Iga Swiatek is the best woman tennis player in the world, and she is only 20! After winning a tournament in Stuttgart last month—which in addition to prize-money offers the winner a gleaming Porsche—she has just won another top tournament; this time in Rome. Swiatek and Serena Williams are the only players in history who did this twice in a row. When one watches Swiatek play, it soon becomes clear that there are only two tennis camps: Iga and the rest.
While watching her play against Ons Jabeur, an excellent Tunisian player, an excited commentator on Polish television, said a few times: “our girl,” “she represents Poland well.” Hearing that, I wanted to exclaim, “Hold your horses, Paco! She is Polish, but she does not represent Poland.” Swiatek has not been selected by anyone to play in a national team. She represents herself and herself only, and if your heart is beating faster because next to her name on the television screen there is a Polish flag, it is no more than a form of the player’s country identification, not different from a car license plate driven by Mr. Kowalski.
Here is the thing worth reflecting on. Chess, or sports like tennis, golf, or cricket are individualistic enterprises. They show the individual’s talent, and the player has no need for a crowd waving a national flag, screaming loudly. Tennis is a fierce game, played by two people over whose heads the only sound that hovers is silence. The sound of a bouncing ball or a player’s occasional bellow is the only sound we hear. Precision requires concentration, which requires silence. That is why the spectators must remain silent prior to a serve, and they can’t leave their seats while the game is in progress. Clapping is allowed only when the game stops. Only very seldom, one sees small groups of fans who bring a national flag, trying it make tennis a national spectacle.
Here is another thing: the net separating the players makes a collision and, thus, a foul impossible. No foul, no fair play. Only the rules and the skills. What is most important, since you are one of the two players on the court—you and your adversary—you can’t blame your adversary for your failures. If you lose, it is your fault; and, if you are averse to assuming blame, you must recognize your adversary’s superiority.
The English like to say that football is a sport for gentlemen played by ruffians; rugby is a sport for ruffians played by gentlemen. By way of paraphrase tennis is a sport which requires you to be a gentleman. In moments of anger, you can, of course, smash your racket on the ground (as those non-gentlemen Jimmy Connors and—still worse—John McEnroe notoriously did), but you can’t blame anyone; and the arbiter will likely fine you for un-sporting behavior. All that makes tennis look rather unemotional and suggests that you had best limit your emotions to the very end when instead of cursing or smashing a racket, you throw it up in joy, or you kneel in humility, like Iga Swiatek did when she defeated Ons Jabeur, while the latter accepted the defeat with grace, congratulating the winner.
All that stands in stark contrast to our beloved team sports—such as football (or soccer, to use the American idiom)—which often reflect the worst of us. The behavior of the English football fans in the early 1990s was so bad that FIFA had to fine England and threatened her with not allowing its team to participate in international tournaments. However, there is nothing singular in the English case. When in the 1966 Brazil was eliminated in the World Cup in England, Vicente Feola, the coach of the Brazilian team, discretely exited the stadium disguised as a nanny. Why? Because he was afraid of the Brazilian fans who would blame him for the failure of their national representation, which would be seen as the failure of Brazil as a country and Brazilians as a nation. When Bill Shankly, Liverpool manager, was asked by an interviewer, “Bill, is football a matter of life and death for you?” Shankly responded, “Oh no, it’s much more important than that!”
If you think it is insanity, you are likely to be very wrong. Football is a national religion. Winning is a form of salvation, and losing is seen as perdition.
In collective sports, it is not just the team that plays; it is also the public, the nation, all of whom are seconding their team. The fans identify with the team, and at moments of joy, following a goal, they become one with the team, and the team becomes one with them. Emotions run high and cannot be controlled.
In contrast to tennis, the spectators are not forbidden to talk or even scream. Individualist games require suspension of emotions—golf and snooker are other good examples—while collective games feed on emotions. When the team wins, the nation wins; when the team loses, the nation loses, and the nation is in mourning. Repeated loss of games in tournaments may even be perceived by the nation as its own weakness that results in a sense of humiliation. Hence the irreverent chorus of English football fans: “God save our gracious team!”
World Cup and other international tournaments are wars of nations. “It’s stupid,” you may say. “Birth is a matter of accident; and are we supposed to second our respective teams only because Smith was born in Liverpool, McDonald in Glasgow, and Russo in Rome?” That’s the thing about nationality. It is an irrational form of attachment that comes with your birthplace and your language. Collective sports feed just on national spirit, and they are ersatz for real killing. Be that as it may, it is obviously far better to see the English beat the Scots, the Irish, the French (or vice versa), or the Germans beat the Poles (or vice versa) than actually going to war.
Nationalism is not the only aspect of sports. During the Cold War, the leaders of the Soviet Union and East Germany (the most ideologically extreme country among the Soviet satellites) saw sports as extension of ideological war. In their heads, winning by a team or an individual athlete from a socialist country meant superiority of socialism over capitalism, over the corrupt capitalist West, etc. This was all hogwash; but because no aspect of human existence was free from ideology, one had to believe that winning by a team from a socialist country meant the superiority of “homo socialisticus.” Similar thought perversion can be found in Nazi totalitarianism. The winning of four gold medals by the Black American Jesse Owens during Olympic games in Berlin, in 1936, could make you doubt the idea of Aryan superiority.
Happily, the ideological era in sports is over; or it would seem so. However, the recent movie King Richard—about the Williams family—is loaded with racial undertones. It is the story of Venus Williams and her spectacular rise to fame; her father’s determination to raise two great tennis stars: Venus and Serena. We all know them and there’s no need to remind the reader who they are. The movie—with Will Smith playing Venus’ father—needlessly focuses as much on Venus’ talent as it does on the idea of a black girl playing “white” tennis. I do not know whether those moments in the movie are true or whether the director invented them, but race identification here only spoils the joy of seeing those wonderful girls striving for individual perfection. I doubt whether those who saw Venus and Serena play (or Tiger Woods), thought them black. What they saw was something breathtaking: an individual’s pursuit of excellence.
This is not so in collective sports. What underlies them is a sense of atavistic belonging: local (city clubs fighting other city clubs) or national (national teams fighting other national teams). They are expressions of nationalism, and the fans’ reactions and popularity of football and other collective sports is a barometer of the nation’s sense of identity.
The metaphor of war in sports is not new and cannot be limited to nationalism only. It also touches on a problem of human emotions: fighting others you hate or dislike. It was interestingly explored in the 1974 movie The Longest Yard, with Burt Reynolds, in which prison inmates take on the sadistic guards playing American football. They beat the guards, which compensates for physical and psychological abuse of the inmates by the guards. Apparently, sometimes fictional war can compensate for real life degradation and humiliation.
To be sure, team sports are not gentlemanly encounters, in which you strive for personal (not the nation’s) excellence. They may add glory to your nation. A fan’s sense of pride is borrowed. However, even as a player, you share winning with your playmates. You are part of a group, and only a few strikers, like Pele, Diego Maradona, or Gerhart Muller, will forever be remembered—but not as Brazilian, Argentinian, or German.
The same goes for tennis players. Iga Swiatek may be Polish, Venus and Serena American; but they do not represent Poland or America, or white and black races. National and racial identification is one thing; collectivism is another. Any attempt to make tennis an expression of a race or nation’s spirit is an expression of collectivist thinking and opposite of individuality. What we need today is more tennis and other individualist sports. In addition to their respective virtues, they force you to behave like a gentleman, which is the opposite of a collective’s lack of civility.
[In what follows, the views expressed are those of the author alone. The Postil does not advocate war with Russia, nor any other processes of “regime change.” We are publishing this article to show the consensus among Western conservatives who are against Russia. We are also publishing a refutation of this attitude.]
War is a messy business, and unless our national interest is at stake, we should avoid it as much as possible. But ‘national interest’ can mean many different things. It can mean that our national security is threatened, or that our economic well-being is at stake because the aggressor can put his hands on the natural resources that we need in a distant country. Here, it would seem, the list of what “our” national interest is ends. But does it really?
In America we often hear that we should support Israel “because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” To say this is to say that in “our interest” is to support regimes which adopted similar political ideologies to ours. Accordingly, “our interest” is not always limited to our economic or security concerns but is occasionally propelled by ideological concerns. But ideology is not a shared cultural Weltanschauung. The latter notion explains why we support democratic Israel but are not supportive of democratic Iran.
The problem with shared ideological assumptions is that they are temporary (communist countries support other communist countries; liberal democracies support other liberal democracies; autocrats support other autocrats) whereas a Weltanschauung with religious origins is the heart of civilizations.
When Mr. Trump became president, he made his first trip to Saudi Arabia. On his way back home, he stopped in Israel where he told the leaders of the Jewish State, that he is coming from the Middle East! Well, it was a gaffe, which only a geographical ignoramus can make. However, what was a factual mistake (since both Saudi Arabia and Israel are in the Middle East) turns out to be a cultural truth. Israel is not a ‘normal’ Middle Eastern country; it is part of the West or Europe. If you have any doubts, here is the proof: the Israeli football (i.e., soccer) team plays in the European Football League, and this is not because the Muslims can’t kick the ball.
The question comes down to cultural roots of the West, which is the Christian religion with its Jewish Old Testament roots. The (Islamic) Ottoman Empire may have ruled over Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, but all of them were Christian long before they had been conquered by the Turks. They belong to what we used to call in English Christendom (or the Res publica Christiana in Latin), the term which Winston Churchill still used during World War I in his letters to his wife.
To be sure, Res publica Christiana does not mean that only Christians inhabit the nominally Christian countries. It means that the Christian religion is the foundation of our cultural realm or dominion, our common law and even our morals and the way we behave. This dominion spreads from Rome, Lisbon, London, Warsaw, but also to San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, Mexico City and Buenos Aires, in South America, and Sidney or Melbourne in Australia. In eastern Europe it also includes Tallinn (Latvia), Vilnius (Lithuania), Riga (Estonia), and… Kyiv in Ukraine.
Values are what defines civilization. Whether the Israeli soccer players know about it or not, they are modern-day debtors to the Medieval crusaders who by embarking on the adventure to take the Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels, made the Promised Land part of the European mind. We do not know whether any adviser to Richard the Lion-Heart told him that it was not in the English ‘national interest’ to do go to war in a far away country. If such an argument had been used, the king must have rejected it in the name of common religious Weltanschauung. Centuries later Lord Byron, as many more Europeans, died fighting to free Greece from the Ottoman yoke.
Conservatives have always been uneasy about going to war in the name of planting the seeds of democracy elsewhere or liberating others so that they could adopt our way of life. And they were often right. Countries which do not share the same cultural assumptions are unlikely to be a fertile ground for such enterprise to succeed. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan prove their point.
However, there is a difference between Afghanistan and Iraq, and the conservative bloggers, writers, journalists, and members of Congress who shout that engaging in the Ukraine’s affairs is not in our interest act as if they worked for Putin who does everything to convince the world Ukrainians are not a nation, that the Ukraine always was part of Russia, and those among Ukrainians who think differently (including President Zelensky) are neo-Nazis who must be eliminated. Both Ukraine and Russia were liberated from the yoke of Communism in 1991. However, the freedom they experienced was used differently by them. When Ukraine ceased to be part of the Soviet Union it understood that her place is in Europe. Russia, on the other hand, partly because of her history, partly because of the people who seized power after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was unable to find a new place in the world. Her autocratic and anti-Western tradition took over.
Putin’s anti-American obsession is of a cultural nature. As he said recently, Napoleon and Hitler subjugated Europe but Russia liberated it; America did the same by subjugating Europe using NATO, which is her military arm. In his view, the fight against American hegemony in Europe is at the same time a fight to liberate Europe from American tyranny. This is absurd, but such statements inscribe themselves well in the Russian way of viewing Russia’s destiny and her role in the world as Third Rome, the guardian of tradition
What conservatives need to understand is that their ignorance of which country belongs to Christendom does not change this country’s population’s cultural belonging and helping Ukraine is in the interest if keeping conservative values alive. Few 19th century politicians thought Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania were part of Europe. Like the countries that belonged to the Soviet bloc between 1945 and 1989 (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania), so Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania had been part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, and for this very reason they were not, in the eyes of many, part of the European political Ivy League. They were like students who had played hooky (or truant, as the British say) for over three hundred years of Turkish occupation and who missed the lessons of the Renaissance, 17th century Modernity, the Baroque, and the Enlightenment. Yet, even after centuries, they preserved Europe’s core values while the progressive West lost. All of them are members of European Union and were it not for them, the progressive “Ivy League” countries would not face any opposition in Brussels.
There are many reasons for American Right’s reluctance to support Ukraine. Partly, but only partly, it is the belief that as conservatives we should not impose our values on others or liberate anyone. The other is the Right’s admiration for strong man, which has roots in democracy’s deficit of authority, and consequently inability to uphold cultural values, except those which are created ad hoc. From this perspective, Putin may indeed even appear as the man who stands for something while the West’s defense of LGBTQ rights – which is the prism through which all social and political problems in the Western world are currently organized – is the source of cultural and moral malaise. Hence the Right’s query: should we go to war for the values which undermine the very foundation of our cultural tradition? Supporting the war means, the argument implies, to support the Left.
This is a series of problems that one should not disregard. However, accepting this position is to miss an important point. Putin and Russia do not represent Western Civilization, and if Putin happens to loath what Western conservatives loath too, it is because he is keenly aware that what passes for European values today is a form of poison that can be as corroding for Russia as it is for the West.
This is a scenario well-known from Dostoevsky’s novels: the confrontation between Mother Russia—the fountainhead of all that is good—and the corrupt West. There is a difference, however. Today’s Ivan Karamazov is not an atheist who in his rebellion refuses to accept God who created this world on the tears of a little girl tormented by her parents but a transgendered member of LGBTQ community who rebels against oppressive social structures that limit his sexual expression.
The question which everybody asks is: What, if anything, can be done about Putin and what can we do for Ukraine? In his most recent article “Joe Biden Has Only Days to Avoid Becoming Jimmy Carter” (February 27), Niall Ferguson wrote the following:
To avoid the fate of Carter, I believe Biden needs to go back further in time than 1979 and reflect on how Henry Kissinger handled a not dissimilar geopolitical crisis in October 1973, when a coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, attacked Israel. (If your memory needs refreshing, I recommend Martin Indyk’s excellent new book on the subject.) Recall that Israel, like Ukraine today, was not a NATO member and could expect no support from the UN Security Council, not least because of the Soviet presence as a permanent member of that body.
At the risk of over-simplification, Kissinger’s approach can be summarized as follows. First, he ensured that Israel received U.S. military arms to the extent necessary to avert defeat, but not on such a scale that they could humiliate the Arabs. Second, he seized the diplomatic initiative, ensuring that any peace would be brokered by the US., with the Soviets effectively excluded. Third, Kissinger was himself willing to use a heightened nuclear alert to intimidate Moscow. These are precisely the things the Biden administration is not doing. Although the US has been arming Ukraine, the amounts involved — $60 million in the fall, $200 million in December and now a further $350 million — are not nearly enough to ensure the country survives the Russian onslaught. The amount needs to be at least tripled and the hardware needs to start arriving on Ukrainian soil in U.S. military aircraft, as it arrived in Israel in 1973, tomorrow. If Kyiv falls, the supplies to sustain Ukrainian resistance must continue.
This is a sound proposal, but as any proposal, it needs to be translated into action, and the action can be paralyzed by how we think of Russia and Putin. To stop the Russian onslaught, the Ukrainians need arms and fighter jets to stop the Russians from bombing their cities. The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken put forth a sound proposal: to send to Ukraine Poland’s military Mig-29 jets, which later Poland would replace with American-made military aircraft. The proposal, it seems, is a sound one. However, only a few days later, a new problem arose. Poland did not think it should take responsibility for sending the planes directly to the Ukraine and suggested that they fly from the American military bases in Germany.
Why did Poland do this? So as not to appear (to Russia) as the only country responsible for the supply of the planes that would help the Ukrainians to fight Russian attacks. America, on the other hand, did not think of Poland’s proposal as a viable alternative since it could be seen by Russia as NATO’s involvement, which could have “far reaching consequences.” The problem with both positions is that they are based on the assumption that Putin’s reactions are symmetrical: if we do not do something, Putin will have no justification to respond.
Nothing could be further from truth. Everything that we know about Putin and learned in the last few weeks is that he does what he intended to do: “To make Russia great again” by regaining the territories lost after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Unless he is incapacitated, he will do everything to achieve his goal. If he intended to go to war with NATO, he will do it under another pretext than the supply of the Polish military aircrafts. He is already saying that the US and the West have waged economic war against Russia.
Putin may have said that the collapse of communism was the greatest 20th century’s calamity, but whatever he wants to recreate is not the Soviet Union. Rather, it is Putin’s dream of the old world in which Russia is an empire and he is its ruler. It is important to bear in mind that Putin’s empire is not an ideological state, and when it runs out of ideological fuel it will stop expending. Empires expand by the force of personal ambition of a monarch, an emperor, or a sultan. Individual autocrats step down only when they are forced to. Sending twenty fighter jets to support Ukrainian resistance is unlikely to cause WWIII, but if Russia is bogged down by the war, there is a chance it will cause unrest in Russia and Putin may be forced to step down.
As I stated at the very beginning: war is a messy business, and since this war was provoked by Russia, we have a chance to use it to our advantage. So far the war is not going well for Putin. Lack of military success and the sanctions imposed by the West are likely to have debilitating effects on Russia, its morale and economy. Russia’s failure in the Ukraine is important to America and the West for another reason, namely Taiwan which may soon become an object of China’s aggression. If Russia wins in the Ukraine, there is every reason to believe that China will be encouraged to do the same in Taiwan. If Russia loses, we should hope, it will have a sobering effect on China’s leaders who may come to the realization that attacking Taiwan is to play with fire. After all, no one wants to get burnt.
Few contemporary philosophers have works considered important by non-academics. Their intellectual pursuits, important as they are, have little impact outside academia, let alone are they deemed politically dangerous. Leszek Kolakowski is just such a philosopher. In 2003, he was awarded the first Kluge Prize created by the Library of Congress as the American counterpart to the Nobel Prize for lifelong achievements in the human sciences, a distinction that was both timely and well deserved.
Kolakowski is the author of more than thirty books on topics as varied as Marxism, seventeenth-century thought, philosophy of religion, Bergson, and Pascal. He is also the translator of seventeenth-century philosophical writings and author of several collections of essays, the genre of writing for which he received the European Prize for the Essay. Among the most distinguished American awards that form part of Kolakowski’s collection are the Jefferson Award, the MacArthur Prize, and the Kluge Prize. The list of prestigious European awards is no less impressive: the Erasmus Prize, Prix Européen d’Essai, and Die Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels.
Born in 1927 in Radom, Poland, Kolakowski joined the Polish Communist party after World War II. His youthful fascination with Marxism did not, however, last long. Disillusioned with the primitivism of the official state ideology and the practice of real socialism, Kolakowski began drifting away from communism after the 1956 “October thaw.” Many of his writings from 1956 to 1966, including the influential essay “Karl Marx and the Classical Definition of Truth,” drew the attention of the state authorities and led to his expulsion from the editorship of Studia Filozoficzne.
The Revisionist movement in which Kolakowski became the most original voice made Khrushchev, the first secretary of the Soviet Communist party, insist that communist leaders from the “satellite republics” organize an international trial of the “revisionists”—Kolakowski being the main culprit among them. Luckily for the revisionists, Wladyslaw Gomulka, the communist leader of Poland, did not succumb to Khrushchev’s demand. He did, however, join the ranks of Kolakowski’s critics, attacking him publicly as “the main ideologue of the so-called revisionist movement.” In 1968 Kolakowski delivered a famous speech on the state of Polish culture; after this he found himself out of a job, removed from the editorial boards of a number of publishing houses, and stripped of all his scholarly titles “for forming the views of the youth in a position glaringly contrary to the dominant tendency of the country.” His writings were put on the index of forbidden authors, and none of his publications could be cited or even referred to in Poland during the entire pre-Solidarity period (1968-1980).
The Western Left subscribed to Kolakowski’s revisionist ideas, seeing in them the hope for “socialism with a human face,” of which the political practice in the countries of real socialism was believed to be merely a distortion. However, the October thaw did not last long. Ten years later, it became all too obvious to the revisionists that the promises made by the party leaders in 1956 were empty. Young Polish Marxists woke up from their revisionist dream in 1968 jobless. Several of them – Bronislaw Baczko, Zygmunt Bauman, Wlodzimierz Brus — were expelled from their posts and had to seek employment in the West. Kolakowski became probably the best known of them. He was professor of philosophy at McGill, then Berkeley, and eventually found his permanent post at All Souls College, Oxford (1971), and at the University of Chicago (1981), where he taught until his retirement.
If, as a revisionist Marxist, Kolakowski was dangerous for the communist authorities, after his arrival in the West in 1968 he became troublesome for his leftist admirers. The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas remarked: “Kolakowski is a catastrophe for the Western European Left.” Having little or no knowledge of his personal peregrinations in 1966 and 1968, they were unaware of Kolakowski’s departure from Marxism. Kolakowski laid out his reasons in his famous work, “My Correct Views on Everything” (1973), a rejoinder to the distinguished English historian E.P. Thompson’s hundred-page “An Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski,” published a year earlier in the Socialist Register.
Far from having politically correct views on everything, an intellectual trait displayed by Thompson in his letter, who still in 1972 believed socialism to be a panacea for the ills of capitalism, Kolakowski explained to Thompson that he no longer cherished any hope for socialism. Stalinism, he argued in “Marxist Roots of Stalinism” is not a distortion of Marx’s thought; it is a legitimate offshoot of it. The socialist idea was dead for Kolakowski, and no “socialism with a human face” could be hoped for. Paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kolakowski ended his sarcastic rejoinder by saying: “Alas, poor idea. I knew it, Edward. This skull will never smile again.”
If Habermas perceived Kolakowski’s activities of the early 1970s as a reason to see a coming catastrophe, the publication of Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxismin 1976 must have presented itself as a vision of Doomsday. Main Currents of Marxism is an intellectual “death certificate” of Marxist thought written thirteen years before the actual burial of communism in 1989. In this elegantly written work, Kolakowski traces the roots of Marxism to the tradition of European dialectics that goes back to Neoplatonism. He describes Marxism as twentieth-century man’s greatest fantasy: it promised utopia, a classless society without greed. What it brought about instead was the most oppressive political system ever known, based on total state ownership of all its citizens.
Despite the Left’s fears that Kolakowski’s anti-communism provided ammunition for the Right, Kolakowski never truly became a conservative. His later attitude is probably best expressed in two articles published in his collection of essays, My Correct Views on Everything. In “What Is Left of Socialism,” Kolakowski defines socialism as a set of slogans that “were supposed to justify and glorify communism and the slavery that inevitably goes with it.” However, insofar as socialism was the utopian expression of solidarity with the “underdogs,” it stood for “social justice.”
The notion of social justice has been criticized by economists, such as F. A. Hayek. Kolakowski does not deny the economic validity of such criticism but rejects Hayek’s conclusion that social justice is a useless notion. In his typically contrarian style, Kolakowski writes: “In its vagueness, social justice resembles the concept of human dignity. It is difficult to define what human dignity is. It is not an organ to be discovered in our body, it is not an empirical notion, but without it we would be unable to answer the simple question: what is wrong with slavery?” In “Where Are Children in Liberal Philosophy?” he argues that the consistent notion of the minimum liberal state is in danger of not being able to sustain the liberal state. Perfect neutrality of the state, which liberal ideology requires, is incapable of generating values that could foster public virtues to sustain the res publica. Those virtues must be inculcated, a position inconsistent with the liberal mindset.
The political turmoil in the 1960s helped Kolakowski’s international reputation, first, as a revisionist Marxist philosopher from behind the Iron Curtain, and later as a leading critic of communism. Yet Kolakowski has never been solely a scholar of Marxism. He launched his academic career with a work on Spinoza, The Individual and Infinity: Freedom and the Antinomies of Freedom in the Philosophy of Spinoza (1958), in which he aimed to extract “humanistic content” from the European religious tradition and see the whole of it, minus the Greeks, as hiding the same message under different religious garments.
The book on Spinoza was followed by the publication of a massive study of non-confessional Christianity in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, Religious Consciousness and Confessional Link (1962). The book, translated into French under the telling title, Chrétiens sans église (Christians Without a Church), is concerned with the post-Reformation period in European religiosity and philosophy. Despite its length (824 dense pages in French translation) and heavyweight scholarship, the book has become a classic among French, Dutch, and Italian scholars of seventeenth-century thought.
Kolakowski’s critics were often puzzled by his interest in religion, but the book is more than a work in a neglected field of the history of religious ideas (most of the sources Kolakowski analyzes were available only in Dutch and Latin in their original seventeenth-century editions). Christians Without a Church was perceived as a model for revisionist Marxism like non-confessional Christianity. No single party, just like no single Church, could claim to be in possession of the orthodox creed. Accordingly, one could claim to be a Marxist without supporting the communist state, just as one could claim to be a Christian without belonging to the Church. Not without reason was Kolakowski once described as “Ein Christl ohne Kirche, ein Kommunist ohne Partei” (a Christian without a church, a Marxist without a party).
The young Kolakowski might have believed that revisionist Marxism could save the true Marxist message from its distortions at the hands of the official state apparatchiks and, by analogy, that non-confessional Christianity offered a model of an intellectual position one could assume for the communist state. Yet the validity of the parallel between denominational Christianity and Marxism was false and naive: False, because Stalinism, as Kolakowski himself argues in “Marxist Roots of Stalinism,” was not a distortion of Marxism but a legitimate version of it; and naive because “individual revelations,” be they mystical or “revisionist,” prove perilous to earthly organizations. As Kolakowski’s own example shows, his revisionist ideas became corrosive for the states behind the Iron Curtain. Their influence in the countries of the former Soviet empire, where his writings circulated in countless editions in a samizdat form, cannot be overestimated when calculating the loss of faith in Marxism.
Although Kolakowski devoted his most scholarly writings to Protestant Christianity, and he himself may forever remain a “Christian without a church,” his cultural background and religious sympathies are Roman Catholic. The subject of his book on Pascal, God Owes Us Nothing (1992), is the theological battle between the Jansenists and the Jesuits in the seventeenth-century Catholic Church. He rejoices in the fact that the semi-Pelagian (Jesuit) form of Christianity won against the rigidity of Jansenist theology, not because the Jansenists were wrong but because only the Jesuits could save the Catholic Church from being reduced, as he claims it would inevitably have happened with the Jansenists, to a small sect.
Kolakowski’s writings on religion are much more personal than the writings of most philosophy professors. For this very reason, however, they are also more exciting to read. In Religion: If There Is No God (1980), he takes his reader on a personal trip through most of the “pro and con” arguments for the existence of God to show that the act of faith is a moral, not a logical, commitment and that therefore there are no compelling logical reasons to abandon belief in God in the face of evil. For Kolakowski, who spent his teenage years in German-occupied Poland and who witnessed the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, the existence of evil was no theoretical construct. In following a French theologian, he says, “I can understand people who do not believe in God, but the fact that there are people who do not believe in the devil is beyond my comprehension.” It should therefore not be surprising to see on the list of Kolakowski’s publications titles, such as The Key to Heaven, Conversations with the Devil, “Can the Devil be Saved?” “The Devil and Politics,” or “A Stenographic Report of the Devil’s Metaphysical Press Conference in Warsaw, on the 20th of December, 1963.”
Kolakowski has often been described as the most perceptive critic of totalitarianism. One needs to note, however, that his criticism goes beyond the anatomy of communist totalitarianism. He has also written on totalitarian Nazism (in “Genocide and Ideology” and in “A Short Comment on Heidegger’s Comment on Nietzsche’s Comment on the Power of Negativity”); and on several occasions he has expressed concerns about the dangers of democratic totalitarianism. The Nazi and Marxist forms of totalitarianism may be gone for good, but its watered-down incarnations, such as political correctness, are very much alive. It would be naive to believe that liberal democracy may not become totalitarian.
In his “Where Are Children in Liberal Philosophy,” Kolakowski is very clear that liberal principles may be turned against themselves. “Liberal states display an obsessive tendency to legislate, in minute detail, about every aspect and variety of human relations…. The more laws and regulations are needed… the more and more repressive” the liberal state becomes. This tendency is the result of the weakening of the common culture and the agreement on what common religious, traditional, and historical values should obtain to regulate human behavior.
No one who has experienced the ideological indoctrination that took place under communism can fail to be horrified at the extent to which life in present-day America (intrusion of the state into the private realm, the use of language, the ideologization of education) is reminiscent of life under communism. However, everyone who experienced it must conclude that intellectual devastation at North American universities has far surpassed what we know from history of education under communism. In most respects, the ideological brainwashing has achieved more than the communists could ever hope for.
As Kolakowski put it, “Should the ‘ideologization’ of universities in that spirit prevail, we might find ourselves longing for the good old days of universities ruled by the obligatory Marxist ideology, with its formal rules of historical correctness and truth.” Yet there does not seem to be any democratic “revisionist” movement under way. I do not mean there are no critics of political correctness; they do exist. But insofar as the criticism of communism by former believers was fundamental in bringing it down, there are no signs of it here. No sound of breast-beating can be heard from the former heralds of political correctness, who, even if they realize the extent of the damage they have done, display no signs of remorse.
On a few occasions, with true humility and frankness, Kolakowski does explain his own past commitments. “My strong impression is that in the early postwar years, committed communists… in Poland were intellectually less corrupt but more cynical than was the case in other countries. By ‘cynical’… [I mean] they knew that what the Party wanted to convey to the ‘masses’ was a pure lie, but they accepted and sanctioned it for the sake of the future blessings of the socialist community.” This is an admirable intellectual and moral trait in someone who gave intellectual support to Marxism as a young man. It appears to me that today’s intellectuals and academics lack not only the moral courage but also the intellectual caliber characteristic of the former Marxists. They lack what Leszek Kolakowski could teach them.
Zbigniew Janowski is the author of Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America. He is also editor of two volumes of John Stuart Mill’s writings. This article originally appeared in First Things, October 2006. It is reprinted here with small changes. We want to thank the Editors of First Things for permission to republish it with small changes.
The dead, like old coins, are the currency that are out of circulation. Cemeteries, the places where graves enshrine their bones, are the sack of Hades. By the rules of nature inscribed in biology, the dead are replaced by new generations which, one day, will themselves be replaced by a new series, minted by future generations.
This biological rule was applied to the life of human societies by Edmund Burke who, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, defined society as a contract between the dead, the living and the unborn – “a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures.” By saying that the goal of historical writing is to preserve great human deeds from falling into oblivion, the Greek historian Thucydides gave us another insight – memory is the glue with which the past and future are held together. T.S. Eliot was not far from Burke when he wrote:
Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility Only in a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present. Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened Into the rose-garden. My words echo Thus, in your mind. But to what purpose Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves I do not know. Other echoes Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
To conservatives, the dead are very much alive. Conservatives carry the memory of the dead and their achievements. It is a memory filled with words and ideas of writers, poets, thinkers; with images created by sculptors and painters; and with sounds from composers of music. The words and ideas of the dead are never rendered obsolete or superseded. To the conservative, they resound in the present with the same vitality they had when they were first uttered decades or centuries ago. Homer, Sappho, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Virgil, Dante, and others are as much our contemporaries as they were the contemporaries of those who knew them personally.
Burial sites are a great proof of this; and what they look like is also a reflection of who we were and are. The Pere Lachaise and Montmartre cemeteries in Paris are probably the most famous necropoleis of the Western world. But first and foremost, they are monuments of France’s national history and French greatness. You find there many famous French cultural figures you’ve heard of, or have studied in school. Alfred de Musset, Balzac, Molière, Racine, Abelard and Héloise, several of Napoleon’s marshals, or foreigners, such as Oscar Wilde and Chopin. (On November 1st, lovers of Chopin’s music place a boombox on his grave which plays his compositions.) And, of course, Jim Morrison!
It may sound strange that Italians, who outnumber all Western nations in artistic genius, do not have a cemetery like Pere Lachaise. The reason is of historical – the lack of a central government (which came about only in 19th century with the unification by Garibaldi), and the fact that no single Italian city came to fully dominate others, like Paris did in France – which explains why the bones of famous Italians are scattered all over the country, with several in the Church of Santa Croce and in the cloister in Florence. Dante is in Ravenna. Rafael and the late 17th-century music composer Corelli are in Rome, in the Pantheon with the kings of Italy. Boccaccio is buried in the small Tuscan town of Certaldo. Petrarch lies in the town of Arquà, not far from Padua. Verdi is in Milan; and Garibaldi on the island of Caprera. The dictator Mussolini is in the small town of Predappio, where he was born. Finally, even though the tomb of Julius Caesar does not exist, contemporary Romans lay flowers by his statue in Rome.
Germany, too, consisted of principalities, and the fate of the German dead is like that of the Italians. One would look in vain for a cemetery in Berlin for famous Germans. However, if you are a student of philosophy, you can place a lit candle on the grave of Hegel and his wife, which is right next to Fichte and his wife. Literature students can do the same on Bertolt Brecht’s grave.
There are also special cemeteries for kings, such as, the St. Denis Abbey near Paris, or Wawel cathedral in Krakow. Other nations have similar places. And, of course, the Vatican, where the Popes rest. Yet politics (the existence or non-existence of central government and the dominance of one city over the rest) is not the only factor that has had influence on what, where, and how the dead rest. Walking through cemeteries, we realize how different they are.
The characteristic thing about most American cemeteries is that they look like grass fields with vertical tombstones, between which the maintenance man drives a lawnmower, making it look “good.” Such design goes beyond what we might suspect is a matter of American efficiency that makes maintenance of cemeteries easier. Just like in all aspects of visual arts, there is a significant difference between the Catholic and Protestant mentalities and their respective sense of aesthetics. While simple tombstones reflect Protestant austerity, Neo-Gothic or Classical Greco-Roman styled temples are characteristic of Catholic cemeteries – though Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans (a former French colony), Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, and a few others, mainly in LA and San Francisco, speak the language of Catholic aesthetics in Protestant America.
Here is another detail which one should not bypass. Walking through the cities and towns of Protestant countries, especially in the US, we notice small cemeteries near churches, close to the main streets, something you hardly ever see in Europe, unless you happen to be in the UK. The reason is simple – these churches are or used to be denominational – Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran, Adventist, etc. – and no single cemetery was supposed to belonged to the whole population united by the same confession. The exception to this rule in Catholic countries was the split between the Christian and the Jews who had their own burial places, which since the beginning of the 19th century were situated outside the city limits. As the cities grew and expanded, today they are within the city proper, but still form separate enclaves.
Over a decade ago, my daughter and I flew from Baltimore to Krakow where I was born. We stayed with my friends who happened to live near a cemetery. Each day we would walk through it. What was unusual for us — visitors from the New World — was that there were lots of flowers. It was May and I could not think of any holiday. “Daddy,” my daughter, who was in seventh grade at the time, said, “your people love the dead.”
“My people” sounded strange, but she was right. We visited several cemeteries in Baltimore as part of her art history education, looking at designs on tombstones, but we did not see any flowers or candles. “My people” love the dead, but it is not just a Polish predilection; and visiting loved ones who passed away is very much alive in other Catholic countries as well. All Saints’ Day is exceptional and most festive. According to historians, the first celebrations of All Saints’ Day took place in the fourth century, around the Feast of the Lemures on May 13th. November 1st, the day we celebrate now, goes back to the seventh century, when Pope Gregory III founded a repository for the relics of all the apostles, martyrs, and saints.
All Saints’ Day is not merely a celebration of the memory of great men and saints. First and foremost, it is a day when we face the dead members of our own families. As we stand by the grave, we experience their painful absence in our lives. The quiet that fills our minds, as we stand there, is their voice that reminds us that we are mortal; that we too, one day, will rest there. We can only hope that we will not be entirely forgotten by our own family; and that at least once a year, someone will visit us to light a candle and lay a chrysanthemum (the flower associated with this day) in memory of us.
Those of us who happen to live in the New World, optimistic and future-oriented, are often oblivious to what cemeteries remind us of – death and the connection to the past. Most cemeteries in big American cities and towns look like they have been deserted for decades. The tombstones stand higgledy-piggledy like scarecrows; the epitaphs badly eroded. It is real-estate, whose inhabitants have no identify. Not many people have visited them for a long time; and over time they have deteriorated. The reason for this is, partly, the mobility of American society; probably unprecedented in world history. In Europe, it is still the case that you die in the same place where you were born; and if you happen to live in a different city, you are close enough to travel to see the family graves.
There is another reason, however. All Saints’ Day, November 1st, like a name day, is part of the Catholic calendar, and because 365 days could not include all the names of the saints, one needed to establish one day to honor them. The practice originated in the Middle Ages, to commemorate the martyrs; and each saint falls on one day of the year. If your name happens to be Patrick, your name day is March 17th. The lavishly celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the US is one of those Catholic imports to Protestant America. However, as the Reformation did away with the cult of the saints, the name day and All Saints’ Day ceased to be celebrated in most Protestant countries as well.
Now that religious differences between Protestant denominations on the one hand and Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox on the other are, at best, a matter of the past, and being Jewish or Christian matters less than ever before, it is not religious zeal that makes cemeteries look different. It is our perception of life and death. In his essay “Modernity on Endless Trial,” Leszek Kolakowski put his finger on the problem in a way characteristic of his style of thinking:
“The taboo regarding respect for the bodies of the dead seems to be a candidate for extinction, and although the technique of transplanting organs has saved many lives and will doubtlessly save many more, I find it difficult not to feel sympathy for people who anticipate with horror a world in which dead bodies will be no more than a store of parts for the living or raw material for various industrial purposes; perhaps respect for the dead and for the living –and for life itself – are inseparable. Various traditional human bonds which make communal life possible, and without which our existence would be regarded only by greed and fear, are not likely to survive without a taboo system, and it is perhaps better to believe in the validity of even apparently silly taboos than to let them vanish.”
An organized mafia of medical oligarchs trading human organs is not difficult to imagine; and we should not exclude the possibility that as the world becomes more and more rational, some will get sacrificed for others. Two films, Coma (1979) with Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, and Extreme Measures (1997), with Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman, explore this issue. The desire to prolong life, even at the expense of the living who have parts necessary for the survival of others, is a way of abolishing life. In such a world, I no longer see you as you, but as a walking store of parts necessary for my own survival.
But there is another scenario, perhaps even more morbid. Why not to give the poor the opportunity to improve their living conditions for a certain number of years, provided they sell their parts in advance. Such a scenario does not involve coercion or the abduction of people, as the two above-mentioned movies suggest, let alone the existence of a medical mafia. All that is needed is a voluntary act on the part of the seller. The argument that says that it is better to live a shorter life than a longer one in poverty is perfectly rational, and thus would have to be considered perfectly legal. Pacta sunt servanda – it would be difficult to question the validity of such a decision. It could even be called “the Faustus clause,” or “the Faustus New Deal,” with a modern-day Mephistopheles. In such a world, cemeteries will no longer be what they were – a place where we venerate the dead or ponder our place in society and the world – but a vast area filled with incomplete human remains.
All scenarios are possible; but something else should worry us too. The dead can become an object of attacks by those who are alive. Recent cases of desecration of Jewish graves in the US, France and Germany show the irrationality of hatred. The “woke” ideology’s onslaught on the Dead White European Males which led wild crowds to tear down monuments of famous people can make them to go after the graves of the famous dead. History knows many cases of grave desecration, and we should not exclude that something like that can happen. It most likely will.
In the mid-1980s, the middle-aged English philosopher, editor of The Salisbury Review, wrote a column in the London Times, in which he noticed that the Austrian throne is empty and pointed to Otto von Habsburg who could fill the void. To some readers, even if they happened to be British subjects, his idea, I suspect, must have appeared facetious. However, Roger Scruton, the author of the column, who was knighted by Prince Charles in 2016, was a serious man. What others thought could be a joke, to Sir Roger was a serious matter. He spent his life defending and giving fresh meaning to what the progressives consider outrageous only because it is old or appears obsolete.
To be sure, the defense of monarchy in an environment in which democracy is thought of as divine, sounds like a sign of madness. Yet nowadays when democracy is performing very poorly and almost every week provides more and more evidence that discredits it, perhaps it is time to rethink our uncritical attitude to it.
On October 9, this year, the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, announced that he would resign, after prosecutors began an investigation into allegations that he used public money to pay off pollsters and journalists for favorable coverage. Eight days earlier, on October 1st, the premier of Australia’s New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, “stepped down over a probe into her secret relationship with a lawmaker who is being investigated for corruption.” And on September 30th, former French President, Nikolas Sarkozy, was sentenced to one year for illegal campaign financing. All three scandals happened within less than two weeks.
This is not all. Remember the arch-popular Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva? In July 2017, he was convicted on corruption charges to 10 years in prison. In 2016, the world learned about the so-called “Panama papers.” It was discovered that over one hundred world leaders had offshore accounts to evade paying taxes.
Among them was Oxford-educated “philosopher king,” Abdullah II, of Jordan, who purchased three Malibu properties with the help of offshore companies for $68 million, in the years after the Arab Spring, when his subjects protested against corruption. But kings are kings and have always been in the habit of ripping-off their subjects – something which partisans of the popular government promised democracy would put an end to. Apparently, one does not have to be a king; enough to be a democratic head of state to do what corrupt kings do. The Panama papers include two British Prime ministers – Tony Blair and David Cameron – the Premier of the Czech Republic, several people associated with the Clinton Foundation, and many more.
The USA – the bedrock of democracy – is not a place to look for honest politicians, either. In fact, the US is infested with dishonest politicians, many of whom rot in prison, put there by their electors. In Baltimore, where I resided for almost 15 years, all three mayors during my residence there had to step down on corruption charges. In 2014, Bob McDonnell, the governor of the neighboring state of Virginia, and his wife, Maureen, were indicted on federal corruption charges; so was the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich (who was sentenced to 14 years in prison), as well as three other governors of the same State.
If you still believe that democracy is a solution to the problem of corrupt government, you’d better read Plato’s Republic or Gorgias, or buy a lantern and, like Diogenes in Athens who tried to find an honest man, look for an honest civil servant who puts the good of those who elected him before self-interest. Many of those who believe democracy to be the best confuse commitment to democracy with commitment to simple human honesty and decency. Unfortunately, when it comes to honesty, democracy does not score higher than other regimes and is likely to continue being the source of frustration to those who put their faith in the people.
The list of corrupted democratic politicians will continue to grow in; and this is not a question of probability but certainty. Democracy, it needs to be stressed, provides more transparency than any other system; it may have eliminated the arbitrary brutal use of physical violence by the politicians, which means that we no longer need to be afraid of living under autocrats like generals Pinochet or Franco and shah Reza Pahlavi, or African political gangsters, like Paul Biya of Cameroon, president since 1982, who exploit and abuse their people. However, as thirst for blood among democratic leaders goes unsatisfied, they instead turn filling their pockets and deceive the naïve public that they serve. That is why the system is not working very well.
An army of naïve political scientists and commentators write books for the believers in popular government on “how to save democracy.” The journalists of the Washington Post lie to the public that “democracy dies in darkness,” while supporting corrupt Left-wing politicians. Social activists, on the other hand, scream louder and louder that the only way to save democracy is to expand it even further. The last suggestion is the surest way to corrupt even more people. Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, but any amount of power will also corrupt – which means that allowing more people to govern will also corrupt a greater number of them. In recent decades democracy started looking like a place where everyone could enrich himself. The careless get caught; others get away; and ordinary people get no share in the big pie.
Thomas Jefferson was an idealist who, as we learn from his letter to J. Langdon, 1810, thought that hereditary monarchs were “all body and no mind,” who can do nothing but mischief. But he was also a realist who knew that the only way to make democracy work is, as he explained it John Adams in a letter of October 28, 1813, to find natural aristocrats to rule over the rest: “The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society… May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government.”
That was two hundred and eight years ago. Today we can say that Jefferson was mistaken. The democratic environment, which tends to grow and destroy non-democratic elements around it, is fundamentally hostile to creating conditions in which aristocratic virtues can grow. Rather, the opposite is the case – under the influence of democracy even royals succumb to the democratic malaise. It happened to Prince Harry who has recently left the confines of Windsor Castle to settle down in democratic America. So far, the news for the lovers of monarchy is not good. Instead of transplanting aristocratic virtues to America, Prince Harry has become a celebrity. He began his life in the New World by whining on Oprah Winfrey’s show how miserable it is to be a royal and how nasty other royals can be. If you are emotional, you can even feel sorry for him – he is presented as a man who suffered greatly under the heavy yoke of the aristocratic code.
We should not be surprised, however, why democracy suffers from malaise. The political consequence of the decline of aristocratic order was described by the English poet and literary critic, Matthew Arnold. In his essay “On Democracy” (1879), Arnold saw what Jefferson (most likely because his dislike for hereditary aristocracy deprived him of objectivity) missed. He points out that there where aristocracy does not exist, ordinary people are deprived of the ideal that can ennoble them. Where are the Washingtons, Hamiltons and Madisons today? Arnold exclaims in his essay, pointing to the fact that American democracy is unable to regrow the greatness which one found in the generation raised when America was part of the British Crown. What grew instead was the power of the State.
Arnold, it seems, was right, which is testified by the language used in democratic countries. “The most powerful man in the world,” and “the most powerful woman in the world” (as Americans refer to the President and the First Lady); or “the most powerful country in the world” – all are part of everyday journalistic vocabulary in America. (Even the presence of the omnipotent Xi Jing Ping at the same dinner table is unable to change this democratic perception).
It would be wrong to think that such expressions mean that Americans are self-obsessed. Rather, they point to what Matthew Arnold predicted must happen. When a country lost its highest class which “dictated the tone for the nation,” the nation tended to augment the power of the State to see it as dignified and great. However, this democratic jive is not peculiar to America. It can be found in France, another country in which democracy, too, took very deep roots. The President of the Republic acts and looks (especially during the swearing in ceremony) like a secular king, anointed by the people. His residence, the Presidential Palace, just like the White House, reminds you of royal residence.
This is not so in Great Britain. 10 Downing Street looks like an unpretentious townhouse which you see all over London or Baltimore; and it was so even at the end of the 19th century when the British ruled over one fourth of the globe. British Prime Ministers behave like “civil servants.” The reason is simple: Prime ministers in a constitutional monarchy have someone above them, which is a reminder that the power of the people has limits. Whatever a Prime Minister may think of his great talents, the existence of the monarch, even if only symbolic, has a tempering effect on the Prime Minister’s ego. That is why we can’t imagine someone like Donald Trump as British Prime Minister. Were it to happen, I suspect that the British would likely choose to live under a real, not symbolic, monarchy.
Monarchies are a common heritage of all those who look for the cultural roots of Europe. The British monarchy is not the only one in Europe. Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Monaco and Norway are monarchies, too (the Bulgarian king Simeon lives in Spain). But the British monarchy is the most visible and its well-being should matter to everyone. It is the most powerful symbol of the old order which is obsolete only to those who put faith in a system that is far from being ideal. For this defective system to work for the common good we need to be very vigilant. The proclivity for corruption of the managers of this system is (or should be) all too obvious and given the fact how often these managers of democracy are charged with financial impropriety, one may wonder whether any constitutional monarch would survive if he was so often implicated in corruption scandals.
However, what should worry us more than financial scandals are the totalitarian tendencies which democracies developed in the last several decades. Monarchy is a place where a nation finds the continuity of its tradition while totalitarian regimes erase all traces of the past. Democracies today are in the process of doing just that. Changes in the language so that it mirrors an egalitarian worldview, destruction of monuments, changes in educational curricula, forcing us to accept the idea that sex is a matter of choice are the most visible signs of the break with tradition. However, why that is the case should not surprise us. The past and human relationships tell us that reality is hierarchical. Hierarchy is what the progressive egalitarians are against. The past stands in their way to claim absolute power.
There is only one other institution which is like monarchy: it is the Papacy in which the Catholics, regardless of their nationality, find the continuity of their tradition. In one respect, the Papacy is an even more powerful symbol than monarchy – it is older than any single dynasty, and it includes our Greek and Roman heritage, while the monarchy is national. To be sure, not all popes were saints. Only a few of them lived a life which would lead anyone to heaven. But saintliness of life applies to individuals, while tradition is group behavior. When it is based on high ideals, tradition translates into noble behavior of a group, which we call a nation. The function of tradition is to provide us with signs that lead us in this life. Without clear signs on how to behave, nations are lost. They become demoralized and are in danger of indulging in monstrous behavior.
The monarchy will last as long as the royals behave like royals. This is what they owe us — ordinary people. We do not need royals who act like celebrities; we need the aristocracy to ennoble us, take us to a higher level. Once royals act like the commons, the monarchy will vanish; and when that happens, the future will likely, once again, belong to nationalist democracies turned totalitarian. As 20th century experience teaches us, democracies tend to collapse in times of crises and generate hard-core dictatorships, outside of which there is no source of values except ideology.
Mr. Trump acted like those mad kings described by Thomas Jefferson in his letter. But the problem with Jefferson’s argument against monarchy, which is the only one he formulated, is that one can always dethrone a mad ruler and replace him with a sane one. However, it is impossible to dethrone a population seized by egalitarian madness, enticed by populist demagogues who speak like Mussolini or Hitler. Seeing Greta Thunberg on the throne of Sweden would be something truly terrifying. We can only hope that the Swedish king, Carl Gustaf, will continue to rule with dignity, as he has done for many decades, and that monarchies will survive to save us from mad populists and democratic egalitarians.
Political opposition can take many different forms. In democratic countries with a multi-party system, opposition means a minority party’s (or parties’) formal opposition to the democratically elected ruling party. Such opposition does not exist in totalitarian regimes, where there is only one ruling party. Opposition, if it exists, must operate “underground,” and its “constituency” is not official voters but society at large.
The anti-totalitarian opposition is also different from the opposition in authoritarian regimes, whose goal is to oust the ruling junta or oligarchy in order to introduce parliamentary democracy. The objective of anti-totalitarian opposition is, rather, to purify the minds of the docile population, which has been subjected to ideological brainwashing. (Such opposition is very much like Winston’s Brotherhood, as described by Orwell in 1984). Parliamentary democracy in post-totalitarian countries is the result of this mind purification, but never the cause. Despite what one may believe, our situation is not very different from what the opposition under communism faced. But it is more difficult to identify.
The problem confronting the US, and the rest of the West, is both singular and without precedent. We live in a world in which the basic electoral procedures are in place, but where the transfer of political power from one party to another changes nothing with respect to the problem of the population’s ideological enslavement.
If today’s opposition in a democracy has a chance of winning, it does not lie in the winning of the next election but in burying the very idea which is responsible for the ideologization of the minds of the citizens. This idea hides behind the language used by contemporary social reformers whose goal is to eliminate sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, islamophobia, and ageism to make people even more equal than before.
The new Western man looks like Homer’s cyclops, Polyphemus, whose vision is very narrow. All he sees is the enemies of equality. They are his mortal foes, and their appearance before his eye has the same mental and emotional effect on him that the image of Goldman had on the citizens of Oceania, in Orwell’s Three Minutes Hate.
For the last two hundred years, we have been told that equality should be our highest aspiration and that it always has been. There were schools of history (whose distinguished members include, Lord Acton, J.S. Mill, and Benedetto Croce) which taught us that History is the “story of liberty.” The yardstick of liberty was the idea of universal suffrage – the number of people who enjoyed the equal right to vote. Equality meant freedom; freedom meant equality; and the fountainhead of both was democracy. From here it was only one step to subordinate all other values to equality – including individual freedom, virtue, and excellence.
More recently, we have invented words, such as “non-discrimination” and “social justice” to describe what good society is. The alleged purpose of these words is to guide us in public life and guard us against the evil of seeing others as un-equal (not as good as us; worse than us, or inferior to us).
Marx who, too, desired to build a just society, conceived the theory of alienation which was a conceptual scaffold that he used to fight the injustice of capitalism. According to him, our thinking is led by invisible forces (religion, family, state, law, morality, art, science) over which we have no control. Therefore, man’s liberation process must begin with the destruction of all of the above. Looking at the theory of alienation today, it was one of the greatest anti-achievements of Western thought: it was Marx’s tool to dismantle the entire political, social, and economic system.
The effect was not a just society but a totalitarian society. Today’s activists think and act just as Marx did, and the effect is similar: they are building a new (soft) totalitarian society. They call on dismantling “power structures;” and their “Woke Theory” is nothing other than a version of Marx’s theory of false consciousness or alienation.
However, the more they try to make our attitude non-discriminatory, the less bearable our social and political life becomes. Freedom of speech hardly exists. Instead, there are penalties, public ostracism, loss of jobs for the wrong use of pronouns (in Canada); anti-Islamophobic legislative acts (in the UK); and hate laws. New phobias are invented; and, as there are more and more of them, so there are more and more sensitivity trainings and regulations. None of the trainings or regulations make us freer. They are forms of ideological brainwashing, making us cogs in the lumbering machinery of social justice.
If you wonder why that is so, the reason is the growth of the egalitarian mentality in democracies. Since its inception in 19th century, democracies operated in cooperation with time-honored hierarchical attitudes and procedures – social mores, respect for the wisdom of older people, including scholars of distinctions in educational institutions, recognition of the idea of excellence, etc. The recent three or four decades witnessed a slow decline of all of these.
Example: fifty years ago, in many great American universities, the hiring process was often the decision of a few distinguished and influential scholars. John Silber, at Boston University, and Edward Shils, at the University of Chicago, are prime examples. It was they who almost singlehandedly made decisions about new faculty. In most cases their decision was beneficial to the overall reputation of their respective universities.
Today, such a thing would be inadmissible. After all, one would object, “Who is Silber or Shils to decide?” Saying that he is a great administrator, a great scholar whose judgement we should trust, would be met with outrage because it violates egalitarian norms. No one is or should be “above others.” Decisions are made by a board, several members of tenured faculty, sometimes even with consultation with a group of selected students. Never by one wise person.
Today, old attitudes and procedures have been pushed out by the idea of equality of all; and, above all, anything old is considered discriminatory. This explains why older democracies looked so different from ours. If we compare today’s society with democratic societies from forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago, the most striking difference is the population’s growing egalitarian drive. The word ideology was always reserved for Communist countries and never applied to democracies. This is no longer the case. Belief in equality, in today’s democratic countries, has far surpassed the belief in equality under socialism; and as our romance with equality becomes stronger so do our fears.
In democracies, only the retirees are free. This is certainly the case for university professors who inhabit the most ideologized realm. They await the day of their retirement, as if it were their very first day of freedom from imprisonment. They know that the moment they leave the college campus, they will be free to say what they think.
For the world to go back to normalcy, we need to see the idea of equality as a threat to individuality and freedom. Democracy can be useful in electing politicians, but it should not be seen as a tool to determine what is right and wrong.
The objective of the opposition today, therefore, must be the opposition to the ideology of equality. So long as we believe that equality is the only goal of our social existence, the winning or losing of elections by a political party will have little effect on our lives. Electoral victory can only postpone what appears inevitable.
This sense of inevitability, just like the Marxist “Roller of History,” makes the future of the world look very pessimistic – even to the young. Four years ago, a (female) student, told me, “I had told you once: We are all on the same conveyor belt headed to the slaughterhouse, just some are further down than others. I’m just trying to save my soul.” Marxist socialism is gone, and, contrary to what my student tried to teach me, there is a chance that democratic egalitarianism will fail too. However, for this to happen, we need to find courage to impose restraints on equality.
Ryszard Legutko is one of the leading philosophers of Poland, and has long been on the faculty of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious center of higher learning. He was elected to the Polish Senate, and served as the Education Minister and then as Secretary of State. He is currently a member of the European Parliament, and sits as a Fellow at the Collegium Invisible, in Warsaw.
Ryszard Legutko, Polish philosopher and a member of the European Parliament, has two exceedingly rare qualities: He has a mind of his own and courage to speak it. He demonstrated this most recently in his Open Letter to the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, in Krakow, in which Legutko, an emeritus faculty-member, urged His Magnificence to close the newly established Office of Equal Treatment. Considering how much value we attach to the idea of equality today, this is a shocking proposal. However, to those who have read Legutko’s bestselling, The Demon in Democracy. Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, his stance should not be surprising.
Legutko’s letter to the Rector of the oldest Polish university, founded in 1364, and whose most famous alumnus was Nicholas Copernicus, is not a piece of extravaganza. It points to something that the Poles 30 years ago, when communism collapsed, would never have thought could happen – that universities would become meccas of ideological formation again.
Legutko, 72, scholar of Plato and the translator of his dialogues, was editor of the underground (illegal) journal ARKA, under martial law in the 1980s. He began teaching in the 1970s, when Socialist-egalitarianism was the norm and “equal treatment of students” meant, among other things, that the “sons and daughters of the laboring class and peasants” would get “preferential points” (known as quotas in the US), so that they would get accepted into the university, in case there were doubts about their scholastic aptitude – offering tenure to mediocre but ideologically committed faculty members was not so uncommon.
This was a time when every department had in their ranks a guardian of the official Marxist orthodoxy; and when the idea of socialist equality was an official article of faith. All that was detrimental to a healthy intellectual life of the country. The fight against communism was not merely a war on the nonsense of socialist economic planning, which ruined the country and deprived ordinary people of basic goods – but first and foremost it was a war against equality.
One thought and hoped, as the Polish anti-communist opposition did, that shaking off the burden of socialism would put an end to ideological mind-pollution, and that objective criteria in science and freedom of thought in the humanities would be respected for the good of intellectual and cultural life. However, as the Letter of Legutko’s former colleagues in the Institute of Philosophy shows, the danger is not gone. A new mind-enslaving ideology of equality is operating in full force, and the new philosophers are even more ideologically driven than their cynical counterparts in the past.
From among thirty-some faculty in the Institute of Philosophy, only one refused to vote against Legutko, and one abstained from voting. This is perfect unanimity, which reminds one of how the communist Polit-Bureau voted. The explanation of why Legutko’s former colleagues voted the way they did should not be sought in their fear of being sent to a labor camp, a prison, being interrogated by secret police, or even losing a job. The explanation is that 1989 was not a moment of the burial of ideology but of the replacement of one collectivist ideology (communism) by another collectivist ideology (democratic liberalism), which demands total mind obedience.
Cases of similar behavior among academics are well known from the life of American campuses. In fact, universities in America lead the way, and American academics belong to the most ideologized intellectuals in the world. However, their actions are to some extent understandable: in contrast to the Poles, they never experienced communism; they do not know how destructive ideology can be for the life of the mind; and they are ignorant of what ideology can do to the cultural life of the nation. This may explain their behavior to some extent.
This explanation, however, should not apply to the Poles today, including the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, who surely remembers the “old bad times,” but who, like the faculty in the Institute of Philosophy, chose not to draw the analogy between the past and the present. When someone like Ryszard Legutko dares to refresh their memory of how intellectuals behaved under communism, they use the old method of condemnation of one of their most distinguished colleagues.
There is a difference between today’s academics and those under communism, however. The fight of today’s professors has little to do with “the sons and daughters of the oppressed working class and peasants” whom the communists wanted to push up the social ladder to replace the old class and offer them access to real humane and scientific education that one must acquire to have a better future.
The new “oppressed class” is not the destitute underdogs of old, but the people whose sole preoccupation is their sexual identity and sexual preferences that they force others to accept as a new cultural norm. Since the great majority of the population is resistant, they seek recourse to institutional actions. Equality offices are created for this very reason. However, such offices are not places of learning, but places where the new ideological commissars impose their own egalitarian rules on others. And if you keep resisting, let alone stand up, they offer a collective condemnation.
How does the Office of Equal Treatment inscribe itself in the university’s intellectual and cultural life and that of a country? It does not. Matthew Arnold once wrote: “Culture is the eternal opponent of the two things which are the signal marks of Jacobinism—its fierceness, and its addiction to an abstract system.” The response of the Faculty of Philosophy to Legutko’s letter confirm Arnold’s diagnosis. Equality, like other notions which belong to the same family – brotherhood and social justice – is an abstraction; and let us not forget, all previous attempts to implement it – beginning with the French and Russian Revolutions – brought about terror and cultural destruction. If one wants a proof, one should visit American universities. It is a world in intellectual ruins.
It is unlikely that the study of equality can be helpful in graduating another Copernicus. Considering that the English scientist and Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt was expelled from his post at the University of London and was forced to step down from the Royal Society for casting doubt on equality, and Albert Einstein has been accused of racism, one can only guess that something like that could happen to Copernicus today as well. Thank God, back then Jagiellonian University did not have the Office of Equal Treatment to ensure that everybody is on the same (ideological) page.
Zbigniew Janowski is the author of several books on 17th century philosophy, and most recently Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America and editor of John Stuart Mill’s writings.
[Editor’s Note: Below, we provide the translated versions of Professor Legutko’s letter, as well as the letters from faculty members and the student body. We also asked various scholars to respond to what occurred in Krakow. Their responses follow the letters].
The Letter By Ryszard Legutko To The Rector Of Jagiellonian University
His Magnificence, the Rector:
I was astonished to learn that the Jagiellonian University has created and for some time now has been operating an Office dedicated to “equal treatment of the entire UJ student and doctoral community.” This is a very disturbing signal, because it indicates that the Jagiellonian University wants to join the bad practices we see today at universities all over the Western world.
During my long life, I remember a time when members of the academic community were treated really unequally, and this happened during the communist era. At that time, academics all over Poland meekly tolerated political pressure; they submitted to it without protest, and in some cases, they “tasked” themselves – I apologize for the jargon of the communist regime. It would seem that with the collapse of the old regime, the problem of unequal treatment disappeared, and it should certainly disappear as a systemic problem. After all, as I hear, we no longer have one ideology reigning over everything; and there is an academic ethos; there are independent collegiate bodies; and there is the academic community itself representing the highest intellectual elite of the country. Isn’t it enough to maintain good rules of coexistence at the oldest university in Poland? What kind of inequality does the university Office intend to fight against?
I’m not familiar with the activities of this Office, but I know how similar structures function at other universities in the Western world. It’s no secret that in the last few decades, universities have become a breeding ground for aggressive ideology – censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work. Groups of student “Hunwejbins” insult dissenting lecturers, break up lectures, and sometimes even carry out physical attacks, all in the face of passivity on the part of partly intimidated, partly conformist faculty.
In all such situations, anti-discriminatory structures become deeply involved, but not on the side of the persecuted but on the side of the persecutors. Sometimes such actions inspire and they justify. I cannot understand why the Jagiellonian University, one of our most serious national institutions, has started to flirt with something that is fatal to the university and to human minds. What inequalities and discriminations do you see at the Jagiellonian University or in Polish academic life today that would justify setting up separate bodies to fight against them?
If we create a structure that is paid for and specially programmed to look for inequalities and discrimination, it is obvious that it will find them quite quickly to prove the reason for its existence, and sooner or later it will take steps that are taken at hundreds of other universities. Besides, the theory that justifies such tracking, which is something like the modern equivalent of Lysenkoism, is constructed in such a way that it will always find inequalities. I know of no case where its application has produced a negative result. The conclusions invariably proclaim the need for increased ideological vigilance and more vigorous counteraction, which predictably generates consequences along with the pathologies indicated above. I have just read that, based on this theory, a “fully scientific” study has been launched at the Jagiellonian University to determine the level of gender inequality. You don’t have to be exceptionally intelligent to know that gender theory lives solely on inventing inequalities, and the more genders it takes in, the more inequalities it finds – and the more drastic measures it demands to combat them. And so, fatal theory justifies fatal practice.
I appeal to you, Rector, to stop similar undertakings and to disband this grotesque university Office. I’m writing this appeal not as a politician, but as a person well acquainted with academic customs and as someone who, being connected with the Jagiellonian University all his adult life, has observed the ups and downs of the university environment. We are dangerously approaching a time of the next Great Trial.
Please accept my respects.
Response Of The Faculty Of The Department Of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University
The position of the Scientific Council of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University, regarding the open letter of Professor Ryszard Legutko to His Magnificence the Rector of the Jagiellonian University.
Recently, our former colleague, Professor Ryszard Legutko, decided to write an open letter to his Magnificence the Rector ofthe Jagiellonian University. This letter is in connection with the recent attacks on the Jagiellonian University by the Malopolska School Superintendent and the response given by his Magnificence the Rector.
The theses contained in Professor Legutko’s letter are so grotesque that we would gladly drop a veil of compassionate silence. However, we decided to speak out because of the fact that the author of the letter presents himself not as a politician, but as a concerned scholar and long-time employee of the Jagiellonian University. Were we to remain silent, one may get the impression that Professor Legutko’s letter expresses the views of a significant part of the scientific community, or at least of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University. This is not the case. The views presented by Professor Legutko are extremely contrary to the consensus accepted by the majority of the academic world, including the majority of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University.
It is about the most fundamental framework of respect for another human being which, in the context of the University’s work, affects to the greatest extent the relationship between the University and the student. Professor Legutko’s letter highlights the sad fact that these things are still not obvious to everyone. Let us therefore repeat them briefly. We would like to firmly emphasize that the staff of the Institute of Philosophy stands absolutely by the side of female and male students, regardless of their life choices, sexual preferences, and gender identities. Defending freedom of choice, tolerance and pluralism are values that are indispensable to us, both in our daily teaching practice and in our understanding of philosophy. For this reason, we do not agree with attempts to limit the freedom of scientific research, even if the researchers use terms and theories that have been cursed by circles that currently aspire to the rule of souls in Poland. The task of science is not to promote a single worldview option, but to enrich knowledge about the world through free discussion and the search for new ways of understanding the world.
For the same reasons, we protest against political interference in the actions that the University undertakes in the interest of the freedom, equality, and security of every person in our community. The University is, by its very nature, a community of learners, of which administrative staff are an important part – a community in which everyone has the right to feel welcome and comfortable. In our view, the actions taken by the University’s Office of Safety and Equal Treatment aim to do just that – to be fully in line with the ethos of a European university. Since these actions are an attempt to recognize the actual state of affairs, and not a top-down imposition of some ideological interpretation, and to name the real, and not imaginary or imagined, problems of the participants of the academic community, we find the analogies in Professor Legutko’s letter to the situation of science and the university during the communist era and to the practices of totalitarian systems in this regard (“Lysenkoism”) completely inadequate. Their tendency and perverse nature is particularly evident when the author of the letter, claiming to be a defender of academic freedom, demands that the Rector of the Jagiellonian University take restrictive measures: to abolish the university’s Office of Safety and Equal Treatment, and to officially renounce “gender theory.”
Therefore, we treat Professor Legutko’s open letter not as a polemical statement within the framework of an academic discussion, or as a civic “free voice, insuring freedom” in defense of the common endangered values and academic freedoms – but as an element of political propaganda and a top-down campaign against the academic community, referring to the social resentment against this community and all elites as something alien and, by definition, undesirable. We express our surprise and regret that our university colleague, whose scientific competence and genuine achievements we respect, has joined this campaign, even if most of us definitely do not share his radical political commitment and do not accept the strictly partisan way of functioning in so-called real politics.
A Letter Addressed To Professor Ryszard Legutko By The Students Of The Jagiellonian University
June 26, 2021. Open letter from the students of Jagiellonian University To Professor Ryszard Legutko
It is with great sadness and shame that we have read the open letter you sent on 22 June to his Magnificence, the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Jacek Popiel. Due to its exceptionally offensive nature, we perceived the letter as an action aimed not only at the authorities of our university, but above all at the entire academic community. Seeking to do the right thing, we want to respond to words that violate the dignity of another human being. By the same token, we want to oppose all forms of discriminatory actions carried out by persons performing public functions, especially those whose professional life is connected to the Jagiellonian University.
As students, we have been raised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for others. Our concern for the fate of others is expressed in the acceptance of human difference, including different identities and sexual orientations. Reducing the idea of human dignity expressed by us to any political viewpoint or ideology is not truthful. Your call for the elimination of the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe Harbor is not a good idea.
Your demand to close down the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe UJ, which is a consequence of you reducing your concern for human safety to an ideological action. This postulate, due to its great harmfulness, requires our criticism and rejection. According to the regulations in force at the university, in particular § 4 section 2 of the UJ Statute, it is the university’s duty to prevent discrimination and ensure equal treatment of all members of the university community. One form of such activity is that carried out by the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe UJ. The quality of the work of this Office of the university has always been highly rated by us. Expressing our approval and gratitude for the daily work of the employees of this Office, in last year’s edition of the Student Laudations, on the strength of the votes of the student members of the Senate, an Honorary Laudation was awarded to Ms. Katarzyna Jurzak, the head of the Safe UJ Office.
We note that since 1964 Jagiellonian University has used the motto Plus ratio quam vis (Latin, meaning, “More reason than strength”). See, W. Wołodkiewicz “Plus ratio quam vis – a universal maxim,” in Palestra, 1-2 (2019), p. 11.. Prof. Estreicher, who proposed this motto, supposed it to mean “the advantage of reason over opportunistic reforms imposed on universities,” and to express opposition to the Soviet policy of limiting the freedom of thought! Unlike you, we firmly believe that the opportunistic reforms that may threaten the university today are not those associated with unspecified Western and “aggressive ideologies.” The real threat to Polish universities today is the actions of some politicians, including the Minister of Education and Science, Przemyslaw Chernek, whose aim is to gradually reduce university autonomy.
We have no doubts that your statements concerning unknown ideologies that have taken over the university and Polish public life are only made for specific political needs, in order to arouse voters’ fear of non-existing, external threats. Using the authority of an academic teacher and philosopher for such purposes is deeply inappropriate and should never happen. Furthermore, your repeated invocation of the Christian worldview in formulating this damaging content, given that some of us share similar values, is incomprehensible. Similarly, as it was expressed by his Magnificence, the Rector of Jagiellonian University, Prof. Jacek Popiel, we do not expect apologies. Instead, we ask you to think about the people who, belonging to a minority, have attended or will attend your academic classes in the future. It is in the interest of these people that we have decided to write this letter.
Students of the Jagiellonian University.
Reactions By International Scholars
The official university reactions to the letter by Professor Legutko confirms that the Brave New World of ideological control is no longer a strictly North American phenomenon, but is succeeding in fulfilling its international ambitions. The Office of Equal Treatment, certainly a worthy example of Newspeak, the cause of the affair, seems intended to perform the same roles once fulfilled by the Politruks in the bygone Soviet Era. This is especially worrying at an academic institution, since such witch hunters never employ rational criteria, the basis of science, but rather subjective moral and emotional arguments. Their “scientific” findings are never independently verifiable, those who oppose inculpate themselves, true to Christian Morgenstern’s aphorism “For … that which must not, cannot be.”
We are witness to the rise of a new totalism, in which through denial of objective reason sophisms are construed and implemented. “-Isms” by definition presume that individuals can be classified by subjective criteria which then can be defined “morally” (in its modern definition quite different from “mos” or ἠθικός) into “good” or “bad,” “oppressed” vs “oppressor,” driven by a self-proclaimed elite’s power-hunger, tempered only by self-deception.
That such relativism, in which actions are held to be good or bad, not by their own merits, but according to who does them, is of course by its very nature “morally” self-defeating, which naturally escape’s this ideology’s acolytes.
These Offices, that of the Jagiellonian University is no exception, while proclaiming equality, promotes its antithesis, according to said artificial, ideologically motivated criteria, which transcend and negate knowledge, in inventing victims on the one hand and naturally their oppressors on the other. This presupposes human history has no object of experience with no intrinsic eidos, from which there is no possible escape, hence no notion of freedom, individual or otherwise. This sadly escapes Professor Legutko’s detractors, whose response to his eloquently motivated exhortation was but oblivious ideological slander. While the Soviet Union may have lost the Cold War, Sovietism prepares to take its victory lap. When humanity loses its desire to free Prometheus, it inevitably enslaves itself.
Prof. Dr. Robert M. P. W. Graham Kerr Research Director Inârah, Institute for Research on Early Islamic History and the Koran Saarbrücken, Germany.
I am writing in support of Professor Legutko’s letter, and to express my utter dismay at the response of the Faculty at Jagiellonian University. If experience and history are any guide, Professor Legutko’s warning about the trajectory of “equality” committees (“censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work.”) is worthy of serious consideration. The same history, unfortunately, also shows that in times of crisis the position of the faculty is always supine. One would think that by now we would have learned that moral virtue does not depend upon intellectual virtue.
The faculty seems to have lost touch with the traditional role of the university and to have been captured by its recent fashionable post-modern alternatives. As a reminder, the purpose of the university is to provide a setting in which leaners can seek and express the truth. One of the most important ways in which it does this is to engage in the critique of any alleged expression of the truth. Recall Popper’s view that subjecting one’s views to falsification is a necessary test of its truth. We are not free if we are not free to disagree and to criticize.
“Gender theory,” for example, is not a theory; we are not allowed to inquire into the conditions of its potential falsification; we are not allowed even to search for or to present scientific empirical evidence to disprove it. “Gender theory” is an ideology that demands obedience. To disagree with the ‘theory’ is to be told that one is showing disrespect.
I am reminded that those who objected to Marx, to communism, and to socialism in a previous era were denounced as running dogs of Capitalism. I also recall being told that objecting to Freud’s theory was an expression of one’s own sexual inadequacy. I was even informed once by a Dean that silencing those who disrupted a meeting or speaker is to violate the protester’s right of free speech. Do we now live in an Orwellian community of discourse?
On the contrary, I show my respect for your intellect when I engage in polite rebuttal of your views. If I am dealing with a child or an intellectually challenged person, then I use a different rhetoric. It is to be hoped that the faculty and student body of Jagiellonian University are not composed of such groups.
In place of the search for truth, the faculty (whose letter is a text-book case of informal logical fallacies and innuendo) now sees “The task of science is not to promote a single worldview option, but to enrich knowledge about the world through free discussion and the search for new ways of understanding the world.” What is the meaning of ‘knowledge’ if there is no truth? This is but the rhetoric of those who have given up on truth. By castigating Professor Legutko, they are suppressing that very free discussion.
Moreover, are the faculty suggesting that there be, for example, a Office of “Astrology?” After all, professional astrologers (which at one time included Copernicus and Kepler) must be very adept at mathematics, and there is a wide audience for its literature. Are we to award everyone a Ph.D. for fear of offending their feelings or promoting intellectual insecurity? On what basis does the university decide where to employ its finite resources?
I suggest, as well, that students learn the difference between ‘tolerate’ and ‘respect.’ I do not tolerate your ownership of private property, rather, I respect it because I deem your ownership to be legitimate. To ‘tolerate’ is to accept the existence of something that one considers false. The demand to make someone or a view feel “welcomed” and “inclusive” is to demand legitimacy. We are not here to ‘respect’ what is false but to demand the opportunity to criticize it. It is disingenuous to claim to ‘respect’ what is false when all that is needed is toleration.
Nicholas Capaldi Legendre-Soule eminent Chair of Business Ethics, emeritus Loyola University, New Orleans
I read, not without some sadness but basically without surprise, the answer of the faculty of the Jagiellonian University to the letter of Professor Legutko. One finds there all the usual method and arguments used and abused by the sheep of the Panurge, anxious not to irritate the jealous guardians of the Empire of the good.
It is the endless recourse to the so-called consensus or even to the pseudo-scientific argument to refuse the debate and to attack the freedom of expression. It is the inevitable mantra, repeated ad nauseam, which manipulates, instumentalizes and prevaricates the concepts of democracy, human rights and European values.
The faculty members do not appreciate being compared to the communist censors and inquisitors of yesterday, but unfortunately they have all the tics and all the defects – they think they know, but they do not know that they believe.
As for the young students who support all this, who are they? How representative are they? In a democracy, what counts is the legitimacy given by the people, not the legitimacy that a minority of activists claim to have.
Professor Arnaud Imatz French Historian
It has long been my hope that Eastern Europeans could avoid the mental disorder that is now raging in this country and with even more force throughout the Anglosphere and among the Germans. LGBT indoctrination, hatred of the white races and its cultural achievements, and the emphatic denial of intrinsic gender distinctions all belong to this spreading pathology, which has attained epidemic proportions in what is still euphemistically called “higher education.”
Until recently I imagined that the Poles had been spared this virulent pandemic; and I might have entertained that hope at least partly because the advocates of our intersectional Left in what regards itself as the “free world” condemn the Poles as bigoted reactionaries. The Vice-President of the EU, Katarina Barley, who was formerly the German Minister of Justice, rails against the Polish and Hungarian governments as almost equally backward and prejudiced.
While Barley and other German Social Democrats have not yet called for cutting off of economic relations with Poland, as they have done in the case of Hungary, the condemnations of such shrewish hate-mongers made me think that Poland is still in good shape morally and culturally.
Then I learned about the fate of Professor Ryszard Legutko at the Jagiellonian University, a venerable institution founded in 1394, whose faculty Legutko has graced for decades as an outstanding political thinker. His work, The Demon in Democracy, is a book I wish I had written. It is one of the most incisive critiques of the democratic mentality and democratic creed that I’ve encountered. Ironically his present troubles with the Rector and his colleagues at the Jagiellonian University might be explained by reference to this study, which points out the relentlessly egalitarian thrust of democratic ideology. Professor Legutko’s unpardonable sin seems to be his stated disapproval of the Office of Safe and Equal Treatment at his university, which was set up to uncover gender and lifestyle prejudice.
According to his critical response, which was sent to the university rector, offices that are set up to detect discrimination against designated victim group always succeed in coming up with supposedly outrageous cases of what they are established to uncover. Otherwise, they would not be justifying their existence and the moral importance ascribed to their participants. The entire history of our civil rights revolution and the agencies they birthed to combat prejudice would substantiate Legutko’s self-evident observation. But Poland is now being flooded with “American values” in their present form; and in the end, it might like asking sea tides to change to try to stop his institution from looking more and more like our “woke” universities.
But he is right to try to control the zealots among his colleagues by pointing out where their obsession with removing fixed identities has led on these shores. The witch hunt goes on and on without giving evidence of diminishing. And its enthusiasts never recognize the unnaturalness of what they are engaging in, or the scapegoating to which it gives rise.
What Legutko regards as the “grotesque” practice of setting up an anti-sexism department at his institution will likely get worse if it corresponds to the American model. Soon the Jagiellonian University will be hiring transgendered faculty to teach the virtues of transgenderism and creating an entire department to teach Critical Race Theory. I can’t conceive of this nonsense ending with anything as bland or innocuous as ferreting out sexists. Any attempt to arrest this revolution of nihilism, as I argue in a forthcoming book, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade, is associated with “fascism” and by extension, Hitler’s Final Solution. Poland may already have made the fateful turn and is already on the road to antifascist madness.
Dr. Paul Gottfried American Philosopher and Historian
Yesterday I learnt of the letters by the Philosophy Faculty and some students at the Jagiellonian University denouncing Ryszard Legutko. The occasion of these letters was a letter by Legutko to the university Rector requesting disbandment of the university’s “Office of Safety and Equal Treatment.”
While real philosophers are not pack animals and rarely agree about anything, the Faculty (bar two, I believe) replied that Legutko’s claims were so “grotesque” that they wished that compassionate silence would have sufficed to deal with him (i.e. academic smarmy code for “he is a lunatic”). But that compassion could not be sustained (we are dealing with very moral humans here), because people might have got the impression that Legutko “expresses the views of a significant part of the scientific community, or at least of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy at Jagiellonian University.”
Your usual run-of-the-mill philosophers might have quibbled here about which ethical approach might prevail? Utilitarianism? Deontology? Virtue ethics? This lot, though, have come up with a new one – which boils down to someone’s argument about what is morally right giving the false impression that everyone in a community believes it. Future generations may call this the Jagiellonian philosophy position – we can formulate it thus: Compassion should give way if it creates the impression that people ascent to a position advocated by a member of their community. Even if it should have its own name, I think it fits nicely into the totalitarian handbook of ideological hackery. And I am sure they would be very proud of this.
Anyway, the Jageilonians then press on that: “This is not the case. The views presented by Professor Legutko are extremely contrary to the consensus accepted by the majority of the academic world, including the majority of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University.” While this is the kind of reasoning and appeal that gets by in politics and dinner party conversations, one would have hoped that of the 28 out of 30 members of the Philosophy Faculty who agreed to the contents of this letter, one might be able to name at least one serious philosopher who has ever said something is true because the majority accept it.
I do feel sorry for Professor Legutko being in a Faculty whose members are so bereft of philosophical integrity they can formulate such nonsense with po-faced sanctimony that has now become the gesture of every ideological and managerial hack defending the bureaucratic machinery of virtue installation For, “It is about the most fundamental framework of respect for another human being.” Really? That is the kind of drivel one expects from bureaucrats, managerialists, but not from philosophers or members from other disciplines within the “scientific community.”
I am as critical of Analytic philosophy as anyone, but the slovenly manner of formulation (what does “It” refer to exactly?) goes hand-in-hand with the moral pomposity that speaks in general vacuities and abstractions, and the grand appeal that is supposed to make all of us sit up, shut up, and bathe in the normative rhetorical sweep of the sentiments being aired: “freedom of choice, tolerance and pluralism are values that are indispensable to us.” A real philosopher would know these words are not answers to anything very much at all, but occasions of countless philosophical conundrums and disputes.
Given that Legutko has written an entire book on freedom, just one of these bright sparks might have made some philosophical effort in acknowledging the complexity of the values they parade as self-evident goods. Indeed, the entire letter is a masterpiece of emulation of what in the West now guides politicized administrative policy and legislation.
Yet the letter disingenuously asserts that Legutko is the partisan and ideologue, while totally ignoring the substance of his major concerns:
That “similar structures function at other universities in the Western world…that in the last few decades, universities have become a breeding ground for aggressive ideology – censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work;”
That “If we create a structure that is paid for and specially programmed to look for inequalities and discrimination, it is obvious that it will find them quite quickly to prove the reason for its existence, and sooner or later it will take steps that are taken at hundreds of other universities.”
The Philosophy Faculty, for all their sanctimonious huff and virtue puff, did as little to demonstrate that Legutko’s concerns were unreasonable, or that he was some kind of moral monster, who should not be tolerated within a university, as it did to make the case for the necessity of the “Office of Safety and Equal Treatment.” That Office would, of course, be the last place that Professor Legutko could call upon when being calumnied by students or staff at his university. It did, however, make a pretty good case for the Philosophy Faculty being closed down and replaced by real philosophers.
Given the shocking state of affairs of the Philosophy Faculty, one might spare some pity for the pitiful nature of the offended students who are full of “sadness” and “shame” at the letter. Had they been talking about the Faculty’s letter they may have had a point. But, in keeping with the Alice-in-Wonderland-world they have been schooled in, they are talking about Legutko’s letter.
Not to be outdone in the virtue stakes, the students inform Professor Legutko that they “have been raised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for others. Our concern for the fate of others is expressed in the acceptance of human difference, including different identities and sexual orientations.” Like the philosophers, they cannot distinguish between a virtue and a bureaucratic apparatus.
Perhaps it really is ignorance of what is occurring in the West that enables them to write: “Reducing the idea of human dignity expressed by us to any political viewpoint or ideology is not truthful.” For the idea of human dignity seems grand and innocuous enough; but when that term is attached to a normative perspective that is passed off as being the “true” black/gay/ women/trans perspective, as it is done in endless courses, administrative programs, and policies in Western universities, then it is nothing if not ideological and political.
The university of which I am still an adjunct, by default I think and perhaps not for much longer, is in Darwin, Australia. A few weeks ago, the new vice chancellor wanted (I kid you not) the entire university to celebrate and partake in LGBTQ activities (the mind boggles) that had been planned for the week. This week the university sent around the new guidelines on pronouns. To think this is not what a university should be doing strikes me as perfectly reasonable, and has nothing to do with violating human dignity.
Given the condemnatory and denunciative tones of the letters by the Philosophy Faculty and “students” (how many I wondered really thought like this?) at the Jagiellonian University, one would be forgiven for thinking Professor Legutko might be trying to stir up a pogrom against gay or other “different” people. But no – he is raising serious questions about what such a transformation of the university’s “operations” (to speak managerialese for a moment) does, not only to the university, but to society at large. If one wants to know – look Westward and see everywhere nations torn apart, and depleted of any common spirit or sense of future direction about what is worth living and dying for.
The latest Legutko case (like the earlier one undertaken by a couple of students acting on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights’ attempt to eliminate Christian symbols in schools) is an attempt to silence one of Catholic Poland’s more outspoken philosophical critics of a sensibility and social orientation that has created such havoc in the West.
He is all too aware that the West today is divided into two halves – those that can be a member of the elite and benefit, and those that can’t and don’t. It is true that as far as elites go it is a very sizable one stretching from trillionaires, politicians, public servants, to professionals, journalists, and primary school teachers.
But this grand alliance looks for all the world like a run-away train – as the alliance is primarily held together by what and who it is against. And in order to exist it has to create an imagined enemy – in the United States it is the bogey of “the white supremacist” – they were supposedly behind the storming of the capitol, an “insurrection” in which none of the insurrectionists were armed, and the only death from it was that of an unarmed “white supremacist” woman (whose bona fides in the white supremacist stakes were only too obvious – she was a Trump supporter).
The grand alliance consists of people of colour (though Asians not so much) who hate whites, women who hate men, gays who hate straights, trans who hate cisgender, anti-Israelis, socialists who hate capitalists, tech capitalists who hate people saying what they think when it contradicts them. Much of the time they are throwing each under the bus – much as the Bolsheviks did against the Socialist Revolutionaries, or the Mountain against the Girondins.
Brexit and the election of Trump had given those who hate this elite a sense that they might be able to defeat this program of wokeness. As much as I sympathised with people who thought this, I could never see how this was anything more than a momentary setback. Whether I was right or not, COVID ensured there were would be no more setbacks.
Now the Central Europeans, by not getting in step with the EU in its (elite driven) globalist (anti-Christian and anti-traditional) values program and migration policy, have generally been another set-back to the Western elite with its globalist vision.
The Legutko affair perfectly reproduces the tactics of the elite in their Nietzschean task of the “transvaluation of all values.” At the risk of repeating this yet again, the elite combines their Nietzschean self-belief in their right to create values with Marx’s tactic of claiming to represent the oppressed of the earth. It is a very clever tactic and the extent of its success is that it may well be the Trojan Horse to once again deprive the Poles of their traditions and nationhood.
The Philosophy Faculty at Jagiellonian University and the students behind this attack upon Professor Legutko seem to me to be the EU equivalent of the Western intelligentsia during the Cold War.
Also to repeat – there can only be one winner, in the geopolitical fallout of all this. And it will not be the EU, nor the US, nor anywhere else in the West where the triumph of abstract human dignity is but the pretext for the destruction of social solidarity between people who, different as they may be, do not break up the world into the pursuit of endless identity needs so that they can become empty, compliant entities content with a life of sexual frivolity and universal welfare so that the few may dictate who and how the many live, and die in their diabolical enjoyment of the fruits of the earth.
Professor Wayne Cristaudo Charles Darwin University, Australia
I was made aware of the exchange of letters between professor Legutko and Jagiellonian University.
If one looks only at the surface of the answers he got, one may think that he is worrying too much. But the longer one reads, the stranger things become.
I mean, in a normal situation, the answer by the Rector should be enough. Thus, why here Legutko got no answer by the Rector, but got one from his former colleagues and another one from “the students,” instead of just one from the Rector he addressed?
Does the Rector suppose that a national feature like Legutko does not deserve an answer by him? That would be quite amazing. Thus it is possible that an answer by the Rector will come, but… But what we have here is a different attitude. The “villain” is attacked by his own “home;” by the members of the college of Philosophy who charge him of being a political tool against academic freedom, and by “the students.” It is a clear attempt to deprive Legutko of his reliability: “if your own people do not agree with you, the best you can do is not to speak.” this is the message.
Moreover, this kind of “collegial answer” is not new. The double letter – from the faculties and from the students – including the administrative staff (which in Europe is normally neglected and almost never mentioned by faculties, students, by the university in general and by the media) sounds like the typical conclusion of the Pravda articles from the Moscow trials in 1937: “The whole Soviet People stands up and claims the criminals to be punished!” Hence, could this be a sort of Eastern European heritage from the Cold War Era? Who knows?
Moreover, I wonder, who are “the students?” All the students of the Jagiellonian University, who, one by one, were notified about his letter and agreed on the answer and signed it, again one by one? If so, I’d like to see the signatures. And, if they are not the whole student body, who did sign in the name of all? And had he/she the right to sign that way?
In my opinion, if I wrote the letter professor Legutko wrote, and got the answer he got, I’d ask to know the names, one by one, along with the signatures, to see if and how many students were aware of such a letter. There might well be a big surprise. The first being a very nasty reaction. But, if so, I’d care to turn it into a national affair, sending it to the press, and then I’d like to see what came next.
What they wrote sounds openly – let us say – amazing to whoever knows how things are going in the USA and in UK universities. And if they really believe what they wrote, they are as blind as newly born kittens.
Legutko did what he thought to be right; and, according to the Politically Correct style, such an intimidating and threatening answer was the minimum he could expect.
The “attention to the minorities” is the typical version of how a wide majority is forced to accept the interests of some members belonging to a small minority. This is truly antidemocratic. Moreover, I wonder if this happens just now by chance or not. At the moment, the EU Commission is trying to enforce Poland and Hungary to accept a pro-gay vision of society; and just now the Jagellonian University stands on the EU Commission’s side against the Polish Government, thus providing the EU Commission with a major asset: the nation’s highest intellectual organization sides with the EU against the conservative Polish Government. I’d like to think it to have happened by chance. Also, as an expert historian, I know that such coincidences are quite rare. Perhaps it was a matter of Kairòs and both the sides in Krakow and Bruxelles too advantage of the opportunity. Who knows?
Ciro Paoletti Italian Historian
Apelles, we are told, was the most renowned painter of the ancient world, whose art was eagerly collected and sought after by men like Alexander the Great and later Julius Caesar. Most of it, sadly, was lost when Caesar’s house caught fire and burned down.
The story is told that a rival painter falsely accused Apelles of plotting to assassinate Ptolemy IV Philopater, with nearly dire results, for a public execution was narrowly avoided. This led Apelles to create his most famous painting of all, which he called Calumny, in which an innocent man is baselessly accused by the allegorical figures of Deceit, Envy, Treachery and Ignorance. The original work is now lost, but the theme remained popular, and Botticelli’s version is now well-known.
When I first read Professor Legutko’s letter and the ensuing responses (from his peers in the Department of Philosophy and the “students” of his university), I was immediately reminded of Apelles’ painting. We indeed live in calumnious times (aka, the “outrage or shaming culture”), where decency, which once was the golden thread that bound one human being to another, is now a lost virtue. And so, examples of Deceit, Envy, Treachery and Ignorance are readily found in the letters penned by the mob that is the faculty members and the “students.” In the absence of virtue, there can only be the barren wind of political slogans.
Professor Legutko is the Apelles of our day. His books, like those paintings of old, speak truths far greater than can be contained in shibboleths. And when men no longer hunger for truth, but are content with the mush of political cant, there is only endless destruction. That is what Professor Legutko elegantly summarized in his letter and in more detail in his books.
If the decriers think that they can silence men like Professor Legutko, they have already lost the battle and the war. To Apelles is attributed the famous phrase, “Ne sutor ultra carpidam,” (Cobbler, go no further than your shoes). In other words, “Academics – stop being social-engineers!” Truth will out, and truth will win.
Nirmal Dass Publisher, The Postil Magazine
The featured image shows, “Calumny of Apelles,” by Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1496-1497.
There is something extraordinary about astrophysicists. They have a rare gift of writing about very complicated problems in language intelligible to a general audience. Laurence Krauss, author of the best-selling A Universe from Nothing, is no exception. Just like his colleagues, he has a gift for clarity and gives his readers true pleasure in expanding their scientific horizons. However, what makes Krauss stand out from the crowd of his fellow physicists is his openly anti-religious fervor and rudeness.
Rudeness is, so to speak, his carte de visite, the way Krauss is. It is customary for him to preface his public appearances to religious audiences with, “I am sorry if I will offend someone…,” and, with the joy of a spoiled child who thinks because he is bright he will be excused for being rude, he prepares to spit on his audience for being ignorant, stupid or ridiculous. “I will ridicule nonsense wherever I find it.” And, since religion is, in his view, the biggest “non-sense,” Krauss travels the world to engage in debates with religious people of all stripes to expose religion for being what it is.
Physics is Krauss’ weapon in this crusade against Anti-Rationalism. And he uses it well against Christians and Muslims, who stubbornly wave at him the fairy-tale about creation of the world as it is presented in their Holy Books. Exclamatory phrases, such as “You do not know anything,” “I am sorry but you are ignorant,” “what you said is nonsense,” are in Krauss’ mouth like saliva dripping from an angry bulldog’s jaw. Watching him, one cannot help feel sad seeing his opponents beaten to the ground and humiliated.
Is Krauss really as bright as he believes himself to be, and are his arguments as strong as he thinks? All I can say is that apart from his truly informative exposés about the universe, what Krauss says is non-sense, and what he thinks are arguments are banalities, worn-out PC clichés which are more dangerous than the nonsense he is trying to combat in the name of “rationality” and “humanity’s dignity.”
Here is an example of Krauss’ nonsense. In Australia, where he came upon the invitation of a Muslim organization, he entered the lecture hall for a debate, and when, upon seeing men and women separated, he became truly hysterical and refused to speak before “the order” of mixing the sexes was introduced.
When Krauss’ debater, Hamza Tzortzis, a well-disposed young Muslim scholar, whom Krauss “debated” by humiliating him, asked in desperation: if you do not believe in absolute grounding for moral values, can you tell us “why is incest wrong?” this is what Krauss responded:
“It is not clear to me that it is wrong… The point is, most societies have a taboo on incest and it is an empirical one. Generally, incest produces genetic defects. So, in general, there is a physiological reason and a societal one, why incest is wrong. But, if you ask me the question, and this is an interesting question… it is because societies want to persist. But if you ask me a priori, for example, the question, if a brother and sister love each other and use contraception, is there something absolutely morally wrong about that, and, by the way, they did it once and it did not affect anything else… I do not think there is any absolute condemnation at that. In fact, if they love each other, and they go off and it does not affect anything else… would I recommend it? No. Would I be particularly happy about it? No. But would I would be willing to listen to arguments that are rational, maybe.”
Let me take apart what Professor Krauss said to help him understand consequences of what he said since he does not seem to, and the consequences are not trivial for a moral fabric of a society to ignore them. The traditional argument, according to which incest as taboo was established in all societies because it causes genetic defects, is highly implausible. First, we have no evidence – written records, legislation, and such — that would tell us that incest had stopped because primitive societies discovered that it led to genetic complications. First, the discovery of such defects would not have been immediately obvious, and, second, would have to be discovered and accounted for by scientific methods which did not exist in pre-homo sapiens. What the traditional argument does is inscribe our Modern scientific world-view onto the constitutions of societies that by no stretch of imagination could think along scientific lines. There is as much evidence for Krauss’ claim as for the existence of Amazons.
Be that as it may, there are many other potential illnesses and defects much more obvious to the eye that could have been forbidden on account of a danger to survival of societies, and yet, they were not interdicted. No society, as far as I know, has forbidden schizophrenics, or epileptics, or lepers, or dwarfs to have children (Nor do we!) despite the fact that they do contribute to the deterioration of the gene pool. Furthermore, neither schizophrenia nor epilepsy nor autism, for instance, is considered taboo while incest is. And the question is, why? Before I answer this question, let me raise a few more points that Krauss’ answer addresses.
Krauss’ second argument that societies want to survive is weak, too. In the grand scheme of things, all species want to survive and incest is not uncommon among animals, but among humans it is a taboo. “Infidelity” to one’s mate in the animal kingdom is normal but among humans it is hardly tolerated by one’s mate and considered morally unacceptable. In short, animal behavior and thus science is hardly a guide to human social and moral life. If Krauss is convinced that survival is behind taboos, he must accept the corollary to his claim that says that since homosexuals cannot have children, incest interdiction would not apply to them.
Third, the literary style of the Biblical Ten Commandments, for instance, would easily lend itself to incest interdiction (Thou shall not commit incest), and yet, incest is not mentioned there. It is a puzzling omission given the fact that adultery, theft, coveting, inconsequential for defects, play a prominent role in the Commandments. We can assume that incest was a taboo which people instinctively understood but which did not require a special interdiction.
Fourth, even if we leave the Judeo-Christian universe with its God which in Krauss’ mind is responsible for much of our morally defective outlook, we do not enter Krauss’ universe but we bump into the same moral dilemma. Let’s take a literary record from a different tradition that tackled incest in an explicit way – the Greek tradition during Classical period. Sophocles’ story of Oedipus tackles the incestuous relationship of son and mother, which, to remind professor Krauss, took place in the absence of any knowledge of what their true relationship was.
The play ends with the mother Jocasta’s self-inflicted death and Oedipus’ blinding himself. Neither he nor she knew that they were related, and yet Sophocles makes them atone for being in such a relationship. Why did Sophocles think Jocasta should kill herself and Oedipus should take out his eyes? There is only one reason: the Greeks thought the Universe is a moral fabric which no individual can violate, even unknowingly. The point is all the more interesting given the fact that the Greek religion did not have a God who is the source of moral values, the way Judaism, Christianity and Islam have.
The instinctive understanding of the play is testified by its timeless popularity. Oedipus Rex is one of the seven tragedies, out of over the one hundred and twenty that Sophocles wrote, that survived the passage of twenty five centuries. Why? The Greek and later audiences understood the play because, unlike Laurence Krauss, they shared the same human moral disposition.
I can easily imagine professor Krauss standing up from his seat in the fifth century Athenian theater screaming in his typical hysterical style: the end of the play is stupid ; don’t you see that what Oedipus and Jocasta did is crazy; they should have stayed married and happily rule their kingdom.
Should we assume that Krauss condones incest? Granted, he was speaking spontaneously and had little time to think about it. When his opponent looked for his last argument like a drowning man looking for a straw, and threw incest in his way, Krauss was taken by surprise. But Krauss’ distinguishes between traditional and a priori arguments. While the first one is not necessarily what he believes, he is clear that he sees nothing absolutely wrong with it. He says that he would not recommend it, but it is like saying that I would not eat this particular dish because I am not fond of it but I do not mind if someone else orders it. True, de gustibus non disputandum but there are certain kinds of food humans do not eat, just like we do not do certain things the Nazis did: lampshades of human skin, for example.
Krauss’ rumbling about “genetics,” “survival” and “love” is a desperate way out of a rationally hopeless situation but is consistent with his other pronouncements on other occasions: “You will make bad policies if your policies are based on [religious] fairy-tales that are untrue. You will put women in bags, you will kill homosexuals or you might not allow them to marry, you will do that on the basis of ideas that are clearly ridiculous.” Accordingly, we should assume that because all or almost all policies informed by religious or theological considerations are dangerous or pernicious for societies, policies based on Krauss’ rational world-view must by definition be good for society.
Let’s see. Krauss’ third argument, about love between members of the same family is a piece of sentimental demagoguery. It says that “love” between members of one’s own family is a reason “to consider” incest as a legitimate form of sexual relationship, provided that we do not procreate. What Krauss says in effect is that as long as we do not lower the quality of our species’ genetic pool, any kind of love, and implicitly any kind of relationship, should be considered as legitimate – and, therefore, implicitly embraced by society (the opposite would be a sign of a lack of openness) and consequently legalized by the state. The only conclusion one can reach is that in Krauss’ “rational” universe anything goes.
Consistent with his suppositions, future societies might embrace sexual and marital relationships based on incest, polygamy, bestiality, or all of them in different configurations, and all based on Krauss’ conviction that individual choice by definition is rational since no form of interdiction is a priori possible. The opposite would be a sign of intolerance and religious bigotry. What is troubling about Krauss’ nonsense is that the only criterion against incest is genetic defects. And if so, it would be only prudent to protect the species against all forms of genetic aberrations. What it comes down to in practice is empowering the state with supervision regarding sexual reproduction among its members. In short, it would a totalitarian nightmare based on rational calculation of the genetic pool. Kraussian rationality comes awfully close to the Nazi form of rationality, which allowed for sterilization of genetically defective people and the Spartan idea of throwing off the cliff the weaklings.
Because Professor Krauss failed to come up with an argument against incest, one can construct such an argument for him. It says that family relationships are based on piety and hierarchy that require respect. Love among family members is more like agape or philia, which connotes affection, not eros that abrogates hierarchy. Incest interdiction is unlikely to stem from society’s fear for survival, while the destruction of hierarchy between parents, children, siblings, the elderly and the young, is a sure way of destroying society in the name of individual choice and equality which underlie Krauss’ crusade.
Hierarchy, like respect, is not contractual and can neither be renounced nor can be broken at will; it is based on unwritten but implied obligations (or piety, if you will) that we have towards each other as members of family and human community, which transcends animalistic needs. This is what religion is about, and this is what Laurence Krauss fails to understand. Krauss’ Anti-Nonsense crusade, the implications of which he clearly does not understand, does not augment the realm of rationality in public realm but, contrary to his own belief, increases the amount of nonsense since it grants every individual’s whim the status of the equally rational choices, the supposition which clearly is truly non-nonsensical.
Let me be clear, there are things that Krauss is very good at and should be commended for, and this is bringing the science of the universe to a general audience. Everyone who wants to learn about new theories of how the universe works should read his books. However, what he has to say about religion, social matters and morality is secular bigotry in disguise of a rational argument. His concept of rationality looks to me like a piece of Swiss cheese through which one can drive a truck.
The question is, of course, why is Krauss so vocal and active in his anti-Nonsense crusade and why do religionists debate him? Like many scientists, Krauss truly cares about science and displays a genuine zeal in bringing physics to “the people.” In this he reminds one of his fellow traveler Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and, more recently, his anti-religious manifesto God’s Delusion. Like Dawkins, he truly believes that religion is a problem to the propagation of science among young people keeping them intolerant. In this Krauss is a faithful follower of Voltaire, D’Alambert and Jefferson, who also saw it as their duty to ridicule religion in the name of Reason.
This was over two hundred years ago, and the Enlightenment thinkers can be excused for cherishing the sweet dream of the unlimited power of Reason as a beacon and tool in politics and morality. Over two hundred years later, after numerous and desperate attempts to come up with morality independent of religion, states based on rational ideologies, all we’ve got is Professor Krauss, a man who repeats almost verbatim eighteenth-century banalities believing in his own originality.
Why is Krauss listened to by large audiences? Partly because he is a good entertainer and passionate about his message; partly because he fulfills a social need among skeptical public with arguments that bear the semblance of objectivity. Even though he does not say anything new, they listen to him because he expresses their sentiments in language of “openness.” But there is another explanation. Each generation has public skeptics, agnostics, and atheists, who, armed with a hammer of Rationality, pound religionists in the hope that if they keep pounding them harder the latter will eventually change their minds.
This is not so and is unlikely to bring about the desired effect. Those who know the history of disbelief since the Enlightenment know that it is an embarrassingly uneventful history and it used only two arguments in a few hundred years. Neither of each advanced the debate, or destroyed the opponent. The first argument comes from science (mainly physics of the universe and evolutionary biology). Newer arguments did not advance much, perhaps with the exception of astrophysics which got to the point of claiming that we do not need the Cause (sic. Creator) to “create” the universe; the second argument is one that attacks the persona and the teaching of Jesus, which Dawkins favors. It comes down to Jesus’ story of redemption as being “appalling” to him on moral grounds. In this respect, Dawkins’ attitude reminds one of the long-forgotten Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian (1927) where he offers a somewhat similar argument against Jesus.
Be that as it may, the list of agnostics and atheists abounds in examples of people like the philosopher Sir Alfred Ayer who also fought “nonsense,” but who underwent clinical death, from which he emerged less certain that this life is all there is, and Anthony Flew, who spent his life fighting religion but in his late years became religion’s good friend.
There is also the question as to why religionists engage in a debate with Krauss and his friends. I have no explanation for why anyone would like to debate someone who spits on them. Nor do I grasp why Krauss wastes his time debating people he clearly despises and who, one needs to say, are too ignorant about science to offer a remotely reasonable argument that could not be used by Krauss to embarrass them. I suspect that Christians and some Muslims living in the Western world are fixated on the idea of dialogue, ecumenism, openness so much that they are willing to sit at the same table with someone who has nothing but contempt for them only in order to prove how “open” they are. The viewer of Krauss’ debates can feel nothing but pity seeing how they are ripped apart by a vicious lion.
Watching Krauss is like watching sadistic Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady tormenting poor Liza Doolittle. However, unlike Krauss’ religious debaters, Liza is willing to learn and knows her limits. “Just you wait, Henry Higgins…” goes a memorable line from the movie. And she gets her revenge by learning how to speak Higgins’ language. I cannot see the religiously minded crowd doing anything as remotely ingenious as she did, that is, learn to speak Krauss’ language and sing: “Just you wait, Professor Krauss.” I suspect that they are too afraid that if they learned science, they would have to abandon their faith in the Book of Genesis and thus would have to declare Krauss as victorious.
But there is also a question for Krauss: is he so naïve to think that he, like Higgins, would ever be able to say, “By George, they’ve got it!” The only explanation I have is that there is a kind of sado-masochistic dialectic that links the professor and the religiously minded debaters.
The latter are also too shy and intimidated by him to get him even when Krauss falls into his own trap, as he did with the incest question. What surprised me the most was that no one — neither the debater nor the audience –found the courage to throw Professor Krauss to the lions or call him the names he calls them. They listened to Krauss’ non-sense displaying restraint and politeness. Perhaps religion taught them to forgive him because he knows not what he says.
In contrast to hard totalitarianism, the soft, democratic version does not seem to create dissidents, and thereby the wider opposition that might resist it. If opposition does happen to emerge, it is quickly condemned as sexist, misogynist, racist, etc., and almost never given mass support. Communism, on the other hand, produced legions of dissidents. The names of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Josif Brodsky, Gleb Jakunin, Andrei Zacharov, Alexander Zinoviev, Vladimir Bukowski, Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron, Vaclav Havel, and Milovan Dzilas are only a handful of the best-known. To them, and to those who supported them, it was obvious that they fought evil, and they were willing to risk and even sacrifice their lives to do so. Yet importantly, they knew they had the quiet or open support of the overwhelming remainder of society. It was almost an instinctual recognition that totalitarianism is evil, and it was the realization of its evil that created the opposition.
The rejection of communism was, among other things, an attempt to free one’s mind from ideological enslavement in order to reclaim the idea of right and wrong, good and evil—and all this was accomplished independent of politics. Politics was thought to be subservient to values, and as things stood it was clear that politics could corrupt our understanding of what is good and right. The suffering and death of victims of the new totalitarian regime was one reason to believe that good, truth, and justice are not relative, and there was no compromise to be struck. The opposition manifested itself either as a private and quiet attitude of ordinary people, or in open and loud protests of the opponents. Different levels of participation depended on the courage of each individual, and the willingness to take the risk. The most courageous of them became dissidents. They were admired and venerated by the quiet majority. In contrast to the masses under communism, the democratic masses are not just quiet, but seem to be almost deaf to a moral call, and often act as if they reject morality altogether.
According to classical Christian metaphysics, evil is privation, or lack of good; it is a force to be found in man, in his perverted will. It was understood that the role of the State is to constrain evil tendencies in man, or, as the Greeks believed, the task of politics was to create conditions for the development of virtues. As Aristotle wrote in the Nichomachean Ethics, “The function of a lawgiver is to make citizens good.” Such understanding of evil and the role of the State was rejected by the liberal thinkers. The writings of John Stuart Mill, probably the most representative of the liberal doctrine, are virtually peppered with the word “evil.” However, the reader of his writings quickly realizes that its meaning departs from the traditional—classical and Christian—understanding of it. Hundreds of sentences in which the term “evil” occurs in Mill’s writings allow the reader to infer that evil is of a social nature, and is the result of unequal distribution of power. The terms “fairness” and “social justice,” which definitively entered socio-political vocabulary in the 1950s made this a reality. “Fairness” and “social justice” came to signify the situation in which no one has more power than someone else, or that someone does not have more goods than others. Even elevating people out of poverty to the unprecedented level of material well-being and limiting abuses of judicial system are not satisfactory to those who think of evil the way Mill conceived of it.
The shift from a metaphysical conception of evil to a social one stems from the liberal understanding of power. Power, as Mill famously remarked in his argument for freedom of speech, is illegitimate, and therefore evil. Thus, for example, “[The power] of the aristocracy in the government is not only no benefit, but a positive evil.” Similarly, the power of husband over wife, of parent over child, etc., are evil as well. Good, on the other hand, is what diminishes the political power and social authority. The purpose of diminishing authority is to expand equality; and because progress is part of a historical process, as history develops so does the scope of equality. At the end of this historical process, as Mill says in the conclusion of his Utilitarianism, we will witness a slow death of aristocracies of race, sex, and color. Looking at things from today’s perspective, Mill must be given credit for understanding the consequences of his own doctrine. He predicted that as long as there is still a single minority “left behind,” to use contemporary vocabulary, the fight against authority will continue. And it does.
However, socializing the idea of evil turned out not to be without serious consequences. In his discussion of fairness as an ethical principle, Erich Fromm notes that the principle of fairness “is the ethical principle governing the life of the marketing personality. The principle of fairness, no doubt, makes for a certain type of ethical behavior. You do not lie, cheat or use force… if you act according to the code of fairness. But to love your neighbor, to feel one with him, to devote your life to the aim of developing your spiritual powers, is not part of the fairness ethics. We live in a paradoxical situation: we practice fairness ethics, and profess Christian ethics.” Nothing could be further from truth. Today, sixty-five years after Fromm wrote the above words, we hear the leaders of Christian Churches and Reformed Jewish synagogues announce the same message about social justice and hardly a word about our individual responsibility for our next-door neighbor. The answer to the question of how we reached the point of turning away from the individual man and his responsibility within a social collective, toward impersonal help in the form of high taxation, can be traced to Mill’s writings.
Mill’s understanding of the nature of the historical process is similar to that of Marx and Engels, according to whom “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” In Marx, it is the class of the capitalists who oppress the workers, whereas in Mill the oppressed classes are minorities. Once we accept such a view of history, we must come to the conclusion that the goal of politics is to end inequality. Accordingly, those who either attempt to slow down or stop the progress of equality are perpetrators of evil. In other words, those who fight authority (of whatever kind) fight oppression, and are therefore on the side of good and right, whereas those who uphold the status quo are oppressors who are on the wrong side, are evil.
The idea that authority is evil must sound strange to someone who thinks of evil as a destructive or corruptive moral force to be found in man. But this is what Mill rejected. He socialized the moral right and wrong, and in doing so Mill denied them their former metaphysical validity, rendering right and wrong an instrument of politics. To put it simply, what is good is what promotes equality; what is bad is what prevents its implementation. The consequence of this socialization of good and right, of evil and wrong, is that the words “evil” and “wrong” could no longer be applied to the partisans of progress and equality. Progress and equality are by definition good, and those who are on the side of progress promote the good. In such a conceptual-linguistic framework, the term evil might be legitimately applied only to those who defend authority, or who fight the desired social and political changes.
A perfect illustration of this process of socialization of good and evil is the position of almost all of the current Democratic presidential candidates. In the words of Beto O’Rourke, “Religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities—they should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.” A similar attitude concerning different ills experienced by the LGBTQ community was expressed by Corey Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. All of them see the support for the progressive causes, however unrealistic or insane they may be, as using political force as normal. There are no economic, social, or other kinds of problems; everything comes down to fighting discrimination, that is, to bringing about more equality. No one voices concerns that such policies are intrusive, undesirable in some respect, or as a violation of individual conscience. The reason is that the aim of politics, according to them, is total submission of conscience to politics. And if it requires war against Christianity, its representatives being the churches of all the different denominations, let it be. Biblical teaching regarding right and wrong, people’s commitment to national culture, transcendence, and conscience do not matter. Their views are simply wrong. And we know them to be wrong because they run counter to the ethics of social fairness.
Let me substantiate my claim with a quotation from a recent news story.
On October 2, 2019, United Kingdom Employment Tribunal Ruled that Biblical View of Sexes is ‘Incompatible with Human Dignity.’ The tribunal in the United Kingdom ruled against a Christian doctor who alleged that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) breached his freedom of thought, conscience and religion pursuant to the Equality Act. Disability assessor Dr. David Mackereth claimed discrimination after the DWP failed to accommodate his refusal to use pronouns which did not correspond with the biological sex of clients. In its decision, the panel stated that Dr. Mackereth’s belief that “the Bible teaches us that God made humans male or female” was “incompatible with human dignity”… In June 2018, about a week after being hired, Dr. Mackereth attended a training course for assessors, including on DWP’s policy to refer to transgender clients by their preferred name and title. Dr. Mackereth said “As a Christian, I cannot use pronouns in that way in good conscience… I am a Christian, and in good conscience I cannot do what the DWP are requiring of me.
The ruling, no doubt, runs counter to Biblical teaching and common sense. But above all, such a ruling amounts to a violation of individual conscience on the part of the State. However, given that liberalism did away with the transcendent view of right and wrong, what the tribunal declares must be right. Thus. it is not religion that is found is on the side of right and wrong, but the feelings and claims of the LGBTQ community.
In this, the minorities act like the communists of old who threatened their opponents and made them abandon their values for the sake of equality. Lack of acquiescence to the new or socialist morality means one is destined to end up in the dustbin of history.
The acceptance of such a socialized view of right and wrong ejects the individual who dares to adhere to a different ethical code than that of fairness from the social collective. It also explains why dissent in liberal democracies is extremely rare, and when it happens the dissenters are attacked and condemned as perpetrators of “social injustice,” and are being labeled as sexist, racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, and ageist––that is, as those who oppose progress. Almost nothing else is evil or wrong except being one of the above. Dissent means disagreement with progressive causes, and is viewed as an implicit attempt to restore authority, to roll history back, to return to the oppressive past, to impose the old-fashioned and obsolete moral standards of behavior onto others, or as an attempt to increase the power of the state (or “power structure”) over the individual. Hardly ever is it thought of as an attempt to stop or slow down the changes perceived as socially undesirable, sometimes dangerous, or an attempt to restore a sense of national pride and a return to virtue, sanity, renewal of man’s moral rectitude, or promotion of decency and sanity.
Once we accept a new understanding of evil, everything is decried as fascist. Mussolini and Hitler were fascists, but so was Aristotle because he endowed the polis with considerable authority over the individual. But even if we leave aside the political projects of classical philosophers, the absurdity of such reasoning does not disappear. After the collapse of communism in Russia, it was natural for the former oppressed countries to ponder what post-Soviet reality should look like. One of the voices in the debate was that of the former arch-dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In his writings, he offers a program of moral regeneration of his country by looking into the past. Soon after, Solzhenitsyn, who spent decades in a gulag for his opposition to communism, was accused by liberal critics (Cathy Young in the Boston Globe and Zinovy Zinik in the TLS) of being “the theoretician of Putin-style authoritarianism and even a quasi-fascist.” Such accusations leveled against former anti-communist dissidents and members of former anti-communist opposition have become almost a norm in today’s liberal West.
In the October 2018 issue of The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum, a well-respected journalist, historian, and author of several books, including an excellent Gulag: A History, wrote a long article titled “A Warning from Europe” as part of The Atlantic’s larger section: “Is Democracy Dying?” In it, she devoted considerable space to Poland and Hungary, addressing the rise of authoritarianism, intolerance, and other ills in these countries. The culprit is of course the past and its defenders, organized into political parties whose policies allegedly threaten democracy. The paradox that emerges while reading articles about former communist countries, written by and large by liberal commentators, is that many of those who represent the parties which supposedly threaten democracy are the former members of anti-communist opposition. Given the anti-totalitarian credentials of the new “totalitarians,” one wonders how credible is the claim that the former anti-totalitarian fighters have become the destroyers of the freedoms they fought for, and, consequently, whether such a reading of political life in Poland, Hungary, and Trump’s America, is correct.
Such claims can be true only if one measures the health of democracy by today’s standards of the socialized right and wrong. Thus, democracy in Hungary and Poland is threatened because of a firm commitment to tradition and religious values that helped the nation to survive forty-four years of communism, or German occupation that wiped out one-fourth of the population, or today’s anti-immigration stance on Muslims to those countries (the disastrous effects we can observe in the countries that did in fact receive them), and the reluctant acquiescence to LGBTQ demands. Any attempt to resist such demands is perceived as anti-democratic, intolerant, or evil.
Lenin once remarked that he wanted “to purge Russia of all the harmful insects.” Such an attitude was responsible for the gulags, murders, brutal interrogations, merciless persecution of dissenting voices, fear, and intimidation. The prime example of such policy exercised today is the case of the Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson. Peterson made a name for himself in 2016, during the debate concerning the Bill C-16 in Canada. The bill’s intention was to advance human-rights law by expanding “gender identity and gender expression.” As Peterson argued, such a law would violate free speech because of the way the ‘transgender’ and so called ‘non-binary’ people use pronouns such as ‘they’ (for singular). The Ontario Human Rights Commission concluded that if public institutions (workplace or schools) refuse to refer “to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity,” it could be a violation of non-discrimination principles. Peterson refused and said: “I am not going to be a mouthpiece for language that I detest. And that’s that.”
It would appear, one would think, to every commonsensical person that the debate was over nothing or is simply silly. Plural cannot be singular! Yet Peterson’s obstinacy became a social explosion and the psychology professor was soon the most persecuted man in North America. His public pronouncements about the use of pronouns may have triggered a reaction among some, but it is an unlikely explanation of why the attacks have continued for years and never stopped. An explanation should instead be sought in his views, which he laid out in his 12 Rules for Life. An Antidote to Chaos. The book is what it says it is, but it is also a well-presented case against enforcing equality of outcome, as well as ideological brainwashing; and it is a defense of hierarchy. Let me use a few quotations to illustrate Peterson’s position:
What such studies imply is that we could probably minimize the innate differences between boys and girls, if we were willing to exert enough pressure. This would in no way ensure that we are freeing people of either gender to make their own choices. But choice has no place in the ideological picture: if men and women act, voluntarily, to produce gender-unequal outcomes, those very choices must have been determined by cultural bias. In consequence, everyone is a brainwashed victim, wherever gender differences exist, and the rigorous critical theoretician is morally obligated to set them straight. This means that those already equity-minded Scandinavian males, who aren’t much into nursing, require even more retraining. The same goes, in principle, for Scandinavian females, who aren’t much into engineering. Such things are often pushed past any reasonable limit before they are discontinued. What might such retraining look like? Where might its limits lie?… Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution should have taught us that.
A shared cultural system stabilizes human interaction, but it is also a system of value—a hierarchy value, where some things are given priority and importance and others are not. In the absence of such a system of value, people simply cannot act. In fact, they can’t even perceive, because both action and perception require a goal, and a valid goal is, by necessity, something valued.
What Peterson says, if an additional explanation is needed, is that contemporary progressivists—just like the former communist architects of the gulag—are trying to force an ideological vision on people by turning them into what they think the people should be, by training them to act as they “ought to.” None of it is done with any concern for their individual well-being. Its most likely effect will be what the history of communism was––utter brutality. The second fragment states it clearly: Hierarchy is a fundamental part of healthy human existence. It is the scaffold without which the world would plunge into chaos, and therefore, the liberal position, according to which all values are equal, is actually morally destructive. One might go further and say that living according to ad hoc whims, by which the progressive liberals want to organize private and public life, is a recipe for chaos. This is what the book is trying to prevent.
One should also add that the book is rich in serious philosophical reflections, references to Christianity, Jesus (who is referred to as Christ), poets, and philosophers. Even though it is a book written by a clinical psychologist, it has an incredibly broad humanistic scope. Clearly, it is written by someone who cares for his fellow man. His 12 Rules is not a personal statement or confession of his religious beliefs, nor is it a book about religion, but Peterson does not hide his sympathy for Christian religion. This in itself, one can suspect, may be a reason why he caused such an uproar. But, more importantly, it explains why he is so difficult to destroy. He was literarily persecuted by his colleagues who wanted his removal from his university post at the University of Toronto. But Peterson refused to give in and bow to ideological dictates that would compromise his moral stance. During the unfortunate two years of attacks against him, he gained many followers and admirers, adding more fuel to the old controversy.
In the Wall Street Journal (January 25, 2018), a well-known journalist, Peggy Noonan, wrote the following:
Mr. Peterson is called ‘controversial’ because he has been critical, as an academic, of various forms of the rising authoritarianism of the moment—from identity politics to cultural appropriation to white privilege and postmodern feminism. He has refused to address or refer to transgendered people by the pronouns “zhe” and “zher.” He has opposed governmental edicts in his native Canada that aim, perhaps honestly, at inclusion, but in practice limit views, thoughts and speech… This is unusual in a professor but not yet illegal, so I bought his book to encourage him. Deeper in, you understand the reasons he might be targeted for annihilation.
Noonan is right on two counts. First, screenings of the new documentary about Peterson in Toronto and New York were recently cancelled, signifying that some desperately wish for the public to forget about Peterson. “ShapeShifter Lab, an event space in Brooklyn, has cancelled a screening of the newly-released Jordan Peterson biopic because of staff complaints. The New York cancellation mirrors a similar incident in Toronto, where a scheduled week-long theatrical run of The Rise of Jordan Peterson was cancelled after some members of the staff vented their displeasure with the film.” Noonan’s prediction about annihilating him was, no doubt, prophetic. However, the idea that one can understand why anyone should “be targeted for annihilation” simply for refusing to use personal pronouns in an incomprehensible and ungrammatical manner, is truly mind-boggling. But perhaps not so much if one keeps reminding oneself that Peterson’s case is not an isolated incident.
In August of 2017, a young software engineer James Damore was fired from Google for circulating an internal memo in which he suggested that the disparity in employment between the sexes may be due to biological differences. Here is a fragment from an article he wrote for The Wall Street Journal (August 11, 2017).
I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company’s code of conduct and “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.
My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company’s “ideological echo chamber.” My firing neatly confirms that point. How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument?
Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.
Mr. Damore became an instant celebrity, but his fame did not last for very long. His case, like Jordan Peterson’s, is symptomatic of how liberal-democracies operate and punish people for their convictions. Neither Damore nor Peterson were sent to a gulag, but the former suffered the highest punishment that the dissidents can suffer in a democracy: losing a job, becoming a social pariah and being decried as an enemy—the enemy of equality. We may never have communist style gulags, but then again nor do we need them. Ideological training, reminding people that there is no right and wrong independent of the social context, that Biblical teaching is wrong, that the ‘good’ is what diminishes authority and expands equality, is all that is needed. And the American educational system is doing just that.
What we all seem to know, but are too afraid to say clearly and openly in public, is that we fear “being purged like insects,” the way Mr. Damore was, and that we are being intimidated daily by the Leninist policies of minority groups instigated by a class of egalitarian ideologues. Those who insist that anyone should use “zhe” and “zher,” (or “comrade,” as was spoken under communism, or “citizen,” as used during the French Revolution), or that we attend various “training” to learn the new norms (unless we want to be fired), are political terrorists. We all should admit that the new progressive terrorists have hijacked public life in America, Canada, and elsewhere, and that America and Canada are not much different from the Leninist State.
Let us also note that policies that require mind-transformation, stifling free speech, thought and actions, are not the work of the right, ultra-right, White-supremacists, or nationalist parties. These policies stem from the liberal ideological dictates. It is enough to compare eastern European countries, such as Poland and Hungary—described by liberal journalists as places where democracies are dying—and the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and ask: In which of the above countries does one find greater freedom, and which parties or segments in their respective societies impose ideological rules on others? Or, to put it differently, which of the above countries are closer to being totalitarian?
Anne Applebaum’s article is symptomatic of the perception of danger. Such a perception, if accepted by a large number of people, may miss the real threat to the existence of democratic institutions. She sees one side of the problem and ignores the other––namely, the rise of totalitarianism in America, which poses a greater danger to the health and preservation of a democracy than anything else. The expansion of equality, which can only be done if the State forces the entire population to accept certain views, while ruling contradictory beliefs illegal as was done in the UK (whose tribunal ruled biblical teaching wrong) will transform democracy into a totalitarian system. Even if we agree with her that some of the policies and laws (or, attempts to establish them) in post-communist countries are restrictive and misguided, they are, and always were, simply part of a normal political game: the struggle for influence and power, conflict between social and political claims, competing visions of a nation’s future, all of which stem from normal human motivations.
What one cannot say about politics in those countries is that the parties propagate mind-enslaving ideology as the Democratic Party does in the United States, or like such publications and news outlets as The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. Right-wing or conservative magazines exist in Poland and Hungary, just as they do elsewhere, but their influence is limited to a small group of readers who have a certain way of thinking, but are hardly the outlet for ideological brainwashing. Neither Poland nor Hungary have a Canadian-style Bill C-16, the United Kingdom’s 2006 “Racial and Religious Hatred Act” (or the 2016 M-103), sensitivity and sexual harassment training, mandatory ideologically driven courses for students, the De Blasio American bill—which threatens people with a fine of 250,000 dollars for the use of the term “illegal alien”—or a bill that prohibits students in New York schools from eating meat on Mondays. Polish and Hungarian languages are still in good shape in contrast to the American Newspeak, which permits certain phraseology and discards others, such as requiring the use of “maintenance hole” instead of “manhole.” What is more important, unlike the Delaware Regulation 225, which says that “all students enrolled in a Delaware public school may self-identify gender or race” without even consulting their parents, Polish and Hungarian parents have control over the mental well-being of their children. No political party in those two countries worries about parts of the population following Sharia Law, and the Biblical teaching that there are only two natural sexes is accepted by the overwhelming majority of the population. Absence of such regulations, laws, and views leaves the population of those two countries a considerable degree of freedom, something one cannot say about America and Canada, which embody Lenin’s ideal of the State.
Whence came such similarities between the former Soviet Union and North America? Liberalism and Marxism operate according to the same principle: Both view history as teleological, moving in a definite direction. Its aim and end are known. It is the ultimate realization of equality through man’s liberation from the shackles of oppression, which in liberal ideology is authority and hierarchy. Opposing any progress toward equality is tantamount to opposing history that unfolds itself in an inevitable way. The individual is helpless to stop it, nothing can be done to redirect its course. The conviction that “nothing can be done” and that the notions of good and evil, right and wrong, belong to the discarded dictionary of past historical formations forced many people to resign themselves and accept communism. But it also allowed the totalitarians to keep the atrocities they were committing from occupying their minds. Their moral numbness and dismissal of the idea that they did anything wrong can be explained by their exclusive focus on bringing about more equality. Progressive interpretation of history provided them with absolution for destroying those who opposed progress toward equality, or who had little or no faith in it.
However, it was not the communists who invented the idea of equality. In his Gods will Have Blood (Les dieux ont soif), the French writer Anatole France gives a fictionalized account of the French Revolution, which he had written long before the rise of fascism and communism.
Did you know, Louise, that this Tribunal, which is about to put the Queen of France on trial, yesterday condemned to death a young servant girl for shouting ‘Long live the Queen!’ She was convicted of malicious intent to destroy the Republic.
You must be more careful, Citizen Brotteaux,” he begun, “far more careful! There is a time for laughing and a time for being serious. Jokes are sometimes taken seriously. A member of the Committee of Safety of the Section inspected my shop yesterday and when he saw your dancing dolls, he declared they were anti-revolutionary.
Anatole France’s description of how the revolutionary spirit operates aptly renders the atmosphere in today’s America, where the Barbie doll—her color and size—became a matter of serious controversy, and the Oreo cookies—black on the outside, white on the inside—found themselves in the midst of an ideological whirlpool.
Communism is gone, and, ironically, it was brought down by those who retained the belief that truth, right and wrong, good and evil, are not man-made categories, and yet they are not the product of a historical process, either. They are objective and transcendent standards in which private and public life should be grounded. Only then can human existence, individually or collectively, be fully experienced.
Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is not a silly 12 step program book for idiots or dummies. It is an attempt to return an insane world to normalcy, from the subjective whims in which we create our own personal and collective destiny, language of standards for right and wrong, or strange personal pronouns according to which one person can be many. It is a book about the human psyche, God, politics, culture, society, human decency, and compassion for the weak. In this respect Peterson, as a psychologist, can be put in the same category as one of his great predecessors, Carl Gustav Jung—a man of infinite compassion for human frailty and understanding of man’s place in the universe. Like Peterson, Jung understood the danger of totalitarian systems. If there is an explanation for why Peterson is still around, it is because of his unwavering commitment to values, religion, hierarchy and decency. That is probably why he is so difficult to destroy, and why he infuriates his foes.
The experience of brutality and death, as in the Soviet Union, made communism a fertile ground for breeding opposition and dissidents. The absence of brutality and death in soft-totalitarianism makes it more difficult to perceive the evil of equality. However, the other reason why dissent grew under communism was a strong sense of moral right and wrong taught by religion. The communists, despite their efforts, did not succeed in entirely socializing right and wrong, and where they did, the opposition was weak, as in Bulgaria or Romania, because religiosity was weak. In Poland, on the other hand, where the Church was strong, ideological opposition was unprecedented.
Given the different faces of opposition in communist countries, one can say a few things with confidence. A rapid decline in religiosity among Americans may be one reason why the country is becoming totalitarian. Young Americans’ sense of right and wrong seems weak, and if it is strong it is often limited to students who graduated from religious, predominantly Catholic, schools. One can also add that the weak perception of evil may stem from the fact that Americans have not experienced the atrocities that other nations have; they don’t even know about them. Furthermore, the high standard of living also contributes to the changes to perception of what real evil is.
The infusion of ideology into education, which is partly responsible for moral weakness, is truly unprecedented. There is no point of drawing any parallels between communism and today’s America because one could not find such parallels. The young American’s sense of right and wrong comes from schools and training, college orientation meetings where students are being told about new sexual rules, the use of proper pronouns, and being addressed by their “chosen” names (Peter can choose to be called Molly, and Barbara can be called Roger). If one adds to it a number of courses, some of which are mandatory, others, if they are not, are often still stuffed with ideological content, the picture of the young American mind is terrifying. For example, “feminist philosophy” might be equivalent to a seminar on Kant, Descartes, Plato, Hume, etc. There are other courses, such as “environmental justice,” “racial justice,” “social justice” and the like. History and sociology classes are often simply about slavery, White privilege, or the discrimination of minorities. Not much is left for real education, which when compared to the one and only class students under communism had to take —that is, “Foundations of Marxism and Leninism” offered only to students at a university level—socialism looks like an educational paradise of orgiastic free-thought.
All of the above is destructive intellectually, but also morally. If, as Peterson claims, human beings need a sense of values to act, socialized norms of what is good and evil, right and wrong, can become a substitute for a real moral compass. But there is a danger in this. Today’s social morality can become tomorrow an instrument for the destruction of others. A temporary moral ersatz is unlikely to build a community of moral beings responsible for each other, due to a lack of the sense of commitment to transcendental reality into which human life is inscribed. All such an ersatz can provide is a sense of temporary belonging to a collective, which over time produces its own leaders who will always ultimately demand mind subjugation. All of that sounds like what we know from fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the communist Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and the Kims’ North Korea. We may not have a single leader, but a strong, frustrated desire to implement ideology can cause social unrest and generate the need that someone do something. This was Tocqueville’s prediction.
One may not expect great moral courage from ordinary people whose preoccupation is daily bread. But one would absolutely expect such commitment from intellectuals, academics, or generally ‘men of letters.’ They, however, have turned out to be most cowardly, and it is they who planted among ordinary people the seeds of moral destruction. They committed what Julian Benda calls the betrayal of truth in his classic work. Persecution of Jordan Peterson by his university colleagues makes Benda’s The Great Betrayal as relevant today as it was when it was published a hundred years ago. The survival of Peterson says something further. It is a testimony that dissent in a democracy is possible, but given the isolated nature of it, one is bound to wonder: Is Jordan Peterson the only man in North America who knows and has courage to say, “this is right and this is wrong?”
The disintegration of class has induced the expansion of envy, which provides ample fuel for the flame of ‘equal opportunity’… Education in the modern sense implies a disintegrated society, in which it has come to be assumed that there must be one measure of education according to which everyone is educated simply more or less. (T. S. Eliot, Notes Toward the Definition of Culture).
Even the greatest defenders of equality are not advocating the idea of equality of outcome. They know that at the end of the day, the result of our work cannot be equally rewarded. And it is not because of anyone’s malice or arbitrariness. Our moral intuition tells us that rewarding a gifted and hard-working person and a lazy and untalented one the same way is wrong. Reward is linked to performance and excellence. Equality of outcome would kill both and thus violate our sense of justice.
In the face of this, instead of promoting social policies that would aim at equality of outcome, it became fashionable to advocate the idea of equality of opportunity. We do it not because the latter idea is sounder, but because it covers more sufficiently the sad truth about inequality between us and the structure of the world around us.
Does a farmer in Arizona or Nevada have equal opportunity to raise an equally rich crop as a farmer in New Jersey (a garden state)? Does a fisherman in Arctic waters have an equal chance of catching fish as the one in warmer waters? How can one create equal opportunities for children whose passions in life are farming or fishing, and yet who do not live in the same place – a place blessed with good soil and climate, or one near waters with a superabundance of fish? One could bring more fertile soil from New Jersey to Arizona or Nevada at a great expense, though it would be wasted there because of the differences in climate.
However, someone who promotes equality of opportunity makes a less radical claim. He claims that Mr. Brown, who lives in the same environment or place, is worse off than Mr. Smith because he did not have the same opportunities. However, the supposition is unverifiable. Only by watching Mr. Brown’s life in a parallel universe, where he and Mr. Smith had equal opportunity and became equally successful, could we claim the truth of the assertion that if everyone is given the same chance, everyone will succeed. All we can say in our universe is that we will never know where Mr. Brown would be in life should he have been given equal opportunity to everything. Because we accept the premise that “we will never know,” we succumb to the rhetoric of those who advocate the policy of equality of opportunities, and hope for the best (“let’s hope, that for some reason, they fail to implement it”).
In ordinary language, such proposals are formulated in a language that has emotional appeal: How can you be so heartless and deny Mrs. Brown’s child – our Mr. Brown – the same opportunities! Besides, how do you know that Brown, Jr. will not become another Michelangelo, or another Marie Skłodowska-Curie? Not to create equal opportunities is to kill the genius before he was ever born. This form of reasoning is fuzzy, and it rests on the false premise that there is a correlation between genius and equality of chances. A survey of historical figures whom we call geniuses does not provide any evidence for such claim.
Human beings, like soil and climate, are different – not equally gifted, not equally ambitious, not equally motived – and it is unlikely that equal opportunities for all would benefit everyone; or, sadly, that most of us would like to be anything other than what we are. Most resources would be simply wasted.
If the proponents of equality admit that the implementation of perfect equality of opportunities is impossible, we should at least insist that they make it clear what the end of such policies truly is?
Alas, this remains unspecified. However, the language the partisans of equality use provides us with clues. It is the language of “minimum wage” which should suffice for “dignified” existence. However, it would be in vain to look for the definition of “dignified life” in the politicians’ pronouncements; but the language of “minimum wage” suggests that everybody should be able to afford very many things that only a hard-working middle-class can afford today. Accordingly, a “dignified life” means that the purse of a minimum-wage earner should have similar purchasing power to that of a hard-working and educated professional.
To make things even more equal, in the last few years we hear more and about Universal Basic Income (UBI). What it means is that you will not have to work, unless you want; and the government will give you money for free. This is what Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, in fact, said. All such proposals suggest that the effort to become educated so that you can have a better life is optional; and since everyone should have a right to live a “dignified life,” someone else is duty-bound to subsidize your dignity.
The Greeks were the first to provide us with a very important theoretical insight into the nature of work. As Aristotle noticed, “We work in order not to work;” that is, work is the condition of free time. Material prosperity, the Greeks thought, is the foundation of leisure – time freed from labor. Given primitive conditions of labor and production in ancient and pre-Modern (pre-Industrial Revolution) societies, slavery and serfdom – the labor of some – was essential for leisure of others.
There is more to it: Leisure was the condition of being free. But the Greeks also drew a very important conclusion – freedom, which some enjoy, creates conditions conducive to the development of Culture. Only a free man can afford to engage in cultural activities, which a man who must devote his time to labor cannot. And since the efficiency of labor in pre-modern societies was low, the long hours devoted to labor left virtually no time for other activities. In the words of Oscar Wilde, slavery was the price we paid for civilization.
It would be naive to believe that all free Greeks were aware of this and considered their free time to be something that they must use for cultural activities. Aristotle’s discussion in Book I of his Nichomachean Ethics is a clear indication that he understood that most people value what he terms apoloustic life, life according to pleasure, life that most of us live. But this kind of life, he argued, cannot bring about happiness, because it is dependent on too many external factors. Theoretical life is the highest form of happiness, and we can live it only “in so far as there is something divine in us.” Notwithstanding all the difficulties of how to balance practical and theoretical sides of life, Aristotle was right to draw our attention to the theoretical aspect of human existence that is responsible for most of our non-practical, intellectual and creative endeavors.
The partisans of equal opportunity, on the other hand, believe that the source of misery of today’s underdogs is the lack of material resources, and only if we transfer enough money to the poor, they will have more time and their aspirations will change.
This is what Socialism was to bring about. Karl Marx who knew about the nature of labor probably more than anyone in 19th-century, understood this idea very well. Marx imagined Socialism to be the place where leisure, thanks to technological advancement, is no longer the luxury which only small part of the population can enjoy, but which can be expanded to the masses. Thus, in a Socialist state, everyone would be free to develop his humanistic side and become something like a “renaissance man:”
For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.
Nothing in the political pronouncements of our democratic-socialist activists and politicians (e.g., Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio Cortez in America who pushed the Democratic Party in a semi-socialist direction) suggests that they want to implement Marx’s idea of human development. Unlike the Greeks and Marx who understood the purpose of human life to be something other than animal-like vulgar existence, they do not understand the goal of leisure and the meaning of culture either. Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party’s “socialist revolution” is the apoloustic revolution without the Marxian-Aristotelian humanistic aspect. Not a single proposition that we hear from the Democrats points in the direction of ennobling the destitute masses.
The post-1960s America (and other Western countries) created all kinds of social programs, which, however well-intended and badly needed then, over time, created a class of people who did not have to work for generations. For all intents and purposes, it was a new leisure class: The class whose members receive free housing, food-stamps, child support, disability assistance, energy subsidies, free health-care, and free education. And because they did not have to work, they had abundance of free time. However, contrary to what Marx expected, this class did not become a powerhouse of culture. It became a place from which all traces of culture have been erased, a place where one peddles drugs, where crime-rate is higher than anywhere else, and where education is in shambles.
In contrast, the aristocracies of the 16th through to the 19th-centuries, whose existence was also “subsidized” by the labor of others, created enormous volume of cultural products – including cultural and scientific societies, literary salons and clubs – and even if we today consider some of their habits, customs, activities as silly or incomprehensible, one thing needs to be said: Most of them actively participated in, created, or, following in the footsteps of the Roman Maecenas, sponsored the creative work of the hard-laboring artists. Had they had no real interest in what was presented to them by artists, poets, writers, and philosophers, whose works were an expression of the highest aspirations of human spirit, nothing that we consider culture would have been created.
It is important to ponder on, and understand why the two cases are so different. The most likely explanation is that only a small minority among us was and ever will be interested in “dignified life.” Marx was a great believer in humanity, thinking that once wealth, which creates leisure, is available to the working class, it will change their lives in a fundamental way.
There is no question that material prosperity is today higher than ever before; but can one say the same about higher human aspirations? There is nothing in Aristotle’s discussion of how people live that made him have second thoughts that the majority of people will want to change their way of life. He never entertained political and social proposals that could elevate the masses.
What turned out to be true is that some of us (a relatively small percentage in every society), who by past centuries criteria would belong to the laboring-class, with no leisure to develop a more noble side, are interested in doing it now. Resources and considerable leisure that we enjoy now is something that belonged only to the aristocracy of old. This was already true in the early decades of the 20th-century. However, as Ortega y Gasset noticed, in his The Revolt of the Masses and The Mission of the University, the most distinguishing feature of the new mass man is his mental primitivism – lack of understanding of culture as a complex system of ideas which one must understand and renew in each generation for civilization to go on living. This lack of understanding manifests itself in being “ungrateful” and expecting that benefits will always be there. To the mass man, civilization is like a vending machine. However, this machine to operate needs maintenance. The new man does not understand it.
If we are to consider the idea of equality of opportunity as a serious social program, equal opportunities should be created only for those who have demonstrated serious aptitude and effort in taking advantage of the opportunities afforded them by working members of society.
No one should demand that anyone pay the expenses of another. Only immediate family members are morally obliged to help their next of kin; similarly, friends should be able to rely on each other – without this, there is no friendship. Besides, no society can afford the exuberant costs to create equal opportunities for all its members without a sense of deep moral obligation; and no society should bear the burden of equal opportunities for all, only to realize that, at the end of the day, few persons out of the entire population will profit from these opportunities, or even bother to take advantage of them. Such policies are neither reasonable nor economically justifiable.
Given the limited resources that a society has to help others, the resources should be allocated wisely. This means, firstly, that they should be spent on those who are most likely to take advantage of them (they are the ones who need them). Secondly, we must have a very clear understanding of the exact purpose of such policies. Unless the government, which shapes such policies, provides a persuasive explanation that such policies are good for society, and that they actually work, the government engages in legalized theft, taking money from the productive class only to waste it on others in the name of ideological whims.
One could claim, however, and such claims have been made (for example, by John Stuart Mill, who advocated a number of reasonable social reforms proposals), that it is expedient for a society to have, for example, an educated citizenry instead of an uneducated one. An educated society is more likely to be affluent, is less crime-ridden, politically informed, gentler, and more appreciative of culture than a society wherein the majority are uneducated.
This is true, but it must be remembered that social expediency is not the same as possessing a right to something at the expense of another. A right is a claim to something, the possession of which is not contingent on anything else. I can claim, for example, that I have a right to life (that is, no one can deprive me of life without a legal due process), but I cannot claim to have a right to education, since it is connected with considerable costs borne by others. (Not only would it be, but it really is, futile for someone in a poor country – most African and many Asian ones – to demand decent education when there is no educational infrastructure). Such claims can be made in countries which have reached a certain level of civilizational and economic development, and so have created wealth that makes it possible for everyone to go to school. But this still does not make my claims fully justified to consider it a right.
I have an implicit right to demand that my parents do whatever is in their power to feed and educate me; but I do not have the same right to make of others (society) to do the same for me. Similarly, my daughter can demand that I do this for her; but if any of my daughter’s friends were to demand this from me, their demand should fall on deaf ears. Her friend cannot file a legal claim which accuses me of not fulfilling my duty by not giving her the lunch or small allowance that I gave my daughter. Any legal or formal claim on others has its limitations; whereas a moral one stems from the sense of parental duty.
All three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – have a built-in obligation to help others. It is called “giving alms.” Christianity made it more universal than Judaism and Islam. In the words of Saint Paul, “there is no Greek or Jew” (we are one human family). But giving alms is not the same as creating state policy of equal opportunities above the level of giving others food and helping with basic needs. It would be silly to think that my obligation to give alms means giving the poor crevettes, caviar, and a steak with a nice bottle of Bordeaux for dinner. Helping others has its limits; and it does not mean that we all have equal share in the available resources created by others.
Given the decline of religious participation, the State in the 20th-century had to take over many of the obligations which in previous centuries were fulfilled by the Church. Today’s governments are heirs to the religious institutions, though without having any moral authority, and therefore they do not cause us to feel that we owe anyone anything.
Imposition of taxation and the transfer of wealth from the richer part of the population onto the poorer is the secularized version of giving alms. Its downside is that the government claims your wealth without making reciprocal demand that the poor be grateful for it. What is more, yesterday’s poor, as Nietzsche and Ortega would have it, are today’s social justice warriors who demand your wealth in the language of equality and opportunities for all. (The prime example of it is the attitude of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.) Unlike in the past, when the poor had to ask the priest in their parish to give them alms that others voluntarily left for them, the 21st-century State makes impersonal computer transfer of money, which covers the poor’s shame for living off others, and demands nothing in return. This lack of gratitude is a characteristic feature of the mass man.
There is no question that education is a path to success in life, and everybody who wants to be successful must be educated. But equality of opportunities says nothing about the amount or kind of education that makes you successful.
In his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture(1948; chapter VI), T. S. Eliot noticed something that is worth reflecting on. Ever since the disintegration of the class system (which coincided with the advent of egalitarianism), we have been using a strange language of “undereducation.” One can point to someone and say, “He is half-educated” or “undereducated.” This is a strange language indeed. “Undereducated” in what sense? Our “undereducated” person can be an auto-mechanic, a crane operator, a nurse, a bricklayer, a bus driver, or even an insurance agent or CEO. He does what he does successfully, and yet he is purportedly “undereducated.”
As T. S. Eliot noticed, it would have never occurred to someone in 17th- or 18th-centuries to say that the baker, the brewer or the shepherd is “undereducated.” This example shows that education in this context is connected to the idea of something that goes beyond the vocational skills which one has; and the vocational skills indicated the class belonging. Once the classes, which defined cultural level of each person, and thus education, disintegrated, the same level of education was being applied to everyone; and it was not professional education.
Education meant cultural level. And since the litmus test of education was (High) Culture, the culture of the leisure class or classes, undereducation was the term applied to everyone who fell below that level.
Socialism and democracy tried to make culture available to everyone, and to disseminate it among the masses. However, the attempt was (and still is) only partly successful. Only a small number of people, who by old standards did not belong to a noble class which had access to culture (which was the culture the aristocratic class created), developed a taste for, and appreciation of, it.
What was responsible for the success of cultural transmission was the opening of prestigious places of learning (like Oxford and Cambridge in England) to students from all walks of life. But it was open only to those who met high educational requirements. (The story of A. L. Rowse, a boy from Cornwell, who went to Oxford and became a fellow in the prestigious All Souls College, is one of the greatest testimonies that culture can be transmitted to the lower classes).
This idea was not only sound – it was probably the most successful social experiments in a democracy: A way of creating natural elites. Elites, by definition, are small groups, composed of individuals with higher scholastic aptitude. The English educational experiment to open prestigious schools to children of humble background is probably the most any society can hope for. Today’s rebellion against Cambridge, Oxford, and Ivy League universities in the U.S., demands that old acceptance standards be waved or abolished, is an indication that the Ortegian revolt of the masses is very real, and will stop at nothing but total destruction of cultural heritage.
To be sure, Culture (capital C) is the term that social justice warriors never use, are not interested in, and to the extent to which they understand its meaning, they mean such activities as vulgar pop or rap music. They are the products of the “undereducated,” uncultured individuals who are unlikely to appreciate the creative work of Titian, Duerer, Tintoretto, Moliere, Racine, Marlowe, Goethe, or Byron.
If so, what equal opportunity do they demand for the “undereducated,” if it is not their goal to provide the underdogs with the education that would allow them to take their gutter lyrics to the level of Rossini or Wagner? Many of them may never get there, but the few who are exposed to Culture have a better chance of leaving the gutter when they experience something beautiful and sublime.
The goal of the partisans of the idea of equal opportunity, one can still argue, is not to get anyone to the same creative level as Chopin or Mozart, but to foster their economic success, so that they can live a “dignified life.” In one of the most memorable passages, in his The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith offered an ingenious explanation as to what is necessary for lower classes to succeed:
The difference of natural talents in different men, is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. When they came in to the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were, perhaps, very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.
Accordingly, the difference in social and financial status between people aged 46 or 48 is not due to the ingenuity of some and a lack thereof on the part of others who are less successful. As Smith makes clear, when the same people were children – 6 or 8 – they displayed no differences; and yet, forty years later, all of them found themselves on different social and financial levels. Why?
The first level of explanation deals with principles of economy (division of labor): Members of different professions are paid differently. A doctor or lawyer is paid more than a teacher, a clerk, or someone who works in a Starbucks, and so on. The differences between professions have roots in the years spent on acquiring the knowledge requisite to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, and so on. One must also note also that the father of modern economics is not considering here the case of geniuses, but the average person – and every average person, thanks to education, can become a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer. (One can leave aside, of course, natural predilections for some professions).
If so, why can’t we all become lawyers, doctors, engineers, that is, members of lucrative professions? The key to success, as Smith claims, is: Custom, habit, education. It is very likely that a child who is accustomed to waking up early, reviewing his homework, reading a lot, and is disciplined, will earn high grades, will become a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer; whereas a child who neglects his study and lacks discipline will not be eligible for such occupations.
“But he is only a child,” someone may exclaim, and so “it is not his fault.” True, it is contingent upon the parents to train the child for the responsibility which he has yet to understand the significance of. Once we accept this simple premise, we can explain the situation of the underclass and the lack of success of its members.
The problem lies with the family and Culture – the habits and customs with which children grow up. Custom and habit are part of Culture, and not all Cultures are equally geared to inculcate habits that are conducive to intellectual development; some never developed to the point where one realizes that the abstract way of thinking is the condition of all the practical fruits that we all enjoy. This was one of the greatest European discoveries, which we can read about in Descartes’ Discourse on the Method of Directing One’s Mind in the Sciences. The social and economic success of the Jews and Asians in the modern world tells us everything we need to know about the love of reading and work ethic that are integral to success.
Those who demand that all children have equal opportunities should first demand equal responsibility from all parents, each having an equal understanding of the importance of education and discipline. Parents are part of the equation. The second part is schools, and few of them have excellent or even good teachers. It is possible to have lousy parents and good teachers, and the other way around. But having lousy parents and lousy teachers is a disaster, and it is becoming a norm in America and other Western democracies.
The partisans of equal opportunities hardly ever blame the parents or single parenthood. They prefer to devolve parental responsibility for their children on the State, and then go on to blame the State for not doing enough to “create equal opportunities.” Such a situation creates a vicious circle, which we can break only if we demand that the State return the children to parents, that it stay away from them and the parents. When then the parents know that raising children is their responsibility, they will start doing their job. When parents are in full possession of children, they, too, will stop blaming schools. Education can be a path to success only if we the schools teach something worth knowing, something that is culturally relevant, and something that inculcates serious intellectual skills.
Last but not least, opportunities must assume an institutional form: Good and prestigious schools, scholarships and fellowships in institutions wherein they can develop their interests and talents, and, most importantly, where they can compete for the highest awards and places in society. Such a society, of course, is one which understands and accepts the meaning of social and educational hierarchy and benefits which stem from relative inequality. It is not a society based on artificiality of social distinctions, but on natural talents.
Are the social justice warriors ready to swallow this bitter truth that elites do not have to have the old aristocratic titles? Nature confers them upon some of us. It is through our individual effort that we reach for them.