a flawed set of moral foundations. Something, later, like Covid became a social/political/ideological problem and not a medical problem.

This intellectual voyage provided an opening for Frankfort School cultural Marxists like Marcuse. Rawls had to be supplemented by Dworkin who in turn gave way to critical race theory. Pre-law students usually majored in political science (subtly conceptualizing law into applied politics) and when they arrived at Law Schools were introduced to the U.S. Constitution as a document written by white males who had owned slaves. Social technologists turned law schools into preparing graduates to be federal bureaucrats, activist judges, and regulatory agents.

To recruit more like-minded faculty for Gramsci’s “Long March through the Institutions,” a succinct mission statement coined by Marxist student activist Rudi Dutschke in the 1960s, whole new disciplines of inequality grievance studies were introduced. John Ellis (2020), in his book, The Breakdown of Higher Education, shows how Antonio Gramsci inspired Marxists and Students for a Democratic Society, the latter publishing in 1962 the Port Huron Statement. In that document, Students for a Democratic Society “decided . . . their only choice was to “wrest control of the educational process from the administrative bureaucracy…(and) consciously build a base for their assault upon the loci of power” (Ellis, pp. 48-52). They went on to use universities to convert young people to their ideology. Radicals patiently built their numbers until they had achieved a 5-to-1 left-right faculty ratio by the turn of the century (2000). That dominance allowed radicals to control most new faculty appointments, and the left-right ratio accelerated dramatically, reaching about 12 to 1 by 2016. The affected institutions include law schools and business schools. The best discussion of Marxism in higher education is American Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas, by Dario Fernandez-Morera (1996).

Part III: Political Background

As we shall see the political context was both a cause and an effect of the growth of affirmative action and its transition to DEI.

The utilitarian conception of the university understood as serving an external political agenda was facilitated by federal funding. In an important sense, there is hardly any longer a totally private institution of higher learning. The external sociological origin of this triumph lies in the commercial exploitation of the university’s research resources, in the political appropriation of the university’s scientific research capacity commencing with the Cold War, and in the vast expansion of the number of people accepted into the institution during the 1960s. It’s always about the 1960s.

In the immediate post WWII period, both major political parties, Democrats and Republicans, shared different but overlapping narratives. Both supported what I shall call the “American Dream,” namely the view that through hard work and merit (talent) any American could become economically successful. It was always understood that a meritocracy meant inequality of result, but this was accepted on the grounds that all were then better off (“a rising tide raises all boats”). Republicans wanted to protect this Dream for those who already had achieved it and for their posterity; and Democrats wanted to extend it to those (unionized workers) who felt that they had been unfairly excluded.

Heretofore, Blacks, when allowed to vote, had, for historical reasons, supported the Republican Party going back to Lincoln and Reconstruction. All of that was about to change. The 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court outlawing segregated schooling and the 1964 Civil Rights Act protecting voting rights, among other things, convinced Black leaders that their path to the American Dream was paved by increasing the power of the Federal Government, the favored tactic of the Democratic Party. What Democrats discovered was that their power base was no longer with the working class but with groups who perceived themselves as previously excluded (i.e., “victims”). Post WWII economic growth had already lifted many members of the working class into a share of the American Dream, and this led to a steadily increasing movement away from the Democratic Party (e.g., “Reagan Democrats” in the 1980s and many Trump supporters in 2016). These changes did not go unnoticed by cultural Marxists who had already perceived that the great revolution would not be accomplished through the working class. In due course, the cultural Marxists would take control both of the Democratic Party and even the leadership of the Black community. By 1991, the NAACP had, according to Andrew Young, achieved its civil rights goals. But it was losing members, revenue, and influence, so a new direction had to be taken. Blacks formed an alliance with other groups who perceived themselves as victims.

Two other interrelated political phenomena are worth noting, namely multiculturalism and immigration. Prior to the 1960s, immigration rules favored Europeans from north-western Europe (U.K. and Scandinavia). In addition, immigrants had been encouraged/required to assimilate to the dominant culture. The dominant culture was, according to Huntington, Anglo-Protestant. The dominant culture encompassed a specific set of norms or “creed” (individual liberty, rule of law, equality before the law, limited government, and market economy).

Elsewhere, it has been argued that those norms, including the transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial and technological economy, had empowered Western Europeans, in general, to colonize (dominate) the globe, allowed Britain to create a global empire in the 19th century on which “the sun never sets,” enabled the U.S. to “win” the Cold War against the Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union, and ultimately become the world’s superpower. “English” is now the world’s universal second language (certainly the major language of commerce, politics, and academe). Assuming this to be the case, success within the U.S. (and economic success as a “developing” “country”) depended upon already possessing or mastering those cultural norms.

Within U.S. politics, Democrats characterized good government as democratization understood as majority rule; Republicans characterized it as limited government or a Republic with a Constitutional legal system that protected individual rights. Post WW II and in response to the Cold War, both major parties promoted decolonialization (self-rule) and democratization, as opposed to Soviet centralization of all power, in international affairs.

The counter-narrative, i.e. the cultural Marxist narrative, is that the success of north-western Europeans and their heirs (Anglo-American world) was the product of the denigration and exploitation of the “non-white” colonized world. The remedy was not revolution (original Soviet Marxist theory) but democratization and multi-culturalism. Multiculturalism is not just about the wide availability of ethnic restaurants but “is about the proper terms of the relationship between different cultural communities.” This is understood to mean that the standards by which the communities resolve their differences, “the principles of justice must not come from only one of the cultures but must come through an open and equal dialogue between them” (Parekh, p. 13).

This has two major immediate implications. Domestically, it means that politics is now about negotiation among different “cultural” groups wherein each group’s culture enjoys equal dignity and respect. The older notions of success and meritocracy through competition are to be discarded as remnants of bias. “Cultural appropriation” occurs when a member of a majority group assimilates a cultural element of a minority group without due regard for its original meaning and thereby implies the subordination and disrespect of the minority culture.

The Democratic Party embraced this view in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act and with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. The latter act removed “de facto discrimination” against Southern and Eastern Europeans, Asians, Africans and other non-North-Western European groups.

“Discrimination” simply means making fine distinctions. This is usually a good thing. “Discrimination’ has taken on a largely negative connotation when associated with irrelevant or counterproductive criteria. Several waves of immigrants had been successfully integrated into the creed of Anglo-Protestant culture largely because of assimilation policies. It was now assumed by an ignorant public without any serious discussion or debate that anyone coming to America would fit in simply by osmosis. We were told that America was a “land of immigrants,” something that is impossible. You can only immigrate into a country that already has a culture; and the U.S. already had an Anglo-Protestant culture because of its English settlers. The original settlers were not immigrants but settlers. Of course, if one claims that the misnamed “Native American” tribes were a country, then the English settlers were just another immigrant group. What was overlooked was the deliberate intention of cultural Marxists to welcome those who might resist assimilation to the creed. It all depends on one’s “narrative.”

The Immigration Act of 1990 rescinded the provision discriminating against members of the LGBT+ community. It also introduced for the first time a “Diversity Immigrant Visa” to be determined by the Attorney General to rectify imbalances. “Diversity” has the clear meaning here of referring to cultures or countries. In essence, this transferred authority to deal with immigration issues from the judiciary to the unelected civil service (staffed largely by university trained attorneys). This Act also clarified but extended “family reunification” immigration visas to immediate family members. For immigration purposes, immediate family is defined as one’s spouse, parents, or unmarried children below age 21. Demographically this increases the percentage of the population that is not derived from north-west Europe.

With regard to immigration, it means that all cultures are to be equally respected (= given equal weight). Hence, there is to be no favoritism for north-west (i.e. “white”) Europeans. This reflects the replacement of what Huntington (2005) had called the “creed” by the norms of cultural Marxism (instead of transforming the earth you must repair the damage of climate change, instead of a free market economy you advocate a managed global economy where the difference between crony capitalism and socialism disappears, instead of limited national government you espouse unlimited leadership by the UN, instead of the rule of law you advocate rule through law, and finally, you are defined by membership in a group).

(As Michael Oakeshott put it, “The emergence of this disposition to be an individual is the preeminent event in modern European history… there were some people, by circumstance or by temperament, less ready than others to respond… the familiar anonymity of communal life was replaced by a personal identity which was burdensome… it bred envy, jealousy and resentment… (it developed) a new morality… not of ‘liberty’ and ‘self-determination,’ but of ‘equality’ and ‘solidarity’… not… the ‘love of others’ or ‘charity’ or… ‘benevolence’… but… the love of ‘the community’…(the anti-individual or mass man, i.e., those attracted to identity politics) remains an unmistakably derivative character… helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality.” See also “Pathology of Identity Politics”).

The alarm bells were beginning to ring. As Schlesinger pointed out:

There remains however a crucial difference between the Western Tradition and the others. The crimes of the West have produced their own antidotes…to end slavery, to raise the status of women, to abolish torture, to combat racism, to defend freedom of inquiry and expression…that continent is also…the unique source—of those liberating ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, the rule of law,… These are European ideas, not Asian, nor African, nor Middle Eastern ideas, except by adoption.

From Affirmative Action to DEI

The undefined expression “affirmative action” began innocuously enough in executive orders issued by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. It soon began to take on a variety of evolving meanings.

Definition 1 (open-search): Affirmative action consists of those policies designed to advertise all openings as widely as possible and to monitor appointments and promotions processes in order to insure that the process is open, nondiscriminatory, and promotes excellence. (As we shall shortly see, this was clearly the intention and extent of the original legislation).

Definition 2 (punitive): Affirmative action consists of any policy, private or public, ordered by the court to redress proven cases of individual discrimination. The remedy may involve a specific numerical objective, but the numerical objective is limited to a specific time and place.

Definition 3 (backward-compensation): Affirmative action covers any policy designed to redress alleged cases of discrimination against a group by placing members of the group in the positions they would have allegedly held if the alleged discrimination had not taken place. This is a contrary-to-fact conditional: it claims to identify what would happen if something else had not happened. (This was exactly what the original legislation was designed to prevent by adding 703 (h) and 703 (j)—see below).

Definition 4 (backward-compensation): Affirmative action covers any policy designed to redress alleged cases of discrimination against a group by placing members of the group in the positions they would have allegedly held if the alleged discrimination had not taken place. This is a contrary-to-fact conditional: it claims to identify what would happen if something else had not happened.

Definition 5 (forward-preferential): Affirmative action designates any policy in social planning, without any causal claim of what would have been, designed to produce a democratic and diverse society in which all power, resources, rewards, etc. will reflect the percentage of the population of the officially designated groups. Instead of equality of opportunity we shall endorse equality of result. The Hidden Agenda.

Legislative History

It is useful to cite the legislative record concerning these definitions. As then Senator Hubert H. Humphrey put it, “Title VII does not require an employer to achieve any sort of racial balance in his work force by giving preferential treatment to any individual or group.” Senator Harrison Williams noted that Title VII “specifically prohibits the Attorney General or any agency of the government, from requiring employment to be on the basis of racial or religious quotas. Under this provision an employer with only white employees could continue to have only the best qualified persons even if they were all white.” Senator Joseph Clark stated, “Quotas are themselves discriminatory.” If anyone still has any doubts, then recall the words of Representative Emanuel Celler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the congressman responsible for introducing the legislation:

It is likewise not true that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would have power to rectify existing “racial or religious imbalance” in employment by requiring the hiring of certain people without regard to their qualifications simply because they are of a given race or religion. Only actual discrimination could be stopped.

Original Legislation

Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unequivocally outlaw compensation or preference (see definitions 3 and 4 below). Two provisions spell this out:

703 (h) it shall not be unlawful employment practice… for an employer to give and act upon the results of any professionally developed ability test provided that such test, its administration or action upon the results is not designed, intended or used to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

703 (j) Nothing contained in this title shall be interpreted to require any employer… to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of the race, color, religion, sex, or national origin of such individual or group on account of an imbalance which may exist with respect to the total number of percentage of persons of any race, color, religion, sex or national origin employed by any employer.

As we all have come to understand, what a law means depends upon how unelected federal bureaucrats choose to understand it. The labor department had its own definition: Definition 3 (backward-compensation); see above.

Court History

In the pivotal Alan Bakke case (1978), Justice Powell, in the plurality opinion, specifically attacked and rejected the backward-looking argument for compensation (definition 3). “…But for this discrimination by society at large, Bakke “would have failed to qualify for admission” because Negro applicants…would have made better scores. Not one word in the record supports this conclusion. (italics added)… (it) offers no standards for courts to use in applying such a presumption of causation to other racial or ethnic classifications….”

Although Powell urged “strict scrutiny” to be applied to affirmative action programs, in a second opinion he suggested that schools might take race, as one factor, into account in order to achieve a “diverse” student body. Powell did not clarify what he meant by “diversity.” Powell did not link “diversity” to cultures or ethnicity, and he could not link it to egalitarian outcomes because that would have contradicted his official opinion.

Mercifully, the latest Supreme Court decision has ended the waffling and reasserted the primacy of meritocracy.

It is now almost 60 years since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It has been 60 years during which the university as an institution has been thoroughly taken over by cultural Marxists; during which every institution in the U.S. (civil service, military, medicine, sports, entertainment, etc.) has bent over backwards to root out any vestige of discrimination; during which even the business community has adopted or at least paid lip service to the “woke” agenda; during which we have seen that the top household income positions are held by Indians (India), Taiwanese, Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Lebanese, Iranian, Turkish, and Nigerians as opposed to whites. Nevertheless, the household incomes of Blacks (as a whole) and Hispanics (as a whole) continue to lag. Rather than question the original diagnosis for this lag, cultural Marxists have doubled down on outlawed policies of compensation and preference by changing the names.

(Hundreds of thousands of Blacks and Hispanics have achieved economic, social, and professional success. There are several plausible hypotheses about why some prosper and others fail to do so. These alternative explanations and possible alternative policies are dismissed without discussion because they do not fit the cultural Marxist narrative).

Federal Bureaucracy at Work: From Affirmative Action to DEI

Institutions of higher education, seized upon the term “diversity” and linked it to what we have identified as the fourth definition and justification of affirmative action. Borrowing from the Immigration Act of 1990, “diversity” was linked to multi-culturalism (see the online definitions from the Merriam-Webster dictionary and Cambridge dictionary) and the assumption that federal bureaucrats could engage in post-hoc rectification. (For examples of how Federal bureaucracies misrepresent legal decisions see N. Capaldi, “Twisting the Law,” in Policy Review, Spring (1980), pp. 39-58).

“Diversity” and “Inclusion” were specifically derived/defined from immigration law. Immigration law, going back to the 1920s attempt at assimilation had focused on domestic nation retention/maintenance; but specifically the debate surrounding the 1965 ACT, was focused on future nation building. Coupled with America’s foreign policy in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union and The End of History conception of remaking the world in our own image, it was a short step to imagining a world homogeneous in all respects. Therefore, the U.S. had to “look” like the UN. Nation building applied to or was retroactively imposed upon the the U.S. “Globalization” came to mean much more than doing business internationally.

The key point of conflict was “equality.” Either the world would aim for a meritocracy (Huntington’s Anglo-Protestant core) with its inevitable version of inequality of outcome or the world would aim for something vaguely egalitarian (cultural Marxism). Hence, the concept of “equity.” Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity is different for it recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact (additional?) resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. The term “equity” refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality: Whereas equality means providing the same to all, equity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances. The process is ongoing, requiring us to identify and overcome intentional and unintentional barriers arising from bias or systemic structures. In such a world, meritocracy becomes a form of unintentional systemic bias (racism?).

Inclusion means the practice or policy of including and integrating all people and groups in activities, organizations, political processes, etc., especially those who are disadvantaged, have suffered discrimination, or are living with “disabilities.”

It is worth noting that people with disabilities surely are victims (perhaps of the “genetic lottery” in some cases), but they are not usually victims of social or institutional policies or arrangements as is alleged in the case of other (racial, ethnic, etc.) groups. However, they are likely to be economically disadvantaged and therefore beneficiaries and supporters of proposed democratic party policies of the redistribution of wealth and positions of power.

All of this sounds like a way of improving productivity by adjusting distribution. It slides easily into equality of result. But there is something even more ominous. To achieve the foregoing noble ends, a new class of administrators needs to be created. The concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion must apply to them, i.e., the members of government bureaucracies and the leaders of every private institution have to mirror the general population. This becomes a sort of bizarre version of what Tocqueville warned us were the dangers of a “democratic” culture. Recall here, as well, Hume’s warning that a specially empowered class is required to maintain the egalitarian structure. To conclude, Bertrand de Jouvenel said it best. Redistribution strives to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor, but all that we have ever accomplished is to transfer power from the individual to the state. The new world of DEI focuses on distribution not production, on equality and not individual excellence, on specially identifiable groups and not autonomous individuals. Nevertheless, the leaders or spokespersons of the groups will enjoy power, prestige, and perks not available to the rest of the group. The end product is neither a classless society nor an egalitarian one. Some are always more equal than others.

Keep in mind that universities, largely influenced by the social science faculty, had already been practicing some forms of affirmative action in the post WWII era and had since then openly welcomed and promoted it. Moreover, the demographics of university personnel has consciously strived to reflect an international demeanor.

The business world soon followed suit. In order to obtain some specific government contracts, private companies had to submit to the Department of Labor not only a bid but an affirmative action plan and show “good faith” in implementing it. The easiest way to “show” good faith is to adopt hiring quotas. It became part of the overhead of conducting a business. Moreover, in order to avoid being harassed, sued and absorbing enormous legal costs by a government agency, even if you are innocent and committed to the most rigorous meritocracy, is to adopt a quota hiring policy. Always remember, the “long march” through the institutions is designed to achieve revolutionary results by gaining control of institutions and government bureaucracies whose employees were all educated in institutions of higher education run by cultural Marxists and their allies and fellow travelers.

The number of well indoctrinated cultural Marxists is further increased and embedded (another “fifth column”) even in the business world by requiring or expecting companies to hire affirmative action officers and diversity training specialists. Diversity training is any program designed to “facilitate positive intergroup interaction, reduce prejudice and discrimination, and generally teach individuals who are different from others how to work together effectively” (“The Impact of Method”).

The Race Issue(s):

Hierarchy: Every society and every social entity has an elite who get privileges. There is no way to avoid a hierarchy. Even egalitarians themselves need, and insist upon, an elite to maintain the proposed equality.

The important question is whether the hierarchy has Functionality. What makes a hierarchy functional or dysfunctional? Answer: if the hierarchy serves to maximize the interests of all relevant parties. Traditionally, Anglo-American societies has aspired to achieve meritocracy because the pursuit of excellence benefits everyone. It benefits everyone because outstanding individuals create things (entrepreneurs, technology, medicine, sports, arts, etc.) that benefit everyone and actually create more opportunities for everyone. American Blacks as individuals have many examples (hundreds of thousands) of being part of the elite—success stories. This refutes every claim that the history of slavery and ‘Jim Crow’ necessarily hold people back.

The Black elites are not mathematically analogous to White elites. However, there is no reason to believe that any talent is proportional to a group’s size. History seems to confirm this. The greatest obstacles to more Black success are fatalism, the assumption that individuals are not responsible for their decisions, poor family structure, poor education policies and teacher union activism, previous government programs of welfare and affirmative action, the greed and corruption of some Black political and cultural elites, misguided liberal political and social theories and policies.

At the same time, a large percentage of American Blacks are dysfunctional (illegitimacy, unemployment, literacy, numeracy, imprisoned, etc.). THIS IS A FACT! Apologists automatically assume that (a) everyone is born ‘good’ and corrupted only by their environment (same way they presume that gun deaths are caused by guns not by people), (b) claim America is inherently racist or anti-Black achievement, (c) that the solution requires non-Blacks to make unending concessions (now its reparations), and (d) just in case equality of outcome is still not possible in a meritocratic society, then meritocracy has to be surrendered, OR replaced by egalitarianism and we as individuals are all to be conceptualized by group membership (class, race, culture, whatever). This is the hidden agenda of cultural Marxists.

Many Americans have believed, even before 1776, that Blacks (sub-Sahara African origin) as a group would never fit into American society. Even as late as Lincoln, Americans considered the policy of repatriating or emigrating Blacks to another less challenging environment (originally, e.g., Liberia). Affirmative action and DEI policies in a “woke” environment are beginning to exhaust the public’s patience and trust. It is time to consider that this may be the only viable alternative. Other countries are also beginning to learn that mass migrations often bring people from other cultures and subcultures that reject or resist assimilation.


The seamless transition from affirmative action to DEI reflected a series of public policies that challenged the Anglo-Protestant norms of America’s original settlers (liberty) and set in motion the current conflict with the norms of cultural Marxists (equality). That conflict originated in institutions of Higher Education with the domination of the social sciences by the utopian vision of a social technology. It was aided and abetted in institutions founded by Puritans under the influence of Transcendentalist millenarianism. The conflict spread beyond the universities when cultural Marxists gained control of the Democratic Party.

Nicholas Capaldi is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans.

Featured: Dante and Virgil in Hell, by Filippo Napoletano; painted ca. 1619-1620.

The Moral Foundations of Anglo-American Culture


The purpose of my address is to retrieve and to make explicit the moral foundations of Anglo-American culture.

What is Anglo-American culture? By Anglo-American culture, we understand the kind of culture that emerged in North-Western Europe, especially England, in the post-Renaissance and post-Reformation period and eventually spread to the United States. The most distinctive institutions of Anglo-American culture are individual autonomy, the rule of law, a republican form of government, and a market economy.

Why ought we to engage in this task of retrieving the moral foundations of Anglo-American culture? To be begin with, Anglo-American culture is the greatest force in the modern world; it has transformed and continues to transform the moral landscape by improving the material conditions of life and by institutionalizing individual freedom. One would think, therefore, that such a phenomenon deserves special attention.

The second reason is that Anglo-American culture is not understood even by those of us who are surrounded by it, and that is why we are engaged in an act of retrieval. One explanation for why Anglo-American culture is not understood is, ironically, that it has been defined largely by its critics; so much so that even the defenders of Anglo-American culture have unwittingly adopted the framework of their critics. At present, there exists no positive, internal, comprehensive framework for understanding Anglo-American culture as a whole.

The third reason is that Anglo-American moral culture is under attack even by its ignorant beneficiaries.

The institutions and practices of Anglo-American culture do not exist in a vacuum. Little attention has been given to understanding the relation between Anglo-Americanism and the totality of our culture. What is not usually made clear even in very illuminating discussions of specific institutions is that Anglo-American culture depends upon and presupposes a framework of moral presuppositions. Conflicts within our own culture often reflect ignorance, misunderstanding, or deep disagreement over what those moral presuppositions are. To provide a comprehensive framework that would identify the moral presuppositions of Anglo-American culture would be to fill a great lacuna in the contemporary intellectual environment.

The final reason for embarking upon this explication is that given the attempts on the part of others around the world to emulate Anglo-American culture we are concerned that they often fail by copying the form without the spirit.

In what follows, we identify three key moral presuppositions:

  1. a claim to universality
  2. the assertion of the fundamental moral worth of the free and responsible individual, and
  3. the recognition of the role of the nuclear family as the key institution in nurturing free and responsible individuals.

We shall then proceed to explain how those three moral presuppositions, namely, universality, individuality, and family, inform the major institutions of Anglo-American culture, specifically:

  • a market economy,
  • a limited/or republican government,
  • a conception of world order,
  • toleration, and
  • a modern form of civic virtue

B. Universality

We turn now to the moral presuppositions. The claim to universality is the claim that Anglo-American culture embodies “a” or “the” fundamental moral truth that is universally applicable to all human beings in every culture. This claim to universality has two components: one formal and the other substantive.

The formal component consists in the recognition that if there were no universal truth there would be no rational basis for resolving disagreements or even for discussing them. Without a universal truth, neither the validity nor the invalidity of a particular cultural matrix could be an issue. The recognition of this formal or logical component of universality allows both for self-criticism and for cross-cultural criticism. To fail to recognize this logical or formal component is to exclude oneself and one’s culture from consideration within the substantive debate. To be a legitimate contender requires recognition of the formal component.

Historically, the formal component is articulated only within Western Civilization; it originated in those eastern Mediterranean societies that saw themselves as instantiating a cosmic order, most specifically in the Judaic monotheism of the Old Testament, in classical Greek drama, and most clearly in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

C. Individuality

It is, however, not enough to recognize the formal component. Recognizing the need for a universal moral truth is not the same thing as having identified in any substantive way the actual universal moral truths. Logic can take us only so far.

The substantive moral truth that is embodied in Anglo-American culture is the inherent worth and dignity of the free and responsible individual. This is a substantive claim inherent in all of Western Civilization.

Let me spell out the content of this concept before discussing its history.

Individuality means:

a. that human beings possess the rational capacity to
recognize the universal moral truth; There is a difference between an argument in the sense of what the ancient Greeks called an “eristic,” the point of which is to vanquish/embarrass one’s opponent (e.g., accusing them of a micro-aggression), not to find the truth. A rational argument is oriented solely towards discovering the truth. The ancient Greeks saw eristic as an “agon” (the root is the same as that of the English word “agony”).

In his dialogue titled “Euthydemus” Plato holds an eristic agon, the standard practice of the ancient Greek Sophists, up to ridicule. The Sophists were, roughly, a band of pseudo-philosophers, “mouths for hire” that used deceptive techniques to win arguments and make money, not to find the truth. Plato was, in this dialogue and others, attempting for the first time in human history to create the sort of refined conceptual apparatus needed to distinguish between a mere eristic contest (agon) and a rational argument governed by the sort of rules designed to lead to the truth.

b. that human beings have the internal capacity to be unconstrained or self-disciplined in their decision to act in accordance with the universal truth, i.e., free will;

c. that true freedom and dignity consist in the inner or self-discipline that comes with the exercise of these capacities; and

d. that these capacities can only be discovered retrospectively by their exercise.

The upshot of this conception of individuality is that the freedom and dignity of individuality cannot be understood except by those who exercise it, that the self-discipline to exercise it cannot be mechanically induced from the outside and that even the exercise of our rational capacity is a matter of self-discipline. The choice to use one’s reason and to use it to the fullest extent, to pursue the argument to its logical conclusion and not merely to the convenient conclusion is not made by reason but by an inner act of self-discipline. Intellectual virtue presupposes moral virtue.

This conception of individuality has evolved throughout the history of Western Civilization from the Greek philosophers through the Stoics, Cicero, and Christianity. What I want to call attention to is the specifically Christian component.

What Christianity added to our conception of individuality is the recognition that human beings have self-destructive impulses as well as wholesome ones, that the self-destructive impulses can only be overcome by conscious self-discipline, and that we are not fit to assume responsibility for ourselves or others unless we have developed the inner discipline of self-restraint. It is this moral dimension that is needed to supplement the rational insights of classical philosophy. Integrally related to Western Civilization, therefore, is some conception of the human person and its spiritual dimension.

The essence of the Christian insight is that the locus of freedom is within the individual. Self-discipline is not a matter of conformity to some external social or political structure; rather it is conformity to an inner vision. Salvation exists only within the individual conscience; and no moral, social, or political theory is to be taken seriously if it fails to recognize this insight.

There is an enormous difference between cultures of conscience and cultures of shame

How significant is this point? Let me answer with an example. When you have a chance take two identical maps of Eur-Asia; draw a line on one of the maps. On one side of that line are all of the communities that have been defined historically by Western Christianity; on the other side are all of the others even including some non-Western versions of Christianity and Islam. Then take the second map of Eur-Asia and draw a line through it. On one side of that line are all of the communities that easily embrace market economies, republican government, and the practice of toleration; on the other side are all those who define themselves by hatred and intolerance of others. You won’t have to look very far, for such maps appear every day in the newspapers telling us of new ethnic conflict. What may surprise some of you is that the two lines I have asked you to draw neatly coincide.

The point of my example is that respect for the individual, market economies, and limited/or republican government exist as a integrated trio only in communities historically defined by Western Christianity. Christianity has encouraged the development of the inner-directed individual; such individuals thrive in market economies; and republican government maximizes respect for the inner spiritual domain.

The road to the modern conception of individuality has not been a short and smooth one. It has taken at least two to three millennia. That is why it is important to tell the story. We remind ourselves of how we got to where we are in order to understand where and who we are. It is, therefore, not surprising to observe the struggles of other societies some of whose leaders and critics promise or demand or expect the same results in two weeks of demonstrations or who suppose you can have a plan to implement this sort of individuality.

I want to stress that Anglo-American culture is not simply the product of Athens and Jerusalem. A more nuanced history (subject of another essay) will show that individual autonomy, the nuclear family, etc. were peculiar features of Germanic tribes (recognized by Tacitus) and ultimately Indo-Europeans who migrated from the Steppes (even into Greece and Rome), that certain peculiarities of the market economy, limited government (Magna Carta has no analogue in the rest of Europe) and especially the ‘rule of law’ were unique to England and to the Anglo-American world. Terms like “Western” or “Occidental” or “Nationalism” do not fully capture this uniqueness. Nor can this phenomenon be explained and understood in terms of some theory like ‘liberalism’ or ‘conservatism’.

What is also crucial for us to remember is that even within our own Anglo-American culture going back as far as the Renaissance and the Reformation many people have not made the transition to individuality. There is a whole complicated history behind this, but what is important is to recognize that the most serious problem within modern Anglo-American societies is the presence of the failed or incomplete individual. Being an incomplete individual is a state of mind. It is not directly correlated with income, intelligence, or how articulate you are. Some incomplete individuals are highly intelligent. Either unaware of or lacking faith in their ability to exercise self-discipline, the incomplete individual seeks escape into the collective identity of communities insulated from the challenge of opportunity. These are people focused on avoiding failure rather than on achieving success. Phenomenologically speaking, the incomplete individual can identify himself/herself by feelings of envy, resentment, self-distrust, victimization, and self-pity; in short, an inferiority complex.

What really inhibits these people is not a lack of opportunity, not a lack of political rights, and not a lack of resources but a character defect, a moral inadequacy. Having little or no sense of individuality they are incapable of loving what is best in themselves; unable to love themselves, they are incapable of loving others; incapable of loving others, they cannot sustain life within the family; in fact, they find family life stultifying. What they substitute for love of self, others, and family is loyalty to a mythical community. Instead of an umpire they want a leader, and they conceive of such leaders as protectors who relieve them of all responsibility. This is what makes their sense of community pathological. What they end up with are leaders who are their mirror image: leaders who are themselves incomplete individuals and who seek to control others because they cannot control themselves, who seek the emasculation of autonomous individuals, who prize equality and not competition. In place of a market economy and limited government, we get collectivity as well as economic and political tyranny.

D. Market Economy

The single most important event that has made modern Anglo-American culture possible is the rise of the market economy. While market economies existed in embryonic form in the Middle Ages, it was in the sixteenth century that the market economy began to transform the world. That transformation was aided and abetted by the appearance of the modern individual. What happens when a market economy is understood as the expression of an individualist moral culture? To answer this question, let us look at two things, the concept of wealth and the role of the family.

1. There are two ways of defending a market economy, one instrumental and one moral. Some will defend the market economy on the basis of its greater productivity and power. We choose, however, to defend a market economy on moral grounds. Wealth is a good thing because:

(a) it enhances the human condition. Income is not merely a means to consumer satisfaction, nor merely an incentive. Rather, income is a means to accomplishment. Participation in a market economy informed by an individualist moral culture actually promotes a variety of forms of virtuous behavior. This is a point that is lost on those, especially intellectuals, whose hostility to the market leads to a pervasive ignorance and misrepresentation of the operations of the market economy.

(b) Wealth liberates us from the culture of poverty. Whereas in the medieval world it was wealth that created a scandal, the scandal of the modern world is the existence of poverty.

(c) Private wealth provides a check on the power of the government, and leads to the expansion of individual liberties.

(d) Finally, wealth provides the dynamic of social reform.

(e) The family is a private social security system.

2. We turn now to the family. The nuclear family is the key institution in a market economy understood as the expression of an individualist moral culture. It is the family that provides the cultural context of individuality. It has performed this function in a number of ways:

(f) The family provides support for mobility, a common pattern being that the first established member creates a base to which other family members can come later and thus ease the burden of transition; in poorer families the pattern is one of concentrating savings on giving a special advantage, such as education, to one member; and surely the most common pattern is seen in the sacrifices parents make for the education of their children.

(g) One of the greatest motivations that energetic and creative people bring to the marketplace is not only the desire to found a fortune but the desire to have a durable and substantial legacy to pass on to their children.

(h) Individuality is grossly misrepresented when it is pictured as greed, as lack of community, and as failing to provide binding moral standards. It is from the family that our individual imbibes his emotional support and it is the improvement of the material and moral prospects of one’s family that sustains him/her. Individuality is not a private matter, it is a family affair.

(i) I do not speak of the family in a timeless context, but rather as family life has emerged in modern Anglo-American culture. For most of history and in most cultures the human being has had a collective identification, but in modern Anglo-American cultures the attitude of the family to its members is remarkably different. For example, one looks very differently on a child perceived as a subject of cultivation as opposed to a child perceived as the inadvertent product of a biological process or as an object of utility.

E. Limited Government

The second most important event in the development of Anglo-American culture has been the concept of limited government. By limited government or republican government is meant a government where all power is checked, balanced, or limited in some way. Our founding fathers created such a Republic and not a democracy. The difference is significant, and they knew what they were doing.

Limited government is a good thing. It is a good thing because it maximizes respect for the inner spiritual domain. One of the great and lasting contributions of Christianity is that it has de-divinized the state, that is, it has transferred the locus of the ultimate good from the state to the spiritual domain of the individual.

What modern individuality stands opposed to is the idea of a communal or collective good over and above the good of the free and responsible individuals who make up the society. Some have seen in this the loss of a common purpose and moral foundations. May I suggest that what has been missed is the different sense of what is common and what is moral. What we share in common is not an interest but the need to realize our individuality. A great threat to modern Anglo-American culture is the use of the rhetoric of communal interest to mask private agendas.

The consequence of allowing individuals to pursue their individuality in their own way is a society consisting of diverse and contending interests. The function of political activity is to defend and advance particular contending interests. It is a form of advocacy and negotiation.

The function of government in modern Anglo-American culture is to facilitate political negotiation within the confines of the inherited moral framework. It requires statesmen not leaders.

As we have already argued, the cultivation of individuality is not within the province of political or governmental agencies. Good governments do not create great societies or even try to; it is the mark of a great society that it demands good government. A government is good not when it tries to pursue the mythical collective good but when it focuses on removing evil. Thus, while the function of politics is to protect and to advance interests, the function of government is to control corruption. Controlling corruption cannot be done when government serves one interest (mythical, grandiose, or otherwise) or itself becomes an interest group (deep-state bureaucracies).

How do we deal with corruption? We deal with corruption in two ways:

(a) First, we adhere to the principle of checks and balances not just as a political principle but as an economic and social one.

(b) Second, we separate the intellectual elite from the political elite; this allows intellectual elites to check political elites as well as each other; as a rule, the brightest and the best do not go into government, and that is all to the good; if we find members of the intellectual elite who have well developed political skills we make them deans, provosts, and college presidents, but nothing more.

Specifically, what the intellectual elite can contribute to this process is the on-going explication of the inherited framework of principles. Neither managerial nor public relations skills, neither legal nor economic expertise, neither social science nor technical thinking of any kind is a substitute for common-sense moral intuitions about our intersubjectively held principles.

F. World Order

What we have discovered so far is that the major moral concept of Anglo-American culture is individual autonomy. We have also seen that the economic system most compatible with an individualist moral culture is a market economy, and that the political system most compatible with it is a republican form of government. What would happen if every society in the world were to adopt a market economy and a republican form of government based upon an individualist moral culture? Immanuel Kant asked this question at the end of the 18th century, 200 years ago. His answer, which is our answer, is that there would be world peace. Rather than present a detailed argument for this thesis, I shall ask one simple question: how many of the major international conflicts in the last 200 years have occurred between two sides both of which had market economies and republican forms of government based upon an individualist moral culture? The answer is none! Societies with market economies, republican forms of government, where both are based upon an individualist moral culture do not go to war with each other. What they do is negotiate trade pacts.

You may be tempted to ask at this point, what right do we have to proffer our views as a model for others? That is a good question. How do we know that our ideas of freedom are the right ones? Shouldn’t we allow others to decide for themselves how they want to understand freedom?

Merely stating this objection shows that the objector already accepts our notion of freedom as individual autonomy. To let others decide for themselves is precisely to treat them as ends and not as means. When we talk about others deciding for themselves we most certainly do not mean letting a self-appointed elite decide for all. Is there anyone who believes that when one person, one economic interest group, one gender, one religion, one race, one ethnic group does the deciding for others that it makes sense to call this letting “them” decide for themselves? “Deciding for themselves” means, if it means anything at all, allowing each autonomous individual to decide for himself/herself, and when applied to a state this has to mean a public, unrigged and free election with universal suffrage and without reprisals. That is, it means a republican form of government.

The issue we face today is not whether there should be some kind of global culture. Events are already pushing us in that direction. The issue is not whether but what kind of global culture, what kind of unity, and what will be the parameters of diversity within that unity. I know of no serious alternative to Anglo-American culture as the model; Anglo-American culture is self-critical, characterized by its striving for universality, has as its great strength the power of assimilation, and it is a fertile source of adaptation of what has been and still can be absorbed from other historical cultures. Hence, this is all the more reason that we understand it, deal with its problems intelligently, and that we not experience a failure of nerve lest the world lapse back into barbarism as a result of our negligence.

G. Toleration

The most obvious feature of Anglo-American culture is its tolerance. The most obvious feature of non-Anglo-American culture is the lack of toleration, usually seen as strife between or rejection of what is different. It is not freedom that unleashes hate; it is tyranny that has prevented the growth of that individuality which overcomes the pathology of communalism.

What we tend to forget is that tolerance is not neutrality, and it is not nihilism. It is not the case that every view is as true as every other; it is not the case that every way of life is just as legitimate as every other. We tolerate precisely that with which we disagree, otherwise we misunderstand the word. To tolerate is not to legitimate. Nor does tolerance mean that we cannot speak out against what we take to be wrong. We hear so much about listening to the other side that we tend to forget that we also have an obligation to speak out and to challenge that with which we disagree.

Tolerance is itself based upon a principle deeply embedded within Christianity, namely, that the only way to truth is through individual inner conviction, and inner conviction cannot be coerced from the outside. Tolerance is thus based upon moral principles, principles that stress the centrality of individual autonomy. Given its origins in Western Christianity, again it is no accident that tolerance is found only on one side of the map that I earlier called to your attention.

Moral conflicts are best handled through persuasion and civility rather than coercion. But one thing we must not do is to confuse patience and civility with self-doubt or tacit consent.

There is only one thing that cannot be tolerated: we cannot tolerate those who do not subscribe to the principle of toleration, and we cannot tolerate those whose practices or policies frustrate or undermine the capacity of others to become autonomous and responsible. We cannot tolerate those who fail to discern the difference between the art of persuasion and coercion, and we most especially cannot tolerate those who would seek to undermine the major institution where the arts of persuasion are honed, namely the university.

H. Civic Virtue in an Anglo-American Culture

The most serious complaint of those who feel uncomfortable with modern Anglo-American culture is that we have lost a sense of civic virtue. What is usually meant is that individuals are focused upon private matters concerning themselves, or their families at best, instead of getting involved in public business. In short, Anglo-American culture is frequently accused of having surrendered its soul to self-interest.

I want to answer this serious complaint in the following ways.

First, the only public business worthy of the name is the business of providing the context within which individuals can have greater and greater control over their own lives. It is a contradiction in terms to think that giving greater and greater control to public agencies increases individual freedom. While relief is an unquestionable social obligation which the demise of traditional communities, responsible aristocracies, and Church wealth has devolved onto the state for want of any other agency, it is open to discussion whether redistribution policies can be effective, whether they are the best means of dealing with the problem, and whether policies of redistribution conflict with other legitimate social objectives.

Second, it is a misunderstanding of individuality to see it as opposed to the notion of a cultural whole. You cannot be an autonomous individual on your own, rather individuality requires the support of a Anglo-American culture in general, and family life in particular. In seeking this context for myself, I seek it necessarily for others. To the extent that others do not share it, my own is less secure.

There is yet another reason. A truly autonomous individual is one who defines himself or herself. The perception we have of ourselves as self-defining cannot be sustained if we are constantly dealing with those whom we think of or have to treat as inferiors. The double standards that prevail in many institutions, standards that demand less of some than of others invariably reconfirm the perception that we are dealing with inferiors. It takes an enormous act of bad faith to ignore this.

A true individual can maintain his autonomy only by interacting with other autonomous beings, that is by interacting with equals. It follow from this that civic virtue in a modern Anglo-American culture requires us to help others, and we help others primarily by helping them to achieve autonomy. Equality has to be understood as the moral capacity for being autonomous not as an equal division of the spoils or redistribution of social badges of prestige. To feel slighted in the recognition of others, to be obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses instead of maintaining your own internal standards of integrity, is to reveal oneself as lacking in personal autonomy.

Those who feel alienated are precisely those who are incomplete individuals. We cannot help them to achieve autonomy by reinforcing the misperception they have of themselves as victims. This is a cop-out, and a symptom of the pathology of communalism. We cannot help others by discouraging them from helping themselves.

The great internal challenge that we face is to help these incomplete individuals to mature into truly autonomous individuals. The only way to become an individual is to become conscious of one’s own power for self-discipline. This is a moral task, not a technological one. Hence it cannot be mechanically induced from the outside. That is why nation-building always fails! All we can provide in the way of policy are opportunities to learn autonomy. But opportunities are not opportunities if there is no risk of failure, no standard of success.

On the level of public policy this means expanding the market economy, for it is the market economy that drives social reform; it is the market economy that empowers individuals. But we all know that this is not enough, especially if incomplete individuals cannot be brought to test themselves within that context. How do we help them to get that far? There is only one social institution within which it seems possible to learn self-respect and the glory of self-discipline, and that institution is the family. Those who mourn the loss of traditional communities ignore the most important and original community, the family, and they ignore as well the prolific growth of voluntary communities.

Even here we must be observant of the flawed character of so much of modern family life. There are no positive formulas here, but there is one negative formula: anything which weakens family life undermines the only institution we know of that encourages development of free and responsible individuals. It is only within the nuclear family that an individual can be valued in and for himself/herself. And it is only within the nuclear family that an individual is encouraged to make the kind of self-disclosures and self-examination that will enable him or her to recognize the need for change and develop the self-discipline to do so. The increasing threat to the family is its loss of function as more and more is taken over by public agencies who thus compete for the attention and esteem of children.

You cannot help others achieve autonomy by creating public institutions which wield greater and greater power over individuals. All of our attempts to do this so far have resulted in economically undermining the rich and middle income citizens without improving the lot of the poor; instead of transferring income from the richer to the poorer we have transferred power from the individual to the state; instead of helping fragile families we have encouraged them to abdicate a fundamental social responsibility, that of contributing in their private capacity to the advancement of their dependents and surroundings; and most especially we have impoverished the spirit of our commonwealth. In short, I would suggest that most if not all of the programs designed to redistribute income have had as an inadvertent consequence the undermining of the family. In undermining the nuclear family we undermine the one institution needed to sustain the individuality which is the heart of Anglo-American culture. Those who are concerned with the flawed character of American family life have missed and continue to ignore this dimension of the problem.

In order to help others to achieve individuality we must begin by treating them as beings capable of being rational and responsible. We treat them as rational equals by telling them, when we think appropriate, just how silly, how dead wrong, and how dangerously irresponsible their perception of Anglo-American culture is. An equal is someone who does not have to be patronized but to whom we can say “your argument sucks!” And we treat them as responsible equals by insisting that they be held responsible for both their silly arguments and their destructive behavior

A free and equal citizen is one who lays no obligation upon fellow citizens that he (or she) does not himself (or herself) assume. It is thus only in Anglo-American culture that the false dichotomy of self and others is overcome. There is no serious moral alternative to Anglo-American culture in the modern world; and I do not believe that there are fundamental moral flaws in Anglo-American culture; there are only pockets of people still unwilling to accept the challenge and the burdens of being both free and responsible. Are we up to that challenge?

If we succeed in encouraging incomplete individuals to become autonomous ones in our own culture, then we can serve as mentors to other cultures.

Let me conclude by saying that: just as ancient Athens strove to be the school of Hellas so America can strive to be the mentor—not the ruler—of the modern world.

Nicholas Capaldi is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans.

Featured: “The Great Rapprochement,” a poster for the United States and Great Britain Industrial Exposition, ca. 1899-1900.

V.S. Naipaul and the Universality of Individual Freedom

There are two confused and confusing but intertwined debates that I want to address, and to do so by referring to the seemingly unlikely trio of writers, Hegel, Conrad, and Naipaul.

What are those two debates? The first and slightly older international debate is about the relation between colonial powers and their now former colonies. The second largely domestic debate is about the relation of “white” people to people of “color.”

I would suggest at the very beginning that they are the same debate, and that the debate really centers on whether a particular set of cultural norms originating among Western Europeans and their major heirs (including North Americans, Australians, etc.) is superior to other non-Western norms.

Neither debate is about skin color or race. Prominent and successful members of Western European Cultures have a vast variety of skin colors and physical features, while many of the dysfunctional members of these same cultures are “white” (i.e., have Western European ancestors).

What Hegel, Conrad, and Naipaul provide is an ongoing account of why Western cultural norms have emerged as superior, and in what sense they are superior.

As a preliminary example, I note that in response to the recent covid pandemic the viable vaccinations were developed in the U.S. and the U.K, not in China, not in India, not in Russia. In addition, there was an immediate Western concern for redistribution to the rest of the world.

Individual Freedom

The preeminent norm of Western culture is individual freedom or autonomy. By “individual freedom” I mean that each and every individual chooses how he/she wants to live. Each of us is not assigned a role in advance, rather each of us decides, for example, what career we want to pursue, where we want to live, and to whom we wish if we so desire to be married. This is in the first instance a pursuit not a guaranteed outcome. Second since this is a privilege or set of privileges extended to all, no one individual can demand that others fulfill that one individual’s pursuit.

This has been best expressed by Oakeshott:

Almost all modern writing about moral conduct begins with the hypothesis of an individual human being choosing and pursuing his own directions of activity. What appeared to require explanation was not the existence of such individuals, but how they could come to have duties to others of their kind and what was the nature of those duties… This is unmistakable in Hobbes, the first moralist of the modern world to take candid account of the current experience of individuality. He understood a man as an organism governed by an impulse to avoid destruction and to maintain itself in its own characteristic and chosen pursuits. Each individual has a natural right to independent existence… And a similar view of things appeared, of course, in the writings of Spinoza… this autonomous individual remained as the starting point of ethical reflection. Every moralist in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is concerned with the psychological structure of this assumed “individual”… And nowhere is this seen more clearly to be the case than in the writings of Kant. Every human being…is recognized by Kant to be a Person, an end in himself, absolute and autonomous… as a rational human being he will recognize in his conduct the universal conditions of autonomous personality; and the chief of these conditions is to use his humanity, as well in himself and others, as end and never as a means [only—italics added]… no man has a right or a duty to promote the moral perfection of another… we cannot promote their “good” without destroying their “freedom” which is the condition of moral goodness (“The Masses in Representative Democracy”).

In another context, I have argued that the political and economic success of Western Culture depends on economic, political, and legal institutions that are premised on the centrality of individual freedom (namely the technological project or the control of nature for human benefit [Bacon], free market economy [Adam Smith], limited government [Locke, Madison], the rule of law [Coke, Dicey, Hayek], and a culture of personal autonomy). It has a historically-grounded but contingent connection with the English language, reflecting the fact that the earliest working out of the full panoply occurred first in England and then spread in varying degrees from there. It is no accident that both Conrad and Naipaul consciously adopted Anglo culture and achieved creative excellence by writing in English.

Throughout most of history and everywhere in the world, human beings have identified themselves as members of a community. There were neither autonomous individuals nor anti-individuals. The most important event in modern European history is the rise of the autonomous individual first appearing in Renaissance Italy (13th-15th centuries). There are no autonomous individuals anywhere before the Italian Renaissance. Autonomous individuality is a feature of Western European civilization and later spread elsewhere. All creative activity [creative/destruction] is the product of autonomous individuals: “It modified political manners and institutions, it settled upon art, upon religion, upon industry and trade and upon every kind of human relationship.”

The mind-set of the Autonomous Individual, auto-nomous (self-rule is the translation) reflects the imposition of order on themselves; self-disciplining, not self-indulgence or requiring outside control and direction; risk-takers, self-defining; self-respect (something you give to yourself; not the self-esteem that comes from others), pursuing self-chosen courses of action rather than playing traditional roles.

Not everyone makes the transition – some are left behind (by circumstance and by temperament) namely anti-individuals.

The emergence of this disposition to be an individual is the pre-eminent event in modern European history….there were some people, by circumstance or by temperament, less ready than others to respond…the counterpart of the…entrepreneur of the sixteenth century was the displaced laborer….the familiar anonymity of communal life was replaced by a personal identity which was burdensome….it bred envy, jealousy and resentment….a new morality….not of “liberty” and “self-determination,” but of “equality” and “solidarity”….not…the “love of others” or “charity” or… “benevolence”… but… the love of “the community” [common good]….[the anti-individual or mass man] remains an unmistakably derivative character…helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality….[only] The desire of the “masses” to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge.

It was once fashionable to claim that Western economic success was a product of the colonial exploitation of natural resources. We now know that is not true, and the truth has been magnified by the inability of resource rich non-Western countries to be successful on their own. There are also some interesting half-way houses: e.g., China finally understood about technology and markets even though it still does not get the rest of the story.

The process of reacculturation—recognizing the need to leave the old communal framework behind—is a challenging and a painful one. There is the feeling (temporary) of being inferior or inadequate (like learning a new language from an accomplished speaker); of sometimes feeling patronized; of being prejudged (skin color, accent, posture, dress, etc.) as an outsider by those ignorant of your transformation. Success in making the transition is not a matter of intelligence. Frustrated, put off by the process, or the fear of failure creates a class of novices who ultimately fail, psychologically, to complete the journey. Some of these become celebrity critics of Western culture, famous for the books they write in a Western language detailing the “shortcomings” (challenges) of a culture of individualism. They soon ally themselves with homegrown critics, and it is ironic how many of the critics of Western Culture do not hesitate to accept being subsidized by universities in the culture they claim to despise—“to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge.”

True to form, they never produce a positive account of a viable alternative—after all doing such runs the risk of critical retaliation—fear of failure again. We do not always live up to our stated norms, but that alone does not deny the existence of those norms (except in the minds of social scientists who do not understand what a norm is).

An example of the failure to understand the norms is the claim that autonomous individuality is not a universal truth that exists independent of any specific historical context. Metaphysical universality is indeed a norm/truth within the Western mind. However, membership in the community of autonomous individuals is a universal invitation, and it is in the recognition of such that Naipaul will add his contribution.

Alas, even in Western cultures there are people who neither understand nor cherish these norms. Accepting responsibility for one’s own life pursuit is neither obvious nor easy. Many people simply want others to be responsible for them. This is clearly something that many parents and teachers worry about with regard to their children or other young people. In response, there are numerous political, social, educational, aesthetic, and intellectual movements designed to cater to those who do not want individual freedom and responsibility

Of special importance, however, are the number of people not born into a Western Culture who migrate to the West in search of individual freedom. I am pleased to meet them all the time. To be sure, many of those engaged in these now massive migrations merely come in search of greater economic and legal benefits without any understanding of why those benefits only exist in some places – perhaps they think it’s an accident or the result of magic, or more likely they do not, initially, think at all. In any case, the migrations are all in the same direction: north and west.


In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel initiated the idea of history as a development toward the consciousness of freedom. Hegel describes four stages in the formation of the self-consciousness of freedom: Oriental, Greek, Roman, and Germanic. In the “Oriental” stage, freedom is largely unrecognized and communities contains only the rudiments of freedom. The world-view of the Oriental realm arises in patriarchal communities where only one person, technically the king, is free. The classical Greek world is superior to the Oriental world because the Greeks have a greater sense of freedom (communities that are self-governing are free). However, they are not fully self-conscious of their freedom because the satisfaction of needs is carried out exclusively by a class of slaves. The Romans embody the third stage and display a greater sense of individuality, but ethical life is divided between the recognition of an aristocratic private domain in conflict with freedom in a democracy. In both classical Greece and Rome, only a portion of the community is free. With the advent of the ‘Germanic’ world, the idea that everyone can have this freedom emerges. This idea of universal freedom is facilitated through Christianity, which acts as a bridge linking the ancient world of limited freedom to the modern world where everyone can be free.

Two things are worth noticing about freedom in this earlier Hegelian work. First, the meaning of “freedom” is not some timeless abstraction but evolves over time. Cultural norms are not fixed and frozen entities. Second, “freedom” does not start out as a universal norm but involves a dialectical struggle.

For Hegel, freedom and self-consciousness are intricately linked.

The Christian doctrine that man is by nature evil is superior to the other according to which he is good. Interpreted philosophically, this doctrine should be understood as follows. As spirit, man is a free being [Wesen] who is in a position not to let himself be determined by natural drives. When he exists in an immediate and uncivilized [ungebildeten] condition, he is therefore in a situation in which he ought not to be, and from which he must liberate himself. This is the meaning of the doctrine of original sin, without which Christianity would not be the religion of freedom.

For Hegel, then, humans have original sin, and life serves as a realm in which humans struggle to release themselves from this condition of slavery to natural drives. Christianity is the religion of freedom insofar as it involves the redemption of mankind.

In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel explores the dialectical struggle of this relationship between the self-consciousness of freedom in the relation of masters to slaves. For Hegel, the self-consciousness of freedom exists only in being acknowledged. Recognition” is crucial to self-consciousness. Autonomous individuals have a need for recognition by other individuals. More specifically, individuals desire to be acknowledged by other self-conscious individuals. The master-slave (parent-child, teacher-pupil) relationship is problematic because it does not involve the mutual recognition of equals.

Hegel identifies the master as the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be “for itself.” He identifies the slave as the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be “for another.” The master achieves recognition but it is unsatisfactory because the slave is not another autonomous individual. Moreover, the master does not engage in the necessary labor that allows individuals to arrive at a sense of their own agency. The conventional perception of the master as free and the slave in bondage soon gets flipped on its head; the truth of the independent consciousness actually belongs to the servile consciousness of the slave. The slave, therefore, might have the better understanding of freedom. Through the process of withdrawing into itself, the consciousness of the slave will be transformed into a truly independent consciousness. The fear of the master is the beginning of the slave’s wisdom, but work completes this process of realization and enables the slave to become conscious of who he truly is. Thus, the master-slave relationship takes on a character that is directly opposite to the degrees of freedom traditionally associated with the master and slave.

For Hegel, then, the respect of inferiors is never sufficient. Individuals who want to achieve satisfactory recognition from others must obtain this acknowledgement from selves who are also self-conscious and free. Therefore, autonomous individuals should have an interest in other people achieving freedom and a sense of self-consciousness. Any autonomous individual will want to see his/her own freedom reflected in other people. In varying ways, Westerners will come to experience the discomfort of being masters.

“Promoting” personal autonomy in other individuals is not an easy process. It is a complicated undertaking in which difficulties can arise on the part of the “inferior” as well as on the part of the “superior” when either attempts to equalize the relationship. Colonialism in particular raises these issues of freedom and authority as well as providing a backdrop in which the Hegelian thesis may be tested on the grounds of its accuracy and its practicality.

Both Joseph Conrad and V.S. Naipaul present colonial narratives that serve as exemplifications of Hegel’s conception of freedom. Conrad identifies a problem with colonialism insofar as it reinforces the perception of Europeans as masters and others as slaves. Naipaul builds on Conrad’s argument but adds the recognition that while liberty as the removal of an “outside” constraint can be bestowed on others “inner” freedom cannot be given to others but is something they must work out for themselves.

Joseph Conrad

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness raises three important questions: In what ways does Conrad view Western civilization as more morally advanced? How does colonialism corrupt both western and non-western cultures? In what sense are Europeans enslaved by colonialism? In his works, Conrad displays an anti-colonial sentiment and suggests, like Hegel, that the admiration of an inferior is never satisfactory. He views colonialism as destructive insofar as it casts Europeans as masters and others as slaves. For Conrad, like Hegel, this master-slave relationship is ultimately and inherently undesirable.

Conrad, however, does not center this need for recognition on reflective freedom. His European characters are often engaged in imperialistic projects, and they do not seem particularly concerned with granting freedom to non-Europeans, or even with promoting autonomy in each other. Freedom is a definite concern for Conrad, but he does not insist that humans have a responsibility to help others achieve freedom. Conrad criticizes colonialism for its cruelty, demoralizing effects, and its inhumanity, but he does not go beyond this critical step, as does Naipaul, to propose a project of exporting freedom to others. For Conrad, the Western man is more morally advanced than savages because he has a conception of original sin and thus recognizes his own limitations; the savage exists in a prior state of consciousness/darkness.

Conrad, too, emphasizes the connection between individuals and history. Frederick R. Karl, his biographer, has described Conrad as “a Hegelian without the character of an Idea or an Ideal.” Conrad views mankind as caught in a web of moral and political turmoil in which humans are constantly struggling to overcome the powers of darkness. He does not see any final resolution of the human predicament.

Like Hegel, Conrad views the present world as divided into various stages of historical development. The narrator relates how the Thames has serviced “all the men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin.” Marlow adds the story is actually an historical account of conquest. His “seaman’s yarn” begins with a reflection on England’s historical origins. “I was thinking of old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago.” Marlow speculates on the experiences of a commander of a “trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north” and how he might have encountered “the utter savagery” of uncivilized England. These reflections are a preface to the story of European imperialism. First England is conquered, and then it conquers other lands.

History for Marlow is a history of conquest, but issues of freedom arise because conquest involves a restructuring of previously established norms of social organization, political institutions, belief systems, and even natural environments. He takes particular interest in the mode of conquest of imperialism, and he expresses clear concerns about the moral implications of this practice. He carefully distinguishes between those who conquered England and the current English imperialists: “Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this [the Roman commander and his crew],” Marlow tells his fellow passengers. “What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency… these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists… They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others… The conquest of the earth which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion… [it] is not a pretty thing when you look into it much. What redeems it is the idea” of its more efficient use. This is “not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to….” The conquest of nature, what we have called the “Technological Project” becomes a replacement for religion.

The “conquest” is only redeemable as the idea that colonizers are “bearers of a spark from the sacred fire” of civilization. But this is an illusion. In Heart of Darkness, the European colonizers do not bring civility to the savages. In fact, just the reverse occurs. The wilderness makes barbarians of the Europeans. The great colonial project is turned upon its head; it operates on the false and fatal assumption that the wilderness and its savage inhabitants will be the only ones conquered. The conquest of both land and its human inhabitants is a cruel and ugly process. Marlow’s description of the African natives, is that “[t]hey were dying slowly… They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation.”

Kurtz, the chief of the Inner Station, comprises “[a]ll Europe.” “Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a center for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.” This dual purpose, Conrad suggests, is in itself a contradiction. Kurtz professes to bring civilization and virtue to the natives, but the ivory trade will mean their exploitation. Kurtz engages in the impossible task of humanizing the natives by taking away their humanity.

For Hegel, the crucifixion represents not only a reconciliation of opposites but also the descent of heaven to earth; the ideal meets the material world in the figure of Christ. There is, then, a notion of redemption in Hegel, and this notion of redemption is intimately connected with the idea of freedom. Christianity itself acts as an intercessor between the ancient and the modern worlds through Christ and promotes this liberation from original sin. In Conrad, attempts to achieve redemption never meet full success. You might treat the natives better but you cannot bring them true freedom. Thus, Conrad shares with Hegel the realization of humankind’s essential wickedness, but he does not share Hegel’s notion of redemption or Hegel’s optimism about the future.

Hegel recognized labor as one of the means by which individuals arrive at self-consciousness. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow makes the same observation: “I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.” Thus Conrad, like Hegel, suggests that labor gives individuals a sense of their own agency.

Europeans are more morally advanced than the colonial savages they rule insofar as they have a conception of original sin so understood. Even though the civilized world may not uphold the morals it espouses, and even though the Western world may not subscribe to all of the right ideals, it nevertheless has a recognition of those morals. The savage does not have this awareness. When Marlow journeys deeper and deeper into the jungle, he relates, “Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginning of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings…. [Y]ou lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day against the shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—in another existence perhaps.” In this sense, history, for Conrad as for Hegel, also traces a development of human self-consciousness. Conrad views the savages as living in another stage of history, one that is located “in the night of first ages.”

V.S. Naipal

Naipaul’s work is usefully compared and contrasted with that of his favorite English author, Conrad. Like Conrad, Naipaul comes to his place at the very center of English culture as an outsider. Born in Trinidad into a Hindu family, he was part of the Indian community that had migrated a century ago to work the West Indian cane fields as indentured laborers. From early on, he felt the as yet inarticulate sense of marginality that fills his books, the irrelevance of such places and their inhabitants to the mainstream where significant deeds are done. Like Conrad’s restless wanderings as a sea captain, Naipaul for thirty years has recrossed the globe as expressed in his travel essays. Naipaul is Conrad’s spiritual heir, writing of the outposts of empire, the half-made societies, as Naipaul calls them. They share a similarity of outlook: the darkness of human irrationality, aggression, fanaticism, and barbarism are always impending; and that civilization is an achievement that has to be worked at constantly. Naipaul also explores how the social order comes to bear on the lives of individuals, defining our possibilities, constraining and enabling our individuality, and affecting how each one of us lives and understands and values his single life.

Naipaul, like Conrad, believes in mankind’s corruptibility. Naipaul, however, departs from the Conradian view of the world as locked forever under darkness. In an essay entitled, Conrad’s Darkness, Naipaul writes, “Conrad’s value to me is that he is someone who sixty to seventy years ago meditated on my world, a world I recognize today. I feel this about no other writer of the century” (“Conrad’s Darkness,” in The Return of Eva Peron with The Killings in Trinidad.1980. p. 219).

The world has changed, however, between the days in which Conrad wrote and the period in which Naipaul lives. Both authors had direct experience with the colonial world and explore this world in their novels, but Naipaul, 75 years Conrad’s junior, also witnessed the decline of colonialism as it gave rise to the post-colonial world. Thus, Naipaul stands in a more historically advanced position from which he evaluates the world. His advantage of living in a later historical period than Conrad allows him to see consequences and outcomes that Conrad could not foresee. This historical advantage of perspective may account in part for Naipaul’s less pessimistic assessment of the human condition.

A House for Mr. Biswas

Set in an Indian community in Trinidad, A House for Mr. Biswas, arguably Naipaul’s greatest work, documents Mohan Biswas’s quest for dignity in a society that is unwilling to recognize his value as an individual. From the beginning, Mr. Biswas must combat prejudices and preconceived notions about his identity. The novel follows his quest for respect, independence, and a house to call his own as he challenges these prejudices and the culture which refuses to recognize him. Only the narrator accords Mr. Biswas the respect he deserves by referring to him with the title “Mr.” throughout the novel.

Mr. Biswas is born into a world that does not receive him kindly. He has been “[b]orn in the wrong way,” has six fingers, and enters the world at midnight, “the inauspicious hour.” The pundit declares that he will have an unlucky sneeze and warns that evil will result if Mr. Biswas goes near trees or water. His father is not pleased with the birth of his son or the pundit’s pronouncements, but he simply accepts his lot in life according to his philosophy: “Fate. There is nothing we can do about it.” It is against this prevailing attitude that Mr. Biswas must battle throughout the novel, for Mr. Biswas desires to make things happen for himself, to reject the prejudicial beliefs of his society and to cast off the superstitions surrounding his name.

Like the Hegelian individual, Mr. Biswas opposes fatalism and desires to achieve a free self-consciousness through work and through the recognition of others. The preconceived notions of his society, however, act as obstacles to Mr. Biswas’s realization of his individual worth. When his father drowns in a pond, Mr. Biswas (still a child) is blamed because he has gone near the water in violation of the pundit’s warning. The death of Mr. Biswas’s father sets off a series of events that eventually force his mother to sell their house. The narrator relates, “And so Mr. Biswas came to leave the only house to which he had some right. For the next thirty-five years he was to be a wanderer with no place he could call his own.” Furthermore, his family splits up to live with various relatives, and as a result, Mr. Biswas feels very alone in the world.

When Mr. Biswas marries, he becomes enslaved by the Tulsis, his wife’s relatives, for many years. Mr. Biswas is not literally a slave in the strictest sense of the term, but he repeatedly tells his wife that her family has “trapped” him. The Tulsis own a store and a large house called Hanuman House. When the narrator describes the house, he creates the impression of a large communal society. Children seem to run wildly and rampantly throughout the residence, adults seem to be engaged in constant quarrels, and a peculiar code of human behavior that emphasizes a perverted equality dominates the household.

Unable to bear the imposition upon his dignity and his independence, Mr. Biswas moves to a place known as “The Chase,” where he escapes from Hanuman House but not from the dominating presence of the Tulsis. The Chase proves ultimately unsatisfactory to Mr. Biswas; he begins to regard the venture as something “temporary and not quite real.” He reasons that “[r]eal life was to begin for them soon, and elsewhere. The Chase was a pause, a preparation.” As it turns out, the pause is a long one.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Biswas begins to lose sight of his dream as his individuality is smothered by the presence of the Tulsis and by other limiting influences on his freedom. He stops reading Samuel Smiles. The mention of ‘Smiles’ is important: Samuel Smiles was a Scottish author famous for books on self-help, and he promoted the idea that more progress would come from new attitudes than from new laws.

He does not give up hope, however, and he retains the sense that “some nobler purpose awaited him, even in this limiting society.” When Mr. Biswas leaves The Chase, he moves to a place called Green Vale, where he works as a sub-overseer in the sugarcane fields. Still, he has not escaped the shadow of the Tulsis; Green Vale is, after all, “part of the Tulsis land just outside of Arwacus.” It is “considered almost an extension of Hanuman House.” The Tulsis repeatedly work against Mr. Biswas’s attempts to assert himself as an individual. They seem particularly adverse to the idea of Mr. Biswas having a house of his own. Even when Mr. Biswas purchases a dollhouse for his daughter, the relatives at Hanuman House become resentful of this possession and treat Mr. Biswas’s wife so terribly that she eventually smashes the house to alleviate the situation. When the dollhouse is smashed along with Mr. Biswas’s dignity, the relatives are happy again. Here we see the nature and limits of traditional societies as it was ruthlessly and unsentimentally documented by Naipaul, including the emasculation of men in traditional patriarchal societies as opposed to free societies.

In what ways does Mr. Biswas battle throughout the novel to make things happen for himself, to reject the prejudicial beliefs of his society and to cast off the superstitions surrounding his name? When Mr. Biswas’s mother dies and the doctor acts rudely in writing her certificate of death, Mr. Biswas writes a letter of protest to the doctor. The letter is structured around the theme “no one could escape from what he was” and concludes that “no one could deny his humanity and keep his self-respect.” This letter is a personal declaration of independence.

Mr. Biswas finds a vehicle toward independence in education. He is an avid reader, and he stresses the importance of learning to his children, particularly to his son Anand. When the Tulsis come into financial difficulties and must sell their house, education acquires a new significance in the absence of the security of a closed community: “There was no longer a Hanuman House to protect them; everyone had to fight for himself in a new world, the world Owar and Shekhar had entered, where education was the only protection.” As the dominating presence of the Tulsis fades, Mr. Biswas begins to obtain a greater sense of dignity. His dignity is constantly insulted, but Mr. Biswas preserves his self-respect.

Eventually, Mr. Biswas acquires the means to purchase a house that is truly his own. The purchase of his house symbolizes the purchase of his freedom. He no longer remains constrained under the Tulsis’ shadow. The house on Sikkim Street has its disadvantages; the staircase is plain and unstable, the windows downstairs do not close, the doors upstairs lack uniformity, and other imperfections are discovered as well. However, the house acquires significance more for what it accomplishes than for what it lacks. Most importantly, it gives Mr. Biswas and his family an identity that reflects their independence. Thus the house, as a new arena of independence, provides a replacement for the old days of dependency. Mr. Biswas dies with a house of his own, in a world where he has earned his freedom and established his individuality.

Our Universal Civilization

Do people from non-Western (European) cultures come, in time, to adopt autonomy (and its nexus of beliefs) as a value? One way of answering this question is to examine the work of Nobel Prize winning author V. S. Naipaul. Naipaul answers in the affirmative. He does so in an important essay entitled, “Our Universal Civilization.”

In 1990, Naipaul delivered a speech at the Manhattan Institute in which he outlined his concept of “Our Universal Civilization.” Myron Magnet, the Senior Fellow of the Institute, introduced him as “Conrad’s spiritual heir.” As outsiders who came to England only after their childhood years, both Conrad and Naipaul “share a certain history that makes them almost obsessive analysts and questioners of social reality.” Naipaul in particular “explores the intersection of the social order and the individual life” and examines how the social order defines “our possibilities,” constrains and enables “our individuality,” and affects “how each one of us lives and understands and values his single life.” Thus, the nature of the relationship between society and the individual becomes a crucial one in the development of self-consciousness and the understanding of personal autonomy.

Hegel’s conception of freedom posits a continually advancing civilization in which humans progress toward a greater understanding of freedom; Naipaul insist that civilization is an advancement contingent upon human effort. Conrad and Naipaul, Magnet states, “share a similarity of outlook” in that they both view “the bush or the darkness of human irrationality, aggression, fanaticism, and barbarism” as “always impending.” For both authors, “civilization is an achievement that has to be worked at constantly.” For Conrad, the darkness forms a continual presence that perpetually overshadows society; the world for Conrad is a world of illusion in which humans ultimately cannot escape from the darkness. For Naipaul, however, human improvement is a reality; he sees society as advancing, and it is this optimistic view of civilization’s future that separates him from Conrad. If there is a sense in which Naipaul is writing in Conrad’s shadow, there is also a sense in which he escapes from it.

Naipaul’s speech serves to highlight the extent to which Naipaul, as Conrad’s inheritor, also diverges from him. At the conclusion of his lecture, Naipaul prophesies that the Western idea, which embodies the pursuit of happiness, individuality, and other liberal virtues, will cause “other more rigid systems in the end [to] blow away.” Naipaul, like Conrad, believes in mankind’s corruptibility. Unlike Conrad, however, Naipaul also believes in mankind’s perfectibility. Thus Naipaul departs from the Conradian worldview of the world as locked forever under darkness.

Naipaul also acknowledges his debt to Conrad; he does not reject him, but rather diverges from him. In an essay entitled, Conrad’s Darkness, Naipaul writes, “Conrad’s value to me is that he is someone who sixty to seventy years ago meditated on my world, a world I recognize today. I feel this about no other writer of the century.” The world has changed, however, between the days in which Conrad wrote and the period in which Naipaul lives. Both authors had direct experiences within the colonial world and explore this world in their novels, but Naipaul, 75 years Conrad’s junior, also witnessed the decline of colonialism as it gave rise to the post-colonial world. Thus, Naipaul stands in a more historically advanced position from which he evaluates the world. His advantage of living in a later historical period than Conrad allows him to see consequences and outcomes that Conrad could not foresee. This historical advantage of perspective may account in part for Naipaul’s less pessimistic assessment of the human condition and his more optimistic outlook regarding the future of society.

The universal civilization has been a long time in the making. It wasn’t always universal; it wasn’t always as attractive as it is today. The expansion of Europe gave it for at least three centuries a racial taint, which still causes pain. In Trinidad, I grew up in the last days of that kind of racialism. And that, perhaps, has given me a greater appreciation of the immense changes that have taken place since the end of the war, the extraordinary attempt of this civilization to accommodate the rest of the world, and all the currents of that world’s thought… A later realization—I suppose I have sensed it most of my life, but I have understood it philosophically only during the preparation of this talk—has been the beauty of the idea of the pursuit of happiness. Familiar words, easy to take for granted; easy to misconstrue. This idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery. I find it marvelous to contemplate to what an extent, after two centuries, and after the terrible history of the earlier part of this century, the idea has come to a kind of fruition. It is an elastic idea; it fits all men. It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. I don’t imagine my father’s parents would have been able to understand the idea. So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.

For Naipaul, then, personal autonomy becomes an important issue. However, individuals also have the responsibility of working on their own freedom; they cannot gain a sense of self-consciousness solely through the means of another individual. Naipaul, like Hegel (and Oakeshott), criticizes the anti-individual who refuses to form an identity apart from the group. In a Free State in particular he addresses the issue of the post-colonial subject who does not know how to form an identity apart from his master or a larger society. In a Free State consists of two short stories (One out of Many and Tell Me Who to Kill) and a short novel (In a Free State) surrounded by a prologue and an epilogue from Naipaul’s travel journals.

In One out of Many, however, Naipaul suggests that some people may not be ready to accept their own freedom; the realization of self-consciousness is a rewarding but painful and difficult process. The first-person narrator in One out of Many encounters this very difficulty. Born and raised in Bombay, the narrator, Santosh, works for the government and can only conceive of his identity insofar as it relates to his employer; the narrator has no identity outside of the identity he associates with his master. Santosh relates, “I experienced the world through him… I was content to be a small part of his presence.” When his employer is transferred to Washington, the “capital of the world,” Santosh begs for permission to accompany him. His employer agrees. Initially, Santosh retains the characteristics of the Oakeshottian anti-individual who, finding himself “saddled with the unsought and inescapable ‘freedom’ of human agency,” is hesitant about being able to respond.

At first, Washington and the new American culture overwhelms Santosh. Gradually, however, he comes to gain a sense of his own individuality: “Now I found, that, without wishing it, I was ceasing to see myself as part of my employer’s presence, and beginning at the same time to see him as an outsider might see him, as perhaps the people who came to dinner in the apartment saw him.” As his sense of agency emerges, Santosh resolves to run away from his employer. After wandering the streets of Washington, Santosh takes on a new job at a restaurant owned by a man named Priya. In this new position, Santosh reflects upon his discovery of freedom: “I felt I was earning my freedom. Though I was in hiding, and though I worked every day until midnight, I felt I was much more in charge of myself than I had ever been.” Thus labor, in Naipaul as well as in Hegel, serves as a means by which individuals develop a sense of their own agency.

This freedom, however, also implies an increase in responsibilities. For Santosh, the freedom he discovers at Priya’s restaurant presents complications: “It was worse than being in the apartment, because now the responsibility was mine and mine alone. I had decided to be free, to act for myself.” Santosh begins to regret the consequences of his freedom, and one day he calls Priya, with whom he has developed a close and friendly relationship, “sahib.” Overwhelmed by the sense of his own freedom, Santosh retreats back into the position of servant by referring to his friend Priya in this way:

I had used the wrong word. Once I had used the word a hundred times a day. But then I had considered myself a small part of my employer’s presence, and the word was not servile; it was more like a name, like a reassuring sound, part of my employer’s dignity and therefore part of mine. But Priya’s dignity could never be mine; that was not our relationship. Priya I had always called Priya; it was his wish, the American way, man to man. With Priya the word was servile. And he responded to the word.… I never called him by his name again.… I was a free man; I had lost my freedom.

While Naipaul approves of the American way of treating and addressing others as equals, he also realizes that the transition into such a culture is not an easy process, especially for one who comes from a background of strict class systems where servility to superiors is taught as a virtue, or as a necessary means of communication.

At the end of the story, Santosh becomes an American citizen, but he does not want to live in the American way. For him, the transition from sleeping outside on the street with his friends in Bombay to living in America is too great to rightly be called pleasant. At the same time, however, America has given Santosh freedom; in America, he realizes that he is free; he becomes self-conscious of his freedom. He realizes that he made the decision to come to Washington and that he cannot return to the ways of Bombay. Santosh concludes his tale with an evaluation of his freedom:

I was once part of the flow, never thinking of myself as a presence. Then I looked in the mirror and decided to be free. All that my freedom has brought me is the knowledge that I have a face and a body, that I must feed this body and clothe this body for a certain number of years. Then it will all be over.

Thus, Santosh delivers a troubling diagnosis of freedom. He acknowledges the negative side of freedom, in which duties associated with freedom become a burden. Nevertheless, Santosh’s final and disappointing portrait of freedom does not imply Naipaul’s approval of slavery or servitude. Rather, Naipaul wishes to expose the side of freedom that often gets undervalued; he wishes to show that freedom carries with it responsibilities, and that certain people have trouble accepting those responsibilities. For Naipaul, an individual’s enjoyment of freedom depends upon what that individual makes of his freedom. In this respect, Naipaul’s argument parallels Hegel’s assertion in the Philosophy of Right: “On the one hand, it is true that every individual has an independent existence [ist jades Individuum für sich]; but on the other, the individual is also a member of the system of civil society, and just as every human being has a right to demand a livelihood from society, so also must society protect him from himself…. Since civil society is obliged to feed its members, it also has the right to urge them to provide for their own livelihood.”

He would also agree with Hegel’s assertion in the Philosophy of Right: “If the direct burden [of support] were to fall on the wealthier class, or if direct means were available in other public institutions (such as wealthy hospitals, foundations, or monasteries) to maintain the increasingly impoverished mass at its normal standard of living, the livelihood of the needy would be ensured without the mediation of work; this would be contrary to the principle of civil society and the feeling of self-sufficiency and honor among its individual members.”

The narrator of Tell Me Who to Kill resolves to ensure his younger brother’s education. However, the narrator makes a mistake in assuming responsibility for his brother; while his encouragement is commendatory, the narrator ultimately cannot control his brother’s actions or make his brother succeed in the Western world. When Dayo, the narrator’s younger brother, goes to college in London, he struggles to adjust to his new lifestyle but fails. The narrator, moves to London and obtains a job in order to assist Dayo financially, but neither the narrator’s financial assistance nor even his emotional presence can substitute for Dayo’s own agency.

The narrator cannot help an individual who is not willing to help himself. The narrator’s misconception results in his disillusionment with the world around him as he fails to understand Dayo’s loss of confidence and motivation. The short story ends with Dayo’s marriage, which the narrator describes as “more like a funeral than a wedding.” The narrator cannot make sense of his surroundings, of unexpected outcomes, or of his failed plan to give Dayo a European education. Angry at the world, he wonders “who to kill.”

In In a Free State, Naipaul explores the alternative to Western rule. Set in Africa shortly after the end of British imperialism, In a Free State explores the political consequences of independence. “In ‘The Loss of El Dorado,’ Naipaul is unsparing about the abuses of colonial rule. But he’s not oblivious to what followed: “corrupt and brutal despotisms in Africa and South America, stupid homegrown ideologies, as well as the self-indulgent Western fantasies that sustain them.” Writing about Egypt in his epilogue, Naipaul exclaims, “Peonies, China! So many empires had come here.” He is looking at postcards of Chinese flowers that have been handed out as gifts to waiters in a small Egyptian hut. The implication is that Africa is still a land of conquest, where the Chinese are now establishing an empire, albeit “more remote,” in Egypt through their commercial activity.

If history is a history of conquest, it is also a history of change, and the nature of this change has resulted in more opportunities for humans to discover their freedom. A Bend in the River suggests, more strongly than A House for Mr. Biswas or In a Free State, that the Western enterprise has altered the world forever, and that this change has created a new sphere in which humans can best realize the meaning of freedom. A Bend in the River presents a decidedly more optimistic view of the human condition than the two former novels. The novel centers around Salim, an Indian man who opens a shop at the bend of a river in a newly independent African state. The geographic location (that is to say, Africa) is the same as in In a Free State, and political turmoil also plays a role here, but in A Bend in the River Naipaul expresses greater hope for the inhabitants of Developing countries and the opportunities available to them.

Salim, the narrator and main character, begins with the statement “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” This statement in many ways sums up Naipaul’s philosophy on life. It emphasizes the role that individuals play in their own fate and advocates personal responsibility in the face of a world that will not automatically adjust to fit individuals’ needs or desires. The opening statement of A Bend in the River also precludes anyone from blaming the world for personal failures; it denounces men who are not proactive. It is a negatively expressed statement, but it has a positive converse. For Naipaul, individuals have to make their dreams happen. If men who make themselves nothing have no place in the world, then men who make something of themselves do have a place in the world.

In the opening chapters of the novel, Salim offers a history of his family. His family past consists of men who would likely fall into the category of “men who are nothing.” They are not ambitious men, but rather men who had accepted without question the customs and traditions of their land:

We simply lived; we did what was expected of us, what we had seen the previous generation do. We never asked why; we never recorded. We felt in our bones that we were a very old people; but we seemed to have no means of gauging the passing of time. Neither my father nor my grandfather could put dates to their stories. Not because they had forgotten or were confused; the past was simply the past.

Salim’s ancestors, then, lack a clear conception of their larger historical significance. They also do not possess a conception of time; Salim’s journey into his family history, like Marlow’s journey up the Congo River, is a journey into a realm where time ceases to have a functional meaning. This limited conception of time reflects the primitive state of mankind before the advent of modern civilization. It also suggests that history involves a development of the mind. In this way, Naipaul’s recording of the narrator’s family history reflects a Hegelian approach to world history.

Salim’s ancestors locate themselves in the present and think even less of the future than they do of the past. “In our family house when I was a child I never heard a discussion about our future or the future of the coast. The assumption seemed to be that things would continue, that marriages would continue to be arranged between approved parties, that trade and business would go on, that Africa would be for us as it had been.”

Unlike his relatives, however, Salim has a sense of his society’s relationship to the rest of the world. “But it came to me when I was quite young, still at school, that our way of life was antiquated and almost at an end…” British postage stamps with a picture of an Arab dhow – what a foreigner describes as “most striking about this place [in Africa]”—generate Salim’s sense of societal self-consciousness, and he develops “the habit of looking, detaching myself from a familiar scene and trying to consider it as from a distance.”

Salim’s process of both recognizing himself as a part of his environment and also of perceiving himself as separate from his environment matches Hegel’s conception of the self-conscious individual who perceives that he is “a member of the system of civil society” but also realizes that he has an “independent existence.”

From this perspective of an outsider who is simultaneously an insider, Salim develops the idea that “as a community we had fallen behind.” The quality of self-consciousness and the ability to “stand back and consider the nature” of one’s community becomes crucial in an individual’s as well as a culture’s adjustment to the changing world. Salim observes, that the Europeans “were better equipped to cope with changes than we were” because “they could assess themselves.” Thus, the Europeans have an advantage over inhabitants of countries/cultures who have not advanced as far in the development of self-consciousness.

Salim perceives that the world around him is changing, and that if he is to succeed in it, he must take action. This action involves breaking away from the limiting lifestyles of his heritage:

I had to break away from our family compound and our community. To stay with my community, to pretend that I had simply to travel along with them, was to be taken with them to destruction. I could be master of my fate only if I stood alone. One tide of history… had brought us here…. Now… another tide of history was going to wash us away.

Salim resolves to leave his Indian community on the coast of Africa and journey inland to set up a new life, where he will run a shop on the bend in the river. The bend in the river symbolically represents the change in times, the switch from one historical epoch to another.

The “tides of history” concept which Naipaul invokes also recalls Hegel, who ascribes certain moments of the world mind’s Idea to certain epochs in history. In the Philosophy of Right he states that each stage of world history is “the presence of a necessary moment in the Idea of the world mind,” and he ascribes this Idea to particular nations.

The nation to which is ascribed a moment of the Idea in the form of a natural principle is entrusted with giving complete effect to it in the advance of the self-developing self-consciousness of the world mind. This nation is dominant in world history during this one epoch, and it is only once that it can make its hour strike. In contrast with this its absolute right of being the vehicle of the present stage in the world mind’s development, the minds of the other nations are without rights, and they, along with those whose hour has struck already, count no longer in world history.

Insofar as a particular nation possesses the Idea of the world mind, it has the right to promulgate this idea and promote historical development.

Naipaul presents a similar argument, although he makes a few modifications to the original Hegelian view. In A Bend in the River, Europe – and, more broadly, the West—acts as the vehicle of the present stage in history. If A Bend in the River had to locate this vehicle in a particular nation, it would likely be England, which is representative of the Western idea in the novel. Nevertheless, Naipaul certainly advances the Hegelian argument that certain ideas gain power and even right in the flow of history. In his speech before the Manhattan Institute, Naipaul characterizes this Western idea more specifically as “the idea of the pursuit of happiness.” Naipaul calls this pursuit “an immense human idea;” contained within it is “the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement.” Naipaul claims that this idea “has come to a kind of fruition.” In his 1979 novel, Naipaul traces the development of this idea toward its fruition. Furthermore, as the novel progresses, Salim comes to recognize the beauty and the enabling power of this Western idea. As in Hegel, Western thought parallels the individual mind in the history of its development.

When Salim in A Bend in the River finds that his country can no longer accommodate his newfound freedom, Salim is compelled to flee Africa in order to escape the new, oppressive regime that his taken over his shop and threatens to obliterate his identity as well. The novel ends with Salim’s flight, and on one level this seems like a negative and depressing conclusion. This interpretation, however, misses a crucial point: Salim is leaving a land of oppression to enter a land of opportunity. Salim’s visit to London before his permanent departure has already given him insight into the kind of opportunities available outside of his small African community. After his enlightenment, Salim realizes that there can be “no going back” to his former way of life. “[T]here was nothing to go back to. We had become to what the world outside had made us; we had to live in the world as it existed.” His friend Indar has introduced Salim to European ways of thinking and has revealed to Salim the flaws in traditional, non-Western thought. Indar tells Salim,

We have no means of understanding a fraction of the thought and science and philosophy and law that have gone to make that outside world. We simply accept it. We have grown up paying tribute to it, and that is what most of us do. We feel of the great world that it is simply there, something for the lucky ones among us to explore, and then only at the edges. It never occurs to us that we might make some contribution to it ourselves. And that is why we miss everything.

By the end of the novel, Salim has come to the conclusion that he does have power over his own fate and that he will no longer let himself be restricted by the limiting paradigms of a preceding generation. His decision to leave Africa parallels Naipaul’s own decision to leave his native Trinidad for the larger world in which he could better express his freedom. Like Salim, Naipaul saw “the rituals and the myths” of his heritage “at a distance” and eventually decided to leave Trinidad because his homeland did not offer “that kind of society” in which “the writing life was possible.” He had to make a journey “from the margin to the center” in order to find a society that would accommodate his needs, and this journey necessitated leaving his old life.

When Salim flees Africa at the end of the novel, he is not facing defeat, or a life of lonely exile. He is leaving a land that has limited his freedom to join other people in other lands who will share his freedom with him.

In A Bend in the River, the narrator (an Indian who lives in postcolonial Africa) observes, “[I]t came to me while I was still quite young, still at school, that our way of life was antiquated and almost at an end.” He later comes to regard himself “as part of an immense flow of history” in which the old and primitive cultures give way to the power of the European idea. The Europeans, he relates, “gave us on the coast some idea of our history.” The introduction of Western ideas to non-Western cultures precipitates a change in the living conditions of those cultures that affects not only physical surroundings but also the attitudes and philosophies of a land’s inhabitants.

Naipaul’s works embody the Hegelian conception of freedom and the human condition; like Hegel, Naipaul advocates individual freedom coupled with individual responsibility. He also acknowledges the value of ideas, and specifically the Western idea. Naipaul’s works is itself an immense contribution to the evolution of Western thought.

Nicholas Capaldi is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans.

Petition: What went Wrong with Higher Education and How to Begin Fixing It

Going back to their origins in the Western European Middles Ages, the humanities were tasked with the articulation, preservation, critique and transmission of the fundamental values of western civilization.

Higher Education was understood as the initiation into that inheritance and as an adventure in self-understanding, an intellectual and moral inheritance of great splendor shared by both teachers and students.

When transmitted to students who possessed the intellectual capacity and maturity to absorb it they would serve as society’s elite leadership. This was the ideal of a liberal education.

Those values continued to underpin the rise of the sciences and markets in the modern world. The evolution of modern American universities came to encompass the humanities, scientific research, and preparation for their practical application. Beneficiaries of that education prospered in their individual careers and contributed to America’s prosperity, its world-wide dominance economically, politically, and culturally.

Like everything else, things started to go wrong in the 1960s. Seemingly challenged by the then USSR, the US government initiated the first federal loan program, the National Defense Student Loan, now the Perkins Loan, in 1958. In 1965, the federal government began guaranteeing student loans provided by banks and non-profit lenders.

The vast and sudden expansion in the 1960s of so-called higher education had serious consequences.

First, the humanities and social sciences, recently followed by the hard (i.e., real) sciences, were captured by the political left leading to the conclusion that the Western inheritance and the U.S. in particular were responsible for all the domestic and international evil in the world.

Second, the federal government was now subsidizing its own executioner! Buoyed by such misguided and self-destructive generosity, institutions of higher education…

  1. raised tuition way beyond what inflation required;
  2. hastily produced several generations of lower-quality-to-incompetent teachers who acquiesced in the now dominant left-leaning ideology;
  3. expanded admissions to include vast numbers of either ineligible (democracies have a difficult time dealing with the fact that there are inherent differences in ability) or under-prepared students;
  4. used the vast expansion to create a bloated bureaucracy (which turned out to be jobs for ideologues who served as “commissars”);
  5. lowered standards both to cover up the inadequate preparation of the students, disguise the laxness of the faculty, and maintain the high levels of funding;
  6. no longer committing themselves to defending western values, these institutions largely stopped teaching the basic texts of western literature and philosophy, making it impossible for students to understand these values;
  7. and engaged in undermining the legitimacy of the US as a nation state by accepting vast sums of money to engage in scientific research on behalf of Communist China!

The consequences are now obvious. First, there is a mismatch between the product and the market (this was already known by the 1980s). When 2% of graduates had a traditional college degree, they enjoyed many economic opportunities and personal prosperity (companies competed to hire someone who was both smart and demonstrated both responsibility and diligence). When 65% have a recent vintage degree that is enough to belie the argument that college graduates automatically earn more. Moreover, when their degrees are a total mismatch to the job market, they will have both no serious job and no way to repay the loans. Yes, we have a student loan crisis! But we have a crisis in higher education’s very raison d’etre.

We need to begin the process or retrieving our heritage, providing meaningful education for all students so that they can experience individual prosperity, and contribute to America’s prosperity and greatness.

Toward that end, we offer the following petition in the hopes that influential people will read it, sign it and that Congress will complete the process of amending its role in higher education!

Please access the petition by clicking here.

Featured image: “Allegory of wisdom,” attributed to Giovanni Domenico Cerrini, 17th century.

The Invisible College

Nick Capaldi and Nadia Nedzel have inaugurated a new organization, Invisible College.

The organization seeks to promote live conversations about important books and topics through Zoom and other media, as well as in person. In addition to its own scheduled “conversations,” it will help others organize their own.

In the following conversation, Nick Capaldi and Marsha Enright discuss the meaning, origins, methodology and purpose of the conversations.

Featured image: Treatises On Natural Science, Philosophy, And Mathematics, ca. 1300.

The Origins Of Totalitarian Democracy: A Discussion

On Feb. 26, 2022, a group of 14 independent scholars and non-academics from around the world convened the first meeting of the Invisible College to discuss an important book, J.L. Talmon’s The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, (a 1951 study of the French Revolution that identifies the historical origins and political presuppositions of totalitarian “democracy”). What follows is one, and only one, participants’ take away from the discussion.

I was initially attracted to the book by other things I had read and had written myself. Talmon seemed to “echo” the diagnosis of Gnosticism given by Voegelin in The New Science of Politics (1952), the distinction made by Oakeshott between The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Skepticism (composed in the early 1950s); it reflected, as well, in the French context, the distinction made by Constant between ancient and modern liberty, and, of course, Tocqueville’s observations and warning in Democracy in America.

What I hoped to see vindicated were (1) my own claims on the importance that the misguided notion of a social technology rooted in an alleged social science had originated among pre-revolutionary French philosophes; (2) the well known thesis (Crane Brinton, Voegelin, Hayek, and Oakeshott) that the French Revolution was fundamentally different from the U.S. Revolution; and (3) that the concept of the “rule of law” had a significantly different meaning in the Anglo-American legal inheritance from the Continental legal inheritance. Finally, I wanted to see to what extent our forebodings about the dangers of progressivism especially in its “woke” form exemplified what Talmon would say about “Political Messianism.”

Presuppositions aside, rereading Talmon fifty years later, I discovered two new and related things. First, the transition from classical liberalism (liberals are/were people who want(ed) to limit the power of government over individuals) to modern liberalism (liberals are people who want to increase the power of government over individuals) and beyond (socialism and Marxism) is the product of the misunderstanding or misrepresentation of English liberalism by French philosophes (intellectuals) filtering it through their quite different intellectual tradition. Second, that transition carried to its logical conclusion is the totalitarian democracy we not only saw in Revolutionary France, but is reflected in present day “woke” democracy. It is always worth reminding ourselves and others that rereading a classic in light one’s other and additional readings is almost like reading a new text. The same can be said for sharing one’s personal reading with that of others.

My personal comments are in bold and comments relevant to contemporary America are indicated in italics.

Talmon makes his own epistemological presuppositions very clear. To begin with, he does not believe that it makes sense to talk about human beings independent of their historical, cultural, and socio-economic context. He contrasts this with what he calls rationalism, by which I take him to mean the Cartesian starting point of the Discourse on Method, that is thinking of oneself as the disembodied and context—less observer sitting in judgment of the world from the vantage point of the Archimedian skybox shared only by God (again analogous to Oakeshott’s description of the “rationalist” in the essay, “Rationalism in Politics.” To say that you are a product of your history is not to deny that you may be a product of your conscious rejection of part of your inheritance. Even then we would need to know the history to understand your rejection). As Talmon himself puts it: “Nature and history show civilization as the evolution of a multiplicity of historical and pragmatically formed clusters of social existence and social endeavour, and not as the achievement of abstract Man on a single level of existence” (p. 254).

Ontologically, Talmon insists that the two instincts most deeply embedded in human nature are the yearning for salvation and the love of freedom. The attempt to satisfy both at the same time is bound to result, if not in unmitigated tyranny and serfdom at least in monumental hypocrisy and self- deception which are the concomitants of totalitarian democracy (p. 253).

The Right [conservatism] declares man to be weak and corrupt. The Right teaches the necessity of force as a permanent way of maintaining order among creatures, and training them to act in a manner alien to their mediocre nature. Not everyone on the right advocates totalitarianism, but totalitarians of the Right operate solely with historic, racial and organic entities, concepts altogether alien to individualism and rationalism.

Totalitarianism of the Left, when resorting to force, does so in the conviction that force is used only in order to quicken the pace of man’s progress to perfection and social harmony: It is thus legitimate to use the term democracy in reference to totalitarianism of the Left. The term could not be applied to totalitarianism of the Right.

Modern communism is much more than distributive socialism. It advocates “an exclusive social pattern based on an equal and complete satisfaction of human needs as a program of immediate political action.”

That imagined repose is another name for the security offered by a prison, and the longing for it may in a sense be an expression of cowardice and laziness, or the inability to face the fact that life is a perpetual and never resolved crisis (p. 255).

Two other works exemplify what Talmon has in mind. First, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, also published in 1951, maintains that extremist cultural movements occur when large numbers of lost souls who think that their own individual lives are worthless join a movement demanding radical change. What motivates them is the desire to escape from the self, not a realization of the self. “A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation” (p. 21). The resentment of the weak does not spring from any specific injustice but from the sense of their inadequacy. The resulting self-loathing produces serious social disruption.

Second, Michael Oakeshott’s 1962 essay, “The Masses in Representative Democracy” identifies Anti-Individuals as those who yearn for a protective community which takes care of them and relieves them of the anxiety of making choices; “there were some people, by circumstance or by temperament, less ready than others to respond to this invitation [to become autonomous]”. There were no anti-individuals before the Renaissance, only members of a community. Once some people become autonomous individuals but others do not, those who do not make the transition become anti-individuals. Anti-individuals are a reaction against autonomous individuals. They are resentful of autonomous individuals, display “envy, jealousy, resentment.” They need a leader; and they want uniformity, equality and solidarity. They blame autonomous individuals for the anxiety, want to destroy the prestige of autonomous individuals and make everyone an anti-individual.

This is the curse of salvationist creeds: to be born out of the noblest impulses of man, and to degenerate into weapons of tyranny. An exclusive creed cannot admit opposition. It is bound to feel itself surrounded by innumerable enemies. Its believers can never settle down to a normal existence. From this sense of peril arise their continual demands for the protection of orthodoxy by recourse to terror. Those who are not enemies must be made to appear as fervent believers with the help of emotional manifestations and engineered unanimity at public meetings or at the polls [vote as a block].. Political Messianism is bound to replace empirical thinking and free criticism with reasoning by definition, based on a priori collective concepts which must be accepted whatever the evidence of the senses : however selfish or evil the men who happen to come to the top, they must be good and infallible, since they embody the pure doctrine and are the people’s government: in a people’s democracy the ordinary competitive, self-assertive and anti-social instincts cease as it were to exist (p. 253).

In this work, Talmon is primarily interested in the shaping of the religion and myth of Revolutionary political Messianism (p. 231).

The Two Types Of Democracy: Liberal And Totalitarian

The liberal approach assumes politics to be a matter of trial and error, and regards political systems as pragmatic contrivances of human ingenuity and spontaneity. It also recognizes a variety of levels of personal and collective endeavour, which are altogether outside the sphere of politics. [Anglo-American conception; think Hume’s History of England; liberal practices preceded liberal theorizing.]

The totalitarian democratic school, on the other hand, is based upon

  1. The assumption of a sole and exclusive truth: it postulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of things, to which men are irresistibly driven, and at which they are bound to arrive.
  2. It recognizes ultimately only one plane of existence, the political. It widens the sense of politics to embrace the whole of human existence.
  3. In so far as men are at variance with the absolute ideal they can be ignored, coerced or intimidated into conforming, without any real violation of the democratic principle…The practical question is, of course, whether constraint will disappear because all have learned to act in harmony or because all opponents have been eliminated.
  4. Everything is politicized [names on cereal boxes, professional sports teams, pandemics, etc.]
  5. The postulate of some ultimate, logical, exclusively valid social order is a matter of faith, and it is not much use trying to defeat it by argument.

Part I: The Eighteenth-Century Origins Of Political Messianism

  1. There was a fundamental principle in pre-eighteenth century chiliasm that made it impossible for it to play the part of modern totalitarianism: its religious essence. This explains why the Messianic movements invariably ended by breaking away from society, and forming sects [e.g. Benedict Option] based upon voluntary adherence and community of experience. They aimed at personal salvation and an egalitarian society based on the Law of Nature, and believed that obedience to God is the condition of human freedom.
  2. With the rejection of the Church, and of transcendental justice, the STATE remained the sole source and sanction of morality.
  3. The strongest influence on the fathers of totalitarian democracy was that of ANTIQUITY interpreted in their own way. Their myth of antiquity was Libertya (autonomy of the whole society not the individual) equated with virtue (ascetic discipline)
  4. The idea of man as an abstraction, independent of the historic groups to which he belongs, is likely to become a powerful vehicle of totalitarianism.
  5. Modern Messianism has always aimed at a revolution in society as a whole. The point of reference is man’s reason and will, and its aim happiness on earth arrived by a social transformation.

[Allow me to interject here some observations from the modern scientific revolution. There were two competing models: Newtonian and Cartesian. In Newtonian physics, the first law states that individual objects move in a straight line at a constant speed forever (infinitely) in empty space or the void – clear analogue to Hobbesian desire; Newton also believed that the universe required God’s periodic intervention. In Cartesian physics, there is no empty space but a plenum within which every body touches other bodies and a vortex within which such bodies move harmoniously. If the speed and position of all the bodies could be completely described, then all future permutations could be deduced through calculations based on the laws of motion. The social analogue to Cartesian physics is a natural harmony.]

The object of Talmon’s book is to examine the three stages through which the social ideals of the eighteenth century were transformed-on one side-into totalitarian democracy (According to Hoffer, “a movement is pioneered by [1] men of words, [2] materialized by fanatics, and [3] consolidated by men of action.” (p 147 of The True Believer):

1. The eighteenth-century postulate (Rousseau’s “General Will”); Rousseau’s starting point, as Kant noticed, was the individual free will – not a pre-existing collective entity. Herein lies the contradiction between individualism and ideological absolutism inherent in modern political-Messianism.

As a systematic philosopher, Descartes (this discussion of Descartes appeared in a previous edition of The Postil) introduces and makes the official starting point of modern epistemology the “I Think” perspective, something that had been implicit in classical and medieval thought. Classical thought had always prioritized thought over action or practice. It had always presumed that we needed an independent theory before we can act. Prior to Descartes, skeptics had repeatedly exposed the plurality of mundane competing theories. Drawing on the Augustinian inheritance of the school he attended at La Fleche, Descartes thought he could permanently dispose of skepticism by practicing the Socratic Method on himself and drill down until he found what could not be questioned/challenged without self-contradiction. This method did not rely on any appeal to our bodily experience of the world – which might after all be an illusion. Nor did it appeal to any social framework: tradition, customary practice, which were after all potentially illusory historical products.

Having established thereby to his own satisfaction that he existed as an “I Think,” Descartes proceeded to establish the existence of God. Whereas Aristotle had identified four causes, wherein three of which (formal, final and efficient) were identical, Descartes eliminated final (teleological) causation. Nevertheless, Descartes retained the identity of formal and efficient causation. This alleged identity permitted one to argue backwards from any effect (form) to its efficient cause sight unseen. Given Cartesian physics and traditional logic, this is an unassailable proof of God’s existence as creator or first efficient cause of the physical world and ultimate author of the Bible! Thus, had Descartes established the existence and validity of the Christian world- view (hereafter the “PLAN”) now understood as including the transformation of the physical world.

In order to make sense of the Technological Project, the transformation of the physical world in the service of humanity, it is important that some aspect of humanity be independent of the physical world. If humans were wholly part of the physical world, then any human project could be transformed as well, thereby leaving all projects without an autonomous status. Hence, it is necessary that the subject, or at least the mind of the subject, be free and independent of the body.

Modern science did not come to a halt with Cartesian physics and analytic geometry. Newtonian atomistic physics moving in the void of calculus took its place. Now there were only efficient causes. There were no final and no formal causes. There were no necessary connections among different kinds of causes. Hume merely spelled out the implications of Newtonian physics for delegitimizing the alleged proofs of God’s existence (see Capaldi on this).

Still, we had the increasingly clear vision of an orderly Newtonian physical world and the ancillary successes of the Technological Project.

Even with a marginalized or superfluous God, God’s PLAN for the physical world still seemed to be safe. It was so safe it did not seem to need miraculous intervention (Deism). Miracles were replaced by utopian visions of future techno-science. Unfortunately, those who continued to tie God’s Plan to a belief in God could not agree, and they further discredited themselves by engaging in (17th-century) religious wars.

We might learn to do without God, but we sorely needed something like His plan for the social world. In the eighteenth century, some of the French philosophes (Helvetius, d’Alembert, Condorcet, La Mettrie, etc.) proposed the Enlightenment Project: a social science to discover the analogous structure of the social world and an analogous social technology to implement its benefits; a wholly secular plan of ideal harmony without religious warranties. This was an even greater gift to the discipline of philosophy, the opportunity to discover, articulate and implement the secular social PLAN. ‘Modern’ Liberalism, socialism, and Marxism are expressions of the Enlightenment Project. Comte was the master-planner. Needless to say, none of these secular plans has worked, and you could make the case that they made the social world worse off.

However, if there is no God who guarantees the PLAN, why think there is any kind of PLAN? There might even be some kind of predictable order but why think the order is disposed toward human benefit? The physical scientists keep changing the description of the physical order and the alleged social scientists offer thinly veiled private agendas.

J.J. Rousseau comes to the rescue. There is no plan, nothing for reason to discover. All alleged plans are rationalizations of the status quo by its beneficiaries involving the exploitation of the victims. The most we can hope for is to recover our lost innocence, the world before the “Fall.”

In place of an autonomous reason, we find an autonomous will that does not know avarice, shame, or guilt. The autonomous self is pure free will. This primacy of will is not only independence from the body but it is independent of a suspect and instrumental reason. We can achieve a pure social harmony simply by willing the community into existence and outlining the conditions that will sustain it. Those conditions are the alleged condition of the ideal ancient world, a world of roughly equal small farmers in an agrarian community.

2. The Jacobin improvisation (Robespierre and St. Just)

3. The Babouvist crystallization; all leading up to the emergence of economic communism on the one hand, and to the synthesis of popular sovereignty and single-party dictatorship on the other. Property: the bourgeois struggle against feudal privilege was transformed into the proletarian demand for security. [Equality before the law and of opportunity become equality of result]

Many of us have been concerned about (a) the ‘deterioration’ of classical liberalism into modern liberalism (socialism, Marxism) and (b) the evolution of the latter into woke culture and worse. It is my claim that Talmon’s thesis in Totalitarian Democracy explains both as the result of the French Enlightenment (especially Cartesianism and Rousseau) misunderstanding of English liberalism in the 18th-century or its transposition into a French intellectual context. Given my own scholarship you can see why I would agree.

Curiously, it was the Francophile Englishman Bentham who took the French misrepresentation of historic English liberalism, something Bentham dismissed along with English jurisprudence, turned it into the abstraction of utilitarianism, and fed it back into the Anglo-American context. As Hayek pointed out, it was Bentham who introduced into Britain the desire to remake the whole of her law and institutions on rational principles.

Dicey, in Lectures on the Relation Between Law and Public Opinion in England During the Nineteenth Century, claimed that Bentham was responsible for turning liberalism from a protection against outside interference into government intervention (social technology). “The patent opposition between the individualistic liberalism of 1830 and the democratic socialism of 1905 conceals the heavy debt owed by English collectivists to the utilitarian reformer. From Benthamism the socialists of to-day have inherited a legislative dogma, a legislative instrument and a legislative tendency…. The dogma is the celebrated principle of utility.”

Almost all of subsequent political philosophy in the Anglo-American world (including libertarianism, classical liberalism, modern liberalism, socialism, and Marxism) has been a reflection of Bentham’s wrong turn, and, I would argue has been an enabler of the gradual deterioration of liberty.

Chapter 1: Natural Order

Natural Order lays out what I have called the Enlightenment Project by examining the works of Helvetius, Holbach, Condorcet and Morelly’s Code de la Nature. This was a clear deviation from Montesquieu’s policy of looking for previous historical French practice. Condorcet specifically criticized the U.S. for being evolutionary instead of revolutionary.

Chapter 2: The Social Pattern and Freedom

The “General Will” is a Cartesian concept—everyone can discover it with the right method. Hence, education has political implications that are totalitarian: you are not free to deny, ignorantly, or undermine the General Will. The Individual gives way to the legislator.

Chapter 3: Rousseau

[General will = what we would all want if we had all the information and interpreted it correctly; since it is something we “will” we can choose to make it universally harmonious and absorb the total cost no matter what the consequences or unintended consequences.]

The General Will allows Self-consciousness to become social consciousness [Comte, the founder of sociology, will assert subsequently that the advance of science leads to the substitution of a “We think” epistemology for an “I think” epistemology, and therefore to the discovery of social laws.]

The General Will morphs into the idea of a classless society. [Whereas, Hume and Smith posited sympathy as a way we could understand the “other,” for Rousseau sympathy permits a complete identification with the other or the subsumption of self-interest into social interest]. The political implication is that we do not need representatives of individual and factional interests but leaders who understand the people as a collective whole (do away with the Senate, with the electoral college, with the filibuster).

[Allow me to interject here. One of the perennial concerns within advocates of liberal thought has been the historical transition from classical liberalism (protect the individual from government control) to modern liberalism (all rights come from the government). This transition and the further transition from liberalism to socialism/Marxism is precisely what Talmon is addressing and explaining. The explanation of the transition is the failure to understand that classical liberalism is the product of historical practice and not theory. You cannot theorize practice or theorize the relation of theory to practice because there is no underlying structure or social laws.

This is exactly what led J.S. Mill, an early fan of Comte, to condemn Comtism as a form of totalitarianism. Moreover, the attempt to provide a ‘theory’ of liberalism inevitably leads to the postulation of clever abstractions from which anything can be derived or rationalized. Once anything goes, the door has been opened to utopianism, messianism, to fraud, to the self-serving pretense of expertise, the rationalization of the worst human excesses, etc.

Perhaps the most interesting example of all this is the most boring and overrated book on political thought produced in the last half of the 20th-century, Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Rawls thought he was theorizing liberalism – of whose history he was ignorant—by imaging a thought experiment in which we ignore everything that is true of individuals and focus only on what is allegedly true of all of us—assuming it to be harmonious. Does this sound familiar? It’s Rousseau Deja vu. Rawls convinces himself that this leads to the priority of liberty only to find that his book has become the celebrated classic of socialism. See, for example, Piketty. Rawls expiated his guilt by writing a later book Political Liberalism but the damage had been done and nobody cared or listened.]

Chapter 4: Property
Rousseau and others believed in some quite limited form of private property and none foresaw the tremendous increase in wealth that would be created by the industrial revolution. At this time, Morelly was the only consistent communist foreseeing an egalitarian social harmony thru state-controlled asceticism. We should all learn to live on less [and perhaps make sacrifices for the environment].

[One of the things that has forestalled the growth of socialism has been the vast improvements in the standard of living since the last half of the 19th-century. Socialism gets a new lease on life with the advent of alleged threats to the climate by pollution.]

Part II: Jacobin Improvisation

Chapter 1—Revolution of 1789—Sieyes. Talmon reiterates his contention on the replacement of tradition by abstract reason (p. 69): “There is no respect in this attitude for the wisdom the ages, the accumulated, half-conscious experience and instinctive ways of a nation. It shows no awareness of the fact that truly rationalist criteria of truth and untruth do not apply to social phenomena and that what exists is never the result of error, accident or vicious contrivance alone, but is a pragmatic product of conditions, slow, unconscious adjustment, and only partly of deliberate planning” (p. 71). [A tradition or an inheritance is a fertile source of adaptation- Oakeshott].

Sieyes criticized the British Constitution as a gothic superstition. He reflected the contradiction between: an absolutist doctrinaire temperament, revolutionary coercion, egalitarian centralism, a homogeneous nation vs. Lockean private property.

Chapter 2—Robespierre exemplifies the psychology of the neurotic egotist who must impose his will or wallow in an ecstasy of self-pity. He was led to believe that the General Will needs objective truth embodied in the enlightened few to which the actual count of votes takes second place. [Rigged elections may better reflect the “General Will”?]

Chapter 3Road from democracy to tyranny by way of the totalitarian -democratic vanguard in a plebiscitary regime.

Anglo-American liberty: defend personal freedom from government; French: defend revolutionary government from factions; Create the conditions for a true expression of the popular will; Outlaw political parties => one party.

Redefinition: Liberty = a substantive set of values and not just the absence of restraint = equality in fraternity [liberty, equality, and fraternity]. Denunciation of those who disagree or criticize [canceled] and a ban on the slightest difference of opinion and sentiment.

[Since the “general will” is something we ‘will’ and is not a discovery or an alleged truth that can be refuted or disconfirmed, any fact that is incompatible with the ‘general will’ must be censored in the interest of social harmony—think Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four]

Chapter 4—Saint Just.

Chapter 5—The Social Problem.

Basic inconsistency on private property.

THE great dividing line between the two major schools of social and economic thought in the last two centuries has been the attitude to the basic problem: should the economic sphere be considered an open -ended human initiative, skill, resources, with the State intervening only occasionally to fix the most general and liberal rules of the game, to help those who have fallen by the wayside, to punish those guilty of foul play and to succour the victims thereof; OR should the totality of resources and human skill be ab initio treated as something that should be deliberately shaped and directed, in accordance with a definite principle; could men be educated in a socially integrated system as to· act on motives different from those prevailing in the competitive system?

Robespierre and Saint-Just felt themselves moved to integral planning in accordance with a definite principle—the idea that the needs of the poor were the focus and foundation stone of the social edifice [woke focus on African Americans, women, and gender issues.]

Babeuf and nineteenth-century successors of Jacobinism up to 1848, was in its defiant tone—new and upon a totally different plane from the right to [pursuit of] happiness of Locke and the fathers of the American Constitution, as well as from the right to social assistance. Equality—limit amount of property, abolish bequest; everyone works.

Part III: The Babouvist Crystallization

Chapter 1: Lessons of the Revolution

No social peace between the two classes was possible. Babeuf embodied:

  • Deep personal misery
  • Messianic longings
  • Passion for self-dramatization
  • Intoxicated with words
  • The declasse

Philipe Buonarroti—high priest of egalitarian communism in Europe.

Chapter 2: Babouvist Social Doctrine

  • The state and not the unfettered mind of the individual is the source of social as well as moral progress.
  • Paradox: individualist basis of the collectivist philosophy.
  • Logically: [Cartesian] starting point should be an a priori principle or some purpose outside and above man’s will [Rousseau].
  • History: the moment of the violation of original equality (acquisitive spirit) and restoration at some preordained future hour.
  • Refusal to see the desire to increase wealth as an impulse for a higher culture; wealth is never a reward for merit.
  • Existing society is a superstructure deliberately built by avarice to secure a reign of pillage.
  • Merchants are engaged in a permanent conspiracy against the consumer class.

Silent civil war: (Bourgeois and aristocratic Republic vs. popular and democratic Republic). Call for a general strike to paralyze society [riots?].
French Revolution is the beginning of an apocalyptic hour in mankind’s history [tear down statues]. It reduces the standard of living by persuasion [climate change]. Destroys personal ambition. No police or prisons or trials (p. 195). [Woke Agenda: cancel culture, indoctrination (masks?), participation trophies, no grades, affirmative action, no cash bail, etc.]

Chapter 3: The Plot.
The Left had no proper organization [it never does and hence falls prey to gangsters; Stalin assassinates Trotsky, etc. Talmon, Hoffer, and Oakeshott all distinguish between those who are recruited as the ‘downtrodden’ and those who are the leaders or spokespersons for the ‘downtrodden’. Hoffer describes them as having “the vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless” (p. 15); Oakeshott maintains “the task of leadership … what his followers took to be a genuine concern for their salvation was in fact nothing more than the vanity of the almost selfless”.]

Chapter 4: Democracy and Dictatorship

  • Constitution “would be framed in such clear, detailed and precise definitions that no diverse interpretations, sophisms, ambiguities or caviling would be possible” (p. 201). [You cannot construct an artificial language without using an historical natural language; you cannot introduce a new set of practices without presupposing the old practices; reinforces Talmon’s point that the human/social world cannot be understood independent of its history; replacing the past requires either a knowledge of the past or a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the past.]
  • Poor have no time or wealth to attend meetings or get information [or voter ids]
  • Democracy is a stage beyond republicanism [democracy is not a procedural norm but a substantive norm—hence all those people who precede the word with an adjective]
  • Babeuf evolves from a believer in reconciliation to a partisan of class struggle
  • Plebiscitary, direct democracies the precondition of dictatorship or dictatorship in disguise; full unanimity = imposition of a single will = part of the vanguard [imagine the US with all voting done without parties and directly through individual computers serviced and counted by Silicon Valley]
  • Vacillate between violent coup OR educate the masses
  • Eliminate opposition and engage in intensive education and propaganda [Facebook]

Chapter 5: Structure of the Conspiracy
Masses were to be won over by distribution of spoils (p. 228) – [encouraged and allowed to sack stores in downtown shopping district]

Chapter 6: Ultimate Scheme

Unanimity, spiritual cohesion, and economic communism

  • Babavoist: virtue, democracy, and communist equality
  • Certificate of “civisme” (p. 234) to participate [Chinese evaluation of individual citizens]
  • Zbigniew Brzeziński, former national security advisor to President Carter, put it in his 1968 book, Between Two Ages, America’s Role in the Technotronic Era: “The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen.”
  • Immense body of civil servants
  • Evils that flow from refinement in the arts
  • No claim for pre-eminence

Arts and science become social functions and instrument for evoking collective experiences [academy awards on TV].


“All the emphasis came to be placed on the destruction of inequalities, on bringing down the privileged to the level of common humanity [wealth tax; opposition to the flat tax; Obama’s statement that “you did not build that”], and on sweeping away all intermediate centers of power and allegiance, whether social classes, regional communities, professional groups or corporations. [eliminate parental input into public education; outlaw home schooling]. Nothing was left to stand between man and state” (p. 250).Two policies: repression of those who objected and re-education

This is an extreme individualism: [individuals behind Rawls “veil of ignorance”]—individuals without history. The Intellectual as rootless cosmopolitan. [Destroy the history and then re-educate within the new mythos; 1619 Project.]

Political Messianism spent itself in Western Europe soon after 1870 and then moved to its natural home in Russia (generations of repression and the pre-disposition of the Slavs to Messianism).

Volume II: 19th century Europe, Volume III: 20th-century Europe [Talmon did not foresee in the 1950s the resurgence in the Western World.]

Addendum: Tocqueville

Equality and freedom do not develop in a proportional relationship. Especially in a democratic society, “Among these nations equality preceded freedom; equality was therefore a fact of some standing when freedom was still a novelty; the one had already created customs, opinions, and laws belonging to it when the other, alone and for the first time, came into actual existence. Thus the latter was still only an affair of opinion and of taste while the former had already crept into the habits of the people, possessed itself of their manners, and given a particular turn to the smallest actions in their lives.”

Therefore, although people in democratic countries love freedom by nature, their passion for equality is even more difficult to stop. “they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery.” It is precisely because of his admiration of freedom that Tocqueville inherited Constant’s idea that the democratic system may be transformed into a tyranny of despotism, and described it as “Tyranny of the majority”. In his opinion, the dangers that democracy can produce are: on the one hand, there is the tendency of anarchism, which has been widely discussed; on the other hand, the tyranny of the majority, [or as Mill would say those who claim to speak on behalf of the majority]; that is, the stifling of individual freedom by absolute authority. Compared with the former, the latter is more severe.

Tocqueville believes that autocracy is what scares people the most in the democratic era. How to effectively guarantee freedom in a democratic society is the core issue of Tocqueville’s American democratic outlook. Combined with the actual investigation of American society, he proposed to implement a series of measures such as federalism, separation of powers, local autonomy, and freedom of the press in a democratic society to ensure freedom and prevent Tyranny of the majority.

In the Anglo-American world since he 18th-century it used to be the case that the press was a place where public opinion in all of its varieties could be voiced. French intellectuals have always believed that it was their responsibility to form or to construct public opinion.

Nicholas Capaldi is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans.

Featured image: “The execution of Robespierre and his supporters on 28 July 1794.” Artist unknown.

The Leftist Mind


Significant and noticeable changes have occurred in the U.S. in our culture, institutions, and political practice since the 2020 election. These changes reflect features of what I identify as the leftist mindset.

In what follows, the “leftist” mind will refer to anyone who advocates an all-powerful government with the potential to manage all other societal institutions. That management is to be carried out allegedly by experts trained in the social sciences, not by any individual or class or special interest group or leaders of another institution like religious ones, etc.

My explanation will identify four reasons why the leftist view has become a permanent feature of the modern political landscape and why it remains popular despite its consistent record of economic failure and often mass genocide.

The first reason is psychological. It is natural for humans to wish for immortality and perennial happiness.

A second reason is historical: The Enlightenment Project (EP) originated a belief that social science, not religion or some other institution, can help us achieve perennial happiness, if not immortality.

The third reason is the theory and practice of the leftist mindset, specifically the semantic barbed-wire or defense mechanism that has been constructed to protect this mindset from external challenge. That is, I shall identify the logical structure of the arguments that need to be advanced for the Project (EP) to be taken seriously.

The fourth part will show the extent to which the practices of democracy helps to sustain the leftist mind.

The Human Predicament: The Desire To Live Happily Ever After

The leftist mind will always be with us. If there is universal truth about humanity it is the desire to flourish indefinitely or to live happily forever. Every society from the least sophisticated to the most sophisticated has its “witch doctors” who claim the ability to help us do just that. Even some of those who commit suicide reflect this truth since living under present conditions of finitude for these individuals is unbearable and they see suicide as leading to some sort of better afterlife or at least permanent relief from the pain they are currently enduring.

Many religions, Christianity in particular, have responded to this need by promising to help us achieve immortality, but its promissory note is for the “next” life. Even the agnostic wisdom literature designed to reconcile us to mortality would not be so robust if there were not a powerful basic impulse to live happily ever after. To the extent that people wish to live happily “ever after” there will always be a market for or an audience receptive to any promised policy or remedy for the human predicament.

At the other extreme, if you adopt a totally reductive materialistic account of humanity in which we are all only members of an animal species struggling to survive in a zero-sum world, then there are no objective moral constraints. In such a world, there will always be cynical fraudsters who will seek to exploit human gullibility. To quote an old folksong, “it is better to be a hammer than a nail.”

Recent advances in medical science have only reinforced the urgency of the human predicament. Life expectancy has increased dramatically. There is no scientific reason to date to believe that medical science will stop making advances and perhaps enable some version of “immortality.” It is precisely at this point that leftists enter the debate. The first item on their agenda is state/government control of healthcare.

Control Healthcare

If the desire to live happily forever is as fundamental as I think it is, then guaranteed healthcare is the top item on the leftist agenda. Given even the present state of advances in medical technology, there is already not enough money to provide everything to everybody (“Affordable Care Act” is unaffordable). This means that government must either ration care or be given a blank check and potentially unlimited power. The blank check requires political leaders to raise taxes (the government does not have any resources other than a printing press at the Treasury Department).

Increasing the national debt (average person does not really understand this, and the rest of us may have ungrateful children anyway) is the first step; raising taxes on the “rich” is the second step, and this in turn leads to increasing class warfare. Class warfare gets redefined as equity, inclusion, etc. and entails controlling education so everyone understands the new definitions. Such warfare might lead to serious armed resistance, so confiscating weapons is the next priority. The confiscation is justified on the grounds that guns not people – who are born naturally good (see below)– are responsible for mass homicides.

The Enlightenment Project – A Social Technology

Of course, living longer and living happily ever after are not the same. Nevertheless, advances in medical science are part of a trend that has emboldened the leftist mind. Modern physical science has given us a technology that allows us to control much of the physical world. The leftist (post-Enlightenment) thinking is that there must be a social science(s) that can give us a comparable social technology.

The “Enlightenment” is a term used broadly to refer to the intellectual and social ferment in Western Europe during the eighteenth century. Our intention is not to generalize about this entire period but to identify a specific, salient project that we shall call the Enlightenment Project. The Enlightenment Project is a program to define and explain the human predicament through science as well as to achieve mastery over it through the use of a social technology. Becker claims that the dream of a technological utopia is the common inheritance of liberals, socialists, and Marxists.

This project originated among the philosophes in France in the eighteenth century. The most influential included Diderot, d’Alembert, La Mettrie, Condillac, Helvetius, d’Holbach, Turgot, Condorcet, Cabanis, and Voltaire.

Isaiah Berlin characterizes the Project as follows: “The conviction that the world, or nature, was a single whole, subject to a single set of laws, in principle discoverable by the intelligence of man; that the laws which governed inanimate nature were in principle the same as those which governed plants, animals and sentient beings; that man was capable of improvement; that there existed certain objectively recognizable human goals which all men, rightly so described, sought after, namely, happiness, knowledge, justice, liberty… that these goals were common to all men as such…that human misery, vice and folly were mainly due to ignorance either of what these goals consisted in or of the means of attaining them-ignorance due in turn to insufficient knowledge of the laws of nature. . . Consequently, the discovery of general laws that governed human behaviour, their clear and logical integration into scientific systems-of psychology, sociology, economics, political science and the like. . . create a new, sane, rational, happy, just and self-perpetuating human society, which, having arrived at the peak of attainable perfection, would preserve itself against all hostile influences, save perhaps those of nature.” Voegelin identified the EP as one of the historical forms of Gnosticism.

Theory And Practice

The logical consequences of this Enlightenment belief system are:

  1. If there are such experts, then all former traditional centers of authority (family, religion) and all symbols of past authority (e.g. statues, holidays) need to be replaced.
  2. If there are such experts, then there will be a consensus on policy. Those who disagree reflect ignorance, cultural lag, or subversive elements in society. Subversives will sometimes pretend to be whistleblowers.
    • Ignorance and cultural lag can be overcome with patience, re-education programs, or psychological counselling (e.g., sensitivity training).
    • Subversion may require more stringent measures such as public shaming, firing people, reassignment, or institutional restraint (imprisonment).
  3. Educational institutions will be run by experts, not by parents.
  4. All public media (news, social media, etc.) will be censored to insure the public is properly informed. This is not a matter of information but of judgments about the relevance and interpretation of the information. Given how complicated the world is, only properly educated and full-time experts are in a position to make these judgments.
  5. Elections should be positive events and not divisive ones: Consensus building, public reaffirmations, confirmation of public support, etc. Having a single political party (with the most college graduates) will be a sign of such a successful endeavor.
  6. Political and legal institutions (in fact all institutions) will be run by bureaucratic experts who possess theoretical knowledge of the collective good. There is no longer any need for brokering interests in an adversarial atmosphere.

In addition to the call for experts and censorship, the Project impliedly led directly to a destruction of traditional Christian values. Christianity had wisely and traditionally maintained that human beings were complex beings endowed with free will and with destructive tendencies (original sin) as well as wholesome ones. One does not have to accept a particular theology or philosophy to believe this – one could just use one’s own experience or your own eyes.

Advocates of the EP identified this belief as a false one perpetrated upon the ignorant and designed to maintain control over them. In its place, the EP advocates were led to maintain that human beings are born (fundamentally) good, and either (a) obstacles to their natural goodness could be removed (classical liberalism) or (b) they could be provided with the resources (redistribution) to express their natural goodness (modern liberalism, socialism, Marxism).

It was no accident that freedom in the modern world came to be defined negatively, in its most popular version, as the absence of external constraints. In an analogous way, rationality could seemingly be promoted by removing obstacles such as the belief in religion, authority, custom, or tradition. No seemingly dysfunctional person would be left behind. This has the added benefit of reinforcing the progressive-scientific story by providing a naturalistic account of why it has taken so long to arrive at the super-rationalism of the Enlightenment.

Given the economic and social challenges of the modern world, it seemed to many of those impatient to alter the status quo that a wholesale rejection of authority, tradition, and the religious institutions that seemed to support the status quo was the quickest way to achieve reform; hence, the enthusiasm for a liberated (contextless, ahistorical, purely theoretical) reason. Since traditional institutions had justified themselves on the grounds that they embody a certain wisdom about human shortcomings, theories about the natural goodness of human nature seem doubly attractive to critics of the status quo.

Part of the problem with parents, grand-parents, and older people in general (lol) is that they not only failed to produce a utopia but they found excuses for their failure by citing books that no one reads anymore (Plato to Orwell), by pointing to human imperfection and by claiming that custom reflected the experience of failed utopian dreams. That is why “properly” educated young people will be the vanguard of progress.

The University Becomes The Home Of The Enlightenment Project

Universities emerged during the Middle Ages as both repositories of human wisdom and training institutions for the intellectual and moral elite, namely the clergy. They still claim this role, but the elite are now civil servants trained in the alleged social sciences.

How did all of this come about? Historically the American university emerged in the 19th century from a variety of sources: Religious affiliation, local communities, and private benefactors. The university consisted of factions with competing paradigms. The oldest paradigm is epitomized in Newman, and originated in the small liberal arts college with a religious affiliation: The traditional purpose of liberal education was to preserve, critique, and to transmit our cultural inheritance, to pursue knowledge and to foster a sense of liberty and responsibility. To subordinate itself to the outside world, the university would only compromise itself and become an instrument for commercial or political exploitation.

A second paradigm is the German research model with its emphasis on the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, the graduate school and the training of professionals. Knowledge should not be in the service of special interest groups because knowledge knows no political boundaries. The spectacular success of this model in physical science and technology encouraged government subvention.

The third paradigm is utilitarian: The university is seen as an institution for solving various and sundry social problems. It exists as a means to social ends defined externally to the university itself. The notion of the college graduate as a civil servant evolved into the notion of a special class which aims to run society.

Newman’s moral model of the university has been marginalized (Honors Program), the research model has been corrupted (e.g., hundreds of Western epidemiologists sign a statement denying that covid-19 came from a Wuhan laboratory – and they know this how?) and coopted through government financing, and the politicized utilitarian model has triumphed. The intellectual origin of this triumph lies in the Enlightenment Project.

In theory, governing boards exist to represent the interests of taxpayer citizens in public universities and the original intent of philanthropists in private universities. In practice, the boards of universities tend to “rubber-stamp” policy actions generated by university administrations and faculties. There is little effective external control on the internal authorities that run educational institutions. Government funding of private universities has now reached the point where there are virtually no universities that could be described as “private.” More important, the feudal guild system of academic disciplines operates in both systems so that the same people circulate from one to the other.

We have witnessed the collapse of the distinction between public and private education. The university is an industry in which those who consume its product do not purchase it; those who produce it do not sell it; and those who finance it do not control it. Is there any wonder that faculties offer the sort of product they themselves derive most pleasure in supplying – a product which need not meet the desires or the needs of those for whom it is produced?

Because of the vast expansion of universities in the 1960s, all standards have been eroded, and the ethos of what it means to be a responsible faculty member has been lost. These newer faculties now control the commanding heights of all other institutions because the faculties are the gatekeepers of all professions, including the clergy! Even culture has been professionalized. Academic freedom (and creativity) have been replaced by a new politicized orthodoxy.

There are two sources for the current state of degradation: The domination of higher education by a faction with a social and political agenda (EP); and second, the addiction to financing education through increased reliance and ultimate dependence upon local, state, and federal governments. These two sources work in tandem because the political agenda construes social life as a series of problems beyond the control of individuals and capable of solution only through a statist controlled social technology. It is easier, more remunerative, and more prestigious to get a government grant than to teach summer school; it is easier to get a government grant if the purpose of your research is to show that we need more government subvention and control.

Voting the bums out and changing administrations through elections is important. But, if we do not seriously reform the university – the problems will never go away. When in the minority, leftist faculty demand toleration/academic freedom on our principles, and when in the majority they deny it on theirs.

The Logic Of The Left

There are serious problems with the EP. First, the social sciences are not in fact sciences. They neither explain, nor predict, nor offer any serious social technology.

When the physical sciences explain, they do so by identifying a substructure (not immediately visible to the naked eye like atoms, molecules, microbes, black holes, etc.). That substructure is later accessed often through sophisticated equipment. The alleged social sciences claim there is a substructure but they never produce it (e.g. how does one confirm the presence of “institutional racism?” Numerical “disparities” are not explanations of themselves.). Instead of a cumulative growth as in the physical sciences, we get an endless series of fashionable terminologies (psycho-babble).

The alleged social sciences offer competing accounts with no way to determine which, if any, is correct. And it gets worse from there. Competing hidden structure theories offer second level hidden structure accounts of why rivals disagree. This undermined any possibility of civil discussion. For example, If I deny the existence of “institutional racism” that becomes evidence in the eyes of some that I am a “racist.” What the left now insists upon is that all people will be judged on the basis of their race – this is what racism used to mean, but now it means just the opposite. It is precisely this kind of self-contradictory and illegitimate intellectual maneuver that allows the alleged social technocrats to undermine all traditional sources of authority. There are good reasons to study the social world, and there may be some insightful historical narratives, but such narratives are not and should not be presented as science.

There is a peculiar menace associated with the hyper-rationalism of this alleged social science. It is not rational precisely because it does not recognize any realistic or meaningful limits. It dissolves the difference between a potentially efficacious restraint and the cynical employment of violence. It encourages violence, that is, force intended to hurt or to damage others. It becomes more focused on resentment of the rich than on love of the poor. By delegitimating protest, it undermines the very possibility of human communication. Perhaps it was not an accident that the title of B.F. Skinner’s book was Beyond Freedom and Dignity.

Aside from their intellectual bankruptcy, the alleged social sciences are incapable of providing a liberal education: to preserve, to critique, and to transmit our cultural inheritance, to pursue knowledge and to foster a sense of liberty and responsibility. The present faculty deny the legitimacy of our cultural inheritance. Moreover, our cultural inheritance is not simply a body of knowledge about which one can theorize. That inheritance (a series of practices with many voices not just one) is something that has to be instantiated and imparted. It is not, and should not be, found in only one institution. The study of the liberal arts and obtaining a degree does not make one either a decent human being or even wise.

An example of make-believe social science is the recent discussion of “race.” Terms like “white,” “black,” “yellow,” etc. have a long history that reflects historical accident, private agendas, different social, economic, and political circumstances. In the nineteenth century, some biologists tried to make “race” a meaningful physical science concept. They failed. The term “race” is a social construct, but that raises the question is it a useful construct and to whom. Nowadays, the author of White Fragility has tried to turn “white” into a meaningful social science concept. This too has failed and merely reflects a political agenda. I predict that it will someday be as embarrassing as racial biology.

Second, are human beings to be understood as mechanisms, organic (teleological) entities, or something else? If we are mechanisms (stimulus/response) then we can be reprogrammed. But on what basis would we decide to program people? Are not the choices/decisions of the programmers themselves the result of prior programming? This kind of proposed social technology requires the alleged social scientists to be the only ones (special kind of elite) who are truly free from outside control. The original purveyors of this kind of irresponsible intellectual position (Comte and Marx) tried to evade this criticism by claiming that historical progress led to this immaculate emancipation – unfortunately, this is just another level of question-begging social science ad infinitum [it just did not happen].

The denial of free will absolves all responsibility. In a world in which everyone is a victim, there is no one to blame. But blaming some target is essential to the leftist mindset. This is not a fact (what kind of experience or empirical evidence would constitute proof that we are totally the result of external influences?) but an assumption to justify a policy. For example, it is sometime said that “there is no teaching if there is no learning,” thereby putting the entire onus for failure on the teacher and none on the student or the parents of the student, etc. This can then lead either to a wholesale replacement of the faculty or to intimidating the faculty. Most of what passes for policy is not a solution to a problem but a policy in search of a problem, that is, either a “solution” to a problem that does not exist or it leaves the real problem untouched or unrecognized.

If we were organic entities, then we would have built in goals. All of these goals would have to be part of a consistent whole with a master goal? How would you prove that? Does this really square with our daily experience of having to resolve conflict by making hard but not happy choices? For example, the left has always had trouble dealing with sexual taboos. It is neither semantically nor realistically possible to “choose” everything. Do we want to grant that there are experts who “know” what we “really” want as opposed to what we think or say we want?

Ironically, the left does not solve problems by actually producing a social technology. Instead, it uses other means. For example, it uses the new physical technology (wire-taps, social media, control of news outlets, rigging of elections, etc.) both to silence dissent and to create the impression that there is a real social consensus.

The new technocrats also solve problems by redefinition. If there is a numerical disparity (e.g. larger percentage of one group in prison than their percentage of the population), we change the numbers by emptying the prisons. Problem solved! We can eliminate incarceration by “reducing” crime (or statistics thereof), by reducing the list of forbidden activities or not prosecuting people (think of drug dealers as “unlicensed” pharmacists). If there is an unequal distribution of income, then redistribute it through taxation, by the government of course. If student achievement shows disparity or if previous leftist policies lead to an overall decline in performance, then eliminate grading or assessment (or alternatively just assess the graders). Eliminating standards merely reinforces stereotypes and feeds the anxiety of an inferiority complex.

Since we now can define crime out of existence there is no need for a police force. Hence, we can defund the police department. This is not the reduction in the number of public employees (real police confront evil on a daily basis), but the prelude to hiring a different group of people (who deny the existence of evil) to address social issues. It’s all about the personnel or getting one’s own people in there.

Perhaps it is now time to redefine “social” technology. Social technology is the creation of a bureaucratic structure, both formal and informal, to reprogram public attitudes. The formal structure will include such things as revitalized public-employee unions, a new kind of police presence (we need to get rid of “force”), only hiring public service bureaucrats who believe in the program, etc.

The informal structure will embody many of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The execution of Alinsky’s rules requires the use of “shock troops.” This has, for a variety of historical reasons, become the assigned role primarily of vulnerable African-Americans. One of the saddest aspects of this entire charade is the way in which African–Americans continue to be treated in a patronizing and condescending way.

  1. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.” Translation: You are not allowed to challenge anything an African-American says about race (Black Privilege of playing the race card) because you are incapable of understanding “their” world; never engage in polite rule-governed debate; use late-night comedy TV shows for character assassination, fake news, cancel culture, cyber bullying, accosting officials in public places such as restaurants, restrooms, etc.
  2. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Translation: Carefully planned and executed public demonstrations, small scale riots, looting, burnings preferably confined to low-income African-American neighborhoods or down-town high profile shopping areas rather than “white” middle-class residential neighborhoods.
  3. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Translation: Demonize Donald Trump; the “white” male; the top 2% of income earners, etc.
    • This is actually the Achilles heel of the leftist mindset. To begin with, a negative narrative is never as effective as a positive one. A negative narrative is also inconsistent with the assumption that people are born good and corrupted by their environment because that implies no one is to blame. On the other hand, given the absence of any positive achievement (redistribution never leads to the transmission of wealth from the rich to the poor; instead it leads to the destruction of wealth and to the transfer of power from the individual to the state [de Jouvenel]), the blame game is all they have.
    • More to the point, the blamers reflect the fact that there are chronic non-achievers: “The emergence of this disposition to be an individual is the pre-eminent event in modern European history… there were some people, by circumstance or by temperament, less ready than others to respond… the counterpart of the… entrepreneur of the sixteenth century was the displaced laborer… the familiar anonymity of communal life was replaced by a personal identity which was burdensome… it bred envy, jealousy and resentment… a new morality… not of ‘liberty’ and ‘self-determination,’ but of ‘equality’ and ‘solidarity’… not… the ‘love of others’ or ‘charity’ or…’benevolence’…but… the love of ‘the community’ [common good]… [the anti-individual or mass man] remains an unmistakably derivative character… helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality… [only] The desire of the ‘masses’ to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge” [Oakeshott]. Obama’s claim that “you did not build that” was the clearest expression of the attempt to undermine the prestige of real achievers.
  4. “A good tactic is one your people [leftist activists] enjoy.” Translation: Enlist students to execute the rules since for them it is fun and games, an exciting form of bonding, meeting potential people to date, and a chance to do something to change the world without serious study (you might even be excused from a boring class or demanding exam).
  5. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” Translation: Use demonstrations to provoke police overreaction and then claim that the establishment is engaged in repression; make the public believe that you are playing by the rules when you really intend to subvert the system; claim that you want to be part of the system when what you really want is to change the system altogether.

Political Democracy And The Leftist Mindset

“Democracy” simply means majority rule. It is a form of government in which any majority (e.g. the bottom 51%) has the potential to mistreat or rip-off the other 49%. You can be exploited by one, the few, or the many. Almost every major writer from the ancients to the early 19th-century condemned democracy. That is why the U.S. founders created a “Republic” designed to minimize conflict, not pretend to eliminate it altogether. The standard tactic of all leftist demagogues has always been to insist on more democratization. Democratization is not just about extending the franchise (one of my feminist students repeatedly refused to answer me when I asked who was allowed to vote and thereby to pass the 19th Amendment- most likely because acknowledging that white males passed the 19th Amendment did not fit her narrative).

As de Tocqueville, Mill and others pointed out, democratization is an attack on meritocracy and the elevation of mediocrity. The major theoretical question for the U.S. is whether a Republic and a meritocratic culture are compatible with a democratic society (social mobility/not a permanent class structure). The left, as I have defined it, wants greater government control of every institution. To achieve this in a democratic society you need to persuade the majority that meritocracy is a fraud and a form of oppression. That is why the left focuses on community organizers to fabricate a “majority” composed of the resentful, willing to endorse an all-powerful government. Among these are “race hustlers” who are often no better than Jews who served the Nazi atrocities.

To date, advocates of a meritocratic culture (self-interest rightly understood) have prevailed because of (1) the unprecedented achievements of the U.S. economy (e.g. covid-19 vaccines – why is it that the U.S. economy under Trump produced three, the UK one, and the rest of the world nothing worth mentioning?); (2) the achievements of the meritocrats have grown the pie for everyone; and (3) the continuous failures of government controlled economies.

For the left to prevail, it will be necessary to cobble together a majority composed of all those who think or have been persuaded to think that the U.S. meritocracy is a wholesale fraud (African-Americans, radical feminists, recent migrants from failed nation-states who want to move to the US but have no understanding of why the US is different). There are two versions of this:

  • Replace one meritocracy with a “better” one (perhaps redefine achievement).
  • Give up on meritocracy all together. In this version, the “spoils” are divided up by spokespersons for the various voter constituencies.

The politicians who exemplify or endorse the outlook of the left are not to be confused with intellectuals, academics, social scientists, journalists or anyone who really believes in or articulates the leftist mindset (at best, the latter may serve as bureaucrats).

These particular politicians have a different skill set and mentality. They exhibit no outstanding intellectual accomplishments. They crave success, recognition, power, riches, etc. but lack either the talents or personality to achieve those things in real world occupations. They have no record of prior successful achievement even in political life (except for winning an election; how could they when the leftist agenda is unachievable?). They are ambitious people but without substance (a too common American trait). They are salespeople who sell dreams, in short, con-artists. The most that they can accomplish is to enrich themselves and to provide jobs for the true-believers by increasing the size of government bureaucracies. They are entrepreneurs of a sort for whom success is a matter of winning elections and maintaining themselves in power or at least gaining a sinecure in leftist institutions (universities, think tanks, nonprofits, etc.).

If seeking and holding public office were a temporary responsibility (e.g. term limits, etc.) one could rely upon integrity, and if you lose on any issue you can go back to your real life. If you are a professional or career politician, then that is your real life, and you have no alternative except to win at all costs. Failed or even disgraced leftist politicians automatically get a “pass” because their “heart was in the right place,” because they too were victims of something or other, but most of all because the leftist mindset is unable/unwilling to surrender or question the dream of utopia or its own role/responsibility for promoting the failure.

Time To Fight Back

Let me put this into historical perspective. It is no accident that so much of phony social science has focused on “race.” Western Europeans (Brits in particular), who generally had “lighter” skin color than inhabitants of sub-Sahara Africa, Asia, South America, etc., were the first to formulate and adopt the logic of modernity: The Technological Project (Descartes’ suggestion that we make humanity the masters and possessors of nature – instead of conforming to nature we control it for human betterment – this includes both modern weapons and modern medicine), market economies (Adam Smith), limited government (Locke), the rule of law, and a culture of autonomous individuality. This enabled Western Europeans to “colonize” the rest of the world. In time, the rest of the (“developing”) world gradually and painfully adopted or is in the process of adopting all or part of the Technological Project.

That same logic, especially the concept of individual autonomy (J.S. Mill), led to the discrediting of “colonization.” As noble-prize winner Naipaul has put it:

“The universal civilization has been a long time in the making. It wasn’t always universal; it wasn’t always as attractive as it is today… the extraordinary attempt of this civilization to accommodate the rest of the world, and all the currents of that world’s thought…This idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery… It is an elastic idea; it fits all men. It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. I don’t imagine my father’s parents would have been able to understand the idea. So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement… It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.”

Regardless of skin color, ethnicity, etc. people from all backgrounds, both inside and outside the U.S., have succeeded in adopting and thriving within that universal civilization. There is a mountain of statistics and narratives to support this contention, but it is egregiously ignored by purveyors of misinformation, phony social science, and fabricators of false and misleading historical narratives about slavery. Was it not the British who ended the 19th-century Atlantic slave trade?

At the same time, there are large numbers of people who either reject this civilization or are dysfunctional within it. The presumption on the part of the leftist mindset is that the dysfunction is solely the result of some kind of external conspiracy (e.g. “orientalism”) that can only be overcome by an all-powerful government is (a) question-begging, (b) self-serving, and (c) ignores the extent to which public policies advocated by the leftist mindset (e.g., welfare; see Charles Murray’s work) are themselves responsible for the problem. If things are so bad, why do so many foreign scholars of color who excoriate the West compete for academic positions in New York and London?

It seems to me to be a legitimate question to ask the following: (a) might we have to live in a world in which many people are either incapable or unwilling to become autonomous? (b) if so, should we aim for something less demanding? (c) what would it look like? (d) Is the guaranteed annual income a recognition of this problem or the creation of a permanent under-class? Shall we be defined by our “winners” or by our “losers?” I do not pretend to have final and definitive answers to those questions.

The foregoing is a conversation we must have among ourselves (if you are reading this far). There cannot be an honest conversation with the leftist mindset since its pursuit of a phony social science has led it to the land of invincible ignorance.

A Multiplicity Of Narratives

What I have just offered is not social science (there are no hidden structures) but an historical narrative. If there is a “better” narrative, then let us politely discuss both it and what you might mean by “better.” I suggest that each of us will have to ask ourselves what narrative rings true and which narrative each of us will choose to live by. In the end it will be a matter of choice and not the discovery of some hidden structure.

The leftist mindset has one more arrow in its quiver. Leftists announce with great fanfare (Lyotard) that there is not, and there can not be, one authoritative narrative. They are correct. Let me go one step further and not only endorse this claim but add to it. It is precisely because of this capacity of the human imagination that we can formulate different accounts. This is a good thing, a useful thing that accounts for the incredible creative potential of the human race.

The really important question is: What sort of social structure is most compatible with the recognition that there will probably always be a multiplicity of narratives? Curiously, the recognition of this condition is not a new or unique event. We have already been through this during the religious wars of the 17th-century and the subsequent discussion of what to do when there is a multiplicity of religious (and agnostic) narratives. Locke gave us an answer then, and it is one that still works for most of us. We tolerate any narrative that does not deny the legitimacy of other narratives and that does not impose its narrative upon others.

A free and open society in which each of us pursues our own dream without imposing on others is the only one compatible with a multiplicity of narratives. If there is no authoritative collective narrative, then there is no collective good. Without a collective good, the leftist mindset has no basis on which to promote an all-powerful government. Such a government would amount to a form of fanatical oppression. This may satisfy constituencies who seek power over others, but it will not solve any problem. The leftist mindset is intellectually bankrupt and leads only to despair.

People of substance understand that utopias are intellectual frauds, that life is a continuous and difficult balancing act, that benefits come with costs, that success is often a matter of luck, and that public service is or should be a temporary responsibility. Keeping this in mind can lead us back to hope. It can remind us that there is something worth fighting and even dying for, namely freedom.

Nicholas Capaldi is professor emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans and is the author of two books on David Hume, The Enlightenment Project in Analytic Conversation, biography of John Stuart MillLiberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rosseau to the Present, and, most recently, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The featured image shows, “Prisoners’ Round” by Vincent van Gogh; painted in 1890.

Beyond Opposition

  1. Rather than taking down the new behemoth (the vast education-media-entertainment-Big Pharma complex that controls all aspects of our lives because it has the best tools right now to build/enforce compliance), we just ignore it! We begin by establishing an independent context: social, economic, etc. not a separate political unit. We operate “within” the system but are not “of” the system. We return to Augustine’s notion of the two societies. We can fabricate symbols to show our membership (e.g., I like the flag at half-mast).
  2. Establish an independent currency (like bitcoin) impervious to governmental control. This currency can be exchanged for dollars but it retains its value and does not degenerate into toilet-paper.
  3. Establish a parallel non-politicized economy: our own social media, our own SEC, our own banks, etc. In short, we can duplicate a whole world that does business among its members who subscribe to the same principles – we do not censor or cancel! Imagine the appeal to entrepreneurs. We do not refuse to do business with THEM, but they do not define our business ethics.
  4. Establish a parallel education system – we already have one in home schooling and religious schools. We can create a whole new university system: use (buy) abandoned malls. There are plenty of retired faculty available (like myself who will literally work for free), semi-retired, about to retire, tired of participating in a charade, perhaps unemployed or employed otherwise. We need to break down the artificial barriers between practitioners and theoreticians, and we must surrender the conceit of expertise. The establishment will not recognize our degrees BUT that is irrelevant. Employers among our 100 million will. Our graduates will need to pass an exit exam showing they know the major opposing arguments of contentious public policy disputes. They will have met higher standards.
  5. Establish a parallel medical system (self-insured and nationally portable).
  6. Establish independent sports teams (whole new leagues and franchises), an alternative entertainment industry, etc. – all of it depoliticized.
  7. Establish an independent legal system that is based on mediation.
  8. Most especially, we shall need a huge legal fund to defend these proposals from the inevitable establishment lawsuits.
  9. The reader is invited to extend this list.
    Of course, I recognize that (1) all of these proposals need further elaboration; and (2) that all of these proposals are subject to corruption and hijacking. But we must start somewhere.

F. The New Politics

It is important not to continue to play the old game. Hence, there is no point in trying to reform the Republican Party. We need a new political party, one that invites former Republicans, as well as perceptive Independents and Democrats to join.

What will be its features?

  1. Political Reform Clubs everywhere – open to all –we might begin by meeting in private homes or on ZOOM and progressing from there.
  2. Within a national network of such clubs, new articulate and responsible leadership (candidates) will emerge on a continuous basis.
  3. We shall run candidates for EVERY office, Dog-catcher, school boards, district attorneys, judges, sheriffs, poll watchers, etc.—the aim is to take control of local communities and work from the bottom up.
  4. TERM LIMITS: we seek Public Service not careerists. Real achievement comes in the real world of careers, jobs, homes, schools, arts, etc. We reject the myth that politics is somehow some arcane practice. Buckley was correct when he suggested that we should prefer to be governed by the first 300 people in the “Boston Telephone Directory” than the faculty of Harvard.
  5. Litmus Test: you understand we were robbed. This is not a retreat, and it is not a surrender or form of escapism. Rather we are digging in our heels, and we are prepared to accept the burden, the responsibility, and the occasional joy of living in the Two Cities.
  6. Many are skeptical about the likely success of a third party. My reply is as follows: a. The Republican party was itself once a new party, replacing the “Whigs” perceived as no longer up to the task of dealing with the issue of slavery.
    b. Other third party movements failed because in the background was a shared set of assumptions—think Ross Perot as a better Republican rather than a new wave. There are no longer any shared assumptions.
    c. “Republicans” have rightly earned a bad name, and the party comes with baggage. Without the baggage, non-Republicans might be more receptive.
    d. Most important of all, we need fresh perspectives, new blood, an open invitation to change the political culture, buy-in from people who have abandoned active participation. We do not need a quick fix and then back to monkey-business as usual. “We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. . . Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task [that] challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. F. A. Hayek, The Intellectuals and Socialism.

Nicholas Capaldi is professor emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans and is the author of two books on David Hume, The Enlightenment Project in Analytic Conversation, biography of John Stuart MillLiberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rosseau to the Present, and, most recently, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law. This is an extract from “What is to be Done?

The featured image shows, “Powrót w rodzinne strony” [Return to the Homeland], by Jacek Malczewski; painted ca. 1911.

Nicholas Capaldi: Liberalism And The West

In this wide-ranging interview, Nicholas Capaldi, shares his ideas on liberalism and its many “fruits.” This is a riveting discussion of the current state of the world – and more importantly what can be done about it. Leading the discussion is Harrison Koehli.

The featured image shows, “Feestvierende boeren (Celebrating farmers),” by Adriaen Brouwer; painted ca. ca.1605-1638.