Flavigny the Sweet

Flavigny can pass for one of the most beautiful villages of Burgundy. Its houses of ashlar, noble, old places gnawed by lichen and moss, with the windows fashioned in the old way, surround the church at the center of the village, mounted like a crown upon a tooth. The narrow nave of the church of Saint-Genest shows vaulting of a delicate gothic style; a lace tribune connects the two lateral parts of the building. A whole battery of statues attracts the eye: the wooden monks of the stalls, the Angel of the Annunciation and the Virgin breastfeeding, with a little Jesus suckling greedily in her arms.

Downstairs, at the village gate, the seminary of the Society of St. Pius X sends out a number of young abbots who pass through the narrow streets in black cassocks, without buttons or buckles on their belts. The park where these good seminarians stroll opens onto the Alesia valley. A huge Crucifix at the end of the park dominates the view like a victory on a ship that triumphs over the horizon—the sentinel before the barbarians. We then learn that Louis de Funès participated in the renovation of part of the church and that one of the first bishops of Mosul rests in the cemetery among the sisters. At the entrance of the village, not far from the large gate of Saint Joseph, the old abbey of Saint Peter houses the confectionery, remarkable for its aniseed with exquisite perfumes: mandarin, violet, rose. The loving shepherd and the greedy shepherdess, he dowdy, she the pretty pearl, illustrate these very good sweets and never fail to charm.

There are abbeys which look like citadels in the scrubland; others are havens and border a river; the abbey of Flavigny is a castle in the countryside. These Benedictines lived happily first in Clairval, Switzerland, in the early 1970s, stemming from the Olivetan order. Then, following Dom Joly, they made their way through the peasant lands of Burgundy. No, they have not been there for a thousand years. Recently arrived, on the scale of Christianity, as if no accident of history had jostled them, they seem peaceful in their home. The abbey is housed in a former 18th century pleasure castle.

In the main street, in front of a Swiss household, owners of a black tractor, the facade of the abbey. Straight, severe, sober. A statue of Saint Joseph, another of the Holy Queen. The church is a kind of upturned ship’s hold, carved in one piece. On the polished and shiny marble floor is engraved the cross of Saint Benedict. At Compline, one can only see the cuckoo clock, as you let yourself be carried off by the wave of the Psalms in the darkness, borne by the determined voices of the monks. Then the statue of the Virgin lights up for the Salve Regina. Mary dazzled replaces the moon’s luminescence.

After crossing the courtyard of the Ursulines, where a crucifix is planted, bearing the words: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis,” the sun turning around the cross like a dial, the main building, in the heart of the abbey, shows a classical and neat façade. The stone is round and polished, the forms majestic and masterful. From the main staircase, where a magnificent Piéta is enthroned, you arrive at the refectory of the 1950s, tiled as in a hospital. Through a door, you pass from a wooded and classical sacristy to the chapter house, a former ballroom with deep mirrors and precious moldings. From the outside, the courtyard of honor has cachet, the façade has allure; a kind of grace that a classical play of the walls and high windows, as was savored during the Regency period, gives this abbey, set on this Burgundian acropolis, the appearance of a hermitage and a hunting lodge; a place of retreat from the world without austerity or pain.

A statue of the merciful Christ rises above the building. The effigy, dipped in gold, shines. In front of this main courtyard is a terrace; from the terrace, an exquisite walk leads down to the gardens. From the fruit trees, the Mirabelle plums, one passes through an alley of narrow trees to a vegetable garden, where a brood of hens lives among fields of leeks and potatoes. Further down is a bush artfully trimmed according to the laws of topiary at the level of a remarkable belvedere. And further down still, sloping paths descend into the forests. You should see the monks dressed in white, on their monastic 31, processioning on August 15 with Mary crowned. The walls are then covered with a blue sheet printed with fleur-de-lis. Long live Mary, Protector of France, Mother of priests, Guardian of our homes!

October mornings are filled with joy: a sheet of light wool spins over the valley. Out of nowhere a polished amber stone rises, rolls into the sky and spreads its golden rays from west to east. The whole village ends up embellished in yellow gold. The trees rain their leaves in the park. The leaves die with their colors more varied, more sonorous than those of life. The splendor of autumn here results from a degradation of organs from which life has withdrawn. The singing services, the bellowing of the cows below, resounds in the cells and accompanies the awake monk in falsetto.

It was not only the delicate and powdered nobility that sought to flee the city and enjoy the relaxation of the countryside, nor even the great families of the cities to escape boredom, Schifanoia, or the monarchs of Prussia to covet without care. The Benedictines too are happy here; hermits of the pastures, dead to the world and alive in the woods. They themselves in this countryside seem carefree. They are quiet, quiescent, neither hurrying nor running. We see them getting busy and then disappearing, suddenly, going underground, we don’t know; or sitting in a tractor, unloading a lot of manure and a mound of vegetables. Sometimes they wander in nature. On Thursday, day of relaxation, they go around the lakes of the region and rest. Festina lente. Saint Joseph de Clairval is about joy.

Life turns with the flavor of the seasons, without hardness nor fatigue. Matins, rings the hour, when Paris wakes up. The monks in cool, white robes, shine for God, who rejoices their sparkling youth. And the wise bent monk carries his thirty years in white. The church, immersed in a skillful ballet of light and shadow, draws frozen figures of monks for Lauds, one in white on his knees, the other in black prostrate among the massive stalls. They take time for the short offices, and shorten the long ones; they never dine or lunch without abundance, with little wine, little fantasy, and a proportion to contemplative reverie.

The Abbot says a Pater noster in the measure of a military chant, at a walk. You might have known Father Thomas leaning on his cane, explaining masterpieces of Christianity, lucid and gifted with an unimaginable energy under the plenitude and the quietude that his blue eyes illustrate. And Father Alphonse, charismatic like those actors of the 70’s who have disappeared, serious and gentle, deep and slow like the rare old car engines; or Father Vianney, the pivotal tower of this chess game, prior, director of the printing house, father-hotelier, Catholic sphinx, with a face as thin as a mask, mobile gait of changeless time, measured transport of humility. These monks and others have practiced the retreats of St. Ignatius in Flavigny and everywhere in the kingdom of France.

These methodical exercises for the soul, comparable to a gymnastics of the body, are for the spirit the means of washing the soul with bleach. Alternating teachings and meditations, over five days, you passes from the underworld to the glory of the Lord, under the standard of Christ and against the standard of the devil. These exercises, which have made the merit of the saints, known and recognized in history, effervescent in consciences like a pill against stomach aches of passions and troubles, have the hardness about them, the memory of a Catholicism of combat. Everywhere one celebrates, and hell exists. While we had perhaps forgotten it, here are the meditations reminding us of it. We are not laughing. We are faced with our creaturely misery, as if we were fat, grey, bloated, in the mirror, in front of the portrait of our condition. It is with a fear mingled with love for the good God that you make your way to the end of the retreat, falling moved, after the general confession, reassured by the preacher monk as to his own discouragement. And after five days of silence, the world comes back to us, and we come back to ourselves reassured, strengthened, galvanized in the perspective of our salvation and our duty.

Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité and teaches Latin. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.

My Friend Paul Veyne

Paul Veyne (1930-2022) passed away on September 29. Honorary professor at the Collège de France, he was one of our most knowledgeable scholars of ancient Rome. A tribute.

“Dear colleague, I have read your letter. You are right, the state of Latin is getting worse and worse.” Ten years ago, when I was entering the first year of my studies, I received, by way of reply, this letter from Paul Veyne, so touching, so personal and so pleasant. Imagine the effect it had on a young greenhorn lad who was destined for literature. Imagine today my emotions at the announcement of the death of this professor, and myself, still as green as ever, now a Latin teacher.

“Am I going to follow in the footsteps of my elders? Yes, but I allow myself to choose my own path,” recalled Seneca in a letter to Lucilius. Veyne shared very different ideas from mine. Some would perhaps regard them bitterly. Veyne was a man of the left; rather relativistic, it is true; neither patriotic nor anti-patriotic; a Communist in his youth; a Gaullist in 1969; then a liberal and progressive. He had very early broken with Catholic practice, which he judged to be ancient folklore, and remained suffused with the memory of the war, the collaboration, and the anti-Semitism that he pinned on the old France of his parents. Paul Veyne did not accept any absolutes. “Nihil amirari“: everything passes away: human rights, ideas, Christianity, the Roman Empire and the American Empire. Everything passes away, yes, but everything makes sense in the course of history where nothing is lost, nothing is created but everything is transformed.

For all that Paul Veyne was an atypical gentleman, who has written a classic on the history of Rome. While I was talking to him with admiration about his work, he raised his arms heavenward, cursing his fate: “What I have written is particularly bad, confused and really only slog-work. I have no work. What I have written will be replaced in fifty years by others and will be unusable.” When you read his books from a long and general view, you realize with interest that they oscillate between a clear lesson and a light and exquisite exposé—unlike at times his unreadable peers, whose books are heavy as elephants, tangled in jargon, twisted like Lacan’s language.

There are so many Marmorean figures of Latin letters in France and yet Veyne easily stands out among them. Men such as Pierre Boyancé, Pierre Grimal or Jérôme Carcopino who was a minister under Vichy and the writer of a life of Julius Caesar which is still a milestone. All this has the odor of good black ink in school notebooks. The tireless music of rosa, rosae always sends us back to the same bed of roses. Grimal touched ancient Rome with white gloves. As for Paul Veyne, he was part of the serious avant-garde.

Belles-lettres shook precisely when historians, at the beginning of the 1950s, coming from the Annales school, wanted to take a complex look at history. They no longer sought to produce books that went date-by-date, event-by-event, and by conventional biographies. They found refuge under the aegis of Fernand Braudel who, in The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, expounded his ideas: the layering of temporalities, the longue durée, or even material civilization as prisms through which the historian observes the world and goes far beyond traditional history by opening up to sciences such as geography, economics, ethnology, sociology, or archaeology.

Paul Veyne had his sight on all Latin literature, from Appius Claudius Caecus to Boethius, including also the inscriptions and epitaphs of Romanity, for which he combed the manuals and syllogi of the great libraries. Such certainly was the master’s background and backroom work for half a century. This was also the influence of the archivism of ideas that the obscure and marginal Michel Foucauld defended as intangible proof of the real and the concrete. But before going over to Harald Fuchs, Veyne attended sociology classes at the Collège de France taught by Raymond Aron and applied the theories of the humanities and economics, oriented towards liberalism, from Simmel to Schumpeter, to Roman society, at a time when the class struggle was foolishly plastered onto history by the passive Trostko-Maoist bourgeoisie.

Veyne had a talent for unfolding phenomena, trying methodically, with a strong lucidity close to skepticism, to understand appearances, types, behaviors in Roman society. This rigorous observation went hand-in-hand with a keen sense of historical narrative. In Comment on écrit l’histoire (How We Write History), Veyne did not consider his discipline as a raw and crude science but as “a true novel.” A novel exposes reality, takes refuge in Danton’s phrase in The Red and the Black, “the truth, the bitter truth,” and, at the same time, hits you in the gut, touches you, makes you sensitive, agitates you, fascinates you. In his writing, so many such comparisons and analogies have been carried out with seriousness and accuracy while denoting much originality.

Veyne did not try to tell us that the Romans were superior to us, exotic or grandiose. He did not sigh with ecstasy at the mere name of Rome. He demythologized and even demystified the Romans, placing them in the spotlight. He stopped admiring them, and instead wanted to understand them. Roman society was its own organism, had its own special functioning, its principles, its totems and its taboos. The role of the historian is to deconstruct the strata of society. At the term “deconstruct,” one might gladly take out his magnum 44, ready to do some serious damage. But it is best to put it away, and out this term to use in the same way that Lévi-Strauss did— by understanding that it is not a question of deconstructing our own society but to undertake a disassembling of an ancient society, to disentangle what is complexus-entangled—in order to understand its mechanics; to detach the cogs of the machine, and to observe (as one would take out an organ from a body) the specific purpose of this ancient society.

In Bread and Circuses (1976), Veyne brought out the little-known and crucial role of the euergetes in that complex mechanism present in Roman society. The euergetes was the notable par excellence who, in his city, financed the games, the theater, the baths, with a view to social cohesion—a symbol of Romanity in the face of the barbarians: “imagine a city where the big bourgeois in the corner finances the cinema, the theater, the casino and offers you an aperitif as a bonus, and well, that’s how Roman cities functioned.” One must read the articles in L’empire gréco-romain (The Greco-Roman Empire) [2005] to understand the full complexity of the ancients in relation to their tastes, religion, the idea of faith, entertainment, economics and social class differences. Veyne enlightened us on the status of the gladiator, on the intellectual preoccupations of an intelligent pagan like Plutarch, the splendor of Palmyra, the morality of the couple in the second century even before the advent of Christianity, the existence of a middle class in Rome, between the great families and the plebs sordida. The chapter on Trimalchio in Roman Society (1991) is a true painting of the parvenu, embodied by the degenerate nouveau riche of Petronius’ The Satyricon, who rises by cunning, gets rich by speculating on land, and shows off his flashy wealth.

Veyne was interested in literature. We owe him some splendid pages full of pragmatism on Seneca. We owe him the L’Elégie érotique romaine (Roman Erotic Elegy) [1983], a book in which he explains that ancient poets, such as Tibullus, Catullus, Propertius, are not romantics before the term was invented, or even beatniks, but poets who only seek to play with the codes and conventions of their society, formulating love stories invented from scratch. In the last years of his life, a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid crowned a remarkable work in which one can savor the Swan of Mantua as one would listen to Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. A freshness of air, a gracefulness, a precious accuracy that buries the unhealthy translation of Jacques Perret of the Belles-lettres.

It will certainly become necessary to write a beautiful book on the life of Paul Veyne. Of all the men I have known, Veyne was the gentlest, the most generous. Not a word against any other. Treat others as equals and call the woman you love with “vouvoie.” Veyne was concerned with the little people until the end of his old age. A local celebrity in Bédoin, at the foot of Mont Ventoux, not far from the friendly monks of Le Barroux, he was among his own people. He was not imperious in any way, always very polite, replying with, “Thank you, master” to anyone who called him by the same title. He did not play the role of the wise old man, scowling and lecturing, and never quick to play the role of the intellectual for women readers on holidays. He always shirked merits and honors without ever refusing them. There was a great humility to the man.

What impressions do I have of him? I see him offering his housekeeper champagne to congratulate her on an ethereal dessert. I still see him offering a glass of whisky to his dog, Clover; making the sign of the cross while talking about General Leclerc; driving a two-wheeler at night while reciting Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” in the original. I still admire him telling me, at eighty-seven years old, the “Voyage to Cythera” at the dinner table, the living room caught in the sunset like a beetle in amber, with a glass of red wine resting on his cheek: “What is this sad and black island? It is Cythera, we are told, a country famous in songs, a banal Eldorado for all old bachelors. Look at it. It is a miserable land after all…” I always imagine him in his office, a great clutter, manuscripts on the floor; on the shelves, broken-backed books, volumes of poems, and a parade of trinkets that ranged from a postcard of Santa Maria Maggiore to a plastic woman’s leg that lay in front of Augustine and Cyprian of Carthage, a Mongolian knife and a photograph of his late son.

Veyne was a friend of Michel Piccoli, whom he met during a conference in Tunis. The actor knocked on the door of his room, the professor opened: “Mr. Veyne, excuse me. You know, I did not study. I am a little ashamed to appear next to you.” And Veyne replied: “You know, you create; through your performance, you participate in works. I do not create anything. I am unable to. I try to understand what guys more or less like you have done in a distant era. I have no merit.”

The master of Bédoin was a lover. When he received the Femina prize for his memoirs, I congratulated him, saying. “I imagine that you don’t care.” And he replied, “Of course I don’t care, but it pleases my wife, and if it pleases her, then it pleases me too.” That was pure Veyne. There was in this small, cramped, hunchbacked man, a sensual temperament. “Since you write love poems,” he wrote to me, “we can be on familiar terms.” He loved women, he who was ugly as a louse, because of a facial deformity. He loved the arts, the poetry of René Char who sometimes succumbed to an ecstasy on the telephone and sometimes to a tantrum; the paintings of Pignon-Ernst and Paul Jenkins, his contemporaries. He loved Italy, Stendhal and Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni, which he could recite by heart, and all the art of which Italy is capable—Giotto in Assisi, the Basilica of San Zeno in Verona, the Parmigianino Madonna of the Long Neck, Piero della Francesca and his Flagellation, Jupiter and Io by Correggio, the Seven Works of Mercy by Caravaggio in Naples.

Paul Veyne was not like other academics, who are often full of vinegar and proud. He was not prim and proper. He had this crazy side that made him eccentric and unpredictable, always ready to play a prank, a dare, a joke. At the University of Aix, he used to hang out on the tenth floor of the building during breaks, to prepare for his passion—mountaineering. He knew the summits of Europe, felt the vertigo of the crevasse, the shortness of breath of the altitude, the illusion of the snow and the perfume of the ice. He knew also the summits of his institution, the Collège de France, plus all the honors that the Americans, the English, the Italians and even the Turks gave him.

And how Veyne suffered in a stoic silence at seeing the people die around him—his son, who committed suicide, his son-in-law who died of AIDS. His marriages were long agonies, recounted in his memoirs—the abortion by his first wife; the hysteria of a Hellenist, daughter of a specialist in Plutarch; a notable village woman, suffering from dementia and depression, the love of his life; and a last marriage, three years ago, cut short because of the cancer of his wife. Beneath the appearance of a grandfather with a singing accent, kind and gentle, there must have been torments, storms and regrets that in ten years of friendship I was never able to pierce. Perhaps a liver sickened by the libertarian intoxication of post-1968.

My old and faithful friend is now on the other side. One morning, at breakfast, with coffee and foie gras, we talked about eternity. Veyne did not believe in God and was sorry not to believe in Him. He wanted to, but could not. For a long time, he had thought of suicide, as a practical exercise in getting all in a tizzy. But he would end up an old man. Eternity, the passage between the world of the living and a filled nothingness, inhabited or not, titillated his mind. It took courage, then, to cross the great cold without hope, with his eyes on death. May the Lord welcome him into His wide-open arms. Last Thursday, he joined Virgil, Seneca and Damien, his son. He will not be bored.

Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité and teaches Latin. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.

Christ Against the Skeptics: The Example of St. Maria Goretti

There are those who take Christ’s commandment “thou shalt not judge” (Mt 7:1-6) as a philosophical sentence that aims at suspending all judgment, at all times and in all places. It would be necessary, therefore, to give in to a kind of suspension, of restraint marked by relativism; everything would have to be without a scale of values or appreciation. To give one’s opinion would be seen as an overstatement, the worst of vanities—the horror—almost nihilism. We would have to think of a life without truth that would lead us to a dead end. We thus read Christ as we read Sextus Empiricus, who urges us, in the face of the complexity of the things of life, to practice epoché, the virtue of the suspension of judgment, as a purgation against blabber, an extinction of bad, diffuse and confused thoughts, golden silence in the face of bronze logorrhea and endless palaver in search of the truth. You will not judge because my life is my life, your life is yours; we do what we want; you do your job and I’ll do mine. In essence, the provisional morality of the moderns is always in this direction.

It is because Jesus Christ died and rose again that His words have a scope that goes beyond the practical remarks of a Stoic philosopher. What Tertullian found absurd while giving him faith, credo quia absurdum; what is a folly born of the cross; what is a grandiose struggle against death, life—ends in eternal glory and gives Jesus’ words a strength that connects us to heaven. None of the great Latin moralists rivals the teaching of Jesus. Seneca teaches us to be happy for a long time, Jesus to be happy forever in His Kingdom.

The commandment of Christ is not of this kind. Modern people are assailed by these nonsense phrases inspired by the Gospel and rephrased in a limp manner: “There’s no accounting for taste;” “to each his own;” “who are you to judge?” When Jesus commands us not to judge, he does not forbid us to give our opinion on a painter, a film, a book; he does not forbid us to say what we feel and think. The judgment that Jesus speaks of is the condemnation of a person in view of eternal life. This judgment is not the same as the one commonly accepted.

Yes, Jesus forbids us to judge others in order not to be judged. To judge the other when one is vitiated oneself, deranged and stained by sin is of the Pharisees, the bourgeois Catholics that Bloy railed against, who in public adorn themselves with beautiful and good virtues while in private they sink. They have a damned mass inside them. Not to judge a person is not to lock him up in his sin but to leave him the possibilities of his grace. God is the only judge capable of judging for eternity a soul fixed at the moment of its death. To judge for eternity one’s neighbor is a matter that is beyond us; we are unworthy, incompetent. In doing so, we fall into the pride of doing without God and replacing Him. Our impotence brings us back to our condition and we shine before the greatness of God by our impotence.

So, an alcoholic husband who beats his wife should not scandalize me? And I should keep quiet for fear of judging, of ending up as a Pharisee. This is where we have to distinguish between judging the person and the actions. To judge the actions of a violent husband seems obvious. In the West, beating one’s wife does not require any explanation. However, this man, let’s admit that he is my father, that I love him, and wish him well, know his distress and pain, I would have every right and duty to condemn his behavior but I would also have the duty and right to put him back on the right path, to offer him the possibility of being redeemed and to make him find grace.

It is easy among us, among those who are called “traditionalists,” to take the greatest efforts, the most beautiful piety, the most beautiful set plate, and to make sure of one’s state of grace before the host at communion. It is easy then to condemn the one who out of despair, out of lack of hope, threw himself from the bridge into the Garonne. But the holy Curé d’Ars reminds us: between the bridge and the water, in his fall, the suicide may have had time to convert. What science do we have to know this and to judge in eternity a man converted in extremities? In the same way, before the woman who has had an abortion, anger and fury, like an alchemy, must change into mercy. Misericordes sicut pater.

And worse still, what about when you have a murderer before you? Such serious crimes, even if they are served in prison, cannot help but be branded on a man’s skin. In the perspective of eternity, however, this is the power of Christianity, a power that shakes the guts, disarms and upsets and can change a man and convert him. A society that lives by God understands that there are two kinds of justice, that of the body and that of the soul. One can condemn harshly and still forgive, one can acquit broadly and still fall into perpetual damnation. If the body of the condemned man has been punished, imprisoned, even executed, his soul belongs to no tribunal, no law, no judgment of men; it is left to God, supreme judge of a supreme court. A society that lives without God does not understand the need to save and judge souls. Modern society indulges in a real confusion between condemning, condoning and forgiving. The whole thing forms an indistinguishable fruit salad. Forgiveness has lost its metaphysical power and condemnation is often clothed in every excuse. It takes a powerful, almost supernatural fortitude to condemn a man’s heinous crimes and, at the same time, to hope for his conversion, the redemption of his crimes through confession and contrition in view of salvation. Christianity is gifted with this kind of story. Maria Goretti’s story is the proof.

The Example of St. Maria Goretti

Two families lived in a hamlet, lost in the scrub of Lazio. Assunta Goretti was a peasant farmer, widow, mother of two daughters. Mary, the elder, was a young girl of eleven, pretty, devout and pious. In the house next door lived the Serenellis, whose son, fat, vulgar, deranged, a masturbator, a fan of pinup girls, had his heart set on the young girl.

Only known photograph of St. Maria Goretti (1902).

One day when Assunta was in the fields, the young man found Maria in the courtyard that separated the two houses. “Come with me!” The pretty girl, understanding well what was being played out, refused. Alessandro insisted again and the girl refused again. Then, he took her arm, pulled her into the kitchen; thinking of raping, took off her clothes to satisfy his fatal desire. “Stop, stop, Alessandro, if you do that you will go to hell.” Furious because of this refusal, the big beast, taken by the demon, seized his knife and struck the young girl. He did not spare her. Five blows fell her to the ground. He then attacked again with nine more: perforated lungs, pierced heart, intestines, spleen. She is found in her blood. Agonizing, after the confession, in front of all, she exclaims, “Let him be forgiven, for I forgive him, in the name of God’s love.” Alessandro spent thirty years in prison.

One evening, in prison, he received a dream visit from Mary. He was overwhelmed. Behind bars, in irons, in the damp darkness of a cell, he was converted, spent years loving Christ. He was converted. When he got out of prison, he returned to Nettuno, fell on his knees in front of Assunta and asked for her forgiveness, who, in the name of Christ, forgave him. The next day both went to Mass and took communion together. Serenelli ended his life in the Capuchin Order, worshipping the blessed woman he had killed, in poverty and love of Christ.

Nothing seems to be right in this story. How can a young girl forgive her attacker so quickly and allow the help of grace? How can a mother agree to forgive her daughter’s murderer when the simplest thing would have been to curse him for life? How could this man, so heavy, feel the urgency of such a conversion to the point of being, in the end, the worshipper of his own victim and believing in the eternal life offered to God in remission of sins? Something is beyond us and beyond good sense and common sense.

Everything should have been simpler: once a killer, always a killer. Irrecoverable, irredeemable, irremissible. Through deep, unsuspected and inexplicable ways, the Lord offered him the possibility, whatever the opinion, whatever the doxa thinks, the possibility of conversion despite the horror, despite the crime. While this does not excuse anything and does not remove the weight of condemnation in the eyes of men, even the worst of us has the possibilities of his grace offered to us, and our judgment will not be able to do anything about it; our opinion, our preconceived notions, our suspicions, our suspicions can do nothing. The truth comes from God. Alessandro Serenelli is in the line of executioners who became mad in Christ, St. Paul being the first.

We do not know everything. Only God knows the nature of our heart, what is inside, with which black or red blood it is filled. Are these not the edifying and surprising examples that can change our view of judgment? There are suspicious men who, in good faith, can only converted by seeing it with their own eyes.

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

The Left has Won: A Review of Julien Rochedy

For almost three years now, Julien Rochedy has been writing books. His latest book Philosophie de droite confirms his talent.

The left has won. The right has lost. Vae victis. In this accessible and cultured book, the author presents a critical genealogy of the 18th century, from which all our problems emanate: progressism, wokism, deconstruction, nihilism, soft and Europeanist liberalism, self-hatred, universalism. Blue, green, colored hair, interlopers and grotesque drag queens are the corrupted fruits of this difficulty century. And likewise, in a conversational tone, our friend Rochedy explains to us how and why the right lost and why the left won: “The counter-revolutionary restoration regularly failed, not because of any weakness in the counter-revolutionary philosophy, but because the counter-revolutionaries were largely incapable of using political methods and the press.” And to continue: “It is useless to congratulate oneself, as the right still does, by noting that the major part of the people shares a good part of conservative ideas. Also, the inability of the right to become an aggressive minority is without question one of the great causes of its perpetual failures.”

Julien Rochedy does not seek to distinguish the left from the right as political parties on an increasingly fragmented chessboard, but as a course of life, a line of thought and conduct. In short, to be left or right is to be bilious or sanguine. The right is dour, a kill-joy, declaiming ill omens, while confusing bourgeois domination by money with the conservative or reactionary base. In short, the right has become autistic, crazy by dint of being right, without ever having known how to sell a dream.

The core of the book is a critical and impressive synthesis of the Left Enlightenment. We are, at our time, in the degenerate phase of the Enlightenment. The old regime is characterized, as Charles Maurras said, by that tradition “which reigns in the past by its silent power and the solid bond of habit;” it is from this point of view that Hubert Métivier defines the Old Regime as custom. The Enlightenment is the opposite. Jacobinism established it; the use of the Reason devoured faith and mystery; the will to deconstruct prevailed upon tradition; and the conceptual and universal man prevailed on real men. “The enlightenment invented the idea of possible happiness. If happiness was possible, it had to be for all: whoever emancipates himself, by Reason, from the past and its traditions, was its natural candidate; the mathematical laws which apply to nature are invariable and universal; it can thus only be thus for the whole human race. ” Happiness itself is built against Christian joy, the foretaste of the heavenly table, and turns away from original sin that Lent reminds us of every year. If happiness, a new idea in Europe, the happiness of this earth, is attainable, let’s go for it, even if it means massacring, destroying, burning. All means are good to gain it.

The elite of this century are more and more gnawed at by an established bourgeoisie and convinced of progress. This elite, motivated by “likes,” flirt in the salons like on Tinder; they are depicted with exquisite cruelty by Crébillon fils, notably in Les Égarements du cœur et de l’esprit (The Wanderings of the Heart and the Spirit), the most beautiful piece of writing of the Regency. Autistic, the nobility hid in their lands, refusing to go to war. The bourgeoisie, harried yet ambitious, formed into clubs, into circles, entrepreneurial, patrons of new ideas, and awaited their turn. Chateaubriand says it in his Memoirs: the aristocracy had reached the age of vanities. In a century when the Old Regime was slowly rotting, two thinkers imposed the foundations of the left: Voltaire and Rousseau.

Robert Darnton in The Literary Underground of the Old Regime explains the difference between the two men: the one thinks of what has been polished by the use of society, relationships and world codes; while the other thinks that society is bad; that it rots men and corrupts hearts, who are infinitely good however when they are naked, in the natural. Julien Rochedy sums up very well the differences between a left of center and a societal left. Voltaire advocates the liberal values of tolerance and progress, and thus impiety and materialism; Rousseau advocates the deconstruction of the structures of society, structures that are factious and therefore unjust. Voltaire is linked to Sade, the archetype of the degenerate produced by a society without God, without taboos or prohibitions; while Rousseau is linked to Robespierre, the terrible technocrat motivated by cold and vaunted ideas.

The revolution inspired by Rousseau envisages this: namely, that the citizen consents from now on to give himself entirely to the community, body and goods. In the Discourse on Political Economy, the Swiss defends the idea that everything belongs to the State: property, goods, education of children. What a magnificent totalitarian system! He excludes the one who voluntarily evades the clause of the contract. Rochedy quotes extracts from The Social Contract that are particularly eloquent: “The sovereign people can banish from the State anyone who does not trust them; they can banish him, not as an impious person, but as an unsociable one, as incapable of sincerely loving the laws, justice, and of immolating his life to his duty if necessary.”

The way Rochedy draws the French revolution as a progressive left-wing revolution, opposed to the English revolution, a hundred years before, defined by Burke as conservative, is remarkable. Burke understood the use of a revolution to restore a political situation, by re-establishing historical continuity. It is the people who put a sovereign monarch back in place, conscious of tradition and permanence.

Can we save the 18th century? Yes, insofar as it still produces beauty, designs beautiful castles, large gardens, interiors furnished with remarkable furniture, colorful fittings, delicate paintings. If Rousseau and Voltaire are our enemies, how can we not love the melancholy of the solitary walker and the Century of Louis XIV in which lived the excellent master of Ferneyt, so remarkably well written. Voltaire is the BHL of the XVIIIth century, who has for him, at least, the form and the pith.

“The counter-revolution will not be a contrary revolution, but the opposite of the revolution.” Half of the book, once the left-wing thought is dismantled, is a praise of counter-revolutionaries. Burke is the theorist, de Maistre the polemicist, Chateaubriand the fiddler. This book is an initiation into a current of thought so badly explored and so denigrated. One can only feel a deep sympathy for these thinkers as they are clear, just, clairvoyant; and in the ideas as in the form. They have the talent for the sentence well-written, for aphorism, for the punch line. They all participate in literary glory. Let’s taste the efficient and acid prose of Joseph de Maistre who shoots red-hot at the rights of man: “If they had said the rights of the Citizen, or of the man-citizen, I would still understand them. But I confess that Man, as distinguished from the Citizen, is a being that I do not know at all. I have seen, in the course of my life, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Italians, Germans, Russians, I have even learned, in a famous book, that one can be Persian. But I have never seen the Man, if he has rights, I do not care; never will we have to live together: let him go to exercise these rights in imaginary realism.” Edifying!

The counter-revolutionaries resurrected, in the middle of a century that invented individualism, the holistic conception of the Classics. Man is part of a whole and this whole is made of identity, of tradition. This is the thought of Herder, the best enemy of Kant who ever remained in Koenigsbergian mists, that theorist of a universal history and of a cosmopolitan world inhabited by abstract Man; thought confirmed by this sentence of de Maistre: “Let us be told, let us write whatever we want; our fathers have dropped anchor, let us hold on to it.”

In opposition to the Revolution and the rights of man, theorizing and applying the supreme being, and to Freemasonry, which wants to crush the wicked, the thinkers of the counter-revolution defend Christianity and praised this religion as a guarantee of stability and tradition that societies need. It is not a secularized Christianity, the product of a bland globalism, open to the world, adept at tea parties, but a Christianity that embraces natural law, the famous Ambrosian revolution, and makes sense in the lives of men in an organic way.

“It is the authority,” writes Rochedy, “of the Church that maintains it [society], after having shaped it in view of Christ; it is her infallibility that imposes on men the spirit of obedience and fidelity to that which is older and greater than themselves. The Catholic Church is the guarantor of the principle of authority.” In short, Christianity structures and guarantees society horizontally and vertically through access to a hierarchy that leads to the transcendent and to Heaven. The cross, in short. I would advise my friend Julien to read Father William Slattery’s book, Comment les catholiques ont bâti une civilisation (How Catholics Built a Civilization), a fundamental book in this defense and illustration of Christianity. Christianity has built a civilization of builders, from Ambrose of Milan to the rise of monasteries, Venetian capitalism, the fruit of entrepreneurial freedom, the year 1000, land clearance, the formation of champions of knowledge and of schools. “Catholicism,” says the abbot, “is not a religion, but a vision of the world, a vision of all the dimensions of man, of all the dimensions of society.”

The last part of Julien Rochedy’s book presents in two chapters the project of a right-wing thought that opposes to reason, materialism, politics, individualism, Man, the contract, revolution and freedom, tradition, Christianity, religion, community, humans, history, continuity, freedoms. History is the conscience of right-wingers: it sets the example, makes sense, confirms continuities. Classical truths make sense. One can then begin to dream of a society where the sovereignty of borders would be guaranteed, where the structures governed by God would make sense, from the nation to the family; where solidarity would make a community; where respect for hierarchy would place the soldier, the priest, the father and the ancestor in their rightful place in society. This world is the world of peace that the counter-revolutionaries have outlined.

It is regrettable that the title of the book does not correspond entirely to the project centered on the eighteenth century, at the origin of left-wing thought, and that the author does not continue in the history of ideas with the Romantic current, reduced to Chateaubriand, the anti-moderns such as Flaubert and Balzac, the anti-bourgeois such as Baudelaire and Bloy; then the thinkers of the Action Française up to the philosophers of politics and law, like Spengler, Toynbee, Evola or Schmitt. Perhaps even an overview from Saint Augustine to Tolkien would have given a sum of traditional thought. This is the wish that we address to our friend: to continue his work from book-to-book with a true counter-history of ideas likely to make us renew with the beautiful, the good, and the true. Our society needs it.

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

Featured: “Marie Antoinette being taken to her Execution, October 16, 1793,” by William Hamilton; painted in 1794.

Stefan Zweig, Vienna and Times Past

The great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) witnessed the end of a world, that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of a certain Europe that disappeared after the First World War.

Under his polite and elegant airs of a good-natured author, Stefan Zweig was part of the serious avant-garde, at the beginning of the 20th century, which shone in the most beautiful capital of Europe, Vienna. This placid, well-to-do, charming, happy, distinguished and successful author, from the Jewish and literate bourgeoisie—true to form, immaculately dressed, velvet eyes a little melancholic, trimmed moustache—lived on a volcano, in a Europe of crisis; knew the fall of the old Austrian Empire and the terrible First World War; then exile and the defeat of hope.

Of all the authors that Vienna produced, Zweig is the one who most illustrates the cosmopolitanism of a glittering intelligentsia, of an elite that was sure of itself and its qualities. A friend of Freud, Schnitzler, Richard Strauss, he was one of those writers, like Paul Morand, who saw Europe as a vast salon where life was lived in cafés; he spoke French like a native and thought of Venice as an archipelago. It is a higher cosmopolitanism which prolonged the Concert of Europe, that gallant Europe. A great friend of Emile Verhaeren, Romain Rolland and Paul Valéry, he conceived London as the center of his business affairs and Paris as the second homeland he knew in 1902, with its omnibuses and its carriages. Familiar with bookshops and concerts, a billiard player, a lover of unpublished manuscripts, walks in museums, women and Verlaine, his beloved poet—he lost himself happily in the vibrant whirl of beefsteak washed down with Brouilly and bistros on rue Campagne-Première. “For me, Paris is a reward;” everything was there.

In Zweig there is a tension between voluptas in motu, an infernal nomadism, and voluptas in stabilitate, pleasure and things; between movement and fixity; displacement and scrutiny. When he wants to write about Mary Stuart, he goes to London; he comes back to Paris to write about Marie Antoinette. Zweig could write without traveling. This tension is present in his work, but also in his life, the most striking synthesis of which is The World of Yesterday, a sort of autobiographical testament published in 1942. As he says in the preface, he seeks to recount “the destiny of a generation, our singular generation.”

The “volcanic” upheavals shook Europe, and it is up to Zweig to narrate them: “I was born in 1881 in a great and powerful Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy; but let no one look for it on the map; it has been erased without a trace.” The golden age of security. A nebula of artists, from Rilke to Mahler via the secessionists and Otto Wagner, participated in the greatness of the capital of an Empire that recognized its limits. It turned inward, shaping its own security, to be in the vanguard of the arts: “Austria no longer asserted political ambitions nor experienced particular success in its military ventures, so that patriotic pride was most strongly transferred to the desire to conquer artistic supremacy.” Who would have believed it—the Empire—in the image of old Franz-Josef—devoting itself to the Ver Sacrum, to new ideas, sensing the new sense of art.


The whole of Vienna was frenzied in ebullition. “Live and let live” was the famous Viennese maxim “instead of this German value which finally poisoned and disturbed the existence of all other peoples.” Vienna of the cafés and of a triumphant, precocious youth, gifted for literature, love and the arts, like Hofmannsthal. The Jung-Wien. The brothels were an institution to which all youth rushed; syphilis, the mark of the Devil, condemned many talents to an early silence. Sexuality remained, although its era could no longer be considered pious, and tolerance was now a central value, tainted with an anarchic, disturbing aura that agitated modern minds of which Freud was the exorcist.

Music was a hard drug, where the simple mistake of a violinist at a concert was worth the disgrace for life in musical circles. Only accuracy. But already the inevitable First World War was on its way—the conclusion of national consciences all over Europe, from the Italy of the Risorgimento to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. Austria, subjected to Prussia, qualified as vulgar and arrogant, submitted to a disgraceful alliance; the death of Franz-Ferdinand, if it was not synonymous with tragedy because the archduke, successor of the old emperor, was far from unanimous, led to war by a game of alliances that led to the intervention of France and England to the rescue of Serbia. “Es steht schlimmer als je, die Maschine ist doch schon im Gang—It is more serious than ever, the machine is already in motion.” It was the defeat of Europe, the end of empires, the fall of the dream into a generalized civil war.

Stefan Zweig had a delicate but also lively, almost dry and stripped writing style, a style with a light, concise and efficient smile that he shares with Arthur Schnitzler, and a style which cultivates this feeling of erosion, this motif of the irremediable flaw dear to decadentists like Catulle Mendès. Zweig’s fragrant, pleasant style cuts like a scalpel, butchers the heart of man. Unlike his friend Josef Roth, he does not have a talent for lyricism and the burlesque, as one can find in The Radetzky March, a novel of collapse, a roman à thèse and a comic-tragic novel about the saga of the overturned world of the von Trottas.

Zweig’s novels are lively, with a talent for finesse. Noteworthy is Confusion. A university student recalls the memory of his philology professor who opened up the ways of the mind to him. Beyond the love of study, this text evokes the bond between two men and the ambiguities which agitate against the morals, the law and in the glances of others. The professor has a double and disconcerting attitude towards the student—sometimes he lets him get close to him, sometimes he coldly pushes him away. This behavior plunges the student into a deep confusion that quickly turns into a great torment.

This work, praised by Freud, has a recurrent logic: to highlight internal struggles, triggered by an external event. This logic is present in Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman, the story of a young woman who runs away from her world with a young man she met only one day before. The comments of the narrator and an elderly English woman go to great lengths to describe the fires and consuming passions which, despite the extinguished embers, still stir the purest of hearts.

Zweig also excelled in the art of biographical portraiture, to discover the key to genius and its mysteries. A gallery could well be made of his portraits in the Louvre or the Prado. Nietzsche describes the philosopher as the martyr of the world, a man who gives birth to his ideas in pain, a man of nerves of steel ready to break, with a head boiling like a still. His Magellan fires the imagination, with the tough and courageous adventure of a gentle dreamer; his Balzac is a monument to creative force; Tolstoy traces the how and why of a mystical conversion of a writer at the height of his fame.

The End of a World

Yes, yesterday’s world is over. In 1916 the old emperor died. In 1918 the Empire became a federal republic, gangrened by socialism. In 1938 it was annexed to the German Reich as a large province of the empire. What disgrace! Zweig, so quick to detect the perversities of the heart, but not very lucid in politics, did not see the rise of Nazism. In Salzburg, he saw nothing of Hitler’s rise to power, whereas Josef Roth, a supporter of the restoration of the Empire, had already in 1938 in The Emperor’s Tomb identified the appearance of men in black uniforms, Hugo Bosses swarming the cafés. The eagle flags, yellow and black, were replaced by swastika flags on a red background.

Zweig believed that the order of history would get rid of Hitler without any drama. That was Zweig’s big mistake. Then came exile. Farewell to the Europe that was disappearing. Hofmannsthal died in 1929. Schnitzler in 1931. Roth in 1939.

After exile in London, here he was, lost at the other end of the world, in Brazil, in Petrópolis.

In 1942, in good health but consumed by the black bile buried in his heart, he committed suicide with his wife, in despair at seeing his world collapse, which would never recover and whose resurrection is impossible.

Fortunes and misfortunes carried off Zweig. The society he loved so much has disappeared, but his words yet preserve that world’s likeness and its core essence.

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

Featured: Stefan Zweig in Rio de Janeiro, 1936.

Man and Woman: Nature is Right!

In a fascinating and accessible book, Homme, femme. Ce que nous disent les neurosciences: La nature a raison! (Man Woman. What neuroscience tells us: Nature is right!) Professor René Écochard reaches into the contribution of neurosciences to explain how our biology influences our behaviors as men and women—contrary to what gender theory asserts.

The brain is a genius. It grows with us, shapes itself, operates, at each moment of life, with mechanisms, exchanges of fluids, release of hormones, so that it is at the same time a receptacle of our education and our evolution and a predisposed engine since our birth. We are born male or female. Our brain is marked, like a seal, with this quality; and an astonishing alchemy, a clever play of hormones, like a machine, is at work.

René Écochard is not a polemicist and this book, in a calm, sober, natural manner, asserts conservative ideas about the family, the couple, the function of woman and man, opposing their equality, supporting, on the other hand, their holy and beautiful complementarity, between love and war, Mars and Venus. Écochard is one of us, and consequently, opposed to the theory of gender, careful not to adhere to the progressive delusions, to the modern and deconstructionist theories, to the open world of Davos, and to wokism. If the reader is afraid of reading a book on neuroscience, he should rest reassured— the tone is simple, accessible, even though there is a substantial set of notes and a substantial biography at the end of the volume. But isn’t it the characteristic of a great scientist to allow lambda readers, like us, gain clarity of ideas and purpose, while also digesting a complex quantity of data?

The professor places the debate on the side of science, though the debate is now also informed by the political and economic challenges of a fragmented, liquid, liberal, too liberal, consumer society. So be it Also, it becomes necessary to restore the intellectual stakes of these last years. Societal progressivism claims, in the name of human rights, the absolute freedom of the individual, in the very name of his rights and even of his whims. Nothing should prevent the freedom of man, not even nature which, unjustly, works like fate. We are born a man, by chance, without having chosen. What misfortune! This kind of biological determinism is unsustainable for progressives.

Distinguishing Nature and Culture

Progressivism’s second fight is to try to distinguish nature and culture, to separate them drastically, as two things that have nothing to do with each other, and to make of the one something outdated, and of the other, a kind of a la carte menu from which one chooses everything as one pleases. Thus, a little boy can become a little girl, despite having a penis, if he decides to wear make-up. The father is a symbolic function. The family can, well, in the name of modernity and of rights, be constituted by two moms. The reign of the individual.

Professor Écochard’s book seeks to present three main points: born male or female, our biology determines part of our behavior; our education, our culture, our evolution in society are anchored to our sex disposed at birth, as if married to it. Man and woman are not undifferentiated but complementary: “The same hormones masculinize or feminize the body, but also the mind.” There is a coherence between a male body and a male personality; hence the deep distress of a society where we repeat that we are physically a man but not psychologically; that what is natural is a stereotype, therefore atrocious and oppressive, where we distinguish between gender and sex and, even more grotesquely, “gender identity” and “gender expression.” While modern society asks us, in the name of vague rights, to choose—nature takes the opposite view of Beauvoir’s famous phrase and enjoins us to observe this precept—one becomes a man because one is born a man.

Without talking about determinism, the professor well says that “human societies are not structured by genetics alone—free will enriches human life.” And to add that where progressives deny the importance of nature and the fullness of culture, it is necessary to consider a kind of concordance between biological determination and our way of being a man, a woman, based on our education and our personal trajectory: “The process of masculinization of the male brain is biological; but it is also educational; education participates in the development of the natural given which the Y chromosome establishes directly or through testosterone.”

The Evolution of Boys and Girls

The first part of the book is devoted to children and their evolution. Girls have a predominance of empathy. This is explained by the fact that boys and girls “have a natural foundation, linked in part to the higher level of testosterone in boys than in girls in the fetal period.” From childhood, we read, “the brains of girls and boys develop differently under the influence of the games that attract them, the interactions with their environment and the gaze of those around them, which indicates their horizon as women or men. All this contributes to the development of a personality whose feminine or masculine traits are gradually revealed.” It thus appears that everything is established from the conception of the child; that the child, girl or boy, is fitted by its sex with such or such characteristics which will influence its behavior, its tastes, its ideas. The mechanisms work! Let’s get on with the show!

The most relevant part of the book is the one that deals with the family. At a time when it is explained that a grandmother can be a father, at a time of the reconstituted family, single parent, model of perfect capitalism, and marriage for all in its version 2.0, the information of the professor is delightful. The family is the perfect illustration of a cultural, civilizational institution, anchored, copied in nature, sublimating the instinct of reproduction and the animal behavior of man and woman, by a sacrament and an institution. To understand that an alchemy at the level of the brain takes place between the married couple, between the mother and her child, between the father and his child, confirms and reaffirms the defense of the family according to natural law. A man tends to become a father—and the father, this changed man, chemically transformed, is irreplaceable. The conjugal bond, marriage, a cultural institution, is in perfect harmony with the natural feeling of love between a man and a woman, so much so that at the time of pregnancy “the greater the hormonal changes observed in the mother, the greater the changes observed in the father.” Amazing!

The Father Back in the Spotlight

The father resumes, under the professor’s observations, some meaning. Whereas he had been reduced to being a function, now the man who becomes a dad is transformed, “the hormonal balance of the father changes during the pregnancy of his wife; even the view of the newborn’s smile triggers a burst of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, in his parents.” How can that happen, even in the name of individual rights, with a surrogacy pregnancy? During the first months of the child, the father feels less testosterone, this drop encourages him to stay in the family nest, which has served, during evolution, to encourage the father to protect his child from threats. The model of the protective “Dad” is not just a stereotype, it is biologically posited. This is remarkable—becoming a father is not simply an apprenticeship by a method, a What-do-I-know-about-paternity, a Being-a-dad-for-dummies—but on the contrary happens naturally. “Even later, the man undergoes a kind of metamorphosis; seeing his wife breastfeeding, he also benefits from a hormonal shift that strengthens his attachment to his wife and their child. The same hormone therefore serves as a vector to nourish the child and to strengthen the bonds.”

This book will therefore be a necessary vade-mecum for all Catholic supporters of natural law and those who want to justify their principles with factual and scientific data that will reassure us about our ideas and our struggle.

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

Featured image: “Das Stelldichein” (The Tryst), by Carl Schweninger d. J. Painted ca. 1903.

Hugs From Oelenberg

In Alsace, doing a retreat with monks is not an easy thing to do. The misfortune and turmoil of the Wars of Religion set this region ablaze, with its scenes of ravaged abbeys, massacres of monks, and forced exile. Ecumenism started rather badly. The Cistercian abbey of Our Lady of Oelenberg retains yet the presence of the monasteries of yesterday.

We have to follow the great blue line of the Vosges, cross Mulhouse, the city of blues, its factories, its industrial works. On the plateau of Réningue is the abbey, situated on a hill, bordered by the Oelen. It is an extensive building, with farmhouses forming a wall. A small Jesuit chapel with a pointed roof stands out and the basilica is enthroned in the center, topped by two grey-green bell towers, admirable for its standard facade of brown tanned sandstone. The whole abbey is situated on a long strip of land where the potato fields never end. The paths, traced out to the rule, go on without you seeing the end. The water-logged holes in the soil are iced over. The snowy mountains, in the distance, are an elusive decor; the Mongolia of the Sundgau. At this time of year, a bitter-cold hits the face, freezes the tractor tracks and the horses’ hooves in the hard earth. The pale sun promises beautiful shades, plays with the gray clouds, delights the morning with a clear, egg-yellow light, and the afternoon with an exquisite clementine orange.

The interior of the church is a neo-Romanesque construction, made of lime and sandstone, with a choir similar to the basin of the municipal baths of Strasbourg, from the beginning of the 20th century, and surmounted by a Virgin and Child, noble and fat. The stained-glass windows, made of orange diamonds, diffuse a peaceful light. The monks’ stalls are carved in Alsatian woodwork; some sculptures show two monkeys scratching their heads—a warning to distracted monks—one carved brother is stabbing the devil in the back, another is snoozing on a barrel.

Oelenberg suffered through the war. In the basement, cellars and a subway entrance were built by the poilus who numbered 1500 and were stationed at the place where the abbot-fathers rest eternally. In 1945, the French defeated the Krauts in the abbey, at the cost of deaths that the Blue Devils wearing their pie-hats honor every year. A proud and virile military choir resounded during the Saturday mass, sending shivers down your spine.

Oelenberg Abbey is huge, the corridors resemble those of the old elementary school, of my childhood, of yours, dear readers, with its small mosaic floor, its green-water walls. In the old days when there were many monks, they ate in a refectory famous for its central stained glass window representing Christ on the cross and for a series of paintings on the life of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. The place has become a vast library where in turn one picks up Yves Chiron, Joseph de Maistre, Origen and Jacques Maritain who is buried in Alsace.

Behind a heavy door, in the first part of the monastery, is the Jesuit chapel, built in homage to Leo IX, the Alsatian pope from Eguisheim. The Renaissance crucifix is a Germanic masterpiece.

The body is imposing, massive, the ribs slumped and drawn, the arms muscular, the fingers enormous, the legs athletic. The blood flows from the loincloth of Christ, thickly. You have to approach under the Lord’s cross, under the crown of thorns, if you go to the left, the face is slack, it is dead; if you look to the right, Christ smiles, seems to live. Death conquers the true man, but the true God already triumphs over death.

There are only ten of them left now. They were one hundred and fifty in the last century. Ten monks live here; for such a big place, it is truly incredible. They are white and black shadows that we never meet, busy in this cold, decrepit legos game. Like the factories without workers that are said to be deserted, it could have been the deadly fate of this last abbey to close up shop, to end up as a museum of slippers or chocolate if some vocations given by the Lord were not going to, at least, ensure a small relief. Two robust, sturdy novices, in no way comparable to the products of the globalized metropolis, are there; one looks like a young Solzhenitsyn, the other like a rugby player.

We are first welcomed by a gentleman, Bertrand, who is very simple. In my life, I have never known a man so gentle and so good. He has the sanctity of those who have fallen six times and risen seven. He is an old man, humble; his look is that of a lamb; his eyes blue like the calm sea. He pats you on the shoulder, pats you on the back, is devoted to you, concerned like a father for his children. He is the pure heart of the Beatitudes, the satisfied, the peacemaker. Before leaving us, this man who gets up early, at matins, to prepare the table for the retreatants until the evening of compline, tells us, “With God, no compromise;” and adds, “Do not seek to please men, please God.” A radical Christian.

Father Dominique-Marie, the Abbot, goes from one door to another in his white robe. He has the look of a wise man. His voice is restrained, calm, always well considered. A former schoolteacher with an old-fashioned beard, he entered the monastery in his fifties, anxious to observe the three precepts of the rule of Saint Benedict: obedience, stability, conversion. This man was converted. Converted? But wasn’t he already a Christian? The conversion of which the Father-Abbot speaks is that which consists in putting God at the center of everything that links love, beauty, the arts, joy. There is a gentleness, a lightness and a surprising familiarity in this abbot. He is easy to talk to; he visits you at the retreatants’ table, accepts a piece of cake, refuses to have his ring kissed. He is a religious open to progress, to dialogue, but without this becoming an untenable “nevertheless.” He is resolutely critical of the consequences of the great liturgical and religious choices of the last Council and can only observe the fall, with fifty years of the practice, of the Catholic faith during Masses where there have sometimes been quite a few abuses, in an effort to make a fresh start.

In the winter chapel, the offices are said simply, in a limited Gregorian style that pierces like the arrow that is not heard as we hope in the great Latin spectacle of other abbeys. The prior, a very old monk, Agecanonix in a gown, who walks around with a walker, gives the first note, ahead with the music. And the service is like a small river among the mountains, where pebbles roll in a stream, pushed by the whistling of the wind in nature.

If Bernard Pivot were to give me his Questionnaire again, from the time of Bouillon de culture, to the question “The sound and noise you prefer?” I would gladly answer, “The bell that strikes in the night to announce matins.” We are roused from sleep and from bed. Psalm 3, sung at night, has an invigorating and pacifying effect on me. David flees from his son Absalom and says, “I awake: the Lord is my help/ I will not fear this many people/ who surround me and come against me/ All my enemies you strike in the jaw/ The wicked you break their teeth.” The God sung in the psalms delights me. He is good like a father, loving and stern. He embraces you and does good; performs wonders and breaks necks. It is good to start the day with a banner and a God who does not balk.

At the table, the encounters are original and also testify to the diversity in the unity of the Church. Yes, it is good for traditionalists to meet brothers in the faith who do not practice the same form, do not always think alike. A husband is preparing to be a deacon, only hears zilch in Latin, gets tense at the idea of prayers downstairs in the hall, doesn’t understand that if he can be a deacon it is because vocations are dwindling like snow in the sun; a ninety-two year old Swiss grandmother spends her vacations; a younger woman, so like a character in a Houellebecq book, came to take stock of her life; a good father who is expecting his fourth child came to recharge his batteries, baptized in the Jordan River, capable of crying when he talks about Christ.

During this short retreat, I still wanted to penetrate the mystery of this total conversion that the monks seek, I wanted to feel the mystery of faith, and, without having understood it yet, I draw as near as I can.

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

A Case For Teaching The Humanities

“I am Roman because Rome, from the time of the consul Marius and the divine Julius to Theodosius, drafted the first form of my France. I am Roman, because Rome, the Rome of priests and popes, has given eternal solidarity of sentiment, of morals, of language, of worship, to the political work of Roman generals, administrators and judges. By this treasure, which it received from Athens and transmitted that deposit to our Paris, Rome means without question the civilization of humanity. I am Roman, I am human: two identical propositions.” These words from the pen of Charles Maurras in Barbares et Romains (Barbarians and Romans) form a vibrant praise not only of Rome, the sweet anaphora, but also of civilization, conveying tradition and transmission and not oblivion and renunciation; perpetuation and not the clean slate; community and not individuality; permanence and not rupture.

For a few days now, the Minister of National Education has seemed inclined to see the teaching of Latin and Greek return to middle and high schools. The Latinist that I am and who used to unveil to students the mysteries of rosa, rosae can only be pleased. However, I am not fooled by these dupes. This kind of announcement is certainly enough to make a whole section of the conservative university and academic intelligentsia of the center-right feel good about the woke and progressive drifts already well underway, with inclusive language, the satanic and non-gendered pronoun “iel” and the convoluted discussions about male domination in language.

We shouldn’t imagine that the Macronian renaissance is about to be launched, as other renaissances were in the course of our history. Minister Blanquer is a liberal-conservative, certainly, but does not have the courage to be conservative. Is he the most cynical of the bunch? That is quite possible—he has already sabotaged the BA degree, reduced to a pittance, and is in favor of the digital school and even of the digital kindergarten.

If I were naive, I would believe that this sudden impulse is inspired by the spirit of Lucien Jerphagnon, whose death, ten years ago, we are commemorating and whose birth we are celebrating a hundred years later. Father Jerph was one of those sparkling, light spirits that contrast with the dullness and pomposity of academics. He was inhabited by joy, the kind of joy that delights youth, lifts the heart, sharpens the soul, and makes it rise above all misfortunes, torments, and distresses. The true joy of knowledge. Lucien Jerphagnon was neither of the Left, nor of the Right, nor a Marxist, nor an intellectual at the forefront of research. He was freelance and classical; close to Paul Veyne by originality, Désiré Nisard by taste, Jean Bayet by academic outlook.

His was a strange life: he dressed like a monk and was ordained a priest; then, a passionate lover, turned into a happy husband and ended up as a patriarch. He was in turn a theologian, historian of ideas, translator and philosopher; of high class, of good style, careful to be versatile if he could not manage the modern complexity of reality. Plotinus was his tender companion, with whom one shares a cigarette and a glass of cognac. In love with Augustine, he knew how to render the full measure of this author. A gifted young scholar, who became a professor in Milan in his thirties when others were at the Collège de France in their twilight. Jerpha revived Madauros, a university town in northern Algeria, that supreme and delicate refinement of Romanization, where Augustine, the orator Maximus, Apuleius and Martianus Capella lived. His biography of Julian the Apostate seeks to understand how a philosopher-emperor thought he could return to paganism and make Christianity a footnote in history. An unresolved death by the side of Mosul clinched it—Christianity would triumph.

Jerphagnon was a philosopher of time and banality. Influenced by Vladimir Jankélévitch, he was concerned with understanding the everyday, the alltäglichkeit, as Heidegger politely said, pretext to all the astonishments, typical of the wise. He was a serious discoverer of forgotten authors such as Marcus Varro or Favorinus of Arles; a historian of ideas of high caliber who made us understand, in les Divins Césars (The Divine Caesars), why the emperors of the 2nd century thought they were the sun and who envisaged Rome as the center of a cosmos—all the while writing with amusement and enjoyment a formidable history of Rome.

The young Lucien at the high school in Bordeaux was bored during a mathematics class. On his knees, he flipped through a book containing a few photos of the ruins of Timgad, the Palmyra of Algeria: “That’s where I want to live and die,” the young lad said to himself. From heaven came down a voice: “Jerphagnon, you will make up two hours!” Then his teacher stuck a future specialist in the Greco-Roman world. “I could never get used to the fact that Rome was dead,” confessed the wise old man to José Saramago, “because I loved it since my 6th grade. I lived my life there, faithful to this love of Roman civilization.” What a beautiful profession of faith!

If Lucien Jerphagnon is to be made an exemplum, let’s not forget that in matters of education, the Left is chopping our legs and causing us many problems. And this is not the end of the story! I hold as proof Vincent Peillon who writes in la Révolution française n’est pas terminée (The French Revolution is not Finished) that it is necessary to reinvent the revolution of the spirit, with the aim of destroying at all costs the Catholic religion and to invent a republican religion. This requires the total conversion of the elites and the young to the sciences and the disappearance of Latin and Greek, languages of the old regime, of Catholicism, of bourgeois domination.

Such is the pinnacle of the freemasons: radical leftists yesterday, social-democrats today; old-fashioned, stuck in the Third Republic, detached from reality and perfectly barbaric, since they claim, shamelessly, not to transmit any more, to cut themselves off from tradition and civilization. They swear only by individualities in the perspective of human rights. Now they promise inclusiveness, flattering the youth, corrupting it with vague ideas about freedom and equality.

In an interview given on TV in 1958, Pagnol felt the problem looming: specialization, the end of the humanities and the science of the technocrat. Specialization, by reducing the fields, reduces the possibilities of linking the fields. To have a rational mind is precisely to see relationships. But if the objects no longer exist, the relationships can no longer be made. It can only result in an impoverishment of thought. National education goes even further, since it has given up training literate people, to preparing only future employees for the labor market. The best will be slug-brain specialists, dumbed down like tabletops, the least good will be cashiers at Franprix, salesmen at Prisunic.

The professors stuff the heads of young people with new ideas, smelling of Pierre Bourdieu, ready-made and passed off as revealed truths, so they themselves can continue to dine at the faculty club during silly seminars on anti-racism in literature, and history colloquiums on North African minorities in the gay Paris of the 1920s. The education of yesteryear has degenerated into a total moron-factory based on the ideological teaching of soft sciences. We are far from the gentleman, far from the humanist, far from the cosmopolitan scholar.

Getting beyond her gavel, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem completed the work, explaining that Latin classes would be for the children of the rich and privileged, that elective classes had to be abolished, and that antiquity had to be made accessible to all by diluting Latin in French courses, thus putting ancient language courses to death in a gentle way; a bit like euthanasia.

Between this caricatured, barbaric Left, in the very sense in which Maurras took it, some have retained the opinion of Raymond Aron in this matter, like Paul Veyne, our dear friend, whose opinion that Latin and Greek should be abolished in secondary school and that a national establishment should be created to train solid scientists and researchers, I do not quite understand. This is a mistake. To dedicate Latin to research is to render it autistic; to leave it in the hands of the colloquium-makers who titillate the coffee-brewers and the editors of scientific articles in obscure journals is to render it mute, invisible, extinct.

It doesn’t matter if people are interested in Aristophanes’ scholia, or in the placement of an accent on a word in a twelfth-century manuscript in the Vatican library. One does not ask young people to read the Pharsalus in the original, even yours truly would not be able to do so. But to have a good head, made robust by the training in, and knowledge of, Greek tragedy, the functioning of the Athenian city, the Peloponnesian war told by Thucydides, the epic of Alexander the Great, Latin and Greek rhetoric, the work of Cicero, Caesar and Augustus, the personality of Seneca, elegiac poetry, Virgil, the bloody and mannered histories of Tacitus, the orientalism of the emperors, 312 and our world that has become Christian. It is grand to arrive, by love of the rei latinae, to the character of Des Esseintes in À Rebours by Huysmans who, in chapter III, gives us the menu of his likes and dislikes of all literature, criticizing the Chickpea (Cicero), judging the verses of a phony and vain poet, and preferring in the “fin de siècle” Roman authors the rot and the carrion, and at times the supreme refinement of precious stones and topazes.

I do not believe in progressivism and personal development, nor even in the scientific and academic elitism left to the Giscards of thought. I firmly believe in the tradition of inheriting and transmitting, of passing on the work of Hellenic-Christian civilization, from generation to generation. This is achieved through solid and serious learning of civilization, through language and grammar, literature, philosophy and history. It is necessary to go through the pain of declensions and conjugations; to make the effort, as in Pétanque, to have access to the texts, to their style; to reflect on the words and their concepts in order to understand the civilization. Nothing is more precious than to know the feeling of the language, to understand the spirit of an era.

This apparent need for Latin and Greek can take three forms: as a declaration in an electoral context; resistance and head-on opposition to progressivism; or a reconciliation with Wokism. The problem is not so much what Minister Blanquer says or thinks, but what the left-wing ideological machine, the Éducation Nationale, is capable of producing. The teacher conforms to the Houellebecquian image of the tired West. The teachers are mostly mediocre, cowardly and subscribe, under contract, to all the sickness of the modern world: deconstruction, diversity, immigration, inclusion, in the public as well as in the private. If this impulse for antiquity gets mixed up, dare I say it, with this kind of progressive thinking, it would do equally bad things for the mental health of our young people. I can already imagine the titles of the courses: “Migratory Crisis in Roman Gaul;” “the Roman Baths: A Space of Hybridization for Minorities;” “Conspiracy and Fake News: The Catiline Conspiracy;” “Being a Slave and Gay in Ephesus;” “Transidentity in Rome.” What a wonderful antiquity!

What we need are professors who are like Hussars in full cavalry at Jena—scholars like Bernard Lugan, like Marc Fumaroli; focused minds concerned with civilization—like Valéry, Thibaudet; intransigent polemicists—like Bloy or Julien Benda. The rest will follow. I began with Maurras, I end with Charles Péguy and Notre Jeunesse (Our Youth): ” What this entry was for me, in sixth grade, at Easter— the astonishment, the newness before rosa, rosae, the opening of an entire world, completely different, an altogether new world. That is what needs to be said, but that would get me tangled up in fondness. The grammarian who just the one time, the first, opens the Latin grammar on rosa, rosae will never know on which flowerbed he is opening the child’s soul.”

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

Featured image: “Etruscan Vase Painters,” by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, painted in 1871.

The Left-Right Hacks Of The Legacy Media

Readers may have seen the heated argument between Laure Adler and Franz Olivier Giesbert on TV. The lady journalist, a peroxide blonde with sausage lips and tightened skin, reproached FOG for having written in his latest book, Histoire intime de la Vème République (Intimate History of the Fifth Republic) that on his way to the Saint-Charles train station via the Cannebière, he could no longer hear French spoken. And then… My God! What drama! Horresco referens! The cries of outrage by the lady journalist rendered Giesbert immobile. FOG, cornered, defended himself for being a white man and for being, on the contrary, cosmopolitan. “You are white and proud of it. There are not enough white people around you,” concluded Mrs. Adler, who then came to the conclusion that her colleague’s remarks were racist, which left him speechless.

Now I’m not one to comment on the skits flashing on cathode-ray screens, but the head-on clash of these two journalists was to me a hilarious episode with a calamitous moral and laughable conclusions, revealing what is wrong in France for both of them: the disconnect of the elites and the consequences of the real world finally made visible.

Being familiar with Christophe Guilluy, I could only think back to his analyses in Fractures françaises (French Fractures), where he notes the irreparable and final separation of the cities where the darling children of globalism live and those who live in the peripheries. The former despise the latter politically and culturally and loathe and reject their electoral options and political opinions. They are the “In” and “bottom up” people; and on the other hand, there are the penniless, the sweaty, the “down.” The first ones are rootless, post-national, from everywhere and nowhere; while the other ones, rooted and religious, represent the moldy, Petainist, reactive, eternally anti-Semitic France. We know how it goes. In this story, very nearly a farce, these two hacks of the left and center-right journalism are retailers who buy from the same wholesaler, the other side of the same coin. Have a look.

Let’s start with Franz Olivier Giesbert, a Marseille native at heart, who feels at home in this cosmopolitan city and who says so loud and clear. To be a cosmopolitan like Paul Morand, to stay at the Ritz and the Danieli in Venice, to travel the length and breadth of Europe, to be a great performer at Savile Row and Times Square, I can understand that. To be a great European like Ernst Jünger, handling French as well as German, conscious of a concert of nations, I am can go along with that—but a cosmopolitanism which is the prerogative of an elite, sure of being heir to its own civilization, like Valéry, Nietzsche, Zweig, Fumaroli.

The current cosmopolitans, thus modern and not inhabited by the old world, make the mistake of applying as a universal principle their own bourgeois life to the whole world, of maintaining that there is no nation, of subscribing to miscegenation and diversity for the people below, while never living within the diversity they cherish, still feeling protected by their areas of residence and having renounced civilization in favor of a living-together, based on human rights, relativism and consumerism.

Giesbert does not understand that the problem lies in the shift from quality to quantity. There is strength in numbers. One goes from a conversation of literates who speak French in Vienna to a suburban RER station in Clichy la Garenne. What is seen as the diplomacy of the spirit now becomes, by its application in general law, a mixing of cultures stupidly qualified as wealth. Living together does not work because people from different countries, coming in too large numbers, poor, concentrated in certain places, no longer seek to assimilate into France, into the French, into French work. Everything has been done to prevent them from doing so.

One must read Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities to see that the American situation is not so far from what FOG is experiencing in Marseille. Diasporas live together, speak their dialect, their language, and end up hating each other. Giesbert is Sherman MacCoy who discovers reality: multiculturalism is cosmopolitanism from below, for the masses and for the poor, which does not produce anything happy. The Lebaneseization of our country is the symptom of an archipelago which, when these islands come together, will, alas, set off fireworks.

Giesbert’s reaction reminds me of Bossuet’s cult phrase “God laughs at men who deplore the consequences while they cherish the causes.” Giesbert, the defender of liberalism, of laissez-faire, supporter of Maastrichtian Europeanism, sometimes Mitterrandian, sometimes Chiracian, sometimes Sarkozist, is caught in the contradictions of his own ideology. No, France is not McDonald’s; people do not come as they are. No, it is not enough to work and respect the laws to make a nation. This is already the vice of liberalism, which prefers belonging to labor capital over and above cultural belonging. The great replacement is a fact, but it needs a genitive, as we say in Latin, to be the great replacement of France from below by the immigration of work that has become that of settlement. In the logic of liberalism, a lawyer does not have to be replaced by a Kosovar or Congolese lawyer, but a plasterer, a sushi delivery man, and yes, a security guard. Perhaps, Mr. Giesbert realizes in his old age what is happening, like the sad sire, Onfray, supporter of Zemmour, like our dear Jean-Marie Rouart, former Freemason turned Catholic, in a successful book, Ce pays des hommes sans Dieu (This Land of Men without God).

It is precisely because Franz-Olivier Giesbert is beginning to understand that Laure Adler, judge and jury, felt obliged to point out his curious, tendentious and dangerous remarks. She is the illustration of what has become of the sixty-eight year-old Left. I can’t help but think of that acidic book by Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, in which he describes Leonard Bernstein, cashmere sweater over his shoulders, raising his fist in the air when he meets a Black Panther activist. This bourgeois Left has taken power through a cultural coup d’état (just as it did in 1789), by taking over the subsidized positions in culture, radio, newspapers, universities, national education, and the European Parliament. Mrs. Adler, fifty years of political and intellectual journalism on France culture, has been the red carpet of all the intellectualism of the last decades, selling us autistic feminism, hysterical anti-racism, blissful Europeanism, the culture of the margins, and deconstruction by those crazy people from Derrida, Althusser and Co.

For Ms. Adler, being offended by the fact that French is no longer spoken in France is racist. What!? Any country that wants to survive can only do so through a people, a land, a language. The self-righteousness of a bourgeoisie so outdated, outraged in front of reality, speaks volumes about the state of the disconnect. Mrs. Adler reproaches Giesbert for being white and for wanting to surround himself with white people. But does she herself really surround herself with people of diversity? In her milieu, is she not surrounded by people of her own class? Like over at Mediapart, where there is not a single French person of foreign origin but only an assembly of granivores. The only blacks or Arabs that Laure Adler sees are her cleaning lady, her Uber delivery man, the guy who checks her Hermès bag at the entrance to BHV or her looks at her Covid passport. The cynicism of ideas has a face. Tolerance, no-frontierism, crazy anti-racism all have accompanied liberalism’s own desire to see Mohamed Charkaoui’s grandson, a plasterer who arrived in 1975, become a parcel deliveryman. A drift of the capitalism of connivance.

Since the revolution eats its children and an abundance of rulers is detrimental, Mrs. Adler understands that it was necessary, at her age, to reinvent herself. One would almost have thought that Mitterrand had come back. But here she is, subscribing to Wokism to stay in the game and to survive on TV, where everything is understood in terms of skin color, oppression and minorities.

On the Left, she adheres to the most ridiculous anti-racism, but she also subscribes to the long speech of the neoliberal candidate Macron in Marseille in 2017, who saw in the Phocaean city Ghanaians, Moroccans, Algerians, Congolese, Italians, Portuguese, Turks, Brazilians and tutti quanti, but not a single French person of foreign origin. The irony is that this Marxist Left, fifty years on, like a Dumas novel, has gone from the Mao scarf to the Rotary Club. It is Goupil that loathes the Yellow Vests, the con Bandit, agent of the Americans in the European Union, old Glucksmann who supported the war in Iraq.

That the media hacks of power tear each other apart is self-evident; that they do so in public can be embarrassing. But it reveals a certainty: fools ever glory in what should shame them—it is the height of foolishness.

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

Featured image: “The Pig-faced Woman and the Spanish Mule” Caricature by George Cruikshank, published 21 March 1815.

Marc Fumaroli: Between War And Peace

There are men whose very appearance makes them sturdy and dazzling; at times sober, at times flambotant; who say everything and justify everything, like a crusader’s armor or a bishop’s paramour. Marc Fumaroli (1932-2020) was one such man. His attire was always impeccable: three-piece suit from Arnys, club tie, velour jacket. He went with the old buildings, the silks and the tapestries, belonging to the altar as well as the throne. If elegance, the last marker of civilization, was to put forward its man, both a great academic and an eminent man of letters, then it could be none other than he, among the great Frenchmen of our time.

One does not need to be a great soul to see that the world of the university is a cesspool, made up of people who have sacrificed everything to it. If they succeed, it’s because they had an idea once long ago, which they keep recycling for years on end, and rest on comfortable academic laurels. Their bourgeois conformity outweighs their worldliness, and if they dare to think, it is often sideways.

There are however some great names, some beautiful figures, who have understood everything, acquired everything, conquered everything. “Fuma” had the insolent lightness to float in the honors, to hold a bibliography as a work; and this way to be a library addict and to give thanks and account with measure; to arrive at fascinating ideas, the whole formulated by admirable syntheses, handled with panache. His Excellency Fumaroli was of those breed of lords, if I may say so, to which Albert Thibaudet, Julien Benda, Claude-Levi Strauss, Roger Caillois or Paul Valéry belonged; these people of letters with superior intelligence, extensive science, profound erudition, and substantial traits that we lack.

The work of Marc Fumaroli is abundant but concentrated around a beautiful unity: the Europe of letters, ideas and spirit. It would be too long to elaborate it in detail, but let us note the importance that his Eminence gave to the Republic of Letters and the circulation of ideas, from the humanists to the 18th century salon; to this Europe that spoke and wrote in French. In the field of rhetoric, of which he held the chair at the Collège de France, the master was interested in its modern leanings and in the reception of Greek and Roman rhetoric in the Grand Siècle, mastered and studied earlier by Professor Laurent Pernot; hence the remarkable pages devoted to the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns.

Above all, Fumaroli was a literary historian who devoted part of his research to the history of the French language, to the institution of the language and to the way in which France became aware of the greatness and the supreme and precious good of its language. Hence the genius of the French language, the lavish allegory, and the Académie française. The notion of taste animated in a particular way the work of this prince of letters, with all its variations, the nuances between the style and the sensitivity. One might see finally, in the twilight, an old man rehearsing the correspondence between the arts, passing from literature to painting, from poetry to sculpture, declaiming his love for Watteau and Fragonard; the last refuge, if it is such, of beauty and elegance.

Fumaroli was of the Right. That is understood. Liberal, he was close to Raymond Aron; conscious of the inequality among men; vindictive towards egalitarianism. The cultural state he never forgave, and yet incisive as a cut of knife on steak he hinted at a theory of the free arts and the freedoms in the most priceless of art, right in front of the sad passions of the sinister Jack Lang, from the cultural to the sewer.

Nationalist and sovereigntist, Fumaroli was hardly any of that. Deducing that custom is better than reform, he was conservative. Reactionary, he conceived the love of the glorious past and of the monarchies of the Ancien Régime, nostalgic of the big and beautiful Europe, of the books, of the thought, of the great names.

His sharp pen, shielded under some corduroy and tweed canvases, could be acidic, even malicious. When a socialist circular sought to impose the feminization of the names of professions in French, he could refrain from irony and brilliant wit: “notairesse (“notaryess”), mairesse (“mayoress”), doctoresse (“doctoress”), chefesse (“chefess”)… rhyme importunately with fesse (butt), borgnesse (“one-eyed woman”) and drôlesse (“hussy”), only very distantly evoking a duchess. Let’s choose between recteuse (“rectoress”), rectrices “rectrix”) and rectale (“rectal”)…”

In the posthumous book just published, Dans ma bibliothèque, la guerre et la paix (In my library, war and peace), Marc Fumaroli expresses once and for all his views and observations about Europe. Like ideas nurtured for decades, this old man in his green suit delivers a fascinating cornucopia, made incredible by the truths that it delivers, all the ideas that are linked. As the author indicates, this book does not follow any method. Rather, it is a ramble, which follows winding paths, forks in the road, deviations.

The book sometimes gives the impression of a messy work, where the author puts down everything he knows, adding reference after reference, one idea after another, giving the feeling sometimes of losing his purpose – war and peace. It must be said that we are far inferior to the master in following him. It is Europe that we hold in our hands; just like that feeling with la Litterature europeenne et le moyen age latin (European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages) of Curtius.

It is not possible to repeat all the ideas put forward in this book by Marc Fumaroli, so numerous are they. But here is its essence – war and peace have been two opposite poles that have built European civilization, a creative and destructive principle, a kind of duet in which one part does not go without the other; but also a duel that feeds, according to the reigns, wars and peace treaties, artistic creation, taste and consciences.

Thus, Fumaroli developed and detailed an entire triptych. The Iliad and the Aeneid are, first of all, founding texts of war and peace. The Greek work resembles a perpetuum mobile of conflicts between lordships, as one finds them in the Italy of the Renaissance, which fed the history of men like a kind of dynamic.

The Trojan war had a moral reason – the unfaithful wife and the deceived husband; but it does not have a political or economic purpose. Menelaus returns with his lady; Agamemnon is murdered; Achilles as well as Ajax are killed; Ulysses struggles to return; and Aeneas has an appointment with his destiny. War does not create vast ensembles; it sanctifies lives and destinies.

As for the Aeneid, it prepares Rome. Aeneas is, before being a pious civilized warrior, a diplomat who prepares the reign to come of Augustus. The Latin work announces the pax romana, based on the need to make war to impose peace, the perpetual peace, that we will find in two times – at the time of the respublica christiana, developed by Augustine in the City of God, and then with the Treaty of Westphalia, following the Thirty Years War.

Fumaroli masterfully devotes a large part of his work to France, mother of ideas, arts and letters, domina of Europe from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century: “Richelieu invented the concept of the European concert. He made the European Republic of Letters admit that the role of conductor was reserved for France.”

Peace and war marked the reign of Louis XIV; and Versailles, as the center of Europe, illustrated, by its opulence and splendor, this opposition. The Hall of Mirrors presented to the world the true power of France – it was France that made war on Spain; and above all it was France that imposed peace on Spain. The disastrous outcome of the War of the Spanish Succession, the libertine regency and the bankruptcy, paved the way for a kingdom less sure of itself, in retreat on the geopolitical level, acquiescing to peace.

War and peace were also embodied in two characters: Bossuet and Fénelon. One was a supporter of a Gallican Church, quick to serve the altar and the throne; the other, a critical observer of power, who made ready, according to the theory of quietism, a desirable pax catholica in Europe at war. This peace was the message delivered by les Aventures de Télémaque (The Adventures of Telemachus), a book of bedside reading and of apprenticeship, for the young dauphin, written by Fénelon.

Only the century of Louis XV was one of weakness – the aristocracy was more and more autistic and did not play its role anymore; the bourgeoisie got ready for the next coup d’état – that of 1789. Finance and technocracy joined forces. War was no longer of any use. It is then that one realizes with Fumaroli, that peace is not a value in itself nor war a moral fault or a misfortune; and that, conversely, a war contributes to glory and peace, and peace leads to weakness and failure.

As well, Fumaroli showed the rise of a royal art. This Louis-Quatorzian art, if not a baroque art, borrowed from papal and Catholic Rome, and is properly Gallican on the one hand, perpetuated by the rocaille, country style of a Watteau until 1740, then formed by Greek and Roman art, marked by the conflict between the Ancients and the Moderns: “[This art] concealed in France the fundamental historical quarrel about the establishment and the legitimacy of the French absolute monarchy, a quarrel whose echoes resounded in the favorable ears of several Jansenist circles of the kingdom. The court of Versailles took sides during the lifetime of Louis XIV for the Ancients, which it endowed in 1701 with an Academy of Inscriptions.”

The Comte de Caylus was a craftsman. This man is both unknown and impressive. An antiquarian, he had, in the sense that the literary gives it, the vibrant passion and the sensitive taste of antiquity; engraver, archaeologist and aesthete, he knew how to give the impulse of antiquity to the taste and the aesthetics of the kingdom.

At first, close to Watteau, whose biography he wrote, he spoke of the complicity of a generation which had altogether been distanced from war and brought closer to the arts of peace: “The tender memory that I keep of Watteau, of the friendship that I had for him, and of the gratitude that I had for him all my life, led me discover, as much as it was possible in him, the subtleties of his art.” Caylus broke with Ovid and was renewed by Homer and Virgil, just as he broke with Watteau, and the shepherds, and the gioia di vivere. With Wickelmann, he shared the feeling of having come too late; therefore, he mourned, nostalgically, for the ancient world. The return to Greek aesthetics implied, if not a rebirth, at least a return to war, to the martial tone and to heroic assurance in the arts.

The last part of this triptych covers the twentieth century and the emergence of nationalism with Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Grossman’s Life and Fate. The liberal and romantic inspiration contrasts with absolutism and royal dynasty. Something deep and visceral accompanies the formation of nation states. Napoleon waged wars of conquest, a “crusade for nothing,” as Léon Daudet would say, in the name of an expansion of an idea, that of French universalism, born of the liberalism of the French Revolution. The nation as an everyday plebiscite, according to Renan, is formed by the adhesion of a people.

All this is summarized by Fumaroli, in these words: “It is not a king who makes war on another king nor an army on another army, but a people against another people.” Here is Europe, determined amidst the emergence of nations and the fall of empires. Modern war compared to the classical, ancient war, shows a qualitative leap.

Fumaroli reminds us that modern war reaches the degree of destruction that is attributed to it by the number of soldiers that it digests and carries, the mass levies that the nations have, the patriotism injected into the consciousness of war that formalizes and freezes the belligerents, the use of materials such as coal and the use of technology. War and Peace is the modern version of an Iliad, where the death of Prince Andre, mowed down by a French bomb shrapnel on the battlefield of Borodino, is the equivalent of the death of Hector under the blows of Achilles in Book XXII. The implacable Fate of Homer is transported into the mystery of the God of Christian love. And Fumaroli takes up the association of peace-corruption and war-salvation for the 19th and 20th centuries.

Life and Fate, as Fumaroli points out, recapitulates the poetry of the two great ancient epics, the Iliad and the Aeneid, divided between the celebration of noble warrior heroes and the curse of battle and its ignoble massacres. Grossman’s novel is torn between goodness, hidden in the description of the mutual relentlessness of the fascist and Soviet evil against the impervious goodness that perseveres beneath the apocalyptic surface of the Final Solution and the Battle of Stalingrad. The madness and mystery of war. Tolstoy’s Homeric heroes are succeeded by two totalitarian democracies. inspired, says Fumaroli, by France of Robespierre’s Terror and by Bonapartist absolutism, “engaging more decisively in mass extermination at home and mass warfare abroad.”

With regard to the last part of the triptych, we can make three observations. First, this Mitterrandian vision of a nationalism that leads to war seems rather stale. The idea that Napoleon is the origin of a degeneration of European consciousness and the father of conflicts between nations, which was good enough to explain the Second World War and totalitarianism, is now somewhat outdated.

Nazism is not, then, the consequence of a nationalist sentiment, of a love of one’s country, of a desire to be at home. It is a German problem in Germany. Nazism, even if it is extreme right-wing, is an idealistic and biological productivism that is strictly German; and it is a mistake to believe that all nationalistic paths lead to it. It is not a nationalism that metastasized but, on the contrary, in the wake of the concert of nations, the expansion of a great European project, of which the Reich would be at the head; a project that rebuffed the old generation of Action Française. such as, Maurras or Bainville, nationalists, and which delighted the Lucien Rebatet, Brasillach or Leon Degrelle, fascists. This literary and intellectual point and this quarrel of generations are both missing

If Europe, finally, is better than nationalisms, and if greater Europe interests us, what is the political purpose of this one? Who leads Europe? Which institutions? Which country? Who has the power? The European Union? This vast joke cannot satisfy us. How can we believe that European technocracy, co-opted, would find the necessary resources to substitute itself for elected monarchs, presidents and ministers, subject to a vote?

Now, there will be no more Fumaroli. Our Cheetah has made his last turn. Going through the whole of his work on war and peace, one can resolutely take up the phrase of Marshal Lyautey, “But they are crazy! A war between Europeans is a civil war.”

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

The featured image shows, “Portrait of Marc Fumaroli, seated,” by François Legrand; painted in 2014.