A Bloom Off The Old Strauss: Rereading The Closing of the American Mind When America Has Lost Its Mind

It is almost thirty-five years since I first read Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Soul’s of Today’s Students. Back in 1987 I had completed a Master’s degree on Plato and Nietzsche, and I was in the final stages of a PhD on Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Marx. I had been introduced to writings by Bloom’s teacher, Leo Strauss, in my undergraduate days in the mid 1970s, and during my Masters, although I had a little Greek, Bloom’s translation of Plato’s Republic was my preferred translation. His translation came with a large interpretative essay that took Leo Strauss’s reading of the Republic even further in the direction of the claim that Plato intended the Republic to be a warning against utopia, rather than as a foundational text for people wanting to create a perfect state.

In the main, classicists, including my Greek teacher, at the time, who was passionately enthusiastic about Plato, found the Strauss and Bloom line exasperating. Thus, the fairly highly esteemed classicist, Myles Burnyeat, wrote in his New York Review of Books essay of 1985, “Sphinx without a Secret,” a review of a collection of Strauss’s Studies in Platonic Philosophy by Leo Strauss with an introduction by Thomas Pangle (another reasonably prominent “Straussian”): “What Strauss can do, and does, is give reasons why we should believe that Plato taught what Strauss says he taught. He undertakes the difficult task of showing that the Republic means the opposite of what it says; that Aristotle read it as Strauss does, and agreed; and finally, that the Platonic view of “the political things” was maintained, in essentials, by the entire tradition of classical political philosophy (not excluding Aristophanes and Xenophon) through the Stoics and beyond).”

Those who have been inspired by Leo Strauss will generally find such a summation of what Strauss was doing to be shockingly simple-minded—though I think Burnyeat has accurately identified Strauss’s main flaw, and it is a flaw that is replicated in the writings of many of his students.

Burnyeat’s criticism, however, extended to what would eventually become one more contribution to a torrent of accusations against Strauss and his students—that they were conservative elitists. Burnyeat’s hostility to the elitist nature of the Straussian enterprise misses the point that the Straussians are absolutely correct in identifying the fact that university students do belong to the social elite, and to pretend otherwise is completely delusional.

Feigning as the radical left did and still do that the university is some kind of egalitarian democratic forum when it produces the social elite who will largely run things is as ridiculous as Harvard and Yale setting themselves up as mouthpieces for social justice. The real issue concerning universities is which kind of thinking holds sway there—and, like Strauss and Bloom and all manner of others I think the ideas that do hold sway over the educated elite in the Western world are dumb, self-destructive, and completely infantile. So, when Closing came out, I enjoyed the fact that someone whose books I had read was sticking it to the ideologues who were politicizing everything and in the process pulling the Humanities into a cultural war.

This did not change the fact that I find Strauss and his followers somewhat irksome—and that has nothing to with their elitism (I generally prefer reading the best of them to any of the followers of Walter Benjamin or Theodor Adorno et. al.). Still, I get irritated by how they generally read and argue about political philosophy, how they bang on about greatness, how they foist onto the text all manner of things they think any wise person knows, and how lacking in attentiveness to the historical pressures and currents that informed the specific responses of the books they read they tend to be.

No matter what the topic, Straussians usually find some answer to any political problem in their Straussian version of Plato – an interpretation that is very big on imaging the real meaning of a “dramatic” word or gesture in a Platonic dialogue and very hermeneutically licentious in dealing with the plainer words and arguments. They remind me in none more than those disciples of Marx who always identify the answer to any socio-economic and political circumstance as already accounted for in Marx’s analysis of capital. Many of the critical treatments, such as those by William Altman and Shadia Drury, are just insane, but for anyone wanting to read a well-developed critical treatment of Strauss and the “Straussian school” (if school it be) more generally, I recommend Paul Gottfried’s Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.

Even in the 1980s, when Strauss was far less well known than he would become after a slew of essays and some books connected Strauss’s students and the strategy of “regime change” with George W. Bush, there was as little agreement about what Strauss was really teaching as there is now. Partly this is because Strauss taught that serious philosophical writers provide a surface text (which is what most scholars beside Strauss read), and an esoteric message, which those, like Strauss, who have read the history of political philosophy with great attention see. Another way of saying this is that Leo Strauss taught that there are great books that have identified the essential things to be known and presented them in a guise that only the true lover of philosophy might grasp—with great thinkers, things are not what they seem. Likewise, Strauss is a great thinker, and hence must conceal his true teachings—ergo…

Unlike Strauss, Allan Bloom was not the founder of a school of thought, although Bloom is invariably identified as a Straussian. This would not have been obvious to anyone who had read Closing without knowing about Strauss or Bloom’s background—Bloom mentions Strauss just once in the book.

Although, of the many critical reviews that Closing attracted when it first appeared, two reviews by two students of Leo Strauss which appeared in the (largely) Straussian inspired journal Interpretation, were among the most damning and inciteful to appear. They were by Claremont’s two Harrys—Neumann and Jaffa, whose contrary philosophical positions (the former a self-described nihilist, the other an Aristotelian) made them unlikely pedagogical allies (they taught a joint seminar for ten years).

Neumann kicks his review off by saying: “Professor Bloom shares the error informing this book with most liberals. That error is their unwillingness to realize the nihilism or atheism responsible for their subordination of politics to individual freedom or self-interest. By liberal I mean anyone who believes that the individual is more important than the state; individual liberation takes precedence over political obligation however that liberation is interpreted. Bloom’s brand of liberalism gives rise to his unqualified preference for philosophers over nonphilosophers, for philosophy over politics, for Socrates over Achilles, for peace over war.”

Amongst other things, Neumann sees in Bloom a man preening over his own loves and interests, who is irritated by the lack of reverence in the temple of higher learning, and is completely oblivious to the clear and present geopolitical dangers to America. It is in a word a damning review. And the harshness of the review finds its apogee in Neumann’s suggestion that Bloom is a phony who lacks the courage, and wherewithal to see who and what he really is: “Without the courage to see it, Bloom has written a more Nietzschean than Platonic Book. The book on education for Bloom is not the Republic, as he insists (p. 381), but Beyond Good and Evil or Death in Venice.”

The suspicion that Bloom and even Strauss are really more Nietzschean than Platonic has been aired by others, but Neumann’s criticism lumps Bloom in with the enemies of the civilization that Bloom believes he is undertaking to bury. As for the comparison between Bloom and Mann’s Aschenbach (in Closing Bloom speaks somewhat disdainfully of Death in Venice as heavy-handed Freudianism), Bloom had publicly declared on several occasions that the title he had envisaged, but which was overruled by the publishers, was Souls without Longing.

Indeed, while the surface argument of Closing was the failure of higher education in America and the cultural demise that the various ideological occasions of the relativist malaise Bloom had seen as gripping the American university, the more “esoteric” argument—which Bloom spelled out every time he discussed the book—was that the bad German philosophical ideas of Nietzsche, Weber, Heidegger had conspired with American popular culture to destroy the erotic longing for wisdom that the tradition of the great books had nourished. On popular culture, Bloom’s criticism of rock music sounds like none more than the Frankfurt School’s doyen and aesthete in chief, Theodor Adorno when writing about the cultural oppression inflicted on the masses by jazz.

Moreover, in spite of Bloom’s diagnosis of the American mind being closed and the souls of its future elite being stunted also regularly appealing to the moral sentiments and habits of previous generations as if he were a conservative, Bloom could write of that most conservative of institutions: “The dreariness of the family’s spiritual landscape passes belief. It is as monochrome and unrelated to those who pass through it as are the barren steppes frequented by nomads who take their mere subsistence and move on.” So much for the millions of American families who may not read bedtime stories by Rousseau or Plato to their children, but who sacrifice themselves to raise them to pray, tell the truth and do their best to others.

In spite of the scorn Bloom pours onto the wreckers of the university, and the social damage they are doing, the voice and diagnosis of Closing belonged to an aesthete, rather than a moralist—hence “It is not the immorality of relativism that I find appalling. What is astounding and degrading is the dogmatism with which we accept such relativism, and our easy-going lack of concern about what that means for our lives.” And it is not at all clear that in spite of Bloom’s advocacy of rational inquiry, and his (Straussian) Platonism, whether he really thought there were any absolutes by which he should live other than the erotic pursuit of wisdom and the value of the philosophical life (which, to his credit, had nothing whatsoever in common with having a day job solving philosophical puzzles as was, and largely still is, the case with most of those employed in Philosophy Departments in North American).

Given the disdain with which Bloom treated the “life-style” view of values that had infected America, there is no small irony in how Bloom makes a case for a life of personal intellectual exhilaration as if that were of the same value as a life of righteousness (and it is far from obvious that Bloom has any idea or interest in what the righteous life might be—apart from reading great books and talking about them).

To be sure Socratic aesthetes are rare plants, but Bloom was nothing if not rare—and being a best-selling celebrity political philosopher is about as rare as one can be. Saying that does not change the fact that Closing does expose the moral confusion and idiocy that seized the collective imagination of the generation of students that Bloom observed. The book is laced with aphorisms and bon mots, and full of wit, venom, and learning—even if the details of his learning were often outrageous and, at the very least contestable, leading to some predictable academic carping that Bloom was a terrible scholar, but Bloom did more than almost anyone to make the educated public want to go off and read Plato, Rousseau, Locke et. al.

That is terrific, but it could never had been enough to save the United States. And while Closing was a book that not only had sounded the alarm about the dreadful state of higher learning in the United States and the social poisoning it was doing, its author was an embodiment of what higher learning looked like in the incarnation of a very well read, highly articulate, balding professor in a sharp suit. Bloom may not have liked rock stars, but he was as close to one as any middle-aged professor, not gone completely to seed, could be.

While Bloom and the book had style, it was not simply that that rocketed the book to the top of the New York Time’s best seller list, in 1987 his exposé of the ideological state of university campuses did touch a social nerve, because plenty of people, including educated ones, could see that these new social movements were pouring out of the university, and taxes were being poured into an institution that had a great deal of influence that was doing much to turn the youth of America against the traditions and (dare I use the word?) values at its founding.

Any reader today who opens Closing for the first time will recognize that identity politics was already wreaking social and cultural havoc some thirty-five years ago, and Bloom had done a good job of yelling, “Fire!” This is irrespective of whether one is swayed by the depth, accuracy or even pitch of his diagnosis—relativism is the cause and Weber—yes, Bloom did write this—“was the chosen apostle for the American promised land.”

Now that we live in a time of rabid censorship, denunciations, sackings and non-hiring of those who do not kneel before the (to be sure ever changing) absolutes of contemporary liberalism, the claim that relativism is the cause and the end of all this seems wildly wrong (though it amazes me how many conservatives still repeat this). Woke absolutes are imbecilic, but they remain absolutes, and reading Bloom is like being transported back to a time when the American mind might have been closing but it was not completely lost to the imbecilic absolutes of its own servitude.

I cannot imagine that a book that is so caustic (and funny) in its criticism of feminism and the shibboleths of identity race politics would garner such reviews as it received in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, and the Chicago Tribune when it first appeared. Indeed, the books that now receive glowing reviews from these bastions of cultural taste come out of the very ideological swamp that Bloom hoped might be dredged. Though, it is possible that Bloom’s critique, even then, found enthusiastic support for its weaknesses rather than its strengths. That seems to have been Harry Jaffa’s, as well as Neumann’s, take on the book.

If Bloom had thought Jaffa a fellow traveller along the Straussian path he was certainly in for a rude awakening when Jaffa’s review essay appeared. The review is most brilliant when it comes to schooling Bloom in American politics, though it is perhaps most remembered for slyly and unceremoniously blowing the lid off Bloom’s homosexuality – an open secret in Chicago at the time. Years later Bloom’s friend Saul Bellow would make public Bloom’s sexual ‘life-style’ in the thinly veiled portrait of Bloom in Ravelstein, a book which in turn triggered another wave of anti-Bloom hysteria—this time for his hypocrisy.

Before Ravelstein, Jaffa wrote that Bloom’s “remarks about feminism, and the changing roles of men and women, for example, are dated not because they are mistaken, or irrelevant, but because in the intervening years the so-called “gay movement,” which Bloom hardly mentions, has emerged as the most radical and sinister challenge, not merely to sexual morality, but to all morality.” Given that Bloom had referred to “perverse sexuality,” and “gay rights” being “the most consequential social movement of the last three decades,” Jaffa may have been hitting below the belt, but when he observed that by “Looking only to books, politics for Bloom is a closed book. And no one can comment instructively on the relationship between political life and the philosophic life who does not know what political life is,” he had landed a KO.

The problem with the Closing is not that Bloom is wrong to think that students are being served up mindless ideological stew as if it could nourish their souls and minds, it is not that he is wrong in thinking that Humanities students should know the philosophical tradition, but while the crisis he is confronting and diagnosing is a cultural, social, and political crisis he is extremely naïve in thinking that a library is the place to save a civilization. Jaffa holds nothing back when he attacks Bloom for essentially holding a view of the world as if the world were a library writ large.

There is something of an irony (and reading Bloom I am struck by how ironic almost everything about him is) in a man who wrote a fine book on Shakespeare and politics remaining untouched by the warning in Shakespeare’s most philosophical of plays—The Tempest: a library can cloud the mind and thus lead a ruler (the Duke of Milan, Prospero) to neglect his obligation to safeguard the territory from the ruthless ambition, cunning and rule of unscrupulously evil men.

While Neumann and Jaffa were opposed in their philosophical appeals of last resort what they shared was a commitment to the United States as a political entity, and what they saw in Bloom was a fundamental failure to fathom what that entity was founded upon—and hence what would be required to preserve it into perpetuity. Thus, while Bloom was celebrating his celebrity status, and in various talk shows oozing charm and the smarts given in the midst of the cultural and social destruction his book was describing, men like Jaffa and Neumann held Bloom to be guilty of what no Straussian ever wishes to be—he was guilty of a lack of seriousness.

According to Jaffa, “As far as I can see, everything Bloom says on the subject of the American Founding is derived from his readings of Hobbes, Locke, or Tocqueville. I have found not a word of serious interpretation apart from his birdseed scatterings coming from an American source: not Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, or Lincoln. No one has maintained more persistently than I have, during the past thirty-five years, the importance in the American Founding of Locke’s teachings as they were understood and incorporated into their handiwork by the Founding Fathers. But to say that a radical atheism discovered in Locke’s esoteric teaching was part of what they understood, believed, and incorporated into their regime when every single document bearing on the question contradicts it, and there is not a shred of evidence to support it is just plain crazy.”

Along similar lines, “Bloom has completely misread not only the American Founding, but all political life, since he does not read political speeches to discover the form of the consciousness of political men. He assumes that political men are mere epigones of philosophers whether they know it or not. The political nature of man is however understood by the Founders if one reads what they say, and not only what Hobbes or Locke or Kant say in the light of the inequality of man and beast, as well as in the light of the inequality of man and God.” And finally: “Someone who can write of the American and French Revolutions as scenarios thought out beforehand by Locke and Rousseau, and who can say that “the English and American regimes [had been] founded according to [Locke’s] instructions, is hardly in a position to reproach others for the lack of ‘the study of… history.’”

This last citation is a failing that I see as fairly common among followers of Strauss, and I (unlike Jaffa) cannot help but tracing it back to Strauss himself who wrote of the importance of political philosophy as if it were a conversation across the ages addressed to those seekers of wisdom who more or less saw the same things as they each contribute to insights that make the whole more accessible to the rational man, i.e., the man who sees the problems and solutions much like Strauss. The different historical circumstances within which men find themselves is treated as essentially irrelevant, and those who think those circumstances to be all too relevant are dismissed as historicists, who are but one more variant of relativism.
Strauss himself had sought for a cure of the ailments of his time by turning to Plato as a teacher of an ahistorical nature, a nature which seems impossible to locate outside of the tradition of great books of political philosophy.

But whereas all scholars of Plato agree that the forms or ideas are timeless, and in this sense, ahistorical, in The City and Man, Strauss says that “the doctrine of ideas” in the Republic is “very hard to understand; to begin with it is utterly incredible, not to say that it appears to be fantastic…No one has ever succeeded in giving a satisfactory or clear account of this doctrine of ideas.” Whether that is true or notand it takes a lot of hermeneutical ingenuity to deny that Aristotle thought he had done a pretty good job of showing the problems with the doctrine – the fact that the American higher educated mind is not just closed but lost is indicative of the fact that the problem of saving the Western world from the mad and bad ideas largely, albeit not exclusively, churned out in American universities today extends far beyond reading great books, and pursuing a life of greater longing.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “The Orator,” by Magnus Zeller, painted in 1920.

The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 5

Corporatism – Or The Triumph Of Fascism

All societies require an elite – a group of people who are trained in decision making, and are schooled in the complexities that decisions involve. Our elite differs from most, but not all, elites in their imbecilic ideas, knowledge -base, narratives, priorities and decisions, and the totalizing scale of what aspects of life they think they should rule. They are, in this respect, akin to communist, Nazi, and the elite of the Mountain in the French Revolution.

Marx’s view of the state ultimately made him oblivious to the dialectical nexus of state and markets. That nexus was appreciated by Marx’s fascist critics, who were content to make the market a state subordinate, yet a relatively independent sphere of human action, as done by the Chinese who recognized that corporatism was the means for protecting a political privileged elite but also for allowing for both market forces to elevate living standards and produce an economic elite, who, nevertheless, could be politically controlled.

Our globalist Western elite have also followed the logic of corporatism, though they added the important utopian element of the identity politics of anti-domination. The reasoning is: If the state is construed, not solely as the means of brokering between the different interests that classes (the division of labour) engenders (which it does – and which old liberalism still tended to emphasize), but also as the means of ensuring not only public goods, and a degree of public safety, but the establishment of complete social harmony by committing itself to complete social emancipation, and if capitalists can also make their profits compatible with exactly the same social objectives, then the symbiotic relationship between them and the state will be complete. Note that this particular objective of the state is completely in keeping with the ideocratic nature of the modern world.

One distinctive feature of the modern world is that it is an epistemic contrivance deployed to delegitimize the historically grown pre-Enlightenment political order. This is the partial truth behind the idiotic mantra of our intellectuals that society is a social construct (the idiotic bit is thinking we can make society be anything we want, which overlooks the limitations of consciousness and underestimates unintended consequences). That is, the aspirant elite that eventually overthrew the elite from the Old Regime believed that (a) it knew how the world worked, i.e., it had the right ideas about nature and society (even though there was actually little agreement about that working other than the conviction that they knew how they worked); and (b) the institutions of government had to be reestablished on the basis of ideas (which happened to be an admixture of empirical and rationalistic ones). The American War of Independence helped forge some of these new ideas; but the non-denominational, freely detached intellectual – the new philosopher – had emerged in Europe, initially in response to the Thirty Years War (thus their god would also be non-denominational, and not even Christian).

All social breakdown requires a crisis as an opportunity for the new to sweep away the old – now it is a virus; in the 1960s in the USA, it was the Vietnam War; in Russia it was the Great War; in France it was the aftermath of the Seven Years War, and the financial cost of its geopolitical ambition combined with a broken revenue system and a class, which had been feasting off the new philosophical ideas about nature, God and society which in turn was chomping at the bit to have the world mirror its talent. It gave birth to the political clubs and groupings of common yet deadly inimical interests and uncompromising ambition, which sought to rebuild the world from year zero on the basis of their ideas. The subsequent social and political breakdown of the revolution did lead to a sequence of political formations in which the objectives of the state itself seemed to be toned down. But if the reality being played out in France was empire, restoration, republic, back to empire, the intelligentsia was ever coming up with schemes in which society would be completely free. French, German, Russian intellectuals dreamt up visions of new societies, and talked and wrote incessantly about politics and political salvation – as if a society were the kind of thing that someone with a few dozen books under his belt could create. (Of course, they could “create” a certain kind of society – ask Pol Pot or Uncle Joe).

In Russia, the state was the most autocratic and the economy the most backward; it could not resist the imperative to modernize, and the class of people it had to train in order to successfully modernize were absolutely convinced of their ability to fix their world; and, not surprisingly, they would fix it with the things they knew, i.e., their ideas. The contingencies that enabled the successful coup of the resolute Lenin and his followers yielded the complete disaster of war communism – the “program” of class plunder and chaos was the direct result of the seizure of power by an educated class that had discussed, written on, and killed for their ideas about how the world should be. (The three all important aspects and stages of the revolution have been the launching pad for what I consider the three most insightful writers on the revolution: Martin Malia – focusing on the ideas that drove it; Richard Pipes focusing on the class that would bring about the revolution, the intelligentsia; and, most recently, Sean McMeekin, focusing on the crisis or moment – the Great War – which gave the class its opportune moment to gain power and attempt to “realize” its objectives.

As with other radicals, such as the Jacobins and Woke of today, the ideas of the Russian intelligentsia were clientelist (originally the clients were the peasants, then the workers) and sentimental, vacuous and bloated abstractions. The earlier generation of the Russian radical intelligentsia romanticized the peasantry, and only once Marx’s ideas had come into Russia, were they replaced by the industrial working class as the preferred object of liberation. There was no serious detail about fixing anything; and hence while they fueled tearing the world down; and like those of today who call for defunding the police and opening up prisons who don’t have a clue about doing anything about crime other than ensuring that what they say is what is done, which is irrelevant to actually running anything, at least anything serious. Having the ideas and having power is what gave Jacobins and the Leninists and what gives today’s Woke their self-assuredness, their sense of certainty.

To genuine statesmen and people who were and are running functioning political bodies dealing with solving real problems, this was and is all nonsense – and yet the more the educated elite of the most developed countries in the world heard these ideas, the more prone they were, and still are, to taking them seriously, the more beguiled they were and are by the abstract and the (not remotely) possible. What was (and is) happening was (and is) that ideas that originated in political clubs, that were dreamed up over late night conversations over many steins of beer and bottles of wine, or in classrooms and now even board rooms which were/are written up as if holy writ, which had/have an air of sagacity to them, were/are seeping into the institutions of higher learning, and thus were/are impacting the world due to the fact that they had/ have taken over the minds and life worlds of the younger elite. The ideas were/are explosive – and different experiences tended to create different avenues of reception for equally mad and bad ideas that served the function of offering leadership positions to those who mastered them.

In Germany, the incumbent elite were embittered young men returned from battle – torn between choosing to continue with their patriotic zeal that had led them into war, or becoming vassals of the Soviets, they chose the former, and race was the idea that provided the glue. In spite of the fact that its nationalistic and racist boundaries meant that it had limited appeal for the class that really was a universal class in its own minds – that is a class that not only grasped the truthful universal of the world and history, but a class that purported to represent the universal, just as the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel had claimed was the case for the bureaucracy (which, by the way, the young Marx ridiculed when tearing into Hegel’s Philosophy of Right) – was no more nor less hateful than the glue of class was in the Soviet Union. Although enemies until death – though, when necessary, willing to enter into tactical alliances – communism and National Socialism were both responses to the problems confronting people aspiring to rule the world in their image with the ideas they understood and held sacred.

The ideologies of liberalism, communism/socialism, and fascism were developed sequentially; and in so far as their goals seem to be inimical, they are treated and in some ways are drastically different from each other. Yet while the sequential nature and location of their respective birth places is an indicator of how and why they differ, they also share important features, most notably they are all ideational and narrative chains of elite empowerment. The particular crisis and conditions of their birthplace is important for grasping where they would be successful. In so far as the ideologically committed were devoting themselves to ideational programs, in so far as their ambitions and spiritual commitments (for they were and are all surrogate religions), they were uncompromising doctrines. The adherents, though, could readily move from one to another, if their faith were shaken – Mussolini, like many other Italian fascists was a man whose faith in Marxism was shaken by the War; his new faith was in the myth of the nation, and most of his intellectual accomplices in fascist theory had been former socialists, just as in post Great War Germany hundreds of thousands of National Socialists had drifted across from the socialist parties.

Although liberal democracy provided a far more comfortable existence, the intellectuals of democratic societies were generally drawn to the more radical programs, largely because the circumstances required more drastic and ultimately less real ideas to be followed, if they were to achieve power within the chaos. The other worldly and absolutist nature of the ideas was what defined them as not compromising with the reality they would completely transform, as if the world were simply the potential reflection of their ideas.

Ironically Marx wanted to distance himself from this way of thinking thus he always used the term idealism pejoratively. But his ideology was nothing but idealism, whereas the idealism of liberalism (in its pre-twentieth century American variant) was mainly limited to the abstract nature of the normative props (equality and freedom and rights); but its acknowledgment of the reality of law and property gave it some ground.

On the surface, the sequence of ideologies seemed to follow a pattern, in which the former spawned the latter to resolve its own contradictions. This was how Marx saw the relationship between liberalism and socialism, and Mussolini the relationship between fascism and communism. Likewise, it seemed that the latter (Nazism), being the least grounded in reality (communism at least relied upon exporting civil wars around the globe, but Nazism was never really going to cut with Indians, Chinese, Africans etc.) collapsed first; then the second collapsed; and only liberal democracy was left standing.

What was the case, though, was something else: While each ideology was the expression of the aspirations and ideas of the class of its creators and adherents within a specific location with its own history, the class itself was relatively constant; certainly, as constant, say, as the industrial working class or bourgeois was. And then there is the tragic component alluded to above, and which we in the West are now living within. Because modernity, from its technological to its productive, to its legal and administrative and commercial systems, is so intricately formed, it is impossible to continue without education. The systems are constituted by ideas and disciplines (bodies of knowledge); and hence its reproduction is dependent upon people who are trained in ideas. And just as the Tsars quickly discovered that they were producing a class of people to run the society who were intent on their overthrow, the social reproduction of the West is dependent upon people who now hold ideas that must lead to its destruction.

Belief in the consensus of normative ideas that has swept through the institutions of higher learning is a condition of being socially accepted, and now even employable. This feature of the modern West has often been considered as the tactic first spelled out by the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci – that is true, but if it were a tactic, it was a tactic that simply followed from the structural character of social reproduction within the modern Western world itself.

Moreover, with the intensification of modern economy and industry, and the ever-greater social dependency upon education, the expansion of higher education meant that an ever-greater percentage of people was being inculcated in the ideas needed for orientation with the social, economic, technological, administrative and normative systems. The Humanities was the natural site of the finessing of the normative systems and the location for the capture by a generation that did not actually know that much, but that was charged with teaching young people who knew even less.

As the universities expanded, so did the need for university teachers – very quickly people in their twenties with very limited book-learning and life experience were teaching those not much younger than they themselves. Indeed, by the late 1960s, what was becoming abundantly clear was that elder provincial school teachers had read and digested, that is knew far more about history, literature and the world at large than the freshly minted PhDs and incumbent university teachers who, in order to feel important, and to assure themselves about their knowledge, drifted towards ideological know-all-ness, like the starving to a feast.

For those employed at universities at this time – with all the available sex, drugs, and rock n roll, being a radical university teacher was the equivalent of being a rock star – the girls wanted to sleep with them, the guys wanted to be them. More, this was a generation that could see the rack and ruin of its parents’ world – their parents’ world was a world of war. Proof was that they still could not see the error of their ways – hence they were sacrificing their kids in the Vietnam War (there was probably not one radical in the country that could have given a reasonable account of the nature of diplomatic alliances, obligations, and the geopolitical imperatives of the day). This lot just had – to quote Lennon yet again – simply “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance” and then there would be no more war – Lennon yet again: “War is over if you want it.” And they had also discovered the causes of: poverty – capitalism; inequality – capitalism; war- capitalism; sexual oppression – capitalism; imperialism – capitalism, etc. It would get more refined – answer to the above – men, then; and now, answer – whites.

Standards were meant to be upheld by ensuring that teachers were qualified and scholarly – the publish-or-perish mentality was entrenched; but the PhDs and scholarly publications were, and now frequently are, often just rubbish. Higher education offered careers and opportunities for a group of people who had vested interest in dumbing down what needed to be known in order to get ahead – in part, this was because the people that were getting ahead and becoming college professors were not that smart. The youth revolts of the 1960s were also the watershed in which the rapid expansion of a student population of universities went hand in hand with the overthrow of the curriculum. Students dictated what needed to be known, and what needed to be known was what they already knew – capitalism was really bad – and that they knew how to fix it, and they needed to control society at large, from its businesses to its model of the family. In this respect, although now a larger percentage of society, they were identical to the Russian students of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the German students of the 1920s – and just as communism and fascism/National Socialism are unthinkable without the energy, utter commitment, and fanaticism of youth aspiring to rule the(ir) world, the 1960s harnessed the energy of an undereducated but deeply self-assured group of people who were intent on changing the world. Their parents (in the case of the US) in having defeated Nazism, and being the future elite of the most powerful nation in the world, it is not surprising that they saw their concerns – in which having sex and getting stoned took a very high priority – as the world’s concerns. Likewise, they saw their ideas as universal; hence too the books they read as the ones that one needed to know in order to fix the world (being sophisticated meant you read Freud as well as Marx; things got really sophisticated when you tossed in some fancy Parisians who knew even more about how capitalism worked than old Karl did; they had read Nietzsche and Heidegger and lots of others! WOW!!!).

One astute professor in the USA in the 1960s, observing the self-righteousness and know-all-ness of what was going on around him, read his class a speech by Mussolini – not telling them whose speech it was – and they broke out into applause. Even Theodor Adorno, the leading Frankfurt school Marxist, feared that the student movement was fascistic. Certainly, as the Woke do now, and as the Nazi and communist students did, they booed and ridiculed anyone who did not think like them, and assumed the right to dictate what should be read. The Nazis students burnt the books; the generation of sixties students marched for the right to have great books not taught; the Woke take them out of the libraries and ban them from bookstores and from being published.

Although the radical students of the 1960s and 1970s construed themselves as anti-capitalists and anti-imperialist, most would end up working within and making lucrative careers in corporations or state departments. There was, nevertheless, one big difference between them and the Nazi students in post-World War One Germany, viz., their anti-militarism. Their essentialist fixation upon identity did help spawn political movements dedicated to the violent overthrow of society such as the Weathermen, the SLA, the Black Panthers, and (the even more crazed and barely noticed) SCUM, though these were never very successful. But the long-term consequences would be taken up two generations later, where racial identity is absolutist in its defining of who one is and what one must think. One only has to insert the word “Jew” or “black” into any contemporary Woke tirade about whiteness to see that the mind-set is completely fascist.

All of this is to say that the notion raised above that fascism died first, then communism died and we were left with liberal democracy as the most resilient ideology (Fukuyama’s end of history) is completely false. What has occurred is that the ideas which gave birth to liberalism, communism and fascism have been undergoing a dialectical metamorphosis in the minds of the elite who deal in ideational norms for their social, political, and economic empowerment. This class has replaced the first estate of the old regime; for it is the class which provides social direction and orientation. It is the class whose faith is absolute; it is the class whose god is their own ideas. It is the class that knows all. It is the class that rules.

This also means that the modern state in the Western world, is also the direct result of two generations coming out of the youth revolution of the 1960s and it has much in common with the totalitarian regimes of the fascists and Nazis and communists.

And it is evident in what now looks completely innocuous, but is a key indicator of why we are on a precipice, why the world’s once leading democracy no longer stands for freedom – and it is also why some half of the population thinks the last US election was a coup. And the seemingly innocuous indicator is simply what people now expect of the state. To repeat, it is the kind of expectation that commenced with the Jacobins and other political clubs, and in the political representatives, the Girondin and Mountain; was kicked around as an idea by the socialists and revolutionaries in France and Germany; bonded the Russian intellectual youth to overthrow the autocracy and form the communist party; that led the youth of Italy and Germany to believe everything their leader said (the communists would then quickly copy this cult of personality); the kind of expectation that the youth of the sixties had when they wanted to destroy the family, and capitalism, and anything else in their way. The state will save us – it will save the planet by dictates about energy; it will ensure that women have control over reproduction so that eventually they will only reproduce when told or needed; it will specify what we must think and say about race; it will decree who can speak and who cannot; it will ensure we can have our pleasures, if we are well behaved….

Much of this is socialism, but fascism knew one thing the Soviets did not know, but which the Chinese communists now know: The market can orchestrate human energy in ways that the state cannot. The truth of fascism was its corporatism – when I say the truth, I do not mean the desirability of a certain power flow, but the interconnectedness that could only be curbed by a culture that was more resilient, less imbecilic, more conscious of consequences and processes, more aware of the flaws of human nature, and hence more attuned to what is required by education, as well as a less idolatrous and pleasure-centric society.

Corporatism, in other words, is the terrible truth of the logics of capital and the state when driven by a diabolical culture of pride and ambition. Today corporate culture is a culture that fosters a political elite who feast on imbecilic abstractions and their dialectical interplay. Its real nature is not disclosed by the old nomenclature of left and right, for it involves both. While the state and capital are commonly interpreted as opposing forces; the fact is that capital and the state are so intertwined that they cannot be disentangled from each other.

Just consider, for example, the way the entire legal profession benefits off any new state legislation; or the value added to pharmaceutical companies by university research and public grant money; or the interpenetration of government, medical bureaucracy, private companies (the COVID vaccine is just a symptom of the relationship), and obviously the military and arms producers; or how easing restrictions on financial institutions contributed to low interest rates, thereby helping fuel further government spending in such areas as mortgage loan schemes (to which we owe the crash of 2008).

Likewise, the state giveth and the state taketh away; it rewards some industries (green industries today) and closes down others (gas pipelines). Revolving doors exist in all sorts of industries between those working in the highest levels of private enterprise and the government sector. Marx had said the state was the instrument of the ruling class; and on this occasion he was right, though the modern liberal democratic, especially once the franchise had expanded far beyond what Marx had believed possible, had, for a short time, ameliorated the tendency of the concentration of power exclusively in the hands of the society’s elite. It did not last, which is why fifty years ago Western democracies, though not without their problems, allowed for critics who could address the problems of those seeking more welfare, representation of interests or freedom from state persecution.

Today the elites in Western liberal democratic societies dictates not only how interests are represented but how they must speak. They have become totalitarian – and their aim is literally to absorb the entire world into their totalizing narratives. Ironically, while this elite was, partly at least, schooled by poststructuralists in their attack upon the family and capitalism, it was the poststructuralists who originally used the term “totalizing narrative” to criticize what they thought were simply the means for creating social conformity. And while, in the main, the pedagogues of the 1960s and 1970s were generally critical of state institutions, as well as capitalist corporations, their achievement has been to create an elite whose power is consolidated through the marriage of state institutions and capitalist corporations.

Just as the state helps capitalists who support its ideological plans and goals by allowing them to have massive salaries and profits, contracts, etc., corporations repay the favour by ensuring their employers are trained in the ethos required by the social objectives, and punishing/sacking employees who do not get with the program. If this means supporting ideas and narratives which fly in the face of reality e.g., white people being employed to teach others that all whites are racists, but which deliver a more compliant workforce and society who will accept what their educators tell them, so be it. Businesses may be conflicted over losing some customers at the expense of others; but to have the support of the state is not to be taken lightly. Thus, too, advertisers threaten to withdraw support from companies who deviate from the ideological consensus required by state and human resource operatives who also play a key role in deciding who gets employed and how the company presents itself to the public. Politics, ideology and corporation are all caught up in branding.

It is the new corporate fascism. Its beaming faces are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Jeff Bezos, and their stooges – actors and pop stars and the every-day henchmen in the corporatized world which has now eclipsed the public/private distinction and seeped into every social capillary, because the personal really, now, is political. Freedom of thought is increasingly banned from schools and universities because the program has nothing to do with independent minds. What matters, which was just what mattered for the fascists, was that the community will is articulated by its leaders and enforced by its people. Unity must prevail, lest great injustice and catastrophe engulf us all. The enemies not only of the human race, but of the very planet must be stopped.

Everything is political and everything is corporate. This is why we need to have a world full of imbeciles, run by imbeciles.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man,” by James Ensor; painted in 1891.

It’s Party Time!

The most compelling argument for democracy is that it is a system of government which enables the representation of different points of view, based upon different life experiences, having the chance to be publicly expressed. It is no cure-all for all our problems, but at least it is a form of government which potentially provides a forum for the very different interests and insights pertaining to those interests that accompany the classes and division of labour that make up large scale industrial societies. Like everything important, democracy is built upon faith and hope – the hope that this might mitigate against not only our innate limitations and ignorance, but the hope that it might overcome the tendency that elites have to bully people into accepting their authority without question.

Unfortunately, democracy in any meaningful sense is now dead, and it has been replaced by an administrative corporatist state which sets the agendas and narratives that political parties must comply with, if they wish to have any chance of electoral victory. While many Western states still give the appearance of allowing for at least two competing parties, the extent and scale of administrative and policy decisions, which have never been put to the electorate, dictate the shape and development of the nation.

In the United States, it was resistance to this elite, and its habitat – “the swamp” – that led to the election of Donald Trump. His election – by way of vehement reaction – has resulted in what, at least federally, is a de facto one-party state whose “members” preside over every major institution of governance, legislation, policy, information, entertainment, and, in an expanding number of industries, even employment.

That party has succeeded in recruiting a significant percentage of the population who not only manage the major institutions of political, social, and economic organization, but who fabricate, cultivate, and protect the narratives of their own political and economic enrichment and empowerment.

Membership of the party does not require any paid-up due, but the acceptance of and willingness to enforce others to accept two kinds of narratives. One kind that divides the world into oppressors (those who are enemies of the party) and emancipators (the party). The other kind is crisis narratives. Acceptance of the truth of these narratives requires crisis response; and that involves the expansion of the state and its emergency powers, as well as its cooperation with corporate interests, along with control of all information production and flow.

COVID has been the last in the long line of these crises. The others include climate change, white supremacy, and the cruel and inhuman torturing that occurs by not letting children choose their sexual organs.

All these crises require that democracy must yield to the wise decisions of those who are the incarnation of the true, the good, and the beautiful, who have solved all the moral conundrums of the species, who have science on their side, and who know how to save the planet. Likewise, it requires complete control of what we can read, watch and say, so that the various crises will be overcome under their leadership. The crises can only be solved if we drastically reduce the population of the planet, dismantle the systems of energy which have given the Western world its military and economic advantages, eliminate the nation state, educate everyone to understand the ways and wisdom of the party, provide a universal income, and eliminate cash so that all private resources can be subject to surveillance, and reduce any recalcitrant who hold opinions that threaten the party to penury.

The ideas that hold this one-party state together, like the ideas that held the Nazi and Communist one-party states together, are of the kind that children and teenagers, and ambitious, lazy-minded and loquacious people can easily grasp. Although the academics who teach these ideas often spend time rhetorically puffing them up to make them look as if they are complicated, they are tailor-made for people who can be easily convinced that any alternative diagnosis, account, or analysis of a subject that has received the imprimatur of the party is to be condemned as originating in bad faith. Although these ideas have been fabricated by intellectuals, “refined” and taught in universities and schools and now enforced in the public sector and private corporations, it is because they are so intellectually shabby that so much energy and resources must be devoted to inculcating them, and protecting them, and punishing anyone who disagrees with them. The crazier and untrue an idea is, the more it needs to be violently protected – manifestly true ideas can stand on their own legs. I doubt if one person in history anywhere was ever killed, imprisoned, sacked or denounced for thinking or saying that “ice-cream is yummy,” which is not much of an idea, but, among people who like ice-cream, it is palpably true. Unfortunately, the reach and policing of what now constitutes politically harmful speech is such that it is pretty well only statements as innocuous as the one about ice-cream that may be publicly aired without fear of reprisal or punishment. As of yet, little forums like this magazine are too small to bother with.

All political opposition must also be extinguished.

The party currently faces two kinds of opposition: one is domestic. And while domestic opposition refuses to die completely, the strategy of elimination of that opposition is the elimination of it having any access to any public space. It also involves creating a social credit system, which is already operating in the West in a manner that differs in no significant way from what the CCP.

The centerpiece of domestic opposition is simply calling out the stupidity of the ideas that enrich and empower the present ruling elite. It may take the form of learned lectures, tomes etc., or comedy (Steven Crowder and Co. for example). This may not succeed in the short or even medium term, and it may well mean struggling to find places to express one’s point of view, or even earning a living – but it least one can retain one’s sanity, and one’s soul.

The second opposition is geo-political. And any success the contemporary anti-democratic elites in the West have is pyrrhic in so far as they lack the numbers, not to mention sheer wherewithal, to deal with those enemies – especially the Chinese, pan-Islamists and aspirational geo-political hegemons among the Islamic nations – who not only view the world the West is making with disgust and disdain, but find before them all manner of opportunities for exploiting the tensions generated by identity politics that have empowered the contemporary Western elite – especially the racial tensions which presently devour the world’s former hegemon.

For those in the West who would rather retrieve the virtues of the West, this opposition gives no consolation. We are now living in a time where consolation is in short supply. All we can do, is do what each of us must – and that is simply be part of a great refusal to be part of what is openly and widely touted as “the great reset.” And pray.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “Perfect Garden,” by Pawel Kuczynski; painted in 2017.

The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 4

The following program, in no particular order, contains the ideas which the Western world’s elite agree, if successful, would fix up the world –

  • the elimination of the Western traditional family
  • the elimination of Western traditional religion
  • the elimination of Western (now interpreted as white) privilege
  • the elimination of the right of freedom of speech (to have a platform is a privilege only to be granted to those who think correctly in a way commensurate with ensuring justice for all)
  • the elimination of biological sexual identity and the right of a child to choose what sex it wants (feels) itself to be
  • the total compliance with a “philosophy” about why the world is how it is and how it can be fixed
  • total trust in those who educate us in this “philosophy”
  • total trust in the state which is dedicated to the “administration of things” according to philosophical principles, such as diversity and equality – diversity meaning people with certain characteristics are the same
  • total trust in science – and the consensus that has been politically deemed to be its teaching to anyone who resists
  • total trust in non-elected officials from journalists to intelligence operatives, as well as elected officials, if they deprive you of your rights in the name of “the science”
  • a cashless economy, so that wealth cannot be stored away from those entrusted to ensure that one is deserving of one’s wealth,
  • a universal income, so that anyone who is not deserving of that income may be denied it
  • a proscription on natural birth, so as to save the planet from the Anthropocene

Of course universal income is at this stage still only an idea, as is the proscription on birth; but they look to be inevitable. Presently, universal income is advocated by the world’s richest people; and they do so at a time when a cashless economy is increasingly becoming realized. A cashless economy will enable the globalized and globalist state to access anyone’s savings, thus to ensure that none can escape its panopticon (this term was popularized by Michel Foucault, a left wing intellectual icon, at a time when surveillance was far less prevalent and when the liberal democratic state was far less beholden to a class of people who take their cues from people like Foucault).

As for population control, Michael Moore’s film, Planet of the Humans, on the inefficient and anti-environmental impact of green energy was wrongly and widely hailed by people who generally disagree with him on pretty well everything because they saw it as an acknowledgment of (his) left wing folly. What they missed was that it was a call for depopulation – and the potential tyranny behind such a call would make the Hitlers and Stalins of the world look like namby-pambies in the mass murdering stake. For we have now become so accustomed to abortion, not as an exceptional undertaking to save a mother’s life, or even preserve her mental well-being, but as a routine decision based upon our inconvenience – and the state as a public protector of our safety, and its intrusion into every sphere of our life.

So, it will seem perfectly natural when we reach the stage that one will need state permission to have children, and it may well be, in order to discriminate against LGBTQ etc. all natural births will be prohibited as discriminatory.

Further, now that it has become acceptable to discriminate and persecute people who deviate from any of the requirements about sexuality, gender, biology, ‘the science’, COVID vaccination, Islam, critical race theory, surely only a monster would think that people who have shown themselves to be monsters, and agents of oppression should have children. As well, we have seen that as a new narrative of oppression gains traction among the elite, as a subject requiring educators, and people to be educated, as well as people to be blamed for whatever horrors this particular form of oppression incurs, it must remain.

Anyone, but a complete idiot, might wonder why after so many decades of exposure, say, to racism that, as critical race theorists, leading Democrats, top ranking military officers, and intelligence officers hold that racism is now worse than ever. The answer to that is, if you think this way you are not yet a complete imbecile. Anyone but an imbecile should also be able to see that clientelism requires clients – actual victims of injustice, or misfortune, don’t really matter, unless they feed the larger narrative and its professional opportunities.

However, because the above “game plan” is globalist, it does not mean that the program will win out in the way that its players think it will, anymore that the game of communism played out the way the Bolsheviks thought it would. Reality has a habit of having its way. Thus, it was that Marxists got concentration camps and mass death instead of their promised overcoming of alienation.

The program is also a fail-safe way to ensure the geopolitical destruction of the West at the hand of its enemies, which, inter alia, means the complete destruction of all the inroads of recognition made by Western progressives, whose astonishing ignorance about the impact of Islamism in Western Europe and future consequences of Islamist geopolitical inroads being made as the West tears itself apart, is a recurrent theme in writings of the insightful Bruce Bawer, who is gay and Christian. (A good and typical example of the extent of this ignorance is exhibited in the case of Sinead O’Conner, the singer whose public protest against the Church because of child sexual abuse, and who is now a convert to the religion founded by a man who had sexual intercourse with his nine year old wife).

And, while, as members of Turkey’s ruling party openly say, the demographic transformations in Western Europe may lead Western Europe to become Muslim – it is China (and as is also the case with Islamic peoples) with its very conservative adherence to the family, that is best positioned to take advantage of the West’s self-destruction, and dictate its future and the values it will tolerate.

Though, it may well be that by the time the West is but a vassal of China, China’s dictatorial policies might seem like welcome relief from what are increasingly looking like inevitable race wars, which, again will benefit the West’s geopolitical rivals far more than it will benefit blacks, or Latinos. (It is noteworthy how in all bonfire of race, playing itself out in the USA, the group that has by far the most shocking history to deal with, native Americans, don’t really figure at all. I suspect it is because they are not numerous enough in North America to be serious clients servicing ongoing political or public service careers, so their lives don’t sufficiently matter to be part of the propaganda race-war drive).

It only goes to show the contempt with which our intelligence is held that someone who bangs on about white privilege and race would think that no one would notice the sleight of hand deployed in simply shifting between color and linguistic characteristics so as to fuel conflict. But, of course, any three year old can notice that there is no consistency in any of this, that it is imbecilic thinking – albeit it is a dialectic of imbecilic thinking – that it is all about polarization.

Some three decades ago, a victim of oppression teaching at UCLA, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, realized that all the oppression stacked up in multiple ways and she drew upon the legal term of intersectionality to help identify all the identities that might lead one to be disadvantaged – as she, a Harvard graduate, must have been. While the intent was to draw attention to the multiple ways oppression and identity inter-twine – so that there could be ways of the various oppressed finding some common ground – it was essentially a response to the obvious problem of polarization; the problem of a lack of commonality, and lack of communion with community.

And, in spite of the institutional triumph in North America, Western Europe and Australasia today of identity politics and studies, what really is evident is the scramble and conflict between the identities for resources, opportunities, prestige and power by claiming they have less opportunity and access because they are more oppressed: white feminists being trumped by black feminists, or by the transgender activists so that having a vagina does not count when it comes to being a woman, and or a white gay male (say a film producer) might be slightly down the totem pole of victimhood from a white straight male (even, say, a guy selling gas).

So, we now require an education system now that can identify and ensure the institutional justification and distribution of resources on the basis of the different gradations of oppression that accrue to different identities. Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge etc. have all morphed from being institutions of higher learning into institutions of imbecilic cultivation – as for the professions that would seem to be so far removed from these imbecilic issues – math, dentistry, engineering, accountancy etc., just as in the Soviet Union, where eventually even genetics was completely politicized, the totalitarian imbeciles are making sure that no discipline or training can escape the reach of their dialectic of imbecility.

At the heart of the ceaseless expansion of the dialectic of imbecility destroying minds, hearts, character, and institutions is the self – the self-wanting to be and being identified as all-important, being everything, wanting to have everything – from respect and pride, to pity and opportunity. This is the self that wants no sacrifice; it wants access to that big magic bin I spoke of earlier – and the way to have access is to present itself as being disadvantaged in access to it.

Once upon a time some people thought the access was given to the Jews, then it was men, then straights – now we all know, and have teachers and professionals telling us the answer – it is the whites that get all that undeserved access. That this is where the hell of self-obsession leads – it is the diabolical sin of pride – the pride Milton describes when he has Eve worship a tree thinking once she eats from the tree of knowledge she will be as God, or Satan who wants to be God, and to beguile assumes the form of a slithering slimy creature. It is also, sadly, completely self-serving, which is why (as anyone with a modicum of understanding of the laws of the spirit knows) it is utterly destructive of the soul.

The imbecilic self may want to cling to its identity as a Woman, Black, Latino, blah blah; but anyone who is happy to construe himself or herself in such term is just another imbecile. And that s/he, as much as anyone else, who is happy to go along, accepts that someone assumes to speak on behalf of/for an identity – as if having an identity always meant being, feeling, thinking x,y,z… blah blah. And it is precisely the making of imbeciles that is behind the self-serving nature of the dialectic of the imbecilic.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “Erregte Menschen (Excited People),” by Emil Nolde; painted in 1913.

The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 3

A Clientelist Elite, And An Idiotic Idea

On the 30th of April 2018 the New York Times published an opinion piece, “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” by Jason Barker. It was a typical, facile, brief account of the virtue of Karl Marx by an academic – a Professor of English (who and what else?) – who had found employment teaching philosophy in South Korea.

To anyone who might have thought that Karl Marx was the guy who (in his words) “proved” that “the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,” and “that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society ,” and thus triggered the crazy schemes and programs of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, etc., who had to kill a lot of people to make sure that they would not even think about trying to protect their property from the party representing the dictatorship of the proletariat – Barker, true to (con)form(ity), informed the urbane, sensitive, well educated, sophisticated and terribly exploited readers of the New York Times that Marxism had never really been tried.

Barker, like so many academics before him, was true to a dictum (which I know I have used before in this magazine) of another, extremely talented, Marx (Chico) that when one heard the words of Marx, one should believe him, not what one sees with one’s own eyes.

In Karl’s case, anyone who used his eyes could see that while he insisted that it was not consciousness but social being that determines consciousness and that the social “being” of the proletariat was the key to its universal emancipatory historical role of destroying class society, everything Marx said about the proletariat came out of his consciousness; or, more precisely, his imagination, consisting of his reading and philosophy, his rationalizations and selective observations – but nothing from his being as a proletarian. For Marx belonged as much to that class as any other person who has known some workers; or, as in his case, was good friends with (and received money from) someone (viz., his friend Engels who was also coauthor of The Communist Manifesto) who employed them in his factory. Perhaps Marx was so blind to himself that he never noticed the deception he was engaging in.

Likewise, perhaps Barker’s blindness to reality stems from simply not knowing that he is ignorant about the historical connections between Marx, Lenin and Stalin, and why the goal of the program – the elimination of private ownership of “the means of production” – required the kind of theoretical adaptation that not only Marxists but Marx himself made when, in spite of the central argument of his unfinished magnum opus, Capital, that the conditions of socialism had to be generated from the internal contradictions flowing from the development of capitalism reaching its breaking point, he told his Russian “fans” that they could have communism without having to go through the journey of capitalism as Western Europe had done.

Whether ignorant or not, one must be blind, if one does not realize that when the Bolsheviks tried to create the kind of society Marx dreamt of, they got chaos and resistance. Like Marx, there was no serious precedent anywhere ever of what they wanted; although, like Marx, they romanticized the artisan-led Paris commune (itself a product of very specific French political and Parisian conditions in the tumult and aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war), as if it were somehow a prototype of what they were pursuing.

For Marx and the Bolsheviks, socialism was to be a society in which there would be large-scale, spontaneous cooperative harnessing of labour power to produce whatever the society needed. And because there would be no classes and no bourgeoisie to dictate patterns of consumption based upon profits, there was supposed to be unanimous agreement upon social needs. Given that people did not all think it was such a swell idea to have their property taken away from them, or be told what work they had to do and for how long, the mass cooperation that was supposed to emerge out of the unalienated classless condition had to be induced another way.

Historically two common inducements outside of the family, or tribe (which has its own compulsions) have occurred – force (conquest, enslavement, etc.), or renumeration/exchange (you do this for me, and I do that/give this for /to you). The Bolsheviks resorted to option A, thereby leaping back beyond Russian feudalism and creating large scale modern, ideologically induced and legitimated, labour camps for mass slavery (thereby also showing the National Socialists how to go about it), and the creation of a secret police (again, showing the National Socialists how to scout out and deal with traitors to the regime).

That this would occur could only be a surprise to someone who prefers historical fantasy about human social formation over actual development, which proceeds according to certain structural, functional conditions of scale and coordination of resource accumulation and production (the very topic Marxism was supposed to be particularly astute to). That the Bolsheviks were still confronted with chaos – made even worse by a civil war, as, naturally enough, various groups who were in less controllable regions fought against becoming dispossessed and enslaved to fulfil the fantasies of the intelligentsia and their willing followers – led them to resort back, in part at least, to option B.

But Lenin knew that if this was a long-term option, then one could forget the endgame. Stalin remembered that – thus he realized that the only way to salvage the program after Lenin’s death was to get it back on track, and destroy the peasantry and their market base, as well as any opposition to the slaughter that this would entail. (By the way, when Bukharin was pressing for the New Economic Policy, allowing the peasantry to have their own markets NEP, Trotsky was vigorously opposed to it, while Stalin was non-committal – so much for the myth of the tolerant Trotsky).

But given the geopolitical rivalry Stalin was confronted with (for Lenin had taken advantage of a war that had effectually help destroy the old regime), Stalin had to be prepared for the inevitability of another war. That required having a society that was industrially and technologically developed, administratively capable, centrally coordinated and politically committed. No wonder Trotsky’s “wind-baggery” about the dangers of bureaucracy in the face of internal oppositionists and arising external deadly adversaries looked like outright defeatism and treachery (Stalin realized that the geopolitical aspirations of Nazi Germany were not to be confused with the rather lack-luster involvement by a gaggle of foreign powers on the fringes of Russia in the immediate aftermath of the Great War).

The old revolutionary guard had been good at gasbagging about how great their new world would be, distributing propaganda and defying the old regime, inciting mutiny, and then ruthlessly destroying anyone who did not join them. Stalin certainly took all this on board – but (Stalin and those he trusted or needed aside) they were generally useless for actually building a new large-scale centralized state-run economy. Yes, indeed, this was ostensibly a new option – option C. Given it was option B – the market – that Marxism had identified as the root of alienation, and given that the fantasy of simply letting people take and do what they want could not exist, and that this left force (option A) in the form of the state (whose bulwarks were its secret police, originally Lenin’s creation, the Cheka, and the Red Army) as the means for organizing large scale production – option C was really just option A.

And that came back to the basic option that Marxists from Karl on had ever skirted around – production via sheer force of arms and the instruments of authority the state could marshal against those who defied it, or markets? Up until the time communists actually had some power, they preferred verbal dream to tough as boots reality; and hence promised to eliminate both – this was seen as nonsense even by the anarchist lunatic Bakunin, who accused Marxism of being nothing but red bureaucracy and statism. Bakunin was, of course, another of those nineteenth century fabulists who thought that because the bulwarks of civilization (private property, the family, the state, religion, money, law, etc.) created their own (to be sure) serious problems, they could simply be overthrown without human beings being thrown back again into the problems and kinds of crises that these institutions had arisen to overcome.

Stalinist statism was, in other words, the inevitable accompaniment of the attempt to instantiate a rationalist program upon the world, which is a contingent, not a rational creation. And while an ideology is just a chain of ideas, some of which derive from reality; others, like communism itself – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” as Marx famously and ridiculously formulated it – are just words. But once a group of people who share a set of ideas seek to make others do what they want, then they need the state with the modalities of force that it can activate for all those who refuse to obey.

As an ideology Marxism, like anarchism, simply avoided the issue of disputation and disagreement by identifying anyone who did not get on board with the program as class enemies, and thus an enemy of the human race, which was why once the Bolsheviks seized power they upped the dictum of the red queen in Alice in Wonderland, calling “bourgeois” or “agents of the bourgeoisie” anyone they needed to lock up or liquidate because such would not do what they were told. And, perhaps Barker has no memory of this, but back in the day communists generally, and communist intellectuals, including people as smart as Brecht, Benjamin, Tzara, Picasso, Eluard, Aragon – all loved Stalin.

And when Stalin was cleaning out the stable – including the upper ranks of the military (which, contrary to the standard critique of it being potentially perilous to the regime, turned out to be a brilliant move with historical precedent based upon the insight that old generals will generally be a burden because they will want to fight the new war in the old way) – so that a new, more technically proficient, class could build up the economy after all the ruin of the 1920s.

The New York Times also had their man, Walter Duranty, on the ground. He wrote fables for New Yorkers living far away from the slave camps, about what a bunch of treacherous scum Stalin had to deal with. And to be fair to Stalin, the only difference between him and Trotsky, or Zinoviev or Kamenev, and even (sad to say, the golden-haired boy) Bukharin, the other saboteurs was that he was more astute in the battles he picked, and the allies he chose in fighting them. And whereas Trotsky, his one real possible rival to take charge of gulags and mass death to implement the program, was cold and aloof, Stalin could really turn on that big, earthy, goofy smile and ingratiating rustic charm.

As for the great mass of those caught up in the purge, New York Times readers, even had they known, generally could not care less about these unknown people, in a place that was only knowable through the scribble and portal of people like Duranty’s imagination. As with Barker and the readers of 2018, reality should not interfere with a pipe-dream. People usually only change after a great deal of personal suffering, as opposed to suffering that one reads about in newspapers and which befalls others. That is unfortunate, though no less so than the fact that people with idiotic ideas make small and large fortunes out of their imbecilic ideas which, in the long run, only contribute to larger scale human suffering than God or nature, left to their own devices, may have devised.

While I think it highly unlikely that the Sulzberger family today, who have run the Times for generations, and the editors they appoint really want to see their property seized and socialized by the industrial proletariat, they are more than happy to employ an editor who back in the day saw it fitting to inform their readers what a swell guy Uncle Joe was, and now more recently that communism might be worth another go. Maybe that is blindness too. And perhaps it was also simply blindness that led President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who, around much the same time as Barker’s “thought piece,” was also urging anyone who thought him worth listening to that Karl Marx should be celebrated and not be blamed for the crimes of his followers. Perhaps he too was blind to the fact that his power and privilege have about as much to do with the proletariat as my watching Michael Jordan turned me into one of the greatest athletes on the planet.

The idea of communism, from the founder to his followers, and others, who are happy to pitch it as a seriously good idea, seems to create a lot of blindness. It certainly creates idiocy. And let us not beat around any scholarly bushes of etiquette: the idea we are talking about is completely idiotic. Communism, as Marx exclaimed in his notebooks of 1844, solved the riddle of history because it enabled the overcoming of alienation. The logic is pure scholasticism (without any residual virtues that such devotion to logic for understanding God and the soul might have had).

And it goes like this: private property has alienated us therefore we must eliminate it. Or to flesh it out a bit more, our alienation comes from being estranged from our species’ essence, which is labouring. Poverty exists because our essence, our capacity to labour, has been expropriated from us by people who buy and sell us and our essence for their own gain.

Were we to take back our essence, by eliminating private property, and labour, because we saw that by producing something for someone else we have gratified our “authentic…human communal, nature” (the logic is spelled out in Notes he took on James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy), we would also eliminate classes, and thus create the most productive economic system that ever existed. To which one can only respond – wow, how come no other societies ever conformed to the human essence? Maybe, just maybe, what Marx thought was the essence was just an existential attribute or feature that is, in part, a response to necessity. But if it were the essence, it sure waited a long time to be discovered.

The worst thing about Marx’s reasoning and conclusion is not its platitudinous quality – more or less articulated by Montaigne in his essays, “Of Cannibals” (a critique of Europe’s own burdens, mixed up with a romantic paean to primitive life, which, to its credit, was not burdened by bad economics), roundly and brilliantly ridiculed by Shakespeare, when he put parts of it in the mouth of the well-meaning, but imbecilic Gonzalo, and repeated by the cultural (Marxist?) icon of the 1960s and 1970s John Lennon – “imagine no possessions/ I wonder if you can.” Yes, I can, John, and if you had read a bit more between writing some good songs (and let’s face it some real stinkers – can anyone listen to ‘Woman’ without a bucket?), taking drugs and schmoozing up to Yoko, you would know that it ain’t a pretty sight.

If the above logic does not sound idiotic to you, you have not realized that classes are just the name we give to the various groups that are created by the division of labour. In other words, the only way to eliminate classes is to eliminate the division of labour, which is why in his heady twenty-four or -five year old enthusiastic, drunken stupor, Marx came right out with it and proclaimed that the abolition of the division of labour was the means for freeing people from alienation. Good luck to anyone who seriously thinks they can have even modest economic development without the division of labour.

Even the formulation of the problem – the problem of alienation – reveals itself to be the kind of philosophical bothering undertaken by someone who has swallowed and regurgitated too many inebriates and abstractions; as if alienation is even the appropriate term to cover the original lack of resources, territory, a reliable food supply, the desire for women (a major source of conflict among Australian Aboriginal tribes, according to the escaped convict William Buckley who lived with the Aborigines for thirty years), and the kinds of artifacts and possibilities that urban dwelling and its accompanying division of labour historically enabled.

Such a way of thinking – which has now become commonplace among our intelligentsia – involves the belief that scarcity is not a natural existential starting point and problem to be constantly dealt with, but a deviation from our nature and essence. This is the “magic bin” theory of economics – there is a magic bin full of all the goodies we want that we all have a right to access (though Marx did at least think rights’ talk, like justice, was bourgeois nonsense).

Rights claims have become increasingly predicated upon the magic bin theory of economics, as is all too evident in the UN Declaration of Human Rights which identifies all manner of rights that have first to be produced before one can actually have any of them. Marx’s claim that the elimination of the division of labour solved the problems of scarcity and alienation is akin to using beheading as a cure for migraine.

To be fair to Marx, in a footnote tucked away in his posthumously published third volume of Capital, he seems to have substituted the crazy idea of marrying large scale production without the division of labour to the reduction of the working day. That is a remarkable comedown – a little like me confessing that in spite of all my watching of Michael Jordan, I am not the world’s great athlete, but I did like to nurse a basketball in my lap when watching him on the tellie.

As for needing communism to bring about the reduction of the working day – labour hours in communist countries generally lagged behind the West because their economies were not particularly productive, and the flow on of benefits within the workplace could not match the combined benefits of unions, market efficiencies, and state regulations (more often than not the economic benefits were due to the institutional amelioration of potentially disruptive industrial conflict).

And while the Western democracies delivered what could reasonably be argued were relatively limited social/community goods and services (though there are considerable differences between what Western democracies are prepared to offer and pay with public monies), they managed to improve living standards on a far greater scale than in communist countries. And they did it without the extermination of the peasantry and petit bourgeois.

Moreover, in spite of Marx’s reputation and his disastrous impact – from mass murder to spreading ideological idiocy amongst his own class (the intelligentsia) – Marx cannot take any serious credit for the gains to the working class that sprang from their political organization and economic bargaining in the form of labour parties and trade unions.

In England and America, Marxism was never a serious factor within the development of working-class political organization and representation; and in Germany, where Marxism had had most success within the labour movement of Western Europe, Eduard Bernstein, who had been a Marxist and had been close to Engels, dropped the Marxist program, having realized how superior to communism were the social, economic and political gains to be had by focusing upon trade union and parliamentary representation pushing for public education, better welfare conditions, and nationalizing certain industries.

Intellectuals were generally far more attracted to Marxism than to the working-class based political parties – which were, let’s face it, dealing with the dull humdrum, day-to-day of real politics that might help a couple pay the rent, or buy a home, get their kids into a decent school, and be able to pay doctors’ bills, rather than ending history and all exploitation.

Intellectuals generally shared Lenin’s view that trade union consciousness blunted the revolutionary aspirations and potential of the working class – in the USA, Marcuse’ theory of repressive tolerance was a big hit with college kids who had got really bored with all those unhip, square workers, who didn’t have the education to know that “Yeah, man -it’s the system.”

That they preferred the idiotic idea over the day-to-day grind of working-class political organization is all too explicable, if we take cognizance of the kind of economic factors that Marx (falsely) purported to have incorporated into his theory – that is, Marxism was indeed the reflection of the social being of those who espoused it. But it was never a theory that came out of the working class – rather, a theory that was foisted onto the working class. From its inception and in its development, it was a product of the intelligentsia, whose view of social and political progress was predicated upon them supplying the ideas and teaching the rest of society how to conform to their ideas. It was, in other words, a clientelist ideology.

Hence too as communism looked a dead duck in the Western world, outside of communist countries whose intellectuals could no longer bear the idiocy, lies, toadyism, and poverty that Marxism had spawned, Marxism’s home was exclusive to the breeding ground of the intelligentsia, the university. Other potent concoctions of the human mind – all with much the same amount of analytical rigor as had satisfied Marx – were being brewed by people around the same age as Marx was when he knew everything. They knew even more because they had the benefit of having learnt where critique (what they did to others) had to be refined. They were all devoted to making themselves, as students, or professors and intellectuals, the leaders of the great emancipation, the overthrow of domination. They were also one and all concoctions which found a plethora of client groups – if you were a woman, you could take on women; if you were gay, the gays; if you were black, the blacks; if from a former colony, people from the colonies.

By then, the colonies had pretty well all been given back; so now it was a question of post-colonialism; and the thing was to score a career at an elite university by representing the products of colonialism, racism, etc. Of course, in spite of identity guaranteeing representative status – “I am woman, therefore I speak for all women,” etc., those who couldn’t actually claim the identity status of those needing them as their representatives would not always be too bothered by that – especially where race was concerned. One just needed to make a career out of the fact that all (other) whites were racist, or colonialists.

The program was a farrago of idiotic ideas, which took about two minutes to learn. They could be applied anywhere and everywhere; so learning it didn’t require one to study too much history – certainly nothing that revealed the complex details that would illustrate that learning history via a moral principle, such as moral and political progress, is to blind one to history.

While the program lent itself to huge salaries for administrators and human resource types, who could hand out crayons and butcher’s paper to better indoctrinate their captive employees (now including the US military) in whatever piece of ideological imbecility they were pushing at the moment, the theory types in the university could dress up the farrago in the kind of bloviated diction that did at least involve some dictionary learning. Bug-eyed students, who had the initial lobotomy performed in schools and were now just a gangling mass of fretful nerve-ends, were enthralled by the dizzying ideas of their loquacious professors.

Once upon a time people used to go to college to read books, engage in student activities and enjoy a sequestered space of reflection – now students needed trigger warnings and safe spaces to protect them from the horrors that might befall them – they might hear a word, or witness a tragic scene in a play, or learn that an orange version of Hitler had been voted in by all these terrible people. They were the most inexperienced and brainless bottom end of the assembly line of the dialectic, easy to yoke into service, to scream and screech at whoever and whatever they had been told was responsible for making their world a hateful place of oppression.

What had come to constitute oppression, not only according to lobotomized students on grievance autopilot, demanding the sacking of any teacher they heard saying something that made them feel unsafe, varied from someone who was not Mexican wearing a sombrero, to someone who did not think their tomboy daughter should have their sex organs tampered with, to someone who ate meat, to someone who was white, to someone who was black but not woke, to someone who mined or transported or invested in fossil fuel, to someone who expresses doubt about yet to be proven predictions of rising sea-level, to someone who thinks the tactics of dealing with COVID have not been that wise, to someone who still used old-fashioned designations of roles and gender like Mum and Dad – the great persecution is a movable feast alright.

The zombie carnival is the outgrowth of the most grimly earnest self-belief and utterly unshakeable conviction in their own intellectual talent with one absolute (though rarely stated) certainty at the end of it – job prospects, because all institutions now have to be radically overhauled by this particular group representing all the clients of their world (what lay beyond their world did not really exist; thus, the non-problem for feminists of Muslim patriarchy and honour killings).

More, in an age where genuine religion was increasingly some exotic Other which, no matter how cruel its practices to women, deserved respect, provided it was not something Westerners practiced or even knew anything serious about, the platitudes of social justice gave the “hollow” non-binaries, with their own pronouns (to use what might now be an acceptable rewriting of T.S. Eliot’s prescient poem) something to hold on to. You have to hand it to those who live off this dialectic; although the end game is idiotic, the tactic is pretty brilliant – especially in how it taps into one of the most disgusting qualities in human beings, sanctimoniousness.

And the existence of a compliant sector of the population had already been facilitated by all those mindless sit-coms, gameshows, and infantile diversions that the developed world had channeled into living rooms. It was all taking over, while much of the population barely noticed that the free world had become mentally captive to an elite, who believing in idiotic ideas themselves, now required for their own elevated status and careers, making everybody else accept them as true. The proof of its success has been recently put by Victor Davis Hanson in his typically perspicuous essay, “This isn’t Your Father’s Left-Wing Revolution.” Today’s revolutionaries aren’t fighting “the Man” – they are “the Man”:

“Name one mainline institution the woke Left does not now control – and warp. The media? The campuses? Silicon Valley? Professional sports? The corporate bedroom? Foundations? The K-12 educational establishment? The military hierarchy? The administrative state? The FBI top echelon?’

As for the proles, even Marxists tended to ditch them as too ideologically stupefied to help them in their revolution, though it had become apparent to the tertiary educated that the political parties that had been created by the working-classes, as well as the trade unions, offered good employment prospects. Hence, they also took over the various labour parties of the Western world, as they “professionalized” the unions by fast-tracking university graduates into union leadership positions. They had gone to college after all, so they were smart enough to know many of the workers would sentimentally stick with the party of their past while blindly accepting their leadership. It worked for a while, until a majority of the workers realized they were being treated as idiots; and then they started abandoning their patrons and the party they and their parents had generally supported.

If they were white, they were renounced as white supremacists for wanting to preserve any of the values that they identified with, rather than fit into the new client boxes that had been constructed for them to fit into. The problem with the working class, unlike the Woke (again, like political correctness, originally a term the elite used to distinguish its own intellectual superiority, but now used pejoratively by its critics), and indeed the problem with anyone who would not get in step with the Woke, is that they weren’t imbeciles.

The alliance noted above between the inventor of a narrative that purports to solve all the world’s problems, a globalist educator, a media mogul and editor, and a leading (non-elected) “representative” of a political body that is non-democratic (democratic deficit is how EU scholars politely put it) in all that matters is a symptom of the fact that today the Western world’s largest corporations, its wealthiest, its most prestigious elite learning, education institutions and its most prestigious educators, along with its leading political parties and politicians, as well as its most highly paid public servants, military and intelligence operatives, along with its wealthiest celebrities and even sports stars – all agree on how the world should be fixed, and who should do the fixing (them). It can be fixed by a curriculum of imbecility which will create an educational elite who will ensure that all acceptable social ideals are imbecilic, so that our social and political institutions may socially reproduce imbeciles to instantiate the program of imbecility. Brilliant!


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “Sisyphus,” by Odd Nerdrum; painted in 1990.

Those Pesky Poles! Forever Defying Totalitarianism

1. Polish Peskiness Brought Down the Soviet Union, While The Soviets Transferred The Baton Of Imbecility To Educated Westerners

Is it the Bigos (hunter’s stew), is it the Zurek, is it the Blintzes, is it the Pierogi, or the Krupnik which makes the Poles so damned obstinate, so pesky?

Or is that a people, whose nobles went against the current in the sixteenth century by devising a noble system of democracy (an elected monarch with a functioning parliamentary legislature) when other European countries were becoming increasingly absolutist, really don’t like being bossed around by bumptious authoritarian idiots?

Or is that a people who were written off the map for more than a hundred years don’t like being written off or out of history, and that a people who fought and successfully defended themselves against the Bolsheviks in 1919-21, only to be invaded by the Soviets and Nazis, don’t like being victims of the deranged imperial dreams of others?

Or is it that a people who were duped into becoming a communist country and Soviet vassal have inoculated themselves against being duped again by ideas that promise to be very heaven but turn out to be hell?

Or is that a country whose Catholic identity was just too strong for the communists to successfully suppress continue to hang onto their religious identity when Western Europeans view their own history, and religious heritage, with a mixture of ignorance and shame (unfortunately without being ashamed of their own ignorance)? One Polish refugee from communism, Aleksander Wat, in My Century, thought that

Poland’s mainstay was not in revolts but in “disengaging from the enemy,” specifically, the country’s overwhelming Catholicism, precisely that parochial, obscurantist, and often vulgar Polish Catholicism, which, however, purified itself and grew deeper “in the catacombs” and truly found its shepherd in the person of the Primate, Cardinal Wyszyński. That Catholicism made the Polish soul impervious to the magic of “ideology” and the knout of praxis, and it was not the rebellious writers and revisionists who caused the Polish October but – apart from Stalinism’s crumbling power and cohesiveness – the steadfast, constant, unyielding mental resistance of that Catholic nation, its “dwelling” in transcendence.”

Whatever it is, though, those Poles sure are pesky for anyone who thinks they should roll over and take a boot on their necks. They probably vote in such large numbers for the Conservative Law and Justice party just to give the finger to the Western Europeans elites who all want the Poles to come to their party of endless progress – and self-annihilation.

In the upside-down world represented by the European Union and mainstream Western European political parties, it is authoritarian to oppose dismantling the values of Christendom which gave the West its greatest achievements. Likewise, West European elites cannot stand the fact that a predominantly Catholic country has the temerity to want to defend its Catholic tradition from a group who might be more smiley than the previous Soviet bullies, and who generally tend to like to get their way with promises of giving or withholding large pots of money rather than bringing in tanks. But the pesky Poles wipe off their smiles and make them hot under the collar when they say thanks for the money and trade deals, but no thanks to the tactic of welcoming Muslim migrants and refugees to transplant not only themselves in their flight from economic and political hardship but their traditions and, in too many cases, their pan-Islamist aspirations on a remaining national bastion of Christian soil. The Western European elite wants all opposition to its values and institutional overhauling to fold in exactly the same way as they themselves are folding to their geopolitical enemies. They seem to struggle to understand why a country, whose workers openly took to the streets against the communists in 1956 and then again from 1980 formed the union, Solidarity, to defy, with eventual success, their Soviet masters, won’t simply take the money and obey. Why they think they will succeed where the Soviets failed is but one more example of how all the mountains of bureaucratic EU drivel is a cipher of mental vacuity, merrily redesigning the world in the image of its own emptiness – the confirmation, if one will, of an intelligentsia which once spawned, Being and Nothingness, merely becoming nothingness. And whereas the Western elites, like their US counterparts, all accepted the eternally enduring presence of the Soviets, the Poles became the spearhead of what would ultimately inspire others from Soviet satellite countries to also stand up to their Soviet masters.

Yes, there were many things that bought about the demise of the Soviet Union, from a disastrous war in Afghanistan to a nuclear power plant accident, which revealed the dangerous incompetence of trying to preside over nuclear power with a system in which raw power and ideology always trumped over truth and competence, to a US president, depicted by the intelligentsia as a cross between Bozo the clown and a third rate actor who thought he was a cowboy, who defied the conventional wisdom – that the Soviet Union was an undefeatable superpower – by upping the arms race to levels which bought an already ailing economy and a gerontocratic power, loosening its grip through age and a generational power transfer, to its knees.

But one could not underestimate the peskiness of the Poles when it came to the fall of communism. There was the outspoken and very pesky Polish Pope who had inspired the formation of Solidarity, and who refused to go along with the rot in the Church that was all for Christian Marxist/communist dialogue, and liberation theology, itself little more than a Soviet propaganda front posing as Christian teaching. And then there was the pesky Polish priest who was closely connected with Solidarity, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was murdered by members of the security service. His murder only served to ensure that Solidarity would be an even bigger thorn in the side of the communist government than it had been before.

Generally, though, it is the sad fact that when the Soviets were well on the way to losing the military war, they were already defeating the West in the propaganda war. Their victory was pyrrhic because their attempts at open-ness and reform proved to be as disastrous as the rest of their attempts to realize the dreams of a bunch of ideas spearheaded by people who thought their knowledge and philosophy could create a system that was both perfect and unprecedented. All that was left was to leave their communist allies presiding over their satellite dependencies in the lurch, and walk away from a political system that was taped together by lies and people spying on each other, and an economic system that could not produce enough bread, let alone computerised arms systems to rival the US. (Whether to their credit or not remains to be seen, but the Chinese had already decided to drop the economic system while holding onto the political system). So, the Soviets had a bargain basement jumble sale where Western grifters and con-men like William Browder, the grandson of the American communist party leader Earl Browder, and the local mafia scooped up the assets of a country.

And while almost all the Soviet scholars went over night from being media talking heads and clueless political scientists explaining why détente was a very good deal, to historians scratching their heads over why the biggest event since the Second World War took place without them having a clue it was coming – that wannabe American cowboy Bozo and a handful of his anti-Soviet advisors, who had been reading a few astute economists who had identified the gigantic budgetary hole covered by creative accounting, which involved simply transferring next year’s income to this year’s, who saw what the Poles saw – that Soviet power was just one more in a long line of heavily guarded Potemkin villages.

Though to be fair to the smarts of the Soviets, while they could not run a country, they sure knew how to dupe the minds of Westerners. For just as from the time of Lenin’s take-over to Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, the Soviets had managed to convince many of the leading minds of the intelligentsia in North and South America, Western Europe and Australasia about the virtues of Soviet communism, up until its demise, the Soviets had created all the key critical phrases and “talking points” that radicals of the 1970s and 1980s would use when it came to the power politics of the Cold War. They would all castigate Regan as a warmonger for calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, for devising a bomb that would kill people without destroying buildings, for walking back on détente and upping the arms race, and for having the temerity to plan a missile shield system that was thereby, according to the radicals and Soviets, increasing the likelihood of nuclear war, even though, they would add, with absolute assuredness and without a blink, it was a scientific impossibility. The dialectic of imbecility had already been a successful experiment, conducted by the Soviets upon the better educated saps in the West.

For anyone who can recall, the media reported almost daily on the well-meaning protesters in Western Europe wearing gum boots, rainbow dyed tee-shirts, peace signs and carrying their kiddies on their shoulders – while on MTV, Sting, like so many singers who believe that being able to knock out a good tune gives them a terrific handle on geopolitics and how to achieve world peace, having taken time off from saving the Amazon, was earnestly intoning: “If the Russians love their children too/ How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?? (Allow me to put it on the public record, so that on Judgment Day I can say in my own defense – for all my sins, Lord, no matter how hummable his tunes, I could never stand the sanctimonious strains of Sting.) All their anti-nuclear protests were directed at weakening military opposition against the Soviets – for, they intoned repeatedly, it was NOT the Soviets, but the USA who was bringing the world to the brink of destruction. This was of course before the next (pre-COVID) all-encompassing catastrophe – global warming/climate change, which would push aside nuclear disarmament as the source of hyperbolic panic requiring an elite of wise and all-knowing saviours.

The most radical Westerners thought they were super smart in being non-Stalinist, non-Soviet Marxists. But they were to use the phrase coined by the pesky (Lithuanian born) Pole, Czeslaw Milosz, “captive minds.” This is perhaps why, in spite of not being attracted to the grey lump that the Soviets had served up as communism, Western radical students could not tolerate Soviet dissidents being given any kind of platform. I was studying in West Germany in 1984 and recall a poorly attended talk by a Soviet dissident. The West German university students booed him for being a US Cold War stooge.

Today the tactics and narratives that the Soviets had fostered long before the Cold War in creating disunity in the USA by fueling racial strife so it becomes a civil war, are now not only commonplace in universities and schools but in corporations and the White House itself, which approves of critical race theory being taught even in the military. The communist strategy of subversion was all mapped out in detail by the KGB defector Yuri Besmenov, and his book, Love Letter to America, written under the pseudonym Thomas Schuman. But his warning was already a generation too late – at the moment, the US was poised to win the Cold War, it had lost its mind (its universities, its media, Hollywood and other idea-brokering institutions) to the same terrible ideas that the Poles and others were trying to shake off.

The legacy of the communist victory – leaving China alone to pick up the spoils – is now so obvious, that half the US sees it. And it is certainly not those US citizens who control the formation and circulatory flow of the ideas of the ruling class. It is also significant that two of the best recent books that are diagnosing the spiritual, intellectual and social suicide of the Western world are by Poles, Ryszard Legutko, and Zbigniew Janowski. The former is a member of the European Parliament as well as the author of The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, and more recently, The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols.

Legutko came to prominence a couple of years ago thanks to the stupidity and bellicosity of students and staff at Middlebury who, having slapped up posters and a Facebook page denouncing Legutko as a “f****ing homophobe and sexist,” prevented him from speaking about the dangers of totalitarian democracy engulfing “free societies.” The public talk having been cancelled, the professor who invited Legutko to the college had his nine students hold a secret ballot (yes, this is how free students are today in an American university) to see whether Legutko should give the intended lecture to them.

They voted yes (sanity prevailed for a moment), and he did manage to commence his lecture to the professor’s small class. But as more students filed in and word got out, that too was subverted and Professor Legutko was escorted off campus. I doubt if any of the staff or students had the wherewithal to even read his book, let alone ask whether their confirmation of the “thesis” of Legutko’s book was really making a better world. They were just like anti-Semitic Christians, who never understood that their tactics only served to illustrate the deficiencies of their own personal faith, character, and behaviour. Unfortunately, the world is made more by the deficiencies of who and what we are and do than by the neatness of our (ostensible) moral reasons and ideas. But good luck finding twenty professors in the USA who know or care about that.

Just as some Muslims kill people to protest against those who publicly dispute that Islam is a religion of peace by referring to violent imperatives in passages of the Koran and hadith, elite students and academicians of today want to end hate, serve social justice and overcome all oppression by screaming at and shutting down anyone who thinks that they are just a bunch of bullies, know-it-alls, and spoilt brats, who know nothing serious about society or even justice. Though there are spoiled brats in Poland (and members of its intelligentsia) who also want to join the mental and spiritual suicide being undertaken by their Western counterparts, and whom the Western elites are recruiting into its ranks.

Hence a group of them, who had sought to enforce a ruling of the European Court of Human Right’s work that proscribed all religious symbolism from schools, also hauled Legutko before a District Court in Kraków. His crime? Apparently, it was calling them “spoiled little brats.” Sadly, just last month, Legutko found himself attacked again by students and members of the Philosophy Department of the Jagiellonian University, where Legutko teaches.

The reason for this was his letter to the university Rector about the dangers of the university having put in place a Western style administrative department for equity grievances. The letters – which are appearing in the Postil – illustrate the same pathetic and sanctimonious reasoning, self-serving moral platitudes, and appeal to authority as are found today in every Western university – confirming yet again that philosophers are not inoculated against being seduced by their own moral vanity, and are no more inclined than anyone else to take on the burden of historical memory, when required to think for a moment about what ethically fragile and generally unwise creatures, such as we do with the machinery of abstractions, once it is set up to ensure social control.

Janowksi, like Legutko, grew up under communism, but he returned to Poland last year, after thirty-five years in the USA. From my correspondence with him, Janowski is a born teacher, and it seems that he found many US students who greatly appreciated what he had to teach. But he was worn down by the mental midget-ism and wokeness that had taken over the university, along with the university administration who would periodically carpet him for his contrarianism.

As anyone who knows the least thing about Western universities today, university administrators have mastered the racket of having students and the state pay their exorbitant salaries, while simultaneously shutting down, and clearing out all genuine intellectual work in the Arts and Humanities, and while creating the safe spaces so their students learn that all whites are racists and that the USA is the most racist country in history.

Janowski has captured this farcical replay of totalitarianism in the USA (if I may borrow Marx’s tweaking of Hegel on history) in his excellent book, Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America. But before looking more closely at the works by Legutko and Janowski, I want to briefly discuss that earlier generation of pesky Poles who were trying to bring down communist totalitarianism – one of them, Leszek Kolakowski, was Janowski’s PhD supervisor, and hence a direct source of inspiration for him.

2. Poles Against Communist Totalitarianism

While there is a very long list of Polish critics of communism, I suspect that the two most well-known to Western readers are Leszek Kolakowski and Czeslaw Milosz, the former a philosopher, the later a poet. Given that communism is a poetic fabrication, resting upon a metaphysical contrivance, it is fitting that philosophers and poets expose its centre as being nothing more than thoughtless and abstract words; that is, words that are void of the sediments of soul that good poets are attuned to access, or the conceptual sharpness that provides philosophical insight into our actions and the world.

The central feature of Milosz’s Captive Mind, written in 1951, when the young Kolakowski was still a believer in communism, is its depiction of poets and writers whose love of words and art eventually lead them all to betray their muse as they (for diverse reasons from their own ideological need to believe, and their self-induced blindness to economic and political opportunity to fear) succumb to mental captivity.

In Milosz’ own case, we are not dealing with a particularly political animal, even though the Captive Mind provides some valuable reflections upon how the ideology of communism and its “philosophy” of dialectical materialism kills the spirit. Milosz, though, was a man who could distinguish between what is truly venerable in poetry, and hence why commitment to it cannot be compromised by ideological fiat, and vacuous verbosity.

The cross roads that placed Milosz between the choices of following the power and opportunities that came from using his pen in the service of power or keeping true to the muse, was very similar to Kolakowski – who might have been an ideological hack had philosophy not remained his true love. And it was also his love of philosophy that enabled him to see the sheer untruth of the endeavour he was devoting his faith to.

Communism is a jealous God, and it is a philosophical God that requires total metaphysical possession of the mind (to be sure it is also a crippled philosophical God demanding crippled minds). Its claim to possess the scientific method, dialectical (historical) materialism, to enable its practitioners to identify the objective laws of history, and the larger historical meaning of the political and economic circumstances of the hour, is a big claim that reality rebukes at every opportunity.

Kolakowski had a keen metaphysical sense and that sense runs through his philosophical writings where the “big questions” remained his philosophical preoccupation until his death. Back in the 1950s, it was becoming clear to Kolakowski that dialectical materialism was a very small – and ultimately paltry – box of mental tricks when it came to dealing with the “big questions” that required really using the powers of the mind.

In some ways, communism was always about one’s mental powers, whether one really wanted to develop them, or whether one was happy to learn and apply a philosophical dogma and defend it at all costs. Marx would always resort to invective when anyone disagreed with him; and in that respect, he set the precedent of what one had to do – bully, threaten and silence one’s opponents – if one wanted to protect a set of doctrinal principles and commitments – the method of dialectical materialism – from philosophical critique.

Thus it was that Lenin, who had read very little philosophy, took time away from his revolutionary screeds and tactical writings to study Hegel’s Science of Logic (and just in case anyone might think he was not serious, it was not the shorter Logic of the Encyclopedia but the big thick one!) – the study remains clear for all and sundry to read thanks to his disciples preserving his notebooks as if they were holy writ.

The “study” is mostly transcription, and gloss with comments and marginal scribblings – all of which confirm that Lenin was completely clueless about what Hegel’s philosophy was. Thus like a deranged school master after all the screaming and dribbling (“Hegel conceals the weakness of idealism;” “ha-ha he’s afraid! Slander against materialism Why??”), he also found things in Hegel he could give big ticks to (“excellent!” “subtle and profound!” “a germ of historical materialism,” and such like).

Lenin already knew that history is made up of material forces which are dialectical, and that communism is the dialectical resolution of the class antagonisms of history. But serious Marxists believed that anyone who really wanted to enter into the inwards of the development of history had to read their Hegel. Albeit, by never forgetting that philosophy, as Marx had explained, consisted of two teams, idealists (those who thought the world came from their own heads) and materialists (the smart ones who knew there was a world outside of the head).

Thankfully, cholera had taken Hegel out before he had to read this nonsense, which was first aired by Marx’s pal, Ludwig Feuerbach, who failing to understand that when Hegel wrote a work on logic, he was writing (to be sure, it was a radical exposition and argument) on the process involved in how we think. Feuerbach, to great applause from Marx, criticized Hegel for not understanding that if he closed his eyes and wandered unawares into a tree, the bump would teach him the tree existed independently of his thought or knowledge about it. Pathetic, isn’t it?

Even Marx, as he got older, realized that really Hegel (he and Engels would refer to him affectionately in their correspondences as “the old boy”) was a much smarter dude than Feuerbach, who by then had taken his materialism to such dizzying heights as coming up with the formulation “one is what one eats” – in the German it looks cleverer – and thus becoming a forefather of today’s dietary obsessives.

Still, Marx thought that Hegel had grasped that history develops through antagonistic forces which give birth to an immanent resolution, which will ultimately enable man to reconcile himself with his essence as a cooperative labouring being. This was, to put it mildly, a cross between a trivial dilution and very silly application of Hegel’s rather profound, if ultimately unsustainable, account of how our thinking and knowledge (and hence the sciences) develop. So just as Marx and Engels had already told him, Vlad could now claim that Hegel, though a bourgeois, had been a real asset for the communists.

Lenin’s other great work of philosophical criticism was Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. It was, mainly, though not exclusively, a polemic against Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius (two philosophers very little read today). One might well ask what on earth would a critique of two post-Kantians, trying to identify the role of cognitive operations within modern science. has to do with overthrowing the Tsar and sparking off a global revolution against capitalism? Good question. The answer is – to repeat – that Marxism was always a philosophy, and that Marxist philosophy considered any other explanation about how to think, and even what should be thought about, as an existential threat.

One of the many dangers of making a metaphysic dictate the direction of social, economic, political and cultural development is that it is a recipe for paranoia – having exaggerated what it can achieve, it then exaggerates the damage which other ideas, which do not fit into that metaphysics, may do.

This was all interestingly bought out in the book Encounters with Lenin by the Bolshevik apostate, Nicolai Valentinov (who also wrote under the name Nikolai Valentinov-Volski). He had the misfortune of telling Lenin in a conversation that he found Mach and Avenarius interesting – at which point Lenin went ballistic, frothing at the mouth and screaming about two authors, which Volski points out, he obviously had not even read. (It was only later that Lenin would sit down with their books and belatedly prove the point that even when he read their books, he failed to understand their point).

So, really being a Marxist or a Leninist boils down to a very simple and stupid thing – believing that Marx and Lenin are always right about the essential way the world is and how to fix it. The fascist decalogue simply stated “Mussolini is always right,” which made it explicit that anyone donning the black shirt should also take out his brain. Mussolini though, preferred his brainless followers to believe in the myth of the nation instead of the scientific truth of historical materialism – so at least Mussolini knew the difference between myth and science (even if he knew as little about the science of society as the Marxists did).

By insisting that their brand of socialism was scientific, Marxists were really saying that Marx had discovered a method for understanding human nature, history, society and political economy which was unassailable. So, Marx was always right. The same line of reasoning then led to the faith that Lenin was always right/Stalin was always right/Mao was always right, etc. Little wonder that the Bolsheviks so effortlessly followed the fascists in making a complete unity of their leader, their party and their people (at least the ones that did not need to be liquidated or re-educated in slave labour camps).

Of course, as the schisms got too big to hide – which is the inevitable consequence of a thinking that is both uncompromising and murderous – Marxists had to have a Reformation and work back to the beginning. Which was why the post-Stalinist, New Left, wave of Marxists also returned back to the “salon” and classroom, where Russian communism originated, i.e., among the class of intellectuals and university students – only this time, they did have a developed world to take over, and the task of institutional capture had been set out by Antonio Gramsci. But that is a whole other story.

This long excursion into Marxism-Leninism as a philosophy is really to highlight the question, how could any serious philosopher not see that this is a path to mental captivity? That a number of people, who were philosophically gifted, nevertheless capitulated, is akin to Milosz’ account of seriously gifted writers and poets becoming ideological hacks.

Kolakowski may have started going down the road to ideological hackdom. In spite of the broad sweep of the claim, one cannot help but detect a certain autobiographical note in the title as well as the opening sentence of his book from 1988, Metaphysical Horror” “A modern philosopher who has never experienced the feeling of being a charlatan is such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.”

In Metaphysical Horror Kolakowski presents the horror through the optic of a Spinozian spin of Cartesian skepticism: “If nothing truly exists except for the Absolute, the Absolute is nothing; if nothing truly exists but myself, I am nothing.” For my part, I cannot help but see this as a metaphysical extrapolation of a soul that in saving itself from the Absolute of Marxist Leninism, but asserting its own foundational certitude, is left wondering – if all of its world and its life’s meaning amounted to nothing.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this which is pitched in a manner commensurate with the timelessness of the metaphysical disposition. But as I have said, both communism and modernity are the creations of the metaphysical imagination. And having freed himself from the captivity of Marxism, Kolakowski dives into the metaphysical imagination, with its Absolute, with the kind of resolve that only a true disciple of philosophy as the search for the Absolute and the absoluteness of life’s meaning, could muster: “Once we know,” he offers in that same work, “that errors and illusions occur, questions about a reality which can never be an illusion, or truths about which no mistakes are possible, are unavoidable.”

But whereas Marx and all his progeny end up being what Eric Voegelin, the Austrian philosophical contemporary of Kolakowski and refugee from Nazism, identified as “gnosticism,” then the search for the Absolute may become, as it did for Kolakowski, a humbling affair in which one realizes that there is, again from Metaphysical Horror, “No access to an epistemological absolute, and …no privileged access to the absolute Being which might result in reliable theoretical knowledge.”

How to face up to this without absolutizing one’s own self, with all its aspiration to know, and accepting the ceaseless limits of its knowledge, is to avoid falling into the trap of nihilism. Sometimes it takes a man almost a life-time to lay out the aspect of his soul that leads him to turn off the path that seems secure and easy, but is ultimately a dead end. Kolakowski’s metaphysical writings strike me as the expression of an aspect of his soul – his character – that had to be released through exploring the most pressing conundrums that have been woven into our civilization, through the symbols of religion and the questions of philosophy.

In any case the philosopher in Kolakowski realized as a young man, with everything before him, that the stodgy metaphysical mush that passed for philosophy in communist Poland was connected to the grim reality of daily life that passed for socialism. Not being able to simply go along with the idiocy and lies any longer – a visit to Moscow in 1950 had already shown him what idiots were running the show – in 1956, he fired off a number of missives that contrasted socialist myths and reality. One, “The Death of Gods” (available in the collection of essays, Is God Happy?) seems to be the work of a writer torn between the idealism of his old self and the determination of the new self to be uncompromising about the truth:

“When at the ripe age of eighteen, we become communists, equipped with an unshakeable confidence in our own wisdom and a handful of experiences, undigested and less significant than we like to imagine, acquired in the Great Hell of war, we devote very little thought to the fact that we need communism in order to harmonize relations of production with the forces of production. It rarely occurs to us that the extremely advanced technological standards here and now, in Poland in 1945, require the immediate socialisation of the means of production if crises of overproduction are not to loom over us like storm clouds. In short, we are not good Marxists. For us, socialism, however we go about arguing for it in theoretical debates, is everything but the result of the operation of the law of value. Defended with clumsy arguments cobbled together from a cursory reading of Marx, Kautsky or Lenin, it is really just a
myth of a Better World, a vague nostalgia for human life, a rejection of the crimes and humiliations of which we have witnessed too many, a kingdom of equality and freedom, a message of great renewal, a reason for existence. We are brothers of the Paris communards, the workers during the Russian Revolution, the soldiers in the Spanish Civil War.
We thus have before us a goal that justifies everything….
We believed that socialist rule would naturally lead to the swift and total disappearance of national hostility, nationalist prejudice and tribal conflict. Instead we found that political activity which goes by the name of socialist can encourage and exploit the most absurd forms of chauvinism and blind nationalist megalomania. In culture these manifest themselves in the form of naive deceptions and infantile sophistry, but in politics, concealed behind a thin façade of traditional internationalist slogans, they assume the much more dangerous and sinister form of colonialism.”

Another from that same year was “What is Socialism?” which is basically a list depicting the totalitarian reality of life in a communist country, that is preceded by the sentence, “Here, then, is a list of what socialism is not,” and first on the list was “a society in which someone who has committed no crime sits at home waiting for the police.”

It is true that Kolakowski was not alone in speaking out against what socialism had become and he was swept up in a hopeful wave of defiance and bravery. And it is this importance of this bravery that cannot be underestimated when one considers how totalitarian regimes come undone: ideas are nothing in themselves, they are made by people and they make people. That is to say, bad and stupid ideas only take off and become instruments of annihilation, cruelty and stupidity because they appeal to and help make people who are ready to kill, be cruel, imprison others who aren’t as stupid as they are, that is people who will stop at nothing to get their way and who have no doubt about the rectitude of their view of the world and the solutions to its ailments.

All the pesky Poles mentioned in this essay would have had an easier and cushier life in Poland and the USA had they just gone along with the cruel and stupid ideological conformists and enforcers, who had and have all lost their minds, hearts and souls. Milosz could not have come up with a more prescient title than the Captive Mind if he had to depict what is happening today. But the shocking thing is how easily today our Western intellectuals and academics have entered into mental captivity.

In part, this is because they had already swallowed the poison of liberal freedom that both Legutko and Janowski address. And whereas they had done so in the tenured and most comfortable of circumstances, the writers, poets, philosophers whom Milosz depicts in the Captive Mind had lived through a time of extraordinary suffering. The poet Beta (a pseudonym for Tadeusz Borowski), for example, had been in Auschwitz, and witnessed and chose to survive by doing all that was required of him by his Nazi masters.

Perhaps souls like Borowski were simply harder to ensnare, and perhaps we in the West have been breeding monsters of ignorance who have now become ignorant monsters, and they are so sensitive they suffer like someone upon the rack if they but think of anyone who does not believe that the sum total of their knowledge (which could fit on a tiny packet of cards) for understanding and judging the past, present and future of the human race suffices for total emancipation.

For, let’s be real –ideologues typically enter into a state of apoplexy when someone challenges their diagnosis or remedies of a state of affairs which they designate as social injustice because they do not want anyone challenging their authority – the “injustice” is just a “trigger” (hence the need for trigger warnings) sending them into states of rage. This is not to deny the existence of social injustices; but today’s woke would not know how to identify, let alone fix, an injustice (for that would require thoughtfulness, and nuance) if it were ripping out their entrails.

When one reads Milosz, one is saddened by humans with characters and talents who were lost to communism, when one reads today’s woke journalists or academics or listens to the hysterical screaming of the kids demanding the world be what will make them feel safe (no police, for example, or no “whiteness”), the sadness is not in characters that have been lost, but in characters that have been malformed from the moment they could talk, and thus who have no notion of what it is to think.

The first wave of pesky Poles had often initially swallowed the poison of socialism. Milosz and Kolakowski had both had promising careers with the communist regime – Milosz was a cultural attaché in the United States and Paris, though falling foul of the party, he was able to find political asylum in France and then move to the United States. His Captive Mind was an early exposé of what communism did to the soul and it which quickly became a modern classic.

Kolakowski’s intellectual journey away from socialism was a far slower one – from believer to “revisionist,” during the so-called “Gomulka thaw,” when the Polish communist party itself was seeking for new ways to socialism, to disbeliever. As an exile, first in Montreal (where he taught at McGill) in 1968, Berkeley (University of California) in 1969, and then Oxford in 1970, he was free to philosophically engage in the two topics that seem to me (though I have not read his entire corpus) to be his major preoccupation: the metaphysical needs of the human spirit, and the disaster of Marxism as an “answer” to that need.

In the West he saw first-hand how the kinds of ideas that he had believed in in his youth were being recycled by the New Left. The irony was that Kolakowski himself had been something of an inspiration for the New Left. To them , and any others who were interested, Kolakowski would have to spell out what everyone (except a historically insignificant number of Trotsky supporters and the New Left) knew – Stalinism had Marxist roots a theme that would be developed at length in his magisterial three volume study Main Currents of Marxism (written between 1968 and 1976, and originally appearing in English in 1978).

Prior to that, in 1973, the English historian and anti-nuclear weapons activist, E. P. Thompson, had written an extremely long piece, “An Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski,” for The Socialist Register. Thompson was a pioneer of the British New Left, and a founder of the Marxist journal, The New Reasoner which would morph into the New Left Review. He had achieved some fame with his book of 1963, The Making of the English Working Class. I bought the book, as an earnest young man, some forty years ago, and while, it contains serious history which indicates what Thompson could have been without the romanticism and Marxism, it is, nevertheless, about as riveting as a trade union meeting. (Thompson liked Blake – and I love Blake – but sadly Marx ruined his mind and nothing of Blake’s poetic brilliance seeped into his writing.) I quote from its opening paragraphs to give you an idea of the kind of Marxist casuistry, doggerel and dogma that cluttered his mind:

“This book has a clumsy title, but it is one which meets its purpose. Making, because it is a study in an active process, which owes as much to agency as to conditioning. The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making. Class, rather than classes, for reasons which it is one purpose of this book to examine. There is, of course, a difference. “Working classes” is a descriptive term, which evades as much as it defines. It ties loosely together a bundle of discrete phenomena. There were tailors here and weavers there, and together they make up the working classes. By class I understand an historical phenomenon, unifying a number of disparate and seemingly unconnected events, both in the raw material of experience and in consciousness. I emphasise that it is an historical phenomenon. I do not see class as a “structure”, nor even as a “category”, but as something which in fact happens (and can be shown to have happened) in human relationships.”

Hello! Are you still there?

In 1978, the bit about not seeing class as a structure would become the source of a theoretical dispute between him and the French structuralist Marxist Louis Althusser – he who strangled his, equally mentally disturbed, wife. Althusser even wrote a book about it, in which he revealed that his Mum was at the root all those problems in his life that capitalism was not to blame for – i.e. whatever part of his mind and soul Marx had not destroyed was finished off by Freud.

In any case, before Althusser was a garden variety philosophical wife-strangler (and funnily enough this domestic act did not irrevocably damage his brand with Marxist feminists), and an ex-asylum inmate roaming the Parisian streets in his pyjamas exclaiming, “I am the great Althusser,” he was the epitome of Parisian Marxist cool – close to the trés cool Derrida and Foucault – and hence a leading light for those wanting to lead the rest of us poor saps into a world free from the murderousness of private property.

The Althusser-Thompson dispute was a dreadfully tedious piece of rationalism, in which Thompson ostensibly defended Marxism as empiricism. To be fair, in the windbaggery department Althusser was a veritable Zeppelin in comparison to Thompson’s mere hot air balloon, and, to change metaphors, in the great Marxist “bake-off,” it was a rather drab English mince-pie, albeit garnished with some slices of wit, versus a delicate Parisian soufflé – light, with an airy texture that requires years and years of dedication to understanding how to generate enough hot air by merely blowing long and hard enough into one’s selected chosen ingredients – a little Marx, tossed with a dollop of Lenin, and throw in a pinch of Spinoza: voilà who would need to know anything more.

Long before this and even before the Open Letter, Kolakowski, who I suspect was more given to blintz than soufflé, did a review of Althusser in the 1971 issue of The Socialist Register. It concluded that Althusser amounted to “empty verbosity which … can be reduced either to common sense trivialities in new verbal disguise.” I mention this just to give those readers who were not there a picture of what was passing for serious thought among Marxist intellectuals when Kolakowski was teaching at Oxford, and around the time Thompson’s “Open Letter” was published.

The major purpose of the hundred-page Letter was to express Thompson’s personal “sense of injury and betrayal” that Kolakowski had left the team. In the typical self-congratulatory moral tones that have become the hallmark of the post-Stalinist left, Thompson instructed Kolakowski that he did not affirm his allegiance to the Communist Party (though he never realized that he did not need to do so to be their stooge in the nuclear disarmament campaign) – he was committed to the “Communist movement in its humanist potential.”

Even such a rhetorical gem – in an attempt to ingratiate himself with Kolakowski – as “Communism was a complex noun which included Leszek Kolakowski” could not conceal the fact that Thompson, for all his reading and historical digging, was a know-all and hence, in spite of all his learnedness, was another Western useful idiot. Thus, the irony in the title of Kolakowski’s “rejoinder” to Thompson: My Correct Views on Everything. For what is obvious to anyone who reads My Correct Views is that Thompson, whose Open Letter the Marxist critic Raymond Williams himself (most tellingly) calls “one of the best Leftist pieces of Leftist writing in the last decade” (one can only imagine how bad the others were) is an “embarras de richesses” of clichés and abstract vacuities, expressing a depth of moral self-delusion that enables Thompson to glide over the true suffering of people living in a system that politically ensures a society without private property. Thus, he is able to write with a great sweep of his quill that “to a historian, fifty years is too short a time to judge a new social system.” Kolakowski, as one might expect, does not let this pass. But the real strength of Kolakowski’s rejoinder is in his own admission of modesty:

“I share without restrictions your (and Marx’s, and Shakespeare’s, and many others’) analysis to the effect that it is very deplorable that people’s minds are occupied with the endless pursuit of money, that needs have a magic power of infinite growth and that the profit motive, not use value, rules production. Your superiority consists in that you know exactly how to get rid of all this and I do not.”

Near the conclusion of the rejoinder, Kolakowski takes up this theme of the complexity of the problem when he writes:

“This does not mean that socialism is a dead option. I do not think it is. But I do think that this option was destroyed not only by the experience of socialist states, but because of the self-confidence of its adherents, by their inability to face both the limits of our efforts to change society and the incompatibility of the demands and values which made up their creed. In short, that the meaning of this option has to be revised entirely, from the very roots.”

As excellent as Kolakowski’s three volume analysis of Marxism was, not least for addressing the spiritual longing that reside within its materialist heart – thus for Kolakowski, understanding Marxism requires thinking about Plotinus, Meister Eckart, Jacob Böhme, and Nicholas Cusa as well as the usual philosophical suspects of German idealism and the young Hegelians – it did not halt the Gramscian inflexion that had taken hold of British Marxism. That was mainly thanks to the New Left Review which had been translating Gramsci and hence introducing him to British intellectuals. Though by then Thompson had fallen foul of the far slicker and more theoretically savvy Perry Anderson and his faction within the New Left Review.

Also, sadly for the battle that Kolakowski was fighting, Althusser was but one of the Parisians who were to 1968 what the young Hegelians had been to 1844-48. A slew of “radical chicsters” were sexing up a philosophical, literary and sociological potpourri of Marx peppered with dollops of de Sade, and Nietzsche and sprigs of Heidegger – they were attacking totalizing narratives, and embracing the emancipatory potential of the marginals (Foucault extended his emancipatory largess from prisoners to paedophiles), who were deployed in the grand game of leading us to emancipation.

So. while Kolakowski was providing a lengthy and perceptive analysis of how the gulag gruel of communism came to be, the game plan had changed and the New Left were in the process of dropping the workers for any other group that could be construed as a minority. Old style British Marxists naturally enough were not so hot about all this – after all they (at least the serious ones) had wracked their brains over the three volumes of Capital, the Grundrisse, and the six volumes of Theories of Surplus Value – and they fought a losing battle against the French post-structuralists over who would be the hegemons of the university and the new society at large.

The theoretical disputes mattered as little in the late 1960s and 1970s as the disputes within and between Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries had mattered prior to the breakup of the Russian empire – what mattered was that a generation of educated young people with all their radical certitudes (in all their diversity) about power, oppression, capitalism, Eurocentrism and the panoply of social injustices and victims they would rescue were catapulted into positions of pedagogical authority by a society wishing to reproduce itself through educating its professionals. The Soviets knew exactly what was going on – for it was a replay of the process that had, albeit with the catalyst of the Great War, led to the demise of the Tzar, and were able to fuel the youthful arrogance of the class they could count onto hand them a (too belated) victory.

Kolakowski, though, could do nothing to stop this, any more than he could have stopped a flood with an umbrella – he was not only of the wrong generation, but on the wrong side of historical experience. He was the past and a man of considerable experience about the nature of communism. But it was the generation who saw themselves as being of the future who were indeed making the future– and their sense of experience was generally (with the exception of the casualties of the Vietnam war in the US and Australasia) one of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and educational and job opportunities.

Even when the economic impediments of the 1970s kicked in, the model of mass education for social reproduction had been set, and then it was just a matter of time before the curriculum had been so politicized that the universities would become what they are now – managerially administered industrial sites for the making of a compliant globalist workforce shorn of the old bulwarks of sociality from the family, to the church, to the nation, and refabricated on the basis of race, gender and sexual preference.

Apart from Kolakowski, Milosz and Wat, trying to get Westerners to see the how, what and why of totalitarianism, the Polish historian Andrezj Walicki, especially his writings A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism (1979), and Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of Communism (1995) provided an in-depth critique not only of Marxism, and its development but of the various ideological dreamings that helped turn Russia and its Soviet empire and satellites into a world that reflected back what designs of perfection actually deliver.

More to the point, the class of intellectuals in the West who might have benefitted from historical knowledge about the intellectual product of communism were not that interested in such writers or their diagnosis. Sadly, then, there was no contest, for the young professors and students, between Derrida/ Foucault versus Walicki /or Kolakowski –the former were superstars (and they were clever in the same way that a kid that can count to a hundred in Latin, balancing a stick on the end of his nose while juggling bunny rabbits for a while is clever), while the latter really knew they were talking about, especially when it came to how ideas of absolute liberty, and equality and the end of oppression would turn out.

But the professors and their students were interested in identifying all the things they were sure they could fix, not with learning about how little they actually knew. Ambition, arrogance, rhetoric, formulae, facileness, slogans – indeed the exact same ingredients of self-making that had been the brew and bake of the old left, was the brew and bake of the new left. Men like Kolakowski, Walicki, Milosz, Wat were voices for such old virtues as humility in the face of historical complexity and the need to accept the limits of human achievement and the inevitability of error, weakness and ignorance.

Around much the same time, as Kolakowski was starting his life in the West, another Polish writer and refugee from communism, Leopold Tyrmand, who had written a modern anti-totalitarian classic setting down the routines of communist daily life, The Rosa Luxemburg Contraceptives Cooperative: A Primer on Communist Civilization (1972), also (Notebooks of a Dilettante [1970]) reported that at a dinner party in America “a distinguished Negro writer” asked him what percentage of the population would vote anti-Communist if there were free elections in an Eastern European country.

When Tyrmand responded that, if the elections were really free and all positions could be presented, and if there were no fear of persecution, then it would be about 85 percent, the writer responded, “I don’t believe it”- a little later exclaiming more heatedly, when Tyrmand tried to explain how things worked in Poland: “It’s impossible! It’s against any logic!” And that really is the point: people who have no knowledge about something are convinced they do, provided they think it is the kind of thing they think is of political importance.

This is what ideology and education do. This is what the captive mind is. But in Milosz’ work of that title, minds were generally captured by circumstances harrowing, fearful and brutal enough to draw out a certain weakness of the soul. But today in the West it is liberty itself that has exposed the weaknesses of soul that now presides over the political and social institutions of the West. And whilst there are some fine diagnosticians of the current and very likely fatal pathology of the West, two Polish authors, Ryzsard Legutko, and Zbigniew Janowski have written works that take us into the heart of the matter.

3. Exposing The Dialectic of Totalitarian Freedom

When Hannah Arendt wrote what would become a class of political science, The Origins of Totalitarianism, liberal democracy was considered to be a form of government in which the state had clear identifiable limits. This distinction between a state that had limitations and freedom was not just a theoretical one – people wanting to escape from the control of the state and a particular ideology had, if they could manage to get there; somewhere to escape to.

Thus, it was that a number people, including the Polish intellectuals mentioned above, who could not stand the lack of freedom, the brutality, the ideological imbecility, the incessant brainwashing and ludicrous lies of communism fled to the West. It was much the same for people escaping from Nazi Germany – though the poor bastard communists who escaped from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union were frequently caught up in the anti-foreign campaign of the great purge and all too often found themselves in gulags or simply before a firing squad. One of the distinctive insights of Arendt’s book was her argument that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man did not serve as a means to prevent the rise of forces that would lead to totalitarianism, but rather exposed groups of people who lay outside the protection of the nation and thereby found themselves as victims of persecution within the nation.

This insight of Arendt’s is a good example of how an idea, or principle may develop into its opposite. And although Marxists generally loved to talk of dialectics, anyone who really thought dialectically could see that Marxism was a power for the extinction of all classes and ideological enemies that were perceived as obstacles to those who lived off the narrative that they enforced on others. That is, it was simply a will to power of a bunch of people who thought they knew how to rule their world to get what they wanted – which they think everybody wants – no private property, and no religion etc. for example.

One might say that the reason for this is that the dialectic that transpired was between the willfulness of a group wanting their world to be a certain way and the stubbornness of the world (i.e. lots of other people) to resist that way. The problem has to do with ideology itself. For reality (including real human beings) refuses to simply yield to abstractions that only exist due to not taking into account those parts of reality that the subject or knower simply has no inkling of or care for. Communism was just one example of that failure. Fascism was another. And liberalism is yet another.

Liberalism, though, has been somewhat slower in revealing its totalitarian essence (though some – to take three very different kinds of people – like de Maistre, Tocqueville, and Newman clearly saw its weaknesses), and, unlike Fascism and Communism, its shortcoming did not require death or labour camps. But the time of revelation is now upon us. Would that it were not the case – would that liberty could prevail over all else. But it cannot, for liberty is a concept of some complexity, and even then, it is, at best, only an aspect of a life, and when we seek to make any aspect of life the essence or condition of life – we mess up.

Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy, and The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols, and Zbiegniew Janowski’s Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America examine the mess.

Part of the mess simply comes from ideology itself – the desire to simplify the complexities of the real to conform to a narrative, pattern of policy and legislation and the institutions of social reproduction which will solve our most pressing problems. The problems of political obligation, of who has the right to decree what must be done to whom, and who must be followed in order keep the peace between members of the social body, are perennial.

Problems between “groups” and within them have led to a relatively limited number of solutions – this is because the problems are very similar as are the means for solving them: someone or few must make decisions that the community must comply with, there must be some way of passing on succession etc. In this respect all “political” organization is inevitably hierarchical and elite-based–obviously how the elite is selected and what is expected of them varies significantly.

Historically, that elite had evolved out of the power they displayed – usually this display was exhibited on the battlefield, though power to engage the gods was always another aspect involved in the power formation and distribution of the society. Monarchy and aristocracy are generally and essentially derived from military victory, and the power of the monarch is also derived from capacity to command the requisite alliances that sustain the peace between potential contesting powers.

Although Plato and Aristotle had envisaged a kind of political order based upon the best ideas and insights that could organize a society – until modern times this was merely a philosophical pipedream. But modernity itself, in its technological and administrative and economic and political innovations is inseparable from the emergence of a new elite, whose bread-and-butter was (as the philosopher John Locke called it) “the way of ideas.”

As the number of people appealing to and living off ideas spread the entire way of understanding political authority changed. Modern social contract theory was one symptom of the change – for each of the contract theorists envisaged a rational reconstruction of the origins of social and political development. More important than the fact that a handful of philosophers were writing about the rational foundations of society and political authority was the fact that a public who were interested in discussing ideas generally, and, more specifically, how a society should be organized was developing.

The tensions between the Americans and the British crown provided the opportunity for a relatively small group of educated men to draft a new political order in a world relatively unencumbered by past vestiges of authority, that would in turn inspire a class in a part of the old world able to find its moment in the ruins of a financial and social breakdown that it had helped on its way. For good and bad, France, albeit initially for only a relatively brief time, had provided the old world with a new way of doing and speaking about political authority.

For all the chaos of the French revolution, and the geopolitical consequences that it triggered, politics and ideology became increasingly entangled. The history of the very word ideology comes from one of the revolution’s great survivors, a philosopher and political economist, Destutt de Tracy. That is, politics became not only something that concerned people interested in ideas, it itself became equivalent to a practice which primarily required getting the right ideas to fit a world which would conform to the ideas that its educated elite had about it. There were ideological differences between different thinkers and members of the public, but thinking of politics as a political matter was becoming increasingly commonplace, so that political choices were invariably ideological choices.

This is the background against which Legutko’s book needs to be read. For the young students and staff who tried to prevent him talking at Middlebury are so sadly ignorant of where they fit within the larger forces that have bred them that they simply dismiss him as a conservative -i.e., they reduce him to an ideology – whilst seeing themselves as the guardians of freedom and justice and human decency.

The operative word though is that they are guardians, and they guard what they think, which is all too little to do justice to the scale of the problems we can divide between the perennial and the peculiarly modern. Were they aware of that, the first idea they would have to dispense with, apart from their own faith in their knowledge, is that the kinds of problems that all people including modern people inherit and generate do not all have a neat – if indeed any – solution.

The idea that there is a political pattern with a happy ending, a pattern that politically eliminates the tragic features of life is completely crazy – and even non-religious people, who are thoughtful, should be able to appreciate that one benefit of believing in the after-life is that we do not become burdened by things we cannot achieve – nor completely delusional about our capacities to do what only a God would have the power to do such as see how all things fit together. (Which is why of all the metaphysicians, I have always had a soft spot for Leibniz).

Not surprisingly, people who think they know how things all fit, and hence how to politically solve our problems tend to be very similar – irrespective of their particular ideological convictions. One is reminded of the French fascist author Drieu de la Rochelle agonizing about which team to choose as there was so little real difference between them.

In terms of his reputation, he chose the wrong one, his friend Malraux the acceptable one – but both chose murderous regimes. In terms of the character of the people who are drawn to become ideologically and politically involved Legutko observes of the transition in Poland from communism to liberal democracy how swiftly “former members of the Communist party adapted themselves perfectly to liberal democracy, its mechanisms, and the entire ideological interpretation that accompanied these mechanisms. Soon they even joined the ranks of the guardians of the new orthodoxy.” This is because they were first and foremost guardians, and in this respect no different from the Western politician who immediately adapts the ideological ideas to political realities that he must confront.

While guardians can quickly switch ideologies, today they are programmed to think ideologically. And, for me, the power of Legutko’s analysis lies in his recognition of the depth of the problem of ideology itself. For while during the Second World War, or the Cold War liberal democracy looked – and indeed was – so much better than the alternatives, the fact remains that it rests upon abstractions such as freedom and equality which, if taken as things in themselves, are not only socially damaging, but which also contribute to the elimination not only of actual freedoms, but of aspects of sociality which are intrinsic to humans convivially cooperating and bonding across time. Thus, the kind of love a parent has for its child, or that exists between husband and wife, and even between friends simply cannot be fathomed if we think exclusively in terms of qualities like freedom and/ or equality. Living relationships are intrinsically and necessarily sacrificial.

The broken families that litter the liberal democratic world, are testimony to the triumph of liberty in the formation of relationships, but they are also symptomatic of the problems that befall a society in which the sacrificial is ousted by a mélange of pleasure, comfort and abstraction. Where the problem of broken families makes itself most conspicuous is where the material resources which, though no surrogate for love, enable other forms of communal engagement are lacking – that is among the poorest sections of the society.

Being from privileged backgrounds or at least being able to access resources which gave them opportunities that those dwelling in ghettoes do not have, the Middlebury brats threatening to silence Legutko were particularly outraged by his diagnosis of the damage done by the sexual revolution, warnings against marriage break-down and abortion. For the ideologue such warnings must be ideologically dismissed because they are conservative.

But the truth, of Legutko’s warning, is palpable amongst the American blacks, that is amongst the class which these imbecilic brats claim to somehow speak for and represent, along with single mothers from the white underclass whose domestic life is so frequently one of violence at the hands of men who move in with them when it is convenient to do so, and out as soon as a better opportunity arises. (More’s the pity that most students who study the social sciences and humanities would have no idea of the writings of Theodor Dalrymple aka Anthony Daniels).

It is sheer thoughtlessness that could lead one to think that freedom is a panacea for solving the kinds of problems that can only be dealt with by foregoing freedom, by accepting sacrifice – and the sacrifice that is paid for by single mothers, abandoned by the children’s fathers confirms the dialectical entanglement in which freedom frequently generates its opposite.

Thus, it is that Legutko, and this is also true of Janowski, which has also led him to track down J.S. Mill’s complicity in this madness, warns his readers that the breakup of the world into the seekers and enemies of freedom is ridiculous.

As indicated by the subtitle of the Freedom book Legutko recognizes that liberal democracy’s promise of salvation is idolatrous. It is not that liberty does not have its place amongst those aspects of the human spirit that give meaning and value in a life or to a collective, but an aspect is not a god. The endless search for the realization of liberty ultimately becomes a tearing down of the social and personal dwellings of the spirit that give it a purposeful sense of place.

The cloud of the abstract replaces the solidity of real relationships, with their compromises and imperfections, and the regular routine duties which are the condition of their nourishment. Liberty today has become indistinguishable from the short-lived thrill of a sexual encounter – “the sexual revolution,” says Legutko, “is arguably the most extreme manifestation of the episodic nature of man.” That something as ephemeral as the sex act can become the basis of an identity to be used as a foundation for the structuring of society – thus requiring an endless array of writings and university courses about its importance – is indicative of a people infantilizing, and pleasuring its way into hell.

Progressives think that their virtue will not only spare them this fate, but will contribute to them creating very heaven. But these are people whose “virtue” has no benign existential bearing, nor even basic moral bearing in so far as they are members of a class whose power is predicated upon the narrative they learn, conform to, preach, and protect at all cost.

Hence, diversity, identity, equity and such like are the institutional paper currency of the will to power of a poorly educated, highly ambitious, envious, and endlessly egocentric elite who base everything upon identity and representation because they are so devoid of any real self. Their freedom is their emptiness – and their creation, as Legutko, names one chapter in his Freedom book, is “the wretched world of absolute freedom.” Such freedom is what Isaiah Berlin had defended as “negative freedom” in “Two Concepts of Liberty.” And when communism was offering something that was positively revolting, negative freedom looked like it had much going for it. Thus, Berlin’s essay, which Legutko had once considered to be inspirational, now appears to Legutko, merely a “collection of platitudes and falsehoods.”

For Legutko, far from being an ideal that was self-explanatory and invaluable, freedom has proven to be a philosophical problem – and in the West it has “got into the hands and minds of dogmatists who turned it first into a rigid, ultimately fruitless formula, and then into an ideological tool to promote a liberal model of society that I found increasingly dubious.”

The problem that has been revealed to anyone with eyes to see is the problem that “once one particular group’s freedom is confused with the legal framework of freedom, then the language of freedom is likely to become mendacious” – and that is exactly what has happened over the last two generations or so in the Western world. In an essay in the first volume of Janoswki’s collected edition of writings by J.S. Mill, Legutko had pointed out how the harm principle simply becomes the means for a group wanting to entrench practices previously considered socially undesirable making the mores, that had been intrinsic to social development, a pariah position – as has happened now with the dismantling of the traditional family and its roles.

The great myth of liberalism is that everyone’s freedom can be maximized – so as Legutko puts it – it is a society that would resemble “a department store in which everything is offered, everyone can find what they want, no one feels undeserved, one can change one’s preferences, and even the most selective desires can be satisfied.”

Peoples that were once enemies now get along swimmingly well because all get what they want – hey you can get the burka, and I can get the bikini briefs that best display my twerk – provided, of course, the submit to the rules, which require a severe surgical reconstruction of what one actually wants. This is the squared circle of a society, one in which two fundamentally incompatible loyalties – loyalty to one’s own community, and loyalty to an infinitely open system – are falsely seen as both desirable and achievable.

I used the word myth above, but the myth is really little more than a lie. And the chaos of the Western world is in large part the result of the exposure of the lie as lie, which has brought out the savage and tyrannical reaction of the “de facto rulers, educators, ideologues, guardians, and censors for all members of the society.” That chaos has been facilitated, in no small part, by the elevation of such abstractions as “human rights” which simply enable the proliferation of claimants for conditions which someone has to supply, and recognition for qualities and behaviour which someone has to give, which only fuel the expansion of a class who control not only actions, but words, and thoughts right down to which pronouns are permissible.

Against the modern doctrinal approach to freedom that has been enwrapped in a dialectic of tyranny, Legutko, drawing upon Aristotle and Plato, defends a more nuanced and classically developed notion of freedom that moves from the unlimited and unconstrained idea of freedom of a self with its vacuous sense of dignity and hedonistic drives to an understanding of the self as requiring an inner strength that results from cultivating the virtues and hence taking on the sacrifices that are the precondition of those virtues.

In Plato and Aristotle freedom as such was never a virtue, rather it is a quality of the self that is an out-growth of the development of the virtues. Readers familiar with Aristotle will recall his famous distinction between those who are slaves by nature and those who may through circumstances fall into slavery, which is suggestive of freedom being as much a disposition and not simply a legal or political one.

In this sense the classical position offers a stark reminder of how mistaken modern philosophy has been in taking abstract political goals and abstract characteristics as sufficient in themselves, whilst failing to take into account the cultivation of the self through service and obligation. Legutko reflects upon the positive freedom to be found in such lives as the philosopher, the entrepreneur, the artist and “aristocrat,” whilst drawing his reader’s attention to how each type easily becomes distorted in its modern formation because the modern self is based upon an original fundamental failure to understand not only the soul and its needs, but how the failure to cultivate its development results in the kind of mess we inhabit.

It is the lack of cultivation of free inner selves that Legutko identifies as what has been lost in the obsession with emancipation that has only emptiness as its goal. Near the conclusion of the Cunning of Freedom Legutko observes – “Living is a constant process of making sense of what’s finite in the light of what’s infinite, and of what’s contingent in the light of what’s absolute.”

The West’s tragedy is, in part at least, the ruin that comes from a failure not only to understand the laws of the spirit, but from the ideological spread of a way of thinking and being, in which those laws are buried under the weight of the finite’s own self obsession and delusions about its infinitude.

What we now have is a great mass of deluded selves constituting a pyramid presided over by the emptiest and most deluded, by the people who claim to know the All that needs to be known (the infinite as such), but who in fact know next to nothing about themselves or the world.

One only has to think of the fact that the academic study of literature in the most prestigious universities in the world does not teach how to better fathom human lives, souls, and characters, with their respective trials, circumstances, fatalities, triumphs and defeats, virtues and flaws, but to read texts as ciphers of power relations constituted by identity types. Professors and students endlessly repeat Althusser’s view of the social world as consisting of subject-less structural “bearers” in the grim and endless identity struggles for “emancipation.”

While the word emancipation is a void, defined by nothing more than the absence of oppression, we may glean some meaning of the word from the common French post-structuralist alignment of Sade (with his gargantuan mechanics of death for the pleasure of the killers), Nietzsche (with his fantasy of higher men and supermen who are beyond good and evil and are the creators of value), and Marx (with his view of unalienated life being bound up with our labouring cooperative essence).

As a vision statement it looks (in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten) ‘”Pretty Vacant,” but that is the point. For what we are witnessing now is a carbon copy of Russian’s nineteenth century with its alliance of intelligentsia and students: the complete preoccupation with emancipation and the dehumanization of any who impede their “emancipation.”

Thus, the meaning of life is read exclusively in terms of unequal power relations, and the dyadic norms that they see as all important – oppressor/ oppressed, privilege/ equity, inclusiveness/ exclusiveness, whiteness/ non-whiteness, diversity/ lack of diversity, rich/ poor, cisgender/sexual fluidity. In what became the Soviet Union, once the politicized Russian intelligentsia successfully broke down and then took control of all social and political institutions, they moved from having dehumanized their enemy (those on the wrong side of the normative dyad) into a phase of extermination.

It is the first phase of the totalitarian reality of the United States today that is the subject of Janowski’s Homo Americanus, a searing indictment of how every-day and valuable freedoms in the United States – especially the freedom to “openly or publicly” express “opinions which are not in conformity” with “what the majority considers acceptable at the moment” have become suffocated by a surfeit of democratic intrusions, into “virtually all aspects of man’s existence.”

Though it is not so much the opinions which the majority hold, but the opinions which the majority of the elite hold that are the problem. This is one of two instances where I think Janowski mistakes the sentiments and ideas that circulate amongst the ideas brokers in the US with the majority of the population.

The other is in the opening sentence, “Only few Americans seem to understand that we, here in the United States, are living in a totalitarian reality, or one that is quickly approaching it” strikes a note of warning. But given that now almost half the country believe that their president was not elected, were Janowski’s book more widely publicized I think it would have a huge audience. These are trivial matters in a book that I think is as relevant to today as Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind was a generation ago – though I think Janowski’s diagnosis is far sharper, and not given to the kind of (Straussian) idiosyncrasies that make Bloom’s version of history look like a library shelf.

Perhaps the sentence that best sums up Janowski’s “thesis” is: “The anti- communist opposition, just like Western political scientists, did not understand that 1989 was not a moment of liberation, but the moment when one collectivist ideology (communism) was replaced by another collectivist ideology (democracy).” I think this is a brilliant insight into the historically complex and dialectical entanglements which may help us identify the vast expansion of democracy beyond “its electoral confines” so that today “Equality is our New Faith.”

Although it is indicative of the high speed of acceleration occurring right now, as this elite program steam rolls over all resistance, that the word equality is viewed with less favour than it was even last year, when Janowski was still writing the book: for now, the New Word/Faith is Equity. Though, Homo Americanus is not so much an argument for this claim as a testimony of it. And for all the many authors Janowski engages with to depict the tragedy he is witnessing, the writing reminded me of none so much as Joseph Roth who chronicled the rising historically unstoppable evil of Nazism. St. Augustine’s Press are to be congratulated for publishing a book that is so urgently needed and yet so out of step with the pre-occupations and obsessions of mainstream academia today.

Nevertheless, the fact that it is a small independent (albeit quality) publisher that has taken on Homo Americanus rather than a major academic or commercial publisher is indicative of the times. For it would never have got through the gatekeeping staff within the major presses, who simply cannot get enough books on sexual or (non-white) racial identity, oppression, and emancipation. Mainstream publishing today is generally committed to ensuring that the USA follow its elite headlong into oblivion.

And it is doing so apace. For in less than a decade it has gone from the world’s leading democracy and global superpower, attempting to preserve free societies from their totalitarian enemies (sure they would, when forced to choose, support their dictators), into a country (is it, in any meaningful sense, a nation?) in which ideological imbeciles are not only elected but set the social and political agenda for the next two or three generations.

It is now a society of what Janowski calls “communist liberalism,” a society in which the media can brazenly close down stories which do not suit its political objectives (does anyone remember Hunter?), whilst manufacturing ones that do (I note that Russia-gate was just given a reboot the day I was writing this sentence by The Guardian). It has gone from being a society in which freedom of speech was widely valued as unnegotiable into being interpreted as a means of ensconcing white privilege.

It is a society which once schooled the finest minds of the Western world to encourage considered deliberation about the problems that must be confronted for the survival and betterment of a democratic society, a society which once protected (even if did not adequately value) independence of thought. It is a society that once could benefit from its social and political tensions by opening up new pathways of conviviality and community building.

Now it is a society in which every disagreement is but an occasion for expanding the endemic of the inimical, a society in which families and friends can no longer agree to disagree, where someone cannot be allowed to say what he thinks he sees – nor even deviate from the formulae of articulation that has elite consensual approval.

It is a society that regards those, like Janowski and Legutko, who warn about the perilous condition of the USA, as pariahs and enemies – terms such as “right wing” or “conspiracy theorist” now are loosely thrown about to dehumanize and delegitimize anyone who is not on board with whatever the consensus of the moment is.

It is a society in which freedom of speech is not even allowed in schools, or universities or upon the technological platforms which have become the most important source of public assembly in the twenty-first century – and which have rapidly become sources of surveillance and snitching upon those deemed politically undesirable.

Janowski’s diagnosis is a tour de force of the shrunken and sick soul that the United States has been cultivating for decades. Although Janowski was not merely a traveller to the US, the book has much in common with Tocqueville’s Democracy in America – a work Janowski draws upon frequently in Homo Americanus -, for it provides an optic of the outsider that can see the strangeness of things Americans take for granted as being what every sensible person thinks or does. In 1835 – the year that the first volume of Democracy in America appeared – Tocqueville expressed his admiration of the American experiment while also expressing warnings and criticisms of the dangers it posed for the individual and the collective.

Having become such an economic and military power, even in the relatively recent past it may have been easy to consider Tocqueville’s fear unwarranted – they weren’t. But what Tocqueville saw as ailments that were still in their incipient phase, are now totally debilitating derangements of the soul and collective. Take, for example, the following observation of Janowski that America is:

“a place where everyone is afraid of something or someone: the gays are driven by fear of straight people; the transgendered boys and girls by fear of rejection from natural boys and girls; blacks by fear of whites, whites by fear of blacks, women by fear of men, Americans by fear of foreigners, illegal immigrants by fear of Americans and the American Justice system, liberals by fear of “white supremacists,” and so on. The list seems to be endless. And their fears are presented by the activists as socio-economic and political programs.”

Or,

“We hear on a daily basis the expression “war on […],”as in the “war on terror,” “war on drugs,” “war on cancer,” “war on obesity,” “war on smoking,” “war on fats,” and so on. Another term, belonging to the same militaristic family, is “survivor,” as in “cancer survivor,” “abuse survivor,” “date rape survivor,” “assault survivor,” and so on. Signs with the word “zone,” such as “Hate-speech free zone,” “Smoke-free zone,” “Drug-free zone,” “Alcoholfree zone,” “Stress-free zone,” and “guns-free zone,” make the world appear to be a mine-field, with places that are safe and those that are not, and in order to survive in it, one has to be truly vigilant. …Universities offer phone apps so that potential victims can press a button and be saved from danger. Being constantly bombarded by the words “war,” “zone,” “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and “survivor” must have a psychological effect, as it likely creates a sense of threat even though it is rare that these threats are real.”

Thus, as Janowski also rightly observes: “Politics is not seen as a way of resolving conflicting interests, in which some groups win and others lose, or abandon some of their high-minded aspirations and lower their sails, moving onto problems which people with expertise can solve. The political realm looks like a spider-web created by loud fearmongers in which the rest of us are expected to entangle ourselves.”

As I have said repeatedly, this can only be gold for the geopolitical enemies of the USA is something so obvious yet so obviously ungraspable for the US elite and leaders of its intelligence agencies and military that one cannot help but feel the curtain has already come down – because there is no spirit of a nation left worth protecting.

At one point, Janowski notes of Homo Americanus – his “goal in life is to meet the demands of a purely rational social organization, devoid of eccentricity, individuality, spontaneity, and thereby life” – which is true, but what constitutes rationality in this world is one in which reason has completely been engulfed by feelings, and feelings by phobias, and phobias generated by a self whose real historical substance has been drained by an abstract and empty axiomatic ideal of equality/equity. Homo Americanus is:

“culturally impoverished, and his knowledge of other cultures is limited to occasional visits to ethnic restaurants. Any attempt to make him rooted in national tradition—through education, habits, and social mores—is seen as an onslaught on his thin identity. He even invented his own language of defense against becoming educated, that is, against the acquisition of a thick cultural identity. It is the language of “safe-spaces” and “trigger warnings.” It alarms him that there are others who claim strong cultural identity, that there are works of literature, philosophy, and art which were written from a specific perspective. Because he is not outer-directed, or is too afraid of facing the challenge of being in a world that he did not create, he builds his identity on the only thing he has— namely, his biology or sexuality, with which he experiments and which he believes can sustain him psychologically and culturally.8 His so-called culture is not part of long history of human experience that stretches to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Medievals, and others; it is a fragmented and arbitrary concoction of names and attitudes taken from different time periods and cultures. But even here, we encounter a new problem. His history is often simply made up—fictitious and of mythological rather than historical nature. It is easy to see that such a concept of identity has no continuous cultural history, and as such it must be hostile to any and every culture rich in records.”

That the malnourished selves are on a such a zombie-like rampage seeking to fill their lives with meaning should be no surprise. For people will do literally anything, believe anything to fill the void of meaning in their lives. All healthy cultures transmit spiritual meaning between generations.

In the US, though, where the traditional sites of spiritual transmission – the family and religion – are construed by its elite as oppressive, and where the young who go to college are inducted into a value system requiring abeyance to abstract moral ideals which ostensibly provide the key to social perfection, complete faith in their ability to fix all the wrongs of a hateful world, total shame, if white, in their traditions (which, curiously, is now commonly considered a racial phenomenon – if the US college is anything to go by, the Nazis seem to have won the day on that stupid idea).

These idols of self, “reason,” and morality are idols of death – which is why so many zombified college youth felt so alive last summer when they got to hang out with the black underclass and pillaged, looted, screamed and watched things burn so that they could at least feel – alive.

A famished spirit is as indiscriminate as a famished stomach. The feeling of least resistance is always pleasure. And hence if sex can be unmoored from the more traditional strictures as occurred in the 1960s then the starving spirit may find momentarily relief from its anomie, alienation and despair (at one point Janoswki notes that the US has the highest depression rate in the world).

Sex might be a quick release, but it also has other consequences from new life to disease and death, from joy to guilt, regret and jealousy to mental break-down and suicide, from a wedding to the break-up of families, a sexual act can topple a government and bring a kingdom to its ruin, – all of which are why traditional societies – even those like the Greeks and Romans (check out the harshness of their adultery laws), which seem to be so much freer than Christian societies have generally been extremely cautious about the rules and regulations surrounding sex. But, as Janowski correctly observes, in US Colleges,

“students show up in classes with T-shirts or with pins (the size of a hand-palm) on which it is written: “Consent is Sexy” (worn mostly by young men) and “I love Female Orgasm” (worn by young women). They are made to participate unconsciously in an ideological campaign, whose emotionally detrimental effects for their lives they are completely unaware. Knowledge of “how to do it,” taught by the “sex-masters” with college degrees, is a new rite of passage with which colleges send their graduates to the workplace. There they deepen their initiation into the American Brave New World by taking mandatory “sexual harassment training” and “sensitivity training.'”

One notes here the means in which the bodily pursuit though seemingly the objective of fulfilment is subordinate to the ideological – which for Homo Americanus today is the spirit in itself.

That sex features in such a conflicted and ideologically twisted way in the lives of Homo Americanus is evident in all manner of ways, from the hyper-sexualisation of children, to the gyrating, twerking of barely clothed nubile young women at sports events attended by families with small children, to an obsession with sexual harassment to the extent that now being a sexual harassment officer is a career, to a culture which encourages child masturbation and openness to consider non hetero-sexual relations as life style choices, to one in which sex has to be construed in terms of the nature of the power relationships involved between the parties, to tortured attempts to identify what exactly consent involves, especially when large amounts of alcohol has been imbibed, to cases of young women regretting their casual hook-ups and making false accusations of rape. Two examples provided by Janowski, which a number of readers may remember, well illustrate simply how insane the culture in the US has become when it comes to sex:

“Several years ago, we learned about two six-year-old boys—H. Y., from Canon City, Colorado and M D., from Aurora, Colorado—who were accused of sexual harassment. H.Y. was accused of kissing a girl (his age) on the hand; M.D. for singing a line from an LMFAO song, ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It,’ to a female classmate while waiting in the lunch line. The cases were considered to be of national importance judging by the fact that they were reported in The Washington Post and on national radio.
If you think this is crazy, hold on! Victoria Brooks, lecturer in law at the University of Westminster, rushed to defend Samantha against inhuman treatment when several of her fingers were broken. Samantha, it turns out, is a sex doll who ‘worked’ in a brothel in Barcelona. Human rights activists now want sex-dolls to be endowed with a consent chip. ‘It is a step toward a consent-oriented approach to sex dolls.'”

The extension of democracy into everyday life has occurred in tandem with the democratization of institutions whose historical value lay in cultivating noble qualities i.e., qualities that were decisively non-democratic – especially the classical ones of wisdom, prudence and moderation, piety, courage, and justice (as something that was concerned with the grains of complexity and traditional expectations rather than ideological formulae).

Thus Janowski draws upon Plato’s critique of the democratic soul from the Republic. For, as Plato had observed, in so far as democracy fuels the passions of greed and covetousness (pleonexia) it contributes to a psychic dissolution that crosses over into the most unconstrained, the most lascivious kind of soul and regime, the tyrant and tyranny.

When Janowski writes “to the former denizen of the Socialist paradise, the behaviour of today’s America is painfully reminiscent of the old homo sovieticus, and more the Chinese man of the period of the Cultural Revolution,” he is speaking not only from having read Plato but having lived in a satellite of homo sovieticus who also is historically astute to how easily students can be used as tools of tyranny, especially when, as happened in that revolution and is happening today, the energy of youth is harnessed to a leadership that empowers itself by destroying institutions that thwart its ambitions.

But whereas the cultural revolution was a momentary tactic in Mao’s elimination of political rivals, in today’s US, cultural revolution is the playbook behind the professional ruling class’s tactic of clientelism. This is all too evident in the acceleration of the decline of democratic institutions in the United States today.

When Janowski commenced this project, elected officials were not openly saying that the police should not be funded, nor its president and vice-president that America was a systemic racist country, and critical race theory was not (known to be) part of the curriculum in military academies. They say this because this is the kind of clientelism that has been bred into the professional classes who find a never ending supply of clients by no longer using the state to provide welfare for a group down on its luck, or experiencing the social hell of being born into a world built by the poor choices of its parents or grandparents, but recruiting permanent dependents and finding an infinitude of disparities (invariably natural, inevitable, and not even debilitating) which are proof that the system is biased and hence needs their political interference.

When a pronoun, or traditional name of a social role such as father or mother can be interpreted as a form of social injustice or oppression, one sees what an infinite front expands in the search for equity. While the Chinese have gone from overcoming the precarious position of the communist party prior to Ji taking over the reins, to inventing and expanding the deployment of 5 G, and perfecting (diabolical as it is) the nation/state/ market corporatist nexus through the Belt and Road Initiative, the US, has employed an army of lawyers and bureaucrats and HR officers to change all manner of forms and rules so that people can feel safe with their pronoun, and the CIA and FBI can now proudly recruit trans, gay and other people of “diversity.”

The US has so confused reality with representation that “The Greatest Showman” reveals more truth about US elite aspirations as taught in universities and as required by corporations – a circus and carnival celebrating the freakish – than anything that might be learnt by studying Economics, Philosophy, History, Literature (i.e., real literature, without the bollocks of theory).

On the pronoun front, Janowski discusses the case of Jordan Peterson, who refused to comply with university policy on suitable pronouns – that is because he believed (silly him) that for all their wisdom, neither university administrators, social justice advocates nor legislators had the power to command linguistic usage.

The articulate, mild-mannered, and rigorously rational Jordan Peterson who had achieved quite some fame as a Youtube personality giving Jungian inspired lectures on psychology, mythology, religion, and other matters which ideologues hate became a wanted dead or alive alt.right poster boy for a class that increasingly despises anything that deals with aspects of self-hood beyond their imbecilic formulae. What was so noticeable about the disgusting treatment dished out to Peterson by woke academics, journalists and political commentators lining up to execute Peterson for the tricoteuse among their audience – was just how politically innocuous Peterson’s teachings were.

In a normal world – one where he was not objecting against contemporary Orwellian speech mandates – Peterson would not be seen as a political thinker at all. From what I have heard of his political views, they are those of a fairly brown bread Social Democrat dealing with the limits and excesses of capital and the state. Only in a world whose elite is bent upon social extinction is such advice as try making your bed before trying to change the world seen as akin to Hitlerism. One Marvel comic, Captain America (who recently, after some six decades in the closet finally came out as gay) made Peterson a Nazi super villain.

How stupid can college educated people be, one may ask? The answer is – very. Which is why today there is a “general tendency in the U.S. to explain virtually all social, political, and economic problems as a result of prejudice or bias. No alternative diagnosis or explanation – individual or group behavior – of any problem seems to exist. Sooner or later, everything comes down to a problem of bias.”

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that reducing everything to bias also means that everything can be cured by those who train us about our biases and how to overcome them. Hence, as Janowski observes, in his chapter “Blind Psychology and the New Road to Serfdom” the widespread usage of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) in psychology courses in America, a test that is meant to disclose the false consciousness which our ideological and moral betters detect in us – and as everyone is biased, there is an endless need of training courses to guide us into the new civility that liberal democratic America requires.

Just as communist countries required a ceaseless dedication to the exposure of false consciousness, in America today everywhere and anywhere one must be on the lookout constantly (as is now openly request in Facebook and in university classes) for people who are either an “-ist” or a “phobe.” They are to be subject, if lucky, to public shaming, a public apology (that fine old Calvinist tradition which has swept America, and is the subject of the second chapter of Homo Americanus), or economic destruction. Janowski provides example after example of people publicly apologising, or losing their jobs or reputation due to the totalitarian fusion of state, corporations, and educational institutions operating in the US. The occurrences of this so common now that none could recall any than a mere fraction of them. I quote just some of the examples that Janowski reminds his readers of:

“In October 2017, Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, of which George Washington was a founding member and vestryman in 1773, pulled down memorial plaques honoring him and General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to the congregation, the church leaders stated that: ‘The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.” In August 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to designate the second Monday in October (Columbus Day) as ‘Indigenous Peoples Day.’ According to the critics of Columbus Day, we need to dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of the genocide of indigenous peoples. Some of the opponents of Columbus Day made their intentions clear by attaching a placard on the monument: ‘Christian Terrorism begins in 1492.’ In June 2018, the board of American Library Association voted 12- 0 to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award as the ‘Children’s Literary Legacy Award.’ Wilder is a well-known American literary figure and author of children’s books, including Little House on the Prairie, about European settlement in the Midwest. In a statement to rename the award, the Board wrote: ‘Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.'”

Just as statues of the wrong people or representing the wrong stance have had to go, none’s contribution to the world has been so great that they cannot be made to be publicly humiliated if they make the wrong kind of joke or remark. Janowski recounts the story of the noble prize winner Tim Hunt who made the following unforgivable remark: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

As Janowski continues: “Hunt’s friend and Nobel Prize co-recipient, Sir Paul Nurse… told the Telegraph that Hunt’s “chauvinist” comments had “damaged science.…” Finally, Sir Hunt was forced to resign from The Royal Society…In a statement, the Royal Society announced: “The Royal Society believes that in order to achieve everything that it can, science needs to make the best use of the research capabilities of the entire population. Too many talented individuals do not fulfill their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the Society is committed to helping to put this right. Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society.”

Lest anyone think that poets in North America are not as up to speed in the ideological denunciation and apologetics stakes, Janowski reminds anyone who may have forgotten of the following statement “from the editor of one-time prestigious and oldest American magazine, The Nation” after having printed a poem that apparently contained “disparaging and ableist language that has given offense and caused harm to members of several communities:”

“As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mis-take by choosing to publish the poem ‘How-To.’ We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back. Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem, we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.
We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more importantly, we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.”

Since Janowski completed the book thousands of even more crazy things have happened – as I write this last week, not only have statues of Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson been dismantled in Charlottesville, but of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea. Apparently, the Lewis and Clark statue has represented Sacagawea in an offensive manner.

Anyone familiar with Zamyatin, Huxley, Orwell, Koestler and such like can see immediately that the class that believes it is ushering in progress and a kind of utopia has already managed to build quite a dystopia in the US. And in Homo Americanus Janowski provides an excellent account of the fit between what is going on in the American soul and those and other prophetic works. Those of us of a certain age will recall the power that those books once exercised.

I recently read that a Professor at a US university had stopped teaching Brave New World because students today could not see anything wrong with Huxley’s world. And now what Orwell called Newspeak is as much part of our everyday world (hence over half the population think mainstream news is fake which only forces the elites to double down in their denunciations), as public denunciations and public confessionals. A “misword,” or off-color joke (as in the case of Hunt mentioned above) from a prominent figure (who is not so important to the elite that they cannot be sacrificed) inevitably leads to the process of public denunciation, public humiliation and temporary or permanent banishment.

The phrase the way to hell is paved with good intentions sprang to mind as Janowski demonstrates what far reaching consequences the seemingly, innocuous, though somewhat patronizing, concession to seventies feminists were gouged from demanding that the collective noun “man,” and pronoun “he” be interpreted as exclusively referring to the male sex, and hence a sign of women’s social subordination and exclusion. I will not repeat here the details of Janowski’s analysis, but will just say his position would probably have led to termination of his employment had he not packed up and left the USA.

When the very one-sided gender grammar war was being waged almost fifty years ago as part of a larger attempt by some women (generally authors, journalists academics and students) in the developed world to see all of history as subject to their particular socio-economic interests, concerns and claims, few asked why, if history had been so patriarchal, would women so swiftly have voting rights within a couple of generations of male suffrage? (Answer – the family was the most important unit of economic survival so it was in the interests of the labouring and middle classes to have women voting).

Feminists generally ignored the symbiotic character that is part and parcel of all group survival, or how roles enable the cultivation of certain aspects of selfhood and social being, while enabling different aspects of the real to be disclosed, accessed, and cultivated. Compulsion, like sacrifice, is a part of all social symbiosis – the part that is marshalled when the symbiosis is itself threatened by a member wanting its own gratification at the expense of the tasks it must fulfil in its role.

To be sure, the change in social reproduction and its economic conditions did involve a change of roles and hence a reaction against compulsions – and even some career obstacles that were no longer meaningful. And, yes, patriarchy had been real in so far as historically the father was invariably responsible for the protection of the family, which is a very different thing from women in the family simply existing for the pleasure of the father. (But why bother with historical and sociological complexity and nuance if you have read Marx and/ or Freud and are going to lead the world into a future free from oppression)?

Great changes require cool heads, and the euphoric mood and post-World War Two boom was one in which haste in social changes proceeded with very little caution about what it all might mean – indeed those with the most outlandish abstractions and utopian narratives prevailed, and those who had the temerity to defend the family and religion were mocked as fools.

When Monty Python’s Life of Brian came out, John Cleese and Michael Palin “debated” Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, on the historical and cultural merits versus dangers of the film. Not surprisingly given the times, many of the audience thought that undergraduate humor was more incisive than the serious issues about religious mockery raised by representatives of faith that has formed nations. Say what you like about Islam, but it is not about to be blown over by undergraduate style humour.

The so-called long march through Western institutions was more a short sprint through doors long since or largely open. In keeping with almost everything else in the post-War boom, it was more posture and play (John Lennon running around in military fatigues, and Richard Neville’s Play Power sum up the mood) than bravery or sacrificial struggle.

Thus too, long after women had received the right to vote, at a time when all traditional work roles were up for grabs (partly thanks to the sexual revolution, and the decline of the single family wage-earner and living family wage), and going to college was a common choice for women with professional ambitions, the cause of eliminating the collective noun “man” was just one more in a grab-bag full of demands by a radicalized youth demanding to take over the curricula (which in the Humanities was far too intellectually demanding for kids wanting to smoke pot, engage in talk fests, have sex and listen to cool music – anyway all you needed to really know was that it was just the system, ya know – capitalism, man).

To be sure, in the USA, and Australasia there was a reasonable element to the radicalization, viz. opposition to a war in a land that most people knew nothing about. But what may have been (if one ignores international diplomacy and the matter of honoring alliances) a reasonable opposition to the war went hand in hand with the adoption of the Soviet/Cold War style anti-capitalist propaganda – feminists not to be outdone in the stooge department frequently equated patriarchy with capitalism.

Like the woke youth of today and the Russian youth of the 19th century or the German youth of the 1930s, it was a youth who knew little about anything, but who were totally convinced that the little they knew sufficed to making the world a better place. For the feminists, any attempt to understand social roles and obligation through historical and cultural analysis were only permissible – courtesy of J.S. Mill – if the idea that men were the oppressors of women was the purpose for undertaking the analysis as well as its conclusion.

It is astonishing that the most educated and privileged members of this generation of young men and women, portrayed themselves as if their suffering (not enough sex, or drugs to go with the rock n’ roll?) was akin to the victims of the holocaust or gulags (though they rarely referenced the gulags.) Reflecting upon this hypocrisy and idiocy almost makes me want to join Black Lives Matter, were it not for the fact that movement is also full of white college educated kids as well as black privileged people crying, “Gimme gimme, I want I want.”

The significance of the easy victory over the meaning of “man” and pronoun replacement (none really cared that much to engage in a serious linguistic/ sociological/ historical fight over it, and any who did were made to look like chauvinist meanies) is not only visible in feminist studies and the like dictating our understanding of the past, but it has even entered this year into the US House rules that stipulate that “familial relationships like father, daughter, and niece will be replaced by gender-neutral equivalents like parent, child, and sibling’s child.”

That the US House has become the centre of the kind of language that is to be used throughout all the institutions is simply a forerunner to the fact that anyone and everyone will be able to be monitored on the basis of what they say and think. Big Brother has been cleaned up to be gender fluid.

And, one can be sure that there are plenty of educated young American women today who, if given a revised copy of 1984, in which the society were identical in every respect to Orwell’s original, other than it was presided over by Big Mother, would go around saying how they wished they lived in that world. But one might think, would that not be reinforcing traditional roles? To which the answer is: that’s OK when done in a good enough cause such as ensuring absolute conformity and compliance to our imbecilic orthodoxy.

Of the various prophets of dystopia, like myself, Janowski is particularly partial to the genius of Dostoevsky. He had looked into the soul of the radical youth of the generation of the 1860s and 70s and seen demons. He also foresaw the kind of diabolical world that would be requisite for the man-god, a creation of the scientistic rational calculable self. Ultimately this would be a world in which number replaces names so that all vestiges of the individual human soul could be eliminated. Zamyatin picks this insight up in his novel We, where his characters have numbers not names.

When one considers that naming is one of the most primordial acts of human orientation and how the transmutation of life is accompanied by the creation of new names, and the potential to reevaluate the old, one can appreciate that the creation of nameless selves involves completely eliminating the most elemental act of orientation and collective association.

It was the Enlightenment that first sought to rename the entire world on the basis of an understanding unperturbed by the fire of the imagination. We have not yet dispensed with names, but we have dispensed with their historical connectedness. In a world where the young can so easily equate Hitler with Churchill it is all too evident that names now are little more than numbers, more specifically algorithms (crafted by engineers for google, Facebook, Youtube, etc.) for passing on information in accordance with one’s taste and interests, but also in accordance with what the creators of the algorithms think you should be able to have access to.

Toward the conclusion of Homo Americanus, Janowski presents a number of proposals (the following are more or less quoted verbatim) for restoring sanity to the American soul and American society at large.

They include: limiting the egalitarian propaganda that permeates democratic societies; deregulating human relationships, so that the state, legal system, schools, and employers must refrain from telling people how to act; reviving the notion of civility, and condemning certain forms of toxic behavior that are justified on multicultural grounds; restricting police and legal involvement to matters that concern someone’s physical safety, whilst prohibiting them from involvement in ethical regulations concerning how men and women act under peaceful conditions; tempering environmental activism; limiting authority over our decisions, and common-sense and tradition; rescuing “education from the hands of the multicultural ideologues,” and reinstating “old intellectual criteria into education for the sole purpose of teaching students objectivity;” ensuring that colleges and universities return to the pursuit of truth; and completely abandoning the idea of equality that holds collectivist ideology together.

I do not object to any of these proposals, but the fact that such proposals are even aired as the solution to our problems suggest the extent of the social sickness and how little chance there is of a philosophical cure, at least any time in the foreseeable future. Janowski, like Legutko, is an observant and thoughtful man.

But the problem is that the modern West has created an elite where thoughtlessness – imbecility – and the pursuit of self-destruction are not only all of a piece, but are the professional requirement of institutional power. And while bad ideas are intrinsic to the problem, and while these ideas are the result of the perversity of thought that occurs through the mutation of (poor) philosophy into ideology, it is the sociological incarnation of ideas that towers over those of us who are able to get along in an imperfect world, but find living in an insane one a far greater tribulation.

And that is the problem we in the West now face with the alliance of bad philosophy, government, business and our educational system – at tertiary and school level. For these institutions are enthusiastically controlled by people with captive minds and souls who have no idea they are captive. They are the result and the perpetrators of the metaphysics of horror. We are living within a brainwashing operation of such success, that the people who are least affected by it are the people furthest away from the centres and institutions of “power.”

With all the hot air expended upon rights’ talk, rights do not sustain social virtues – our most valuable practices have to be repeated daily to be sustained. Our elite has no idea of what the best practices (to use another formulation that the managerialists have turned into a cliché) of the past have been because they have substituted the complexities of the real world for a small smattering of ideas, they have substituted what they contain in their paltry pea brains for the world.

We all have pea sized brains – and if we all fessed up to that, we might just be less inclined to equate moral rhetoric with moral substance, to embrace and enforce simple solutions which generate even more difficult problems, and a little more forgiving of each other. They think by endlessly appealing to emancipation and equity or chattering about oppression and inequality they are really dealing with reality. Of course, just a little digging would always reveal conundrums, complexities, paradoxes, which would quickly expose how paltry and inadequate these terms are.

The elite do not know, for example, because they do not bother to inquire, how widespread slavery has been and still is outside of the West. It matters for nothing that having allowed slavery to exist in the US meant that even those who wanted to eliminate it overnight had to deal with the question of what would happen to ex-slaves, how long would it take to find employment, how could they survive from day to day – of course, such economic fundamentals, as have been raised by Thomas Sowell’s “The Real History of Slavery,” in his Black Rednecks and White Liberals, are not the concern of people who know everything and just need to hold office and be on a payroll to spot who is biased and solve all our social problems with crayons, butchers paper, rotten fruit, the stocks, and the threat of unemployment.

Likewise, people who insist that nothing has changed for blacks in America since slavery care nothing for the fact that some 300,000 white men gave their lives up in the United States, to destroy slavery, at a time when it was still widely practiced in other parts of the globe.

Those who say nothing has changed, and we have to do more, like take a knee, give random reparations to any black person; or, if white, make sincere public displays of how sorry we are for being white, and how schooled we have been in the damage caused by whiteness – not only give up nothing but may end up as much on a winner as the white Robin DiAngelo who earns nearly a million dollars a year from book sales and speeches. They either do not care or know nothing of the history or extent of white enslavement. They love to use the word progress, but are indifferent to, or ignorant of the fact that the overcoming of slavery in the West was indeed an indication that finally, in some small way, the human race in some part of the world had made a little progress.

Instead of knowing how ubiquitous slavery had been, they have been paralysed by their past, have preferred myth to truth, and have sought to shame others for living in a world that has been intrinsic to the making of this one. They have believed that they are so much better than all that have lived before them. The truth is that people who think this way end inevitably up being so much worse. In the twentieth century the most toxic ideas were to believe that one’s class or race dictated who should prosper or suffer, live or die. Shockingly, those ideas did not die with Bolshevism and Nazism, but found new ways to circulate and seize the minds of those dedicated to progress.

One might recall that these ideologies loved talking about either equality and/ or community. And like our current Liberal totalitarianism: they were ruthless in denouncing and persecuting their critics; they required the most careful attention to what was said, and how it was said; they used every media at their disposal; they both drew upon the energy of youth and the ambitions of technocrats and the ideas that fitted the world-view of their respective intelligentsia; they received serious financial support (yes, the Bolsheviks too – see e.g., Richard B. Spence’s Wall Street and the Russian Revolution: 1905-1925); and they seized power in societies beset with serious problems by offering slogans and simple solutions; and when in power they delivered devastation. Societies need elites – but an elite that denies that it is an elite, which makes no sacrifices but decides who must be sacrificed, which gains its power by directing hate between groups, while claiming to be against the haters is nothing but a fraud squad.

Would that the elite of the West bother to learn something from those pesky Poles. In the meantime, we can at least celebrate that we have before us writings by those who refused to go along with the tyranny of imbecility and cruelty, as well as those who recognize some of the sources of the sickness that now afflicts the West.

I think all parents wish that their children would learn from the hard-earned lessons of their parents’ sufferings – but they rarely do. Not that I am speaking as a parent, but as someone who was lucky enough to belong to a generation whose parents had been in and emerged from hell, it gives people like myself who can see what the West is doing no joy in seeing them create hell. To the older ones (that is my contemporaries) who do it solely for profit and position, I say shame on them for not learning anything about life other than mouthing platitudes, deluding themselves and the young, and making money while doing so.

To the younger ones who are their stooges, I say pity them for their ignorance, youthful pride, and having been subject to even greater monsters of ignorance. To the pesky Poles I say praise and thanks to you for your bravery and thoughtfulness. I wish more in the West would learn from you.

And, finally, let us acclaim: pesks of the planet unite, you have nothing to lose but your subordination to an imbecilic elite, who are determined to sacrifice you for everyone’s good, especially their’s.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “The Resurrection of Poland,” by Władysław Barwicki, painted ca. 1918.

The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 2

Imbecility Leads The (Once) Free World

In spite of the United States being closer to a civil war more than any time since 1865, there is one statement that I think one can safely say would find few, if any, dissenters on either side of the divide: at least one of the two Presidents who have held since 2016 or now hold office is an imbecile.
Not being a citizen of the United States my interest in its politics was driven by broader geopolitical concerns, and wider fears about the West’s inabilities to survive its external enemies and its own self destruction.

For my part, in 2016 I had no feeling either way of who would make a better president. Both had serious credibility problems – Whitewater, the Clinton foundation, and Hilary’s mendacity made it impossible for anyone who knew about her history to believe a word she said, though she had had experience in foreign diplomacy, though the Obama doctrine had not made the West stronger; Trump had lost money for various investors numerous times, and when it came to the GOP nomination played very dirty. He also lacked experience. The one thing to an outsider that made him look interesting was that he was not playing by the old rule book in international relations, and that might or might not be a very good thing.

Any hesitations about what would happen if Trump won the election (which the US media assured all and sundry could never happen) were drastically transformed by the response of President Trump’s opponents on his taking presidential office. Trump playing dirty to defeat Cruz or Rubio was like a fist fight in kiddie league compared to the full scale assault upon Trump that immediately was pitched as the need for impeachment by journalists, celebrities and Democrats. Daily, I would read the media report that Trump said or did X, and then when I found footage of statement or deed, which had not been edited to fit the accusation, it had a totally different context and even content from what was being reported.

But as shocking as I found it that I simply could no longer trust reports from media which claimed to be reputable, the far more important concern for me was that the elite, who were supposed to be responsible for ensuring strength and unity at home, had shown that they were incapable of accepting the will of the people for an election term. Thus it was that the strongest geopolitical power for democracy in the Western world no longer had any kind of consensual centre from which it could issue genuine allegiance.

During his term Trump had kept the US from new wars (as promised), bought back some degree of border control (which his voters wanted), and, until COVID, significantly improved economic conditions by increasing employment for every identity group, as well as wages for many. COVID provided an opportunity for his critics not only to raise the hysteria already way beyond fever pitch to new cries of Trump being a mass murderer.

By the time the election of 2020 had come around I had come to the conclusion that the elite ideas brokers in the USA were representatives of the greatest threat to democracy I had witnessed in my sixty six years on this earth, and I certainly did not see how their depiction of what Trump represented – Hitlerism – had meant that their moral commitment was more about accepting the will of the American people than removing him from office.

Though whatever happened during the election, I also think there is a good case to be made that the damage done to democracy as a system of government and to the economies in dealing with COVID might be irreparable. Certainly the emergency powers assumed by states (and not just the USA), including the demand for strict compliance and narrative conformity about what the state has decreed to be the scientific answer to the problem – e.g. all efforts to go into vaccines rather than treatment studies and development, most obviously – has enabled those seeking to curb any kind of populist resistance to elite decision making.

Trump was as much sucker punched by this as he was by the changes to voting laws that enabled ineligible voting and voting interference to take place. He had also failed to halt the power against free speech that had moved from universities to the corporate world and finally into social media so that Trump would find himself banned from all major platforms, along with many other ‘conservative’ youtubers and podcasters who had previously had large followings of people sick to death of what the elites were dictating as the truth on everything from medicine to climate to race and the election.

In the concentrated effort to gain complete control of what people thought and said by ensuing that the political party and media which support it still required an election victory to seal the deal. And, there were two obstacles they had to deal with – who had the personality and popular appeal with voters to defeat a candidate that almost every journalist and pundit in the country had previously thought unelectable, and how would they ensure that their candidate got victory.

That these companies and the mainstream media openly supported one party and ultimately one candidate was not so untypical. But that the only candidate that they thought had the character and qualities to defeat Trump, and the character who ultimately managed to garner the biggest support amongst members of his party for his candidacy had to be kept in a basement and shielded from reporters in conducting his campaign was less typical. What was becoming clearer by the day, is the reason he was being kept in a basement was that he was an imbecile.

Given that whiteness and old men had become a regular term of abuse within the Democratic party perhaps it was not too much a stretch of the imagination to think that this kind of contradiction would not be noticed because the party itself had consisted of people who if not outright imbeciles (represented by the AOC wing of the party), could, at least, be treated as imbeciles. Or perhaps it was because the elite had come to the consensus that the country was full of imbeciles and only an imbecile could defeat an imbecile in an election that only someone made to look like an imbecile could win the presidency. Though, in Joe they hit the jackpot – he could not put two sentences together without looking like an imbecile.

As for Trump, being an imbecile, the day he announced his run for presidential nominee, his critics laughed hysterically about what a complete imbecile he was. And when he won office, they stopped laughing, and the question of his imbecility became a psychiatric matter that should be acted upon by the appropriate authorities (whoever they were – some hoped Rod Rosenstein would step up to the plate).

For sure, Trump was not playing by any known political rule book and he could be shockingly brutal, and make up all sorts of nonsense, and he used the word ‘bigly’ and he did pull funny faces and gesticulated pretty wildly sometimes. But his rallies were like parties where the crowd would whoop and holler and lap up his humour, which always got the loudest roar of approval when he went for ‘the dishonest people’ at the back. If this was an imbecile, one wondered how was it that not a single Democrat candidate could enthuse an audience like this imbecile. And in spite of Joe having zero in the charisma stakes, in spite of such zingers of repartee as ‘C’mon man’, maybe the Democrats really did think it took an imbecile to beat an imbecile, and that’s why with all the talent on display they chose Joe.

In any case, I think it fair to say that even those who really hated what the Democrats were supporting and doing, especially since Trump had taken office, only saw one of the possible nominees for the Democrat presidential candidate as a total imbecile. Like so many other wannabes in American political life – with the exception of the articulate, smart and attractive Tulsi Gabbard – the cast in the run off for the Democrat presidential candidate were as vacuous as they were instantly forgettable.

And while Harris, Warren, and whoever else there was were might have been political grifters, drenched in duplicity accompanied by boundless ambition, I doubt if the word imbecile is the first word that springs to mind when one considered them. ( It is true that VP Harris’s statement that the border crisis is caused by climate change is imbecilic, but I suspect this is what she thinks she should say to the imbeciles who support her – anyway AOC, with typical wide-eyed daring had gone the extra yard on that front in the imbecilic stakes by claiming climate change was the result of racial injustice. I have always harboured the thought that climate change might be the result of the dogs next door who yelp at all hours of the day and are responsible for everything that irritates me in retirement. But I have kept that imbecilic thought to myself).

While the Democrats chose an appeal in the run off, the fact was that while the media did represent the Donald as an imbecile, they also wanted to represent him as Hitler. And that only showed their accusation of him being an imbecile was not serious. For say what you like about Hitler, calling him an imbecile does not really cut the mustard, at least not until pretty late in the day, when yes he went fully deranged. Sure, his ideas about Jews were imbecilic, but taking the totality of the whole man, he was a master of political maneuvring, a master at capturing the mood of a people desperate to follow a leader who would restore their sense of purpose and national destiny, and a master of political rhetoric. And if he was an imbecile what does that say about Neville Chamberlain or FDR?

While Biden’s opponents see him as many things – a hair-sniffing, handsy creep, who made a career as a bagman for the DuPont family, who, attended the funeral of, and eulogised, the former KKK member Robert Bird, who has used his office not only to fill his family’s pockets, and used the FBI and media to shut down the story of his son’s crooked, possibly traitorous, and illegal personal behaviour, who was accused of sexual misconduct by his own staffer – none of these are incompatible with him also being an imbecile. And to be fair, even though his incessant plagiarism was pretty damned stupid, he was not so much an imbecile as a political hack for sale to the highest bidder.

But we know now that even his minders take him for an imbecile. A fact that Joe had to blurt out to the entire world when at a conference with the Russian leader, who none has ever considered an imbecile, that he had been given a list of journalists allowed to softball the questions – whose answers we presume he was supposed to have learnt by rote. Meanwhile the world could also see how Vlad was taking his sword to Western journalists who thought they could catch him out saying – “Yes you are the smartest most decent people I have ever admit, and now that I look deeply into my conscience, I admit it – I killed them all. Please forgive me.” While that didn’t happen Joe marched bravely on giving that big sparkling false tooth grin while pondering his favourite ice cream flavour.

If the media were unable to get their story straight about whether Trump was an imbecile or Hitler, from the get go they thought that because his supporters were deplorables, they were also imbeciles, like the rest of their audience, who they also treated as imbeciles. But by then the media had long since stopped bothering with facts – their stories constantly came from anonymous sources, or sources with partisan interests, and they could rely upon fact checkers to convince people that things that were not facts were facts, and vice-versa.

Thus it was that during the Trump presidency that the media, in complicity with the Democratic party and one of its fronts, conspired (yes, one does not need to wear a tin foil hat to note people making up and disseminating misinformation/ lies for political gain) to concoct a story about Trump being a Russian plant.

They also denied that Obama has authorised spying upon the Trump campaign, even though the Russian plant fabrication had involved the Democrats and their operatives in intelligence having to make the story fly by having its intelligence agencies identify people in the Russian conspiracy who they could not actually manage to interrogate (the dialectic of imbecility has established that when people say that Russians and Trump and his supporters conspired to hijack an election that is not a conspiracy theory).

They also denied what could be heard all over YouTube – i.e. that Biden had used his political office and threatened withholding US military aid to the Ukraine to protect the investigation of his son being on the pay roll as a highly paid consultant to one of the most corrupt energy company’s in the world, at the same time as they attempted to impeach Trump for a supposed overheard phone call threatening to withhold military aid if the Ukraine president did not investigate the son of an opposing presidential candidate.

By the time November 2020 came around the mainstream media had told so many porky pies that none in their right mind could believe them. But the remaining audience they did have had long since lost their minds, and they could be relied onto believing anything, including that Joe was the man to bring the USA back to a reliable centre.

To those who thought the media had been lying about Russia, the Ukraine, Hunter Biden and his lap top (there was nothing there to report!) and all manner of other things including they themselves (they were all white supremacists), the election result looked like just one more lie. As for the election itself, it certainly seems bizarre for example – and I quote from an essay by Joe Holt – that

In almost every county throughout the state (of Pennyslvania), the President was awarded a percentage of votes 40% less than the percent the President won on election day … If Trump won a county by 80% of the vote on Election Day, he won 40% of the mail-in vote for a county. If the President won 60% of the vote on Election Day, he won 20% of the mail-in vote in another county. This pattern occurred in almost every county with the only noticeable exception of Philadelphia, where the President only earned 30% of the vote on Election Day.

Thus it was after the elections occurred that social media had to step on board with the mainstream media to shut down any serious consideration of election fraud. The ostensible reason for this closing down of free speech was that such talk of fraud had created an insurrection, a putsch no less that was organized by President Trump.

Anyone who bothered to look beyond the mainstream footage could see that a demonstration that had got out of control, that included some thugs (spurred on by Antifa) and misguided over enthusiastic protesters, some of whom had entered through a door opened by some security guards, was far less violent than the Black Lives Matter Protests that had taken months earlier, where fire razed buildings to the ground, where businesses were looted, and some people were killed in what the media unanimously reported as being “mainly peaceful protests.”

Treating their audience as imbeciles it became increasingly common for all mainstream journalists to use identical formulations when reporting. Meanwhile in the capitol riot – an attempted putsch so they said – one unarmed woman, a protestor, was shot at point blank range by a security officer. The media intent on making a rabble look like white supremacist terrorists, having discovered that a policeman who had been on duty that day had subsequently died of natural causes concocted the story he was murdered by the same white supremacist terrorists.

In fact, the issues that led so many to cry foul about the election result were multiple. But if one was interested in why people were so convinced that the election had been rigged, one had to do a lot of hunting to see that the claims were about foreign interference and voting machines, which prior to this election had been problems identified by the Democrats, to ballot harvesting, dead and non-existent voters, the unprecedented cessation of counting, prevention of proper scrutineering, and much else beside.

But by January Google, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook started simply wiping numerous sites, posts and tweets that had been making the case – just as they did for those with medical credentials who were critical of Fauci.
The question of facts had become a question of narrative, and the issue was who controlled the narrative.

And what was the case was identical to the point raised earlier – on the one hand the elite pushed the narrative that only imbeciles voted for Trump, or believed the election was a fraud, or, indeed, did not get on board with the other topics that it was pushing – only an imbecile would not believe in climate change, only an imbecile would not believe the science on COVID as represented by Fauci.

Only an imbecile would think defunding the police was not a good idea because only an imbecile would not see systematic racism everywhere in the USA, hence too only an imbecile would not see that critical race theory should be taught in schools, corporations, universities and state departments, only an imbecile would think women had vaginas, hence only an imbecile would think it wrong for biological males to compete in women’s sports, and hence too only an imbecile would think it not a good idea to have transgender soldiers.

Only an imbecile would be opposed to diversity and hence only an imbecile would object to recruitment to US intelligence agencies and the military proudly displaying their commitment to diversity – in what everybody else could see was the most imbecilic advertising campaign that hat had ever been dreamt up (and that is really saying something).

The list is far longer and the logic/ dialectic relentless. It is the logic and dialectic of progress as understood, taught and forced upon the American population through its institutions. Nevertheless at least half the country think: only an imbecile could believe this shit. Which is why, and the Democrats never understood this, that while much support for Trump came from the forgotten working class, it also came from those frustrated by the most pressing demand of the dialectic of imbecility, i.e. that one forsake all independence of thought and get on board with the program.

Where one stands on the riven ness of the US today very much depends who one thinks are the imbeciles – Trump and his supporters, or Biden and those who want you to believe that they are making the world safer and better.

Read Part 1.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows “intrigue,” by James Ensor, painted in 1890.

The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 1

This collection of essays started life as the introduction to another essay about the Polish intellectual resistance to totalitarianism, in general, and two excellent recent books by Polish philosophers, one, The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols by Ryzard Legutko and the other, Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America by Zbigniew Janowski, both on the dialectic of liberalism and totalitarianism.

I commenced by thinking about how imbecilic totalitarian thinking always is. And the more I pondered it, the more I was struck, not only by its own dialectic, but the alliances and circumstances that have made this kind of imbecilic-ism not only seem perfectly normal, but necessary to save the world from the phobias and panoply of injustices that our elite have identified as the sources of oppression and potential extinction-events. In sum, I realized that the political philosophical problem of the day is what I call the “dialectic of imbecility.”


Imbecility, Its Dialectic, And The Imbecilic Ideas Of Our Time

Intellectuals are peculiarly prone to falling for idiotic ideas because of their own vanity and self-interest. They commence with the conviction that because of their superior intelligence they are best positioned to identify and instruct others about how to behave so that these others will come to dwell in a better world. They inevitably find behaviours which have evolved over time which ensure group survival and development in the context of the group’s lived circumstances – to be little more than acquisition in oppression. They prefer principles that they can readily learn by reading some master thinkers to the hermeneutical experience of the communities that they wish to lead and instruct. Which is why it is usually fairly young and inexperienced people such as college students who fall for the most idiotic ideas – for they often think they know everything without actually knowing very much at all. Being uneducated does not make someone an idiot. What makes people idiotic is not knowing much or anything about a topic they feel they must express their (ignorant) ideas about, because they cannot distinguish between knowledge and ignorance. Idiots get angry at people who disagree with them – particularly people who are able to distinguish ignorance from knowledge, and hence can see that the person trying to convince them is himself an idiot or is taking them for idiots.

Intellectuals are more prone to thinking they know what they don’t know – and hence more prone to idiocy and outbursts of anger at those who don’t agree with them – than other people; at least those who don’t think of themselves as know-alls, and who generally limit their conversation to everyday topics of which they have at least some idea about what they are talking about.

As bad as idiocy is, imbecility contains an extra ingredient to idiocy – the ingredient of insanity. It has been well said and widely spread that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We are all prone to folly, and, at times, will have all acted idiotically, done some imbecilic things. Hence a degree of social and personal imbecilic-ism is inevitable. What is not inevitable is to have a world in which imbecilic-ism is being bred through our institutions, and being – or acting like – an imbecile is a prerequisite for career advancement within any elite positions in the Western world. There was a precedent for this – the totalitarian states which were predicated upon power and prestige being the prerogative of imbeciles (thus, as Milosz noted in his The Captive Mind, the widespread prevalence of ketman, a kind of duplicitous acceptance of the reigning orthodoxy in communist countries). This is why we can note that as Western-style democracies have become increasingly imbecilic, they have become increasingly totalitarian – this is largely because they are dialectically related.

A totalitarian society requires a society of imbeciles for its subjects, and imbeciles for its functionaries. Conversely, imbeciles with great ambition and boundless pride in their knowledge and ability will inevitably demand more authority so they can prevent anyone thinking or saying anything which might deprive them of their authority. In an ideocratic age, which ours is, this means that ideas that are not imbecilic are an existential threat to the power and privilege of the imbecilic class. Imbecilic-ism, though, is infectious, for it is easier to learn something imbecilic than fathom something complicated – like, for example, the world, or human nature and human history. Worst of all, though, just as imbecility is a kind of mental and spiritual death, and folly is the unwitting accomplice of evil, an imbecilic social and political order is an instantiation of evil in which existential mass and early death will inevitably follow spiritual death.

Although the dialectic existed in Plato (it was the question-and-answer method that sifted out the contradictory statements in search of discovering the nature of something), in modern times, the term took a rather different and interesting development, which was originally used by the philosopher Immanuel Kant. He used the term dialectic to describe the tendency of the mind to deploy categories that were essential for our understanding of experience as if they had a meaning beyond that function. When that happened, Kant argued, we were caught up in illusions created by the capacity to reason because what were mere ideas of reason (according to Kant these were the ideas of God, freedom and the immortal soul) were treated as substantive, i.e., akin, in terms of our knowledge, to things we could experience.

His critic Hegel used the term in a different way – like Kant he thought the dialectic was generated by reason itself, but he held that Kant had misunderstood and belittled the power of reason. Where Kant subordinates reason (the capacity to develop principles) to the human understanding (the capacity to form judgments out of data we access through the senses), Hegel derives the primacy of the understanding over reason from a failure to understand that any knowledge we have is only possible because of the ideas, principled totalities, “the sciences” at our disposal. Data or information is never completely raw. Any contingency we come across is, then, only recognized by us because we ascribe a predicate to it. But that predicate comes from the body of knowledge we draw upon in our identification of what it is and how it differs from other contingencies.

A body of knowledge is a totality in which empirical data have already been assembled and coherently connected as concepts. This is itself predicated upon the overarching idea or telos that enables (more precisely, rationally directs) the conceptual coherence through its stipulation of what the coherence involves. The inner coherence and relationship between ideas, in turn, are all part of one overarching totality or pattern/idea. This is what Hegel calls the absolute, (English translators tend to capitalize Hegel’s terminology, but in the German every noun is capitalized so this habit tends to mislead English readers by having them think Hegel is using a very technical and idiosyncratic language. In fact, he used the vocabulary that had become commonplace among German philosophers).

Further, the absolute is the condition/principle that provides coherence to the parts; it is not passive but active; that is, it itself is developing and dynamic. Without it, nothing would connect; we would have no knowledge about anything. To repeat, then, Hegel saw reason as dynamic. What drives the dynamic is the movement generated by the oppositions that push it for ever greater integration and coherence, ever greater knowledge, which is also ever more reason and freedom. For Hegel, they are one and the same – reason has no extrinsic limit, i.e., it is the absolute and its absoluteness is its very freedom.

An early example from a writing on two contemporary philosophers, whom he saw as precursors, J. G. Fichte and F. W. J. Schelling, helps clarify the issue. The proposition A = A is a statement of identity. But the very form of the statement is indicative of a difference discernable to consciousness and produced by consciousness. The difference is between subject and predicate, which Hegel thus represents by the form A = – A, which, notes Hegel, thus indicates that A= B.

Stated otherwise, Hegel sees that for reason, nothing, apart from reason which has postulated the identity and difference, is purely finite; what is finite is but a component of the infinite, the absolute, which gives it meaning. Hence, for Hegel, rationality was a process of substantialization; and hence also why the world itself is the expansion of reason as the triumphal labour of the spirit of freedom. It is not that there is not anything outside of one’s head – Hegel’s point, repeated over and over again, is that a thing is, for us, not really anything other than the predications we ascribe to it. When I say, in other words, “a rose is a rose,” I have not said anything about what the rose is – so it is the predications of a subject (say X) that display the knowledge that the subject (i.e., the person speaking about X) has. One can see here that this is why Hegel is saying that the residual X of something being beyond our knowledge – what Kant calls the thing-in-itself – is meaningless for Hegel. If we really were talking about something of which we had absolutely no knowledge, we could not even begin with it – and when we begin with some new contingency, we bring to bear a plethora of potential predications to identify it; that is, the absolute is already dictating possible classifiers. Heady stuff, I know – but not nonsense.

Hegel’s philosophy of the identity of actuality and rationality, with its brilliant depiction of a Logic that is a metaphysics, would have been the greatest contribution to human knowledge ever made, were it not for one insurmountable problem: Hegel would have to know everything were he to prove he was right. For he would have to claim not only that the absolute produces everything – but that this production is discernable; so, he has discerned it all. Spinoza had already predicated that the infinite was the condition of the finite; and Schelling had used this against Fichte’s claim to make the ego the absolute condition of all knowing. But Hegel claimed (using Schelling’s own words against him) that Schelling’s philosophy was simply a poetics; and hence a shot in the dark. Hegel wrote his three volume Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences to show how all the branches of knowledge were interconnected and were generated by the absolute, as reason (through Hegel) developed and contemplated itself. To be sure, Hegel makes a great deal of demonstrating this; but as one wades though his Philosophy of Nature, the attempts to connect all the elements of the physical sciences just look crazy. His Philosophy of History has somewhat dated better, but it is extremely selective and completely unsatisfactory as history – it just leaves too much out (like Church history which is hugely important for understanding the European world), as if reason had little interest for what people actually did in service to the spirit of freedom.

Sadly, for Hegel – the contingencies of life thwart even the greatest minds and the best of reasons. Though even more sadly for the world, Hegel was right in one respect – systemic thought of the sort that is a vast pattern and assemblage of ideas, what he called philosophy, but which in the degenerate form that the “know-all” philosophy of today takes, to wit ideology, remains dialectical – but alas is imbecilic. And because the making of the modern world has to do not only with the social actions, consensuses, technologies, and institutions that we have generated, but with the ideas that direct that action, our daily practices, appeals and commitments are completely entwined with these ideas. In short, the modern life-world is an ideocratic world in a way that other life-worlds were not. Hence Hegel’s error is grounded in something true, which, though, he misconstrues.

But in so far as the world is ideocratic and in so far as ideas matter so much, which is also why we school ourselves to the point of idiocy in trying to deal with the ideas that we operate with and within, noticing what we do really matters.

Sadly, too, this does leave us in a far more troubled relationship with our traditions than what was the case with previous societies – indeed modernity was a Faustian pact in which we would pursue perfection by perfecting our knowledge, at the expense of all that “pre-conscious” knowledge – what Burke called prejudice, which was the basis of collective experience/tradition.

The thing about ideas, however, and Plato notwithstanding, is that they do not exist independently of human beings. This is not to say, though, that refusing to comply with them is a small matter. On the contrary, to the extent that vast chains of solidarity and institutional consensuses and directives are formed out of common interests that are narratively and hence ideationally connected, ideas can be matters of life and death. Idolatry has a terrifying cost, and the idolatry of ideas is no exception – for idolatry not only involves losing one’s soul, but damnation.

And I do not know how anyone today cannot see the Western world as being damned by the idolatry of its ideas. And like Eve, who stupidly worshipped the tree whose fruits were supposed to give her complete knowledge and power, we modern idolaters in pursuit of perfect knowledge and power have become servants of the devil. And the devil of today is a dialectical one. We recall the Augustinian insight that evil is non-being, non-being because it is parasitical off of being. Much like Hegel’s dialectic, in which being and nothing are conjoined, in his works on logic, by becoming – the dialectic of imbecility is one in which non-being, or the non-real, is passed off as the real. What is required is becoming an imbecile to appreciate the unity of the contradictions.

Anyone who is capable of even a modicum of thought can see the contradictions in today’s world – the list of imbecilic contradictions reaches from the personal to the general and is ceaseless. But we all know them – the most privileged children in history identify as victims; the wealthiest people who have ever lived present themselves not only as corporate benefactors to the entire human race, but as overseers of truth and virtue, who dictate what truth and virtue must be; institutions of higher learning are institutions of total conformity and compliance with what its administration says; the mass media not only decides what information is news, but what information you must not even consider to be true; elected politicians call for defunding the police, but increasingly discover new parts of life to be publicly scrutinized and punished through legislation; this of course is meaningless if violators of the new laws are not punished.

These imbecilic ideas are generated dialectically and form a pattern. Here is a long list of common place imbecilities I have jotted down. I am sure you, dear reader, could add just as many, if not far more. My list is haphazard, and sometimes variants of the same imbecilic idea. Some things on the list are expressed as contradictory pairs, while in some others it is in its pairing with reality itself that we can see the contradiction that is a symptom of the dialectic of imbecility.

  • Western countries are racist, and oppressive – but people escaping oppression have a right to live in the West
  • Biology is a social construct – but if a child thinks he is a female born in a male body, or vice versa, then a doctor or psychiatrist must accept that as true
  • No one who runs a business may refuse to serve someone on the basis of their sexual choice or colour – but it is permissible to refuse to serve someone if their political beliefs are not progressive
  • We should level the playing field so people can be more equal – but biological males who identify as female must be accepted into women’s sports teams
  • Men oppress women – but biologically born males should be allowed to defeat biologically born females in sports
  • All blacks are oppressed – so, Oprah Winfrey is also oppressed as are all other wealthy black people
  • Irrespective of their economic circumstances all whites are privileged – so, a white homeless person is privileged
  • People who are not white heterosexual biological males who attend ivy leagues are victims of oppression
  • All whites are racist – but if I am white and accept that all whites are racist, I distance myself from whiteness and hence may be less racist than you if you don’t think like this
  • The system we live in determines us – if I know how the system works I am not determined by the system
  • I can own and be flown in a private jet, but if I publicly avow my commitment to preventing climate change I contribute to less fires, less hurricanes and the survival of polar bears
  • The amount of energy required to make renewable energy need not be taken into account when demonstrating the superior economic efficiency of renewable energy
  • Fact-checking has to be conducted by an independent group of journalists who all have the same beliefs about how to fix the country
  • A reliable source is someone who has information that is harmful to the representative and group who do not agree with how we think
  • The past of anyone we disapprove of, including the past members of our own party, must be rigorously scrutinized in order to condemn whatever they are doing or might think right now – unless “we” like what they are thinking
  • Oligarchs, highly paid celebrities, corporate managers, highly paid administrators, tenured educators, journalists, politicians, lawyers, judges, military officials, intelligence operatives on the Left are more thoughtful and morally committed to helping people than people who think they are personally and intellectually and morally as flawed as everyone else but have found a way to enhance their prestige and “value”
  • Freedom of speech is not a right but a privilege – and I decide what speech is free but I am against privilege
  • A non-Mexican white wearing a sombrero or a white who wears braids is engaging in cultural appropriation – but members of the white Democratic Party (politicians) wear African garb are displaying solidarity – non-Westerners who wear jeans are victims of cultural imperialism
  • Context dictates everything except some words must never be said, even if quoted to prove the opposite of the intention that the word normally conveys – those words are regularly said by people on the street and entertainers who are so fragile that if they hear those words, they will be psychologically scarred.
  • People who think and say hateful things should be mocked, scorned, de-platformed and driven out of their employment
  • Racism, sexism, transphobia, Islamophobia are Eurocentric values – it is irrelevant that non-Western countries support traditional roles for the sexes, Muslim societies do not give de facto, or in most places even de jure equal rights for Christians and Jews, trans people or LGBTQetc.
  • Our institutions should show their commitment to social justice by flying the lgbtq etc pride flag on LGBTQ etc. day – but Muslim students must feel welcome in our society and at universities
  • Anti-Semitism is not anti-Semitism if one is advocating the elimination of the state of Israel – and by implication Israelis
  • Anyone who has sex with someone under the age of consent is a paedophile – but calling Mohammad, who did have sex with his nine-year-old wife, a paedophile is hate speech
  • People who like having sex with people of the same sex can not only be proud of having sex with people they like having sex with – but feel that their morals are the ones that should dictate what people who have sex with people of another sex morally think or feel
  • The death penalty is an unconscionable violation of human rights – but the elimination of an unwanted pregnancy should be allowed up until birth or even immediately after birth
  • Defund the police – but there should be more legislative control over behaviours previously considered personal because the personal is political and oppression occurs in the private sphere
  • No national guard should be used to stop looting and burning or even killing if it is in the cause of protesting against white privilege – but such guards have to be deployed in Washington to ensure the survival of democracy against people who broke into the capitol building but did not burn, loot or kill anyone, even though one of themselves was killed
  • It is legitimate for state officials to raise funds to bail out looters who loot because they believe Black Lives Matter – but people who wear MAGA hats and wrongly enter the capitol building are insurrectionists and should be punished with severe prison sentences
  • Non-elected people who own media companies have the right to decide who can say what and can de-platform an elected president or candidate
  • It is wrong to raise the historical importance of racism within the Democratic party because the party which fought to eliminate slavery and had the first black representatives is racist and can be “proven” to be racist because they support traditional family values which are a major contributor to escaping poverty
  • Black conservatives are stooges of racism – but blacks caught up in welfare dependencies and broken families should vote for the party that supports policies leading to ongoing black welfare dependency and broken families
  • Anyone who calls for an audit of the 2020 federal election is a conspiracy theorist –but George Bush stole the 2000 election
  • Believe all women unless the woman claims to have been raped or abused by members of the party that expressly claims that all women should be believed
  • Whites are too powerful and it is racist to think blacks cannot do what whites can do –but blacks should not be expected to perform well in acquiring knowledge of the sciences, including mathematics, because to educate them to perform well would be racist
  • A person is not what he/she does – but a person is what he/she represents
  • Identity is an irreducible substance and a social construct therefore it is a norm, e.g., a black is a black and a white a white – but a black who does not believe what white people say in books or classrooms (critical race theory) is a race-traitor, or does not know his own identity
  • Anyone who shares my identity represents my interest – provided they think like me about what my identity means
  • The family is the source of oppression – but lgbtq etc people have the right to marry and have a family
  • The US army is an agent of imperial aggression – but trans people should have the right to an army career and gender reassignment surgery
  • One cannot drink alcohol without Id because it is harmful to one’s health – bu a child has the right to have drugs and surgery that change his/her biological sex
  • People are naturally good but they require approved education to be so
  • Hierarchy is bad – but we need to provide equal opportunity to let the disadvantaged enter into our elite institutions – if you have a degree from an elite institution, you are better educated, and more worthy of entering an elite profession than someone from a “poor” school
  • Diversity is a right and is good – but anyone who thinks differently on the aims and objectives of the requisite diversity training should not be employed or must apologise
  • Education is all important – but all disciplines are racist even math and sciences
  • The moral and political insights of people who pretend to be other people – i.e., actors – and people who have the ability to sing or play or write songs know more than you do about your own social and political interests because they know what is right and true
  • Movie stars who act in an industry which produces countless violent movies often about the need for someone to use a gun to stop bad people – also oppose gun ownership
  • All artists should provide moral leadership because they are morally good people and better informed
  • The number of people killed for the production of cocaine is not worth any consideration when considering the moral worth of people who regularly take cocaine but devote themselves to creating a more just world (whilst earning a high salary)
  • A Hollywood star is a victim of drug addiction – and should receive our sympathy – a family killed in drug wars in Mexico does not deserve any attention
  • People who come into the USA from its southern borders should be allowed in irrespective of the law – but visa entry requirements to the US at West and East Coast airports and ports may continue

The list is as inexhaustible as its contradictions are imbecilic. Believing them is imbecilic; but the word “belief” can have a strong meaning. If someone just mouths these things, it might mean he is stupid – but it may be that many people who say these things do not actually believe them. Maybe they just don’t object to them. Maybe they think it better to stay out of harm’s way. Maybe they are cunning and realise that there are material benefits, job opportunities, promotion, etc. in going along with the imbecilic contradictions.

In any case, what matters is not that there are people stupid enough to believe all this – but that it is the logic of the educated, of the elite; and that it is the logic of belief that governs and circulates in our institutions. It also seems that a lot of people have a vested interest in taking other people for imbeciles, which brings us to the case of the last US election and the current US president, the topic of the next essay in this series.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “The Dust Lickers,” by Odd Nerdrum; painted in 2005.

Philosophical Anthropology. Part 1: Giambattista Vico

Introduction

This is the first of a three part “essay” on three thinkers—Giambattista Vico, Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder—who were pioneers of a more historically sensitive anthropological and dialogical style of philosophy than the philosophies that have done so much to shape and do so much damage in the modern world. Originally what are now three essays were the final part of my book, Idolizing the Idea: A Critical History of Modern Philosophy. When I finally found a publisher willing to take on a book that was deeply critical of both major paradigms of contemporary philosophy, which are commonly (if not very accurately) termed analytic and continental philosophy, they nevertheless baulked at a 200,000-word manuscript by a writer from the academic boondocks with no reputation. I had no choice but to cut the final section, which, was for me the best part.

I had intended to write a second volume in which I would start with them, but when the Postil expressed interest in them, I thought I could spare any potential readers my tendency for prolixity. I only raise this point about their original context as chapters from a book criticising how modern philosophy has repeatedly succumbed to what I call the idolatry of the idea. That is modern philosophies—including ones which insist upon not succumbing to the sweet sirens of abstract ideas by being faithful to history (its spirits or laws) (Hegel and Marx ), or the earth (Nietzsche, and the positivists and empiricists), or Being (Heidegger), or anti-totalism (post-structuralists)—constantly set up some unassailable idea, principle or model which it uses to judge us and our world, and what it repeatedly does is try and squeeze us into the idea. I call this position idea-ist—it is not the same as idealism, because materialists are as much idea-ists as idealists.

I, following the German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, who made this same point, also call this the know-All position. For it is based upon the belief that what the philosopher knows is the essence of things, or the All that really needs to be known. Religion is by its very nature dogmatic. And that is its strength—for its proscriptions proceed from (a) God, while our powers of reasoning are limited. That our powers of reasoning are very limited indeed is manifestly confirmed by philosophers themselves who do not agree on much at all, especially the larger questions of the nature of truth, or goodness. After more than two thousand years one may have thought if there were a truth it would have been found and appreciated at least by the philosophers who have gone in search of it.

In my book, I argue that what keeps happening in philosophy is that the questions keep shifting, and this has much to do with why the answers differ so much. I think this confirms the value of philosophy, but it is a confirmation that requires philosophers to have better appreciation of what they can and cannot do well. But such appreciation requires not succumbing to the temptation to think we know the All—and to accept that reality is, to use a religious term, “revealed.”

This in turn also means giving up another common philosophical habit—viz., the dismissal of very important contingencies which impact upon us and our world because the model or principle governing a philosophical position has occluded them. But as soon as philosophers think they know the essence of the world or us or history or whatever they think is the key to it All, they set up an optic of occlusion—and subsequently all manner of very important things become dismissed and widely ignored. Thus, for example, Heidegger dismisses mere empirical history as unimportant so he can focus upon the history of metaphysics and its role in shaping our world, but, as I argued in Idolizing, this is foolish in that it leads to the belief that the only things that matter are what metaphysics has done, or what Heidegger himself takes as an alternative voicing to metaphysics, viz., poetry can do.

I do not wish to repeat criticisms about modern philosophy that I have made elsewhere, but I will repeat one other point I made in that book: the development of modern philosophy has created a metaphysical dyad of “determinism” (we are determined by laws and/or a system), and “voluntarism” (we can make the world and ourselves the way we want). And both of these one-sided views of life are false—and it does not become true by simply oscillating between them as Marx and Nietzsche or the contemporary progressives, who see capital, or gender, sexuality or race as determining people’s behaviour, unless, like them, they can acknowledge it and thus change the world to make it how they want.

Let me be clear, principles and ideas can be very important, and the word idea is a perfectly useful word. Likewise, we have all sorts of ideas about all sorts of things, but in our day-to-day world we can easily distinguish between doing something and having a philosophy about doing something, and we can all see that the doing need not really be subordinate to the philosophy if we want to do it well. I might write on the Philosophy of Education or the Philosophy of Running or the Philosophy of Friendship or the Philosophy of Morals, or the Philosophy of Art and be a terrible educator, runner, friend, person and artist or even connoisseur of the arts. The philosophy is just a means to something—and we and our deeds are the something that we have knowledge for. At its best philosophy can help us organize the information we have—in this sense it can help us think better, but it is not a stand along thing. If someone is a terrible “reader” of affairs or people or the world, philosophy will not be that helpful.

The stuff we think with and about generally does not come from philosophy, unless we are thinking of some very specific philosophical thing; but even then, the information and associations we draw upon which can help us think better even about a philosophical claim or formulation is extra-philosophical. Likewise, although sometimes we may notice something with our senses that makes us reflect upon other associations or information we have and also while some kinds of activities and observations are conducted methodically, a great deal of what comes to mind when we think come from the names and words which trigger our feelings and other associations. And the names and words—and the value and weight we ascribe to them—in the overwhelming number of cases have arisen from collective experience and response to events.

Thus, it is when I speak of idea-ism I am talking of the tendency to take our ideas for the world and our actions as if they were all we needed to know, or even the most important thing. Yet it is obviously the case that the world and action are, with the aforementioned exception when a sensation is decisive, mediated in thought as names and words. I strongly recommend the works of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and Franz Rosenzweig who have made exhaustive cases for why names matter, and why ideas, and the philosophical fixation with ideas is a dangerous thing. Idolizing the Idea was in many ways simply a detailed account of the history of this fixation within modernity, and it was undertaken because this tendency has gone hand in hand with a more ideocratic and ideologically driven kind of politics and sociality that is making us strangers to ourselves and each other and making us spiritually sick.

The final section of my book was intended to make the case for the alternative to philosophical know-all-ism, and idea-ism that had already been undertaken by Vico, Hamann and Herder. Vico and Herder have widely been hailed as precursors of anthropology, even if their readership is, as with Hamann, almost excusive to scholars of their works, all three are also important figures in the history of hermeneutics. But their importance has generally been pretty limited in terms of the more dominant currents of philosophy. Kierkegaard loved Hamann, and Hamann was also appreciated by contemporaries such as Schelling and Hegel—but most Histories of Philosophy do not devote a chapter to him or Herder, or Vico.

Anyone familiar with Isaiah Berlin will have immediately recognized that they are the subject matter of one of his books, Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, a work that took a previously unpublished essay by Berlin on Hamann and added it to the early book Vico and Herder. Berlin’s discussion of the three is scholarly and judicious, if somewhat uneven. I think he is most comfortable and perceptive with Vico, he genuinely appreciates Herder, but I do not think he conveys just how encyclopaedic and astutely philosophical Herder is, and I do not think he “gets” what Hamann was doing at all.

But my major criticism of Berlin is what I consider to be the simplistic way he sets up two camps, those who are on the side of Enlightenment and reason and science, and those, like Vico, Herder and Hamann who aren’t. Clearly, he has some sympathy with their objections to the Enlightenment, but he sees rampant nationalism and Nazism as the political-cultural progeny of the anti-Enlightenment. I just find this a very unhelpful and unconvincing way to think not only about them and their legacy, but philosophy and ideas and movements more generally. I have no intention of giving a developed critique of Berlin, and I do not want to give the impression that Berlin is all wrong or not worth reading, I will just say that what follows is an alternative to his way of thinking about the three and their significance.

As will be evident from the above, my interest in Vico, Hamann and Herder cannot really be separated from a more general view about philosophy which I have developed over almost fifty years, and which is a view that, to put it mildly, is not widely known or shared. Thus, I beg the reader’s indulgence for the following introductory lead into the essays on Vico, Hamann and Herder, as a way of better preparing him for what it is I am comparing them with when I discuss their contribution.

Hermeneutical Openings For Philosophical Anthropology

With the Pre-Socratics, philosophy commences with questions that seek to identify the overarching principles that equip philosophy for its own particular modality of inquiry. This initial search is for what is “eternal,” what provides an implacable and stable, even static means of orientation. With Plato it leads to a triumvirate of ideas—the good, the true and the beautiful. That we can immediately recognize the three domains of philosophy—moral philosophy, epistemology, and aesthetics—and their underpinning ontology and metaphysics is indicative of the importance of this aspect of the philosophical quest. The “pitch and jag” of questions posed to what are ostensibly answers to these, and subsequently other philosophical questions is, however, responsible for paradigmatic movements within philosophy’s unique “seam of speech.”

Aristotle’s questions ultimately lead him to open up another modality of orientation. This modality focusses upon the “structures” of things. To be sure Plato had brushed against this modality, but he does not delve into it to anywhere near the same degree or extent as Aristotle. While it certainly has multiple implications for morals (and a moral exploration of politics), epistemology, and aesthetics (consider, for example, how Aristotle’s Poetics attempts to identify not only the nature but also the structure of tragedy), it also affects how one thinks about the ontological and metaphysical terrain. For all the differences that come with this new clustering of questions and the answers that then open out into new questions, the quest is not able to throw off completely the stabilizing factors of philosophy itself—Aristotle too appeals to truth and morality and a kind of beauty.

While the early modern metaphysicians and philosophers of nature are generally identified as anti-Aristotelian, and were so in important respects, this particular aspect of philosophical development and importance is not thrown off in the paradigms that encompasses not only philosophers as epistemologically, metaphysically and ontologically diverse as Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, Malebranche, Berkeley, but even those who branch out far beyond naturalism and veer into more historical and social considerations. In so far as historical and social analyses appeal to some sovereign idea, principle such as equality, or freedom from domination (as with Marx or the post structuralists), or culture (as in Nietzsche), or a cluster of contingencies, they remain susceptible to questions about the truth or moral character (with the kind of aesthetic emphases that have come to dominate from the latter part of the nineteenth century, “the beautiful” has lost its place as the sovereign idea of aesthetics).

To repeat, then, philosophy itself never completely shakes off the opening pitch of its questions, though what is “jagged” out of the answers will change.

But there is also a third line of questioning and orientation, and it is this line of orientation that takes greater account of social symbolization and semiosis, as it delves more deeply into the socio-historical-anthropological conditions, and the degree of impact and plasticity involved in our world-making. It is not the case that it completely abandons the original pitch, though as it evolves, that pitch dims substantially (this is evident, for example, if one compared Herder’s numerous concessions to the good, true and the beautiful, with his progeny, Rosenstock-Huessy, who has little good to say about these eternal philosophical beacons). The same is true of its relationship to the Aristotelian innovation.

Nevertheless, its own insights and quarries retrieved from its quests redound upon the “eternal” seam, as well as the more structural kind of analyses. But it does make historicity as well as culture take on a far greater philosophical significance. Further, it also creates a far more complicated picture of the problems that we confront than are conjured up by those seeking to solve our problems along more voluntarist lines. That is, the more we enter into this third paradigm the less we are likely to believe that our problems will be solved by placing excessive reliance upon either our knowledge of natural or social “laws,” or the good will and “faith” of those seeking change.

While this third paradigm, philosophical anthropology, does not completely eliminate the horizon of the eternal with its “stablizers,” it nevertheless also opens this up further. For in entering into a deeper appreciation of the social, history and culture, it must look beyond the strictly philosophical virtues and answers, not only to other narrative modes, but also to the importance of names themselves and thus it inevitably goes back beyond “ideas” For it is by responding to the range and chain of names that have left deep enough impressions on us to see their importance, so that we become conscious of the historical dimension of experience.

We should also mention from the outset, as will be developed throughout these three essays, that this should not be mistaken for “historicism” of the sort in which all meaning may only be found by sinking so deeply into historical detail there is nothing left to do but recount those details, or else appeal to them as if they themselves bore all authority for future orientation. Future and past both beckon us in our present. As we shall see in Vico, who is a pioneer of this third philosophical approach, the “eternal” and the structural are not completely overthrown by this new approach, yet, for all that, it remains another approach, replete with different kinds of questions and hence answers.

Vico’s New Science And The Opening Up Of The Idea To Past Ages

A brief comparison of Vico with David Hume is a helpful way to illustrate what is so original about Vico’s approach to philosophy.

Hume had argued that the strict divide between understanding and imagination which had been so important to the metaphysical revolution of the new philosophies was ultimately unsustainable: understanding and reason were not to be divorced so sharply from imagination, passion and impression. The importance Hume ascribed to imagination, impression and association in the context of “common life” thus helped draw philosophy back into the world as we live it, as opposed to what world a thinker wants us to (or thinks that we should) live in. Nevertheless, Thomas Reid’s critique that Hume still hung on to philosophical bric-à-brac that came from the “way of ideas” was important. For having invoked “common life,” Hume wipes away the different forms of life that peoples have over the ages by placing too much weight upon the constancy of human nature. As Leon Pompa recounts of Hume’s position:

Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature, by showing men in all varieties of circumstances and situations, and furnishing us with materials from which we may form our observations, and become acquainted with the regular springs of human action and behaviour.

This was what enabled Hume, in spite of all his scepticism, to have such “certainty” about his own enlightened faith. We may indeed see certain constants across the ages if we focus upon certain human needs and behaviours—and on occasion it might make much sense to take note of such constants as the desire to survive, or the need to eat, or the extraction of resources and the opportunity costs involved, or the use of the imagination. But there is a serious problem that Hume bypasses, which Pompa raises against Hume’s position:

…such a conception of the nature of ideas is unacceptable when we consider their operation in the social and historical world. Here we are dealing with social agents, and it is impossible for anybody to be a social agent without understanding the concept of the type of social agent in question. One cannot, for example, be a judge or a school-teacher, unless one’s conduct reveals an understanding of what one should do in the legitimate fulfilment of one’s role. Indeed, the requirement is somewhat stronger than this. For not merely is it necessary to know what one’s role involves, but it is necessary also to know that others know what is involved. One cannot, in other words, act as a judge unless one’s conduct both conforms to a shared understanding of the role and to the knowledge that that understanding is shared. For, in the last resort, it is one’s success or failure in being able to show that one has acted in accordance with what one knows to be shared that determines the legitimacy of one’s actions as a judge. Acting in a social role thus presupposes possession of a social concept which one knows to be shared. This need not be something which one can explicate theoretically, but it must be such that one can use it. It is no objection to this that we use the concept of a natural object in order to can use it, should one be challenged, in defence of one’s claim to have acted legitimately in that role.

It follows from this that ideas cannot, in the social world, have only the secondary ontological status which Hume ascribes to them. For an idea to have this secondary status, it is necessary that that of which it is an idea could have existed in the absence of the idea itself. But this is not possible in the case of social agents, for to be a social agent is just to act in accordance with certain conventions and in the knowledge that those conventions are known to be shared. In the social world, therefore, consciousness of such ideas is constitutive: without it there could be no such world.

Unlike Hume, Vico had extricated himself completely from his earlier (Cartesian) mechanistic philosophical influences, and his cognizance of the plasticity of the human imagination and its impact upon sociality ultimately added the dimension of the cadences of lived-time to our self-understanding. While Vico’s New Science is “therefore a history of human ideas,” its novelty consists in the recognition that “ideas” are themselves deeply dependent upon human development. And although, he acknowledges philosophical antecedents in Jean Bodin and Francis Bacon’s recognition of the importance of myth in aiding human instruction, and, even more pertinently, the importance of “following the method of philosophizing made most certain by Francis Bacon, Lord of Verulam,” he transfers the “idea” to “this world of nations;” thus “carrying it over from the things of nature… to the civil affairs of mankind.”

In general, then, Vico observes that philosophy (including Bacon’s) has not hitherto “reflected on and seen” the actual or historical development of human sociality, and hence also it has failed to grasp what we can discover about the growth of the human mind. To understand that development, requires philosophy taking a new methodological step by turning to the signs that humanity over the ages has left behind in its action which provide evidence of “the human will,” that is “all histories of the languages, customs and deeds of peoples in war and peace.” The New Science then proposes that:

…philosophy undertakes to examine philology (that is, the doctrine of everything that depends on the human will; for example, all histories of the languages, customs and deeds of peoples in war and peace), of which, because of the deplorable obscurity of causes and almost infinite variety of effects, philosophy has had almost a horror of treating.

And,

This queen of the sciences, by the axiom [314] that “the sciences must begin where their subject matters began,” took its start when the first men began to think humanly, and not when the philosophers began to reflect on human ideas (as in an erudite and scholarly little book recently published [by Brucker] under the title Historia philosophica doctrinae de ideis, which comes down to the latest controversies between the two foremost minds of our age, Leibniz and Newton).

The method of the “New Science” thus requires a thorough study of the writings of antiquity, primarily Greek and Roman. Moreover, one of the most conspicuous feature of Vico’s astonishing originality in the New Science lay in treating Homer as a key to unlocking not only antiquity, but as an aid for identifying different ages in their decline and emergence—the patriarchal giant age of the gods symbolized by the cyclops, and the heroic, which is the primary content of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey—as well as a close philological treatment of other ancient materials, particularly Plato and Roman authors (Tacitus, Varro, Livy, the Twelve Tables, Plautus, Plutarch). But Vico also finds supporting evidence in what he knows of the Egyptians, Germanic tribes, Chaldeans and Scythians in order to detect what kinds of ideas predominated in different ages. Vico also identifies how the ideas and the institutional contexts in which they emerge relate. The following rather lengthy passage provides Vico’s summary of the core insights into the three different major formative ages that his New Science has uncovered as providing the basic, and recurrent stages of the development of the gentiles:

(1) The age of the gods, in which the gentiles believed they lived under divine governments, and everything was commanded them by auspices and oracles, which are the oldest things in profane history. (2) The age of the heroes, in which they reigned everywhere in aristocratic commonwealths, on account of a certain superiority of nature which they held themselves to have over the plebs. (3) The age of men, in which all men recognized themselves as equal in human nature, and therefore there were established first the popular commonwealths and then the monarchies, both of which are forms of human government, as we observed a short while ago.

In harmony with these three kinds of nature and government, three kinds of language were spoken which compose the vocabulary of this Science: (1) That of the time of the families when gentile men were newly received into humanity. This, we shall find, was a mute language of signs and physical objects having natural relations to the ideas they wished to express. (2) That spoken by means of heroic emblems, or similitudes, comparisons, images, metaphors, and natural descriptions, which make up the great body of the heroic language which was spoken at the time the heroes reigned. (3) Human language using words agreed upon by the people, a language of which they are absolute lords, and which is proper to the popular commonwealths and monarchical states; a language whereby the people may fix the meaning of the laws by which the nobles as well as the plebs are bound. Hence, among all nations, once the laws had been put into the vulgar tongue, the science of laws passed from the control of the nobles…

Hitherto, among all nations, the nobles had kept the laws in a secret language as a sacred thing, for it will be found that everywhere the nobles were also priests. That is the natural reason for the secrecy of the laws among the Roman patricians until popular liberty arose. Now these are the same three languages that the Egyptians claimed had been spoken before in their world, corresponding exactly both in number and in sequence to the three ages that had run their course before them. (1) The hieroglyphic or sacred or secret language, by means of mute acts. This is suited to the uses of religion, which it is more important to attend to than to talk about. (2) The symbolic, by means of similitudes, such as we have just seen the heroic language to have been. (3) The epistolary or vulgar, which served the common uses of life.

One major implication of Vico’s work, that would prove enormously fecund for anthropologists as well as historians, is the recognition that reality is never fully encompassed by the social divisions and allotments intrinsic to a specific type of social reproduction. The imagination and institutions, ideas and experience are so closely bound up with each other, that we need to be conscious of the very different “social imaginaries” of different “life-worlds,” as they would later be called. This is also commensurate with us taking seriously ideas of a pre-philosophical ordering of reality rather than dismissing what does not conform to our more philosophical deliberations as mere delusions or superstitions.

With the New Science, Vico was seeking to become to the social and historical world what Aristotle had been to Logic and Newton to Physics: the discoverer of a great continent of learning, which once entered, forever changes how one sees things. We should also note that while Vico speaks of the will (and thus, as Berlin notes, continues in the Renaissance spirit so eloquently expressed by Pico della Mirandola in On the Dignity of Man), the metaphysic is not one of the subsequent idea-ist and voluntarist offshoots of the “will” which promises to set us free from the burdens specific to an age if we allow it flight (as, say, we find with Deleuze’s de-territorial-ization).

Indeed, the ever-conspicuous metaphysical presence of providence in the New Science militates against this. For its regular invocation in the New Science is in large part to demonstrate a profound truth that voluntarism misses: viz, that what we are doing individually and what we are actually doing collectively, or what we will to achieve, and what we actually leave behind of ourselves are not congruent: “…for out of the passions of men each bent on his private advantage, for the sake of which they would live like wild beasts in the wilderness, it has made the civil orders by which they may live in human society.” In so far as good comes out of our willing this is due to powers beyond our ken, and hence beyond our willing, which Vico identifies as Providence. At the same time, Vico does make the famous claim, repeated by Marx to his own voluntarist end:

…this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind. And history cannot be more certain than when he who creates the things also describes them. Thus, our Science proceeds exactly as does geometry, which, while it constructs out of its elements or contemplates the world of quantity, itself creates it; but with a reality greater in proportion to that of the orders having to do with human affairs, in which there are neither points, lines, surfaces, nor figures. And this very fact is an argument, a reader, that these proofs are of a kind divine, and should give thee a divine pleasure; since in God knowledge and creation are one and the same thing.

To be sure many of Vico’s philological readings have since then proved unsustainable. In part this also rested on his mistake that because man makes his world, this world might be easier to know than the natural one–for if anything is evident today, it is that in so far as we are all enmeshed in stories, it is no less difficult to move outside of our story-telling situation to really listen to story that comes from another set of appeals, contingencies and ways of seeing and making reality, than it is to be inducted into the natural sciences.

The latter requires intellectual ability, but the former requires a willingness (that far too few are willing to make) of self-dissolution, of getting out of one’s way and own “identity” so that one can open up to another way of being in and viewing the world. Nevertheless, what still rings true is that ‘the inexhaustible source of all the errors about the beginnings of humanity that have been adopted by entire nations and by all the scholars’ is that “whenever men can form no idea of distant and unknown things, they judge them by what is familiar and at hand.”

For when the former [i.e., ‘entire nations’] began to take notice of them [i.e. the beginnings of humanity] and the latter [the scholars] to investigate them, it was on the basis of their own enlightened, cultivated and magnificent times that they judged the origins of humanity, which must nevertheless by the nature of things have been small, crude and quite obscure.

In the main, and prior to David Hume and Thomas Reid, the mechanistic philosophers believed it their job to rescue “experience” from “common sense,” but what Vico has noticed is how human experiences of times long since passed have been taken as confirming or conforming to more contemporaneous philosophical concerns and manners of thinking, something he sees as particularly conspicuous and damaging in the natural law philosophies of Grotius and Pufendorf. That is, philosophers all too frequently reflect upon other times and ages and find there aught but diminished versions of their own philosophical ideas staring back at them. Vico had also understood the challenges that await the “civilized mind” in exploring the poetic sensitivity, unencumbered by the vast array of accumulated experience that develops with numeracy and literature, the division of labour and urban life. Thus, he urged that the philological philosopher needs to “listen” to the “language” which had helped form the social experience of an age and hence was intrinsic to the understanding and “reasons” of its makers, and which is not to be confused with the “reasons” of philosophers:

…the nature of our civilized minds is so detached from the senses, even in the vulgar, by abstractions corresponding to all the abstract terms our languages abound in, and so refined by the art of writing, and as it were spiritualized by the use of numbers, because even the vulgar know how to count and reckon, that it is naturally beyond our power to form the vast image of this, mistress called “Sympathetic Nature.” Men shape the phrase with their lips but, have nothing in their minds; for what they have in mind is falsehood, which is nothing; and their imagination no longer avails to form a vast false image. It is equally beyond our power to enter into the vast imagination of those first men, whose minds were not in the least abstract, refined, or spiritualized, because they were entirely immersed in the senses, buffeted by the passions, buried in the body. That is why we said above [338] that we can scarcely understand, still less imagine, how those first men thought who founded gentile humanity.

In spite of the magnitude of the task, the worlds of different ages are not completely incommensurable for our understanding, rather we need to expand our ideas and understanding in such a way that we can enter into an appreciation of the making of another age. Above all that means philosophy must take a completely different direction than that required by Descartes and the new metaphysics more generally. Although his reputation would grow long after his death, Vico opened up the importance of method for understanding certain kinds of processes and identifying the patterns that may be discernible within them. Indeed, more generally, one of the great achievements of philosophy is to sensitize us to patterns, and hence orders heretofore unnoticed; the temptation, though to be avoided, is to focus so much upon the pattern that one ignores the great array of discordances, the processes of unravelling and turbulence, the “white noise” and “fuzzy logic” that produces a new pattern completely outside our ken and range of anticipations and expectations. But thinking itself, and not just philosophy, works with patterns, as well as with unique persons, events, memories and actions.

Vico had drawn attention to the fact that different ages with their different institutions were built upon different social imaginaries, and he required that our understanding of the “history of ideas” find access to the very different underpinnings of how ideas were made in different ages. Moreover, he also recognized how these patterns would repeat themselves. This was in recognition of the cyclical nature of societies and peoples–the “gentiles”–whose ideational and institutional formations were not based on the attempt to break the cycles of nature, and the “tyranny” of those cycles. Thus, although Vico also invokes the providence of the divine mind, he only occasionally deploys biblical examples.

Scholars have been divided over whether Vico’s cyclical account of the ages which was limited to the gentile nations was a contrivance for avoiding persecution. But there is a strong argument (developed by Franz Rosenzweig in the Star of Redemption without any reference to Vico) that the covenant at the basis of Jewish existence was a unique decision of a unique people with a unique God, whose revelations occurred through time and whose promise was of a time and world to come.

It is true that one can find in Plato’s Laws the germ cell of the idea of providential gods (“being good with all goodness, possess such care of the whole as is most proper to themselves”), and this is later picked up and developed by Plotinus and Proclus. And although Vico’s conception of God as divine mind is more Greek philosophical than biblical, the fully developed idea of providence–as it is in Judaism and subsequently Christianity–goes hand in hand with the revelation in ‘Song of Songs’ (again Rosenzweig draws this point out) that “love is as strong as death.” Daniel will prophesy that the kingdom of gold will give way to inferior kingdoms until finally the earthly kingdom is no more than iron mixed with clay, but “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” In the Middle Ages this prophecy underpinned the notion of the church as the translatio imperii, the church as God’s eternal representation on earth, a testament to the defiance of the birth and extinction of human empires.

Irrespective of Vico’s faith, when we turn to Johann Georg Hamann we find, as Berlin rightly saw, a somewhat kindred spirit to Vico in so far as the importance ascribed to language and the imagination serves as a means to waken us to our sociality and historicity. But whereas Vico has tied his project to the “history of ideas” by opening up philosophy to philology, something Hamann is also doing, Hamann poses a far greater challenge in his restoration of the figurative imagination. And whereas Vico retreated to the distant past to show philosophy its shortcomings, Hamann simply had to point to the world around him as it was still being made by people driven by their biblical faith and their figurative imaginations.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured images shows, “Der Einzug des Königs Rudolf von Habsburg in Basel 1273 (The Entry of King Rudolf of Habsburg into Basel 1273),” painted by Franz Pforr, ca. 1809-1810.

Philosophical Anthropology. Part 2: Johann Georg Hamann, On The Idolatry Of Faith In Reason

There is a great irony in Hume’s fate in so far as the very probablism which he used against religious faith was taken up in Germany by Friedrich Jacobi and Johann Georg Hamann, not only to provide an argument for the inescapable role of faith in life, but also, especially in Hamann’s case, for mounting an argument about the value of the Christian life. So impressed was Hamann by Hume that he translated his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion into German.

The religious Hamann had no delusions about where Hume stood on matters of religion—and in this respect, Hume was on the side of the enlightened, i.e., the enemy who were substituting their metaphysically derived ideas, which is to say, their bloodless version of life, for life itself. Nevertheless, as he would confide to Herder: “Hume [over against Kant] is always my man because he at least honored the principium of faith and took it up in his system.” And to J. Lindner he picks up on Hume’s statement in the Enquiry that because the Christian religion “was at first attended with miracles… even at this day [it] cannot be believed by any reasonable person,” commenting: “Hume may have said this with a scornful or wistful attitude, nevertheless it is orthodoxy and a witness to the truth in the mouth of an enemy and persecutor of the same—all his doubts are proof of his proposition.”

The sceptical Hume, for Hamann, therefore veers into the doubtful territory of faith. Had Hume been a little less prejudiced when roaming around in that territory, he would have had to concede that in it are to be found men and women, like Hamann, every bit as capable of using their reason, and yet also sceptical of reason’s overreach, whose faith, nevertheless, leads them to live the lives they do. In this respect, W.M. Alexander (whose book Johann Georg Hamann: Philosophy and Faith is, in my opinion, the best book, among some seriously good books, on Hamann) observes “Hamann’s problem” is,

the philosophy of his age and how his own thought as a Christian relates to it. How does the Christian exist (and more specifically—in his “authorship”—how does he think authentically as a Christian) in genuine contact with the world. Hamann was one of the first Christian thinkers to recognize that he lived—as did the early Church Fathers -in a non-Christian world—the Church was no longer communicating to “Jews” but to “Greeks.”

The essentially Christian character of Hamann’s thinking stands in striking contrast to what remained an essentially metaphysical position advanced by his friend Jacobi, who had become very famous in Germany with his Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza in Letters to Herr Moses Mendelssohn. Jacobi had detected the Spinozian (deterministic) influence upon the age, and had countered that faith is an ontological given and a foundation of reason. Furthermore, it was not just, as Kant had argued, a rational element within the moral sphere of life. While an ally of Jacobi with respect to emphasising the inescapable condition of faith in the larger scheme of reason, Hamann was also critical of the latter’s metaphysical philosophizing. Thus, Hamann would pointedly say to Jacobi of his David Hume on Faith: “In the absence of your book I can say nothing further, dear Jonathan [Jacobi!], except to speak of the relation of both of the objects of your authorship to mine: ‘Idealism’ and ‘Realism’ versus Christianity and Lutheranism. Both of the former are, in my eyes, ideal; the latter real.”

While Jacobi, then, wished to ‘demonstrate’ where faith stood in the greater schema of reason and, indeed, philosophy itself, Hamann’s faith was not the result of any philosophical question, but the result of a personal crisis. As a talented young man with prospects, he had been assigned to represent a Riga merchant on diplomatic business. That had proven to be a dead end and after squandering his and the firm’s money on drinking and carousing, and trying to make ends meet as a lutenist, he entered into what was probably a sexual friendship with another young man, whom he subsequently discovered to have received money for sexual favours by a wealthy patron.

Appalled, broke, and solitary he started reading the Bible, and like so many Jews and Christians he came to the realization that it was no ordinary book—but a book that expressed the immediacy of his circumstance and experience, and God’s responsiveness to humanity’s despair and cry. The truths that the book contained, then, were inseparable from the needs and longings and willingness of the reader to respond in kind to God’s love and majesty, which he saw depicted everywhere throughout this book which was part historical chronicle, part testimony, part instruction, part description, and so much else beside. But also, and most importantly, the record of an encounter between the one true loving God and His people, which opened up the believing heart to also encounter the living God, and take up a new life based upon that encounter.

In other words, what Hamann grasped was the fact of faith, and the fact of his faith being tied in with a tradition of experiences and stories and history, and an encounter of exactly the sort that he had experienced. This is obviously a million miles away from what Jacobi was doing, let alone what Kant did when he tackled the problems of God and the soul, and came to the conclusion they were the product of reason’s own dialectical transcendence of our cognitive conditions, a transcendence which is really an illusion, in so far as the conditions only have validity as truth conditions about the things of our world when they apply to the world. This is what Kant called appearances because the things of our world must appear in space and time in order to be experienced. Kant and Hamann had for some time at least been on friendly terms, and Hamann even helped find a publisher for the Critique of Pure Reason (a work, as we see below, he thought completely wrong-headed). For his part, Kant thought Hamann was a Schwärmer, a rapid “enthusiast,” which is, to say, what the British call “a nutter.”

Generally, Hamann’s philosophical contemporaries saw the bible as either a superstitious attempt to make sense of their experiences or a mythic rendering of moral laws—a position which one can only hold until one reads the Bible. Kant read it like this and had to morally reproach Abraham. For Hamann this was missing the whole point, as was the kind of discussion around faith that had involved Jacobi, Kant, and later Hegel: Hamann did not just believe something he read, he experienced his faith completely changing his life. The book made him a different man. Thus, it was not merely a cerebral matter, but a matter of soul, and thus to treat the Bible along the usual lines of scholarly or philosophical interrogation is really to miss what is most essential about it: it would be like saying one had been swimming but one just had not gone into any water.

Note also, that while the enlightened philosophers would question the reality of the object of faith—God—they would treat God as if He were an object, or, as in Kant, once it is conceded that God is not an object like a natural object, as a “mere idea of reason.” Hamann, as with so many of the faithful, does not see God as an object (or idea of reason) at all; God is no more an idea than He is a thing. But, if we are to stay with philosophical language, God is, nevertheless, a condition of reality, not a “logical condition,” but a creator of whom we can only make sense through encounter and engagement. From Hamann’s Lutheran perspective, when we speak of or about God rather than to Him, at least if we are not disposing ourselves as a vehicle of the Holy Spirit, we are already losing sight of Him. This is also why, for Hamann, “if they are fools who in their hearts deny the existence of God, it strikes me as yet more foolish to want to prove him first.”

To repeat, Hamann has invoked God in a completely different manner from the philosophers—for the purpose of the philosophers’ inquiries, God cannot be divorced from the subjects forming their narrative (the philosophers). For philosophers, what Hamann has done by insisting on taking seriously what the book actually does as opposed to what it merely says is to open-up the floodgates that threaten reason (and philosophy) itself. This, as far as Hamann is concerned, not his problem, but their problem, and it stems from their wanting to only look so far at what is going on in our lives and in world. That is, they want to deny God to be as God: what they know is what is—the entire philosophical attempt from Descartes to Kant to lay down what constitutes experience (the laws of nature) is, from Hamann’s point of view, a confirmation of this.

Hamann overturns what he sees as the self-delusion that motivates the enlightenment project—and his thinking returns us to the pre-philosophical disposition. Ancient people did not come to their gods through their powers of reason—because reason, imagination, and world were all intertwined. Thus, too they knew that their gods existed because they were implicated in a world of mutual dependency: sacrifices are as necessary for the gods as for the gods’ responsive beneficence. One might venture that this is as true of the Jews as of every ancient people, as evident in Yahweh’s jealousy and commandment against false gods.

This kind of anthropological understanding renders the kind of clear-cut distinctions of philosophical ideation irrelevant. The kind of truth that this hermeneutical community is engaging with is the truth of their very own existence, which would have no existence apart from the very parables, commands, bonds, and common orientation that is both the content of their faith as well as its condition. Hamann’s faith is, then, indeed the kind of faith to be found in what Hume had called “common-life,” but “common life” as a whole is no longer understood in the abstract as something that can be analytically dissected into the enlightened and superstitious parts; it forms a unity, which is not to say that things people do is beyond criticism—but the pitch of the criticism is always going to come from some human place, and not some ideational “heaven” that can be found by talking and thinking a certain way.

In this respect, Hamann thinks philosophers are victims of their own superstitions. For Hamann, truths that are abstractly constructed, that have not developed within time, literally have no life. Likewise, metaphysical “truths” are at best conjectures, and typically spurious. Only what has life can be true. As Alexander rightly says: “Truth,” for Hamann, “is not primarily and most authentically an idea or text of written words but a concrete historical life.” Likewise, “truth is not an academic possession: it unfolds only in the transition of a lifetime… ‘Truths are metals which develop under the earth.’”

The notion that truth is something that is revealed over time—“by their fruits you shall know them”—requires taking our temporality and historicity seriously. This, in turn, requires conceding that we do not engage with eternal “ideas,” for such an engagement is purely beyond our ken. We and our ideas grow, and hence reveal themselves for what they are in and through and over time—our climbing high to espy the “all” is sand-castle-in-the-air stuff that brings us crashing down to earth. From this perspective, the Platonic cast of mind shares with the metaphysics of modernity a view of the cosmos in which the eternal order of mathematics takes a particular pride of place, but for all that way of thinking can achieve by way of construction and contrivance with merely material “substances,” when it comes to what we hold important in our lives, what we believe in, then, at best, it may be an ancillary, but at worst, it is an elimination of who and what we are. The elective affinity between mathematical and metaphysical thinking is an affinity that draws us away from what we sense and feel, and want.

What we find in Hamann and ultimately makes his legacy so powerful and fecund, is the combination of a resolutely anti-metaphysical disposition with a great sensitivity for the kinds of problems (if not the answers) that are genuinely philosophical. Moreover, because, for Hamann, “All of our knowing is piece-work and all human rational foundations consist either in faith in the truth and doubt of the untruth, or faith in the untruth and doubt of the truth,” we cannot simply divide the world into what conforms to faith and what conforms to reason, as if this kind of bifurcation somehow conforms to some kind of objective disjunction.

Hamann’s antipathy to bifurcation makes him an important influence upon figures such as Herder, Hegel and Schelling for whom dualism was always the source of a more fundamental philosophical problem than a genuine solution. Moreover, for Hamann: “faith is no work of reason, and therefore is subject to no attack by the same, because faith as little happens through reasons as taste and sight.”

The question of the relationship between faith and knowledge and/or reason, and the nature of the relationship between the two would become a key one of the age. Kant would argue that freedom was a matter of rational faith, and that the reason behind identifying the limits of knowledge was primarily to enable that faith so that our sense of moral duty would preside over what merely is by nature. Hegel saw the problem as a symptom of the divided nature of the modern self, which sought knowledge, but could not bear to reconcile itself with the conditions of its own actual achievements of freedom, seeking solace in a beyond accessible to faith, but ultimately a mere empty “should,” ever out of reach and unrealizable.

Hegel’s brilliant critique of the antithesis between faith and knowledge/reason in Faith and Knowledge and tirelessly repeated throughout his corpus makes perfect sense when directed at Kant, Jacobi, Fichte, Schleiermacher, and even Schelling (in so far as he commences with the Absolute’s being and (un-, or dark) ground). For they are indeed operating with conceptual dualisms within a system, and hence too each was seeking some ground or rationally defensible starting point for what was always a metaphysics. But it does not touch Hamann. For Hamann has no interest in providing a rational basis for faith; he has no system. Christianity is not a philosophical system, even if theologians may wish to bring rationality to it for coherence.

The unity of a life is more akin to the kind of unity a body of faith displays (with members in division) than a philosophical system which, from the outset, requires conceptual or ideational consistency. Hamann commences with the fact of his faith and then clarifies how it shapes his life, and the lives of others who live in their faith communities. This is an anthropological move that differs from the neo-Hegelian anthropology of Feuerbach and the young Marx, insofar as the neo-Hegelian appeal to community, freedom, equality is always to an ideational end that motivates the anthropological aspect of their thinking. Hamann, however, emphasises the common anthropological condition, and then compares different bodies with their different faiths (most specifically philosophers and Christians like him).

Just as Hamann’s discussion of faith and reason is distinctly un-metaphysical, his observations about reason is not itself dependent upon an adequate logic of demonstration: reasons come after the fact. As he would write to Kant: “I must almost laugh over the choice of a philosopher for the purpose of bringing about in me a change of mind. I look upon the best demonstration as a reasonable girl does a love-letter.”

While, then, Hamann’s insight about faith and common life is far closer in spirit to anthropology than philosophy, it nevertheless has implications for philosophy, implications which would “rein in” its rationalist tendencies. This is well brought out in a letter to J.G. Lindner, where Hamann would paraphrase (or slightly misquote) Hume and critically compare the enlightened faith in reason with Jewish faith in the Law, and both with Paul:

“The final fruit of all philosophy is the noting of human ignorance and weakness.” This same function, which is related to our powers of understanding and knowledge, shows us how ignorant we are just as the moral shows us how evil and shallow is our virtue. This cornerstone at the same time is a millstone which shatters to pieces all his sophistries. Our reason therefore is just that which Paul calls the Law—and the Law of the Reason is holy, just and good. But is it given to us to make us wise? Just as little as the Law was given to the Jews to justify them, but to convince us of the opposite: how unreasonable is our reason, and that our errors are to be increased by it, just as sin increased by the Law. If everywhere Paul speaks of the Law one puts “reason” (this “law” of our century and the watchword of our clever heads and scribes), Paul will speak to our contemporaries.

For Hamann, when it comes to the kind of knowledge we most need, he wrote to Jacobi: “Sense and history are the foundations and ground—be the former ever so deceptive and the latter ever so simple, I still prefer them to all castles in the air.” Our circumstance is such that what we can think is always either revealed, fragmented, or abstracted: “A reason which acknowledges itself as a daughter of the senses and the material, behold! this is our religion.”

To make thought something more real than the senses is itself to commence a train of abstraction that can all too swiftly leave our language and traditions which have been the means by which collective sense is formed. It is philosophy that, according to Hamann makes “castles in the air.” Or as he put it in another letter to Jacobi—philosophy carries on with “empty shadow-boxing with ideas and speculations against data and facts, with theoretical deceptions against historical truths, with plausible probabilities against witnesses and documents.”

Although all the most reputable Hamann scholars recognize that dismissing Hamann as an “irrationalist” is nonsense, if by that we mean that he does not think reason has any role to play in a life. Beiser puts the matter succinctly when he points out that “The stumbling block of all irrationalist interpretations of Hamann is therefore nothing less than the central thesis” of Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia: that faith is neither rational nor irrational since reason cannot either prove or disprove it.

What Hamann does is something that no serious philosopher should, or even can, simply dismiss: he identifies reason’s limits as deriving from its dependency upon existence itself, community, history and language. He is not arguing that we should deny what we know or what can be known—but reason is an activity or operation taking place within our lives (a point taken up by Kierkegaard and existentialism more generally): to hypostazise it is to beguile ourselves into thinking that we really know all we would need about what is going on in life, and that we are not surrounded by genuine mysteries, which in Hamann’s case are given meaning through his faith in God and revelation.

For Hamann, one of the more persistent errors of philosophy is to treat reason as “real being,” which it is not, rather than as an activity which we undertake. As he wrote to Jacobi:

People speak of reason as if it were a real being, and the dear God as if the same were nothing but a concept. Spinoza speaks of an Object causa sui and Kant of a Subject causa sui. Until this misunderstanding is removed, it will be impossible to understand one another. When one knows what reason is, all discrepancy with revelation ceases.

Conversely while philosophers may ceaselessly dispute about what reason is, people of faith harken to their God and build their world around that harkening. To be sure once matters of faith becomes theological problems, the same problem occurs; but, if viewed with a more ancient eye, the issue of theological dispute can also turn around the matter of “which God?” is appealing to us and demanding our response—the God that creates, reveals and redeems, or a supra-human (diabolical) power that may be merely devouring us?

In this respect, Hamann’s position can be buttressed by an insight that plays a pivotal role in the work of Rosenstock-Huessy, a genuine progeny of Hamann. For Rosenstock-Huessy saw the problem of his age was not just that people did not believe in God, but they did not have any clue about the gods; only once one concedes the reality of gods—a reality that is witnessed in behaviours, for the gods are not under our command—is one in a position to understand God. For originally the gods are recognized and named, and their communal importance assigned so that they can be followed, summoned, supplicated to, and obeyed (or disobeyed). I will take up this point below.

For Hamann the discrepancy between reason and revelation ceases because revelation deals in contingencies, not metaphysics, which deals in the Absolute. The nature of the Absolute would become the centre of philosophical gravity for post-Kantian idealisms, but Hamann already recognized the problem of this philosophical move before it even takes place when he writes to Jacobi: “Being, faith, reason are merely relations which are not to be dealt with as absolutes; they are not things, but pure academic concepts, signs for the understanding, not things to be admired, but means of helping to awaken and fix our attention.”

If one thinks that the truth of life’s meaning is disclosed through reason itself, then Hamann’s position is absurd. Though it is precisely this question of what reason is and what it can really do that runs through Hamann’s critique of metaphysical thinking. While it is commonplace for philosophers to present people of faith as ignorant, or superstitious dupes as opposed, for example, to Dennett’s “brights,” Hamann’s contrast between the God of “rational salvation” and the “God of historical revelation’ is the contrast between ahistorical abstract thinking taking its cues of truth from “nature” and an historical hermeneutical community taking its orientation from a tradition and its symbols grounded in mystery, creation, miraculous contingencies, covenant, prophesy, love, hope and faith in salvation. The enlightened philosophers can only construe all this through a process of “denuding,” so that what is left is mere “nature;” or rather those features of nature, which accommodate the framing required by the experimental and mathematical conditions that render it a totality of laws.

Spinoza’s breaking down of the emotions into natural drives, which then, along with other natural circumstances, are invoked to make sense of the Bible, exemplifies the process. It is, though, the substitution of a history based upon the understanding as opposed to the history of the imagination, the substitution of what exclusively conforms to law for what is frequently parable, and the substitution of one community’s orientation—the philosophers’ community—for the communities of the Jewish and Christian peoples.

For Hamann the failure to grasp that historical nature is not mere nature, but one in which symbols, imagination, and the gamut of semiotic triggers bind and form communities is a mere prejudice of enlightenment philosophers, and illustrates a major difference between the depth of knowledge about the nature of people and life within the religious tradition that the enlightened are simply blind to because of their own prejudice. Thus, of Lessing’s Education of the Human Race, he writes in a letter to Herder:

A week ago, I took up the Education of the Human Race for the second time… Basically the old leaven of our fashionable philosophy: prejudice against Judaism [i.e. anti-historical]—ignorance of the true spirit of the Reformation [i.e. knowing only philosophical self-salvation].

Another major reason why Hamann is considered an early existentialist is because he revels in the absurd—in a manner that suggests a deep affinity with the British author Laurence Sterne—and he turns the tables on those who would take the absurdity of existence as if it were somehow capable of receiving a rational explanation. And he does this in all manner of ways, from the (seriously) playful nature of his authorship, to his position on language as a miracle, to his critique of the enlightenment as a form of idolatry. The great irony of the power of Hamann’s thought is that it plays the “fool” against reason’s majesty and might, only to expose the threadbare nature of that majesty. Philosophy engages in a substitution racket and takes unreal things as real things—and then it criticizes things we know through the very lives we live, because they do not conform to the unreal schema we have created.

Of course, Nietzsche will make this same point—but the real assessment of any comparison between Nietzsche and Hamann revolves around what one thinks of their respective faiths in the superman or Christian life, and it must be said, Nietzsche’s and Hamann’s radically different views over what the Christian life entails. Hamann would undoubtedly find in Nietzsche’s (and Heidegger’s) reading of Christianity an ahistorical fantasy. Both Nietzsche and Hamann, nevertheless, concur about Platonism being an “enemy” of life, and Hamann’s admiration for Socrates does not extend to the legacy of his greatest pupil, which he sees as an being inimical to Christianity: “Platonism is not the friend but the enemy of Christianity.”

Bearing the above in mind, then, it is true that Hamann was opposed to placing faith in the abstract “reason” of imagined “forms.” And he wrote to Jacobi that “the entire Kantian construction appears to me to rest upon the idle trust that certainty comes ex vi formae [by the power of forms].” Which is to say, he saw Kant’s entire undertaking of the transcendental delimiting of the legitimacy boundaries of our experience in the Critique of Pure Reason as completely wrong-headed.

For the mind to try and understand itself through self-reflection and the study of the “mind” is akin to someone thinking that fish are produced by a fishing rod, (the same analogy is also apposite for understanding why Hamann objects to naturalist attempts to understand language of the sort that he thought his close friend Herder had foolishly undertaken). Why the mind is more knowable than language and experience is itself, though, due to a mistaken faith. And this faith in the mind’s power to oversee itself, is, for Hamann, a blind and blinding faith that suffocates and smothers “life” with its own limited understanding and glaring light. As he would write to Herder: enlightened reason is the reason of “sadduaic freethinkers;” and their “reason is untruth, a superstition.” “Sound reason” exists in their “imagination.” Thus Alexander perceptively observes:

Hamann can sum up his authorship as an “exposure [Entkleidung] and transfiguration” of those who attempt “a violent unclothing [Entkleidung] of real objects down to naked concepts and bare intellectual entities, pure phantoms, and phenomena.”

And,

Hamann’s purpose is to challenge “the despotism of Apollo” [“God of wisdom” i.e., philosophy] which “fetters truth and freedom in demonstrative proofs, principles and conclusions” (II, 272). These things only distort truth, which is not enshrined in any consistent combination of ideas. Truth is the life which became flesh and the Spirit which “justifies and makes alive” (III, 227). God gives life to us in a unity which does not come before us dissected into intellectual abstractions. In His revelation of Himself He concentrates Himself in the unity of one human person. Not only in his thought, but in his style as well, Hamann tries to reflect this concentration and this unity. His style is its own symbolic attack on that way of thinking which “prefers the conceivability of a thing to its truth.
Truths, principles; systems I am not up to. Rather scraps, fragments, crotchets, thoughts.

I might also add here that the similarities between Hamann’s and Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics and their eschewal of “naked” truth cannot be overestimated—but Nietzsche, unlike Hamann, hails a new metaphysics of will to power because he wants philosophers to be the value creators of the future. For Hamann, the idea that one can philosophically will a culture would be just one further symptom of the derangement of enlightenment faith.

In so far as Hamann is correct to recognize that the “Greek” (i.e., philosophical) mind, with its various “ideas,” names, and way of going about its business had culturally triumphed over the “Jewish” and early Christian spirit, Hamann had no choice than to “speak Greek.” Although he mixed it up with babble and strange tongues to both engage and confuse minds dealing with clarity and distinctness in a world full of lives which rarely offers either. That is, to truly take on what he saw as becoming the dominant faith of the new age on whose cusp he lived, any criticisms which might be heard by the younger generation had to be, at least partially, philosophically shaped. Yet the purpose of his speaking philosophically was to draw philosophy into another, more hermeneutical rather than “rationalist” or metaphysical “camp.”

Moreover, it was not that he thought all philosophical thinking was useless, a point made obvious in his Socratic Memorabilia that shows his serious respect for philosophy which was genuinely inquisitive, yet sufficiently humble to accept reason’s aporias, rather than engage in elaborate rationalisation and abstraction which swiftly becomes an idol of one’s own making. To his friend Lindner he wrote:

An ancient king of Israel believed in an old witch who saw gods mount up out of the earth. Since then, our philosophers have tightly closed their eyes in order not to have to read any distractions to the detriment of nature, and have folded their hands in their laps to pamper their beautiful skin; and it has rained castles-in-the-air and philosophical systems from heaven. Whoever would work his land or build houses, dig up or conceal treasures, must dig in the womb of the earth, which is the mother of us all.

Alexander cleverly observes three major ways in which philosophy appears in Hamann:

Hamann uses the term philosophy in at least three different senses which taken together, point to Hamann’s distinctive conception of philosophy and faith.

1. Philosophy understood as against faith, or as another faith. Often “philosophy” in Hamann means “false philosophy.” Philosophy here is “idolatry.” If he thought of “Rome” and “papacy” as cryptic symbols for the new philosophical “despotism” of the Enlightenment, then perhaps he also spoke of this philosophy as anti-Christ …

2. Philosophy understood as before faith, or better, before Christ. Philosophy here is “ignorance.” This is philosophy which is not yet Christian, but is not anti-Christian or incompatible with faith. Its symbol is Socrates.

3. Philosophy understood as in Christ, or as thinking “from faith to faith.” Philosophy here is “love of the LOGOS.” Much of what he calls “philosophy” in this sense would in modern usage be called theology. An example is in his letter to the Princess Galitzin, December 1787: “Herein [in Jesus Christ] consists the Alpha and Omega of my entire philosophy. More I know not, and do not wish to know.”

What is most original is that Hamann had, at the time of the Enlightened philosophy’s greatest self-assurance, opened up the meaning of philosophy in such a way that we may legitimately inquire after the religion of a philosophy, and not blithely accept the enlightened reading of religion as the outer shell of a philosophy, which could be understood by the “natural reason” of the philosopher, and thus turned against those world and self-making aspects of religion which could be relegated to mere “superstition.” With this insight Hamann had thrown out a philosophical challenge to philosophers from Spinoza through to Hume and Voltaire et. al.

But while Hamann’s madcap style and provocations would ensure acclaim amongst philosophical and literary luminaries, such as, Herder, Goethe, Schelling, Hegel (up to a point), and Jean Paul, his erstwhile friend Kant would fail to recognize anything of genuine philosophical importance in Hamann. And he would write his Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, as if he were oblivious to the significance of his former friend’s challenge, and provide one further enlightened rationalisation for religion being morals for people who could not take their medicine straight, as rational ideas, but who needed the hoopla of ritual to ingest it. But, for Hamann, it was actually morality itself as an object of reason, and (again) the philosopher’s substantiation of a thought process into a “faculty” that was genuinely phantasmic and idolatrous. As he would write to Herder after reading Kant’s Metaphysical Elements of Ethics:

Instead of Pure Reason the talk here is of another phantom of the brain and idol: the Good Will. That Kant is one of our shrewdest heads, even his enemies must admit, but unfortunately this shrewdness is his own evil demon, just as is the case with Lessing; for a new scholasticism and a new papacy are represented by both of these Midas ears of our glorious age.

Just as Hamann saw philosophy in anthropological terms, his hermeneutical apologetics of Christian faith is such that it exposes any such enlightened reductions as vacuous precisely by illustrating how faith orientates, and hence how different faiths orientate differently. Thus, even if one does not share another’s faith, one at least will be able to see how faith incarnates a life and a life-world. This would be an insight that would be of decisive importance for Herder.

Of the various orientations and emphases that lay behind Hamann’s insight into where faith fits in life, one of the most elemental that has important implications in more standard philosophical theologies is his (Lutheran) overturning of the more traditional theo-philosophical account of the “nature” or character and “directionf of the relationship between humans and God. The Greek movement toward monotheism, which would be so fateful in the neo-Platonic and neo-Aristotelian traditions and that wing of the Christian tradition that had been deeply influenced by those traditions, had all identified the soul’s spiritual journey as a process of transcendence, an upward movement of the soul to a God who Himself is characterized by his “transcendence.”

In response to this Hamann makes the obvious point (though one that is rarely expressed within philosophically shaped theologies) about the Jewish and Christian God that “is the basis of all his [i.e., the philosopher’s] attacks” on “natural; theology” and “natural religion”, viz., that, within the biblical narratives, it is not God’s transcendence that is the all-important issue for understanding the human predicament in relationship to God, but God’s “condescension.”

When theologians and philosophers refer to God’s transcendence, a term that evolves out of the Greek philosophical mind rather than biblical tradition, and when they refer to transcendence, without focusing upon the greater mystery of condescension, for Hamann, they not only misconstrue God, but they foster an exaggerated and idolatrous faith in the power of the world. For transcendence, as Alexander sums up Hamann’s position, is “world-oriented,” but the “symbol of ‘condescension’ is God-orientated.” That is the theo-philosophical emphasis upon God’s transcendence means that He is conceived, in the first instance, in relationship to the world, which appears familiar to us. Alexander also uses the example of baroque art to brilliant effect to illustrate what Hamann’s sees as what is at stake when we focus upon the relationship between God and humans as one of transcendence, rather than “condescendence:”

A glance at the art ruling Hamann’s age instantly reveals the source of Hamann’s instinctive objection: its world is one in which reason’s confidence in its position, its powers and its cosmos are self-secure. The world is more real than God. Everything Hamann protests against is here: it is a world in which reason demonstrates its dominance over every nook and cranny of reality. Ornamentation and artistic ramification testify to its self-confidence. No area is beyond its all-shaping power. When God in His “transcendence” is represented, it is “transcendence” (as in Sebastiano Conca’s “David Dancing Before the Ark”) over an otherwise “solid” earth. There is no question here as to what reality is utterly prior—it is man’s world and the human reason which has shaped it—and no amount of “height” in the painting can improve God’s “status.” Divine infinity has disappeared and only a domesticated variety remains.

Alexander adds that commencing with the “world-orientated” theology turns “all symbols into irrational assertions, and theology has simply asseverated that we must be content with this irrationality.”

By starting from the familiar, as natural theology does, to the unfamiliar, we have immediately reversed what Hamann sees as the far more profound insight of revelation; for what we do in the world with biblical faith is commence with something mysterious that is disclosed through parables, stories, commands etc. Moreover, for Hamann, the whole point of the Bible is revealed through how it speaks to its faithful, and the living power it reveals to those who are prepared to build their lives and world through faith in that power. Thus, for Hamann: “Every biblical story is a prophecy which is fulfilled through all centuries and in the soul of every man” (1,315). But also, “Every book is a Bible to me and every occupation a prayer”’ And “All the miracles of the holy scriptures happen in our souls” (I, 78). In other words, Hamann sees the universe as one that is pregnant with meaning. Of course, so does the schizophrenic, but the “gamble” of faith (to draw upon Pascal) lies, for Hamann, not in the origin—for faith in something is inescapable—it lies in what that faith engenders in a life and in a community.

One of the more remarkable features of the Western world today is that while the academic mind so frequently serves the enlightened ideals of freedom, equality, and justice, it has largely accepted the importance of culture as a primordial and positive force of identity. We shall briefly return to this point in our discussion of Herder, but here I simply wish to underscore that Hamann was living at a time when Western culture was undergoing a seismic shift due to philosophy extending into the various domains of human being, which up until relatively recent times it had little, or at best, as in the church, an ancillary role to play.

He had grasped that the world of Christendom and its culture was being swallowed up into a world bathed in philosophical glare. He was not a romantic wanting to revive medieval Christendom, as say Novalis or Frederick Schlegel, or Franz von Baader would become. And he did not idolize culture itself. But what is interesting is that the kinds of arguments he is raising about peoples and their faith, arguments developed and expanded along somewhat similar lines by Herder in applying them to cultures (though I think Hamann always the more radical, consistent mind), have been accepted not only by the more anthropologically inclined and in the humanities more broadly, but in society’s ideas-brokers at large.

Yet when it comes to the West itself, the victory of the enlightened mind is intrinsic to the general historical amnesia, and often sheer hostility, to Christian symbols and history. Hamann’s importance is that he taps into the experiential dimension that makes sense of Christianity as a personal and collective act, by constantly deploying biblical examples to illumine (genuinely enlighten) everyday as well as more perennial kinds of experience.

To put this slightly differently: today we can all accept that the imagination, history, language, and faith of people matter more than the reasons we impose upon them (which is not to say that we have to accept, as Gellner and others have feared that this leaves us without any means of critical judgments about cultural practice). That is, we think culture matters. Hamann opens up the door to why and how faith matters culturally and personally.

For, while Hamann is “up front” about his Christianity and Lutheran outlook, an outlook he not only did not assume his readers shared, and which many of his readers did not share, Hamann undertakes to be a thorn in the Enlightenment, a kind of Christian Socrates against the enlightened philosophers, who, for Hamann, are the sophists of his own time. They come with their own theological dogma and faith in their reason to deliver salvation, which though is largely hidden to them because they think they serve truth, and that the world will be saved through their works. But their truth is a lifeless idol.

What has taken the place of divine infinity is now reason’s infinity: its infinite capacity is the corollary of its absoluteness—whether as a heuristic (Kant) or substance (Hegel) makes no difference to the essential point Hamann recognizes. What, though, is meant to be the philosophical display of reason’s supreme majesty, is, for Hamann, really indicative of the mayhem of the age, a mayhem in which the every-day truths of every-day life are maimed by abstractness.

The most fundamental act of intellectual maiming, for Hamann, occurs through the philosophical cleavages which purport to deliver rationally pure forms and classifications. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, as the name of his short essay on Kant clarified, was symptomatic of this delusional obsession with purity. As Hamann presents the problem, the increasing ascension of philosophical purity has occurred over time at the expense of the most elemental features of human sociality: tradition, custom, belief, religion, law-making, and ultimately language itself.

The first philosophical purification consisted in the partly misunderstood, partly failed attempt to make reason independent of all tradition and custom and belief in them. The second is even more transcendent and amounts to nothing less than independence from all experience and its everyday induction. After a search of two thousand years for who knows what beyond experience, reason not only suddenly despairs of the progressive course of its predecessors, but also defiantly promises impatient contemporaries’ delivery and this in a short time, promises also, of that general and infallible philosopher’s stone indispensable to Catholicism and despotism. Religion will submit its sanctity to it right away, and law-giving its majesty, especially at the final close of a critical century when empiricism on both sides struck blind, makes its own nakedness daily more suspect and ridiculous.
The third, highest, and as it were empirical purism, is therefore concerned with language, the only, first, and last organon and criterion of reason, with no other credentials but tradition and usage.

Yet again, we see a Nietzschean trope—“be true to the earth”—already deployed by Hamann against the destructive incursions of metaphysics into the most elemental features of social life.

Such talk as reason’s grounding or basis alludes to its capacity for building a tower or ladder to better understand the ways of God, the term which still worked for the deists, and, with German idealism, would become equivalent to or more often subsumed under the term the Absolute, before the Absolute would, with Fichte and the neo-Hegelians, and Nietzsche, become the imposition of the human will. For Hamann this overweening ambition and self-idolization—addressed in the story of the tower of Babel—could lead to nothing but disaster.

With great prescience he would see that the disaster would be driven by morality—which was just a veneer for the self-belief that people have in being able to dictate to God’s creation—i.e., life—how it should be: In a letter to Hartknoch he speaks of “our moralistic century” and in another to Jacobi he writes of the “moralistic” enlightened free thinkers as “apostles of lies.” And to Johann Steudel, he refers to “the moralistic generation of vipers among the Pharisees.” This is but one more example of Hamann’s turning of the tables on the men who believed that their own light would save the world—for it is usually Christians who are presented (and indeed often guilty of) grim and earnest moralizing.

For Hamann, “morality, bourgeois righteousness, industrious community service and charities” fueled the problem of evil—and he countered with the simple faith that “Christ is the door.” I think the following sentence will also resonate with those who cannot stand the virtue signaling that has become so widespread and which emanates from people who want for nothing, and who live off the ill-gotten (for they themselves keep saying how ill-gotten everything in the West is) gains of their forefathers, but seek ever more adulation for being who they pretend to be: “A strict moralism appears to me more vile and stale than the most capricious ridicule and scorn. To turn the good inward, and to show the evil outwardly—to appear worse than one actually is, to be better than one appears: this I hold for one’s duty and way of life.”

While Hamann is not strictly a political philosopher, he could see that what the enlightened philosophers were spreading was a suffocating web of tyrannical moralising. Thus, Alexander writes: “The ‘philosophical century,’ a proud epithet to the illuminati of the eighteenth century, Hamann uses as a term of opprobrium. He speaks of the ‘Babylonian philosophy’ which stands under the Confusion of Babel. It is the new “despotism,” a ‘metaphysical, moralizing’ Catholicism, ‘which has its seat in the very place [Berlin] where such an outcry is raised over the papacy.’”

More important than the nausea he felt at the philosophical sycophancy directed at Frederick the Great, and Frederick’s own taste for vain-glory was his prophetic sense of the hellish future emerging from the idolatry of reason’s light. In 1762 when the following passage first appeared it may have seemed the ravings of a lunatic, but in 1794 it was nothing if not prescient:

Nature works through the senses and the passions. But those who maim these instruments, how can they feel? Are crippled sinews fit for movement?—Your lying, murderous philosophy has cleared nature out of the way, and why do you demand that we are to imitate her?—So that you can renew the pleasure by becoming murderers of the pupils of nature, too—Yes, you delicate critics of art!, you go on asking what is truth, and make for the door, because you cannot wait for an answer to this question—Your hands are always washed, whether you are about to eat bread, or whether you have just pronounced a death-sentence.

Such prophecy, for Hamann, stands in the closest relationship to what it was he saw as the real meaning of Enlightenment: a power grab by abstract moralizers who want to become the guides and guardians of their new world. In his Letter to Christian Jacob Krauss he responds to Kant’s essay, “What is Enlightenment?” with its “Sapere aude!” and Kant’s claim that enlightenment is the emergence of people from their “self-incurred tutelage.”

Hamann immediately “smells a rat;” for who is it who espies those in need of emancipation, and what is their role in the process, and what benefits accrue to them in terms of office, profession, prestige and such like? I quote at length because it is such a powerful indictment of the Enlightenment, which comes armed with its own mythology, and which has been used to judge all other mythologies but its own, which it seals with the sanction of a reason that is naught but its own conjuring:

Who is the other lay-about or guide that the author has in mind but has not the heart to utter? Answer: the tiresome guardian who must be implicitly understood as the correlate of those who are immature. This is the man of death. The self-incurred guardianship and not immaturity-
Why does the chiliast deal so fastidiously with this lad Absalom? Because he reckons himself to the class of guardians and wishes thereby to attain a high reputation before immature readers. The immaturity is thus self-incurred only insofar as it surrenders to the guidance of a blind or invisible (as that Pomeranian catechism pupil bellowed at his country pastor) guardian and leader. This is the true man of death-
So wherein lies the inability or fault of the falsely accused immature one? In his own laziness and cowardice? No, it lies in the blindness of his guardian, who purports to be able to see, and for that very reason must bear the whole responsibility for the fault.
With what kind of conscience can a reasoner [Raisonneur] & speculator by the stove and in a nightcap accuse the immature one! of cowardice, when their blind guardian has a large, well-disciplined army to guarantee his infallibility and orthodoxy? How can one mock the laziness of such immature persons, when their enlightened and self-thinking guardian-as the emancipated gaper at the whole spectacle declares him to be—sees them not even as machines but as mere shadows of his grandeur, of which he need have no fear at all, since they are his ministering spirits and the only ones in whose existence he believes?
So doesn’t it all come to the same thing? Believe, march, pay, if the d[evil] is not to take you. Is it not sottise des trois parts? And which is the greatest and most difficult? An army of priests [Pfaffen] or of thugs, hench-men, and purse snatchers? According to the strange, unexpected pattern in human affairs in which on the whole nearly everything is paradoxical, believing seems harder for me than moving mountains, doing tactical exercises-and the financial exploitation of immature persons, donec reddant novissimum quadrantem [till they have paid the last penny].

In this sense, then, the understanding and use of reason is itself corrupted, and philosophers who would have reason devour way more than it can chew, and in their devouring prepare the world for a new kind of hellish tyranny, concealed under the birth lights of rational progress.

In depicting Hamann’s critique of the Enlightenment, let us take up again the earlier point about the gods and the life-worlds of pre-philosophical peoples so that we can bring into sharp relief the world of faith in reason’s ideas and faith in gods. For Hamann is not for a second claiming that we should deny what we know to be true. But (again Nietzsche makes the same point but in a more palatable way to a readership hankering to display its creative genius in world-making), he contrasts one world, which divinizes its ideas without conceding that it does this, with another, which rests on faith about a God it obeys and whose way are miraculous and hence never completely rational or comprehensible.

And he finds no compelling reason whatever—precisely because he takes experience and history as the touchstones of reasons about human matters—for rationalized principles to be taken as completely truthful of anything about us or our world. Whereas Kant had thought he had demonstrated, in defense of human dignity, that the very form of our reason is the clue to how we generate a moral content so that we are not (at least in thought) beholden to the limits of our nature and world, Hamann sees nothing but lunacy in such an aspiration.

Again, the comparison with Nietzsche is apposite: Nietzsche had stressed that behind reasons of value we would find nothing, at least nothing other than a will to power. But for him that meant he and the higher men should see nihilism as an opportune condition so that they could then create a higher culture and breed supermen who would give meaning to the earth.

Hamann would have been caught between nausea and laughter had he read Nietzsche: nausea at the sickening nature of the arrogance and all the deluded blather about great men, and heroes that was so typical of 19th century romantics fearful that the world in the making was as Nietzsche had put it, one fit for nothing more than “hopping fleas;” laughter at the kind of people who sit around and fancy in all seriousness and pomposity that they can provide the conditions for human greatness. He would, though, I think we can safely say, have loved Chesterton’s depiction of the superman as the feathered creature living in Croydon who was so sensitive that a breeze could kill him.

Hamann perhaps speaks more forcefully to us today than to his contemporaries. For we have witnessed what forces the attempt to replace gods with reasons and political actions of the sort pushed for by Nietzsche and Marx have unleashed. And we can also see that the less eschatological rights-driven attempt to replace this world with a morally absolute one, while having success in the West, is not at all embraced in cultures, where traditional values and figurative speech and imagination still are very much alive.

The only God that reason ever overthrew was the God of reason, but that God was itself a philosophical/metaphysical creation. Yet it was the case that as the faith in abstract ideas grew, as people have become more caught up in and satiated by material success, as, to use Weber’s terms, instrumental reason contributed to the disenchantment of the world, Western people have cared less for a “language” and for rituals in which the “gods” were called upon.

But the world’s mysteries do not stop because we are less conscious of them. The pre-moderns, which is to say a great number who inhabit the globe today, had accepted and still accept that the world is full of mysterious powers and thus told stories about their gods. And their gods were the living powers which “overpowered,” or “ruled” over them, and hence the powers to which they supplicated themselves.

Again, let me turn to Hamann’s greatest and most original “pupil” of the twentieth century Rosenstock-Huessy, a thinker who like Hamann challenged the security of the modern mind by his persistent recourse to ancient symbols and “names” to enable it to see with different, and more attuned eyes what was happening in the pre-modern world and to the selves it was shaping, in order to better see what moderns were oblivious to in their own destructive doing. The echoes of Hamann loudly resound in the following passage addressing the perennial and existential nature of human supplication and “divine” invocation by Rosenstock-Huessy:

Manifold are the powers which raise their voices in man. Anything may become his “god”, anything his ‘world.” Atheists, for example, may bring the “concept of God” before their tribunal in the name of their own God, matter. In other words, their God is matter, and their doubts and questions are aimed at a dead thing, the definition of theology. But this heckling of theological concepts has little to do with the name of the living God. A God is present in the materialist’s question as in any other. God is not a concept. He is always a person, and he bears a name. The name in which we are asked to ask others.
For instance, when I ask a sportsman: “How may a good sport do such and such a thing?” I invoke the power of sport. The sportsman in question shall not justify himself for my personal satisfaction. He is summoned to satisfy “Sportsmanship” and Her imperative. I am evading the disagreeable situation of somebody setting himself up as in authority, but putting the Sport on the higher level and myself remaining on the same human level with the other fellow. Yet there can be no doubt that I am relying on the existence of two levels, one of human democracy, the other of ruling powers….
The power who puts questions into our mouths and makes us answer them is our God. The power which makes the atheist fight for atheism is his God. Of course, God is not a school examiner. Man never gives his real answer in words; he gives himself…The gods whom we answer by devoting our lives to their worship and service ask for obedience, not for lip-confession. Art, science, sex, greed, socialism, speed—these gods of our age devour the lives of their worshippers completely.

That the gods preceded man, and that, historically, polytheism precedes monotheism are both indications of how the ancients sought to make sense of their worlds and their selves. Monotheism was, inter alia, a cry for the concordance of these powers to cohere and life and death to be under the dominion of a higher justice and goodness than evident in our mortal experience. This cry for concordance is partly addressed in Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythologies, where the gods belonged to a common “household,” so that these living powers and mysterious surprising forces, for all their discord, share the same “dwelling.” The polytheistic residues are evident, as Rosenstock-Huessy also observes, in the plural Elohim expressing, for the Jews, “the divine powers of creation.”

The modern rebuilding of everything from scratch, the mind’s year zero of Descartes et. al. is at once a reversal of how life has been experienced, and figuratively represented by pre-philosophical people, as well as an occlusion of our fragility and dependency. The initial anti-historical bent of Descartes was quickly replaced by a combination of models and axiomatic philosophical mythical history, so conspicuous, in the social contract theorists, that were indicative of the new myth-making of those relying upon their “natural reason,” and who would interpret history as not only a repository of myth, but as a template for their own projections which were meant to grasp what was really happening in order better to fix it with their philosophies. That is, they preferred their stories to those who had made the past, and reconfigured them in such a way that the earlier stories would fit the templates and models of those who “understood” more and came later, and whose energies were devoted to making a new kind of future.

But if we rely upon our understanding to provide “meaning” of the past we are inevitably drawn back into the mythic. That generation upon generation of historians will revise previous findings of the past as they get closer to the “truth” is invariably the result of the new quest and questioning being posed to the “facts” of the past. But the new quest with its own certitudes—such as the certitude of knowing what is involved in the creation of a less oppressive or more just society (in spite of philosophers ceaselessly disputing the principles and assessments as much as historians dispute the roles and “weights” of different causes and meanings of events)—is itself but the identification and valorisation of ideas of orientation and value that reflect faith in the new god.

Historical knowledge ostensibly provides a firm foundation alongside reason, but its mythic dimension is the inevitable result of us not simply deriving meaning from events, much less interpreting an event as just a collection of itemised or catalogued facts, but us drawing upon events to support the meaning of the world we inhabit. Thus, Hamann surmises against Viscount Bolingbroke: “Perhaps the whole of history is more mythology than this philosopher thinks, and like nature a sealed book, a cloaked witness, a riddle which cannot be solved unless we plough with some other ox than our reason.” And, “The field of history has always seemed to me to be like that wide field that was full of bones, and behold, they were very dry. Only a prophet can prophesy of these bones that veins and flesh will grow on them and skin cover them.”

The reference here to prophecy stands in the closest relationship to another invaluable insight of Hamann, viz., that as we are ever poised between past and future, and as future is making us as much as past is forming us, we are as much implicated in the quality of our prophetic capacities as in our observational ones. Neither our prophetic nor observational capacities are substances. But they are all part of a more general sensorium which informs our understanding, even though we understand very little of how we understand, let alone prophesy, or mediate between past and future.

Our knowledge is indeed in part, and our prophesying in part; united, however, it is a triple cord that is not quickly broken. If one falls, the other will lift up his fellow; if the two lie together, then they have heat. What would all knowledge of the present be without a divine remembrance of the past, and without an even more fortunate intimation of the future, as Socrates owed to his daemon? What would the spirit of observation be without the spirit of prophecy and its guiding threads of the past and future? It rains its gifts on the rebellious also, that the Lord might nonetheless be and dwell among them incognito without their knowledge and will.

And,

Despite the authority of the intellectual universe into presence and absence, I do not pretend that these predicates are anything more than subjective conditions by which no actual duplication of the objects themselves is substantiated, but rather merely a relationship of the diverse views and sides of one and the same thing to the measure of the inward man which corresponds to them, to his negative, variable, finite power which is incapable of any omnipresence because this is the exclusive property of a positive immeasurability.

Likewise, the spirits of observation and of prophecy are expressions of a single positive power which cannot be divorced by their nature but only in thoughts and for the use of thoughts; they in fact mutually presuppose themselves, refer to each other, and have effects in common. Hence when I compared the present with an indivisible point, the duplication of its power and its close connection with the past, as effect, and with the future, as cause, are not at all cancelled.

The enlightened philosophers had indeed put themselves in the role of prophets through their intimation that knowledge in accordance with the philosophical strictures they placed upon it would yield a more benign future. But knowledge is a vast, indeed boundless field, when it comes to trying to identify precisely what will come of what we do. The enlightened philosophers were only as good as the lights by which they operated, and those lights were (to rephrase Pascal) as much of the heart as of the head, the question that Hamann keeps throwing at these philosophers and their philosophers is simply: how much do you really know about the human heart and the human circumstance? Is it really better than the vast compendium of observation across ages, types of people and circumstances, the concatenation of contingencies gathered within the Bible?

Of course, this earlier “knowledge” is not method-dependent, and hence “unenlightened,” but are Spinoza and Descartes, Rousseau and Kant et. al. really more insightful about who and what we are than the biblical authors, or artists such as Homer or Shakespeare? Some do concede they are. But there is no compelling grounds to concede this. Further those who use philosophy to prove the superiority of the philosophical approach to value and existential meaning are only compelling to those who already share their faith in philosophy’s power.

As we saw with the founding of the new metaphysics, it initially takes off by studying nature and reason as such, before moving into ethics, politics, aesthetics etc. But Hume had raised the issue whether the science itself really needed the metaphysics (even though he still drew upon it). For his part Hamann, like Pascal, had the good sense to know that the study of natural science (a subject which he seems to have taken little interest in) was completely irrelevant to the kinds of claims he was making.

On the other hand, he made the critical observation of the Cartesian and post-Cartesian view of nature that is at once the kind of pre-philosophical observation any person sensitive to “nature” could make, and also central to the phenomenological critique of reductive naturalism and its metaphysics. The following collection of citations from Hamann all bring out different features of this insight, and give a sense of how important it is to Hamann:

Only a “bloody-lying philosophy” pretends this is all to nature, and thereby sets nature aside
Nature is an equation of an unknown quantity, like a Hebrew letter without vowel-points. It is a book, a letter, a “fable.” It takes more than physics to exegete her).
The great and small Masoretes of philosophy have poured over the text of nature like a flood. Must not all her beauties and riches be reduced to water?
Is nature a matter of “single, natural points to which everything reduces itself? Does everything consist of mathematical lines?”
Nature groans under such tyranny and longs for the day when it will be free of man’s fallen condition.

Just as Plato had moved from the study of the cobbler to reasoning about how we should live, and the nature of the entire cosmos, the new philosophical idea-ism had quickly moved from the study of “nature” and “mind” to all else beside. But such a move requires ignoring the very different (to use Wittgenstein’s formulation) “rules” of different “language games.”

And it is precisely when we take stock of the unavoidable fact that reasoning, whilst not denying ‘blazes’ of insight, or the mute thereness of all manner of contingencies, nor, even, the importance of silence in reflection, is operating in a world made by and smothered in the calls and behests, the promises and decisions, the education within a “problematic” and field of learning with its historical development, and concatenation of support structures, professional opportunities, that is to say in the vast formative, triggering, incubating and commanding powers of language enmeshed in assigned roles and circumstances, the understanding of which circulates socially.

As Hamann would write: “If I were only as eloquent as Demosthenes, I would need to do no more than repeat one phrase three times: reason is language, Λόγος; this marrowbone I gnaw and will gnaw myself to death over it.”

Hamann’s conviction that reason cannot be divorced from language, and that human life is so bound up with language that one cannot “transcend” it to make any sense of actual lives, and “life-worlds” stands in striking contrast to the idea that the mind “uses” language as a tool is an elementary, albeit widely held belief that is found in philosophy. Whether Hamann followed all the conceptual twists and turns of the first Critique and how they related to Aristotle, Leibniz, and Newton is impossible to gauge from his pithy critique of Kant and comments expressed in letters, but he certainly recognized immediately that Kant had treated reason as if language were not intrinsic to reason or even the world. Commencing with a paraphrase of Kant’s question, he observes:

How is the faculty of thought possible? the faculty to think right and left, before and without, with and beyond experience?—then no deduction is needed to demonstrate the genealogical priority of language, and its heraldry, over the seven holy functions of logical propositions and inferences. Not only is the entire faculty of thought founded on language, according to the unrecognized prophecies and slandered miracles of the very commendable Samuel Heinicke, but language is also the centerpoint of reason’s misunderstanding with itself, partly because of the frequent coincidence of the greatest and the smallest concept, its vacuity and its plenitude in ideal propositions, partly because of the infinite [advantage] of rhetorical over inferential figures, and much more of the same.
Sounds and letters are therefore pure forms a priori, in which nothing belonging to the sensation or concept of an object is found; they are the true, aesthetic elements of all human knowledge and reason.

That Kant had privileged mathematical physics over the vast expanse of the world “experience,” thereby creating a hiatus between “morality” and “experience,” each with their own transcendental foundations adding support to metaphysical principles, whilst also making the faculty of (aesthetic and teleological) judgment a mediator between two worlds, is completely in keeping with the Cartesian break with experience as historical. Thus, conceptualisation of experiences in Kant, governed by the understanding in conjunction with its intuited representations, draws upon a mental disposition to reality, which has nothing to do with the actual social processes involved in the demarcation of different spaces of investigation, role reciprocation, and the great amalgam of activities and other dispositions (mental as well as physical and social) where tradition and language reinforce each other. But it is precisely these kinds of convergences that Hamann notices. Thus, in his Essay on an Academic Question, (published under the pseudonym Aristobulus) Hamann writes:

The lineaments of a people’s language will therefore correspond with the orientation of its mode of thinking, which is revealed through the nature, form, laws, and customs of its speech as well as through its external culture and through a spectacle of public actions.

It is through speech that we take notice, that we form not just groups, but communities beholden to publicly declared commitments and associations, thereby leaving the eternal present of mutability or more elemental languages of mere animality, and move between past and future, as generations may “feed off” the discoveries and legacies, as well as errors of the past. “Speak that I may see you!—This wish was fulfilled by creation, which is a speech to creatures through creatures; for day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge.”

But, for Hamann, speech does not thereby elevate us to the all-seeing position of a Zeus, or deist’s philosophical God, which the philosopher would love to reach, and which may free us from error. On the contrary,

To speak is to translate—from an angelic language into a human language, that is, to translate thoughts into words—things into names—images into signs, which can be poetic or curiological, historic or symbolic or hieroglyphic—and philosophical or characteristic. This kind of translation (that is, speech) resembles more than anything else the wrong side of a tapestry:
And shews the Stuff, but not the Workman’s skill, or it can be compared with an eclipse of the sun, which can be looked at in a vessel of water.

Or, as Paul put it, we experience the world as through a glass darkly. And while our senses do indeed convey information to us, it is our galvanization of collective and collaborated experiences that enables us to make sense of our senses. Thinking that reason somehow provides the all-knowing vantage point, makes no sense at all to Hamann, because reason can only work with the materials at its disposal, and apart from sensation it is primarily language. Thus, he writes to Jacobi:

With me it is not so much the question: What is reason? but rather: what is language! And I take this to be the basis of all paralogisms and antinomies which it is customary to lay at the doorstep of the former [the reason]. Thus, it happens that one takes words for concepts, and concepts for things themselves. In words and concepts no existence is possible which applies simply to things and matters of fact.

Language is simultaneously the storehouse, retriever of all past knowledge and past experience, as well as what activates so many of our moods and aspirations for the future—it speaks from and of the inner as well as the outer. We did not make language any more than we made our hands or feet or heads. Yet, at the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, we are making and remaking it all the time, just as it is making and remaking us. It is the source of our reason as much as the source of the abuse of reason, and much else. But it is also miraculously bestowed, rather than willed, and it grows and activates far beyond any limits of intention. It is alive with spirit. The divine word and the Holy Spirit are, for Hamann, both intrinsic to the faith that is deeply experiential and antithetical to a more abstract way of thinking based-on separating our participation in life from life as objectified.

Hamann had seen and amply demonstrated that the seam of biblical speech fitted the very condition that anything real has: potency. And the reality of something is its truth. Plato had conceded that even as he attempted to bifurcate reality into the higher and lower, the idea and that which participates within it. As did Aristotle, who distanced himself from this dualism of Plato, as he tried to conjoin the aspects of what made the real in such a way that it would remain within the province of philosophy. This required designating what was substance and what mere accident so that we could compare and inquire into substances.

But both Plato and Aristotle elevate the mind and definition in tandem with the idea and substance. The proof, though, of a process resides neither in our understanding nor defining—again that is what Hamann knew and appealed to. Of course, there are philosophers in moral philosophy who follow some variant of Kant’s dualism in which the truth of a principle is in its rational grounding—the world and all in it hence must be shrunken in order to conform to an overarching morally rational principle. Which only serves to show exactly what Hamann knew—that a madman is not to be divorced from the contingency he loves by the demonstration of his madness. He or she must be won over by loving another contingency.

Hamann plays the madman because he thinks we are all a little mad, and the maddest are those who believe in their own purity and rational certainty; they have found the perfect means of convincing themselves that the unreal is real. Contingency, though, including the contingency of our feelings, memories, “prejudices,” schooling, allegiances etc. are enmeshed in our convictions and willingness to change our minds.

Hamann grasped that the way the world is spoken of becomes the way the world is: this speaking is through commands and decisions, oaths and affirmations, loyalties and obligation, the creation of masters and protectors and commanders. When the heart goes bad, it may still, indeed, in some cases only then open itself enough to be saved, which is a Jewish and Christian idea; but to believe that the heart might be able to escape sin, that it will not mess-up, is a philosopher’s moral fantasy, that rests upon principles and ideas being substitutes for who we really are, what we do and what we believe, and what tempts us and what saves us.

The Enlightenment with all its hope has been one current in the formation of a modern world that for many is experienced as a hopeless, loveless, isolating, selfish enterprise. Just as language is the clue to our world making, to how we beckon and call, describe, and evoke, draw others into social projects whether to hold a meeting, build a bridge, follow a career, go to war, make a law, buy a product and engage in any number of actions, the poor use of language is also responsible for all manner of errors and seductions. It is not that we think without language, but the language we think with may not be its best usage.

The philosophers of the Enlightenment elevated the mind, but generally either ignored or objectified language as in the study of linguistics. This is because it puts demands upon the world to be represented in sufficient clarity and distinctness that we know what things really are, as opposed to what we merely think and say they are. Mystery dissolves under the glare of enlightenment. And the danger of the idea of enlightenment itself was that it tore us out of the traditional gatherings and collective experiences and the sediments of that gathering in language and promised redemption through abstraction.

To be sure, the radical nature of the search for light had taken on such momentum because of the scale of carnage of the religious wars and Thirty Years War, as well as the new pathways of life that accompanied the Reformation, and the new modalities of social power which required political articulation. While, then, the Enlightenment was itself a reaction to, and symptom of a tradition in crisis, the fact was that Hamann could also see a catastrophe of enormous magnitude incubating in the solution, which is why he sought to temper the philosophical abstractions that were carving out a new future with the more figurative traditional spiritual stock and forces of Christian culture.

Hamann’s friend and admirer Herder would attempt to bring those “forces” of culture back into philosophy. In this respect he more than Hamann continues in the vein of Vico.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “The Cult of Reason being celebrated at the Notre Dame, Paris,” anonymous engraving, 1793.