The Jesus Dictionary: A Conversation With Father Renaud Silly, OP

It is a great honor to present this conversation with Brother Renaud Silly, OP, historian and theologian, who speaks about the Dictionnaire Jésus (the Jesus Dictionary), the major work recently published by the École Biblique de Jérusalem and Éditions Bouquins. This Dictionary which makes available the current state of knowledge about Jesus, drawing upon all necessary scientific, theological, and philosophical areas of expertise.

The Dictionary is an impressive work (comprising some 1300 pages), but one that is also highly accessible, for it does not neglect the needs of the lay reader who is well rewarded by the depth and erudition. Father Silly oversaw the work, as the director of the entire project, and he speaks with Christophe Geffroy, the publisher of La Nef magazine, through whose courtesy this article is here translated.


Christophe Geffroy (CG): How did the idea of the Jesus Dictionary come about? What was your goal, and what was your working methodology?

Father Renaud Silly (RS): The person who had the idea was the director of Bouquins, Mr. Jean-Luc Barré [the publisher]. We had previously published Bossuet in his collection, and this inspired him to call upon us to produce the Dictionary. He gave us carte blanche, without imposing any particular angle or contributors.

Brother Renaud Silly, OP.

As for the École Biblique, the immense wealth of its recent research was just waiting to be made accessible to the general educated public. In the middle of the last decade, the success of certain books, ill-informed we believe, made us feel the need for a work that spans the entire spectrum—those who have been given the capacity to work directly on the sources (the “scholars”) have a moral duty to guarantee the dissemination of their work to those who do not possess it. Otherwise, we fall into the opposite trap of popularization and autarkic specialization. You likely will recognize in this way of thinking about the relationship to knowledge an echo of the ancient Dominican motto “contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere” (“contemplate and teach others”).

CG: This Dictionary was conceived in “a scientific spirit,” we read on the back cover. What does this mean?

RS: “Scientific” means many things, from the experimental method of the hard sciences to the discussion of all contradictory propositions in the human sciences, already practiced by Saints Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great. To be readable, the Dictionary could not afford either. On the other hand, it deserves the term in the sense that it is directly linked to a scientific project of the École Biblique de Jérusalem: La Bible en ses Traditions (The Bible in its Traditions), under the direction of Brother Olivier-Thomas Venard, OP.

Sacred Scripture exists in three dimensions: it has a past—the conditions of its composition, a present—the text with all its refinements, and a future—its impact on culture, morality, etc. To understand it, it is therefore necessary to combine knowledge of the environments that produced it, literary methods of analysis, and to be attentive to its reception, in particular that for which it is an authority. The Bible in its Traditions is a method of global understanding of Scripture, without exclusivity or reductionism. It is a way of letting revelation breathe in a space that is appropriate to it. Who can contest the scientific nature of such an approach?

CG: Is it compatible to be in this “scientific spirit” and therefore open to new discoveries and at the same time faithful to the faith and to the teaching of the Church whatever happens? How does the scientist who is also a man of faith react when a discovery seems to go against the teaching of the faith?

RS: In faith, certainty is God who is at once the source, the cause and the object of the knowledge that faith possesses of him. The uncertainty lies in the assent we give to him—in other words, in not wanting to believe in God, even though He is the end of our understanding (cf. Thomas Aquinas, ii-iiae q.2 a.1 resp.). If faith saves, it is because it is a voluntary act. The vices that can thwart the operation of the will are, however, manifold: laziness, negligence, superstition, pride, to name but a few.

In short, sympathy for science, hard work, the breadth of knowledge cannot substitute for the adhesion by which the soul submits to the truth of God who reveals himself freely to it. This is the formal reason for faith as a theological virtue. In short, the scholar, like all other Christians, has no other alternative for remaining on the right path than to cultivate virtue.

But we must hasten to add how liberating the supernatural act of faith is for the scholar, for it relieves him of the need to search by force for a proof of faith that the texts, even and especially the sacred ones, will never offer him. The Lutheran theory of sola scriptura obliges one to solicit the texts, to make them say what they do not say. Since fiction cannot hold for long, sola scriptura has caused dogma to fall one after the other. And in return, it is the Bible itself that has become a source of uncertainty and doubt. As Father Lagrange wrote, “It is from [the Reformation] that the study of the Bible dates, not the study of the Bible, but rather the doubt about the Bible.”

CG: You have not sought to take a new, but a renewed, look at Jesus. What do you mean by this?

RS: In 1980, a tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem was interpreted as that of Jesus. In 2002, an ossuary was presented as that of James, the “brother of the Lord,” which would have confirmed the authenticity of the 1980 tomb. In 2006, a Gnostic gospel “of Judas” appeared, according to which Jesus himself asked the traitor to hand him over. In 2012, in the Gospel of the Wife of Jesus, the master presents Mary Magdalene as his wife. All of these “discoveries” turned out to be forgeries or misinterpretations of authentic texts. The ephemeral excitement that surrounded these publications shows our imaginary and infantile relationship to reality, which makes us give in to the craving for novelty (cf. 2 Tim 4:3-4).

But there is no scoop to be made about Jesus. In faith we know all we need to know about him. As far as authentic knowledge is concerned, made up of meditation, of going deeper, of the patient dwelling of the truth deposited in us—this on the other hand is always in need of renewal. The Word came to “dwell with his own” (Jn 1:5); He is therefore there, in the midst, but it is we who are absent: “you were within me, but I was outside myself, and it was in this outside that I sought you” (St. Augustine, Confessions, x, xxvii, 38).

There is always a need to renew one’s knowledge in order to free oneself from hasty patterns of thought, from the conviction—certainly false—that one has done all the work of the Gospel and has nothing to expect from it. This must be done in the school of the great texts, but also of the humble reality unearthed by archaeology and the related sciences.

A few years ago, stone jars were discovered at Cana (cf. Jn 2:6)! They are probably not those of the miracle, but it shows that this village was populated by very observant Jews, the very milieu of Jesus. Study is an asceticism, surely the greatest asceticism there is! Has the Latin Church nurtured greater ascetics than St. Jerome or St. Thomas, those hard workers? But for those who devote themselves to this effort, the Word is always new (cf. Rev 21:5).

CG: In making this Dictionary, which points were the most difficult to synthesize? And what are the most difficult topics to resolve from the point of view of faith?

RS: The Resurrection of Jesus, to which we wanted to give a place in proportion to its importance. The very fact of the Resurrection is not recounted anywhere [outside the Gospels]—because there were no outside witnesses; and the evangelists did not embroider wonderful stories when they did not know! So, we have to fall back on credible witnesses of the Risen One, since we did not see him rise. But this only shifts the problem: they are women, whose testimony has little legal value! One recalls the misogyny of a Renan who described the testimony of Mary Magdalene on Easter morning as follows: “Divine power of love! Sacred moments when the passion of a hallucinated woman offered the world a resurrected God!”

Let us add to this that the Resurrection is, by definition, impossible to describe since it tells of the passage (the “passover”) of Jesus to a new Creation which we cannot experience; that the mode of the Resurrection of Jesus does not correspond to that foreseen by the prophets of Israel—teaching rather a general and simultaneous resurrection. Yet the resurrection constitutes the intimate heart of the proclamation of Christian faith and hope (cf. 1 Cor 15:14). It is impossible to ignore it without betraying the Gospel.

We are left amazed by the simplicity of the means with which the sacred authors overcome this immense difficulty. The resurrection narratives are the least retouched of all the Gospels. They are delivered to us almost in their raw state. They ask us to let ourselves be measured by the event and the word that tells it. To accept it is to grow in faith, and thus to rise a little with Christ. The resurrection narratives form the synthesis and the summit of the Gospel’s power of conviction. They invite us to reread all the teachings of Jesus as seeds that make life sprout where there was nothing.

CG: It is common to distinguish between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. What do you think of this approach? And is faith still credible in the light of current scientific knowledge?

RS: The expression you quote belongs to the genre of “thinking” (sorry to abuse this beautiful word) by slogan. It is based on the conviction that the “faith” accumulated representations of Jesus, which would have satisfied certain requirements of the religious spirit, as the Church grew outside its original environment.

The Jesus of faith therefore becomes the sum of the answers demanded by the new Christians according to their cultural situation. The divinity of Christ would be the most visible of these borrowed identities, developed in contact with Hellenistic populations familiar with divinized heroes. Hence the need to peel away, by means of criticism, the “Jesus of history” from the various accretions that mask him. Alain de Benoist’s book illustrates this method and shows its limit via the absurd. In tearing off the tunic of Nessus which would be the Jesus of faith, one realizes that the layers are so well integrated with the object studied that the object loses its skin, flesh and bones. In the end, there is nothing left. One wonders how this so-called “Jesus of history,” so insignificant, could have left such a trace.

But this distinction is wrong. The Jesus of faith is nothing other than the trace left by the Jesus of history, the sum of his impact, as it were. Jesus initiates recourse to the testimony of the prophets to speak of him (Mk 12:35-37); he sends out on mission (Mk 6:6-13); he takes care to establish an authentic transmission of his words and actions (Mk 8:18-21); he projects his disciples into a time when they will have to keep his memory in order to understand (Jn 13:7); he institutes the signs that will give body and shape to this memory, especially the Eucharist (cf. Lk 22:19). Between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, there is no unbridgeable gap.

CG: The Bible is undoubtedly the most examined work in the world, dissected from every possible angle, especially since the development of the historical-critical methods. Does the Bible emerge strengthened from these examinations and analyses; or, on the contrary, weakened in its credibility?

RS: Science can be a very violent thing. Laboratory experiments, which give rise to many ethical problems, bear witness to this. There is a certain science which, legislating on phenomena, imposes on them extrinsic grids of analysis which destroy them. One thinks of the Duke of Chevreuse inflicting a thousand tortures on dogs or cats to try to prove that their cries were caused by the shaking of small springs, in accordance with the Cartesian theory of animal-machines.

The undivided domination of the hard sciences in the Western noosphere has resulted in the increased use of intrusive criteria on the Bible. Christians who believe in supernatural revelation do not defend it by subjecting it to these same criteria. Biblical fundamentalism, so regularly condemned by the pontiffs, must appear to us for what it is: a complicity with the dissolution of the Bible by historical methods. Moreover, it is futile: by leaving the choice of weapons and terrain to the adversary, we expose ourselves to certain defeat. But to write an ancient history of Israel by following the biblical account is to provoke the derisio infidelium.

The Bible is strengthened if one analyzes it according to its own criteria, those of ancient literary genres; and if one makes the effort to understand its language, which is often disconcerting. It is thus a precious source for the historian. But the Bible is much more than that—a matrix of culture, religion, morality, philosophy and dogma. On this contemplative domain, that of the spirit, aggressive science has little hold.

CG: The literature on the Bible is so vast now that it is impossible for the educated man of today to know it all. How can you find your way around, and how can the researcher, such as you, take into account all that is published seriously on the Bible?

RS: Give preference to authors who do not simply compile the results of others’ research, but have direct access to the sources and are able to discuss them. The others do not know what they are talking about. Exclude anything that practices methodical deconstruction—its conclusions have no solidity; they fluctuate according to fashion.

CG: Many people think that the Bible is nothing but a series of myths far removed from real history and that it often relates stories that they consider far-fetched and impossible—the fall in the Garden of Eden, the flood, or the crossing of the Red Sea, for example. How should the Bible be read? Are there several levels of reading? And how can one distinguish between what belongs to history, to theological teaching or indeed to myth?

RS: Neither the flood, nor the stories of the fall, or the tower of Babel can be proven “scientifically.” Those who claim otherwise are lying or mistaken. Their historicity has nothing to do with the historiographical models claimed by the evangelists, or the deuteronomistic historian (Deuteronomy), or the priestly models (Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah). All of these follow very rigorous paradigms—though different from modern ones. Did the Bible in Gen 1-11 collect myths? If one understands this term as a divine revelation about the origin, inaccessible de jure to human observation, then why not. But this must be seriously corrected—because they are very different from the myths vilified by the philosophers.

CG: Our European countries of ancient Christianity, with rare exceptions, such as Poland, have evacuated the question of God, so that the number of truly convinced Christians has become a tiny minority—our contemporaries are much more ignorant of Jesus than hostile. How can we make them rediscover this Jesus who saved the world?

RS: Like Christ, I don’t believe in strategies, tactics or structures of Christianity. Nor do I believe in sociology to prophesy to us whether Christians will be many or few. All that is thinking according to the world.

But I believe that the power of conviction of the Gospel remains intact, if it is preached for what it is—the teaching of the Master who makes faith germinate in souls eager for truth, who tears his disciples away from a world for which he himself has not prayed (cf. Jn 17:9), to which no promise of eternity is attached (cf. Mk 13:31).

The disciple of Christ is the one who receives in his heart this prayer of Bossuet: “O Jesus, I come to you to make this Passover in your company. I want to pass with you from the world to your Father, whom you wanted to be mine. ‘The world is passing away’ (1 Jn 2:17) says your apostle. ‘The face of this world is passing away’ (1 Cor 7:31). But I do not want to pass with the world, I want to pass to your Father. This is the journey I have to make. I want to make it with you…. O my savior, receive your traveler. I am ready. I do not care about anything. I want to pass with you from this world to your Father” (Meditations on the Gospel, “The Last Supper”, Part I, Day 2).


Featured image: “Salvator Mundi,” by Leonardo da Vinci, painted ca. 1500.

The End Of Christianity: An Interview With Chantal Delsol

Chantal Delsol is a philosopher and writer. A Catholic, conservative-liberal and European federalist, she is one of the most brilliant French intellectuals of our era. A member of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques, she is a professor at the University of Marne-la-Vallée, where she created and directed the Hannah Arendt Institute, specializing in East-West relations. She is the author of some forty works of political philosophy, including Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World, Le principe de subsidiarité (1993), L’identité de l’Europe (ed., 2010), L’âge du renoncement (2011), Populismes : les demeurés de l’histoire (2015) and Le Crépuscule de l’Universel (2020). We interviewed her, with French historian Arnaud Imatz, on the occasion of the publication of her latest book, La fin de la chrétienté (2021).


Arnaud Imatz (A.I.): The question of the future of Christianity and Judeo-Christian civilization has been haunting people for at least two centuries. Hegel, Nietzsche, Heine, to name but a few, announced the “death of God.” Kant wished for a religion that was only “moral.” The secularist Michelet prophesied the decline of Christianity. Durkheim, Renan and so many others, atheists or agnostics, proclaimed the inevitability of dechristianization. Comte advocated a religious positivism. Marx claimed that religion is the opium of the people. Donoso Cortes or Christopher Dawson professed, on the contrary, that a society that has lost its religion sooner or later loses its culture. Péguy observed that we have passed from the Christian age to the modern age. More recently, the theoretician of the New Right, Alain de Benoist, welcomed the return of paganism; Marcel Gauchet predicted the end of the religious organization of the world and Michel Onfray predicted the end of Judeo-Christian civilization. We cab keep multiplying the examples.

In your case, you have published a work with the evocative and resounding title, La fin de la Chrétienté (The End of Christianity), with the Cerf, an old Parisian publishing house, founded by the Dominicans nearly a century ago. As a Catholic philosopher and liberal-conservative, you have revived and nourished the debate remarkably well. Christianity, you explain, has reached the end of its agony. And you immediately specify that you are referring to Christianity as a civilization and not to Christianity as a religion. Why this pessimistic diagnosis at the beginning of the 21st century?

Chantal Delsol (Ch.D.): First of all, to confirm what you say, yes, it is Christianity as a civilization influenced and governed by the morals and laws of Christianity, and not Christianity as a religion. Christianity is not at all, I believe, fading away or dying, but it is its control of societies, its civilization, that is collapsing. I do not believe my diagnosis is pessimistic. My look is dispassionate. I begin by observing the incredible upheaval of morals. These reveal the beliefs and concretize them. From the moment when it is no longer Christian dogmas that decide on morals (divorce, abortion, etc.); from the moment when it is multicolored ethics committees that decide, Christianity has disappeared.

Chantal Delsol.

A.I.: The Catholic Church continues to question the Christian cultural universe, implicitly showing that it is ashamed of Christianity. The declarations of Pope Francis are unequivocal in this respect. Francis even seems to want to be the representative of a post-Christian humanitarian morality, almost without transcendence, in which the afterlife and eternal salvation come to occupy a residual place. How and why has the Church as an institution, and more generally all Christian thought, renounced Christianity?

Ch.D.: You are really asking two very different questions.

First: Pope Francis—I don’t believe that he has renounced transcendence, but he is influenced by the times, which is not uncommon historically for Jesuits, who are always under the seduction of fashions and atmospheres. In 17th century China, they were the ones who bordered on heterodoxy by osmosis with the Chinese wisdoms. In the middle of the 20th century, they were the ones who “went along with communism” and so on. Francis is fascinated by ecological religion and by post-Christian humanitarianism.

The second question—that the Church as an institution and Christian thought have given up on Christianity because there is no other way; because no Western society accepts to live under the morals and laws of Christianity anymore. In the few countries that remain Christian by name, such as Poland, the Church is so radical and rigid that it is losing its last supporters. I can see it before my very eyes, live.

A.I.: In the analysis and description of the evolution of the Church, there are two main currents. For some, since the 14th century or the Revolution of 1789, or even the Syllabus of Pius IX (1864) or Vatican II (1965), the Catholic Church has only adapted; it has tried more or less to act with the times; and this attitude leads it inexorably towards the abyss. For others, on the contrary, the Catholic Church has always fought against modernity; it has been frozen in power with clericalism and has never been resolutely open to the reality of the world. For the latter, the Christian God can be reborn in Europe through individual mysticism, or in a communal form, but only if the Catholic Church accepts to reform itself and to evolve, in particular on sexuality. In your opinion, is the present Church in the process of becoming “unworldly?” Or, under the guise of becoming “unworldly,” is it in the process of becoming more worldly?

Ch.D.: In fact, we observe both these two movements which exist at one and the same time, contradicting each other and giving rise, over the last two centuries, to sometimes severe quarrels between Christians. I believe that there is a real, substantial contradiction between modernity and Catholicism. The latter cannot accept freedom of conscience, nor individualism. It is holistic by its very nature. The latest developments in the pedophilia cases tragically describe the Church’s obligation to obey an age that is repugnant to it: to put the individual before the institution; that is, to become more or less individualistic. Only Protestantism is in tune with modernity. Today the tendencies within the Catholic Church are plural. Some are so worldly that they are Protestant. Others defend the old world to the hilt (I gave a conference the other day with a priest who sees the only solution in a return to the Syllabus). But one thing is certain: most clerics are uneasy, worried, tormented, and have no idea where they are heading.

A.I.: The near-coincidence of the dates of the extinction of the Marxist model and the end of Christianity is striking. Is it only fortuitous or accidental?

Ch.D.: Marxism was a response, in the 19th century, to the collapse of Christianity. It takes a lot of the Christian model and distorts it. It is part of the earthly utopias, present since the French revolution, which replace Salvation by salvation, in immanence and impatience. It did not last, because of its intrinsic madness. When it collapsed in 1989, Christianity simply reached the end of its long process of collapse (two centuries). The two extinctions are not comparable in terms of time and cannot be said to coincide: communism is a regime, Christianity a civilization, which is understood in the very long term.

A.I.: Speaking of the Western churches, my master and friend, the Calvinist historian Pierre Chaunu, drew up, as early as 1975, a damning observation in his book, De l’histoire à la prospective: “The intellectual and spiritual mediocrity of the leaders in place in the Western churches at the beginning of the 1970s is distressing. An important part of the clergy of France constitutes a social, intellectual, moral and spiritual underclass; from the tradition of the Church, this group has often retained only clericalism, intolerance and fanaticism. These men reject a heritage that crushes them because they are intellectually incapable of understanding it and spiritually incapable of living it.” Has the mediocrity of a good part of the clergy and probably even more of the hierarchs of the Church been a major factor in the acceleration of this decay?

Ch.D.: Chaunu is right, here as in many points. It must be very difficult for a Church to give itself a clergy. Today, frequenting many institutions held by the clergy and being active in these institutions, I am struck among our clergy by a kind of immobility and stupor (just as we have seen others), by an incredible authoritarianism, as if they were the only ones who had to rule the land and the sea, and judgmental (governance is everywhere opaque, obscure), and by a sick taste for honors, for positions (I see it directly at the Institute where I have a front row seat [[1] The Institut de France comprises five academies, including the Académie des sciences morales et politiques]). All this is sad.

I believe that it is very difficult to be a cleric today, in the midst of all these contrary winds. As for what is happening in the countries that are still clerical, like Poland where I spend a lot of time, it is frightening: the clerics are from another age, living richly on the goods of the Church, imposing on the faithful moral behaviors that are unimaginable today, brandishing from the top of their authority statements that are closer to witchcraft than to Christianity (“vaccines are made with embryos”). The Church here and elsewhere is in bad health. But was it ever healthy?

A.I.: The crisis of the various Protestant churches seems to be just as dramatic, if not more so, than that of the Catholic Church. Is this proof that the problem goes beyond Catholicism alone and that it is rather a question of the abandonment or collapse [lasting or temporary (?)] of religious belief in the West?

Ch.D.: It depends on which Protestantism you are talking about. Evangelical churches are doing well and spreading all over the world. One has the impression that the religion of our fathers only survives in those branches that have completely adapted to modern times: individualism, retractable personal choice, freedom of movement, adaptability of doctrine to temperaments. Some would say that it is not a religion at all anymore. But that is the way it is. The wind of modernity is stronger than anything else; you adapt to it or you die.

A.I.: If we distinguish between the Church as an institution and the Church as the mystical body of Christ (which presupposes the solidarity or communion of all Christians with the saints), a handful of believers is all that is needed for the Church to survive. But what would the Catholic Church, whose mission of evangelization is its primary duty, be if it closed in on itself?

Ch.D.: Of course, that is the big question! I believe that we are going to go through a very difficult period, a sort of catacomb period. The main thing for us is not to blow out the flame, to keep the pilot light on. But let’s not delude ourselves: it is very difficult to evangelize today, even though none of us want to use force (if we even could). There can be monks of Thibirine! That is evangelization. In the future, there will undoubtedly be better times.

A.I.: You note that the 21st century is religious, but that it is no longer Christian. You add that humanity, being imperfect and mortal, will always give itself religions, wisdoms and morals; that neither civilization nor morality will stop with Christianity. The void left by Christianity will be partly filled by multiple paganisms. But being a pagan also means praying. Because the real ancient pagans prayed, which is not at all the case today. An Italian friend of mine used to say, mocking his compatriots in the 1980s, “First they worshipped the Madonna. Then, when they stopped believing in her, they started worshipping the Duce. And today they worship the bumpers of their cars.” The same people now adore their touch-screen tablets. But of course they don’t pray to their tablets, any more than they pray to Mother Earth or Gaia. Can we really call these postmodern zombies pagans or neo-pagans?

Ch.D.: Yes, I think so. Of course, they are materialists! But at the same time, they reinvest esoteric, pantheistic/ecological beliefs, and all forms of pseudo magic. They are superstitious; they throw themselves on books talking about life after death; they believe in reincarnation. Well, obviously they love their smartphones; but they cling beyond the smartphone to all sorts of crazy credulities. They are humans, you know, despite their materialism! And like all humans, they are aware of evil and death.

A.I.: In La fin de la chrétienté, you do not say anything about the expansion of Islam in Europe and the West. Here again, two points of view clash. On the one hand, there are those who, like the majority of Western journalists, philosophers and politicians, have been repeating ad nauseam for forty years that this is a fantasy, that Islam is plural and diverse, that Western women will not accept to submit to Sharia norms and that human rights are so attractive to Muslims that sooner or later they will adapt. They are betting on a “modernized, reformed, open, contextualized, secularized, democratized Islam,” compatible with the Western model.

But on the other hand, there are those who take Islam seriously, alarmists, essayists and realist historians, who are generally insulted, like Bat Ye’or, Serafin Fanjul, Dario Fernández Morera, Rafael Sánchez Saus, etc., or who are simply ignored, like the Coptic Christian Raymond Ibrahim, author of L’épée et le cimeterre (2021). That they are wrong to point out that there have been “fourteen centuries of war between Islam and the West;” that Islamic teachings are the antithesis of the Western model; that the religious fervor of radical Muslims, today’s Islamists, overlaps exactly with ancestral Islamic dogmas; that Western reactions are age-old self-defense mechanisms; and finally, that current rivalries are a reflection of a very ancient existential struggle. What do you think about this?

Ch.D.: I agree that there is a very old existential struggle, as you say. And in this sense, there will be, for a long time, a will on the part of Islam to annihilate the West; firstly, because the Arab-Muslim countries cannot manage to govern themselves economically or politically (except to be rentiers); and this is humiliating for them; secondly, because the men of this culture are born with an ontological and undeserved superiority, that of being male and of being able to tyrannize women; and this is a power too enviable to be dispensed with so easily. That’s why we’re not done with the attacks and other problems. However, there is indeed a part of Islam that accepts modernity, especially under the leadership of educated women, it must be said (and this is quite understandable). The only question is: in a case of civil war, will moderate Islam join fundamentalist Islam by historical complicity, or will it join the modern West by cultural complicity?

A.I.: The Gospels say: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21 and Mark 12:17), that religion and politics must not be confused. But in the face of Islamic terrorism, the indirect support it receives from the Islamo-leftists and the new challenges of violence and conflict at the infra-state level, I cannot help but think of the words, more than ever relevant, that your teacher Julien Freund addressed to the socialist-pacifist Jean Hyppolite, during his thesis defense: “Listen, Mr. Hyppolite… you think that you are the one who designates the enemy, like all pacifists. As long as we don’t want enemies, we won’t have any, you reason. But it is the enemy who designates you. And if he wants you to be his enemy, you can make the most beautiful protestations of friendship. As long as he wants you to be his enemy, you are. And he will even prevent you from cultivating your garden.” Can Catholics, whose “belief has become marginal,” do without power and force without condemning themselves and their religion to disappear along with Christianity?

Ch.D.: The Marxists, represented at the time by Jean Hyppolite, have disappeared. But the warnings of Julien Freund are still valid in another context! Yes, fundamentalist Islam represents for us an enemy, since it claims to be our enemy—and that is what counts. We are wrong to virtuously avert our eyes by claiming that since we love everyone, we have no enemy.

A.I.: You write, incidentally, that corporate fascism (what the political scientist Paul Gottfried calls “Catholic fascism” in his Fascism: The Career of a Concept), “was the mad hope of preserving Christianity.” But why take up this polemical concept, which only partially captures the reality of Catholic authoritarian regimes (Austria, Portugal, Spain) in twentieth-century Europe? The real fascism, the Italian one, that of Gentile and Mussolini, was part of the Hegelian tradition and the anti-Catholic one of the Risorgimento.

To take only the example of Spain, the history of the origins and development of the Civil War, and later of Francoism, cannot be limited to a simple “reaction” or desire to preserve Catholic Spain. The great intellectual figures of the 1920s and 1930s, the liberals, the founding fathers of the Spanish Republic, Ortega y Gasset, Marañon Perez de Ayala, and even the heterodox Catholic Unamuno, were all in favor of the military uprising of 1936 (after the failure of the socialist-Marxist uprising of 1934) and rallied to the “national camp”. But all were frankly hostile to fascism, agnostic or moderately Catholic.

In the national camp, only the Carlist (monarchist-traditionalist) movement, which was in a very small minority, wished to restore Spanish Catholicism in its entirety; it was anti-modern and as opposed to fascism as to liberalism. All the other parties, whose militants and sympathizers were in the national camp, monarchist-liberals, democrat-liberals of the Confederation of the Right (CEDA), republican-agrarians, radicals and republicans of the right and center, were nourished by agnostics or moderate Catholics who wanted to adapt tradition to modernity. Even the Falange, a marginal party in 1936, most frequently accused of being fascist, advocated a synthesis of tradition and modernity. The only common denominator of these parties was the opposition to the social-Marxist or anarchist revolution and the defense of national unity. The issue was more that of political and social survival than that of the preservation of Christianity.

The Church, persecuted in the Populist Front camp and restored by Francoism, was above all concerned with its independence, as evidenced by its opposition to Franco from the 1960s onwards. So why use the generic, idle term “fascism,” which we know was inherited from the propaganda of the Comintern, and which now serves only to insult and stigmatize the adversary?

Ch.D.: I don’t think that the term “fascism” is idle or a propaganda term. In my book on the political ideas of the 20th century, I preferred the term “fascism-corporatism;” and I had to change publishers because the first one absolutely wanted to include fascism and Nazism in the same chapter. I know that in fascism-corporatism there were many different currents of thought. Nevertheless, one cannot deny the real importance of a will to re-establish Christianity, this time more firmly and assuredly. This is true in Western Europe, especially for Salazarism and also for Franco. I worked a lot in Central Europe on these regimes and there it was even more obvious.

A.I.: The great majority of Catholics today say that power and conquest disgusts them. You say that only interiority counts, that we must accept to be a meager residual flock, mute witnesses, that we must educate by example, and walk towards the promise of the Gospel. But historically, could Christianity have existed and could Christianity, the “universal religion,” have gone beyond the stage of an obscure sect without the persuasive force of the legions of soldiers of Christ? Doesn’t the decline of the Church and the “Amishization” of Catholics risk condemning them to share the fate of marginal sects without influence on the world? What can the Catholic Church be without Christianity?

Ch.D.: If overcoming the dark sect can only be done by force and conquest, I prefer to remain a dark sect. Being a woman and having raised six children, I know that the greatest forces, those of love, are hidden. If someone wants to try to make me believe that the Church is different, that it needs legions to make Christianity a universal religion, then I will answer that I do not want a universal religion. I only believe in legions of angels.


Featured image: “L’église de la Sorbonne en ruine (Church of the Sorbonne in Ruins),” by Hubert Robert, painted ca. 1800.

A Case For Teaching The Humanities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Ethics Of Anti-Covid Vaccines

We are so very pleased to present this excerpt from The Death of the Phronimos: Faith and Truth of Anti-Covid Vaccines, the recent book by Fulvio Di Blasi.

The great importance of this book lies in the many and essential questions that it raises about our current crisis. Questions such as:

  • Are vaccines a safe and effective remedy against Covid-19?
  • Are Covid Passports useful tools for pandemic prevention, or are they rather instruments of torture and the basis of social conflict in the service of political power?
  • Are agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) credible?
  • Can mainstream journalism be trusted?
  • What about pharmaceutical companies? Can we trust them?
  • And hat about “science?” What is to be understood by this term?

Fulvio Di Blasi is a lawyer and professor of mediation, accredited by the Italian Ministry of Justice. He also holds a PhD in Philosophy of Law from the University of Palermo, and is a well-known Catholic philosopher, with expertise in ethics and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.

He has taught, and carried out research, at various universities, including the University of Notre Dame (USA), The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome), the Internationale Akademie fuer Philosophie in the Principality of Liechtenstein, and the Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta (Palermo-Rome). He was also Research Fellow for the Italian National Council of Research (CNR), the highest governmental research institution in Italy, Research Associate at the Jacques Maritain Center (University of Notre Dame, USA), and Director of both the Thomas International Center (USA) and the Centro Ricerche Tommaso d’Aquino (Collegio Universitario ARCES, Palermo). He has also served as contributor, reviewer, editor, and board member for several philosophical, legal, and bioethical journals and book series.

He has over 200 publications, including God and the Natural Law, John Finnis, Ritorno al diritto, Questioni di legge naturale, Ancient Wisdom and Thomistic Wit: Happiness and the Good Life, From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, Vaccination as an Act of Love? The Epistemology of Ethical Choice in Times of Pandemic.

Make sure to pick up a copy of this important book—and get all your friends to buy a copy, too.


Anti-Covid vaccines and the pandemic are issues that now completely permeate our entire existence both as individuals and as citizens of single states and the whole world. They are complex issues, with a thousand facets, which are dealt with by many public and private subjects, parliaments and rulers, research agencies and institutes, the press, the media, scientists, and experts from various disciplines. It is impossible for the individual to form an adequate reference framework without learning to conveniently move between the various sources of information, clearly understanding their differences both regarding the specific competence of each source and regarding its quality and reliability. From whom should we learn the truth about vaccines and the pandemic? How exactly should we compare the numerous individuals providing information in the media and political market? What value should we give to the statements of the various people and institutions that tell us about these truths?

It is essential that we learn to answer these questions in a sufficient and reasonable way, because from the information that is transmitted to us depend, not just opinions on who will win a championship or on what will be the next seasonal fashion or on which are the most popular places for the holidays, but crucial decisions that each of us must make: decisions about our own health and that of our loved ones, about the common good, and about the fundamental rights and freedoms of the society in which we live.

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The underlying theme of this text, which unifies and delimits all the topics addressed, is the way in which we acquire the truths and certainties that guide our choices concerning vaccines and the pandemic. And, since these truths come indirectly or directly from other people, we need to ask ourselves specifically who are the people to turn to and what exactly they can tell us.

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The epistemological analysis of individual sources of information will lead us more and more towards the need for the deepening of another philosophical topic, this time related to so-called “virtue ethics”. In fact, the study of the reliability of the various individuals who talk to us about vaccines reveals, on the one hand, the many shortcomings and critical or problematic issues that characterize these people and, on the other hand, the profile of the ideal witness who, from my point of view, is glaringly absent in the current public debate on vaccines and the pandemic. I am referring to the Aristotelian phronimos, a mysterious character to most, but whom I hope my readers will eventually learn to know and appreciate and, why not, also love.

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For reasons that will become increasingly clear, this text, not only in the opening chapter, but also in the discussion of the individual subsequent chapters, methodically uses the legal science of witnesses in a court trial. This choice moves in parallel with the analysis of faith as a form of knowledge, which, as mentioned, I am about to explain in the first chapter. A correct epistemology of the way we relate to witnesses is essential to understand how to make ethical decisions in areas where our knowledge of the relevant factors depends on other people or institutions. In this book, all the most important sources of information on vaccines that we have will appear as if they were called or summoned by a judge, who, as the first formal act of his procedural science, must assess their reliability and their ability to testify.

The activity of the judge is epistemologically analogous to the activity of the moral conscience, which is in fact traditionally compared precisely to a judge. Many think that this is just a metaphor. It is not so. Conscience really works through a symmetrical rational path similar to that of a judge in a trial. The best way to visualize or analyze the path that rationally leads us to good decisions is therefore exactly to imagine ourselves as judges sitting in a courtroom where we find ourselves having to listen to witnesses and acquire all relevant documents and evidence.

Among the witnesses that will successively appear in our courtroom are pharmaceutical companies and drug agencies (Chapter 2), Science (Chapter 3), public authorities and the mass media (Chapter 4). Of all these witnesses, we will have to ask ourselves about which facts they can testify, or what they can actually tell us about vaccines. However, we will also have to ask ourselves about their reliability and credibility. We will do this by observing their criminal record and conflicts of interest, or their curriculum and modus operandi. When you have a possible witness in the courtroom, you need to understand as much as possible about who he is and how much we can trust him. In some cases, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the World Health Organization (WHO), or even the current functioning of medical science, this will give rise to various ideas regarding hypotheses for reforming some systems or some institutions.

This phase of our trial activity, so to speak, will also be a valuable opportunity to retrace together some very important and interesting judicial, political, or journalistic cases. However, it must always be borne in mind that when I refer to court cases or some specific issues of the vaccine debate of the past months or weeks I will only do so as an example and to the extent that this helps to evaluate the witnesses. My goal is not to offer an exhaustive treatment of single cases or events but to use elements of them exclusively for the specific purpose of evaluating the witnesses.

It should also be remembered that the activity of the judge who assesses the reliability of the witnesses is different from that of the judge who assesses the guilt of a defendant. In the second case, precise and consistent evidence is needed to reach a decision. In the first, a generic criterion of reasonableness is sufficient. It is the same with all the rules on conflict of interest. Those in conflict of interest may not have done anything wrong and could also, if called upon to testify (against their wives or against the company that pays them), tell the truth and nothing but the truth. It is best not to take risks, however, or not to put the person in a conflict of interest situation, or in a situation where he may be tempted to lie or to alter the truth. Nothing I will say in this book about the possible unreliability of some witnesses can be interpreted as an accusation of their having committed crimes or wrongdoing of any kind. An accusation of this type is not up to me, but to prosecutors. The case is different for offenses of a moral nature, which fall under my jurisdiction and on which I will not make allowances for anyone.

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In this regard, I must also clarify that, on an ethical level, I must always save the “internal forum.” I will often be very hard on sin but nothing I say will imply a judgment on the sinner, except in hypothetical terms. I could say, for example, that a certain person’s actions or statements are false or that they objectively generate hatred and violence. Yet the person may have acted in good faith, without realizing what he was doing, or out of ignorance.

I will be especially hard on the overall behavior of professional classes or sectors of society, which of course does not imply that there are no good people in those classes or sectors. Often, a wrong or corrupt system unknowingly makes even good people bad, which is all the more reason to express the condemnation of that system clearly. The harshness of moral condemnation is directly proportional to the corruption of the system and serves precisely to awaken the dormant consciences of good people. Analogically, it is the same positive rhetoric as the prophetic spirit of the Bible. The prophet must condemn with clarity and harshness proportional to the corruption of society, or the people of that society will not wake up from their ethical slumber. Applied moral philosophy, from my point of view, can never lose, at least in the most serious cases of social torpor, a certain prophetic spirit.

In my condemnations of the system (and never of individuals) I will often use biblical language and the image of the great prostitute. This is not meant as a personal insult to anyone. It is a strong prophetic moral condemnation with a precise conceptual connotation. The Apocalypse announces the fall of Babylon the great, which “has become a haunt for demons. She is a cage for every unclean spirit, a cage for every unclean bird, (a cage for every unclean) and disgusting (beast). For all the nations have drunk the wine of her licentious passion. The kings of the earth had intercourse with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her drive for luxury” (Rev 18:2-3). In the Apocalypse, however, Jesus fights with the double-edged sword of His mouth, with the truth (Rev 1:16). From this point of view, the great prostitute is society or that part of it which, in view of some advantage, fear, or vice, corrupts the truth and prostitutes itself to the falsehoods of the world.

Some people, because of their role or their profession, have a special duty to testify to the truth, or to speak with the double-edged sword of the Apocalypse. Towards these people, when they prostitute themselves, the prophetic condemnation is worse and more resounding. In many ways, at the intellectual level, the great prostitute coincides with the sophistry against which Plato lashes out through the mouth of Socrates. The Sophists are the experts, not of true argument, but of the winning one. They are the ones who return home in the evening happy, not because whoever listened to them learned something true and good, but because whoever listened to them was convinced that they were right.

Sophists are concerned with winning (in politics, with the audience, in commerce, in advertising), not in learning or teaching. They prostitute the truth for their own profit. There are, however, people who have drunk so much of the wine of Babylon that being called Sophists might even please them; it could give them the idea that deep down they are good at something: that is, at convincing and manipulating people. Biblical terminology, on the other hand, could create that positive discomfort that leads to a possible ethical conversion. Better therefore, at least in some cases, not to condemn the sophistication but the prostitution. And I will proceed accordingly.

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This book is part of a larger work in several volumes aimed at addressing the problem of anti-Covid vaccines as an object of moral choice, both individual and collective. The first volume, which also includes the plan of the entire work, is Vaccine as an Act of Love? Epistemology of Ethical Choice in Times of Pandemics.

The overall architectural structure of this larger work is based on the analysis of ethical choices regarding vaccines in terms of object, circumstances, and end. As I explained in the introduction to the first volume, this type of analysis originates in Greek philosophy, develops above all in the tradition of Christian thought (also through canon law), and is now part of the fundamental structure of both civil and criminal Western law. In fact, the responsibility of the person in front of the law is measured on the basis of the identification of a human act defined objectively (will, theft, parking offense, etc.), of the assessment of the circumstances that influence in various ways the choice of that act, and of the analysis of subjective responsibility based on the intent of the agent (which can also be more or less serious depending on the circumstances).

For the purposes of this overall analysis, I had to distinguish between internal circumstances and external circumstances with respect to the “vaccine” object. In fact, there may be elements that influence the ethical choice to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated, but which do not relate to the characteristics of the vaccine as such. The present book concerns precisely these latter circumstances, the ones external to the so-called anti-Covid vaccines. These circumstances do not concern the vaccine or drug as such or its characteristics with respect to the good of health, but affect the ethical choice to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated—or to take this new drug or not, in whatever way it is defined and by any term it is referred to—based on other considerations.

With respect to the overall work, this book represents a part that conceptually and chronologically follows both the general explanation on the structure of the moral act (first part), the detailed explanation of the internal circumstances of the anti-Covid vaccines that I call structural and institutional (second part), and the explanation, in general terms, of all the epistemological issues involved in the whole question (which I also deal with in the second part). This book is partially independent of the analysis of other types of circumstances that I tackle in other volumes, but with which it is still intertwined in various ways. None of these volumes can be completely isolated from the others even if each volume maintains its own methodological and conceptual autonomy. This volume, however, precedes the last on the ends of the action, which, for various reasons, presupposes all prior analyses of the object and circumstances.

As I explain in the first volume, almost all the external circumstances that affect the choice to get vaccinated fall within the order of ends. That is, they concern the assessments of the good of health compared to different goods or ends. In the context of the analysis of the human act, the distinction between circumstances and ends is difficult, largely useless, and should in any case be delayed to a specific discussion of the agent’s intentionality and of the ends to which it aims. In the previous parts of the work included in the first volume, I made some hypothetical examples centered on the role of the Pope or other characters with public responsibilities who decide not to get vaccinated, or not to get vaccinated immediately, to convey or testify to a certain ethical message. In these cases, we could speak, from a third person point of view, of an external subjective circumstance that pertains to the role or office of a certain person. However, from the point of view of the agent, the choice indicates the preference for a certain hierarchy among the goods involved in the action: a hierarchy such that a higher good (such as that of faith) leads to overshadowing, at least temporarily, the good of health. It is therefore a topic that belongs to the analysis of the ends and intentionality rather than to the analysis of the circumstances as such.

With regard to anti-Covid vaccines, the only relevant external circumstances that I believe should be identified regardless of the analysis of the ends pertain, for the gnoseological reasons that I am about to explain, to faith. It is this, therefore, the strain of circumstances that will be the specific subject of this volume. Each of the following chapters is about individuals or institutions who in one way or another are or should be witnesses to the truth about vaccines for us.

Before leaving the reader to the individual chapters, I further clarify that, from my point of view, what I am talking about here is not enough for a prudent person, the phronimos (to put it in Aristotelian terms), to make a rational and good choice concerning the anti-Covid vaccines. The reason is precisely what I have just mentioned: that is, that the ethical choice implies the evaluation of both the object, the ends, and all the relevant circumstances, and not just of those (external) circumstances discussed in this volume. However, the themes developed here play a crucial role in enabling the ethical subject to rationally address the relevant sources of information to be used to form his own conviction. From this point of view, the volume holds a special methodological autonomy, and is perhaps the most essential for building the adequate framework within which to approach one’s choices wisely.

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As always, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to make another small contribution in this world with the time and the talents that have been given to me. I thank my wife Francesca for the patience, support, encouragement, and enthusiasm with which she always deals with the things that concern our cultural commitments for the common good. With respect to the specific issue of anti-Covid vaccines and pandemic management, it was initially she who stimulated my critical approach and prompted me to study the relevant issues more in depth. I also thank my children, Riccardo and Ottavia, because their cheerful presence alone, even if it makes it difficult to concentrate, gives a joy and hope capable of overcoming any obstacle and fatigue. The other day I found Riccardo, five years old, drawing in a notebook while sitting on the sofa and who, as soon as he saw me, immediately told me that he too was writing a book. Ottavia (two years old) is at this moment on my lap, between me and the computer, enjoying herself while listening to kids’ songs on television and while I stretch my arms around her trying to reach the keyboard and finish this introduction. Deo gratias!

I thank my friend Mauro Ghilardini who was one of the immediate causes of this work because, since he decided to publish some of my posts on a blog, so many comments and requests for clarifications or insights followed that it was easier for me to think of writing a book than responding to a thousand posts online. I thank Francesco Zambon for the useful discussions on WHO and the management of the pandemic. I thank Marisa Gatti-Taylor Ph.D. and Steven Millen Taylor PhD—as well as a friend who needs to remain anonymous to avoid possible negative employment repercussions—for their precious editorial help and for their encouragement. Of course, I am solely responsible for errors and opinions expressed in the text. I thank all the friends, colleagues, physicians, and scientists who maintain rationality, integrity, and serenity in these times of collective panic and madness. I thank all the people of good will who do not give in to violence, insult, and social hatred and who never tire of demonstrating publicly for the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the human person. Finally, I thank all the bishops and priests who continue to preach the Gospel of Christ instead of the new vaccine and Green Pass religion.


Featured image: breaking of the sixth seal (Rev. 6), the Douce Apocalypse, ca. 1272.

Reconquest: The Project Of Éric Zemmour

We translate here the speech delivered by Éric Zemmour, at the launch of his brand-new political part, Reconquête (Reconquest), on December 5, 2021, before a crowd of some 15,000. It is a powerful call to arms for France, and Zemmour is making the French political establishment rather nervous. He is a well-known public intellectual and writer.


Greetings to all of you! Greetings to all of you. Greetings my friends. Thank you! Thank you for the welcome. It’s amazing. What an atmosphere! What a pleasure to be here before you in Villepinte. Thank you, really. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

I heard the words of those who spoke before me: I thank them. Thank you, my friends! Thank you for being here, thank you for your support. The great coming-together finally begins today. There are nearly fifteen thousand of you here today.

Fifteen thousand! Fifteen thousand French people. Fifteen thousand French people who have defied political correctness, the threats of the extreme left and the hatred of the media.

Fifteen thousand French people who no longer lower their eyes and who are determined to change the course of history! Because let’s not be falsely modest: the stakes are immense. If I win this election, it will not be just another change-over, but the beginning of the reconquest of the most beautiful country in the world.

Yes, this country has suffered so much, has been forgotten by our successive leaders, so that on all fronts it is now necessary to repair the innumerable errors which were committed over these last forty years. Economy, ecology, purchasing power, public services, immigration, insecurity: none of the major chapters of the action we must take escape the serious and comprehensive project that we will begin today to unveil to the French people. Because after the indispensable period of observing and raising awareness, the project must follow.

Who could have imagined this just a few months ago?

The authorities had decided it, the journalists had wanted it, the right had accepted it: the next presidential election was to be a formality for five more years of Macronism.

France was to continue to quietly exit from history, and the French were to disappear in silence on the land of their ancestors. But a small grain of sand came along to jam the machine. No, this grain of sand is not me. This grain of sand is you!

Let me tell you a beautiful story. I’m going to tell you the story of what you’ve accomplished in the last few months.

Last June, on every stage, at every dinner party, in every polling station it was clearly understood: the second round was a foregone conclusion, and Macron could not but win. This presidential election was of no interest.

And then a rumor started to spread. Yes, I confess, I hesitated for a long time. But you came, we came.

And we upset the best laid plans. We broke the tacit pact between all the actors of this farce. And now, no one dares to predict the results of the coming election.

I weigh my words carefully when I say this: your presence honors me. It honors me, because by coming here you show courage, panache, audacity. And dare I say it: by your commitment, you have shown more ardor, determination and resistance than almost all the political leaders of the last thirty years. In Bordeaux, Lyon, Lille, Nice, Ajaccio, Nantes, Rouen, Biarritz, and today, Paris—France is calling out for help and the French have answered the call.

For months, our meetings have been disturbing journalists, irritating politicians, and hystericizing the Left.

Each time I travel, they are enraged at seeing this people that they thought would disappear forever! Because in the four corners of the country, they saw these rooms full to bursting, and overflowing with enthusiasm.

They see your flags, they hear your chants, and they are stunned by your applause. In the end, the political phenomenon of these meetings is not me, it’s you! Your presence is that of a people who have never lain down, and who remain standing against all odds. This people—they had forgotten them; they had underestimated them. They even thought they had got rid of them, far from the city centers, far from the beautiful districts, far from their media.

They were wrong.

The French people, who have been here for a thousand years and who want to remain masters in their own country for another thousand years, have not had their last word.

Your courage honors me, because for months now, not a single day has gone by without those in power and their media outlets attacking me. They invent polemics about books that I wrote fifteen years ago.

They dig into my private life. They call me names. But don’t be mistaken: the real object of their wrath is not me, it’s you. If they hate me, it is because they hate you; if they despise me, it is because they despise YOU.

Against me, everything is allowed. The pack is now on my tail: my opponents want my political death, the journalists want my social death, and the jihadists want me dead. But in their rage, they made a serious mistake: they showed themselves. They attacked us too early. In a few weeks, I am sure, the French will open its eyes to their stratagems, and their attacks will become ineffective.

They have made the mistake of designating me as their sole opponent. They think they are our enemies. But, in fact, they are our best allies.

We are used to it by now. In every election, the system carefully excludes the candidates who displease it, with its judges at their behest, and their militant journalists. We knew they would come after us and we were waiting for them. They want to forbid us to defend our ideas. They want to make me unelectable. They want to steal your democracy. Let’s not let them do that!

They still have one last hope—they want me not to get my 500 sponsorships. So, I say to the mayors of France: dear elected representatives of the people, men and women of good sense, volunteers of the Republic, you have the power to give a voice to millions of French people! Use this power! Do not let yourselves be robbed of the election.

In attacking me, they made a second mistake: underestimating the French. They imagined us asleep, tired, submissive, afraid… But this extraordinary people have a unique capacity of resistance in the history of humanity. France should have disappeared many times. But each time, we held on, and each time, we came back!

They imagine us, in their caricature, full of resentment. They are mistaken: In our hearts there is neither hatred nor resentment, but only determination and courage. In the midst of the French Revolution, Danton declared: “A nation saves itself, but does not take revenge.”

We do not want to take revenge, we want to save, save our country, save our civilization, save our culture, save our literature, save our school, save our landscapes and our natural patrimony, save our companies, save our heritage, save our youth. And above all: save our people.

Over the past few months, you may have heard many things about me. Some have said that I was brutal. Yes, this could be true, because I am passionate and my commitment is total, and France is on the brink.

During these three months, I wanted to push forward the question of France’s survival. If I had been wrong, frankly, do you think that everyone else would have started talking like me?

You may have heard that I am a “fascist,” that I am a “racist,” that I am a “misogynist.” I am pleased to see that you have not been misled.

Fascist… fascist. Me, a fascist.

Right…

When frankly, I am the only one defending the freedom of thought, the freedom of speech, the freedom to debate, the freedom to put words to reality, while they all dream of banning our meetings and having me convicted.

And then I am also a misogynist.

Right…

You know just how ridiculous this accusation is. As a child, in the middle of these big families from Algeria, I was always surrounded by women: my mother of course, but also her sisters, my grandmothers. The women of my childhood, even more than the men, forged my character. They were… how can I put it? At the same time loving and demanding, tender and imperious. It was my mother who instilled in me a taste for effort and excellence. It was also my mother who instilled in me an immoderate love of France.

When I remember my childhood, I remember first of all that my mother transmitted to me this immoderate love of France, the elegance of its art of living, the refinement of its morals and its literature. It was she who gave me the strength to resist everything, to defend this France that she loved passionately. I will tell you a secret: it is thanks to her experience and her memories, told to the child that I was, that I was able to understand—before others—the unheard-of regression that women are undergoing today, in neighborhoods where mass immigration has imported an Islamic civilization so cruel to women.

This is probably why I am the only one today, along with some courageous organizations, to establish without false modesty the obvious link between this immigration from the other side of the Mediterranean and the threats which weigh each day more and more on French women, on their freedom, on their integrity, and sometimes even on their lives. But, all the while, feminists look the other way and talk to us about inclusive language.

I am also supposed to be a “racist.” I will be a racist when I am the only one who does not confuse the defense of our own with the hatred of others.

What is racism? It is to imagine that those who are different from us are inferior because they are different and that the only people who can be French are the descendants of Clovis. How can I, a little Berber Jew from the other side of the Mediterranean, think that?

No, obviously I am not a racist. No, of course, you are not racists. All we want is to defend our heritage. We are defending our country, our homeland, the heritage of our ancestors and the heritage that we will entrust to our children. The preservation of the heritage is not the enemy of modernity, it is the very condition of its existence.

Yes, we are engaged in a fight that is greater than ourselves—that of passing on to our children France as we have known it, France as we have received it. That is why I am standing before the French people today to become their next President of the Republic. That is why we are engaging today in a great battle for France!

Our movement is launched. It is well-structured and organized in all our regions, in all our departments.

Every day, every hour, every minute, we welcome into our ranks new brave ones ready to fight for France. They can now count on the precious support of the VIA networks and the conservative movement. Laurence and Jean-Frédéric, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Yes, thanks to them, thanks to all of you, the Reconquest is now launched!

The reconquest of our economy, the reconquest of our security, the reconquest of our identity, the reconquest of our sovereignty, the reconquest of our country!

We are heading out to the reconquest of our abandoned villages, of our devastated schools, our sacrificed companies, our degraded natural and cultural heritage.

We are heading out to the reconquest of our country to win it back.

“Reconquest” is the name of this movement that I wanted to found. Join us! Join the reconquest of our country!

Our campaign will be different from others because I am different from others. Yes, I humbly confess:

I do not have forty years of political cunning and media spin behind me. They think it’s my weakness, I think it’s my strength.

My strength in this campaign is to touch the hearts of the French with my style, my personality, my sincerity, and now my project.

My strength is to lead our country without compromise, without cowardice, without weakness.

In my conception of politics, sincerity, coherence, honesty, have never been defects.

In my vision of politics, the contest of ideas, convictions, enthusiasm are the surest assets to keep one’s promises and not to betray the voters.

In my conception of politics, we address all French people.

I refuse to choose between the wealthy classes of the metropolises and peripheral France.

I refuse to choose between urban France and rural France.

I refuse to choose between metropolitan France and outer France.

I refuse to choose between the retired and the active.

I refuse to choose between the memories of yesterday, the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow.

In my vision of politics, when you are President of the French people, you are president of all France and all French people.

Our campaign is now launched—it will be the most beautiful of all!

I now want to pay tribute to all those who, for months now have believed in me, who slogged through the campaign, mobilized, handed out leaflets, canvassed the mayors—to make this great fight possible.

Thank you to the Friends of Eric Zemmour, thank you to Generation Z.

I had planned to say: “I want us to applaud them,” but as usual you will do what’s in your mind. It was always they who, by their enthusiasm, gave me the desire to lead this battle.

“Impossible is not French” wrote the Emperor. You have proved once again that he was right.

Yes, your fight is noble because you are not fighting for yourself, for your little privileges, for your little lives. You are committed to something much bigger than yourself: you are committed to France.

Like the builders of cathedrals, we are working for tomorrow. We work for the day after tomorrow.

We are working for our children, and for our children’s children.

We know that History is relentless, and we will be equal to it so that in a century, France will once again become a beacon that lights up the world, and that our people will once again be admired, envied and respected. For the power and sovereignty regained at home will allow us to express power and influence abroad, on the stage of a world that has changed and that we must face without fear.

To achieve this goal, we are going to conquer power: tomorrow the Elysée Palace, the day after tomorrow the National Assembly! Then will come the turn of the regions, the departments, the communes. One by one we are going to dislodge all these left-wing elected officials, all these socialists: all these socialists who have become Macronists, all these Macronists who have become ecologists, and all these ecologists who have become Islamo-leftists. To dislodge each of them, we will have to convince each Frenchman.

This is our mission. That is your mission.

We have a clear course ahead of us, based on undeniable facts; and from now on we will present solid initiatives.

As I have often said, one of the things that led me to this candidacy was when my son said to me one day: “Well, Dad, the observations you’ve been making for thirty years, now it’s time to take action.”

At 63, I’m moving from observations to action.

I am ready to take the reins of our country. We are ready to meet the expectations of the French people.

You know, for months now, I have been crisscrossing France, meeting with the French. Two fears haunt them: that of the great decline with the impoverishment of the French, the decline of our power and the collapse of our school. And that of the great replacement, with the Islamization of France, mass immigration and permanent insecurity.

Yes, we know. We know that France has become terribly impoverished in recent years. We feel the difficulties of so many French people to make ends meet. We understand the pain that business leaders have because of all the taxes, laws and regulations. We are afflicted by the decline of our power in the world.

I want to address all of these fears.

To stop our employees from getting poorer, I want to make the take-home pay higher. It is not normal to have such a gap between net and gross wages. It is not normal that the gross salary is so high for the bosses, and that the net salary is so low for the employees. I want to give back purchasing power to the most modest employees. I will therefore reduce the contributions they pay, in order to give back, each year, a thirteenth month to employees earning the minimum wage. Each month, they will receive an extra 100 euros. This is only fair: it is the fruit of their labor. I cannot imagine that our employees, especially the poorest ones, finance with their expenses a social model that has become obese because it is open to the whole world.

Solidarity must become national again, and throughout this campaign I will not stop coming back to this, so that the French will get out of this downward spiral. So that our companies also stop getting poorer.

Therefore, in the very first weeks of my mandate, I will massively reduce production taxes for all companies, because it is not right to tax a company before it has even had a chance to make a profit. I want more small businesses to benefit from a lower corporate tax rate: why do large companies, with their armies of tax experts, manage to pay less tax than small companies and VSEs? I want them to regain room to maneuver so that they have the capacity to invest and hire.

In order for our country to stop getting poorer, I am choosing to reindustrialize. I have been saying this for years, at a time when the so-called serious economists were mocking us. I want France to become a major industrial world power again. To become powerful again, France must become a country of industry. Because industry creates jobs, generates innovation, is a source of wealth and a guarantor of our independence. General de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou understood this. Because it is synonymous with social advancement, we want to recoup this industrial France of workers, engineers, SMEs, ETIs and large companies!

So, to help our industrialists, we propose less taxes, fewer standards and more orders. In addition to lowering production taxes, we will force public procurement to favor French companies. There is no reason why all the countries in the world should reserve their public contracts for their national companies, while France chooses to go abroad because of budgetary and European dogmatism. To implement this policy, I will create a powerful Ministry of Industry in charge of foreign trade, energy, research and development and raw materials.

We will also initiate a process of administrative simplification under the direct aegis of the Elysée. Why is our State so powerless with criminals, yet so ruthless with honest people?

I want to cut through this forest of regulations that is ruining the lives of our companies. To do this, I will rely on the key players in our economy, on thousands of intermediary organizations despised by successive governments.

We are choosing to reduce taxation and to focus on industry, on the creation of wealth with a view to its redistribution, on the choice of public procurement over subsidies!

Our conception of the economy is coherent: it favors entrepreneurship in the service of all AND rootedness. Yes, rootedness. This is why we are going to promote the transfer of companies from one generation to the next, like in Italy, like in Germany. This is why I want to abolish inheritance and gift taxes for the transfer of family businesses. It is not normal; it is not acceptable that a French company director would rather sell his company to a Chinese industrialist or to an American investment fund rather than pass on the fruits of his labor to his children, for fear of being cheated by the tax authorities.

But the great decline is not only that of our less well-off workers, it is not only that of our companies—it is also that of French power. For France to get out of the spiral of decline in which our elites have trapped it, it must renew its tradition of independence. This is why I want France to leave NATO’s integrated military command. That is why we must jealously preserve our overseas territories. That is why New Caledonia must remain French. I say no to all the surrenders of this government on this subject.

I want France to regain a position of balance in the world. We are France. We are not the vassals of the United States. We are not the vassals of NATO, of the European Union. We must speak with all countries! The United States, China, Russia. But we must also be wary of all of them, because geopolitics is never a long quiet river. We must regain our rank, reconnect with our power.

Throughout this campaign, I will continue to reveal my platform. Throughout this campaign, I will continue to make public the measures I propose for France.

Our political project is a long-term one. We are committed to the next decades, and to the next generations. And in the long term, power rhymes with education. For schools, we will be on the side of excellence. The French school model must return to its fundamentals, with a particular focus on mathematics and the humanities.

We must rediscover the model that made us successful in the past, and which is now the success of the Asian countries that have imitated us: classical culture, scientific studies, valorization of manual skills,
transmission of knowledge, and the culture of merit and excellence.

From the beginning of the new school year, we will make school the instrument of French-style assimilation, and we will chase pedagogism, Islamo-leftism and LGBT ideology out of our children’s classrooms!

We will give back to teachers the means to work. We will restore their authority. We will ban the use of inclusive language and we will ban all forms of positive discrimination.

Yes, I promise, school will no longer be the ideological laboratory of the Left, and our children will no longer be its guinea pigs! The school of the Republic must once again become the sanctuary it was; and the free school, to which we owe so much, must remain free!

The school must regain its priority objective: the transmission of knowledge, the only way to reduce inequalities. It must no longer try to be as inclusive as possible; but on the contrary to re-establish the culture of merit and effort. And it is because knowledge will be transmitted again, because the culture of effort and merit will be re-established that we will effectively fight against social inequalities!

I want to put an end to this pedagogy which has been constantly lowering social standards for forty years. In the name of equality between all students, they have deprived them of culture, they have prevented evaluations, they have banned rankings.

They thought they were doing the students a favor by depriving them of excellence, preventing them from demonstrating their talent, their intelligence and their work. The school of my childhood promoted these things, and I am sure for many of you here it was the same. That older school allowed in one generation for a person to climb the highest ranks of the Republic. Remember Georges Pompidou, a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, an Associate Professor of Arts, a senior civil servant, and a Head of State, whose parents were teachers and whose grandparents were modest farmers. This is the kind of destiny I want for the next generations of French people, regardless of their social background!

This forgotten France, our forgotten France, has the right to find a quality school. This despised France has the right to find public services. This abandoned France, which lacks police stations, which lacks trains, which lacks doctors, which lacks hospitals is also deprived of a school worthy of its dreams for its children. It is unfair, and it is unacceptable.

But impossible is not French. The state can enable the reconquest of this abandoned France. It must go to each village, each commune, each department to present its model based on excellence: industrial excellence, scientific excellence, educational excellence, excellence in our public services.

Yes, our fight is for excellence. But our fight is above all for France. Because in the face of the accelerating change of people, we are the only ones who dare speak the truth. We are the only ones who say the words that make people angry because we suggest measures that are necessary.

In 2019, France has allowed between 350,000 and 400,000 foreigners to enter its territory, far more than the city of Nice, which is the fifth largest city in France! Over a five-year period, this represents two million entries; the equivalent of the city of Paris.

The challenge of the next presidential election will be to know if we want to let in two million more over the next five years.

According to INSEE, while less than 1% of newborns had a Muslim name in the 1960s, today 22% do so.

Today they are 22%. What percentage tomorrow? Imagine the magnitude of the unprecedented cultural, demographic and human change we are going through. Yesterday, the media complex denied it. Today they celebrate it. Tomorrow they will tell us that we had no choice.

They are lying.

We have a choice.

We have the power to choose the civilizational destiny of our country.

Our migration policy has three pillars:

The first is to stop the flow immediately. From the first weeks of my mandate, zero immigration will become a clear objective of our policy. Before next summer, I want to limit the right to asylum to a handful of individuals each year, to restore meaning to this misused right. I will demand that asylum applications be made in our consulates, to avoid the settlement of rejected asylum seekers who never leave. I want to abolish the right to family reunification and drastically reduce family immigration.

I want to improve the selection of foreign students and establish the principle of their return at the end of their studies. I want to dismantle illegal immigration channels, to put out of action the entities that bring these migrants back to Europe.

The second pillar of my migration policy is simple: I want to put an end to the suction pumps that make France an El Dorado for the Third World. France must become generous with its own people and stop opening its social model to the four winds! I want to abolish social assistance for non-European foreigners, abolish state medical aid. Why, my friends, should we be the only ones in the world to be so generous? I want to abolish the right of the soil, and I want to drastically tighten the conditions for naturalization.

The third pillar of this plan concerns foreigners who have already settled in France. I want to systematically expel all illegals present illegally on our soil. I want to immediately expel foreign criminals who will no longer clutter French prisons. I want to deprive of their French nationality the criminals with dual nationality. I want to expel unemployed foreigners after six months of unsuccessful job search.

So many democratic countries do it: why not us?

All these measures will be submitted to the French people by referendum so that they approve them. Thus made sacred by universal suffrage, they will be imposed on all, including the constitutional council, the European judges, and the technocrats of Brussels.

Our existence as a French people is not negotiable. Our survival as a French nation is not subject to the goodwill of treaties or European judges. Let’s take back our destiny!

Now I want to talk to those who are French. Yes, I make a distinction between who is French and who is not. No, I will not expel some French people. Yes, I am reaching out to Muslims who want to become our brothers! Many of them already are that. For all those who want to be French and who show their attachment to France every day; for all those who did not come to France for the generosity of its social model, out of habit or out of spite; for all those whose ancestors, like me, come from elsewhere but who want the future of their children to be written here.

To all of them, I propose assimilation. Assimilation is the greatest gift France can offer you: to be part of its immense History. It is the greatest gift that France has given me.

Imagine becoming the compatriot of Montaigne, Pascal, Chateaubriand, Balzac! The choice of assimilation is certainly a demanding one, because from now on we have to say “we” when talking about a past where our personal ancestors were not present. This is the effort that my grandparents and my parents made.

Yes, assimilation is demanding, but only it will allow us to find peace and brotherhood. Yes, assimilation is demanding, but why exempt the Algerians, the Malians or the Turks from the efforts made in the past by the Spaniards, the Poles or the Italians? Why should Muslims be unable to do the work of separating the spiritual from the temporal that the Jews and Christians did before them?

Yes, we are reaching out to the French of the Muslim faith who want to become our brothers! There are some! And our hand is firm, and without compromise: if you make France your mother and every Frenchman your brother, you are our compatriots!

Yes, in our reconquest, we set the bar very high and we are demanding, because France is not an à la carte menu. France requires total adhesion. And for those who refuse, and for all those with dual nationality and foreigners who violate our laws, the exit door is wide open.

These are the solutions that the French have been demanding for decades. France can no longer procrastinate.

I cannot fight this battle without you. I need your help! A formidable struggle awaits us to save our country, and each of us is participating in this immense battle.

I appeal to all French patriots, to all those whose feet are firmly rooted in their land. To all those who have not abandoned France. I call upon. I appeal to these militants, to these executives, to these voters of the National Front, who have seen their ideas vegetate in a sterile opposition for decades.

I appeal to these militants and voters of the Republicans, who are tired of seeing their elected representatives bend to the injunctions of the Left and political correctness. This right wing, in love with France, is the majority in our country.

They are well-to-do people categories who have not cut their ties with their homeland. They are the people who have not given in to uprooting. These are the middle class who refuse to be replaced.

I am reaching out to the voters, the executives, the supporters of the Republicans, many of whom have been represented by my friend Eric Ciotti. Your place is with us, at our side, in this fight for France. I want to speak here to the orphans of the RPR. To all those who remember that here, in Villepinte, exactly 31 years ago, the whole of the Right was gathered to organize the “Etats généraux de l’immigration.” I was there, I was barely 30 years old. Yes, I was there. I observed, I noted.

But, there were especially Chirac, Giscard, Juppé, Bayrou, Sarkozy, Madelin. And so many others.

They promised that immigration would be reduced to zero, that national solidarity would be reserved for the French, and that the right of citizenship would be abolished. It was strongly asserted that Islamic laws were incompatible with the laws of the French Republic.

Luck, my friends, is malicious. Thirty-one years later, we find ourselves here, in Villepinte, to say exactly the same thing. And the Left, and the media, and the Macronist power, and the center, and even the current leaders of LR are labelling me and us with the infamous label of “extreme right.”

I want to ask a simple question here. Was Jacques Chirac of the extreme right? Was Valérie Giscard d’Estaing of the extreme right? And Alain Juppé, and François Bayrou? Are they also from the extreme right then?

Yes, my friends, luck is mischievous. We find ourselves together today, on December 5th, the anniversary of the founding of the RPR in 1976! We weren’t even supposed to be here in Villepinte, and here we are. What coincidences, what anniversaries, what memories, what symbols.

But this lesson from Villepinte does not end there. Three years after the General Assembly of the Right, the RPR and the UDF won the legislative elections. In 1995, Jacques Chirac entered the Elysée Palace.

And yet… And yet, all these beautiful proclamations of Villepinte remained a dead letter. All these beautiful promises were forgotten.

The Right, as usual, submitted to the injunctions of the Left, the media, the judges. The Right, as usual, betrayed its voters as soon as they had put it into power.

Thirty years later, nothing has changed. Thirty years later, the RPR and the UDF have become LR; but it’s still the same promises, still the same martial declarations.

Why do you want these politicians to keep the commitments they have not kept for thirty years? The same causes, be sure, will produce the same effects.

Valérie Pécresse constantly reminds us that her entry into politics is intimately linked to the person of Jacques Chirac. She constantly refers to him. Let’s take her word for it. She will act just like her mentor—she will promise everything and deliver nothing. Chirac who said: “I will surprise you with my demagogy.” Chirac who said: “Promises only oblige those who listen to them.”

Yes, believe Valérie Pécresse when she repeats that she is the heiress of Jacques Chirac. We are the opposite of these political betrayals.

We promise and we will deliver. We will commit and we will do. Let us say, my friends, that this will be our Villepinte Pledge! The Oath of Villepinte that will erase thirty years of renunciation and cowardice.

Thirty years during which the people were divided, separated, ostracized, with National Front voters treated as pariahs, and LR voters intimidated, terrorized by a Left that decided who was republican, who was not, who was in the camp of the good, who was in the camp of the bad.

That time is over.

We must come together, we must unite. I want to give back the right to vote to the National Front voters and I want to give back the right to the LR voters. This is no longer the time for Byzantine quarrels: tomorrow, France may disappear. Our duty is to stand up. Our duty is to fight. Our duty is to commit ourselves!

A very particular commitment, because we are not going to fight people. Unlike our opponents, full of hatred and contempt, we are not fighting against individuals. Our fight is harder, more difficult but more noble: we fight against ideas.

In 2022, it is not only the person of Emmanuel Macron that we are going to defeat, but better—his ideology; this system of which he is the standard-bearer, the spokesman, and the executor. The “person” Emmanuel Macron does not interest us, because he is fundamentally uninteresting. Find me a single Frenchman in the country who can explain the thinking of Emmanuel Macron. Just one!

There is none, not even he himself!

Nobody knows who he is, because he is nobody. Behind the mask of perfect technocratic intelligence, behind the mountain of superficial ideas, behind the contradictory slogans, behind the “at the same time” synonymous with disorder, and the “whatever it takes” synonymous of ruin, there is nobody. There is nothing!

Macron has gutted our economy, our identity, our culture, our freedom, our energy, our hopes, our lives. He has emptied everything, because he alone is the great void, the abyss. In 2017, France elected the void and fell into it.

My friends, it is time to get our country and our people out of this bottomless pit. We will leave in its showcase the plastic dummy [Macron], this automaton that wanders in a labyrinth of mirrors, this faceless mask that disfigures our own. We will let this teenager search for himself eternally. Let’s leave him with his obsession for himself.

Our courage, our intelligence, our strength and our commitment, we dedicate them against globalism, against collectivization, against mass immigration, against gender theory and Islamo-leftism. All these infernal machines which have only one goal, only one mission and only one ideal: to deconstruct our people. to better destroy it.

Tirelessly, we will uproot these ideologies that thrive only on public money and militant journalists. Yes, we will make Macronism a bad memory.

Then…

When this ghost will have left the Elysée, when the Left will have lost its last puppet, we will replace it with France. We will replace the little Macron with “the Great Nation.” We will replace emptiness with identity. We will replace complacency with excellence. We will replace the derisory with History.

A wonderful, exceptional task awaits us, the commitment of a lifetime. France is at a crossroads. It is now or never.

French people! I want enthusiasm, I want songs, I want joy, I want pride! Be strong, be joyful, be happy!

Yes, my friends, you are right to sing the Marseillaise, because we are going to recover France from the cynics and the conceited, from those who only have contempt and arrogance in their eyes, from all those who want to make us disappear. We are rising up. Lift up your hearts!

All my life, I have denied with all my strength melancholy, which brings on despair, which deprives us of courage and which paralyses us from action.

Bernanos wrote: “Hope is a heroic determination of the soul, and its highest form is despair overcome.”

Yes, we must overcome our anger, our doubts accumulated over so many years to transform our despair into hope.

A colossal and magnificent task awaits us—to rebuild France, our beloved country. We have the people, we have a plan, we have the strength and we have the courage. We have the ideas, we have a project and we have a movement. They can do nothing against you, they can do nothing against us.

In front of the whole world, we can now raise our eyes and shout loud and clear: France is back!

France, this country of scientists who have transformed the world, and this country of writers who have made it dream. This country of courageous workers and ingenious innovators. This unique country in the world, this perfect balance between beauty and strength, between elegance and vigor, between survival instinct and generosity, between freedom and equality, between genius and lightness.

Yes, France is back because the French people have risen up! The French people are standing up to all those who want to make them disappear, in the face of all those who want to deprive their children of their heritage and greatness!

The French people will never lower their eyes in the face of those who have sworn their doom! Yes, France is back! Long live the Republic, and above all, above all:

Long live France!


Featured image: a portrait of Éric Zemmour by fmr0, 2019.

Indo-European Origins: Eurasian Steppes Or Northern Fjords?

The question of the “home of origin” (Urheimat, Homeland) of the Indo-Europeans has given rise to the most varied hypotheses and suppositions, theories that are analyzed in detail in Alain de Benoist’s book Indo-Europeans: In Search of the Homeland, without the author—nor anyone else—being able to venture a definitive solution, even though the new revelations of paleogenetics point to the “Yamna culture” of the Eurasian steppes, since anthropological and archaeological evidence insistently points to the European Nordic area. In any case, the debate about the “original homeland” of the Indo-Europeans is still open.

5,000 years ago (especially in the period 2800/2500 BC. ), in the Bronze Age, it seems that a people from the Eurasian Pontic steppes, predominantly light pigmented (skin, eyes and hair), nomadic herders and herdsmen, predatory warriors mounted on horseback and with wheeled chariots, used for both transport and combat, with unique funeral rites, innovative metallurgy and unique pottery, began to invade Europe, in successive migratory waves, imposing themselves on the peaceful hunter-gatherer-farmers. In any case, around 2000 B.C., the hardy bands of steppe nomads reached the Atlantic coasts and passed to the British Isles, after a frenetic race of invasion and conquest, devastating in their path the primitive, agricultural, peaceful, matriarchal and egalitarian European pre-civilization cultures.

Their “original habitat”: the steppes of southern Russia and Ukraine, between the Black and Caspian Seas, reaching westward to eastern Hungary across the Balkans, and eastward to present-day Kazakhstan and the Altai, which would validate the hypothesis of the “kurgans” (tombs in the form of burial mounds) of Lithuanian-American archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Her greatest “legacy”: the impressive extension of the Indo-European languages, which include most of the languages spoken from Iceland and Ireland to northern India, in addition to the Indo-European peripheries in America, Australia and South Africa. This “Pontic and Steppe hypothesis” seemed to disprove the “Nordic or Germanic hypothesis” held, among others, by Gustaf Kossinna (and more recently, by Lothar Kilian and Carl-Heinz Boettcher), which fits better with the prehistoric data of mythology and anthropology, but which fell out of favor because of the perverse use of “Aryans” in Nazi Germany. Their “other legacy”: genetic inheritance.

They were the “Yamnayas,” the proto-Indo-Europeans who colonized all of Europe, Central Asia, reaching the southern Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Chinese Turkestan. The “Yamna” culture (“hole” in Russian and Ukrainian, referring to the graves where they buried their dead) are a “ghost people,” as it is known in genetics, a people that have disappeared but can be identified by the genetic, archaeological, linguistic and anthropological traces they has left in their wake. The result is that the genes of the Yamnayas are present, to a greater or lesser extent, in all present-day Europeans.

Thus, paleogenetic research led particularly by the American geneticist David Reich—carried out from 2010 and culminating in 2015—concludes that “today the peoples of western Eurasia (the immense region encompassing Europe, the Near East and much of Central Asia) show a great genetic similarity… Western Eurasia reveals itself to be homogeneous, from the Atlantic façade of Europe to the steppes of Central Asia (Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past). Genetic haplogroups R1a and R1b, transmitted through the paternal line, are the most representative of present-day Europeans, with a predominance of the former in the East and the latter in the West. Precisely, these two branches are directly linked to the Yamnaya ancestors. Thus, around 2500/2000 B.C., according to the data provided by ancient DNA, the “norcaucasian” or “steppic” component was already part of the anthropological heritage of most of the inhabitants of Europe.

It should be noted that, in fact, archaeological, linguistic and mythological disciplines already indicated that the close kinship between the Indo-European languages meant that they all derive from a single original language (Ursprache), which had been spoken by a single people (Urvolk) in a very ancient homeland (Urheimat), to be spread later, in the course of a series of migrations. Thus, the spread of Indo-European languages would represent the expression of a people living in the same geographical area, in a community of culture and civilization, sharing expressions related to flora, fauna, economy and religion. Now, paleogenetics has confirmed this hypothesis.

But how could this rapid migration/expansion have occurred in a people presumably few in number? In the first place, this “rapidity” must be qualified without taking into account the context of war, since according to the researcher Wolfang Haak, the “conquest” of such an immense territory could have taken about 500 years.

Secondly, the explanatory factors of this prehistoric proto-Indo-European “great march” are diverse. The eminently warlike character of the Yamnayas, with an overwhelming superiority in the mastery of metallurgy, reflected in the use of weapons, such as the sword, the dagger, the bow and the battle axe, their extreme mobility through the use of the horse and wheeled chariots, as well as a society structured very hierarchically around a group of men who held supreme leadership of the various clans and tribal families, to which should be added, according to Kristian Kristiansen, a greater anthropological complexion, more corpulence; in short, surely due to a better diet, because compared to a diet basically reduced to cereals and vegetables typical of the Paleo-Europeans, the Yamnayas enjoyed a more caloric diet based also on meat and dairy products. The conquest/invasion was the work, above all, of young men (according to chromosomal sequences, between 5 and 15 men for each woman), of “bands” not very numerous, but very active militarily and sexually, because they had great reproductive success, surely because they enjoyed advantages in the competition for female partners, occupying the summit of symbolic, religious, political, military and social power.

In any case, although the genetic findings attribute a central weight to the Yamnayas in the spread of the Indo-European languages, which tips the balance definitely in favor of some variant of the “steppe hypothesis”, these discoveries do not yet resolve the question of the territory of origin of the Indo-European languages—acknowledges Reich—the place where these languages were spoken before the spectacular Yamnaya expansion. The debate about the “original homeland” of the Indo-Europeans, therefore, remains open.

Despite the tremendous sensation caused by the paleogenetic studies, which revealed the massive migration of the peoples of the Yamnaya steppe culture in the Early Bronze Age to northern, central and western Europe, considering this event as the basis for the spread of the Indo-European languages, other authors are beginning to express their criticism of the genetic inference and, in particular, its implications for the problem of the origins of the Indo-European languages.

According to the genetic revelations, the steppe “Yamna culture” would be associated with the Proto-Indo-European language, while the origin of the derived linguistic groups (Greek, Germanic, Italic, Slavic, Celtic, Baltic, among others) would be attributed to the cultures of the “Chordate pottery” (also called “battle-axe culture,” spread in northern and northeastern Europe). The supporters of this hypothesis, however, are aware of the relative weakness of their conclusions, advancing, for example, that perhaps not all Indo-European peoples come from the Yamnaya, but only some of them. This means, in essence, that we are not dealing then with the cradle of the proto-Indo-European, but only with one of its subfamilies: in this case, the stereopic hypothesis of the origin of the Indo-Europeans would be transformed only into the origin, so to speak, of the Indo-Iranian group.

Many archaeologists doubt that the discoveries in question reflect a direct migration from the “Yamna culture” to the “Chordate culture.” The first doubt is that the Yamnaya people spoke the Proto-Indo-European language. All recognized dates for the fragmentation of the Proto-Indo-European language are between the seventh and fifth millennia BC. The Yamnaya culture is well dated by calibrated radiocarbon chronology: it begins, at the earliest, within the second third of the third millennium BC. Thus, there is a gap of about 2.5 millennia (1.6 millennia minimum).

The Russian archaeologist Leo S. Klejn highlighted a remarkable fact: the strange distribution of steppe genetic contributions to the “Corded Pottery” cultures and their descendants, revealed by Haak and others, very rich in northern Europe and increasingly weaker towards the south, particularly in Hungary, just where the western edge of the “Yamna culture” itself is located. This distribution is at odds with the suggestion that the source of the contribution to the “Corded Pottery” cultures is the southeastern “Yamna culture;” that very distribution seems rather more natural, if it is suggested that the common source (of both cultural units) is in northern Europe—and hence the common cause of genetic similarity.

The mystery of the origin of the Proto-Indo-Europeans remains an enigma, but perhaps not so indecipherable after reading this book.


Featured image: “Trizna,” by Andrey Shishkin, painted in 2019.

Which Philosophers Matter? The Case For Leszek Kolakowski

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.

Leszek Kolakowski and Zbigniew Janowski, Oxford, 1998.

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 Marxism in 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.

Leszek Kolakowski and Zbigniew Janowski, Oxford, 1998.

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.

Guilty Pleasures: Gene Pitney, Scott Walker And Cliff Richard

Me And Pop

No, the articles by Mark Stocker that will dominate 2022 and surely represent the highlight of the Postil Magazine to its more discerning readership, are not about the author and the generally benign relationship he enjoyed with his much loved, late father.

Pop was a square about Pop—his idea of a great number one hit was the theme from The Third Man—I ask you—and his comprehension of heavy metal was minimal. That said, Oliver Stocker could be quite shrewd. Watching Mick Jagger on our Bush black and white television, a masterpiece of c. 1960 cabinetry, he pronounced: “That young man is interesting looking and has real presence. I predict a big future for him.”

I was a little disconcerted, for what right had someone of the older generation to comment in any shape or form upon “my” Mick? Such was my admiration for him that when I read in Fabulous magazine that he disliked tomatoes, I too boycotted them for a couple of weeks.

All this testifies to the place that music of the popular idiom had in my formative years. I am indeed “Talking about my generation” to quote Pete Townsend. I entered my picture of his group (as they were then called) The Who in the 9-12 year old section in the 1966 Window magazine art competition for children of civil servants at the Department of Social Security (where Oliver Stocker worked in the Legal Office) and attained second prize: a proud line in my CV. I think some messily painted family dog beat me to it, but I feel remarkably little bitterness. More to the point, pop music exuded from my every breath and pore….

As I pen these columns, memories are brought back and I feel the corresponding need to share them with my devoted readers. The undertaking is both profoundly intellectual (this can be easily inferred through my multiple literary and historical allusions), and unashamedly emotional. Indeed, I think of Carpenter (Karen, not Edward, you clot) when she reminisces:

When I was young
I'd listen to the radio
Waitin’ for my favourite songs
When they played I’d sing along
It made me smile.
Those were such happy times
And not so long ago
How I wondered where they’d gone
But they’re back again
Just like a long lost friend
All the songs I loved so well.
Every Sha-la-la-la
Every Wo-o-wo-o
Still shines
Every shing-a-ling-a-ling
That they’re startin’ to sing’s
So fine.

Pure poetry, and beautifully enunciated singing. Reader, I will take you on a journey through “Every Sha-la-la-la/ Every Wo-o-wo-o” in these columns in the months ahead, and I thank you in anticipation for joining me. I prefer to keep the contents a closely-guarded secret, and the editor agrees, but I promise to explore a diversity of genres (I’m very PC, you see). Sometimes an arresting theme transcending them, such as “Pop and politics” and “Pop art,” will be my focus.

Throughout, I must acknowledge with warm thanks the patient and sagacious comments and corrections of Emeritus Associate Professor Robert G. H. Burns, a bass-guitarist’s bass guitarist and author of Experiencing Progressive Rock: A Listener’s Companion (2018). Impressed? I am, for starters. Well, without further ado, let us commence.


In this inaugural article, I consider three solo male singers who came to the fore in the 1960s, all of whom had an impact on me. Read on, and—aided by Youtube—appreciate how and why, and see if you feel similarly…

Let’s start with Gene Pitney, who was in the British Top Ten when I became instantly hooked on pop aged nearly eight. My moment of epiphany dates from the first ever episode of Top of the Pops, January 1964, presented by the egregious Jimmy Saville. I remained a TOTP addict up to its 500th edition (1973) but David Cassidy’s nauseating “Daydreamer/ The Puppy Song” was the limit, and I never watched a single episode thereafter. Gene’s current hit marked his British breakthrough, the splendid Bacharach-penned “24 Hours from Tulsa”:

It wasn’t so much a song as a short story. Gene was one day away from the arms of his girlfriend when he met this smashing babe, you see, and this is his confessional. What impressed me was the perfect consonance between the tone and timbre of his unusual tenor voice and his guilt-ridden state. A lot of Gene Pitney is pretty emotional stuff, dim critics would say faux melodramatic, on the verge of operatic, with a tenor that sometime barked with angst.

The tragedies of love central to the Pitney iconography were belied by what was evidently a happy, if sadly shortened, life: his wholesome looks, his invariably gentlemanly nature shown to what must have been many limited and irritating fans, his unaffected Anglophilia and his regular family life (marrying his high school sweetheart after briefly dallying with Marianne Faithfull, a fortunate escape). What clinched it for me, though, was the teenage Gene (and I hope beyond) as a keen coin and fossil collector. A punk rocker would doubtless deem Pitney a fossil, but that’s rude.

Once when I saw Henry Moore being interviewed on TV, I was initially irritated by, then suddenly grasped, why he appeared to be fidgeting all the time: he’d much rather be in the studio, modelling material than being browbeaten by some art historian. With Gene you get a comparable impression: he’d much rather be singing than doing anything else. Exploring his repertoire on YouTube shows something far wider than anything I had expected: put the phone book in front of him and Gene would happily sing it. My favourite songs are often the very early ones: a teen Gene (well, barely out of them) was perfectly cast with Dimitri Tiomkin’s eerie “Town without pity”:

He’s almost as impressive with the upbeat Jagger/Richards “That girl belongs to yesterday.” He’s typically moody in the anthemic “I’m gonna be strong,” which certainly made big girls cry. He sings a shampoo commercial in “She lets her hair down.” With “24 Sycamore,” he glories in unglamorous British semi-detached mock Tudor suburbia. But he’s utterly captivating—and if I may say so, totally Stocker-like—when, relatively late in life, he turned to singing John Betjeman’s poem, “Myfanwy at Oxford”:

Pink may, double may, dead laburnum
Shedding an Anglo-Jackson Shade,
Shall we ever, my staunch Myfanwy,
Bicycle down to North Parade?
Kant on the handle-bars, Marx in the saddlebag,
Light my touch on your shoulder-blade.

This is 24 light years from Tulsa but it’s the same irrepressible Pitney. After she’d written her superb double biography of John and Myfanwy Piper, I drew Frances Spalding’s attention to this recording and her response was “I just don’t believe this!”

Scott Walker: an act of sheer class, and he damn well knew it. Calling his first four albums Scott 1, Scott 2, etc. shows that he had no false modesty. He had a musical depth and refinement that I recognise the more amiable Gene lacked, and, not surprisingly, enjoyed a more respectful critical press.

Scott Walter, ca. 1968.

Pseuds particularly admire the experimental Scott Walker of the last 20-30 years of his career; but these impenetrable records sold pathetically and their titles say it all: “Track Three” (akin to the modernist “Untitled”) and “Bish bosch”—give me a break! But much earlier he had the nous, and indeed the talent, to forsake the heart-throb status of his first incarnation as lead singer of the Walker Brothers, who were in their heyday between 1965 and 1967. What I loved about their hits was not just their melodies, impeccable delivery and powerful orchestration, but their emotional generosity. The first verse of “Love her” reads thus:

Love her
and tell her each day
that girl needs to know
tell her so, tell her everything I couldn't say
Like she's warm, and she's sweet and she’s fine,
Oh love her like I should have done.

From beginning to end (the Ronettes’ cover, “Walking in the Rain”), the Walker Brothers were something special. But Scott was bursting to break free, to go up-market. It was a golden time, before the cult of the singer-songwriter which did untold damage to pop and rock (can you imagine Enrico Caruso or Kiri Te Kanawa as composers?) and when an artist was given free rein to choose their own material and not kowtow to mega-capitalist labels and ghastly managerial suits. Scott’s selection of songs has impeccable taste and deftly straddles genres. With the big ballad “Angelica,” he makes a fascinating comparison with Pitney:

Scott’s version is richer and more classically perfect but Gene wins the contest emotionally. Yet Scott made a dear friend (now sadly dead) cry when I sent her “Best of both worlds.” He can do a great Jacques Brel in “Jackie,” and a comparably impressive Tim Hardin in “Black Sheep Boy” and “The Lady Came from Baltimore”:

Yes, a bit soundalike those two, but gorgeously melodic and they don’t outstay their two-minute welcome. With “The Big Hurt,” Scott veers towards soul, but you’d never find him being danced to on the talced floor of the Wigan Casino.

“Scott 4,” alas, flopped and this setback set him on a new path of becoming ever more relentlessly experimental. It was brave but—unlike Philip Guston in painting—ultimately regrettable. Battling with his later material, I felt like screaming, “Oh Scott! Have you changed your name to Scotthausen?”

Cliff Richard, the “Peter Pan” of British pop, who never really made it in the US, is hard to write about. I champion him partly because he has long been the object of vicious, sneering, sniping criticism by critics and journalists with intellectual pretensions. I ask them this: isn’t his Christ-centred life (not one I’d choose, but…) a saner, better role model than that followed by his tragic near contemporaries Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, as well as by improbable survivors like his dissolute near namesake Keith Richards?

Yes, there’s a lot of light-weight froth in Cliff’s vast repertoire and—good god—he has suffered for this (“Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha” is an especially toe-curling example). At the same time, there’s also a fair bit that’s good, occasionally damn good. Cliff is so old, he long predates this recent pensioner, and I have to delve back to my pre-Top of the Pops infancy for some of his best songs: it’s hard to get past “Living Doll,” written in 10 minutes by Lionel Bart:

Then there’s the irrepressibly catchy “The Young Ones,” “Summer Holiday” and “Bachelor Boy.” A measure of Cliff’s appeal was when I was in a supermarket fairly recently and their canned music system was playing his early, and still spiritedly rocking, “Please don’t tease.” A little boy was shopping nearby and asked “Mum, what’s that song called?”

“Congratulations,” cheated by an unholy fascist alliance of Spain and Portugal out of winning the 1968 Eurovision Contest by a song that repeats “La-la-la-la” no less than 138 times, remains the YouTube number I send to friends who attain high places or have grandchildren. They seem to approve. You need stronger nerves to cope with Cliff’s remarkable 1999 “Millennium Prayer,” which infuriated his snobbish atheistic critics by setting the Lord’s Prayer to the song of “Auld Lang Syne”:

It was cheeky, it was naff, but you have to hand the concept to its composer, and it is nothing if not a conviction performance by Cliff. He enjoyed the last laugh over the knockers, as the great British public promptly sent it to Number One, the fourteenth in his phenomenal career.

And then, rather too rarely, Cliff records songs that are to my untutored ear, lovely standards. I’m a soft touch for his European composed ballads—the wistful and tender “Constantly” and the melodic “All my love”:

“When in Rome” is a remarkably good and as ever, critically underrated album of the mid-1960s. He goes reggae in a sentimental but effective cover of Harry Belafonte’s “Scarlet Ribbons” (avoid the tacky video, however), and is impressively Country in “Wind me up” and “The minute you’re gone,” recorded in Nashville. Cliff won the reluctant admiration of some of his sharpest critics with his so-called “Renaissance” phase (the early to mid-1970s hadn’t been particularly kind to him), with “Devil Woman,” “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and, particularly, “Carrie”:

Written by B.A. Robertson, a very different kind of artist, “Carrie” was justly admired by AllMusic pundit Dave Thompson as “an enthrallingly atmospheric number. One of the most electrifying of all Cliff Richard’s recordings.” Cliff is no social commentator, but this came closest to nailing the increasing anomie and alienation of British society in the early Thatcher era. He is trying to track down the young woman of the title, but is told:

Cliff Richard, ca. 1975.
Carrie doesn’t live here anymore
Carrie used to room on the second floor
Sorry that she left no forwarding address
That was known to me.

So, Carrie doesn’t live here anymore
You could always ask at the corner store
Carrie had a date with her own kind of fate
It's plain to see.

Another missing person
One of many we assume
The young wear their freedom
Like cheap perfume.

This is an unhappy real-life situation, really rather banal and almost certainly one of underlying tragedy, but the whole point is we can at once hear it and identify with it. Cliff’s quest culminates in a helpless, inarticulate, despairing “Carrie!” I love the muffled sound effects of the unhelpful information line. Don’t bother listening to Cliff Richard if you seek anything profound, but do so if you want a singer who—perhaps despite yourself and your Guardian-reading proclivities—can and indeed should sometimes move you.


Mark Stocker is an art historian whose recent book is When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971.


Featured image: a portrait of Gene Pitney by James Wilkinson, ca. 1980s.

The Five “Gods of Noah” In The Qur’an

We often hear about alleged polytheism in Arabia during pre-islamic times, the so-called ǧāhilīya, which was seemingly filled with mušrik practicing various forms of širk in honour of various deities. Naturally, this Arabic root does not refer to a plurality of deities, but rather to “partnering” or associating others with Allah who is unique (tawḥīd)—it is a polemic reference to the Christian notion of the Trinity, in which Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost also participate equally (šarika) in the Godhead.

The question is to what extent polytheism still persisted in the Greco-Roman Middle East of Late Antiquity, which, as was the case with the Roman Empire in general, seems largely to have been permeated by monotheistic traditions before the seventh century. The Qur’an would seem to support this notion—it is (un)surprisingly vague in this regard. In the alleged Satanic Verses (53,19-20), “Have you thought of al-Lāt and al-‹ Uzza and Manāt, the third, the other?” we find a vague reference to three pan-Semitic goddesses, who were venerated by many peoples in many places at many times. The only other concrete reference is 71, 23: “And they say: Forsake not your gods, nor forsake Wadd, nor Suwa’, nor Yaghuth and Ya’uq and Nasr,” the gods of those condemned to perish in the Deluge (cf. Gen 7,24-8,14).

The mention of these five deities of antediluvian times, and allegedly worshipped by Arab tribes until the arrival of Islam, understandably caused some unpleasant difficulties for later Islamic exegetes, not to mention the modern reader—how can the knowledge or the cult of them have survived that global eradication? According to Ibn al-Kalbī’s Book of Idols (Kitāb al-Aṣnām), a compendium of legends and not an historical source, they are said to have washed up on the beach of Jeddah (the nearest port city from Mecca) after the Flood, where they gradually silted up until the fortune teller Amr ibn Luhai was told their location by his demon Abu Ṯumāna.

Be this as it may, we must remember that the Quranic account is based on (see above) the biblical one, which in turn, probably during the Captivity, was derived from Mesopotamian myths (e.g., the Atraḫasis epic, and the reworking of this narrative in the Twelve Tablet version of the Gilgamesh Epic): in the Mesopotamian version, the myth serves to explain why humans die, and does not function, as in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, as a divine punishment for otherwise unspecified sins. In Mesopotamia (lit. “Land between rivers”), inundations were rather commonplace, in contrast to Israel or more to the point, the arid Hijaz (and we note here in passing, that the Greek flood story around Deucalion also has a Semitic background [cf. Lucian, De dea Syria 13], cf. Iapetós of the “Catalogue of Women,” attributed to Hesiod, probably has something to do with the son of Noah, Japheth, Gen 10,2 ).

In any case, these Quranic deities are unknown in Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian literatures. Their mention here remains Delphic, as has been noted in the past, e.g.: “Why Muhammad lists five deities as Noahite in Sur. 71,22ff. cannot be explained” (Fr. Buhl, Das Leben Muhammeds, reprint Hildesheim 1955, 74). “Admittedly, they must have been rather insignificant local deities at that time and in Mecca only known by name, if Muhammed can put them into the pre-Flood times” (J. Wellhausen, Reste arabischen Heidentums, reprint Berlin 1961, 13).

The first god mentioned in this Quranic verse, Wadd, i.e., “beloved” in the non-sexual sense (wdd – therefore probably more of an epithet than a divine given name) is known from numerous inscriptions as the chief god of the Minaeans, a Yemeni kingdom which especially during the last centuries before Christ dominated trade along the incense route, eventually being subjugated by the Sabaeans after the campaign of Aelius Gallus in 25/24 BC. At first sight, we are dealing with an authentic old-Arabian god, which could indeed have been worshipped in the Hijaz. However, epigraphic finds are by no means limited to Ma‛īn, but is, as is to be expected with such a trading empire, spread further beyond the actual homeland. So, for example, a bilingual Greco-Minaean inscription on a marble altar was found on the Greek island of Delos, dated to after 166 BC, which mentions this deity in both languages:

Minaean (RÉS 3570)

1) Ḥnʾ w-Zydʾl ḏy Ḫḏb Ḥnʾ and Zydʾl, the two of the tribe Ḫḏb,
2) nṣb mḏbḥ Wdm w-ʾlʾlt built this altar to the Wdm and the gods
3) Mʿn b-Dlṯ of Maʿīn on Delos.

Greek (ID 2320)

Ὄδδου [Belonging to] Oaddos/Wadd
θεοῦ the god
Μιναίων of the Minaeans
Ὀάδδῳ [Dedicated to} Oaddos/Wadd.

This find alone makes it clear that the cult of this god, or rather this divine epithet, although certainly originating in Yemen (which is not a synonym with Hijaz, but an entirely different culture), had travelled far beyond, accompanying his worshippers on their mercantile journeys. We thus have a deity that on the one hand was not originally at home in the Hijaz, but could have been brought there sometime by Minaean traders; on the other, however, as with the three goddesses mentioned above, he attracted some following in a geographically vast region.

As for the second deity, Suwāʿ our only sources are contradictory reports from later Islamic traditions, some of which mention him, others which do not (e.g. Wāqidī mentions the destruction of his idol in Mecca, but this is not mentioned in the Prophet’s hagiography by Ibn Isḥāq)—”these stories of the destruction of the idols on behalf of Mohammad become more and more complete as the tradition moves further away from its origin, and the narratives are contradictory” (Wellhausen, op. cit. 19). Apart from such historically worthless information and some possible attestations as a theophoric element in early Islamic onomastics, we know literally nothing at all about this god. Did he even exist? I rather have the impression that there is a polemical intention behind this name, cf. Syriac šū/ōʿā (šwʿ >arab. swʿ) “stone, rock,” i.e., “petrified,” in the sense of a stone idol (Arab. waṯan, a loan-word from Sabaean, where the word has the meaning “boundary stone, stele”), which later was misunderstood not as a generic term for an idol, but rather as the name of a specific idol.

As for the third of the three here, Jaġūṯ, we again find colourful discrepant and paradoxical stories in the Islamic tradition. But as Jaġūṯ in Arabic means “he who helps—the helper” (possibly related to Jeush in Gen 36,14), this term is rather an epithet that could be applied to any (benevolent) god. Even if the Islamic tradition(s) actually contain(s) authentic materials here and there, it would be impossible to determine whether one and the same deity was meant in all cases.

The fourth God supposedly revered by Noah’s contemporaries according to the Qur’an, Jaʿūq remains shrouded in even more mystery than his already mentioned partners. There is no independent evidence for this god, and even his name does not seem to be Arabic. Wellhausen, who noted (op. cit. 23) “we are dealing with a South Arabian name,” thought of the closely related Ethiopian verb jǝʿuq (basic meaning “to observe, to be careful, to preserve; to manifest (reveal)”), although this root seems to be not of Semitic but rather of Cushitic origin, i.e., an African loan word in the Ethiosemitic languages.

Our findings up till now are somewhat meagre, even antediluvian with regard to what we actually know. It is thus of some relief that about the fifth god, Nasr, we actually have some data. In modern Arabic this word means “vulture” (perhaps originally denoting a totem animal). In the Talmudic treatise Avoda sara 11b, in a discourse on idolatry, we find the assertion:

אמר רב חנן בר רב חסדא אמר רב ואמרי לה א”ר חנן בר רבא אמר רב חמשה בתי עבודת כוכבים קבועין הן אלו הן בית בל בבבל בית נבו בכורסי תרעתא שבמפג צריפא שבאשקלון נשרא שבערביא

“Rav Ḥanan bar Rav Ḥisda says that Rav says, and some say that it was Rav Ḥanan bar Rava who says that Rav says: There are five established temples of idol worship, and they are: The temple of Bel in Babylonia; the temple of Nebo in the city of Khursei; the temple of Tirata, which is located in the city of Mapag; Tzerifa, which is located in Ashkelon; and Nashra, which is located in Arabia.”

This passage in turn is reminiscent of one found in the famous Doctrina of the Apostle Addai (Phillips edition, p.23f.):

ܿܡܢܘ ܗܢܐ ܢ ܼܒܘ ܦܬܟܪܐ ܥܒܝܕܐ ܕܣܓܕܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ ܠܗ܃ ܘܒܝܠ ܕܡܝܩܪܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ ܠܗ܂ ܗܐ ܓܝܪ ܐܝܬ ܒܟܘܢ ܕܣܓܕܝܢ ܠܒܪܬ

ܢܝܟܠ ܐܝܟ ܚܪ̈ܢܝܐ ܫ ̈ܒܒܝܟܘܢ܂ ܘܠ ܼܬܪܥܬ ܼܐ ܐܝܟ ܡ ̈ܒܓܝܐ܂ ܘܠܢܫܪܐ ܐܝܟ ܥܪ̈ܒܝܐ܂ ܘܠܫܡܫܐ ܘܠܣܗܪ ܼܐ ܐܝܟ ܫܪܟܐ ܕܚܪ̈ܢܐ ܼ

ܕܐܟܘܬܟܘܢ܂ܠܐܬܫܬܒܘܢܒܙܠܝ̈ܩܐܕܢܗܝܪ̈ܿܐ܂ܘܒܟܘܟܒܬܐܕܨܡܚܐ܂ܠܝܛܗܘܓܝܪܩܕܡܐܠܗܿܐ܂ܟܘܠܿܡܢܕܣܿܓܕ ܼ

ܠܒܪ̈ܝܬܐ܂ ܐܦܢ ܓܝܪ ܐܝܬ ܒܗܝܢ ܒܒܪ̈ܝܬܐ ܕܐܝܟ ܪܘܪ̈ܒܢ ܡܢ ܚܒܪ̈ܬܗܝܢ܂ ܐܠܐ ܟܢ ̈ܘܬܐ ̈ܐܢܝܢ ܕܚܒܪ̈ܬܗܝܢ ܐܝܟ ܕܐ ܿܡܪܬ ܼ

ܠܟܘܢ܂ܟܐܒܐܗܘܓܝܪܡܪܝܪܐܗܢܐܕܠܝܬܠܗܐܣܝܘܬ ܿܐ܂

“Meanwhile, I saw this city teeming with paganism, which is against God. Who is this Nabû, [but] an idol [made by men] whom you worship, and Bêl whom you worship? Behold, there are among you people those who worship Bath Nikkal such as the people of Harran, your neighbours, and Taratha [as venerated by] the people of Mabug, and Nashara by the Arabs, or as are the Sun and the Moon worshipped by the rest of Harran, as you do too. Do not be deceived by rays of light and by the bright star, for all creatures will be cursed by God.”

Nabû was a well-known Mesopotamian god of the first millennium BC (the son and quasi successor of Marduk, whose name means “the announcer, the called one”—cf. Nebuchadnezzar, Nabī “prophet”); Bêl is the Mesopotamian, and later Aramaic realisation of Baal, whose cult was well-known, i.a. at Palmyra; Bath Nikkal (“the daughter of N.”)—Nikkal is a goddess known in the Western Semitic world and among the Hurrians (derived < Sumerian NIN.GAL “great mistress”); the Sun and Moon, resp. Shamash and Sîn were naturally also worshipped in Mesopotamia as deities. Taratha is apparently another designation of the well-known goddess, Atargatis or the Dea Syria, who was worshipped at Ashkelon (cf. Diodorus Siculus, Library, II.iv.2, where, among other things, it is described how and why she took the form of a fish—cf. the fish symbolism in Christianity: ΙΧΘΥΣ). Of particular significance is the fact that Nashara is also regarded here as a god of the Arabs. This god is particularly well known among the Mandaeans in southern Mesopotamia and in Iran (e.g., the Mandaean Great Book of John, §73), and also attested by Jacob of Serug (451-521), who reports that the Persians were tempted by the devil to create an “eagle” (Nashara) as an idol. A similar account can be found in the Armenian History by Movses Khorenatsi (where the gods are called Naboc’us, Belus, Bathnicalus and Tharatha).

In all of these cases, including Qur’an 71,23 (supra), we are dealing with a formulaic warning against apostasy, that is to say against a falling away from the true faith in the one true (Jewish, Christian, Mandaean or Islamic understanding of) God. In all cases, his (exclusive) worship is contrasted in a list of five heavenly idols which were seemingly self-explanatory at the time. The Talmudic passage would seem to have used the same, or very close to that of the Doctrina Addai, although somethings seem to have been lost in transmission:

Mapag (מפג) is not a deity but, as in Syriac, the place

Mabug (ܡܒܘܓ “the spring” or Hieropolis, because it was the cult centre of the Dea Syria; today Manbij);

Tirata (תרעתא) as already mentioned is Atargatis resp. the Dea Syria and not a place(-name)—a well-known site (see above) of her cult was Askelon. The gods mentioned here are חמשה בתי עבודת כוכבים בתי עבודת כוכבים “the five temples of star worship.” that is, celestial bodies: Nabû= Mercury, Bêl=Jupiter, Nikkal= a moon goddess, Taratha=Venus, and Nashara is the name of a star (see P. De Lagarde, Geoponicon in sermonem syriacum, 5:17 1860 ,Versorum quae supersunt, Leipzig,  ܥܕܡܐ ܠܕܢܚܗ ܕܢܫܪܐ ܕܐܝܬܘܗܝ ܡܢ ܢܐܘܡܝܢܝܐ ܕܟܢܘܢ ܐܚܪܝ “until the rise of the Naschara, which is the beginning of the month of January;” The seven wandering [planets]…

ܕܐܝܬܝܗܘܢ ܫܡܫܐ ܘܣܗܪܐ ܘܟܐܽܘܢ ܘܒܝܠ ܘܢܪܝܓ ܘܒܠܬܝ ܘܵܢܒܘ

…are Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Moon, Venus and Mercury”—C. Kayser, The Book of Truth, or, The Cause of All Causes, Leipzig, 1889, 55:5).

The mention of Arabia, in connexion with Nashara, cannot be taken as confirmatory evidence in support of the assertion made by Islamic tradition that Nashara had been a deity in and around Mecca. Perhaps this was so—but we simply do not know. The Arabs who venerate “a bird” as god can here only be the Arabs of Mesopotamia—the Talmud as well as the Doctrina Addai do not concern themselves with the Hijaz

This area, roughly identical to the so-called Ǧazīrat al-‛Arab, comprises the lowlands of the Chabur, Euphrates and Tigris in northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iraq. It was also referred to as “Arabia” in ancient times. Here we find e.g., a Ἀραβάρχης (“Arab-archēs—Arab princes”) in Dura-Europos (cf. C. B. Welles et al., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report V, Part I [New Haven, 1959], 115 No. 20, 5); in Sumatar Harabesi, present-day Turkey, five inscriptions are documented which were found at the old cemetery and bear the Syrian equivalent of this term:- šulṭānā d-ʿarab “Governor of Arab(ia)” (cf. H. J. W. Drijvers & J. F. Healey, The Old Syriac Inscriptions of Edessa and Osrhoene [Leyden, 1999], p. 104f. et passim); in Hatra, a mlk’ dy ʿrb(y) “King of Arabia” is documented (see B. Aggoula, Inventaire des inscriptions hatréenes [Paris, 1991], 92 No. 193, 2; 135f. See also Pliny’s Natural History, V.xxi.86: “Arabia supra dicta habet oppida Edessam, quæ quondam Antiochia dicebatur, Callirhœm, a fonte nominatam, Carrhas, Crassi clade nobile. Iungitur præfectura Mesopotamiæ, ab Assyriis originem trahens, in qua Anthemusia et Nicephorium oppida. … 87] ita fertur [scil. Euphrates] usque Suram locum, in quo conversus ad orientem relinquit Syriæ Palmyrenas solitudines, quæ usque ad Petram urbem et regionem Arabiæ Felicis appellatæ pertinent. This is also the “Arabia” that Paul must have visited (Gal 1:17). It is noteworthy that Fredegar (Chronicon lxvi) locates the Hagarenes even more to the north: “Agareni, qui et Sarraceni, sicut Orosii [Boh. Eorosii] liber testatur, gens circumcisa a latere montis Caucasi, super mare Caspium, terram….” This location can explain the Mandaean and Iranian evidence (see above) of Nashara.

This area, in the north of Mesopotamia, is where historical-critical research locates the crucible of Islam. It is here that the linguistic (the forerunners of Quranic Arabic as well as the heavy Syro-Aramaic impact on the Quranic theological vocabulary) as well as other theological and cultural threads come together, where the Christians in the Sassanid Empire, after the conquest of Heraclius, were suddenly confronted with Christological formulations (Chalcedon) foreign to them, after over two and a half centuries of separation, since the death of Julian Apostata. Here, the only unambiguously identifiable deity of Sura 71,23, scil. Nasr, seems to be certainly at home. Locating his cult to the South, in Arabia deserta, in the empty Hijaz—whose historical and cultural vacantness would only later become the ideal(ised) theological projection surface—has no historical support—and in addition, one would not only have to invent Christianity in the Hijaz, but also Manichaeism!

Sura 71/Sūrat Nūḥ deals with tergiversation, abandoning God/Allah: Noah has warned his contemporaries at God’s behest—”My Lord, I have called my people by night and day (to faith). But my call only caused them to run away more and more: and whenever I called them that Thou mightest forgive them, they put their fingers in their ears, and wrapped themselves in their garments, and persisted (in their state), and became overly arrogant. Then I called on them in public. Then I preached to them in public, and I spoke to them in secret, and I said: ‘Seek forgiveness from your Lord: for He is Oft-Forgiving: He will send down rain for you in abundance; and He will strengthen you with good things and with children, and He will give you gardens, and He will make rivers flow for you…’” (71,4-12). Furthermore, in verses 14-15 Noah asks, “Have you not seen how Allah created seven heavens stacked one on top of the other and set the moon as a light in them?”—i.e., the sky with all its contents, including the sun and moon, bear witness to the existence of God; they themselves are not gods. But Noah finds no hearing; the people remain on their chosen path and say, “do not leave your gods; do not leave Wadd, nor Suwāʿ, nor Jaġūṯ, Jaʿūq and Nasr.”

Contextually speaking, this interpretation of the latter passage fits in the theme of the Sura as a whole, and is quite similar to the admonition found inter alia in in the Doctrina Addai. Taken in this light, we have here a not unfamiliar pious topos, which here the Koranic authors put in Noah’s mouth because it was apparently felt to be somehow appropriate. The theonyms, however, as is also the case in the Talmudic example, where they were conflated with toponyms, have become garbled, yet a further indication that polytheism had long since ceased being an historical reality.

It is in this understanding, however, that this Quranic verse becomes understandable, seeing that, as was just noted, the creation of the heavens, moon, sun etc.—i.e., they are not to be understood as gods, is mentioned just several verses previously. The inexplicable gods mentioned in verse 23 may be just local epithets of the (divinised) celestial bodies, Nsr, the “eagle,” at the same time an astronym, would seem to favour such a proposal. In a Minaean dedicatory inscription (RÉS 2999 from Barāqish in the southern Jawf), the builders self-identify themselves as ʾdm Wdm S2hrn “servants (cf. Arabic ʾādam) of Wdd, the moon.” In this light, it is clear that Wdd could be understood as a(n epithet of) lunar deity. Perhaps then one might be partial to interpreting Suwāʿ as an Arabic realisation of Aramaic shrʾ “moon?” Jaġūṯ, as already been mentioned, is etymologically transparent, “the helper,” a term that might be appropriate for the moon (as attribute) or possibly the sun god?

Be that as it may, however one may choose to etymologise the five “Gods of Noah” in the Qur’an, they are most certainly designations for the (divinised) Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. As we have sown in the preceding the Classical planets, designated variously, were a common theme in Jewish and Christian polemics against the true faith in the one God. The Qur’anic renditions, as the Talmudic, have been somewhat garbled by later copyists. It is clear that we are dealing here with a topos known in the Syro-Mesopotamian region of Late Antiquity. This is by no means antediluvian and also has nothing to do with the Hijaz, nor originally even with Islam.


Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).


Featured image: The Almaqah Panel, which bears a Sabaean inscription, mentioning the god Wadd. Likely Ma’rib, Yemen, ca. 700 BC.

The Meaning Of The Surah Al-Kawthar In The Qur’an

The shortest Surah of the Qur’an is the 108th. In the Sahih International translation and in transcription it reads:

bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīmii
(In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful)
al-Kawthar. ˈinnā ˈaʿṭaynāka l-kawṯaraa
(Indeed, We have granted you, [O Muhammad]),
fa-ṣalli li-rabbika wa-nḥar
(So pray to your Lord and sacrifice [to Him alone]).
‘innā šāniˈaka huwa l-ˈabtaru
(Indeed, your enemy is the one cut off).

On the basis of this very short textual segment, one of many of such disparate origin that were later compiled into the book we know today as the “Qur’an,” almost all principles and methods of historico-critical textual interpretation can be demonstrated. The common Muslim understanding is that the three verses of Surah 108 refer to an event in Muhammad’s life, who is then regarded as the addressee of this urgent revelation. The “one who hates you” (šāniˈaka) mentioned in verse three is then in this view his adversary, whom God apparently cursed. But let us now treat this short Sura verse by verse in order to show some textual and exegetical problems, pars pro toto, for the holy book of Islam in its entirety and to offer possible explanations: often, the usual modern translations are by and large based on exegetical understandings of classical (secondary) Islamic commentary culture, and as such are mere speculations or exemplifications.

Firstly, for the introductory formula, the Basmala, which in the Qur’an, with the exception, generally speaking, of the first Surah, is not counted as a verse, much could be said. For Muslims it is controversial whether this formula belongs to the revealed text of all Surahs, or whether it is an introductory formula later seen as necessary, a posterior editorial addition. Bismi, literally “in the name,” here as in nomine Dei, is a widespread formula and not at all specifically Islamic. The two ornamental adjectives following the name of God “Allāh” are also of pre-Islamic, of Christian and Jewish (‘Ha-Rachaman’) origin (originally “uterus” = σπλάγχνα). But as far as the name of God Allāh itself is concerned, it should not be translated as “God,” despite the common objection that Muslims, Jews and Christians believe in the one God, the same God. But this is obviously a logical fallacy: etymological relationship does not mean that the common term denotes an identical entity.

In the initial two verses, the addressed person is, according to traditional Islamic exegesis, reminded of the benefits (verse 1) rendered by Allāh and the resultant obligations (verse 2). Almost all non-Muslim explanations follow this received interpretation without criticism. Wherever possible, the underlying exegetical method tries to see in Quranic sentences a reference to the hypostasised founding figure of Islam, i.e., Muhammad, and alleged events in his life in the sense of the “occasions of Revelation” (Asbāb an-nuzūl). In other words, a prophetic hagiography was secondarily read into the Qur’anic text.

Although this understanding of these verses has gradually become generally accepted, it is ultimately based on unfounded assumptions, since the three key terms on which this interpretation is based, namely al-kawṯar (usually “the fullness”), nḥar (usually imperative sing. “sacrifice”) and al-abtar (usually verbatim “the cut-off”) are only found here in the Qur’an (so-called hapax legomena). Their actual meanings are therefore difficult to determine; and different explanations, mostly without much linguistic support, can be found in the commentary literature. Kawṯar in verse 1 is either interpreted as “abundance” or as a proper name. In the first case—according to Muslim tradition, this term also comprehends the entirety of divine benefits, but especially the revelations of which the Qur’an consists—the word would then have an unusual linguistic form, since in Arabic this is the noun kathīr, which, by the way, is well attested in the Qur’an.

However, here the diphthong -au- (compare in English “Beer” vs. “Bear”), remains without any convincing explanation. The second interpretation follows the “proven” pattern of explanation: “If you cannot understand or interpret the word, then it must be a proper name.” In this explanation, which is dealt with extensively, especially in various hadiths, i.e., in later sayings attributed to Mohammed, the word is understood as the name of one of the rivers of paradise or its source, to which believing Muslims are led on the Day of Judgement. The last unusual Arabic word al-abtar, perhaps literally “cut off”, i.e., either from Allāh’s goodness or—from descendants (i.e., emasculated, or literally “dickless”). How “sacrifice” (nḥar) is to be understood in the light of Islamic orthopraxis remains obscure.

Since the orthography of the early Qur’ans did not use the diacritical points that distinguish the consonants—i.e., these are secondary—the next step, even if seen as controversial by some nowadays, can be to attempt to read the respective letters without or with different pointing. The many “linguistic-alchemical” details necessary for this, such as the shifting of reading points and the exchange of vowels (also added later), cannot be dealt with in detail here.

1) Kawṯar would then be an Aramaic borrowing from kuttārā/ܟܘܬܪ (consonantal kwtr, i.e. according to the Arabic Form كوتر testified here) meaning “Duration; steadfastness; persistence.”

2) Naḥara (ن-ح-ر) is read as Syriac ngar/ܢܓܼܪ (in Arabic script ن-ج-ر – both have the same consonant skeleton [rasm]; namely, “be persistent, steadfastness) ں-ح-ر

3) Abtar/ابتر without diacritics is identical to اتبر\atbar: ا-ں-ں-ر), probably from an Aramaic root ܬܒܪ often used in the Qur’an “completely smashed, destroyed, ruined;” or the Arabic form of this root ṯbr/ثبر – also identical when written without dots.

By this comparative linguistic approach, common in philology and especially biblical studies, otherwise unattested lexemes are avoided—the influence of Syro-Aramaic vocabulary, especially in the domain of theological terms found in the Qur’an is well-known. The resulting text reads:

1. We have given you firmness!

2. So pray perseveringly to your Lord!

3. Truly the one who hates you (scil. the devil) will be shattered!

One might consider reading the first word of the third verse as anna and not as إِ َّن inna, i.e., “That truly the one who hates you will be shattered”.

If one works with methods that are more controversial in Quranic scholarship, although well-established in textual criticism, the text becomes, as can be seen in this case, easier to understand. In order to avoid the accusation that we have imposed an interpretation on the text or read it into it, it should be said here that Syro-Aramaic loanwords are omnipresent in the Qur’an; Aramaic was, after all, together with Greek, the cultural language of the Arabs in Late Antiquity (much like Latin during the European Middle Ages). And, the text is now better both grammatically and in terms of content. The central idea of this Surah is then perseverance in prayer together with patient trust in God, a motif that occurs frequently in the Qur’an, mostly and for which most often the Arabic verb ṣabara (nominal ṣabr) “patiently persevere, persevere, persist” is employed. Examples are:

2:45: wa-staʿīnū bi-ṣ-ṣabri wa-ṣ-ṣalāti wa- ˈinnahā la-kabīratun ˈillā ʿalā l-ḫāšiʿīna (And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah]).

2:153: yā-ˈayyuhā llaḏīna ˈāmanū ṣ bi-ṣ-ṣabri wa- ṣ-ṣalāti ˈinna llāha maʿa ṣ-ṣābirīna (O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient).

3:200: yā-ˈayyuhā llaḏīna ˈāmanū ˈāmanū ṣbirū wa- ṣābirū wa-rābiṭū wa-ttaqū llāha laʿallakum tufliḥūna (O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful).

And of course, this passage reading will make sense to those familiar with the Bible, e.g., “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (I Peter 5, 8-9).

This interpretation of Surah 108 fits much better into the corpus of Quranic texts; or rather can be contextualised in a meaningful way, and is no longer an impenetrable oddity.


Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).


Featured image: Surah Al-Kawthar, Naskh calligraphy, by Mirza Ahmad Neirizi, late Safavid era (18th century).