Freedom as a Fetish

Paraphrasing Ernst Jünger, it seems undeniable that we are at the midnight hour of history, and that, the clock having already struck twelve, we contemplate in the twilight the contours of what has not yet been unveiled, or what is the same, in the words of Antonio Gramsci: “the old world is dying. The new is slow to appear. And in that chiaroscuro monsters emerge.” Engaged in a blind flight forward, we barely glimpse, from the desolation of wars and general bewilderment, a future without a proper name or defined features, which, when we try to apprehend it, fades away, ungraspable, in the mist of our own demons.

This midnight, an instant full of signifiers, and emptied of meanings, makes our fortunes emerge from the lack of intentions, and the randomness of the lack of reasons, resulting in living for the sake of living, beating around the bush, Macbeth’s ” petty pace from day to day;” the tale of a fool, full of noise and fury, signifying nothing.

A consequence, in fact, of having renounced some time ago to fight the battle of ideas, in exchange for the single thought that pays obeisance to the golden calf of profit and loss accounts and pursues the myth of commutative justice, based on social relations mediated by normative and contractual links, which, although they protect us to freely carry out individual transactions and mercantile interactions between people, overlook the personal and moral dimension of human interactions; dignity and rights in personal relationships, in order to, turning Wittgenstein on his head (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1.1), enthusiastically accept that the world is the totality of things, not of facts, which we detest to the point of fabricating tailor-made “alternative facts.”

It would seem that we have taken Theodor Adorno so literally (“after Auschwitz there is no place left for poetry”) that we have immersed ourselves in legalistic prose to normativize the moral, perhaps because, as Erich Fromm said, we take refuge in political structures and legal systems that provide us with peace of mind by sparing us from personally facing the consequences of ethical judgments, and so we let the asepsis of the civil code be the guide of our social behavior.

We have reached, in short, a state of affairs whose crux was already vehemently answered by Donoso Cortés in his important speech of 1849 (“Discurso sobre la dictadura”), in which he replied to Don Manuel Cortina, then Minister of the Interior, that, faced with the litany of the Government of the time of “legality, everything for legality, everything for legality, legality always, legality in all circumstances, legality in all circumstances; legality on all occasions,” he placed “society, everything for society, everything for society, society always, society in all circumstances, society on all occasions.”

Underlying this statement of Donoso’s principles, so applicable to today, is the conviction that “formal freedoms” are insufficient to maintain stability and justice in society, and that a legal codification cannot serve as a moral basis against injustice and inequality because of its “lack of spirituality” (Geistlosigkeit).

We find, one hundred years later, this same concern for morality as the foundation of life and society in the work of the Madrid philosopher George Santayana, Dominations and Powers, in which, following Donoso, Santayana questions formalist liberalism, centered on adherence to abstract principles and rules, which, by emphasizing the notion that the individual and his rights prevail over society and its needs, weaken cohesion and collective well-being. The Englishman Scruton more recently maintained the same thesis as Donoso and Santayana, affirming that the value of individual freedom is not absolute, but is subject to other higher values that arise directly from the sense of belonging to a continuous and pre-existing social order, which is fundamental in determining the virtue of our actions.

There is in all these assertions a more or less veiled criticism of Pelagianism, the thesis that “the possibility of defection from the good belonged to the essence or perfection of freedom,” or what is the same, the sacralization of the freedom of the will, safeguarding the right of each individual to exercise self-determination, deciding what is morally right, and the conditions for satisfying appetites—rational or irrational—since, whether these are in accordance with morality or transgress it, every personal choice is an expression of free will. This position contrasts radically with the doctrine of the Catholic Church, which holds that freedom makes man a moral subject, responsible for his actions, and that the conscious and deliberate decisions we make as individuals are susceptible to positive or negative ethical judgments (Catechism of the Catholic Church, PART THREE: LIFE IN CHRIST. In: The vocation of man: life in the spirit. Chapter One: The dignity of the human person. Article 3: The freedom of man. Paragraph 1734).

This essential principle is made clear in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum, expressly rejecting the idea that consent between employer and worker is sufficient with respect to wages or working conditions: the worker’s freedom does not lie in being able to accept an agreed wage, but in receiving fair remuneration for work that corresponds to his dignity, i.e., “To consent to any treatment which is calculated to defeat the end and purpose of his being is beyond his right.”

We can thus clearly glimpse the ultimate intentionality of the title of Santayana’s book, Dominations and Powers: Starting from this allusion to the angelic order, in which the Dominations form part of the hierarchy of celestial beings, and the Powers play the role of maintaining cosmic equilibrium, as well as overseeing the boundary between the spiritual and physical worlds, Santayana emphasizes the Virtues, which in the aforementioned celestial hierarchy represent moral excellence; purpose, and adherence to universal ethical principles. This position contrasts radically with the premises of Pelagianism already alluded to, on the one hand, and Lutheranism, on the other, insofar as both reaffirm the human capacity to discern religious truth and morality independently.

On the contrary, the philosopher from Madrid argues that genuine values live only in the vertical perspective, in a deeper dimension of human experience that cannot be reduced to a mere by-product of aggregate subjective constructions, but have a profound and universal nature, which Santayana connects with the concept of virtue.

Santayana, who abhors the idolatry of reason and the cult of individual autonomy (which is not without fundamentalisms that advocate being free, even to stop being free, as long as it occurs within the framework of the law), stresses that this Pelagianism made political does not primarily aim at the pursuit of prosperity, but centers its focus on the pursuit of progress; a progress that is closely linked to individual freedom, which implies that each individual has the full capacity to make spontaneous and independent decisions to move in the direction he chooses, supported by those who share his vision, and free from coercion by those who do not.

Ironically, the myth of progress has become a dogma of secularism, endowed with a metaphysical perspective, based on the belief in following a teleological path in pursuit of a higher stage, whose benefits are renounced by those who voluntarily marginalize themselves by not following the direction prescribed by the determinism of transcendental freedom, hypostatized as ultimacy, as an end that dispenses with the use of moral means to achieve it. It is freedom as a fetish; freedom for freedom itself. Against this naïve idealism, Santayana argues that, on the contrary, it is the individual who claims unlimited power over his own life who alienates himself from virtue, because it is virtue, after all, that embodies shared ethical values, interwoven in reciprocity and social interdependence.

Turning again to Roger Scruton, it is worth noting that he, along with the Englishman Philip Blond, holds postulates basically analogous to those of Santayana, as regards the importance of cultivating institutions, culture and traditional values in order to reap the fruits of social cohesion and stability, just as strong roots ensure that the tree bears fruit, according to the popular Vietnamese saying, gốc có mạnh cây mới tốt.

All of these thinkers are supported in a more organic way by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, emphasizing that without these strong roots, without “social capital,” we fail to understand the underlying causes of social injustice, presenting it as an inevitable and immutable phenomenon that does not concern us, something that leads us to collective irresponsibility and indifference to inequity.

This attitude of detachment manifests itself in the need to justify our own inhumanity to society, rationalizing the lack of charity and compassion, attributing poverty to the fatalism of natural causes. We also tend to assign personal responsibility for misfortune to those who suffer from it, diverting attention from the social and economic structures we use to evade responsibility for their existence. Thus, not only do we tend to blame the most unfortunate, but in an exercise of manifest myopia, we allow impoverishment to become a socially acceptable form of precariousness based on mirages that are often accepted or even desired by those who, although vulnerable, are dazzled by the glitter of a superficially opulent technological society, built on illusory images, disconnected from human existence, behind which lurks a reality hostile to society.

In this regard, the Italian philosopher and thinker Danilo Castellano characterizes these mirages as the tendency to create an illusion of individual freedom and material well-being, disassociating these notions from the complex social interactions and responsibilities that make us human (Castellano, “Qué es el liberalismo,” in Verbo, 489-490(2010), pp. 729ff).

The Italian argues that the emphasis on subjectivism as an axiological foundation generates results contrary to the ideals it proclaims, since in practice, the exaltation of the drive to submit reality to the will in order to shape it according to subjective desires ends up making us too human, to the point of distancing us from the Aristotelian “rational animal” (Aristotle, Politics, 1253: “The human being is a ‘political animal’ because he has logos”: διότι δὲ πολιτικὸν ὁ ἄνθρωπος ζῷον, δῆλον… λόγον δὲ μόνον ἄνθρωπος ἔχει τῶν ζῴων), in order to satisfy the irrational part of our nature, disintegrating along the way our human condition, reducing it to a set of disjointed impulses, which makes good Hume’s statement that “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them” (A Treatise of Human Nature, 2.3.3 p., 415). But what this implies, in fact, is to separate desire from any other element, such as the good, reducing wanting to a purely instinctive force; unreflective, which is equivalent to equating wanting with power, thus distorting the capacity to want the good and to be able to desire it.

All of which ultimately leads to Nietzsche’s “will to power,” which focuses on seeking power for the sake of power itself, without the need to attain something additional such as truth or value. What is pursued is the ability to will and to have the capacity to desire more, which implies an increasing relationship between will and power—to seek more power in order to desire more. This notion includes wanting not only what is desired, but also the act of desiring itself, with the purpose of increasing the capacity to desire, or desire itself as a form of power.

None of this escaped the insightful Santayana, who noted that, although the ideal of the cult of reason does not lie in a return to nature, if the inherent premises of transcendental freedom are taken to their ultimate consequences; animals—especially non-gregarious ones—could be granted a status of perfect freedom, because these beings follow the dictates of their inner impulses completely and unrestrictedly, enjoy complete autonomy of consciousness and expression, and are intrinsically motivated by their own interests.

That is, they are precisely in that “state of radical independence and autonomy” to which Hobbes alluded, to justify the need to codify human relations by means of a social contract in which people give up much of their individual freedom in favor of sovereign government, in exchange for security and order necessary, for negative liberty and free trade.

Santiago Mondejar Flores is a consultant, lecturer and columnist on geopolitics and international political economy. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

Featured: Invidia (Envy), by Giotto; painted in 1306.

The Second Death of the World of Yesterday

Although it is puerile to try to predict the long-term effects of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, it seems reasonable to presume that we are at the doorstep of a different reality, which will transform international politics to extremes that we can barely intuit, but from which we cannot exclude an “every man for himself” in Europe, as soon as the shock waves of war reach the voter’s pocketbook.

All in all, the lack of unity of Western societies, and the disorientation and lack of purpose conveyed by their leaders contrast with the will to power and international affirmation shown by the new international players, so that, even if we are able to avoid a warlike conflagration that could well be the last, it makes it very difficult to shake off the suspicion that we are crossing the threshold of a new era, which is the second death of the world of yesterday.

Few things symbolized that world better than the dominance of the US dollar, which even in these days of change more than a currency, continues to be the axis around which US commercial, security and cultural affairs revolve at the global level, to the point that there has been a direct cardinality between the financial and military leadership of America at the global level over the last 100 years, but especially since the time of Richard Nixon’s presidency.

In order to understand this better, and at the same time to understand the incentives of the emerging powers to undermine this monetary hegemony, it is necessary to review the chronology that has led to the US dollar having a dominant role in the world economy, for which it is necessary to go back to the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system, agreed upon by the Allies, shortly before the end of the Second World War, whereby most Western and assimilated economies fixed their exchange rates to the value of the US dollar, whose value was backed by its parity with US gold reserves, thus putting an end to the Gold Standard, which had been in force since the 19th century, more or less as conceived by David Hume in 1752.

The Bretton Woods system was a transitional formula to allow a certain degree of financial openness at world level, providing greater accessibility and exchange rate certainty to the foreign exchange market, dominated by the large international banks.  However, at the beginning of the 1970s, the system showed its limitations because of the fact that the economic expansion of the incipient globalization demanded more dollars than the US gold reserves could support.

Faced with this situation, the Smithsonian Agreement was put in place, under the umbrella of the OECD, creating a system in which currencies could operate freely, floating within a 2% tolerance margin, both up and down.  In other words, the widespread adoption of fiat money took place, i.e., backed by faith in the stability and strength of the economy of the issuing bank’s country.

For decades, and by far the only one with the depth and liquidity of its capital markets, supported by the robustness of its political institutions and its economic weight, the US dollar became the safe haven currency for all purposes, which led to the enormous US capacity to finance itself through the placement of sovereign bonds—or, in other words, to borrow in a currency whose issue and exchange rate it controls: the US finances its astronomical deficit thanks to the demand for dollars by other countries—in which third countries deposit part of their foreign investment and the central banks their foreign exchange reserves. The US finances its astronomical deficit thanks to the demand for dollars by other countries, in which third countries deposit part of their foreign investment and central banks their foreign exchange reserves. No other nation has this capacity, which enables the US to use financial sanctions (e.g., seizure of dollar-denominated financial assets) against other states asymmetrically, i.e., without the slightest possibility of the affected country responding reciprocally to the punitive measures inflicted on it. Similarly, the United States has at its disposal tools such as the Foreign Assets Control Act of the Treasury Office, with which it imposes sanctions on individuals and legal entities that are not under US jurisdiction, something which, at the very least, calls into consideration questions of legitimacy, sovereignty and legal security.

These sanctions have a scope that goes beyond the mere direct damage caused to the sanctioned party, since their effect extends indirectly as a consequence of the reluctance of third parties to do business with sanctioned entities and countries for fear of being sanctioned or hindered in turn when dealing with US financial entities, which makes the US dollar a powerful instrument of international economic coercion. It is not surprising then that the emerging powers of the new order in the making are struggling to mitigate the US ability to use its monetary muscle as an instrument of foreign policy.

After all, the dominance of the US dollar as a reserve currency is ultimately more a symptom than a cause, since if the central banks of third countries had fewer US dollar assets, the differences in the exchange rate or interest rates of the US dollar would be marginal. Nevertheless, the percentage of national reserves in US dollars and their preponderance in foreign exchange trade has hardly shown any signs of erosion, despite the emergence of the euro and the substantial growth of China in this century, even in spite of the exorbitant US current account and fiscal deficit already mentioned, so that the coercive capacity of the US currency remains intact.

Although attempts by other economic powers to rid themselves of this sword of Damocles have yielded modest results to date (e.g., the creation by France, Germany and the United Kingdom of INSTEX, an alternative to SWIFT, the American electronic banking system; the launch by China of the Shanghai hydrocarbon futures market, the redenomination in euros of the intergovernmental contracts of the partners of the European Union, or the aforementioned purchase and sale agreement without dollars between Russia and India), the realities of the new polycentric world scenario make it inevitable that the relative weight of each of the emerging blocs will achieve strategic autonomy in the financial arena, so that a sustained increase in multilateral efforts to erode the hegemony of the US dollar, and with it, the monopoly of unarmed coercion, is to be expected. All this, in short, will be the epitaph of the prosperity that liberal democracies enjoyed since the end of World War II, being the fruit of the analysis carried out by Western political elites in the face of the communist threat, which concluded that the main threat to liberal democracy was unemployment.

This led to the promotion of common policies orchestrated to keep unemployment levels below 5%. In practice, this meant virtually full employment and a providential welfare state capable of combining Keynesian policies with the beneficial inclusion in the system of the remaining five percent of the population that could not be integrated into the labor market. And it is here that internal contradictions begin to develop.

As argued by Michał Kalecki in the 1940s, once a situation of full employment is reached, the incentives for workers to stay in the same job are drastically reduced, forcing the recruitment and retention of employees to be incentivized through wage increases.

This, in turn, leads companies to raise the prices of their products and services. In other words, creating inflation and contracting debt in order to grow. This is precisely the dynamic into which the advanced democracies entered—the higher the levels of employment, the higher the levels of inflation. This was evident in the 1950s and 1960s, a period in which a scenario was reached in which inequality levels were at historic lows, thanks to the containment of corporate profits and the cushioning of the burden of debt through inflation.

Of course, this induced inflation actually meant a tax on the returns of investors and lenders who saw their returns restricted and thus diminished. To all this, both companies and financial institutions reacted by promoting a new economic paradigm in which full employment took a back seat to the benefit of price stability, which inevitably led to the induction of unemployment as a corrective measure to the inflationary dynamics described above.

This led to strict wage control, resulting in the dominance of a creditor’s market, creating the fiction of inflationary stagnation, coupled with investment-stimulated, debt-based productivity growth that in real terms only benefited the providers of capital. Of course, this model was not sustainable, and so the 2008 crisis forced central banks to turn the printing presses on full blast to inject paper money into an economy that once again suffered from internal contradictions, accentuated by a lack of monetary liquidity. Once again, returns on capital were at rock bottom, but this time due to deflation caused by virtually negative interest rates, placing working people in an unsustainable situation in the face of a precarious and volatile labor market, disproportionate levels of incremental indebtedness and systemic wage restraint.

All this brings us to 2017, a time when citizens inadvertently discovered the power that the vote gives them to kick monetarism in the shin of liberal democracy, a symptom of the disaffection of large sectors of the working population, which suffers from a limited formal education and resents the effects of globalization on their way of life at work, forcing them into a de facto alienation that is easily exploited by populist movements which pick up on the loss of social dignity and respect that is perceived by those who do not benefit from globalization. For several decades, there was the illusion that such frameworks as Giddens’ Third Way could achieve a political equilibrium based on a mixed economy, and thus take the initiative to overcome the crisis into which Western social democracy was plunged by the implosion of the Soviet bloc.

In practice, this attempt ended up being the West’s swan song, embodied by Clinton and Blair’s devil’s bargain with the capital markets and financial products, such as subprime mortgages that catalyzed the collapse of the banking system in 2007, and served to incubate the popular response that emerged from the ideological collapse of the social democratic parties that should have known how to contain the desperation of the victims of the crisis by channeling, in a positive way, the disaffection with a system that they no longer found relevant beyond a welfare function that tends to paternalism and manipulation, thus eroding the dignity of workers who abhor not being useful to society. These social sectors end up, in the absence of suggestive alternatives, withdrawing from the labor market and from social life in general, subsisting on public aid that only succeeds in cementing their conviction of being a burden on a society that does without them. Few tears will be shed at the funeral of the American dollar.

Santiago Mondejar Flores is a consultant, lecturer and columnist on geopolitics and international political economy. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

Featured: Peace, by J.S. Pughe, illustration published in Puck, v. 57, no. 1465 (March 29, 1905).

Between Political Theology and the Artificial Demiurge

The second decade of the 21st century is characterized by the growing centrality of biopolitics (understood as the political use of biomedical knowledge to control and condition life processes) in public discourse, encompassing both the beginning and end of life and the suspension of personal freedom for health reasons.

The scope of biopolitical elements in today’s society proves Pope Francis right when, in his effort to rehabilitate politics, he argues that everything that happens in the polis concerns the common good and has political significance. However, the emergence of biopolitics—together with the inclination to therapize politics—has been made possible by the advent of a relatively new ruling class, the technocrats, who place themselves above politics, and make good Paul Valery’s saying that politics consists in “preventing people from interfering in what concerns them.” And indeed, technocracy is by definition—and above all—the depoliticization of public affairs, at the cost of moral judgments losing their primacy to gradually give way to the generalization of an uncritical and passive attitude towards the reality of power, as Dalmacio Negro has repeatedly pointed out.

This moral desiccation of the political reflects, in short, the triumph of structural capitalism, in the sense that one of its pillars is that the primary function of the Law (and therefore of the legislator) is independent of value judgments and any teleological aspiration, and is limited to the regulation of realities, so that these can be expressed as free contractual relations, whose mercantile fulfillment is guaranteed by state institutions.

The importance of this conception of the law for the flourishing of Protestant capitalism was pointed out by Max Weber, when he noted that it was precisely the interests of the English capitalist classes and the guilds of lawyers that prevented the development of a codified legal system embedded in the bureaucracy of an administration of justice, creating the appropriate legal conditions—first in England and later in the United States of America—for the successful structural development of capitalism within a legal framework based on an “amorphous, precedent-bound, empirical law” that allowed legal professionals to give legal form to capitalist business in such a way that the axis of the political shifted to the industrialized economy, making technique the ultimate foundation of modern politeia.

The political implications of this divergence from the continental legal tradition were extensively studied by Carl Schmitt in his writings on the concept of Political Theology, which allowed him to draw a series of sociological analogies between the modern State and the Catholic Church, as the legitimate heir of the Roman legal tradition and the uninterrupted representative of its founder. However, although Schmitt himself called these studies in Weberian terms a sociology of juridical concepts, the truth is that Carl Schmitt’s political theology is more than a sociology or a history of ideas, and constitutes rather a methodology for establishing a correlation between concepts of a juridical-political nature and concepts of a theological-metaphysical type. “Method” comes from the Greek μέθοδος (“way to follow to go beyond”), for Meta (μετα, beyond), and Hodos (ὁδός, way).

Nota bene: throughout his work, Schmitt deploys four theological-political dimensions; one centered on sovereignty, others on representation, and a third on the Katechon, each of which he couples to a given theological-political category. Thus, Schmitt establishes a correlation between sovereign power and divine omnipotence; second, between the mediating capacity between the divine and the human by the Church and political representation; and third, between the idea of the Katechon and real political power.

In the context of apocalyptic literature, the function of the Katechon is to temper the eschatological enthusiasm of the early Christian church that anxiously awaits the return of Christ while at the same time trying to avoid the disorder and anarchy of the last days. Schmitt uses this concept in the key of Political Law, to advocate that it is imperative that chaos does not reach (nach oben kommt) the level of the State; for which a reins (Katechon) are necessary to restrain (niederhält) anarchy. Therefore, the figure of the Katechon as used by Schmitt is to be understood as an allegory of a strong state.

The path followed by Schmitt runs through the historical processes from which the structures common to the theological and the political emerged, characterized by the successive occupation of the central political pole by a social tendency corresponding to a given epochal period, from which a correlation between the spheres of the theological and the political can be derived. The three main phases were the shift from the theological to the metaphysical, from the metaphysical to the moral, and from the moral to the economic, each serving to rationalize a particular worldview that served as legitimization of the ostentation of political power by certain groups and not others. In more concrete terms, the process described by Schmitt encompasses the transition from monarchical absolutism/theism to constitutionalism/theism, which led to liberal democracy/laicism, and, according to Carl Schmitt, moves in the direction of anarchy/atheism.

It is easy to see that the constant element in this transition is the progressive secularization of sovereignty, or, in other words, a process of gradual negation of the principle of sovereignty under the rule of the economy-technique pair, whose logic (which is claimed to be inevitable and immutable) of the market grants it cultural and political hegemony, a phenomenon that we can characterize as an autopoietic process-progress, which, in addition to reproducing itself, recreates all the conditions necessary to renew itself and expand sustainably according to a technological determinism that requires less and less human intervention. (In ethical terms, the modern financial system is essentially amoral, as it accepts the subordination of production processes to the accumulation of capital without any social responsibility). Naturally, such a system operates without needing the hypothesis of God, because it renounces any transcendent perspective, so that neither religion, nor even politics, are in any way the apex of the whole. At the same time that this happens, the subjective perception of a differential between the temporal and the spatial is dissolved in the shrinking of geography, which, due to technological instantaneity, is on the verge of achieving the end of space before reaching the end of history. And if this system is, besides being self-referential, atheological, because it dispenses with God, it also dispenses with man, because from the systemic prism, the meaning of a conception of human nature is as redundant as that of the transcendent: a person is only a vector, a focal point around which a structure of productive expectations deriving from economic processes materializes. (According to Niklas Luhmann’s interpretation, of the concept of autopoiesis as applied to sociology, an autopoietic system is endowed with a self-referential character not limited to the level of its structures, but has the capacity to construct itself the elements that constitute it, which develop by having not only a meaning for itself, but also the capacity to have a meaning—Autopoiesis, Handlung und kommunikative Vertändigung. Zeitschrift fur Soziologie, Heft 4, 366-379).

As Carl Schmitt said, the new self-made human being is not a new God. Rather, what takes place is the dehumanization of society, and with it, its depoliticization, because history, in the political sense, ends when the eschaton arrives; but, as Walter Benjamin pointed out (“Capitalism as Religion”), this is an empty eschatology, which does not provide redemption or point to a beyond; on the contrary, because it is immanent to a concrete situation, it can only lead to social entropy. In this way, politics (in the aforementioned key of eticity to which Francis alludes in his eagerness to rehabilitate politics), comes to an end when the expectation of the Schmittian thematization of the eschaton opens up, accelerating the emptying of the political as a struggle for social justice and the defense of human dignity. This vacuum is then filled by technocracy and the cult of technology, which, as Habermas argues, tend to impose an unavoidable instrumental rationality whose result is that, rather than the power of technicians, technocracy is a set of techniques at the service of power. That is, the current crisis of politics, under the parameters set out here, is due to an idolatry that reflects the dominance of the economy and technology in today’s world, where politics is reduced to the performance of a merely managerial function, subordinated to the economy and subordinate to the technology that homogenizes thought and lapses the political conflict inherent to the pluralism of wills, arrogating to itself the sole representation of the objective interests of the majority.

Santiago Mondejar Flores is a consultant, lecturer and columnist on geopolitics and international political economy. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

The Miscarriage of the World

It is remarkable that as early as 1918 Oswald Spengler published his magnum opus, The Decline of the West, a work of prophetic anticipation in two volumes, which deals with the decline of Western civilization propitiated by mollitude, hedonism and the cult of money, which turns the masses into passive and vulnerable objects, subjected to totalitarianism, whether tacit or explicit. Spengler’s reflections in the form of cultural pessimism were continued, after the interregnum of Caesarisms following the First World War and the subsequent cataclysm of the Second World War, by thinkers, such as the Italian Augusto Del Noce, who questioned, through a transpolitical reading highly relevant to the current situation of the world, the ethical legitimacy of the world’s social model, the ethical legitimacy of the social model of liberalism, in which capital becomes an end in itself, and the subject ends up being reduced to an object whose function is limited to being part of the productive processes of an economistic system, whose raison d’être is to grow and reproduce ad infinitum.

“In saying this we also affirm that current history is nothing other than the explicit contradiction of Marxism—when taken, in effect, to its extreme, the moment of historical materialism, as an affirmation of total relativity, and the dialectical moment, as a revolutionary principle, must be dissociated; and historical materialism thus separated from dialectical materialism invaded the West. There, where culture is characterized by the hybris of the sciences of man, hybris in the sense that such sciences want to replace philosophy—sociology, psychoanalysis and, today, above all, structuralism” (Augusto Del Noce, Agonia della società opulenta).

The central premise of Augusto Del Noce is the radical refutation that the reality of the human being can be understood only in terms of material subjectivity, but that such reality, in order to be endowed with meaning, must be understood on the basis of what man thinks of his relationship with the world in which he is, and with what transcends that world. There is in this postulate a notable coincidence with the affirmation of Xavier Zubiri, in the sense that the self is not only not the only reality, but that egocentrism opens up a split, characterized by the agonisms of the self and the “you” and the “them” and the “us,” which have as a consequence that there are no genuine relations between persons, since every individual is seen by other individuals primarily as an instrument of his own realization, and in such a way that the validity of man is subordinated to the principle of result (the important thing about man is what he does), opening a gap that cannot be closed without recourse to an intercession necessarily free of egotism: “…in the sense that everything acquires meaning only for that which can become an instrument of affirmation of the particular subject, in the egoistic sense, and which reciprocally can subsist only insofar as it is used by others” (Del Noce, Agonia della società opulenta).

For both authors, this mediation can only be professed by that which aims at the transcendental (the religious; that which facilitates otherness as an interest between one being and another being, the inter-esse according to the formulation of Emmanuel Lévinas). This assertion serves Del Noce as a basis for sustaining that the systemic desacralization carried out by liberalism prevents this mediation, since by engaging in anthropological simplifications based on immanent interpretations of the course of history, they usurp the role of the sacred in transcendent religion, transferring it to the political field, in which by definition the subjective takes precedence.

Del Noce goes even further, arguing that modern secular political theologies (heirs of that Kantian theorem, according to which every material practical principle is necessarily empirical, and therefore a reflection of the subjective impression it makes on us, lacking a fortiori the objectivity required to form the backbone of a moral law), are incapable of grounding human free will on an objective moral basis, it ends up paving the way for the absolutist and arbitrary imposition of relative and contingent moralities: “…after Christianity, the category of two essential philosophical forms, Christian thought and Rationalism, were conditioned by an initial position regarding the original fall. Now, there is a third form of thought that claims to be constituted without this option, Empiricism, essentially specified by the distinction between the verifiable and the unverifiable; on account of which not only knowledge, but morality and politics could be organized independently of any hypothesis about suprasensible reality” (Del Noce, Il problema della modernità, p. 294).

According to this argument, the omission of objective (i.e., transcendental) juridical elements leads to a purely formalistic conception of democracy as a normative decision-making process. Let us recall that, according to Hans Kelsen, “democracy is procedure, and only procedure,” a principle later echoed by Robert A. Dahl and John Rawls.

This formalism, according to Augusto Del Noce, leaves this “pure democracy” defenseless and submissive, in the face of totalitarian vagaries. The Italian philosopher’s thesis is that Isaiah Berlin’s secular consecration of negative freedom, which he expresses by arguing that “the defense of freedom consists in the negative end of preventing the interference of others,” translates in practice into a propensity to reduce moral ties to their minimum expression, which in turn creates the social conditions that feed a breeding ground favorable to the flourishing of expressions of vitalist essentialism.

Such vitalism (which is ultimately controllable, and therefore manipulable), conceives the human being as an “animal of impulses,” whose personal traits are reducible to the biological characteristics of his species, and which explains the importance acquired by this idea among philosophical currents, such as eliminative materialism, and psychological ones, such as behaviorism, whose shared foundation is that the science of the mental should not pay attention to the consciousness, but focus on stimuli and the verifiable responses they generate, since it is this pragmatic knowledge that allows human behavior to be conditionable, without the need to resort to the use of brute force to achieve certain ends.

A clear example of this can be found in the “Nudge Theory” of the American Richard H. Thaler, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2017, for “his contribution to behavioral economics”. Thaler’s work is far from being unknown in the world of political science, as was amply demonstrated during the confinements decreed following the pandemic outbreak of 2020, proof that in our times, it is possible to affirm that the maximum value of a democratic system is linked to the idea of non-violence, and at the same time to establish the necessary conditions to subordinate the moral legitimacy of the means applied to the ends pursued, thanks to a conformity obtained through a highly sophisticated—formally impeccable—manipulation of social behavior, and the gradual neutralization of the social dialectic, which resituates political conflicts in the sphere of economic competition in order to depoliticize social antagonisms in a substantive way.

The latter, according to Jean-Claude Michea’s thesis, obliges liberal states to promote a kind of permanent cultural revolution, with the aim of gradually eradicating the cultural, religious and political obstacles that hinder the advance of the commodification of all facets and aspects of human life—as Carl Schmitt (1932, p. 58) put it, liberalism being the child of liberalism and the son of liberalism and the result of liberalism. 58), liberalism being the child of economism, one of the pillars on which it is based is the “economist materialist objectivity,” which, in the end, has as a consequence that the reason of State ends up being little more than a pure mercantile reason.

As Del Noce points out in this regard, such a state of affairs reveals the existential danger of emptying democracy itself of its moral content (democrazia vuota del sacro), as it becomes a kind of gnosticism accessible to a select group of “initiates,” experts who, having previously denied the existence of a transcendent reason, and therefore the very existence of a supernatural order, arrogate to themselves the mission of creating a universal but immanent reason that will bring order to an anarchic world that they characterize as the fruit of chance. Consequently, this technocratic gnosis that characterizes the modern manifestations of political liberalism is, before being an economic model and a political regime, an expression of a vision of the totality of the earthly world, which, being conceived in mechanical terms (Walter Rathenau) assumes, by extension, human consciousness in a mechanistic key (Kurt Breysig).

This is why Del Noce warns against the complacency of abandoning oneself to contractualist, theoretical frameworks, and warns against the risk of relegating political representation to technocrats, who give absolute value to quantitative normativity, formal rather than substantive; which, in their most radical expressions, decay into a performative quasi-fundamentalism, consisting of a self-referential and self-justifying democratic liturgy, in which we can easily find similarities with the “cargo cult,” both in its ritualistic aspects and in the voluntarism that underlies it, consisting, in short, in denying the limits of human reason in order to undertake a rebellion against reality.

Naturally, this ritualism, no matter how voluntaristic it may be, cannot escape the reality of being plunged into crises of authority, which, in the first instance, derive from a crisis of truth. This is inevitable when the idea of ontological truth is unacceptable, because then there is no basis for accepting the concept of objective legitimacy, nor, consequently, for establishing a hierarchy of values in an absolute and perennial key—what politics gives, politics takes away, by the grace of the general will.

The demonstrated incapacity of the liberal democracies in force to establish a true secular religion (alternative to the true one), which serves as a prop for a political system whose main attribute is the sacralization of absolute relativism. From this consecration it follows that tolerance of difference ends up being hypostatized as the highest value, at the price of renouncing the moral authority of values, equating the value of all of them. In this way, the values of the political system, such as the aforementioned tolerance, are placed before the values of man, which are demoted to the category of personal choices without intrinsic validity, but subjective, and therefore relative, since every individual is free to determine his own values, with the exception of those who deviate from the liberal orthodoxy. It is obligatory to quote Carl Schmitt (1932, p. 57), who said that, by virtue of the “ethical pathos” of liberalism, the individual is the Alpha and the Omega; “terminus a quo et terminus ad quem.”

The normative ambiguity that results from this, together with the lack of common purpose that emerges from this moral pluralism, lead, according to Del Noce, to the elaboration of the myth of the affluent society as a substitute for religion and destiny, since the realization that freedom is not properly a movement, but rather being able to move (and that, therefore, the substantive issue is where to move to and what for), makes it essential to determine an attractive goal that justifies this commitment to freedom at all costs. Truly existing liberalism believes to have found this goal in the story of a sustained and unlimited material progress, supposedly attainable, thanks to the infinite capacity presumed to homo technicus to multiply fish and loaves (even though natural resources are finite); that aspires to a future golden age in which moral virtue will be obtained, not through the perfection of the person, but thanks to the economic well-being of the individual.

Reaching this utopia is proving elusive, however, awakening doubts that lead us to believe that the very idea of a future, with or without an earthly paradise, is elusive. It seems undeniable that the affluent society has made the world so instantaneous that time and space have ceased to have meaning, and where reality is so complex, intertwined, and informatively overwhelming, that its becoming has become unpredictable and unsettling.

All of which has brought us to a point where, for lack of a more propitious scapegoat, we hold the leaders we ritually choose responsible for our anxieties, accusing them of devising a political praxis even more stupid than that exercised by their predecessors, when, in truth, what is probably happening is that they are as incapable of seeing where this misguided world is heading as we are ourselves.

Santiago Mondejar Flores is a consultant, lecturer and columnist on geopolitics and international political economy. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

Featured: Office in a Small City, by Edward Hopper; painted in 1953.

The Myth of the Tabula Rasa

Perplexingly, one of the most notorious social tendencies in the Western sphere is the eagerness to empty Christian structures of their content, only to recreate them as self-founded secular simulacra, based on democratic monism. Beyond the fact that this drive reveals in essence that Western culture is objectified and secularized Christianity, and that, therefore, postmodern society, far from being post-Christian, is radically Christian. We can clearly see a reflection of this in the secularization of the doctrines of the Logos and the “powers” of Philo of Alexandria—as well as of the Cappadocian patristic concept of the perichoresis of the persons of the Trinity—in the ontological families, defined both in the three substrata of reality of Karl Popper (World 1, World 2 and World 3) and in the genera of materiality of Gustavo Bueno (Matter 1, Matter 2, Matter 3).

[The phrase, lógos apophantikós denotes “to say something of, or according to, something” (légein tì katà tínos), the primary signification of légein being “to gather,” “to collect,” “to religate.”]

It is, on the other hand, quite evident that the attempts to base a secular morality on the normative principle that it should be rational, consistent and objective, face the difficulty of achieving universal validity, in spite of having endowed itself with a modern clergy, unquestionable and infallible by definition, in which the moralizing role of the ancient prophets is played by the opinion makers who proliferate in an ecosystem of media, educational institutions, public agencies, and activist organizations that are not averse to canceling dissent in order to impose their own dogmas, with the expectation that the dissident will remain silent, often using the name of reason in vain.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of this empty invocation of rationality lies in the fact that the value of moral values is neither verifiable nor falsifiable à la Popper, and consequently unfounded (i.e., ethics cannot emanate from the scientific method), so that, if tradition is set aside, it is inevitable that, à la Kelsen, since the validity of a legal norm cannot be empirical, it springs from arbitrary value judgments, established by subjective acts of will that do not concern the field of what is, but that of what ought to be. Consequently, the validity of positive law, à la Kant, depends for its foundation not on ethical, religious or national pre-juridical convictions, but on obtaining its legitimacy from the legality of the democratic procedure, which is equivalent to saying that it suffers from circularity, inasmuch as it reduces moral guidelines to the democratic process, to which the category of monistic order is attributed.

This opens the door to the arbitrariness of the law, by making it contingent on the will of a circumstantial majority (the relative importance of moral issues is the aggregation of the preferences of each voter), an inconsistency of which the ancient Greeks were already aware, when they sought in Natural Law a deeper foundation for positive law, in order to level out its tendency to be subject to the conjunctures of political power. Reflections of the same nature took place within the School of Salamanca, giving rise to the elaboration of the precursor norms of Human Rights, derived from the belief that man, as such, with no other qualification than his human condition, is the subject of rights, so that his existence is the bearer in, and by itself, of values and norms that we can find, but not create ex nihilo.

The opposite view—that law legitimizes itself by becoming law—presumes that values must be created, and consequently imposed, without the need for any justification other than the general will. In other words, morality is determined by the highest common denominator of the set of desires, aspirations and intentions of the electoral body; that is, the will derived from the mental states of the voters, rather than the normative expression of the authority of a moral ideal unconditioned by circumstances.

Consequently, this postulate represents moral development as an advance towards conditions in which a collective will, without historical or religious ballast, creates its values and determines its norms as if it existed in a sort of anthropological vacuum. Moral facts, however, are not something inchoate by means of a volitional act, exercised as part of a given legislative procedure. On the contrary, every actor participating in the electoral body is embedded in a specific moral tradition, from the moment he begins his conscious relationship with the social environment in which he has grown up.

The moral tradition is, therefore, a fact inherent to the civic reality, no matter how secular it may be. This consubstantiality leads to the fact that when political power turns secularism into laicism, society is plunged into a conflict of legitimacy, the most notorious consequence of which is to cause a split in the principle of authority, which ultimately calls into question authority itself. This is so because when someone is faced with a norm that clashes with his own moral tradition, he is forced to choose in conscience between two forms of authority, the moral and the legal, and consequently, he ends up abiding by the authority dictated by his own conscience, which, in the last analysis, means that he is no longer subject to any other authority.

Although there is no lack of concrete examples of this in many fields in our times, we will focus here on the field of education, since for decades it has become a battleground for culture wars and a laboratory for identity politics, even though the nature of what is at stake concerns fundamental questions that give us the opportunity to review an issue that has more to do with moral values than with pedagogical technique, since it really concerns concepts such as parental “power” and “responsibility”. It should come as no surprise that the school-world is the chosen arena in the struggle against moral tradition, since it is easy to see that behind the sophistry erected by the educational guilds and the clienteles of Utopia, there lie pedagogical tendencies based on the theory of the tabula rasa, which date back to 1762, the date of publication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, or On Education.

The central premise of Rousseau’s treatise is that children come into the world in a state of grace, endowed with an inherent goodness, which society degrades to make them adults. Consequently, the way to have a better society is to preserve the benign innocence of children, and what better way to achieve this than to free them from traditional education.

Following in the wake of Rousseau, and contradicting Aristotle’s premise that only an educated mind can understand a thought different from its own, even without the need to accept it, those responsible for formulating contemporary public education have for decades persisted in interpreting the Stagirite’s aphorism backwards, to the point where academic censorship has been normalized to protect students from ideas that are considered dangerous, wrapping them in bubbles of sentimentality, like someone wrapping a fragile clay figurine fresh from the oven, while successive educational laws have been loosening the burden of knowledge of philosophy, history, classical languages, literature or geography, in favor of practical and fragmentary skills that close more doors than they open, but that allow us to prolong the childhood of students by avoiding subjects and learning methods that disrupt the playfulness, spontaneity, and immediate gratification of the pupils.

But in order to seriously investigate this matter, it is necessary to go beyond the educational subjects, to situate ourselves in the very guts, which is the sphere of the fundamental principles from which the rights and duties of parents and children emanate. The interesting thing about descending to the level of natural law is that it allows us to isolate the question from political conjunctures, and defines it in timeless terms; without an expiration date, beyond ideology, and protected from cultural relativism.

Therefore, we will only mention in passing what is established in article 27 of the Spanish Constitution regarding the obligation of the State to guarantee that public education is consistent with the parents’ own moral convictions, since this is not a Spanish debate, but a universal one. It is in this sense that it is useful to start with the basics, and add layers of complexity as we advance in the understanding of the problem, and not the other way around. In this sense, since we are talking about persons, it is worth noting that, as human beings, we are endowed with a distinctive and determined nature, from which stem a series of faculties such as will, desire, conscience, reason and speech, which are subject to “normal” functional characteristics that are part of the natural law of the human being. An example of natural law is the determination to communicate our thoughts through speech. But unlike other living beings—also subject to their own natural laws—only human beings are free to make “abnormal” use of their functions.

We can, for example, use the faculty of speech to lie, and use our intellect to develop rationalizations to justify such behavior. But even this agency is determined by the natural law that makes us human, and so we develop a posteriori social constructs, such as morality and justice, to normatively constrain selfish impulses. Well, it is in this dichotomy where the essence of the two major political positions lies; the old discussion between those who defend the immutability of the human character, and those who maintain its malleability. And the fruit of this dialectical tension is positive law, a part of which concerns public education, and which affects three differentiable typologies: firstly, the learning of skills such as reading and writing; secondly, intellectual training; learning to learn; and finally, civic instruction; forming oneself as a full member of the community.

While the first two facets of the educational process are quantitative and objective, the third has a strong subjective and qualitative weight, based on a set of moral, ethical, religious, emotional, aesthetic, philosophical and cultural premises, in whose transmission the family occupies a preeminent place, which is disputed with the believers in the myth of the tabula rasa, present throughout the political spectrum. Unlike the latter, parents are not an abstract entity, but a biological reality, a natural law from which legal responsibilities derive, whose counterpart is the exercise of moral rights. These rights, as set forth in our constitution, as previously mentioned, include parental agency in the civic formation of children. This point is fundamental; it is the parents who delegate, conditionally, part of this formation to the school, without renouncing the authority that emanates from the aforementioned natural law.

Children are a subject of law; but the State is subsidiary to the parents, and its action should only prevail when objectively the integral wellbeing of the minor is at risk. Likewise, and as part of this implicit contract between family and school, parents should refrain from interfering in the work of teaching professionals regarding the intellectual development of their children, just as teachers should not indoctrinate their pupils or transmit value judgments. This virtuous balance is only attainable if the public authorities limit their intervention to complementing the authority that, according to natural law, parents have over the education of their children, which legitimizes them to allow the State to assume, not usurp, educational obligations towards their children.

That is to say, parents have natural obligations and rights towards their children, which precede the very existence of the political frameworks from which the State emanates, which never enjoys legitimacy to supplant the parental figure without reasons of force majeure, such as incapacity, orphanhood, negligence or abuse. However, parents and families do not live in a social vacuum, but are part of a public community; a State that exists to guarantee coexistence, facilitate conflict resolution and preserve the survival over time of a certain social model.

From this perspective, according to John Rawls, there is a public reason, from which emerges the moral imperative to promote the common good, guarantee public order and combat injustice, promulgating positive law that legitimizes the State to regulate aspects of education that foster the civic development of students in the sense of Rawls’ duty of civility, without undermining their individual rights or infringing on those of their parents, as we argued above. Among these rights, it is worth highlighting those of freedom of expression and conscience, inasmuch as they are consubstantial to what it really means to be human, and at the same time, they are the foundations on which social diversity is built, constructed with plural blocks, the basic unit of which is the family. Therefore, the public authorities must limit to the maximum the coercive capacity that allows them to contravene the right of conscience of parents by making decisions on behalf of their children, without the existence of a very broad social consensus, especially if the educational contents are based on sociological theories, ideologies or creeds that are not part of the common heritage, of that moral tradition to which we referred at the beginning of this paper.

Santiago Mondejar Flores is a consultant, lecturer and columnist on geopolitics and international political economy. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

Featured: Sibyl, by Diego Velázquez; painted ca. 1631.

The Hedge of History

Just as in a medical death certificate, in every international conflagration there are immediate, antecedent and fundamental causes, as well as other relevant facts that, without being directly related to the process that produces the conflict, contribute to it. From the point of view of geopolitical inquiry, the study should focus on the fundamental cause, from which the others derive.

Thus, in this essay we will bypass the conjunctural dynamics that have led the European Union to desist from the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements on Ukraine, to one of the five guiding principles for the official common policy towards Russia, since 2016. On the contrary, we will focus our analysis on the search for perennial issues (the idea of unity and inviolability of the millennial historical experience of Russia’s existence, and the preservation of its cultural and civilizational constants over time), which will allow us, so to speak, to try to undertake a certain archeology of the future.

The starting point of our inquiry must necessarily be Vladimir Putin’s address to the nation on February 21, 2022, in which, in short, he declared the death of Fukuyama and proclaimed the resurrection of history. That is to say, the moment when the Russian President presented an amendment to the entire US world order, denying the legitimacy of NATO to arrogate to itself the power of “arbiter of the destiny of humanity,” a thesis that was later reiterated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the basic principle of which is that Russia has the moral authority to oppose Western efforts to prevent the natural course of history from leading to the advent of a multipolar world. In elementary terms, this is a reformulation, in a global key, of the classic Roman distinction between potestas and auctoritas.

The argument articulated by the Kremlin is based on the assumption that nation-states coexist in an essentially anarchic international environment, due to the non-existence of a supranational authority capable of preventing recourse to military intervention in the affairs of other nation-states, and of enforcing those international laws from which their legitimacy would emanate. In the absence of all this, there is a substitute, called international order, which, in its present form, is more a reflection of the foreign policy of a bloc than a participatory and pluralist legal framework.

However, this central premise limits itself to uncovering the chessboard, without implying that the compartmentalization of nation-states is chaotic. On the contrary, this vision infers that nation-states act rationally by opting for those strategies that best suit the achievement of their national objectives, evaluating their opportunity cost and feasibility.

Furthermore, this theoretical framework assumes that nation-states must equip themselves with a set of beliefs and knowledge—tacit and explicit—consistent with the reality of their situation in the international sphere, for which it is useful to approximate Donald Davidson’s concept of objective truth, understood as “the intersections of points of view,” by advocating that “the basis of objectivity is intersubjectivity,” so that truth is not “an object,” but a set of beliefs inferable through the triangulation of statements from different contexts.

In other words, the beliefs of a nation-state—as a subjective community—are justified to the extent that they stand in a dialectical relation (thinking against, andere Dasein) with the beliefs of another nation-state, and not because there is a cardinal correspondence between the elements of the set of facts, which makes them radically interpretable without depending on any prior knowledge of the beliefs of the other.

Accordingly, in order to really know what its place in the world is, a state—as a nation—must be endowed with an attributive relational framework, in the sense adduced by Gustavo Bueno; that is, that of a moral body from which emanates a normative force (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosyne), the purpose of which is the preservation (i.e., formation of the civilizational identity as social capital) of the existence of the group as such, for the sake of a moral hegemony (ἡγεμονία, direction) which is not compatible with the social atomism proper to the dominant current of Western thought. The latter, by advocating a concept of identity stemming from an act of individual self-affirmation intended to reconcile the demand to be respected on equal terms (isothymia) and the demand to have particular rights (megalothymia), which requires a normative moral relativism that fragments state cohesion, by legitimizing that anyone can subjectively determine which acts are moral or immoral; the deep-rootedness of individualism eclipses social and moral meanings.

Consequently, as Alexander Dugin has repeatedly pointed out in Heideggarian tones, the Russian situation, its “Being-in-the-World” (In-der-Welt-sein) is a struggle against moral disorientation, to secure its “Being-in-itself-itself-within-the-World” (mit-Dasein) as a fulcrum to separate the authenticity of the Russian “Being-there” (Dasein) from the artificiality of the postmodern world of appearances and simulacra, and to distance oneself from the secular creed that the essence of man is his existence, even if it is based on the illusion that we can morally self-determine ourselves in a world as saturated with signifiers as it is empty of meanings, just by wishing it, thus reducing the idea of the state to that of its legal order, so that all human problematics can ultimately be aseptically reduced to juridical regulations.

In contrast, Dugin—again with Heidegger—argues that Dasein (the realm in which the structure of being manifests itself) is given to man within himself, thanks to which he has a direct and immediate experience of this structure and its elements, enabling him to answer the central question of metaphysics: Why is there something rather than nothing?

It is precisely in the area of ontology that there are the intersections from which patterns of common values and purposes emerge that serve to codify a morality with the aforementioned attributive characteristics. This, of course, is more a becoming than an event; something that develops over time, defining a certain politeia that is also a Dasein.

Naturally, this morality, as an ideological product, reflects a certain social reality and refracts an opposite reality, so it must necessarily be endowed with a significance that represents something that is beyond its circumstance, so it acts both as a sign and as a symbol. As a sign, (σημεῖον), because it points to something, being itself contingent on conjunctural exigencies, and as a symbol inasmuch as it participates in the attributive relation (mit Sein), but also religare, to which it represents.

The Russian Orthodox Church performs this double symbolic function, of unity (σύμβολον, symbolon) that glimpses a rupture (διαβολικός, diabolikós), and referential, thanks to the fact that religious language allows the transmission of national myths as narratives symbolizing deeply important concepts, but hardly expressible in an explicit way; and at the same time, it acts as a sign, serving religion as the substance of culture, and culture as the form of religion (see Leo Tolstoy, Daniil Andreev, inter alia).

In this way, the sophisticated thought of Alexander Dugin is transmuted into the metaphysics of the Russian people, by the voice of the Orthodox Church, whose symbolic language makes it possible to express in religious terms the core of the existential concerns of the Russian political intelligentsia.

Thus, when Patriarch Kirill criticizes pagan anthropocentrism for giving any earthly idol the highest veneration, and teaches that polytheism (false religious consciousness) leads first to polarity, then to national disintegration, and finally to mutual destruction—he is revealing a potent metapolitical message, easily extrapolated from the idea that only the one true God is indisputable and unconditioned, a significance whose cornerstone is to preserve tradition as the moral cultivation from which the members of the community are hatched, by tacitly apprehending the set of social habits and rules that emerge not from the body of opinions, but from the stock of attitudes that condition all political action (Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton).

But religious language is certainly not the only semantics capable of unfolding as a symbolic instrument for similar purposes. Scientific language also lends itself to such use. Such is the case of Lev Gumilyov’s work, whose scope must be interpreted symbolically rather than literally, which would explain why his theses (based on the vital incarnation of a patriotic collective, a behavioral stereotype shared subconsciously by all members of a given civilizational entity, understood as the juxtaposition of an ethnogenetic perspective and an original theory of unity), enjoy such a prevalence in contemporary Russian society.

The systematic analysis of the structural elements of the Russian people transcends definitions, based on criteria such as language, culture, territorial integrity or economic model, by emphasizing the awareness of its internal structures, the recognition of its own identity, and its will to be, or passionarnost’ (passionarity—virtù), as opposed to all other identities and wills, thus making the andere Dasein and mit-Dasein of Heidegger’s ontology reappear as a theology of crisis (κρίσης, crisis, a transformation process in which the old system cannot be maintained).

We can thus understand passionarnost’ as symbol and as (teleological) sign. In its symbolic function, it expresses the moral imperatives (“be who you ought to be”) of its bearers; while acting as a sign, it denotes the set of aspirations to reach certain “sacred goals”—of being, not with its circumstances, but in spite of them—epic traits easily recognizable in the Hegelian hero.

All in all, passionarity symbolizes, once again in a Heideggerian key, the impossibility of escaping the threat of “Non-Being,” taking refuge in a time without space, remarking that the loss of space means the loss of temporal presence; and consequently, the loss of being. At the same time, operating as a sign, passionarity points out that time without direction is time under the total control of space.

In addition to the latent use of Heidegger’s central concepts (whose Catholic background osmotically permeates his work), part of the attraction that Gumilyov’s thought arouses is explained by the fact that it is easy to establish a correlation between the cyclical story of passionarity and the ideas on the rise and fall of peoples, present in the best-known works of Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee, in which they portray history as a process in which civilizations pass through specific stages of youth, maturity, and senility.

These elements are also present in a relevant way in the thought of Lev Gumilev, who develops them in a series of stages that open and close the cycle of a civilization, being the фазы надлома—crisis phase—the high point in which a culture lacks sufficient internal cohesion to avoid the transition from an attributive order to a distributive order, in which the primacy of social atomism leads one culture to end up resigning itself to being a subsidiary of another.

The symbolic language of Gumilyov’s geographical determinism allows Vladimir Putin and his followers to make use of these metaphorical terms to characterize the immediate causes of the situation in Ukraine, in terms that resonate strongly in the collective consciousness of the Russian people.

Such is the case with references to external attempts to deterritorialize sovereignty and citizenship rights, in order to reduce people to abstract distributive individualities, depriving them of the cultural values that give moral meaning to their lives. Thus, when the Russian president and his chancellor speak of borders, they paraphrase Heidegger in the voice of Gumilyov, in arguing that a boundary is not so much the place where something stops, as the site from which something begins its presence.

Without an explicit awareness of the boundaries that shape people’s actions, they are deprived of the referential—and therefore attributive—framework that delimits the meaning of civil duties and moral obligations, because one and the other are blurred outside the confines of the nation-state.

This, which is true in any country, is especially true in Russia, precisely because the weight of geography determines the dimension of the political. A territory with the size and diversity of the Russian Federation is socially unviable without the existence of a strong State, in the absence of which there is no alternative but a state of anarchy, simply because the logic of profit, typical of the free market, cannot meet the needs of the inhabitants of a territory of such magnitude that it requires eleven time zones, and with a socio-cultural complexity that requires a civil nucleus capable of enabling a cohesive political subject, harmonizing the ambivalences present in the significance of the intercultural, interethnic and interfaith identities of Russian society.

The dynamics of this core must be, a fortiori, refractory to tribalization which is characteristic of the multicultural model prevailing in the West, because its raison d’être is the opposite; that is, the development of a civilizational code that fulfills the function of consolidating the ideas of continuity of the “Being-in-the-World” of Russia and in the mentality of Russian citizens; the “Being-in-itself-within-the-World” also already mentioned.

Hence, the Russian people are even more suspicious of the siren songs of the Western bloc than of their own system of government, having witnessed the systematic destruction of nation-states, set in motion by the Western interventionism of the 21st century which was convinced, as Western promoters were, that they had reached the end of history.

From this recent testimony, and from their historical memory, derives a different notion of the concept of freedom among the Russian people, who prioritize freedom from foreign interference over freedom to trade without hindrance.

As we have seen throughout this analysis, the survival of the national framework and of a certain idea of Russia, in order for history to take its course, is a fundamental idea in Russian philosophy and religion, something whose historical continuity can be traced back to the times of the struggle for religious hegemony between the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, an agonism that arose from the discussion on the survival of the imperial potestas in Byzantium, and the questioning of Charlemagne’s auctoritas. The Orthodox Church adopted a third way—still in force in Russia under the current patriarchate—the symphonia (συμφωνία, agreement), whose postulate is that Church and State represent interdependent and complementary powers, co-determined in their oppositions and relations.

That primordial ideological and political antagonism has been adapting its manifestation to the signs of the times (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Napoleonic Empire, Third Reich, Cold War), without the fracture—the aforementioned diabolikós—between the two geographical fields ever really disappearing, and with it the risk of this latent tension being resolved violently.

Santiago Mondejar Flores is a consultant, lecturer and columnist on geopolitics and international political economy. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

Featured: “Kama near Elabuga,” by Ivan Shishkin; painted in 1895.

The Submission of the Masses

We will not be laying bare any arcane mystery by pointing out that, since the essential quality of modern democracy is the legitimization of government by means of suffrage, power emanates from the persuasion of the voter, so that he who convinces wins. Once this obviousness has been established, we face, on the one hand, the challenge of analyzing what is most important in the democratic system, i.e., how consensus (i.e., majority) is achieved; which makes it possible to convert a given party’s preference into law. Once this has been done, it remains to be seen which individuals and groups are best adapted to this political ecosystem. Finally, and based on this examination, it is up to us to determine whether or not the design of the current democratic system encourages the most capable and virtuous to exercise power, or whether, 2500 years later, Diogenes’s assertion that lying is the currency of politics is correct.

Let us now take a step-by-step approach. Although given our relative delay in adopting the Anglo-Saxon model of liberal democracy, it is easy to fall into the Adamism of thinking that our political system has its own determining characteristics, which can drag us into the melancholy of frustration. It is enough to review the theoretical frameworks developed in the interwar period of the 20th century by Jewish-American intellectuals, such as Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays, to see that their works became manuals for achieving and maintaining power through the ballot box.

Thus, concepts such as “public opinion” and “public relations,” which were coined by these authors, have become part of the lexicon of politics as euphemisms for “propaganda” and “manipulation of the masses.” Underlying these notions is the admission that since modern societies are increasingly complex, the maximum simplification of political discourse is essential—the infantilization of slogans—so that the complex can be explained to the population as if it were simple; and so that when the time comes to cast the vote, the voter does so convinced not only of doing so freely, but with a knowledge of the facts that emanates from understanding reality, thanks to the interpretation of it that has been transmitted by the politician, for whom the voter votes in the name of “those who constitute the invisible government that holds true power” (Bernays, 1928).

Lippman himself—author of the neologism “stereotype”—recognized that the metaphor of Plato’s shadow play in the cave was a faithful reflection of this state of affairs. This comparison being correct per se, the representation of the governed as mere spectators is insufficient, because it neglects the fact that members of society also participate actively, and often enthusiastically, in shaping the shadows that they then mistake for reality. This can be easily seen by getting on board any means of public transport, and seeing how mobile device users have become the product being sold, living in the absolute present; thus fulfilling to the letter that Marxian aphorism on the fetishism of commodities, according to which, when manufacturers create an object for the subject, they also create a subject for the object.

Perhaps the Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco was best able to allegorize the situation of modern society in his 1958 play Rhinoceros, in which his protagonists are immersed in a sudden and absurd change that makes communication between them impossible; which ultimately becomes a voluntary act of conformism through a metamorphosis of the intellect which pushes them to repeat the ideas and slogans they hear, without bothering to reflect on their moral meaning and logical consequences. Ionesco shows us how difficult it is to live outside a given ideological framework, because to step outside it forces one to confront the complexity of the facts in the raw, without the fig leaf of synthetic certainties contained in ideology. Hence, in the underworld of virtual relationships, individuals tend to become rhinoceroses, reacting aggressively to any information that does not confirm or reinforce their mental frameworks, and is therefore perceived as a threat.

The paradox is that despite the illusory individualism of digital escapism, as in Ionesco’s play, people stop focusing on themselves, to immerse themselves in social distractions that make them lose personal focus, thus leaving them vulnerable to being manipulated without even being aware of it, thus joining a herd that is easy prey for those who influence the stories people receive about what is happening around them in a way that benefits the interests of the manipulator, through the formation of “public opinion” and the promotion of “public relations,” sewn into our lives with so few and transparent seams that we do not even notice the propaganda and censorship that weaves their stories together.

We wondered at the beginning of this essay if the current democratic system encourages the best to lead us. This does not seem to be the case—on the contrary. We often see that, in the absence of motivating proposals, political candidates resort to discrediting their opponents, with the sole purpose of making the opponent even less attractive than themselves in the eyes of the voter, generating vicious circles in which voter apathy encourages politicians to increase polarity and manipulation of the electorate, with all the means that the system itself puts at their disposal. Consequently, it does not seem that all this has a greater virtuality than to produce the perverse effect of favoring a negative natural selection; that of those aspiring politicians immune to opprobrium. Thus, far from encouraging the best to stand out, our system of manufacturing consent gives a competitive advantage to those who move better in cynicism and lies, making the lamp of Diogenes as necessary now as it was then.

Santiago Mondejar Flores is a consultant, lecturer and columnist on geopolitics and international political economy. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

Featured: “The Parable of the Blind,” by Sebastiaen Vrancx, ca. 17th century.