Dromocraty: Speed as Power

In today’s world, speed plays a huge role. In everything. In the Special Military Operation (SMO), we found that in war—in modern warfare—it is also one of the key factors. How soon you can get intelligence, report it to the firing squad, and make the decision to strike, as well as quickly change where the firing assets have just been located, determines a great deal—almost everything. Hence the enormous role of UAVs and drones, satellite communications, and the time it takes to transmit enemy coordinates, the mobility of combat units, and the speed with which orders can be relayed to the firing unit. Clearly, this was underestimated during preparations for the SMO; and now we have to make up for it in a critical environment.

Similarly, we underestimated our dependence on the West for digital technology, chips, and precision manufacturing. Preparing for a frontal confrontation with NATO and at the same time relying on technological elements developed and produced either in NATO countries or in Western-dependent states is not evidence of great intelligence.

But this is not about Western-dependence now, but about the speed factor. The French philosopher Paul Virilio, who studied the importance of speed to modern technical civilization, proposed a special term: dromocracy. From the Greek dromos (speed) and kratos (might, power). Virilio’s theory is based on the assertion that under the new civilizational conditions, the winner is not the one who is stronger, smarter, or better equipped, but the one who is faster. It is speed that decides everything. Hence the desire to increase by any means the speed of processors; and, accordingly, all digital operations. This is what most of the technical innovative thought is focused on today. Everyone is competing for speed.

The modern world is a struggle for acceleration. And whoever is faster gets the most important prize—power, in all its senses and dimensions (political, military, technological, economic, cultural).

In this case, the most valuable in the structure of dromocracy is information. It is the speed of information transmission that is the concrete expression of power. This applies both to the functioning of the world’s stock exchanges and to the conduct of military action. Whoever is able to do something faster, gains complete power over the one who hesitated.

At the same time, dromocracy as a consciously chosen strategy, that is, the attempt to dominate time as such, can also lead to strange effects. The factor of the future comes into play. Hence the phenomenon of futures transactions and related hedge funds, as well as other financial mechanisms of a similar vein, in which major transactions are made with something that does not yet exist.

The ideal of media dromocracy is to be the first to report an event that has not yet happened, but which is quite likely about to happen. This is not just fake, it is working with the realm of the possible, the probable, the probabilistic. If we take a probable future event as something that has already happened, we buy time, and thus gain power. Another thing is that it may not happen. Yes, that it is possible; but sometimes the failure of expectation is uncritical; and vice versa, a confirmed forecast, taken as a fait accompli beforehand, offers enormous advantages.

This is the essence of dromocracy: the element of time is not simple, and the one who manages to subdue it gets total global power. In the development of supervelocity, reality itself is warped, and the laws of non-classical physics—anticipated in Einstein’s theory of relativity and to an even greater extent in quantum physics—come into play. Ultimate speeds change the laws of physics. And it is in this realm that the planetary struggle for power plays out today, according to Virilio.

Similar theories are found in a more applied and less philosophical field—the theory of network-centric warfare. And it is precisely this kind of network-centric warfare that we encountered in the course of the SMO in Ukraine. The main feature of such a war is the rapid transfer of information between individual units and centers of command. For this purpose, soldiers and other combat units are equipped with numerous differently oriented cameras and other sensors, the information from which converges to a single point. To this is added data from helicopters, UAVs and satellites. They are integrated directly with combat and firing units. And this full network integration provides the most important advantage—speed. This is exactly how the HIMARS, mobile group tactics and DRGs work. Starlink satellite communications was also used for this purpose.

Theories of network-centric warfare recognize that speed of decision-making often comes at the expense of their justifiability. There are a lot of miscalculations. But if you act quickly, then even after making a mistake, there is always time to correct it. Here the principle of hacking or DoS-attack is used—the main thing is to pound on the entire location of the enemy’s troops, looking for weaknesses, the back door. The losses can be quite high, but the results, if successful, are quite significant.

Further, network-centric warfare includes as its integral component open channels of information—primarily social networks. They do not simply accompany the conduct of hostilities, communicating, of course, only what is beneficial and what is not, hiding or distorting beyond recognition, but also operate with a probabilistic future. The principle of dromocracy again. What we perceive as fakes today is nothing more than probing and artificially stimulating a possible future. A lot of fakes turn out to be empty, just as attempts to break through hacking defenses are often futile, but occasionally they reach their goal—and then the system can be hijacked and subjugated.

Dromocracy in the political sphere allows for deviations from rigid ideological rules. In the West itself, for example, racism and Nazism are, to put it mildly, not openly encouraged. But in the case of Ukraine and some other societies, sharpened to defend the geopolitical interests of the West, an exception is made. Anti-Russian Nazism and Russophobia flourish there, but the West itself does not notice it, cleverly avoiding it. The fact is that for the rapid construction of a nation where none ever existed, and if there are in fact two peoples on one territory, you simply can’t do without nationalism. In order to do this as quickly as possible, we need extreme forms, including outright Nazism and racism. And this is again a question of dromocracy. It is necessary to create a simulacrum of a nation quickly. This is done by taking a radical ideology, any images and myths of our own exceptionalism, even the most ridiculous ones, and putting it all into practice quickly (with complete control of the information sphere; in the end, Western societies simply do not notice it).

Then comes the equally rapid propaganda of these ideas, which have nothing to do with Western liberal democracy. What follows is war, and the aggressors are portrayed as victims and the saviors as executioners. The main thing is to control the information. And if everything goes according to the plan of the globalists, then a quick resolution follows, and after that the neo-Nazi structures themselves are cleaned up just as quickly. Almost the same thing we saw in Croatia during the breakup of Yugoslavia. First, the West helped the Croatian Nazis, the neo-Nazis, and armed them against the Serbs; and then it cleaned them up so that there was no trace of them. The important thing is to do everything very, very quickly. Neo-Nazism quickly appeared, quickly fulfilled its role, quickly disappeared. And it’s as good as gone.

That’s exactly the secret of Zelensky. The Mercurial comedian was not chosen as the ringleader by accident. His psyche is volatile and prone to rapid change. The perfect politician for a fluid society. Now he says and does one thing; in a moment he is doing something else. And what was a second ago, no one remembers, as the speed of the information flow is steadily increasing.

And against this background, how do we look like? As soon as we began to act swiftly, decisively and almost spontaneously (the first phase of NWO), tremendous success followed. Almost half of Ukraine is under our control.

As soon as we began to slow down the operation, the initiative began to go to the enemy. This is where it turned out that the network-centric nature of modern warfare and the laws of dromocracy had not been properly taken into account. As soon as we took a reactive stance, switched to protection and defense, we lost the speed factor. Yes, the Ukrainian victories are mostly virtual; but in a world where the tail wags the dog, where almost everything is virtual (including finances, services, information, etc.), this is hardly enough. The anecdote about the two Russian paratroopers in the ruins of Washington, D.C. lamenting—”we lost the information war”—is funny, but ambiguous. After all, this is also something virtual, an attempt to probabilistically encode the future. When it comes to reality checks, however, not everything is that smooth. Here it is necessary either to bring down all dromocracy, virtuality, the whole network-centric postmodernity; that is, all modernity and the entire vector of the modern West (but how can this be done at once?); or to accept—even if in part—the rules of the enemy, that is, to speed ourselves up. The question of whether we Russians will be able to enter the realm of dromocracy and learn to win network-centric (including informational!) wars is not an abstraction. Our Victory depends directly on it.

To this end, we must first of all comprehend—in the Russian, patriotic way—the nature of time. The slowness with which we understand everything, the slowness with which we lag, and the slowness with which we put things into practice, even disproves the adage that “Russians harness long, but ride fast.” This is the point at which, if we don’t go very fast, the situation could become very dangerous.

The faster we do it, the faster we fix it. I am not even talking about outfitting our warriors with network attributes, speeding up the command process, and implementing effective information security measures. But it is simply necessary to be at par with a well-equipped enemy.

And again, if the “Voentorg” speculation on the price of minimum uniforms for the mobilized has not been immediately followed by a rapid wave of direct repression from the authorities, this is a very bad sign. Somebody in the government is imagining that we are still harnessing up, although we are already rushing at full speed. We need to come to grips with this as a matter of urgency. Otherwise, it may turn out that we are racing—how shall I put it gently—a bit in the wrong direction.

Dromocracy is no joke. It is not about overtaking the West. It should be swept up in its dizzying hubris. But to do that we have to act with lightning speed ourselves. And sensibly. Russia no longer has the right or the time for slumber and lethargy.


Alexander Dugin is a widely-known and influential Russian philosopher. His most famous work is The Fourth Political Theory (a book banned by major book retailers), in which he proposes a new polity, one that transcends liberal democracy, Marxism and fascism. He has also introduced and developed the idea of Eurasianism, rooted in traditionalism. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitica.


Featured: “Espansione x velocità Velocita d’automobile” (Expansion x Speed Velocity of a Car), by Giacomo Balla; ca. 1913-1914.

Who Gets the Weapons Sent to Ukraine on Lend-Lease?

Hardly a day passes by without Europeans and Americans hearing about new statements coming from Ukrainian politicians. “We will win, we will stop Putin!” they say, and then ask for more arms. Ukraine has already received thousands of man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, along with hundreds of armored vehicles and howitzers. But it keeps asking for more. The Ukrainian military loses these weapons on the battlefield, where they fall into the hands of the Russians, who recently put seized Ukrainian weapons on display in the recently captured Lisichansk.

But many tons of military ammunition and hundreds of weapons never reach the frontlines, because they end up in the hands of numerous resellers, who sell them on the “black Internet.” These days, in Kyiv, you can get everything at a reasonable price, from a pistol all the way to a self-propelled howitzer.

The protracted conflict in Donbass has long been one of the main sources of weapons for numerous European extremists and Islamic terrorists, but now the sale of arms has become completely uncontrolled. On the very first day of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian authorities were already offering machineguns and rifles to just about everyone. Some of these weapons immediately ended up on the black market. Then followed offers for the sale of body armor, night vision devices, grenade launchers and MANPADS.

Such total corruption Europe has not been able to defeat, despite all its efforts to bring Ukraine into the EU. Ukrainian military supply officers are selling everything. The Russians recently announced that several new French and German self-propelled howitzers, delivered in perfect condition to Russian design bureaus for study, were not seized in battle, but bought at a big discount on the frontlines. But then this is not new, as some of the volunteer units of the Donbass separatists have long been actively buying loads of weapons and equipment from across the frontline.

The Europeans don’t really care much about who will be firing the Javelins, Zelensky’s soldiers or Donetsk separatists, as long as such weapons stay on the battlefield. European- and US-supplied weapons are up for grabs by anyone. “Stingers” can be had for a price ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, paid in cryptocurrency. With some patience, you can find reliable suppliers.

MANPADS are an ideal weapon for a terrorist attack—not a single civilian aircraft taking off or landing can be safe. Each rocket-launcher delivered to Ukraine comes with instructions in Ukrainian and English, in case it falls into the hands of an inexperienced soldier.

Bringing such weapons from Ukraine to elsewhere is a breeze, since with a good kickback the corrupt Ukrainian border officials will not only fail to inspect a particular car, but will also secure their Polish or Slovak colleagues’ agreement to let it through unhindered. So, perhaps at this very moment, somewhere outside the airports of Paris or Berlin, some ISIS radicals or militants of half-forgotten anarchist groups, or both, are taking up position. How many MANPADS sold in Ukraine will be enough to bring all air traffic across Europe to a standstill? Two, three, maybe five?

And how many weapons will the Islamists in Syria and Iraq get from Ukraine—including the very types capable of taking out NATO aircraft and armored vehicles of the renascent Iraqi army, which the US has been trying hard to prevent from falling into extremists’ hands? These are very uncomfortable questions for Europe and the US. In Western media, Ukrainians are portrayed as warriors of light, and few people in the US, Canada and Europe are really aware of the scope of corruption and theft that exists in Ukraine.

It would make a lot of sense to have the strictest possible electronic control over each potentially dangerous weapon, and sending EU representatives to Ukraine to oversee its use. But how many people will volunteer for this job? It would be more realistic to tighten controls along the entire length of Ukraine’s border with European countries, all the way to sending European representatives to Ukrainian customs. Even better would be to cancel Lend-Lease and other arms deliveries to Ukraine and leave the country (which is selling weapons it desperately needs to maintain its independent status) to its own devices.

Arms Transfer System

The Ukrainian army started total mobilization at the beginning of the Russian special operation. However, Russian-speaking residents of the East do not want to die for the Kiev elites. Many of them do not care who controls the regions in which they live. In Russia, salaries are significantly higher than in Ukraine and there is no language harassment.

The Russians have created a very profitable loophole for those who do not want to fight for anyone. It is even strange that they have not yet posted banners in the Ukrainian segment of the Internet—”Get Russian citizenship and an apartment in the Moscow region, in exchange for a Western self-propelled gun.”

How the Loophole Works

On the radio wave of the Ukrainian units, Russian negotiators persuade the artillerymen and tankers to advance to the indicated points and surrender with their equipment. In exchange—Russian documents, freedom and some money. The “Caesar,” “HIMARS” or PzH 2000 brought over is considered sufficient proof of loyalty that the military personnel who surrendered with such equipment would avoid internet and prison camps. With new documents, such Ukrainians start a new life somewhere in a cozy Ural city, far from the front line, and even send money in Bitcoin to their families so that they can come out to them.

Prices vary and are negotiated. For 2 “Caesars” the Russians gave $120,000, although their Ukrainian “partners” desperately bargained and asked for 2 million. However, freedom and Russian passports are also a significant part of the price paid. But one PzH 2000 self-propelled gun, according to various sources, cost the Russians more than $100,000. With this money (although the dollar has fallen significantly in value), you can buy a one-room apartment in the Moscow region. True, there is a significant problem—Russia cannot use the most interesting samples immediately after their purchase, as this poses a threat to the families of the military, who transferred such weapons.

Ukraine’s Western allies are well aware of such facts. In Kyiv, they are trying to fight defectors by creating detachments and even forming political commissars. However, a few days under Russian shelling greatly change the worldview of both local nationalists and regular officers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The result is a paradoxical situation. Part of the American Lend-Lease is being bought up cheaply by the Russians. Will Kyiv and its allies be able to find other ways to protect Western weapons from resale at the front? So far, it seems unlikely.

However, in addition to the Russians, Ukrainians also sell weapons to interested groups from the Middle East.

This is precisely why Ukrainian nationalists are firmly holding Odessa, forming their camps near it. These are fighters of Nazi battalions who work closely with foreign mercenaries who know quick ways to sell weapons.

Second: the weapons’ route passes through those territories that largely ignore such traffic. This is only natural, as they get a significant percentage for transit.

Third: Albania is the most suitable starting point both in logistics and in terms of the presence of serious criminal structures. Also, according to operational data, the smugglers have the logistical support of the Albanian intelligence service.


Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst, and writes about the situation in the Balkans and Europe.

Manuscript Hunting in Late Seventeenth-Century Iceland

The fervent collecting of ancient and medieval manuscripts—in Italy and Greece from the late fourteenth century, in France, Germany and England from the early fifteenth century, and in Spain and Iceland from the late sixteenth century onwards—resulted not only in the accumulation of new texts and information. It was also a reason for perplexity as scholars struggled to design methods for sifting evidence, for defining options, and for making choices concerning the texts they wished to use or publish, their struggle at times ending in despair and exhaustion. As more and more manuscripts were brought to light and made accessible in continuously growing libraries and private collections, scholars needed new tools to understand and manage textual variance. Which manuscripts should be used, and how could their quality be gauged? Why did their texts differ? How should they be transcribed and published? Should vernacular texts be translated into Latin? What kind of comments were needed – factual, historical, or textual?

Such technicalities, in other words the painstaking travails of textual scholarship, deserve to be a focus of attention in an overarching history of the humanities. This history should not restrict itself to the brilliant ideas of philosophers and theologians. Developments in the humanities were based on the “rough” material of ancient textual sources, and in this article I hope to show how scholarship in the Early Modern age needed to plough through vexed issues of textual variance, manuscript hunting and compilation that, although often coming to dead ends and not always resulting in successful publications, were nevertheless seminal to developments in history writing, philology, and language scholarship.

I will focus on an area to which the history of scholarship has paid scant attention: the kingdom of Denmark-Norway in the late seventeenth century. Somewhat earlier, the English antiquarian Henry Spelman characterized this “unlearned” kingdom as being on “the confines of the Arctic Circle.”

Although an abundance of Icelandic and Norwegian medieval texts and manuscripts was rediscovered and the first editions appeared in 1664-1673, none of them was based on a critical assessment of manuscripts. In the 1680s and 1690s a renewed effort was made that, had it succeeded, would have delivered interesting results. Lamentably, however, this endeavour did not produce editions, partly due to a lack of funds but chiefly because of methodological difficulties. The scholars involved were aware of the value of vellum manuscripts but unable to solve the problem of textual variance, that is the fact that manuscripts of any specific work differed in many ways, and a scholar who wanted to produce an edition would have to make choices based on critical discernment and clear principles.

Instead of using standards of philological correctness of our present age to judge these late seventeenth-century efforts, I shall base my estimate on the exceptional insights of the late fifteenth-century Florentine scholar Angelo Politian, the enfant terrible of late medieval and early modern scholarship. In a way, Politian’s philological ideals were so close to modern procedures that they seem almost too good to be true; his practice in that sense resembles what Ezio Ornato has calleduna semplice curiosità archeologica” [a mere archaeological curiosity]. Politian’s example was only followed by scholars in more recent times, but nonetheless his philological ideal can be used as a benchmark for developments in the Early Modern period. Arrogant and impatient at times, he was an incredibly observant scholar who wished to outperform his contemporaries as he strove to establish better versions of ancient Greek and Roman texts through linguistic refinement and the meticulous observation of manuscripts. He wanted to base his work on a thorough investigation of as many manuscripts as possible, preferring older ones but not discarding more recent texts that might be copies of ancient books.

Politian’s work demonstrates his critical assessment of the quality of manuscripts and the ways in which they were related. He made very careful collations of manuscripts and printed editions, rigorous transcripts of texts that he borrowed, and emendations, judiciously based on other texts written by the same author or his direct environment. Politian loathed inexactitude and harshly criticized his predecessors and contemporaries for making too many mistakes. In his Miscellaneorum centuria prima of 1489, for one, he attacked the late Domizio Calderini for his sloppy method. Jacopo Antiquari, Calderini’s friend in Milan, complained about this in a letter and claimed that since Calderini was long dead, it was like attacking a ghost. Politian retorted on 30 November 1489 that he could not know whether Calderini would have corrected his mistakes if he had still been alive:

How should I know this? Are you really saying that it is always and everywhere a good idea to expect intellectual progress? [An usquequaque de ingeniorum profectu bene sperare est?] Were not all of this particular person’s final contributions even more inaccurate?

In Politian’s view, progress came with hard work. His influence, however, was limited—like Calderini, in this respect, he died too soon. Most scholars continued to make many mistakes, and even the best were careless in their choice of manuscripts and variants. When Erasmus, for instance, published his Greek edition of the New Testament in Basel in 1516, he used five manuscripts. One of them is preserved, a twelfth-century vellum now known to be devoid of textual value. Although aware of the value of old manuscripts, Erasmus relied mostly on recent ones with scant merit. Where the Greek text was lacking, he even added bits of his own translation from the Vulgate, thus revealing, to quote L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, “a lack of a set of logical principles for the evaluation of manuscripts.” In his edition of the works of Seneca in 1515 and 1529, Erasmus recognized the worth of a ninth-century manuscript he had acquired, but he did not use it much: “Instead of basing his text of these works upon this prime witness, he drew on it spasmodically to emend what he had before him.”

It soon became standard practice for most editors to use first editions as a basic text—textus receptus or textus vulgatus—adding selected readings from manuscripts that were mentioned only vaguely (“emendatio ope codicum”) and various conjectures (“emendatio ope ingenii”), at times original, but just as often borrowed or stolen. Th ere were some exceptions, however. In around 1530-1570, scholars of Roman law, such as Antonio Agustín, Piero Vettori, Jacques Cujas and Joseph Scaliger, criticized older editions severely, tracing the genealogy of manuscripts and publishing transcripts of those they considered important. They normalized orthography and corrected errors, and even made typographical distinctions between variants and conjectures.

Such efforts were consolidated every time that scholars made a determined effort to gather manuscripts in growing libraries. Although most libraries were private, the biggest ones, kept by kings, dukes and universities, were public. From the 1640s onwards, this enabled Dutch scholars such as Nicolaas Heinsius and Isaac Vossius to produce better editions, partly through their ingenuity in making emendations and conjectures based on a wider knowledge of texts, but also through a closer scrutiny of manuscripts. Scholars came to prefer their specific texts above earlier editions, although at times some were overwhelmed and only produced heaps of variants without distinction.

This process of strenuous and uneven progress was mirrored further to the north, but developed more slowly and with less spectacular results in terms of editions. Influenced by Italian humanists, scholars in Northern Europe had begun searching for documents and manuscripts already in the early sixteenth century. Interesting texts were discovered such as the plays and poetry composed by Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim in the tenth century; they were edited and published by Konrad Celtis in Nürnberg 1501.

In 1515, his friend Konrad Peutinger used recently found manuscripts to publish The History of the Goths, written by Jordanes in the sixth century, and The History of the Longobards by the ninth-century historian Paulus Diaconus.

In 1514, Christiern Pedersen, a Danish student of theology in Paris, published the extensive early thirteenth-century Latin History of the Danes (Gesta Danorum) by Saxo Grammaticus—and was actually among the first editors to use the blurb text for claiming that this was the first time a text appeared in print: “nunc primum literaria seriæ illustratæ tersissime que impressæ.” Later, he wished to make a Danish translation of Saxo with detailed explanations on Nordic history. Aware of the existence of manuscripts of medieval sagas of Norwegian kings, he hired a Norwegian man of learning who knew the old language to make excerpts.

A Danish translation of Saxo first appeared in 1575, when the historian Anders Sørensen Vedel concluded one. The first Danish translation of the Norwegian kings’ sagas appeared in Copenhagen in 1594 and a more thorough one in 1633, when Ole Worm, in his introduction, compared the writings of the thirteenth-century Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson to Greek and Roman historical works, stating that they were just as useful and truthful.

As late as the 1630s, the Dutch historians Johannes Meursius and Johannes Pontanus wrote eloquently on the medieval history of Denmark without using a single manuscript. It was by then well known that medieval manuscripts of great interest for the medieval history and culture of Scandinavia were to be found in Iceland. The first batches were sent as gifts to the Danish king in 1656 and 1662 by the learned bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson who hoped that Icelandic texts would be published with a Latin translation and a scholarly commentary.

Swedish scholars, arguing with Danish ones about the age of their two nations, also showed an interest in Icelandic texts containing references to Swedish kings. In 1664-1673, a series of text editions appeared in Uppsala and Copenhagen with translations into Danish, Swedish and Latin, but all of them were worse than anything produced in Europe at the time. Any available manuscripts were used regardless of their scholarly value, mostly recent and inexact copies from Iceland, and the editors’ commentaries reveal a credulous attitude towards the text and a blatant lack of critical zeal.

This was the scholarly norm when Árni Magnússon [1663-1730], or Arnas Magnæus as he will be called here, arrived in Copenhagen in 1683, at the age of twenty, to study theology at the university, just like many promising young men of good families in Iceland. A year later he became assistant to Thomas Bartholin the Younger, the recently appointed royal antiquarian, and provided numerous Icelandic texts for his fairly voluminous book on the fearlessness of medieval Danes, published in Copenhagen in 1689.

Magnæus developed rapidly as a textual scholar. In 1684-1685 he made hundreds of short excerpts from Icelandic manuscripts of sagas and historical works, using recent copies available in the city, most of them of disputable quality, copied without care for reading purposes and not for scholarly use. The Icelandic vellums that belonged to the king and the university were all at Stangeland, on the west coast of Norway, with the Icelander Þormóður Torfason or Thormod Torfæus, royal historiographer of Norway.

Magnæus’s method of transcription was simple. He used his own orthography and expanded the abbreviations in the manuscript he copied (exemplar), so that he gave everything his personal touch. Bartholin and Magnæus did not care about the age of the manuscripts or texts they used. To them, all texts were equally interesting, and they used what was at hand, such as an early seventeenth-century copy of Knytlinga saga, a saga on Danish medieval kings that Ole Worm had received from Iceland some decades earlier. In collaboration with an unknown Icelander, Magnæus copied the legendary Hrólfs saga kraka from a paper copy and translated it into Latin. He also made a copy of the Norwegian thirteenth-century Speculum regale (Konungs skuggsjá), again in collaboration with an unknown scribe, but now from a vellum manuscript that belonged to Peder Resen, professor of law at the university. In one place, Magnæus commented on the fact that a leaf was missing. He corrected what the other scribe had done, and they both modernized the spelling.

Although one of his exemplars was on vellum and the other a recent copy, the method was consistent. The goal was to make texts readable and accessible, so that information would be available on a variety of relevant issues. The transcripts were meticulous, and few changes were made, except for the spelling. This is how Icelandic scribes had worked earlier in the century. Magnæus followed their tradition and not without success.

In 1685-1686, Magnæus changed his mind completely, as if he suddenly discovered that things could be done so much better. In the spring of 1685, he went to Iceland in order to collect manuscripts for Bartholin; he stayed until the autumn of 1686. He found nothing that Bartholin needed, but obtained for himself a few legal codices and made copies of medieval legal texts in a manner totally different from what he had done so far, in more detail and with greater exactitude. As he returned to Copenhagen, he responded to this “revelation” by transcribing several texts from a late fourteenth-century collection of Icelandic sagas, recently acquired by Resen from a student who had been with Torfæus as a scribe for three years.

The transcript is exceptionally detailed and can be situated on what philologists now call the diplomatic level. Magnæus strove to imitate the orthography and abbreviations of the original, and succeeded except for minor inconsistencies in some details. He emended the text in a few places and put his additions within square brackets. This “new” method seems to have been based on a mixture of foreign models and personal fascination due to direct contact with vellum manuscripts.

The exceptional attention to detail was probably inspired by his reading of scholarly books and editions in Bartholin’s library of at least 2400 volumes. Here, Magnæus had access to hundreds of editions of classical and medieval texts and to the most recent scholarly feats of Jean Mabillon and others—not to mention Angeli Politiani opera, published in Paris in 1519. By now, Magnæus had decided to acquire as many Icelandic texts as possible in good copies, probably hoping to establish a research library of sorts. However, he soon found the newly developed diplomatic method too time-consuming and opted instead for a somewhat easier way of copying texts in a normalized orthography with expanded abbreviations. He did not go so far, however, as to use his own orthography like he had done earlier. In the winter of 1687-1688 he copied another fourteenth-century vellum of Icelandic sagas, Möðruvallabók, with two friends who studied at the university, Ásgeir Jónsson and Eyjólfur Björnsson. They expanded all abbreviations and wrote all names with a majuscule. Corrections were not indicated, and not all medieval letter-forms were maintained.

In the autumn of 1688, Torfæus came to Copenhagen to claim his salary that was long overdue. He was working on books on the medieval history of Denmark and Norway, published in 1702 and 1711, respectively. He befriended his much younger countryman Magnæus who confided that he planned an edition of a crucial historical work, the early twelfth-century Book of Icelanders (Íslendingabók). Written by chieftain, priest and historian Ari Thorgilsson the Wise, it succinctly narrates the discovery and colonization of Iceland in the late ninth century and its subsequent Christianization. The edition was intended for scholarly readers and was to contain a Latin translation and an extensive historical commentary. It would have added invaluably to the knowledge of Icelandic medieval history and was accepted for publication in Copenhagen in spring 1691, but never appeared. My contention is that Magnæus abandoned the edition because textual and factual inconsistencies in medieval manuscripts stretched the limits of his method. Rather than accepting these inconsistencies as some sort of challenge by integrating them in his work, he discontinued the project.

Magnæus’s first problem was that he had no decent copy of the text and had to use whatever manuscript he could lay his hands on. To our present knowledge, an early thirteenth-century vellum manuscript was extant in Iceland in around 1650. A highly qualified scribe, Jón Erlendsson, made two copies for the aforementioned Bishop Brynjólfur before the manuscript disappeared, one of them (AM 113 b fol.) better than the other (AM 113 a fol.)—now both in the Arnamagnæan collection. Several copies were soon made of the version that was most faulty; subsequent copies of these copies grew more deficient with each generation. At some point in 1688, Magnæus received one of those bad copies, unfortunately not preserved, and made a copy for himself that he intended to use in his edition.

In the summer of 1688, the Book of Icelanders was published together with the much longer Book of Settlement by Bishop Thordur Thorlaksson at the only printing press in Iceland. The text was based directly on the manuscript AM 113 a fol. with a few judicious corrections. The editorial principles are explained in a short introduction, but there is no commentary and no translation. When Magnæus received the printed book in the autumn of that year, he must have realized that this edition was far better than the copy he had made for himself. Paradoxically, he showed no sign of using the edition in his work but instead insisted that Torfæus should send him a manuscript of the text even if it contained exactly the same text as the printed edition.

In early 1690, Magnæus added to his copy a few marginal notes based on this manuscript, but should have made many more had he wanted to be thorough and consistent. In 1691 and 1692, Magnæus received both of Jón Erlendsson’s mid-century copies from Iceland and corrected his text in various places on the basis of the better copy, but again not consistently. Simultaneously, he collated that copy with the other good one. He now had the best manuscripts and knew it, but as he saw that there were more and different copies, he seems to have lost his way and instead of redoing the text, he abandoned the project. Magnæus’s other problem was the commentary. The Book of Icelanders is only five thousand words in length, but poses intricate issues of chronology that appeared insoluble—and some of them really are. Magnæus went to stay with Torfæus at Stangeland for a few months in 1689.

On his way back to Copenhagen, he wrote a letter asking Torfæus where he had read that the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair was born at the moment that King Gorm of Denmark had been in power for seven years. Torfæus replied that this conclusion was “ex hypothesi,” since medieval chronicles claimed that Gorm became king in the year 840 and Harald was born in 848. The problem Magnæus and Torfæus encountered was that medieval chronicles and kings’ sagas hardly ever mention dates and do not agree with each other on how many years various kings stayed in power.

About Harald Fairhair, allegedly the first king of a unified Norway, Magnæus concluded at one point that there was so much confusion that he saw no possibility of figuring out anything at all. Torfæus claimed that only the oldest historians should be used and not the ones that followed them. No author, however, could be entirely trusted since all of them made their own guesses and even mixed things up. For this reason, Torfæus repeated, a scholar had to work “ex hypothesibus.” Having done what could be done, the scholar should decide, or better still the community of scholars, or as Torfæus wrote on 2 October 1690: “It is best that both of us agree, and Bartholinus, and exclaim a single adieu!”

When Magnæus insisted, Torfæus offered to include his arguments in the book. Magnæus should also publish both versions, and it would be left to the readers to decide. Any further discussion would be a waste of time and paper. Torfæus went on to write several learned volumes, discussing various options for a variety of problems in the texts, but Magnæus only produced handwritten notes. It needs to be said that a contributing factor to Magnæus’s failure to produce an edition of the Book of Icelanders may have been the perceived or real lack of interest in Nordic medieval history on the continent. This lack of interest is apparent, for instance, in the fact that the only writers of Danish history mentioned in Adam Rechenberg’s general presentation of necessary learning, published in Leipzig in 1691, were Saxo Grammaticus and Pontanus, whose Rerum Danicarum historia was published sixty years earlier.

Perhaps in response to this lack of interest, Magnæus published a short Danish medieval chronicle in Latin in Leipzig in 1695, transcribed from an old vellum manuscript (“pervetusto codice membraneo“) that belonged to the university library in Copenhagen. In his introduction Magnæus shows his debt to his predecessors by connecting his modest effort to famous names in the scholarly world, praising Marcus Meibomius, Roger Twysden and Jean Mabillon for their exemplary editions. His hope of publishing a manuscript fragment on Danish kings did not come true, however. In his own words, this was because of the reluctance of German printers to print a text in the Icelandic language, although it is clear that his Latin translation was far from ready and the commentary in shambles, as Magnæus constantly changed his mind, and he was, as with The Book of Icelanders before, overcome with doubts.

The lesson Magnæus learned from his erudite struggles was that instead of writing and publishing, he should do two things, both of them within what can be called Politian’s program of a necessary assessment of the quality of manuscripts and the making of rigorous transcripts of borrowed ones:

1. Transcripts should be made with great care and exactitude. One example of this notion will have to suffice, relative to two Icelandic vellum manuscripts in the Ducal Library in Wolfenbüttel, registered as Icelandic mythology and poems. In the early months of 1697 the dukes sent their librarian [Lorenz] Hertel to Stockholm in order to pay their respects to Sweden’s new king. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, philosopher, historian and head-librarian in Wolfenbüttel, had recently become interested in septentrional matters and sent one of the manuscripts to his correspondent, the Swedish scholar Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld. Leibniz did not know the contents but thought that the manuscript was written in verse without rhyme “en Islandois ou en vieux Scandinave.” Sparwenfeld persuaded Hertel to take the manuscript to Magnæus in Copenhagen, something Leibniz agreed to afterwards:

Mr. Hertel left our Icelandic manuscript with Mister Arnas Magnæus in Copenhagen, if it is useful to him, so much the better. Libraries and manuscripts need only be available for the use of skilled people.

Magnæus had the aforementioned Ásgeir Jónsson, again in Copenhagen, make a copy of the two Icelandic thirteenth-century family sagas: Eyrbyggja saga (AM 450 a 4to) and Egils saga (AM 461 4to). As the first and last pages were illegible, Magnæus copied them himself. He already had several copies of both sagas and filled two gaps in the Wolfenbüttel manuscript with a text from other versions. Another scribe helped him to compare the transcript with the original, and Magnæus concluded that, although not copied letter by letter and except for the poems and some important sentences, the transcript was reliable.

In June 1701 he sent the manuscript back with a report on its contents. In his collection as it survives to this day, there are at least 500 copies that he made or had his assistants make, all of them based on these principles, besides thousands of transcripts of Icelandic, Norwegian and Danish charters and other documents.

2. All extant manuscripts should be tracked down. Many interesting and quite dramatic stories could be told about Magnæus’s search for manuscripts. A good example is his chase after a fourteenth-century manuscript of the historical work Sturlunga saga, only preserved there and in another contemporary manuscript, acquired by Magnæus in 1699 (AM 122 a fol.).

The so-called Reykjarfjarðarbók (AM 122 b fol.) was torn to pieces in 1676-1679 as it was damaged by moisture. The owner, a well-to-do farmer, gave leaves to his friends for use as book covers. Magnæus was informed about the manuscript’s tormented existence in 1693 and went on to trace its remains for three decades. In all, he retrieved 30 pages out of an estimated 180 that made up the original manuscript. At least seven colleagues sent him one or more leaves, the last two leaves arriving in 1724. His painstaking efforts can be seen in his request to Árni Gudmundsson in 1707, as he asked where and when the first known owner at Reykjarfjörður had obtained the book. Was it complete when Árni saw it? If not, what was missing: how much or how little, in the beginning, middle or end? Was the whole book readable or was it damaged because of moisture or black stains? Who exactly possessed leaves, and would it be possible to retrieve them?

When Magnæus died on 7 January 1730, his collection comprised close to three thousand manuscripts and fragments, almost one-third of them on vellum. Half of those are fragments of less than six leaves. In a limited sense it can be claimed that he thus came close to the idea of recension—fully developed in the late eighteenth century, according to Timpanaro—as he desired to gather together all manuscripts of a determined text, not only vellums but also seventeenth-century copies. In this wish for completeness, Magnæus went further than any contemporary scholar or collector of manuscripts. Unlike Politian, however, he never developed a clear sense of how to manage the difference between manuscripts. He was not alone in this, as shown from the careless and arbitrary method of Lenglet de Fresnoy in his edition of Le Roman de la Rose in 1735; but it must be said that some or even many editors of that time were more scrupulous.

In the course of his studies, Magnæus’s understanding of textual variance hardly improved, as can be seen in his handling of some seventeenth-century copies of an otherwise lost medieval text on church history called Hungurvaka. It was hopelessly confused, and I shall spare the reader the details. Before 1700, one of his assistants made a copy (a) of one (b) of these manuscripts and Magnæus collated it with another one (c). He then asked another assistant to make a copy (d) of his collated copy (b), but without the added variants (“varias lectiones”). In 1724, Magnæus compared this second copy (d) “accuratissime” with the original (b) used to produce the first copy (a), making numerous corrections. Finally, he collated his copy (d) with a third seventeenth-century manuscript (e) and wrote down all the differences in the margins. His copy now contained an “accuratissima collation” of the two oldest manuscripts (b, e) of this important text, as he happily concluded. The only reason for doing all this appears to have been to throw away the first copy (a), useless since he now had its text on the margins of other copies.

Returning to the Book of Icelanders in his later years, Magnæus concluded, erroneously as we have seen, that as a young man he had copied the text as exactly as he then could. In around 1720 he made an exact copy of his best copy and most likely recognized that his own version of 1688-1690 was useless, although he did not discard it. He copied some of his old commentary and revised a number of items. When, ultimately, he did not publish an edition, he now justified his inactivity by claiming that the world of books was replete with products of vanity. He had never intended to write books himself and was convinced, as he explained to an assistant, “that a man could spend almost his whole life in putting together a little booklet.”

As a philologist, Magnæus gradually gained a finer understanding of the quality of texts and manuscripts, but this understanding was never brought to fruition in printed editions. His scholarship, seminal as it may have been for the origin of Icelandic studies, did not reach the public arena of European philology. The Republic of Letters allowed the participation of Scandinavian scholars of course, but there was limited interest in northern languages, culture and history. The thriving Anglo-Saxon studies in England were the closest field of research, much of it just as admirable in the details and the driving force the same, that is to replace or at least displace the old view that the origin of European languages and culture should be sought in Greek or Roman Antiquity. There was little contact, however, and scholars of medieval Iceland remained isolated.

We can thus safely conclude that Magnæus’s diligent but inconspicuous scholarship, inspired as it may have been by the wish to transplant the ideas of humanistic philology to Scandinavia, was only partly successful in the sense that his activities did not become an integrated part of the wider European developments in philology and historiography. His image in the historiography of the humanities therefore remains that of a hunter for manuscripts and maker of copies, and he left the task of coping with textual variance to posterity by donating his collection to the University of Copenhagen after his death. To be fair, some of the problems he encountered remain unresolved to this day.


Már Jónsson is professor of history at the University of Iceland (Reykjavík). This article originally appeared as a chapter in The Making of the Humanities. Volume 1: Early Modern Europe.


Featured: etching of Árni Magnússon (1663-1730), Icelandic scholar and collector of manuscripts.

V.S. Naipaul and the Universality of Individual Freedom

There are two confused and confusing but intertwined debates that I want to address, and to do so by referring to the seemingly unlikely trio of writers, Hegel, Conrad, and Naipaul.

What are those two debates? The first and slightly older international debate is about the relation between colonial powers and their now former colonies. The second largely domestic debate is about the relation of “white” people to people of “color.”

I would suggest at the very beginning that they are the same debate, and that the debate really centers on whether a particular set of cultural norms originating among Western Europeans and their major heirs (including North Americans, Australians, etc.) is superior to other non-Western norms.

Neither debate is about skin color or race. Prominent and successful members of Western European Cultures have a vast variety of skin colors and physical features, while many of the dysfunctional members of these same cultures are “white” (i.e., have Western European ancestors).

What Hegel, Conrad, and Naipaul provide is an ongoing account of why Western cultural norms have emerged as superior, and in what sense they are superior.

As a preliminary example, I note that in response to the recent covid pandemic the viable vaccinations were developed in the U.S. and the U.K, not in China, not in India, not in Russia. In addition, there was an immediate Western concern for redistribution to the rest of the world.

Individual Freedom

The preeminent norm of Western culture is individual freedom or autonomy. By “individual freedom” I mean that each and every individual chooses how he/she wants to live. Each of us is not assigned a role in advance, rather each of us decides, for example, what career we want to pursue, where we want to live, and to whom we wish if we so desire to be married. This is in the first instance a pursuit not a guaranteed outcome. Second since this is a privilege or set of privileges extended to all, no one individual can demand that others fulfill that one individual’s pursuit.

This has been best expressed by Oakeshott:

Almost all modern writing about moral conduct begins with the hypothesis of an individual human being choosing and pursuing his own directions of activity. What appeared to require explanation was not the existence of such individuals, but how they could come to have duties to others of their kind and what was the nature of those duties… This is unmistakable in Hobbes, the first moralist of the modern world to take candid account of the current experience of individuality. He understood a man as an organism governed by an impulse to avoid destruction and to maintain itself in its own characteristic and chosen pursuits. Each individual has a natural right to independent existence… And a similar view of things appeared, of course, in the writings of Spinoza… this autonomous individual remained as the starting point of ethical reflection. Every moralist in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is concerned with the psychological structure of this assumed “individual”… And nowhere is this seen more clearly to be the case than in the writings of Kant. Every human being…is recognized by Kant to be a Person, an end in himself, absolute and autonomous… as a rational human being he will recognize in his conduct the universal conditions of autonomous personality; and the chief of these conditions is to use his humanity, as well in himself and others, as end and never as a means [only—italics added]… no man has a right or a duty to promote the moral perfection of another… we cannot promote their “good” without destroying their “freedom” which is the condition of moral goodness (“The Masses in Representative Democracy”).

In another context, I have argued that the political and economic success of Western Culture depends on economic, political, and legal institutions that are premised on the centrality of individual freedom (namely the technological project or the control of nature for human benefit [Bacon], free market economy [Adam Smith], limited government [Locke, Madison], the rule of law [Coke, Dicey, Hayek], and a culture of personal autonomy). It has a historically-grounded but contingent connection with the English language, reflecting the fact that the earliest working out of the full panoply occurred first in England and then spread in varying degrees from there. It is no accident that both Conrad and Naipaul consciously adopted Anglo culture and achieved creative excellence by writing in English.

Throughout most of history and everywhere in the world, human beings have identified themselves as members of a community. There were neither autonomous individuals nor anti-individuals. The most important event in modern European history is the rise of the autonomous individual first appearing in Renaissance Italy (13th-15th centuries). There are no autonomous individuals anywhere before the Italian Renaissance. Autonomous individuality is a feature of Western European civilization and later spread elsewhere. All creative activity [creative/destruction] is the product of autonomous individuals: “It modified political manners and institutions, it settled upon art, upon religion, upon industry and trade and upon every kind of human relationship.”

The mind-set of the Autonomous Individual, auto-nomous (self-rule is the translation) reflects the imposition of order on themselves; self-disciplining, not self-indulgence or requiring outside control and direction; risk-takers, self-defining; self-respect (something you give to yourself; not the self-esteem that comes from others), pursuing self-chosen courses of action rather than playing traditional roles.

Not everyone makes the transition – some are left behind (by circumstance and by temperament) namely anti-individuals.

The emergence of this disposition to be an individual is the pre-eminent event in modern European history….there were some people, by circumstance or by temperament, less ready than others to respond…the counterpart of the…entrepreneur of the sixteenth century was the displaced laborer….the familiar anonymity of communal life was replaced by a personal identity which was burdensome….it bred envy, jealousy and resentment….a new morality….not of “liberty” and “self-determination,” but of “equality” and “solidarity”….not…the “love of others” or “charity” or… “benevolence”… but… the love of “the community” [common good]….[the anti-individual or mass man] remains an unmistakably derivative character…helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality….[only] The desire of the “masses” to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge.

It was once fashionable to claim that Western economic success was a product of the colonial exploitation of natural resources. We now know that is not true, and the truth has been magnified by the inability of resource rich non-Western countries to be successful on their own. There are also some interesting half-way houses: e.g., China finally understood about technology and markets even though it still does not get the rest of the story.

The process of reacculturation—recognizing the need to leave the old communal framework behind—is a challenging and a painful one. There is the feeling (temporary) of being inferior or inadequate (like learning a new language from an accomplished speaker); of sometimes feeling patronized; of being prejudged (skin color, accent, posture, dress, etc.) as an outsider by those ignorant of your transformation. Success in making the transition is not a matter of intelligence. Frustrated, put off by the process, or the fear of failure creates a class of novices who ultimately fail, psychologically, to complete the journey. Some of these become celebrity critics of Western culture, famous for the books they write in a Western language detailing the “shortcomings” (challenges) of a culture of individualism. They soon ally themselves with homegrown critics, and it is ironic how many of the critics of Western Culture do not hesitate to accept being subsidized by universities in the culture they claim to despise—“to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge.”

True to form, they never produce a positive account of a viable alternative—after all doing such runs the risk of critical retaliation—fear of failure again. We do not always live up to our stated norms, but that alone does not deny the existence of those norms (except in the minds of social scientists who do not understand what a norm is).

An example of the failure to understand the norms is the claim that autonomous individuality is not a universal truth that exists independent of any specific historical context. Metaphysical universality is indeed a norm/truth within the Western mind. However, membership in the community of autonomous individuals is a universal invitation, and it is in the recognition of such that Naipaul will add his contribution.

Alas, even in Western cultures there are people who neither understand nor cherish these norms. Accepting responsibility for one’s own life pursuit is neither obvious nor easy. Many people simply want others to be responsible for them. This is clearly something that many parents and teachers worry about with regard to their children or other young people. In response, there are numerous political, social, educational, aesthetic, and intellectual movements designed to cater to those who do not want individual freedom and responsibility

Of special importance, however, are the number of people not born into a Western Culture who migrate to the West in search of individual freedom. I am pleased to meet them all the time. To be sure, many of those engaged in these now massive migrations merely come in search of greater economic and legal benefits without any understanding of why those benefits only exist in some places – perhaps they think it’s an accident or the result of magic, or more likely they do not, initially, think at all. In any case, the migrations are all in the same direction: north and west.

Hegel

In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel initiated the idea of history as a development toward the consciousness of freedom. Hegel describes four stages in the formation of the self-consciousness of freedom: Oriental, Greek, Roman, and Germanic. In the “Oriental” stage, freedom is largely unrecognized and communities contains only the rudiments of freedom. The world-view of the Oriental realm arises in patriarchal communities where only one person, technically the king, is free. The classical Greek world is superior to the Oriental world because the Greeks have a greater sense of freedom (communities that are self-governing are free). However, they are not fully self-conscious of their freedom because the satisfaction of needs is carried out exclusively by a class of slaves. The Romans embody the third stage and display a greater sense of individuality, but ethical life is divided between the recognition of an aristocratic private domain in conflict with freedom in a democracy. In both classical Greece and Rome, only a portion of the community is free. With the advent of the ‘Germanic’ world, the idea that everyone can have this freedom emerges. This idea of universal freedom is facilitated through Christianity, which acts as a bridge linking the ancient world of limited freedom to the modern world where everyone can be free.

Two things are worth noticing about freedom in this earlier Hegelian work. First, the meaning of “freedom” is not some timeless abstraction but evolves over time. Cultural norms are not fixed and frozen entities. Second, “freedom” does not start out as a universal norm but involves a dialectical struggle.

For Hegel, freedom and self-consciousness are intricately linked.

The Christian doctrine that man is by nature evil is superior to the other according to which he is good. Interpreted philosophically, this doctrine should be understood as follows. As spirit, man is a free being [Wesen] who is in a position not to let himself be determined by natural drives. When he exists in an immediate and uncivilized [ungebildeten] condition, he is therefore in a situation in which he ought not to be, and from which he must liberate himself. This is the meaning of the doctrine of original sin, without which Christianity would not be the religion of freedom.

For Hegel, then, humans have original sin, and life serves as a realm in which humans struggle to release themselves from this condition of slavery to natural drives. Christianity is the religion of freedom insofar as it involves the redemption of mankind.

In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel explores the dialectical struggle of this relationship between the self-consciousness of freedom in the relation of masters to slaves. For Hegel, the self-consciousness of freedom exists only in being acknowledged. Recognition” is crucial to self-consciousness. Autonomous individuals have a need for recognition by other individuals. More specifically, individuals desire to be acknowledged by other self-conscious individuals. The master-slave (parent-child, teacher-pupil) relationship is problematic because it does not involve the mutual recognition of equals.

Hegel identifies the master as the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be “for itself.” He identifies the slave as the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be “for another.” The master achieves recognition but it is unsatisfactory because the slave is not another autonomous individual. Moreover, the master does not engage in the necessary labor that allows individuals to arrive at a sense of their own agency. The conventional perception of the master as free and the slave in bondage soon gets flipped on its head; the truth of the independent consciousness actually belongs to the servile consciousness of the slave. The slave, therefore, might have the better understanding of freedom. Through the process of withdrawing into itself, the consciousness of the slave will be transformed into a truly independent consciousness. The fear of the master is the beginning of the slave’s wisdom, but work completes this process of realization and enables the slave to become conscious of who he truly is. Thus, the master-slave relationship takes on a character that is directly opposite to the degrees of freedom traditionally associated with the master and slave.

For Hegel, then, the respect of inferiors is never sufficient. Individuals who want to achieve satisfactory recognition from others must obtain this acknowledgement from selves who are also self-conscious and free. Therefore, autonomous individuals should have an interest in other people achieving freedom and a sense of self-consciousness. Any autonomous individual will want to see his/her own freedom reflected in other people. In varying ways, Westerners will come to experience the discomfort of being masters.

“Promoting” personal autonomy in other individuals is not an easy process. It is a complicated undertaking in which difficulties can arise on the part of the “inferior” as well as on the part of the “superior” when either attempts to equalize the relationship. Colonialism in particular raises these issues of freedom and authority as well as providing a backdrop in which the Hegelian thesis may be tested on the grounds of its accuracy and its practicality.

Both Joseph Conrad and V.S. Naipaul present colonial narratives that serve as exemplifications of Hegel’s conception of freedom. Conrad identifies a problem with colonialism insofar as it reinforces the perception of Europeans as masters and others as slaves. Naipaul builds on Conrad’s argument but adds the recognition that while liberty as the removal of an “outside” constraint can be bestowed on others “inner” freedom cannot be given to others but is something they must work out for themselves.

Joseph Conrad

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness raises three important questions: In what ways does Conrad view Western civilization as more morally advanced? How does colonialism corrupt both western and non-western cultures? In what sense are Europeans enslaved by colonialism? In his works, Conrad displays an anti-colonial sentiment and suggests, like Hegel, that the admiration of an inferior is never satisfactory. He views colonialism as destructive insofar as it casts Europeans as masters and others as slaves. For Conrad, like Hegel, this master-slave relationship is ultimately and inherently undesirable.

Conrad, however, does not center this need for recognition on reflective freedom. His European characters are often engaged in imperialistic projects, and they do not seem particularly concerned with granting freedom to non-Europeans, or even with promoting autonomy in each other. Freedom is a definite concern for Conrad, but he does not insist that humans have a responsibility to help others achieve freedom. Conrad criticizes colonialism for its cruelty, demoralizing effects, and its inhumanity, but he does not go beyond this critical step, as does Naipaul, to propose a project of exporting freedom to others. For Conrad, the Western man is more morally advanced than savages because he has a conception of original sin and thus recognizes his own limitations; the savage exists in a prior state of consciousness/darkness.

Conrad, too, emphasizes the connection between individuals and history. Frederick R. Karl, his biographer, has described Conrad as “a Hegelian without the character of an Idea or an Ideal.” Conrad views mankind as caught in a web of moral and political turmoil in which humans are constantly struggling to overcome the powers of darkness. He does not see any final resolution of the human predicament.

Like Hegel, Conrad views the present world as divided into various stages of historical development. The narrator relates how the Thames has serviced “all the men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin.” Marlow adds the story is actually an historical account of conquest. His “seaman’s yarn” begins with a reflection on England’s historical origins. “I was thinking of old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago.” Marlow speculates on the experiences of a commander of a “trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north” and how he might have encountered “the utter savagery” of uncivilized England. These reflections are a preface to the story of European imperialism. First England is conquered, and then it conquers other lands.

History for Marlow is a history of conquest, but issues of freedom arise because conquest involves a restructuring of previously established norms of social organization, political institutions, belief systems, and even natural environments. He takes particular interest in the mode of conquest of imperialism, and he expresses clear concerns about the moral implications of this practice. He carefully distinguishes between those who conquered England and the current English imperialists: “Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this [the Roman commander and his crew],” Marlow tells his fellow passengers. “What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency… these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists… They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others… The conquest of the earth which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion… [it] is not a pretty thing when you look into it much. What redeems it is the idea” of its more efficient use. This is “not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to….” The conquest of nature, what we have called the “Technological Project” becomes a replacement for religion.

The “conquest” is only redeemable as the idea that colonizers are “bearers of a spark from the sacred fire” of civilization. But this is an illusion. In Heart of Darkness, the European colonizers do not bring civility to the savages. In fact, just the reverse occurs. The wilderness makes barbarians of the Europeans. The great colonial project is turned upon its head; it operates on the false and fatal assumption that the wilderness and its savage inhabitants will be the only ones conquered. The conquest of both land and its human inhabitants is a cruel and ugly process. Marlow’s description of the African natives, is that “[t]hey were dying slowly… They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation.”

Kurtz, the chief of the Inner Station, comprises “[a]ll Europe.” “Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a center for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.” This dual purpose, Conrad suggests, is in itself a contradiction. Kurtz professes to bring civilization and virtue to the natives, but the ivory trade will mean their exploitation. Kurtz engages in the impossible task of humanizing the natives by taking away their humanity.

For Hegel, the crucifixion represents not only a reconciliation of opposites but also the descent of heaven to earth; the ideal meets the material world in the figure of Christ. There is, then, a notion of redemption in Hegel, and this notion of redemption is intimately connected with the idea of freedom. Christianity itself acts as an intercessor between the ancient and the modern worlds through Christ and promotes this liberation from original sin. In Conrad, attempts to achieve redemption never meet full success. You might treat the natives better but you cannot bring them true freedom. Thus, Conrad shares with Hegel the realization of humankind’s essential wickedness, but he does not share Hegel’s notion of redemption or Hegel’s optimism about the future.

Hegel recognized labor as one of the means by which individuals arrive at self-consciousness. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow makes the same observation: “I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.” Thus Conrad, like Hegel, suggests that labor gives individuals a sense of their own agency.

Europeans are more morally advanced than the colonial savages they rule insofar as they have a conception of original sin so understood. Even though the civilized world may not uphold the morals it espouses, and even though the Western world may not subscribe to all of the right ideals, it nevertheless has a recognition of those morals. The savage does not have this awareness. When Marlow journeys deeper and deeper into the jungle, he relates, “Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginning of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings…. [Y]ou lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day against the shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—in another existence perhaps.” In this sense, history, for Conrad as for Hegel, also traces a development of human self-consciousness. Conrad views the savages as living in another stage of history, one that is located “in the night of first ages.”

V.S. Naipal

Naipaul’s work is usefully compared and contrasted with that of his favorite English author, Conrad. Like Conrad, Naipaul comes to his place at the very center of English culture as an outsider. Born in Trinidad into a Hindu family, he was part of the Indian community that had migrated a century ago to work the West Indian cane fields as indentured laborers. From early on, he felt the as yet inarticulate sense of marginality that fills his books, the irrelevance of such places and their inhabitants to the mainstream where significant deeds are done. Like Conrad’s restless wanderings as a sea captain, Naipaul for thirty years has recrossed the globe as expressed in his travel essays. Naipaul is Conrad’s spiritual heir, writing of the outposts of empire, the half-made societies, as Naipaul calls them. They share a similarity of outlook: the darkness of human irrationality, aggression, fanaticism, and barbarism are always impending; and that civilization is an achievement that has to be worked at constantly. Naipaul also explores how the social order comes to bear on the lives of individuals, defining our possibilities, constraining and enabling our individuality, and affecting how each one of us lives and understands and values his single life.

Naipaul, like Conrad, believes in mankind’s corruptibility. Naipaul, however, departs from the Conradian view of the world as locked forever under darkness. In an essay entitled, Conrad’s Darkness, Naipaul writes, “Conrad’s value to me is that he is someone who sixty to seventy years ago meditated on my world, a world I recognize today. I feel this about no other writer of the century” (“Conrad’s Darkness,” in The Return of Eva Peron with The Killings in Trinidad.1980. p. 219).

The world has changed, however, between the days in which Conrad wrote and the period in which Naipaul lives. Both authors had direct experience with the colonial world and explore this world in their novels, but Naipaul, 75 years Conrad’s junior, also witnessed the decline of colonialism as it gave rise to the post-colonial world. Thus, Naipaul stands in a more historically advanced position from which he evaluates the world. His advantage of living in a later historical period than Conrad allows him to see consequences and outcomes that Conrad could not foresee. This historical advantage of perspective may account in part for Naipaul’s less pessimistic assessment of the human condition.

A House for Mr. Biswas

Set in an Indian community in Trinidad, A House for Mr. Biswas, arguably Naipaul’s greatest work, documents Mohan Biswas’s quest for dignity in a society that is unwilling to recognize his value as an individual. From the beginning, Mr. Biswas must combat prejudices and preconceived notions about his identity. The novel follows his quest for respect, independence, and a house to call his own as he challenges these prejudices and the culture which refuses to recognize him. Only the narrator accords Mr. Biswas the respect he deserves by referring to him with the title “Mr.” throughout the novel.

Mr. Biswas is born into a world that does not receive him kindly. He has been “[b]orn in the wrong way,” has six fingers, and enters the world at midnight, “the inauspicious hour.” The pundit declares that he will have an unlucky sneeze and warns that evil will result if Mr. Biswas goes near trees or water. His father is not pleased with the birth of his son or the pundit’s pronouncements, but he simply accepts his lot in life according to his philosophy: “Fate. There is nothing we can do about it.” It is against this prevailing attitude that Mr. Biswas must battle throughout the novel, for Mr. Biswas desires to make things happen for himself, to reject the prejudicial beliefs of his society and to cast off the superstitions surrounding his name.

Like the Hegelian individual, Mr. Biswas opposes fatalism and desires to achieve a free self-consciousness through work and through the recognition of others. The preconceived notions of his society, however, act as obstacles to Mr. Biswas’s realization of his individual worth. When his father drowns in a pond, Mr. Biswas (still a child) is blamed because he has gone near the water in violation of the pundit’s warning. The death of Mr. Biswas’s father sets off a series of events that eventually force his mother to sell their house. The narrator relates, “And so Mr. Biswas came to leave the only house to which he had some right. For the next thirty-five years he was to be a wanderer with no place he could call his own.” Furthermore, his family splits up to live with various relatives, and as a result, Mr. Biswas feels very alone in the world.

When Mr. Biswas marries, he becomes enslaved by the Tulsis, his wife’s relatives, for many years. Mr. Biswas is not literally a slave in the strictest sense of the term, but he repeatedly tells his wife that her family has “trapped” him. The Tulsis own a store and a large house called Hanuman House. When the narrator describes the house, he creates the impression of a large communal society. Children seem to run wildly and rampantly throughout the residence, adults seem to be engaged in constant quarrels, and a peculiar code of human behavior that emphasizes a perverted equality dominates the household.

Unable to bear the imposition upon his dignity and his independence, Mr. Biswas moves to a place known as “The Chase,” where he escapes from Hanuman House but not from the dominating presence of the Tulsis. The Chase proves ultimately unsatisfactory to Mr. Biswas; he begins to regard the venture as something “temporary and not quite real.” He reasons that “[r]eal life was to begin for them soon, and elsewhere. The Chase was a pause, a preparation.” As it turns out, the pause is a long one.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Biswas begins to lose sight of his dream as his individuality is smothered by the presence of the Tulsis and by other limiting influences on his freedom. He stops reading Samuel Smiles. The mention of ‘Smiles’ is important: Samuel Smiles was a Scottish author famous for books on self-help, and he promoted the idea that more progress would come from new attitudes than from new laws.

He does not give up hope, however, and he retains the sense that “some nobler purpose awaited him, even in this limiting society.” When Mr. Biswas leaves The Chase, he moves to a place called Green Vale, where he works as a sub-overseer in the sugarcane fields. Still, he has not escaped the shadow of the Tulsis; Green Vale is, after all, “part of the Tulsis land just outside of Arwacus.” It is “considered almost an extension of Hanuman House.” The Tulsis repeatedly work against Mr. Biswas’s attempts to assert himself as an individual. They seem particularly adverse to the idea of Mr. Biswas having a house of his own. Even when Mr. Biswas purchases a dollhouse for his daughter, the relatives at Hanuman House become resentful of this possession and treat Mr. Biswas’s wife so terribly that she eventually smashes the house to alleviate the situation. When the dollhouse is smashed along with Mr. Biswas’s dignity, the relatives are happy again. Here we see the nature and limits of traditional societies as it was ruthlessly and unsentimentally documented by Naipaul, including the emasculation of men in traditional patriarchal societies as opposed to free societies.

In what ways does Mr. Biswas battle throughout the novel to make things happen for himself, to reject the prejudicial beliefs of his society and to cast off the superstitions surrounding his name? When Mr. Biswas’s mother dies and the doctor acts rudely in writing her certificate of death, Mr. Biswas writes a letter of protest to the doctor. The letter is structured around the theme “no one could escape from what he was” and concludes that “no one could deny his humanity and keep his self-respect.” This letter is a personal declaration of independence.

Mr. Biswas finds a vehicle toward independence in education. He is an avid reader, and he stresses the importance of learning to his children, particularly to his son Anand. When the Tulsis come into financial difficulties and must sell their house, education acquires a new significance in the absence of the security of a closed community: “There was no longer a Hanuman House to protect them; everyone had to fight for himself in a new world, the world Owar and Shekhar had entered, where education was the only protection.” As the dominating presence of the Tulsis fades, Mr. Biswas begins to obtain a greater sense of dignity. His dignity is constantly insulted, but Mr. Biswas preserves his self-respect.

Eventually, Mr. Biswas acquires the means to purchase a house that is truly his own. The purchase of his house symbolizes the purchase of his freedom. He no longer remains constrained under the Tulsis’ shadow. The house on Sikkim Street has its disadvantages; the staircase is plain and unstable, the windows downstairs do not close, the doors upstairs lack uniformity, and other imperfections are discovered as well. However, the house acquires significance more for what it accomplishes than for what it lacks. Most importantly, it gives Mr. Biswas and his family an identity that reflects their independence. Thus the house, as a new arena of independence, provides a replacement for the old days of dependency. Mr. Biswas dies with a house of his own, in a world where he has earned his freedom and established his individuality.

Our Universal Civilization

Do people from non-Western (European) cultures come, in time, to adopt autonomy (and its nexus of beliefs) as a value? One way of answering this question is to examine the work of Nobel Prize winning author V. S. Naipaul. Naipaul answers in the affirmative. He does so in an important essay entitled, “Our Universal Civilization.”

In 1990, Naipaul delivered a speech at the Manhattan Institute in which he outlined his concept of “Our Universal Civilization.” Myron Magnet, the Senior Fellow of the Institute, introduced him as “Conrad’s spiritual heir.” As outsiders who came to England only after their childhood years, both Conrad and Naipaul “share a certain history that makes them almost obsessive analysts and questioners of social reality.” Naipaul in particular “explores the intersection of the social order and the individual life” and examines how the social order defines “our possibilities,” constrains and enables “our individuality,” and affects “how each one of us lives and understands and values his single life.” Thus, the nature of the relationship between society and the individual becomes a crucial one in the development of self-consciousness and the understanding of personal autonomy.

Hegel’s conception of freedom posits a continually advancing civilization in which humans progress toward a greater understanding of freedom; Naipaul insist that civilization is an advancement contingent upon human effort. Conrad and Naipaul, Magnet states, “share a similarity of outlook” in that they both view “the bush or the darkness of human irrationality, aggression, fanaticism, and barbarism” as “always impending.” For both authors, “civilization is an achievement that has to be worked at constantly.” For Conrad, the darkness forms a continual presence that perpetually overshadows society; the world for Conrad is a world of illusion in which humans ultimately cannot escape from the darkness. For Naipaul, however, human improvement is a reality; he sees society as advancing, and it is this optimistic view of civilization’s future that separates him from Conrad. If there is a sense in which Naipaul is writing in Conrad’s shadow, there is also a sense in which he escapes from it.

Naipaul’s speech serves to highlight the extent to which Naipaul, as Conrad’s inheritor, also diverges from him. At the conclusion of his lecture, Naipaul prophesies that the Western idea, which embodies the pursuit of happiness, individuality, and other liberal virtues, will cause “other more rigid systems in the end [to] blow away.” Naipaul, like Conrad, believes in mankind’s corruptibility. Unlike Conrad, however, Naipaul also believes in mankind’s perfectibility. Thus Naipaul departs from the Conradian worldview of the world as locked forever under darkness.

Naipaul also acknowledges his debt to Conrad; he does not reject him, but rather diverges from him. In an essay entitled, Conrad’s Darkness, Naipaul writes, “Conrad’s value to me is that he is someone who sixty to seventy years ago meditated on my world, a world I recognize today. I feel this about no other writer of the century.” The world has changed, however, between the days in which Conrad wrote and the period in which Naipaul lives. Both authors had direct experiences within the colonial world and explore this world in their novels, but Naipaul, 75 years Conrad’s junior, also witnessed the decline of colonialism as it gave rise to the post-colonial world. Thus, Naipaul stands in a more historically advanced position from which he evaluates the world. His advantage of living in a later historical period than Conrad allows him to see consequences and outcomes that Conrad could not foresee. This historical advantage of perspective may account in part for Naipaul’s less pessimistic assessment of the human condition and his more optimistic outlook regarding the future of society.

The universal civilization has been a long time in the making. It wasn’t always universal; it wasn’t always as attractive as it is today. The expansion of Europe gave it for at least three centuries a racial taint, which still causes pain. In Trinidad, I grew up in the last days of that kind of racialism. And that, perhaps, has given me a greater appreciation of the immense changes that have taken place since the end of the war, the extraordinary attempt of this civilization to accommodate the rest of the world, and all the currents of that world’s thought… A later realization—I suppose I have sensed it most of my life, but I have understood it philosophically only during the preparation of this talk—has been the beauty of the idea of the pursuit of happiness. Familiar words, easy to take for granted; easy to misconstrue. This idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery. I find it marvelous to contemplate to what an extent, after two centuries, and after the terrible history of the earlier part of this century, the idea has come to a kind of fruition. It is an elastic idea; it fits all men. It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. I don’t imagine my father’s parents would have been able to understand the idea. So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.

For Naipaul, then, personal autonomy becomes an important issue. However, individuals also have the responsibility of working on their own freedom; they cannot gain a sense of self-consciousness solely through the means of another individual. Naipaul, like Hegel (and Oakeshott), criticizes the anti-individual who refuses to form an identity apart from the group. In a Free State in particular he addresses the issue of the post-colonial subject who does not know how to form an identity apart from his master or a larger society. In a Free State consists of two short stories (One out of Many and Tell Me Who to Kill) and a short novel (In a Free State) surrounded by a prologue and an epilogue from Naipaul’s travel journals.

In One out of Many, however, Naipaul suggests that some people may not be ready to accept their own freedom; the realization of self-consciousness is a rewarding but painful and difficult process. The first-person narrator in One out of Many encounters this very difficulty. Born and raised in Bombay, the narrator, Santosh, works for the government and can only conceive of his identity insofar as it relates to his employer; the narrator has no identity outside of the identity he associates with his master. Santosh relates, “I experienced the world through him… I was content to be a small part of his presence.” When his employer is transferred to Washington, the “capital of the world,” Santosh begs for permission to accompany him. His employer agrees. Initially, Santosh retains the characteristics of the Oakeshottian anti-individual who, finding himself “saddled with the unsought and inescapable ‘freedom’ of human agency,” is hesitant about being able to respond.

At first, Washington and the new American culture overwhelms Santosh. Gradually, however, he comes to gain a sense of his own individuality: “Now I found, that, without wishing it, I was ceasing to see myself as part of my employer’s presence, and beginning at the same time to see him as an outsider might see him, as perhaps the people who came to dinner in the apartment saw him.” As his sense of agency emerges, Santosh resolves to run away from his employer. After wandering the streets of Washington, Santosh takes on a new job at a restaurant owned by a man named Priya. In this new position, Santosh reflects upon his discovery of freedom: “I felt I was earning my freedom. Though I was in hiding, and though I worked every day until midnight, I felt I was much more in charge of myself than I had ever been.” Thus labor, in Naipaul as well as in Hegel, serves as a means by which individuals develop a sense of their own agency.

This freedom, however, also implies an increase in responsibilities. For Santosh, the freedom he discovers at Priya’s restaurant presents complications: “It was worse than being in the apartment, because now the responsibility was mine and mine alone. I had decided to be free, to act for myself.” Santosh begins to regret the consequences of his freedom, and one day he calls Priya, with whom he has developed a close and friendly relationship, “sahib.” Overwhelmed by the sense of his own freedom, Santosh retreats back into the position of servant by referring to his friend Priya in this way:

I had used the wrong word. Once I had used the word a hundred times a day. But then I had considered myself a small part of my employer’s presence, and the word was not servile; it was more like a name, like a reassuring sound, part of my employer’s dignity and therefore part of mine. But Priya’s dignity could never be mine; that was not our relationship. Priya I had always called Priya; it was his wish, the American way, man to man. With Priya the word was servile. And he responded to the word.… I never called him by his name again.… I was a free man; I had lost my freedom.

While Naipaul approves of the American way of treating and addressing others as equals, he also realizes that the transition into such a culture is not an easy process, especially for one who comes from a background of strict class systems where servility to superiors is taught as a virtue, or as a necessary means of communication.

At the end of the story, Santosh becomes an American citizen, but he does not want to live in the American way. For him, the transition from sleeping outside on the street with his friends in Bombay to living in America is too great to rightly be called pleasant. At the same time, however, America has given Santosh freedom; in America, he realizes that he is free; he becomes self-conscious of his freedom. He realizes that he made the decision to come to Washington and that he cannot return to the ways of Bombay. Santosh concludes his tale with an evaluation of his freedom:

I was once part of the flow, never thinking of myself as a presence. Then I looked in the mirror and decided to be free. All that my freedom has brought me is the knowledge that I have a face and a body, that I must feed this body and clothe this body for a certain number of years. Then it will all be over.

Thus, Santosh delivers a troubling diagnosis of freedom. He acknowledges the negative side of freedom, in which duties associated with freedom become a burden. Nevertheless, Santosh’s final and disappointing portrait of freedom does not imply Naipaul’s approval of slavery or servitude. Rather, Naipaul wishes to expose the side of freedom that often gets undervalued; he wishes to show that freedom carries with it responsibilities, and that certain people have trouble accepting those responsibilities. For Naipaul, an individual’s enjoyment of freedom depends upon what that individual makes of his freedom. In this respect, Naipaul’s argument parallels Hegel’s assertion in the Philosophy of Right: “On the one hand, it is true that every individual has an independent existence [ist jades Individuum für sich]; but on the other, the individual is also a member of the system of civil society, and just as every human being has a right to demand a livelihood from society, so also must society protect him from himself…. Since civil society is obliged to feed its members, it also has the right to urge them to provide for their own livelihood.”

He would also agree with Hegel’s assertion in the Philosophy of Right: “If the direct burden [of support] were to fall on the wealthier class, or if direct means were available in other public institutions (such as wealthy hospitals, foundations, or monasteries) to maintain the increasingly impoverished mass at its normal standard of living, the livelihood of the needy would be ensured without the mediation of work; this would be contrary to the principle of civil society and the feeling of self-sufficiency and honor among its individual members.”

The narrator of Tell Me Who to Kill resolves to ensure his younger brother’s education. However, the narrator makes a mistake in assuming responsibility for his brother; while his encouragement is commendatory, the narrator ultimately cannot control his brother’s actions or make his brother succeed in the Western world. When Dayo, the narrator’s younger brother, goes to college in London, he struggles to adjust to his new lifestyle but fails. The narrator, moves to London and obtains a job in order to assist Dayo financially, but neither the narrator’s financial assistance nor even his emotional presence can substitute for Dayo’s own agency.

The narrator cannot help an individual who is not willing to help himself. The narrator’s misconception results in his disillusionment with the world around him as he fails to understand Dayo’s loss of confidence and motivation. The short story ends with Dayo’s marriage, which the narrator describes as “more like a funeral than a wedding.” The narrator cannot make sense of his surroundings, of unexpected outcomes, or of his failed plan to give Dayo a European education. Angry at the world, he wonders “who to kill.”

In In a Free State, Naipaul explores the alternative to Western rule. Set in Africa shortly after the end of British imperialism, In a Free State explores the political consequences of independence. “In ‘The Loss of El Dorado,’ Naipaul is unsparing about the abuses of colonial rule. But he’s not oblivious to what followed: “corrupt and brutal despotisms in Africa and South America, stupid homegrown ideologies, as well as the self-indulgent Western fantasies that sustain them.” Writing about Egypt in his epilogue, Naipaul exclaims, “Peonies, China! So many empires had come here.” He is looking at postcards of Chinese flowers that have been handed out as gifts to waiters in a small Egyptian hut. The implication is that Africa is still a land of conquest, where the Chinese are now establishing an empire, albeit “more remote,” in Egypt through their commercial activity.

If history is a history of conquest, it is also a history of change, and the nature of this change has resulted in more opportunities for humans to discover their freedom. A Bend in the River suggests, more strongly than A House for Mr. Biswas or In a Free State, that the Western enterprise has altered the world forever, and that this change has created a new sphere in which humans can best realize the meaning of freedom. A Bend in the River presents a decidedly more optimistic view of the human condition than the two former novels. The novel centers around Salim, an Indian man who opens a shop at the bend of a river in a newly independent African state. The geographic location (that is to say, Africa) is the same as in In a Free State, and political turmoil also plays a role here, but in A Bend in the River Naipaul expresses greater hope for the inhabitants of Developing countries and the opportunities available to them.

Salim, the narrator and main character, begins with the statement “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” This statement in many ways sums up Naipaul’s philosophy on life. It emphasizes the role that individuals play in their own fate and advocates personal responsibility in the face of a world that will not automatically adjust to fit individuals’ needs or desires. The opening statement of A Bend in the River also precludes anyone from blaming the world for personal failures; it denounces men who are not proactive. It is a negatively expressed statement, but it has a positive converse. For Naipaul, individuals have to make their dreams happen. If men who make themselves nothing have no place in the world, then men who make something of themselves do have a place in the world.

In the opening chapters of the novel, Salim offers a history of his family. His family past consists of men who would likely fall into the category of “men who are nothing.” They are not ambitious men, but rather men who had accepted without question the customs and traditions of their land:

We simply lived; we did what was expected of us, what we had seen the previous generation do. We never asked why; we never recorded. We felt in our bones that we were a very old people; but we seemed to have no means of gauging the passing of time. Neither my father nor my grandfather could put dates to their stories. Not because they had forgotten or were confused; the past was simply the past.

Salim’s ancestors, then, lack a clear conception of their larger historical significance. They also do not possess a conception of time; Salim’s journey into his family history, like Marlow’s journey up the Congo River, is a journey into a realm where time ceases to have a functional meaning. This limited conception of time reflects the primitive state of mankind before the advent of modern civilization. It also suggests that history involves a development of the mind. In this way, Naipaul’s recording of the narrator’s family history reflects a Hegelian approach to world history.

Salim’s ancestors locate themselves in the present and think even less of the future than they do of the past. “In our family house when I was a child I never heard a discussion about our future or the future of the coast. The assumption seemed to be that things would continue, that marriages would continue to be arranged between approved parties, that trade and business would go on, that Africa would be for us as it had been.”

Unlike his relatives, however, Salim has a sense of his society’s relationship to the rest of the world. “But it came to me when I was quite young, still at school, that our way of life was antiquated and almost at an end…” British postage stamps with a picture of an Arab dhow – what a foreigner describes as “most striking about this place [in Africa]”—generate Salim’s sense of societal self-consciousness, and he develops “the habit of looking, detaching myself from a familiar scene and trying to consider it as from a distance.”

Salim’s process of both recognizing himself as a part of his environment and also of perceiving himself as separate from his environment matches Hegel’s conception of the self-conscious individual who perceives that he is “a member of the system of civil society” but also realizes that he has an “independent existence.”

From this perspective of an outsider who is simultaneously an insider, Salim develops the idea that “as a community we had fallen behind.” The quality of self-consciousness and the ability to “stand back and consider the nature” of one’s community becomes crucial in an individual’s as well as a culture’s adjustment to the changing world. Salim observes, that the Europeans “were better equipped to cope with changes than we were” because “they could assess themselves.” Thus, the Europeans have an advantage over inhabitants of countries/cultures who have not advanced as far in the development of self-consciousness.

Salim perceives that the world around him is changing, and that if he is to succeed in it, he must take action. This action involves breaking away from the limiting lifestyles of his heritage:

I had to break away from our family compound and our community. To stay with my community, to pretend that I had simply to travel along with them, was to be taken with them to destruction. I could be master of my fate only if I stood alone. One tide of history… had brought us here…. Now… another tide of history was going to wash us away.

Salim resolves to leave his Indian community on the coast of Africa and journey inland to set up a new life, where he will run a shop on the bend in the river. The bend in the river symbolically represents the change in times, the switch from one historical epoch to another.

The “tides of history” concept which Naipaul invokes also recalls Hegel, who ascribes certain moments of the world mind’s Idea to certain epochs in history. In the Philosophy of Right he states that each stage of world history is “the presence of a necessary moment in the Idea of the world mind,” and he ascribes this Idea to particular nations.

The nation to which is ascribed a moment of the Idea in the form of a natural principle is entrusted with giving complete effect to it in the advance of the self-developing self-consciousness of the world mind. This nation is dominant in world history during this one epoch, and it is only once that it can make its hour strike. In contrast with this its absolute right of being the vehicle of the present stage in the world mind’s development, the minds of the other nations are without rights, and they, along with those whose hour has struck already, count no longer in world history.

Insofar as a particular nation possesses the Idea of the world mind, it has the right to promulgate this idea and promote historical development.

Naipaul presents a similar argument, although he makes a few modifications to the original Hegelian view. In A Bend in the River, Europe – and, more broadly, the West—acts as the vehicle of the present stage in history. If A Bend in the River had to locate this vehicle in a particular nation, it would likely be England, which is representative of the Western idea in the novel. Nevertheless, Naipaul certainly advances the Hegelian argument that certain ideas gain power and even right in the flow of history. In his speech before the Manhattan Institute, Naipaul characterizes this Western idea more specifically as “the idea of the pursuit of happiness.” Naipaul calls this pursuit “an immense human idea;” contained within it is “the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement.” Naipaul claims that this idea “has come to a kind of fruition.” In his 1979 novel, Naipaul traces the development of this idea toward its fruition. Furthermore, as the novel progresses, Salim comes to recognize the beauty and the enabling power of this Western idea. As in Hegel, Western thought parallels the individual mind in the history of its development.

When Salim in A Bend in the River finds that his country can no longer accommodate his newfound freedom, Salim is compelled to flee Africa in order to escape the new, oppressive regime that his taken over his shop and threatens to obliterate his identity as well. The novel ends with Salim’s flight, and on one level this seems like a negative and depressing conclusion. This interpretation, however, misses a crucial point: Salim is leaving a land of oppression to enter a land of opportunity. Salim’s visit to London before his permanent departure has already given him insight into the kind of opportunities available outside of his small African community. After his enlightenment, Salim realizes that there can be “no going back” to his former way of life. “[T]here was nothing to go back to. We had become to what the world outside had made us; we had to live in the world as it existed.” His friend Indar has introduced Salim to European ways of thinking and has revealed to Salim the flaws in traditional, non-Western thought. Indar tells Salim,

We have no means of understanding a fraction of the thought and science and philosophy and law that have gone to make that outside world. We simply accept it. We have grown up paying tribute to it, and that is what most of us do. We feel of the great world that it is simply there, something for the lucky ones among us to explore, and then only at the edges. It never occurs to us that we might make some contribution to it ourselves. And that is why we miss everything.

By the end of the novel, Salim has come to the conclusion that he does have power over his own fate and that he will no longer let himself be restricted by the limiting paradigms of a preceding generation. His decision to leave Africa parallels Naipaul’s own decision to leave his native Trinidad for the larger world in which he could better express his freedom. Like Salim, Naipaul saw “the rituals and the myths” of his heritage “at a distance” and eventually decided to leave Trinidad because his homeland did not offer “that kind of society” in which “the writing life was possible.” He had to make a journey “from the margin to the center” in order to find a society that would accommodate his needs, and this journey necessitated leaving his old life.

When Salim flees Africa at the end of the novel, he is not facing defeat, or a life of lonely exile. He is leaving a land that has limited his freedom to join other people in other lands who will share his freedom with him.

In A Bend in the River, the narrator (an Indian who lives in postcolonial Africa) observes, “[I]t came to me while I was still quite young, still at school, that our way of life was antiquated and almost at an end.” He later comes to regard himself “as part of an immense flow of history” in which the old and primitive cultures give way to the power of the European idea. The Europeans, he relates, “gave us on the coast some idea of our history.” The introduction of Western ideas to non-Western cultures precipitates a change in the living conditions of those cultures that affects not only physical surroundings but also the attitudes and philosophies of a land’s inhabitants.

Naipaul’s works embody the Hegelian conception of freedom and the human condition; like Hegel, Naipaul advocates individual freedom coupled with individual responsibility. He also acknowledges the value of ideas, and specifically the Western idea. Naipaul’s works is itself an immense contribution to the evolution of Western thought.


Nicholas Capaldi is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans.


Lourdes to Paris and Back Again

Several years ago, on a solitary pilgrimage to France, I spent an afternoon sitting before the Holy Grotto at Lourdes and praying upon the many, many petitions that I carried with me in two great manila envelopes. I was very much moved by my parishioners’ expressions of faith in, and love for, Our Lord and Our Lady. Each of their notes and letters, signs of interior devotion, was attentively left at the special place designated for such messages within the Grotto itself, just a few feet away from where the Virgin had stood and St. Bernadette had knelt during the apparitions of 1858. Lourdes never fails to inspire. There is such a tremendous outpouring of love and charity here that no one can honestly deny the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.

The Visionary, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.

One night, after the iconic candlelight procession, I encountered a Chinese couple named Kang and Yan. They had been enticed away from the hustle and bustle of Paris to the mystique of Lourdes. The husband had been exposed to Catholicism in Hong Kong but was a non-Christian. His wife, Yan, came from mainland China, just next to the North Korean border. She actually showed me on her iPhone a fascinating photo that she had taken of the People’s Paradise from across the river that separates her Chinese hometown from that de facto nation prison camp. Her parents are Communist Party members and she was raised in an atheistic home. But she was deeply moved as she stood before the Holy Grotto. Kang could not cease commenting about the evident power of Lourdes, and aptly noted that the countless volunteers who care for the sick are in a way proof of the veracity of the apparitions.

During my stay I was lured away by beckoning friends to spend a few days in Paris, although I was reluctant to leave Mary’s peaceful enclave in the picturesque Pyrenees mountains. The “City of Light” is a looming magnet and is the heart of the revolutionary engine of 1789. Still, I took the slow train to Bordeaux and then the lightning-fast TGV northwards to Paris and plunged into the secular arena.

The peasant’s veil and shoes St Bernadette wore during the apparitions of 1858.

Arriving, I walked out of the Montparnasse train station and was quite surprised when the first thing I heard was a plaintive call, “Bonjour, mon Père,” I turned to see a young Frenchman looking at me hoping for a few Euros. Yet he was not typically bedraggled (at least not outwardly). We began to chat and I encountered a life that had spun out of control and was caught in the web of disorder. Hunger made its imperious demands and he was in the humiliating state of holding out his hand for help. I asked if he would like a blessing, and he responded, “No, I am an atheist. I have seen too much suffering to believe in God.” I repeated my offer, this time looking more intently at him. He paused, then with bowed head, said, “Oui, mon Père…” My trip thus began by blessing an uncertain atheist in the streets of Paris.

On the steps of the glorious church of la Madeleine a very distressed young Frenchman frantically approached me. He wore a beard and a longish topcoat that gave him the appearance of a 19th Century rationalist. He told me of his alienation and despair. For a moment he began to ramble about Nietzsche but then desperately asked me if God really exists. It was another moment of unexpected humanity and Christianity. I put a few coins in his hand and laid my own upon his head in blessing.

I will always wonder if his presence on those church steps revealed the Hand of the Good God drawing him away from nihilist darkness towards the Light from Light.

Back safely at Lourdes again, one fair morning I found myself standing alone in a little park before a statue of St. Bernadette. But I was outside of the “pilgrim zone” of the village. Suddenly I was approached by a different sort of Frenchman. He must have seen his opportunity to pounce since I was isolated for the moment from the protective pious throngs. At first, I could not catch his slurry patois, but it was evident that he was an anti-clerical and was berating our Holy Religion. I wanted to be sure I understood him before I responded, so I explained that I was not French and could he speak more clearly, s’il vous plait. He said with obvious disdain, “What are you then, Italian?” Taking that as the one compliment I’d get from this unpleasant encounter, I nevertheless answered, “Je suis américain.” At this he bellowed, “C’est pire!!” (That’s even worse!). And then a new torrent of abusive language poured forth.

Now here I must interject that being Catholic and American is something I thank God for every day. The virtue of patriotism demands at least that of any man. For patriotism, love of country, is an essential ingredient to uprightness of character. Even more so is love of our higher country, that indefectible Kingdom of God which is the Church of Christ.

Patriotism is not quite nationalism. It is a moral virtue akin to filial piety writ large. Patriotism does not despise the patriotism of another country. Nor is patriotism naïve to the continual necessity of bettering one’s native land and mores. In fact, as an American patriot I appreciate and hope to be enriched by the patriotism of the French. One can have a hierarchy of loves that are not mutually opposed. I am an American patriot, but I also have a deep love for France, along with all that which is good and noble in its people, history, culture, language and religion. And as a Catholic priest, France has a claim on me as La Fille aînée de l’Église (“the Eldest daughter of the Church”).

All this is in my heart and mind. But my apoplectic Gallican interlocutor—un véritable bête noir—apparently had not evolved past brute to the level of authentic human sophistication that would have enabled him to engage in the least modicum of proper human discourse with a stranger. He was a bleak contradiction of all that was noble in his own land. He chose, instead of gracious hospitality, the barbarity of gratuitously assailing someone he did not even know, indeed, a visitor who had come in good will to honor la Belle France and its people.

I said simply in response to his anti-Catholic and anti-American slurs, “C’est pas vrai…” (“What you say is not true…”). His rage boiled over and he began shouting louder. He was losing it. I chose to walk away yet he followed close upon me. I was wondering where this was going to end up because he was menacing me physically at this point. And to be honest, I was asking myself how my old Tae Kwan Do moves could be managed in a cassock, but decided this would produce quite an awful headline. I said to him, “Que Dieu vous benisse,” and made my escape. He roared at me as I turned the corner and slipped out of danger’s way.

This particular member of homo sapiens had really disturbed me, my spiritual force field had been punctured. I stopped momentarily on the sidewalk to consider what had just occurred. I resolved to return to the park, when suddenly before me blocking my way were two kindly, smiling Sicilian faces of an elderly husband and wife on pilgrimage. They greeted me warmly and immediately we were immersed in a lovely conversation about the Faith and Our Lady and all things beautiful and good. God sent them just in time, literally within minutes of a near disaster in the park.

I continued down the sidewalk and headed back to the safety of the Grotto (I needed to talk about this with Our Lady), when I came across an old man begging, yet another gypsy. His name was unusual, something like “Geor.” He was clearly not faring well and needed someone to care that he existed, at least for a moment. We exchanged a few words and I gave him something to help him. Then I blessed him. He took my hand and kissed it and tears welled up in his eyes.

Still contemplating the vitriol to which I had been subjected in the park, I ran into a rotund, avuncular, italianissimo priest, who asked, “Ma che c’è, fratello mio? Che succede?” (What has bothered you, brother?). I told him about the enraged Frenchman who had accosted me. The good Padre immediately took me for a cappuccino and lent a listening ear until my nerves were sedated. His quintessentially “good Italian padre” approach rescued me from my temporary discombobulation. In turn, I had rescued him from the trinket shops—a fair sacerdotal exchange.

This all happened within a space of 30 minutes during my morning walk.

France is a culturally and religiously occupied territory. The destructive spirit of 1789 has to have had something to do with the poison coursing through the veins of the angry man in the park. The very Church of God, which made France great (not perfect) for over a millennium, has been undermined and attacked in this country for far too long. The secular ruling elite have banished the Gospel from public life and horribly twist the people’s perception of what is in fact the best thing that has ever happened to them, viz., their conversion to the Faith.

They are so fanatical about this suppression of Catholicism that they cannot see that only the Faith will be able to save them from the twofold jeopardy of laicisme and islamisme, or whatever it is that is bothering them. Each one of us is created imago Dei—children of God with a destiny in Christ Jesus. Understanding this is key to finding our way out of Europe’s existential malaise, for it is essential to the re-conversion of France to the Faith. And I hold that it can happen.

In the post-Nice, pre-Covidian era there was a heightened worry even in Lourdes that there would be a terrorist attack. Huge concrete barriers have been erected to prevent car bombs or trucks from ravaging the shrine which daily swells up with thousands of pilgrims. The workers there had repeatedly told me they have occasionally noticed strange men in long beards and long tunics, as if they are doing reconnaissance. I myself noticed this one night. And in fact, to some I myself am also a strange man with a long beard and long robe!

In any event, the man in the park (who is emblematic of the militantly irrational secular Left) is truly a tragic, and unarmed figure. Europe is in a civilizational crisis that could be assuaged by shelving Voltaire and revisiting Aquinas. At least that would be a worthy start.

There is so much suffering in the world! It either crushes us or redeems us. At Lourdes, however, there is redemption. This is demonstrated in the vivid scenes of so many sick people endlessly streaming to the Holy Grotto; processing in their wheelchairs, candles in hand; attending Mass after Mass and standing in endless lines for confession and access to the healing waters. All these actions are signs that suffering can wound but need not destroy us. There is always hope beyond the suffering, and we can look toward the example of our Divine Lord and His Sorrowful Mother. Heaven is in solidarity with mankind in our suffering.

I hope and pray that each of us realize the tremendous blessing that is ours. We profess the True Faith, we join together in common prayer before the Altar of God each day, we are enriched by the grace of the Sacraments, we know and love Our Lady, the sweet Immaculate Heart of the plan of salvation. We even know that we are so very imperfect, yet have the faith to be able to see how God’s loving Hand still guides us. There is so much good in our parish life. And there is so much bewilderment and chaos in the world swirling about. Bless the Lord every day for what we have been given and let us never forget how good indeed God is…

Lourdes in its holy splendor.

Father Francis M. de Rosa is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A graduate of Niagara University, the Ateneo della Santa Croce in Rome and Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, he also holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. He has published articles on bioethics in the Linacre Quarterly and the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. He was ordained in 1997 and is the pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Colonial Beach, Virginia and St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George, Virginia.


Featured: “Our Lady of Lourdes,” by Francisco Oller; painted in 1878.

The Anglican Angle: Meet the Revd. Septimus Hazard, MA

Dr. Mark Stocker, our former art history joke writer, now turned learned musicologist, is a good friend of an ageing Anglican rector, the Revd. Septimus Hazard, MA (Oxon). For the last forty years the latter has occupied, not without incident, the well-endowed Eton College living of St. Swithin’s, Prawnsby, Norfolk.

The rector was chuffed at being invited to share his innermost thoughts and feelings about the world in this magazine, which he proposes to do in the next three issues. Our editor is like clay in the hands of the Revd. and had no option but to comply with these plans. Any donations to St. Swithin’s spire fund may be sent directly to Dr. Stocker and no questions will be asked. God bless you all!


A Few Thoughts for my Brethren, Sisteren and Otheren…

Hello Peoples!

OMG (to quote the youth of today), that was the greeting from my happy-clappy friend Greg, from that rather dreadful, cheapskate Church of Jesus down the road, I do so apologise.

The other day, good people, I was deeply impressed by my fellow divine who chose a most apposite Lesson for Boris Johnson to read at the Abbey to mark the Jubilee of our glorious Queen and Monarch, Defender of the Faith to boot: “Whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely… think on these things!” I cannot hope to improve on this brilliant summation of the British Empire’s prime minister and his most excellent Conservative and Unionist government. Boris is beautifully pure and, perhaps certain homo sapiens of the cloth might add, lovely (they have mysterious, nay, queer ways, but I fear I digress!) The Tory party at prayer, it has been wisely observed of the Anglican fold.

Talking of prayer, I recently conducted a harvest festival service for a congregation predominantly comprising market gardeners. “Lettuce spray!” I commanded—and you know what, Farmer Brown rudely interjected “I did that months ago, you fool!” Rather better received was a hymn I chose for a congregation of physicists, mostly I fear agnostics or heaven forbid, atheists. They nonetheless responded with gusto to the hymn “Immortal, invisible, God only wise/In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes…” Choosing the right hymn to match the occasion is of course very important, particularly as I need to humour my very “woke” bishop, the Rt. Rev. Timothy Venables, BA (Hull). God help us.

Therefore, when I was conducting an ecumenical service the other day with our Quaker friends, I decided in the last minute not to go ahead with “Fight the good fight with all thy might.” My parishioner, Mrs. Broadbridge (bless!) tells me I am a sensitive vicar, but far be it for me…

Back to those hymns. A while ago, I conducted a service for a congregation of what Bishop Timothy would a little nauseatingly deem “Otherly abled.” I therefore decided that “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus” was not the happiest of choices, in the unlikely event of the Saviour making a guest appearance and performing those rather splendid miracles of His. This is St. Swithin’s Church, not bleeding Lourdes (excuse my French!) Likewise, “You’ll never walk alone” would seem to be stating the obvious to these good folk, they hardly need reminding of their sad condition. What with Covid smiting our congregation, “Breathe on me, breath of God” is particularly inadvisable, especially as He resides in one or two of my holier, unvaccinated communicants. Well, they at least seem convinced He does. One cannot be too careful, nor indeed too prayerful. On that lyrical note, I will take my leave, and it’s high time to enjoy my first dry sherry of the day.

Yr humble servant,
The Revd Septimus Hazard, MA (Oxon), (He/Hymn)
St. Swithin’s Church,
Prawnsby, Norfolk

The defrocked Rector of Stiffkey, Harold Davidson, with Toto the lion, 1937. Revd. Hazard claims “Toto is positively benign compared with my bishop!”

As the Revd.’s piece went to press, the dramatic news of Boris Johnson’s resignation burst forth on the wireless waves. The editor, out of courtesy and sympathy, telephoned Our Friend of the Cloth, and alas found him very much out of sorts. He should of course spare the reader, but sounds of belching, weeping and what sounded like a crystal decanter being smashed greeted him…

“I know I shouldn’t swear, but my foughts… thoughts are well-nigh unprintable. It’s bloody, simply bloody awful—excuse my French, as dear Mrs. Broadbridge would say. Boris was… is… perfection. [sobs] The men who ditched him are beneath contempt. I need to find a good name for them [hic]. Ah yes, the great John Steinbeck came up with a juicy insult many years ago—spawn of cuttlefish—that’s them! Snakes! Bastards! Oh my gosh, my long-suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Griffin, will have a helluva, sorry, hideous mess to clear up here. I need another drink, old man,
do please excuse me…”

(line goes dead).


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


Featured: “The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch,” by Henry Raeburn; painted 1790s.

Ukraine, Trapped in a Spiral of War: Pierre de Gaulle

The speech that follows was given by Pierre de Gaulle, the grandson of Charles de Gaulle, at the French Embassy in Paris, on June 14, 2022, to mark Russia Day. It is a speech that has been heavily censored in France, and we are happy to provide this English translation.

Mr. de Gaulle addresses the current Ukraine-Russia conflict by way of a blunt and brave denouncement of the French political elite who have succeeded in undermining the great ideals of his grandfather who always sought the inclusion of Russia within Europe. The opening words of greetings Mr. de Gaulle made in Russian.


Здравствуйте ! От имени французского народа горячо приветсвую русские народ и его правителей и президент Владимир Путин.

[Good Day! On behalf of the French people, I warmly greet the Russian people and its leaders and President Vladimir Putin].

Your Excellencies, Official Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you, on behalf of my family and my father, Admiral de Gaulle, for inviting us to celebrate your national holiday.

Our peoples are linked by long years of friendship and by the blood shed against the Nazis. This is an opportunity for me to repeat that the Franco-Russian relationship was of particular importance to General de Gaulle. France and Russia are close to each other, but are also united by the awareness of their common interests and destinies.

Furthermore, Russia was seen by my grandfather as an inverse ally, indispensable for his security, but also because it was part of his conception of the stability of Europe and of Europe’s place in the world. The General even said, “Napoleon’s disastrous decision to attack Alexander I is the biggest mistake he ever made. Nothing forced him to do so. It was contrary to our interests, to our traditions, to our genius. It is from the war between Napoleon and the Russians that our decadence dates”

I have come here to affirm once again, loud and clear, that it is in France’s interest to maintain good relations with Russia and to say that we must work together in order to help the union and security of our continent, as well as the balance, progress and peace of the entire world.

Today, everyone recognizes the responsibility of the United States in the current conflict, the disastrous role of NATO, which is constantly expanding, and the reckless policy of the Ukrainian government. The latter, strengthened by beautiful promises and fed by American and European illusions, has led a very condemnable policy towards the Russian-speaking populations of Donbass, multiplying discrimination, plundering, embargoes and bombings. Unfortunately, the West has allowed Zelensky, his oligarchs and the neo-Nazi military groups to be trapped in a spiral of war.

This blindness has serious consequences for the Ukrainian people. But let’s make no mistake—what do the Americans want, if not to provoke a new East-West confrontation, whose only goal is to weaken and divide Europe in order to impose their directives, their economy and their system? Since the First World War, the Americans have made a pact to establish a necessary balance of forces in Europe and to be involved in the security of the European continent. It is not by organizing a systematic military escalation in Ukraine that they will fulfil their commitment, nor their great principles of freedom and democracy!

The United States is wrong, NATO is wrong, whose unbridled and thoughtless expansionism leads inexorably to the imbalance of the world and to injustice. The beautiful promises of the Americans not to enlarge NATO to the East, nor to the North, have not been respected. The Minsk agreements have not been respected.

The reality is that the Americans have never accepted, nor the West with them, that after the difficult transition of 1991 and the reconstruction that followed, Russia would not fit into their unipolar world. Neither the Americans nor Europe have ever accepted that Russia should transform itself according to the Western model—in its own way.

Because of this, and from the beginning, President Putin was perceived as a dictator, whereas he is a great leader for his country!

The United States has also never accepted the loss of the role of the dollar as the dominant currency in the settlement of international trade in the world. The worst thing is that, in this blindness, they are only reinforcing, by moving the economic and financial interests to the East, the position of China and the Chinese currency that they also want to fight! Sanctions—which are the policy of the weak—are inoperative, except to weaken the Europeans and other nations of the world. Even Africans, through the intermediacy of the President of the African Union, Mr. Macky Sall, are very worried about this.

By provoking a deep, systemic and lasting economic crisis that is already affecting us all, from the price of bread to heating and fuel, but also by the shortage of food, raw materials and industrial metals that all this entails, the Americans are weakening the Europeans for their own benefit. Have we forgotten that for at least a century, all the major financial crises have come from the United States? Our dollar, your problem,” said Henry Kissinger. The Americans still hold us by their debt, which they export.

By imposing a cultural and social model based on the cult of pleasure and consumption, the Americans are undermining the foundation of our traditional values and the two pillars of civilization—the family and tradition.

Europe, and of course France, have everything to lose, if they entrap themselves into this military and ideological escalation desired by the United States and NATO. As Charles de Gaulle said, “America is not part of Europe. I believe I discovered that on the map.”

France can and must play a key role in the current terrible and formidable situation. France and Russia are both daughters of Europe. France must not forget that she is the eldest of the European nations and that none of them has such a long trail of glory behind her. My grandfather always supported and defended the imperative need, even in the most difficult moments of history, to build and preserve a strong and shared relationship with Russia.

He loved Russia. My family and I love Russia and its people. The Russian people, whose property rights are so unjustly violated around the world. It reminds me of the worst moments of the occupation and the Vichy regime in France. And are Russian artists and sportsmen also responsible?

This systematic and blind policy of confiscation and discrimination of the entire Russian people is scandalous and shocks me greatly.

Allow me to quote General de Gaulle once again: “In France, we have never considered Russia as an enemy. I am for the development of Franco-Russian friendship; and I have never sent and I will never send arms to people who would have fought against Soviet Russia.”

The Americans give money (and weapons). We pay them with slices of our independence. I regret that the French government is committing itself to this submission to NATO and thus to American policy.

I deplore the fact that, because of the will of certain French presidents, France has dissolved into NATO. However, General de Gaulle always tried to maintain France’s independence in the integrated command of NATO.

NATO is absorbing Europe. And so the Americans no longer speak to France and no longer consider us a strong and independent nation.

Do we need to recall the recent slap in the face suffered by France in the brutal and unilateral breach of the contract for the purchase of Australian submarines by Australia, a member of the Commonwealth, which was orchestrated by the British and the Americans? Can France be satisfied, in addition to its loss of sovereignty, with the three-day advance in ammunition and fuel that NATO grants it? I do not understand the policy of the French President.

On the strength of his convictions, his army and the deterrent force that he himself built to the great displeasure of the Americans, General de Gaulle had the determination to leave NATO, while remaining a full member of the Atlantic Alliance. I wish that the French President had this courage and this will, rather than being subjected to the throes of single-mindedness and the common policy imposed by the Americans, which make him dependent.

In the same way, I do not recognize myself in today’s France, in this policy of “en même temps,” which weakens us. I do not recognize myself in the current abandonment of values, of our history, of our culture, of our great principles of freedom, duty and security.

General de Gaulle wrote, “There is a twenty-fold pact between the greatness of France and the freedom of the world.” Our goal is and must remain to establish a European entente between the Atlantic and the Urals. In the midst of the alarms of the world and the dangers of the present crisis, France can and must once again throw all her weight behind seeking an arrangement with the belligerent countries, and Russia in particular.

One does not wage war alone!

It is a conviction that ideologies, and therefore the regimes that express them, in Ukraine as elsewhere, are only temporary. “Only the patina of centuries and the capacity of countries to remain great count, based on political foundations.”

As General de Gaulle said in 1966 during his second trip to Russia: “The visit I am finishing to your country is a visit from the France of always to the Russia of always.”

I thank you.


The entire speech may be viewed here…

Pierre de Gaulle speaking in Paris.

The French text of the speech comes courtesy of Pierre Yves Rougeyron and Maison russe des sciences et de la culture à Paris. [Translated from the French by N. Dass}.


Featured: Napoleon silver Specimen Essai “Friendship” Medallic 2 Francs L’An IX (1801), by Tiolier.

The Latest on Ukraine from Jacques Baud

In this recent interview, Jacques Baud speaks with Thomas Kaiser about what is now happening in Ukraine, and the enthusiastic warmongering that still persists in the West. He is in conversation with Thomas Kaiser of Zeitgeschehen im Fokus, whose kindness has made this English version of this interview possible.


Thomas Kaiser (TK): In the past couple of weeks , the narrative in the mainstream media has slightly changed. We hear less and less directly about the war, nothing more about the high losses of the Russians and the military successes of the Ukrainians. What has changed?

Jacques Baud (JB): In reality, nothing has changed. It is a change in perception. It has been known for several weeks that the situation of Ukraine and its armed forces is catastrophic. The human and material losses of the country are very high. Initially, Ukraine and our media downplayed these losses in order to develop a narrative around a Russian defeat and a Ukrainian victory. Today, the reality on the battlefield forces Ukraine to acknowledge these losses. At the same time, Zelensky understood that these losses could be used as an argument to pressure the West for further aid.

TK: On the other hand, what is always an issue is the demanded arms deliveries. Who is supposed to operate the weapons when most of the army is encircled in the Donbas?

JB: First of all, it is important to realize that Western arms deliveries pose several problems. First, even U.S. intelligence agencies do not know if and where the delivered weapons will end up. The head of Interpol warns that some of these weapons could end up in the hands of criminal organizations. Already, Javelin anti-tank missiles are being offered on the Darknet for $30,000. Apparently, these weapons are resold as soon as they arrive in Kiev. Second, weapons are often distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and do not always reach those who need them most in the field. Finally, they often end up in the hands of the Russian coalition.

TK: How can we tell?

JB: Currently, the Donetsk Republic militias are equipped with Javelin missiles, which come from the Ukrainian stocks captured from the Russian army. Remember that Ukrainian helicopters that had come to exfiltrate fighters from Azovstal were shot down with US-supplied Stinger missiles. Furthermore, the weapons supplied by the West make up only a fraction of those destroyed by the Russians. For example, Britain and Germany are each sending three M270 multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine, but at the beginning of the war Ukraine had several hundred equivalent systems. In other words, these weapons will not change anything, but only prolong the conflict and delay the time for negotiations, as Davyd Arakhamia, chief negotiator, and close adviser to Zelensky, explained.

TK: This is actually unbelievable. There was always talk about high Russian losses. Can they be verified, and what are the losses on the Ukrainian side?

JB: In reality, the number of soldiers killed is not known, neither by the Russians nor by the Ukrainians. The numbers mentioned in the Western media are those spread by Ukrainian propaganda. However, in early June, President Zelensky unveiled the death rate of Ukrainian military and spoke of 60 to 100 soldiers killed per day. A week later, Mykhailo Podoliak, Zelensky’s adviser, stated that the Ukrainian armed forces were losing 100 to 200 men a day. Today, Arakhamia speaks of 200 to 500 fatalities per day and a total of 1000 casualties (dead, wounded, captured, deserters) per day. It is unclear whether these figures are correct.

TK: Are there any comments on the basis of which one can get a realistic picture of the numbers?

JB: Experts close to the intelligence community believe that these figures are far below reality. On the other hand, the Ukrainian figures are even higher than the estimates of the Russian military. Some say that Ukrainian forces have 60,000 dead and 50,000 missing. However, these numbers are not verifiable at this time.

TK: Why are the Ukrainians only now reporting such high casualty figures?

JB: It is very likely that the Ukrainians are reporting high numbers in order to press the West to increase its arms deliveries. However, this does not explain everything. The fundamental issue is the way the Ukrainian leadership conducts its operations. Instead of having a dynamic approach to the battlefield and taking advantage by moving troops, Ukraine—and Zelensky in particular—is ordering its troops to “stand and fight.” This is not unlike the situation in France during the First World War. This is the main difference between Ukraine and Russia: in Ukraine, operations are managed by the political leadership, while in Russia, operations are managed by the General Staff. This explains the failing Ukraine’s approach. Even the US military seem to have identified this problem.

TK: In what way?

JB: According to Arakhamia, the attempts to gain ground against the Russian army serve only to ensure a better starting position for negotiations with the Russians later. This is purely political warfare, with no regard for the lives of soldiers. This approach is supported by Western countries and our diplomacy. This is very concerning.

TK: At the beginning of the war, the will of the Ukrainians to resist was emphasized. Does this not exist anymore?

JB: I think the Ukrainian soldiers are doing their job with bravery. They fight from reinforced positions and trenches that they dug back in 2014 surrounding the Donbas. Unfortunately, once confronted to artillery and a mobile enemy, their chances of success are slim . It seems that the Ukrainian general staff wanted to withdraw these men to more favorable fighting positions, but the country’s political leadership refused. In this context, our media and politicians have played a perverse role by perpetuating the illusion of a Ukrainian victory and the promise of large-scale arms deliveries.

TK: In doing so, they led the public, including Ukrainians, by the nose.

JB: Yes. Today it is clear that the Ukrainians and the West lied to each other just to get Russia in trouble. Ukrainians are now constrained to send their ill-equipped and ill-prepared territorial units from the west of the country to the Donbas. This creates discontent, and there have been numerous demonstrations against Zelensky in the west of the country and in Kiev. Because of this, Kiev has had to enact new laws to silence those who disagree with the government. Our diplomacy has clearly actively contributed to the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian military personnel. However, it seems today that it is the Western military that is trying to bring sanity to the way we approach this conflict today.

TK: But are there no resistance movements in the Russian-occupied territories?

JB: Interestingly, there are no movements of popular resistance to the Russian presence. The Western narrative of a heroic popular resistance against Russia is essentially based on the declarations of nationalists in the western part of the country. In fact, the areas occupied by the Russian coalition in the east and south of the country are inhabited by Russian speakers. Ukrainians have never really considered this population as Ukrainian, as evidenced by the Law on Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine, adopted in early July 2021. After having been bombed regularly since 2014 by their own army, such as Donetsk, the Russian-speaking population in the south of the country is not completely opposed to the Russian presence. They even tend see the Russians as liberators.

TK: Based on this, can we already foresee what Russia intends to do further in Ukraine?

JB: The Russians are being very discreet about their intentions as they adjust their goals to the Ukrainians’ willingness to negotiate. As long as the Ukrainians refuse to negotiate, the Russians will continue to advance and gain territory. In March, they were ready to negotiate on the basis of Zelensky’s proposals. However, under pressure from Boris Johnson, Zelensky withdrew his offer. So, the Russians continued to make progress.

TK: What does that mean now?

JB: They will not put back on the negotiating table what the Ukrainians could have salvaged in March. At this stage, it is likely that the Russians will push further towards Odessa to establish a link with Transnistria. It is not unlikely that a “re-creation” of Novorossiya will occur in southern Ukraine. The most important consequence of the Russian actions is that Ukraine will lose its access to the sea.

TK: What has been reported in our media lately is that Russia is responsible for the rising wheat prices and a consequent famine. Do you have any information on this?

JB: The charges against Russia are part of Western narrative to isolate Russia from the rest of the world and for the West to absolve itself of its own mistakes. First of all, the global rise in grain prices is not directly due to the war, but came as a result of measures taken to deal with the CoViD-19, and to the conditions created by Western sanctions by deliberately trying to dramatize the situation. The same phenomenon can be observed in oil prices.

The current rise in grain prices is the result of several factors. First, payment restrictions that lead buyers to fear U.S. sanctions against them. Second, shipments have become too expensive because the oil market has shrunk due to Western sanctions. Third, Western sanctions prevent fertilizers from entering the market; these products are not sanctioned, but there have been restrictions on means of payment that cause buyers to fear them.

TK: However, there is an accusation that Ukraine cannot supply grain because of the Russians. Is that really the case?

JB: No, it is not true, for two main reasons. The first is that our media, of course, do not report that the Black Sea ports were mined by Ukraine because it feared an attack from the Black Sea. As a result of storms, many of these mines have broken loose and are moving freely. They became a danger to maritime navigation. The Turkish Navy had to defuse several of them that had reached the Bosporus.

The second reason is that Russia does not block Ukrainian ports. On the contrary, it allows ship convoys to supply Ukrainian ports; it even guarantees maritime corridors whose coordinates are broadcast at regular intervals over international maritime radio frequencies. The problem is that these corridors are not used because of the Ukrainian mines. Incidentally, Davyd Arakhamia has made it clear that Ukraine has no intention of removing its mines from the Black Sea. It has become a bit fashionable to blame Putin for Western decisions that are not thoroughly thought out and not embedded in a coherent strategy.

TK: Has this actually created a shortage in the market? Or is this an artificial process to drive prices up?

JB: I am not a specialist of grain trade. But for one thing, Ukraine failed to sell its 2021 grain crop before the Russian offensive, and for another, Russia seems to be expecting an exceptional crop in 2022. Consequently, it does not look like there is a grain shortage. The problem is that the grain cannot reach the market. This is mainly due to the Western sanctions against Russia and Belarus. Of course, this situation has aroused the interest of speculators, but I am not in a position to assess this aspect.

TK: Poland has repeatedly shown itself to be quite concerned that a Russian attack on its territory will take place soon. How realistic is this scenario?

JB: Poland has repeatedly poured oil on the fire in this conflict. It dreams of realizing its old Intermarium project, which Marshal Pilsudski had wanted in the 1930s and which would unite the countries between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. This is reminiscent from the nostalgy of the 17th century Kingdom of Poland. Poland dreams of an open conflict with Russia because it believes—like Ukraine—that with the help of NATO, it could deliver the final blow to defeat Russia once and for all, in order to make this old dream come true. This shows, by the way, that Poland’s interest in Europe is only superficial.

TK: Why don’t the European countries notice what a dirty game is being played here?

JB: The goal of the Western countries (which of course includes Switzerland) is to destabilize the Russian government in one way or another. For these countries, the end justifies the means. Therefore, we have no compunction about attacking the Russian population (including in our countries) and sacrificing the Ukrainian population. As Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico, said about NATO’s policy toward Ukraine, “We supply the weapons, you supply the corpses! This is immoral.”

TK: Mr. Baud, thank you very much for this interview.


Featured: “Dawn,” by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson; painted in 1914.

The West’s Debacle in Ukraine: A Conversation with Jacques Baud

Jacques Baud continues his analysis of the crisis in the Ukraine, this time focusing on the failures that are now facing the West in its confrontation with Russia. The only real winner in the West seems to be a revitalized NATO. Thomas Kaiser of Zeitgeschehen im Fokus leads the discussion.


Thomas Kaiser (TK): The May 19th New York Times editorial questioned the point of U.S. war strategy in Ukraine and questioned further involvement. How should this be understood?

Jacques Baud (JB): In the English-speaking world, the U.S. and European Union strategy is increasingly being questioned by military and intelligence officials. This trend is reinforced by U.S. domestic politics. Republicans and Democrats have a very similar view of Russia. The difference, however, lies in the effectiveness of the investments in support of Ukraine. Both share the goal of “regime change” in Russia; but Republicans have noted that the billions spent tend to backfire against the Western economy. In other words, they seem unable to achieve their intended goal while our economies and influence weaken.

TK: So, the Republicans don’t really have a different position from the Democrats?

JB: In Europe, we tend to think of the Republicans and the Democrats as the political “right” and “left.” That’s not quite true. First of all, we have to remember that historically, until the beginning of the 20th century, the Republicans were “on the left” and the Democrats “on the right”. Today, they differ not so much in their vision of the United States in the world as in how they want to achieve that vision. That’s why you have Democrats who are more to the right than some Republicans and Republicans who are more to the left than some Democrats.

TK: What does this mean for the Ukraine crisis?

JB: The Ukraine crisis has been managed by a small minority of Democrats who hate Russia. They seem more interested in weakening Russia than strengthening the United States. Republicans see that not only this strategy against Russia does not work, but it leads to a loss of credibility of the United States. The upcoming midterm elections and the growing unpopularity of Joe Biden are fueling criticism of U.S. strategy in Ukraine.

TK: Is this “rethinking” taking place only in the English-language media?

JB: In Europe, and in the French-language media in French-speaking Switzerland, France and Belgium, the rhetoric faithfully follows what the Ukrainian propaganda says. We are shown a fictitious reality that announces victory against Russia. The result is that we are not able to help Ukraine overcome its real problems.

TK: Do people in the EU really see it that way?

JB: Yes, there is a general anti-Russian mood there. People are more Catholic than the Pope. That was also the case with the oil embargo. The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, advised the EU against an oil embargo. But the EU wanted to do it anyway, leading to skyrocketing oil prices. So, it is obvious that there is a certain dynamic in the EU related to the generation of the current political leadership. European leaders are very young, have no real experience, but are ideologically fixed. That is the reason why European leadership tends not to have a mature assessment of the situation.

TK: What are the consequences of this?

JB: In Europe, our understanding of the problem lags behind that of the USA. We are not able to discuss the situation calmly. In the French-language media, it is impossible to take an alternative view of the problems without being called “Putin’s agent.” This is not only an intellectual issue, but first and foremost a problem for Ukraine. By confirming the view proposed by Ukrainian propaganda, our media have pushed Ukraine towards a strategy that costs a huge number of lives and leads to the destruction of the country. Our media believes that this strategy is effective to weaken Vladimir Putin and that Ukrainians should continue on this path. However, the Americans seem to start realizing that this is a dead end, as Joe Biden stated that military aid to Ukraine is only to strengthen Ukraine’s negotiating position.

TK: What is the view in the U.S.?

JB: In the United States, a distinction must be made between the government and the mainstream media on the one hand, and the military and intelligence professionals on the other. Among the latter, there is a growing sense that Ukraine will suffer more from Western strategy than from a war with Russia. This sounds like a paradox , but more and more intelligence people seem to recognize that. In French-speaking Switzerland—in my experience—people do not understand that. They follow the rhetoric of the American government. This is an intellectually limited, extremely primitive, extremely dogmatic and ultimately extremely brutal view towards the Ukrainians. It is, again, a view that is more Catholic than the Pope, because even the US military seems to understand that this approach will lead to failure.

TK: What does this mean in practical terms?

JB: Let us consider the situation in Mariupol. Our media seem to deplore that the fighters of the Azov Movement surrendered. They feel sorry for them. They would have preferred that they all died. This is extremely inhumane. But now it appears their fighting had no longer any impact on the situation. If you read the Swiss French media, they should have fought to the death, to the last man. These media would have done a “wonderful job” during the defense of Berlin in April 1945! By an irony of history, the two situations are very similar. The situation in Berlin at that time was completely hopeless, and among the last fighters of the Third Reich—the last defenders of the Führer—were French volunteers of the “Charlemagne” division!

TK: What does the use of such volunteers mean?

JB: It is something quite remarkable, actually, because foreign volunteers go to combat not out of patriotic duty, but because of conviction, because of dogmatism—and this is exactly the same mentality as some of our media. A soldier who defends his country does not do so out of hatred for the enemy, but out of a sense of duty and respect for his community and his country. A volunteer who becomes politically involved, like the volunteers of the SS division “Charlemagne” in their time, follows a kind of vocation to fight. It is a different intellectual mechanism. The same thing can be observed in Ukraine. These volunteers of the Azov Movement, called “republicans” by some Swiss politicians, threatened to kill Zelensky for accepting the surrender of Mariupol. These volunteers are not fighting for Ukraine, but against Russia. This is the same mindset as that of the journalists in French-speaking Switzerland. They are just as vehemently against Putin as these volunteer fighters.

TK: What is the worldview behind this?

JB: Of course, this event [Mariupol’s surrender] upsets the narrative that Ukraine is defending itself heroically and that its determination is bringing about Russia’s defeat. Little David (Ukraine) defends itself against Goliath (Russia) and succeeds. However, the reality is quite different. More and more soldiers of the Ukrainian regular army say that they do not want to fight anymore. They feel abandoned by their leadership. Moreover, the Russians have a reputation for treating their prisoners well. Those who still are eager to fight for Ukraine are the paramilitary volunteers. The myth of a victorious resistance was created; but today the Ukrainian military feels betrayed. That Ukraine is losing this war is, paradoxically, perhaps due in large part to the narrative spread by our media.

TK: The fact that reality is being misunderstood can also be seen in the case of NATO. Those responsible are only too happy to declare that NATO keeps the peace and guarantees freedom and security in Europe.

JB: These statements must be put into perspective. First of all, NATO is not a peace organization. NATO is fundamentally a nuclear-power organization, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. That is the purpose of NATO—to put allies under the nuclear umbrella. NATO was founded in 1949, when there were only two nuclear powers—the U.S. and the USSR. At that time, an organization like NATO was justified. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, there were people who wanted war. That was the case under Stalin, but also in the United States.

TK: Some Western political leaders wanted to keep the war going?

JB: Yes, that was the reason why Winston Churchill did not want to disarm part of the German Wehrmacht that had surrendered. A war against the Soviet Union was expected. The idea of a nuclear umbrella can be justified under these circumstances. But with the end of the Cold War, when the Warsaw Pact dissolved, this justification faded.

TK: Can a military organization be completely eliminated?

JB: It is certainly necessary to have a collective security organization in Europe. There is no question that certain arrangements should be made for a common defense. This idea is relatively well accepted. The problem lies more in the form of this organization and in the way the defense should be conceived.

TK: What should have happened with Russia?

JB: Since the early 1990s, the Russians had a conception of security in Europe that was inspired by the OSCE: security through cooperation, not confrontation. That’s why the Russians were interested in joining NATO at that time. But the very concept of NATO, with a dominant power tied to the very nature of the organization itself, cannot integrate the Russian perspective. If you look at the current challenges in the world, the Russian vision can be seen as much more realistic than the Western vision.

TK: Why do you judge it that way?

JB: Humanity is facing multiple complex challenges. We forget that in 1967, NATO published the Harmel Report in which it reflected on its own future. This is now more than 50 years ago. This report was exemplary and extremely modern. In it, NATO outlined all the current and future challenges and laid down certain guidelines for the organization’s development. It was forward-looking; and I see it as a model for what NATO could look like. In this report, the security concept was rethought. That is, you find there environmental and social problems that were integrated into the security concept. When I look at the problems we face worldwide, and also in Europe, in particular, the Harmel Report offers a lot of food for thought and ideas.

TK: What happened to this report, or its ideas?

JB: The Gulf War and then the Balkan War put us back into conventional thinking. Thus, NATO missed the chance to think in a new direction. Tanks, artillery, aircraft, etc. still define NATO’s model of thinking. Not only was this model unsuitable for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but NATO did not really learn the right lessons from those wars. So, we have increased suffering and misery, without containing terrorism. This is a complete failure at the operational, strategic, intellectual, and human levels.

TK: What do you see as the cause of this obvious failure?

JB: The very concept of war was not adapted to the realities. NATO is a regional security and defense organization. It was designed in 1949 for a war in Europe with nuclear weapons, tanks, artillery, etc. In Afghanistan, however, there were no nuclear weapons, tanks, or fighter-bombers. That was a very different kind of war. But NATO did not identify the problem.

TK: Why did NATO not grasp the situation correctly?

JB: To make it simple, let’s say that a war in Europe is a technical challenge. A war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is a societal challenge. NATO has not understood this essential difference. I mentioned the war in Afghanistan because NATO was engaged there as an organization. In Iraq, it is better to talk about “NATO countries.” But the fact remains that they did not understand that they were waging totally different types of war. Western armies are not prepared for it and have a dogmatic understanding of war.

TK: What does this mean for NATO?

JB: The alliance has remained at the 1949 level, of course with more modern weapons; but the logic has remained the same. We see this also in the Ukraine crisis. NATO is certainly not involved in the fighting, but it is providing support through training, advice and reconnaissance. Ukraine’s weaknesses are therefore NATO’s weaknesses: they wage a war at tactical level, while the Russians are fighting at operational level. Ukraine was in the same operational conundrum in 2014. The Ukrainian army was poorly advised. Since then, NATO has trained more and more Ukrainian instructors who are making the same mistakes today as they did eight years ago. We see that NATO’s conception of war is inadequate and does not follow developments in world’s societies. War is thought of as it was in the First World War. It is seen as a balance of power.

TK: What should happen here?

JB: I think that NATO should dissolve itself to be reborn in a different form. I think we need a collective security organization in Europe that is independent of the United States. But it needs to be tailored to modern security challenges and be able to deal with them cooperatively.

TK: I would like to come back to the OSCE. You said that Russia favors this model. Wouldn’t that be an alternative to NATO?

JB: Yes, of course. By the way, this was a proposal of the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. He was inspired by an idea of former French President Charles de Gaulle—a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Gorbachev called it “the common European house.” Even today, it is a truism—the best way to avoid war is to have good relations with your neighbors. It sounds banal, but it is so.

TK: Why don’t states manage to do that?

JB: There are several reasons. The first is the U.S. “obsession” since the 1970s with preventing closer cooperation between Europe and Russia. The Russian idea of a “common European house” would be a rapprochement between Russia and Europe that the U.S. does not want. This has focused particularly on Germany. Germany is the largest economic power in Europe, has historically been a strong military power, and has had a special relationship with the Soviet Union. The U.S. has always been afraid of having a large Europe as a competitor.

The second reason is that the former Eastern bloc countries that are now part of the EU and NATO have no intention of getting closer to Russia. Their reasons are historical, cultural and political. But they are also a culture of intransigence that has been observed since the 1920s and continues to be seen in their domestic policies.

TK: In what respect?

JB: For example, in the supply of gas from Siberia. The U.S. arguments against “Nord Stream 2” are not new. Germany has been receiving gas from Siberia since the 1960s and 1970s. Even then, the U.S. feared that closer cooperation between the FRG and the USSR would have an impact on Germany’s determination to remain in NATO. Therefore, they did everything they could to sabotage the gas pipelines.

TK: Yes, I can still remember that. There were articles in Der Spiegel and other German newspapers reporting cruel working conditions for workers in Siberia, etc. It was the prevailing mood like we find again today.

JB: In 1982 Ronald Reagan signed a Presidential Executive Order authorizing the CIA to sabotage the “Brotherhood” gas pipeline between Urengoy (Siberia) and Uzhhorod (Ukraine). The pipeline was sabotaged but quickly repaired by the Soviets. Yes, that was the same rhetoric as today. It is tragic, but we are still in the same intellectual dynamic.

TK: This shows that tangible U.S. interests are at stake here, and this will influence the whole development in Europe.

JB: Yes, the idea of a common European house, as formulated by Gorbachev and favored by the Russians, is inconceivable to the United States. For this reason, Russia has always had a certain respect for the OSCE. After the end of the Cold War, this model could have been expanded to build security through cooperation rather than confrontation. This could have been a viable model. But NATO lacked the intellectual flexibility to rethink itself. NATO remained incapable of formulating genuine strategic thinking. NATO’s output is intellectually extremely weak.

TK: So, would Switzerland’s rapprochement with NATO definitely be a step backwards into the Cold War?

JB: No, not really, since we were never in NATO. Besides, a 2017 US Army study found that the USSR did not attack Europe because it never intended to. So, our security does not depend on NATO, but on our ability to have good relations with our neighbors. In fact, I believe that NATO membership would put our security at risk. That applies equally to Finland and Sweden.

TK: Can you explain that in more detail?

JB: There are two reasons. First, as a member, Switzerland could be involved in operations that are not necessarily related to its own national interests. In the fight against terrorism, for example, NATO does not have the doctrinal capacity to address this issue effectively. If we were to engage alongside NATO, we would only attract terrorism to ourselves. That’s what happened with Germany, for example. Besides, it is not very satisfying intellectually to be involved in defeats. Secondly, our neutrality; and I am talking here about Swiss neutrality, which, unlike other countries, like Belgium, has been confirmed and internationally recognized by the major European powers. This recognition has successfully protected us over the last two centuries.

TK: Even from attacks by Nazi Germany?

JB: The Third Reich had planned at least three operations against Switzerland, but Germany never had the opportunity to implement them. That said, we have to remember that this planning was done because Switzerland had not behaved according to its neutrality policy.

TK: In what respect?

JB: One must not forget that the headquarters of the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] in Europe, under the direction of Alan Dulles, had been in Bern since 1942.

The OSS was the predecessor organization of the CIA. Swiss intelligence worked with the OSS and the British services to support resistance networks against the Nazis in Germany, in France and northern Italy. In addition, members of the 2nd Polish Infantry Division interned in Switzerland were clandestinely trained with the help of the Swiss Army to fight with the Resistance in France. Obviously, the neutrality policy was only a façade.

TK: What were the consequences?

JB: I certainly don’t want to criticize Switzerland’s involvement, especially because part of my family fought in the French Resistance. On the other hand, if we take a step back, we must acknowledge that Switzerland was not entirely neutral. And this had its price, because the Nazis knew about these activities. For this reason, Switzerland had to make concessions to the German Reich. The reasons for these concessions were never really explained to the Swiss people, but in 1995-1999 they were widely criticized in Switzerland.

TK: What conclusions can we draw from this?

JB: If neutrality is applied consistently, it also has a protective function. On the other hand, the protection that NATO would offer Switzerland is very limited. If an enemy were to reach the Swiss border in the event of a conventional conflict, this would mean that NATO already had an existential problem. In such a situation, Swiss neutrality would de facto fall. In case of a nuclear conflict, the USA would never bomb Moscow in order to liberate Bern. Anyone who believes this is a fantasist.

TK: What about the new applicant countries?

JB: The same applies to Helsinki and Stockholm. Anyone who believes that the USA would put Los Angeles, New York or Washington in danger is absolutely not of this world. The U.S. would attack Russia with nuclear weapons only in an extreme situation. In fact, the U.S. would do anything to keep a possible nuclear exchange on European soil. So, membership in NATO only has the effect of increasing the likelihood of being hit directly by tactical-operational nuclear weapons. The idea of improving Swiss national security through a rapprochement with NATO is one of incredible naiveté.

TK: The military chief strategist of the Swiss Department of Defense, Pälvi Pulli, openly pleads for closer ties to NATO. All this stems from the mood that has been created in recent years and months that Putin is pursuing an imperialist policy and wants to expand the country further and, in the end, even attack Switzerland. Surely this is nonsense?

JB: I know Mrs. Pälvi Pulli. She is an intelligent person. But she is making the mistake that people in the West make and that results from the disinformation spread by our media. We depart from the idea that Russia wants to conquer Europe and that Vladimir Putin is an irrational person. This is wrong. We know from Ukrainian and Western sources that the Russian decision had its origin in the planned Ukrainian offensive against the Donbas. So, Vladimir Putin’s decision was perfectly rational, even if one can argue whether it was the best one. It is also clear that the Russians have tried to resolve all this diplomatically. This includes other sets of issues, such as nuclear weapons in Ukraine, joining NATO, etc.

Clearly, the West has not even tried to implement the Minsk agreements, or to solve the other problems politically. Russia perceives these problems as existential. It was ready to negotiate. Since the beginning of the Russian offensive, Zelensky was also ready to negotiate. He was prevented from doing so by the U.S. and the U.K., as well as by the far-right elements of the Ukrainian security apparatus, which is very strongly supported by our media. I don’t think NATO is playing a stabilizing role in this crisis. On the contrary.

TK: Mr. Baud, thank you for the interview.


We are grateful to Zeitgeschehen im Fokus for their gracious cooperation in making the English-version of this interview. [Translated from the German by N. Dass.]

War Fatigue

Since the first day of the Ukrainian war, one is reminded of the mood that prevailed in the warring countries during the time of the First World War and how it has been widely portrayed and rehashed in literature. Then, as now, one finds a euphoric plea for fighting and the blotting out of all reason.

Slogans of heroic dying for an ill-defined freedom, for the nation—back then for the emperor in a Pickelhaube, today for the Ukrainian president in olive green NATO gear, who is able skillfully to put himself in the limelight—advised by a staff of PR experts. Constant reports of the heroic defensive struggle against the aggressor, who is in fact 20 times stronger, according to the assessment of Western military experts, belong to the world of disinformation. All this is reminiscent of the headlong struggle during the bloody war of position between 1914 and 1918 for “God, Emperor and Fatherland.”

At that time, too, people were sacrificed, who perished miserably on the “field of honor,” “the altar of the fatherland,” “for the holy cause,” and whatever all the euphemistic phrases might have been. Then, as now, not a word about the misery, the terrible suffering of the people in the struggle, which was impressively described in the post-war literature of the 1920s. One need only think of Leonhard Frank’s stirring work, Der Mensch ist gut, of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front (which has been translated into several languages), or of Ernst Toller’s autobiography Eine Jugend in Deutschland. The war experiences of the Second World War also found their way into world literature, such as Genghis Aitmatov’s deeply moving book Mother Earth. There are countless works that contributed to coming to terms with the human catastrophe. Are we really no further ahead than we were back then?

Enthusiasm for War

Who of those sitting at the levers of power still knows these works? Ernst Friedrich’s “illustrated book” Krieg dem Kriege unvarnishedly documented the face of the First World War. Have the people who encourage a defeated opponent to “fight heroically” forgotten all this or never even heard of it? Or, even worse, is everything subordinated to a superior goal that lies beyond humanity and reason – “Putin must not win his war”?⁶ This goal can only be achieved – if at all – with tens of thousands of dead.

When Annalena Baerbock threw the term “war fatigue”⁷ into the round about three weeks ago, criticizing European states for too little “enthusiasm or support for war,” the parallel to World War I and World War II was drawn. A little more than 100 years ago, people’s unwillingness to continue watching senseless dying was commented on with similar words. At the time, these were mainly circles loyal to the Kaiser, who had little sympathy for a generation floundering in war and still hoped for victory.

Transatlantic connection

And today? It is hard to believe. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Green Party, Baerbock’s political home, was primarily opposed to rearmament, in favor of peace, against nuclear power plants and the destruction of the environment, in favor of a humane and natural way of life, and in favor of the careful use of resources—and as a result entered parliament.

When Josef Fischer, the first Green foreign minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, tried to justify the deployment of German armed forces against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, for which he was also responsible, with the words “Never again Auschwitz!” at the special party conference of his party in 1999, a deep-seated, ethically based taboo had already been broken in Germany: not to wage war outside of one’s own national borders.

While the rank and file of Fischer’s party went to the barricades back then, Baerbock’s martial tones are hardly contested and are still seconded by her comrade-in-arms Habeck. Instead of doing everything possible to spare human lives and prevent war damage and the most severe environmental damage, people have long fantasized about victory over Russia and equipped themselves with weapons whose operation they are completely unfamiliar with and which have caused more mischief than they have contributed anything decisive to peace and ending the war. Instead, the weapons should be silent and serious talks held to settle this conflict. But the German government is arguing for tighter sanctions, including on fossil fuels, which have already proven to be a boomerang. All of a sudden, coal-fired power plants are generating “green” energy.

Zelensky—Hero

While Habeck is getting German citizens in the mood for “freezing for Ukraine” in the coming winter, activating the emergency plan for gas supply shortages that was made back in 2012, i.e., still by the previous government, and gasoline prices are soaring to unimagined heights, Russia is selling four times as much oil to India, which is then sold from there to the EU. At the gas pumps, the prices for fuels are exploding, which, as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz candidly confesses in an interview, he is “not that familiar with” and, given his salary, does not particularly care about—very likely he is refueling at state expense. Such statements by a party and government leader who belongs to a party that, at least on paper, is primarily committed to a policy for the “little” people, are incomprehensible.

Russian Troops on the March

Despite all the failures and serious losses of the Ukrainian army—the arms deliveries continue. But the warmongers Baerbock, Scholz, Habeck, Johnson, Blinken and all the rest cannot be that comfortable—nm for it is becoming increasingly clear that the much-vaunted Ukrainian president in the olive-green petticoat is playing a dirty game, even if Swiss President Ignazio Cassis has publicly raised him on the shield as a “role model,” a “hero,” one “who fights for the same values as we do.” The news portal Watson headlines a report dealing with the opaque ways of the West’s arms in Ukraine as follows: “Zelensky not playing with his cards on the table: U.S. and Biden losing patience.”

Ukraine’s alleged military successes turn out to be complete fakes. Russian troops are continuously advancing and getting one city after another under their control. On June 24, the news reported that another contested town in the Donbas called Sievierodonetsk had to be abandoned and the surviving Ukrainian soldiers had withdrawn. Basically, this is the reality. The reasoning of the governor of the Lugansk region that he no longer sees any point in defending the city given the high casualty figures is reasonable. “Another fight is pointless.” Is even Ukraine itself suffering from war fatigue?

Meanwhile, Ms. Baerbock, on the other hand, is trying to suggest “final victory,” as we had in Germany more than 75 years ago? The parallels are striking, and the question arises how long the public can continue to be led around by the nose. The governor’s behavior is the only right thing to do. If this insight had been made after the first days of the war, thousands of victims could have been saved on both sides.

Switzerland—Not Neutral?

And what is the Swiss government doing? So far, it has supported all EU sanctions and thus clearly sided with a warring party. In doing so, it has accepted losing its neutrality status. Now Switzerland sits on the UN Security Council, which was celebrated by the Swiss media: There was talk of a “brilliant result” in the vote in the UN General Assembly. But how does Switzerland intend to play its vaunted role as mediator when it has already taken sides in the current conflict?

More and more information is leaking out that Ukraine is not only a victim in this war, but has been harassing the Russian population in the country and especially in eastern Ukraine for years, as well as keeping the autonomous republics of Lugansk and Donetsk on tenterhooks with constant artillery fire. A rethinking of one’s own position would be urgently called for.

And still, Ignazio Cassis is sticking to his course of “fraternization” with Ukrainian President Zelensky. Even though he repeatedly emphasizes that the Ukraine conference in Lugano does not violate neutrality, he unilaterally backs Ukraine. Although more and more parliamentarians from various parties are expressing grave reservations about the conference, Cassis intends to stick to his plans. The prestige he hopes to gain from having the world look at him and Lugano is too great. Everyone must do their bit in a crisis.


Thomas Kaiser edits the Swiss journal Zeitgeschehen im Fokus, through whose kind courtesy this article appears.


Featured: “Soldat und Tod (Soldier and Death),” by Hans Larwin; painted in 1917.