An American Journal Of Days, Or The Conservative Washout

Introduction

With some temporal distance behind us, and much soul searching, let us examine the coup which deposed Donald John Trump in the winter of 2020-2021 and installed Kamala Devi Harris and her sidekick, Joseph Robinette Biden, as the highest Executive officers of these United States. Herein, we’ve a day’s work, for some things were born and many things died that sadsome season. Those three months saw the longtime fissures of the Trump Administration buckle and fail besides decades of contradictions festering within the conservative movement. Under the weight of a stiff and coordinated faction, but not an irresistible one, the unthinkable happened. This unthinkable thing is not that Donald Trump ceased being President. This unthinkable thing is that the long-benighted public sphere, incarnated in the State and asserted in arms in 1775, failed against a spectrum of confederated private interests. It will not rise again within our lives. The Enlightenment ended; Feudalism began anew.

In the months since America’s Swamp creatures inserted the Harris (sic) Administration into the White House, the MAGA spectrum has faded away. We who swore off FoxNews in December have quietly returned to our old habits. We who spit to hear the GOP mentioned in January, find ourselves enthralled in party politics once more. And the earnestness of resolutions, and our fecklessness, cuts both ways. We who saw how Mr. Trump twice insulted, and finally abandoned, his most loyal supporters, now thrill to see his latest interviews on OANN and NewsMax. The media, for their part proud as punch in their complicity in the Biden coup, since January, have published two major articles (Time,The Secret History” and New Yorker, “Forced To Choose“) broadcasting their role in Trump’s removal. And life goes on; but it does so like in a hangover, or a David Lynch movie.

Those of us who saw what happened still stagger at the enormity of what occurred. Trump’s going and Biden’s coming was more than one office holder switched out for another. What went down was more even than one party using dirty means to get into power. These things have always happened. From Caesar’s Rubicon through Dante’s exile, from Thermidor to the Night of the Long Knives, they will continue to happen in saecula saeculorum. What happened last year was not down and dirty politicking. It was an overthrow. It was nothing more, nothing less.

Yes, the 2020 election was a slow and rolling coup d’état. It was the very sort of thing which America’s archons have executed overseas dozens of times throughout the last half-century. As the dust settles, as the outrages of winter fade, as we slap Trump 2024 stickers on our cars. The world still whirls around, but the Biden Administration is in power and cheaters win.

Making things queerer still, it seems as if few Americans, even those who keep an eye on current events, are aware of the full scope of what happened. We know there was a coup. Nothing is true, if that is not true. After all, no man ever made can sit in a basement for nine months and become President. Political affiliations aside, everyone who followed events knows there was a steal. For all its awful enormity, however, we’ve only the vaguest idea of what happened. This essay is a sketch of that operation.

With the perspective of at least a few months breathing room, we can now lay out the main stepping stones of the Biden operation, sometimes right from the mouths of the spoilers themselves. This exploration honestly admits its ignorance. It is not comprehensive. No doubt later authors will uncover more points, connect more dots; I myself could have doubled this essay’s length for abundance of material. However, a comprehensive treatment of the 2020 Steal is not the end of this paper. It is merely a skeleton. Beyond that, this essay is a work of solidarity. It is an encouragement to my countrymen in the face of six months of media smirking and gaslighting that, yes, they did smell something fishy, and, yes, other people remember it.

When You Point One Finger, Three More Point Back

In the pages ahead I mean to address the specifics which deposed Trump. I will make a concise record, as best I can, of the mad and vicious crew that ultimately seized Federal power. I hope it will assist the general reader in sizing things up; and I especially hope it will give other authors an outline to build on. I also mean to expose and scorn and mock the chinless institutions whose estrogen levels all knew were high, but institutions we at least gave the benefit of the doubt to as being, however lame and incompetent, ever in good faith. The media, the Church, the schools, public academics, and what’s left of the reading public failed their obligations of being social guardians.

More than that lot, though, I mean to expose, however tacitly, what’s become of the broad conservative movement. By this I lasso everyone from Mitch McConnell and CIA-pin wearing Sean Hannity, to the washouts of the Alt Right and Moral Majority, to people like myself who flatter ourselves with different adjectives, thoughtfully chosen no doubt, but who are more or less conservative-adjacent, or woke, or patriot, or alternative. For the lot of us, foundations once destroyed, what can the just do? More than your DNC and your Silicone Valley and your CCP—we blew it. In the months since Harris’ installation, institutional conservatism is tripping over itself to catch up with the Overton Window. What is manifesting itself externally was a long time in coming. How did we not see this?

The Appeal

What built to a crescendo and flopped about and died on the Epiphany was a certain dream of America. I will revisit the specifics of the dearly departed at the end of this essay, but it had to do with hope. To use a word which has pleasantly become popularized this last half-decade, what died was a certain narrative of America. Allow me now a personal appraisal of Donald Trump, and what the Make America Great Again movement meant to me, and how it represented the last hurrah of that narrative. I should think I speak for something of his base.

Always was I a distant fan of Trump. Having moved beyond disgust with the political order to a belief that the government and its agents are in fact enemy occupiers, by 2016 I had ceased to participate in the elections of the color of law UNITED STATES entity. Thus I never rendered Trump any formal voting booth support. After the Bush years, after the continued Obama-era neo-conning of John McCain (of unhappy memory), after so many traffic stops and child removals and drug charges, a certain percentage of a certain sort of men swore off participation in that political system. I am one of them. After having apprehended the morass of the American order, all that is left us is withdrawal. So only from a distance did Trump catch my attention; but catch it he did.

What was invigorating about the man was his willingness to mock the culture of Washington, D.C., particularly its toady media. You see, vast swaths of America had been written out of political discourse. People of European extraction, so-called “white” people, particularly white men, were especially ignored over these last 50 years. Early in Trump’s campaign, in its initial flush of talent, it was commendable for tapping into communities who themselves had written off ever being taken seriously by “mainstream” society. Steve Bannon well deserves the moniker “wizkid,” groundlessly given a decade before to Karl Rove, for his observation that the many dozens of social eddies dismissed by the mainstream “cathedral” of power could be leveraged into a single coordinated opposition movement.

By “mainstream,” of course, I mean the few millions of men more or less concentrated around New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles who frame the mental realities of the remaining 300 millions of Americans, and many overseas souls besides. Those subgroups, which Bannon harnessed, had long despaired of being acknowledged by American culture as even existing, let alone of being taken seriously.

One example of this, well into his presidency, was Donald Trump’s January 2020 appearance at the March For Life. The March is America’s largest annual anti-abortion protest. An always-robust gathering, it had also always been chronically bypassed by the media. Even “allied” groups never took the March to its bosom. The anti-abortion movement has always been an interest of only marginal concern to GOP bigshots, including previous “pro-life” Republican Presidents, men who campaigned on the platform but who barely managed to pump out a pre-recorded clip each winter. But after decades of neglect, there Trump was in 2020.

For someone, such as I, there was a lameness in Trump’s policies. Too much of the Swamp was still around, too much grandstanding about the southern border, and much too much Zionism. More fundamentally, though, there was a democratic streak to Trump which could excuse a thousand faults. Truckers fed up with the red tape of business, wary of the rise of their automated competition, would call up national talk radio with their petitions and pleas. Old timers who still had the icon of old America in their heart would phone national stations to warn Trump or laud him. These were things I heard many times over his four years.

Trump was able to include all sorts. There were people who showed up in the Trump administration whom I had last heard of on niche Evangelical television channels and conservative radio stations, circa 2005. And didn’t my jaw hit the bar one fine afternoon to see Trump’s helicopter landing at the Daytona track! The point is this: One guffaws to think of Clinton or Bush or Obama hearing, let alone acting upon, radio missives from cross-country truckers, but it was never beyond the pale to imagine Donald Trump doing so.

The President liked his “Fox And Friends;” and his fake tan and weird hair were endearing oddities. But whatever was cheesy or lame or quirky about him or the groups he courted, Trump acknowledged the existence of millions of Americans the ruling class thought they had successfully dismissed from “real life” decades ago. Whatever muse tickled Jefferson and Jack and Lincoln and Kennedy, also sang songs of the old America around Trump. It sang democracy. Not NATO democracy, not George Soros democracy did it chant—but the down-home type, school-board democracy, townhall democracy, the Mr. Smith type of democracy. And for that, the cathedral hated him—and for this I loved him.

Air From The Balloon

Life is oft-times covalent. Trump’s empowering of the marginalized and of the working man was grand, but his skewering of the mainstream media was divine. You see, I did not have much to do with the groups he and Bannon courted. It’s been years since I’ve been a fetus, I’ve never been a long-haul trucker. And I don’t have much to say for NASCAR beyond gratitude for the beer and casseroles I’m bid enjoy in large amounts each February during Daytona’s opening day. But across all the groups confederated in the MAGA coalition, a distrust of the national media organs was the common denominator which united them.

It has been five years since Trump first used “fake news” in his Twitter feed (of happy memory). In one brash expression Trump stole from under the noses of his MSM opponents a weapon of theirs; he took and rightly applied what it would take them five years to recover—he took their perceived authority. Trump said aloud what millions had been whispering about for decades: The newsmen are liars. He went on to use the expression “fake news” thousands of times. Trump even created his own “Fake News Awards” in 2018. With the half-decade since its use, overuse, and weaponization, we forget how powerful calling the fake news, fake news first was. We forgot—but the media did not forget.

Background Of The Coup

Context is everything. To begin at the beginning, we must consider the attempt to steal the 2016 Election. Anecdotally, Rick Wiles of TruNews and Alex Jones of InfoWars independently asserted that they witnessed late-night voter spikes, very much of the sort seen in 2020. For whatever reason, these spikes were scotched and the counting returned to a regular tally leading to a Trump win in 2016.

Fast-forward four years. How did Donald Trump walk into 2020 nearly guaranteed a second term only to leave a year later under a barrage of contempt, impeached a second time, deplatformed, with even the hoariest of D.C. insiders hissing about the 25th Amendment being used against him? Americans went mad over that year, that’s why.

As we will see, the mainstream media (MSM) did much to unseat Trump; but the toll of the Coronavirus reaction did much as well. The population’s already shaky reasoning skills were atrophied after a socially distanced year of Netflix-watching and alcohol-drinking. A nation already on edge from a capitalism wherein men regularly live, not just from paycheck-to-paycheck, but from credit-card to credit-card, saw what little economic autonomy they had evaporate, and replaced by a greasy Federal dole. COVID heightened Americans’ placid and mindless tendencies a damn sight more than even us pessimists imagined.

The Crowned And Conquering Child

As regards the election, one of the more meanspirited plot-points happened in June 2020. The actual threat of Coronavirus having passed, Trump was eager to get back to normal. That June, his campaign organized a rally. Those extraordinary events had become quite routine during the Trump years. In one regard he never stopped campaigning because he never stopped the rallies. Perhaps some of Trump’s lackluster policy legacy has to do with his diverted attention. He ought to have stopped campaigning and paid attention to his daily administration duties. It was like he kept trying to play and replay 2016 over again. And while he was static, the Swamp was not.

In any case, after the spring’s Coronavirus panic, one sure sign of normalcy would be to hold another rally. In June one was scheduled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a heartland city Melania had visited a year before. It was a flop. Superficially spurred on by K-pop fans on the social media site TikToc, teens snapped up all the rally RSVPs. I say superficially because of Mark Moore’s recent report that, “The Pentagon is running a 60,000-strong secret army made up of soldiers, civilians and contractors, who travel the world under false identities embedded in consultancies and name-brand companies— without the knowledge of the American people or most of Congress— according to a report” (New York Post, 5/18/21). I’m led to conclude that many members of this “secret army” haunt social media sites to steer social perception. Whether it was because of teens or the Deep State, Trump went to a sold-out rally and no one showed up. The MSM, for whom reporting had long collapsed into entertainment, sensed blood in the water and set to work mocking the mocked.

BLM et al.

Then there were the riots. Throughout the summer of 2020, there were fierce racial riots whose stakes ramped up as time wore along. It was not enough that these disturbances simmered for months on end. They escalated. Protesters held city centers out West; and new “defund the police” talking points were released by the mainstream press at opportune times. In fact, there was something altogether theatrical about the Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests. Those of us who remember the stage-managed school shootings of the Obama years got a whiff of the same as we watched municipalities drop-off pallets of bricks at choice urban locations.

You’ve Got Mail!

At the end of September, the Deep State flexed its muscle with 500 chinless Defense Department employees signing “An Open Letter To America.” Trump’s greatest offense against the Deep State was not giving the military a new war. It wasn’t enough that he kept the hireling forces of the United States involved in ways overt and covert in Afghanistan and Syria and Yemen and Libya – but by refusing to open fronts in Iran and elsewhere Trump crossed the devotees of Mars. In the lead up to the election, they flexed their muscle. The flattering impartiality which the military loves to remind Americans of was thrown out the window as the Deep State test-ran the coming winter’s narrative.

Once again on January 3rd, immediately before the Confirmation, Elizabeth Cheney, as wicked as her father and doubtless prompted by him, organized all the living Secretaries of Defense to write an op-ed against President Trump. “Joe Biden,” the Open Letter said of a man who had by then sat inert in his basement for seven months, and would do so for another two, “has the character, principles, wisdom, and leadership necessary to address a world on fire.” Stoned, Netflixed Americans bought it; their appetites whetted for more.

Of Laptops And Landmines

Lastly, there was the Hunter Biden cover-up. After the CIA turned Ukraine into an intelligence nest in 2014, in much the same way the states of the Arabian Gulf have been fronts for British intelligence since World War I, Joseph Biden made many connections in the Central European nation. Even in his dotage Biden made sure he was as removed from the financial schemes as possible. In April 2019 an intoxicated Hunter dropped off a laptop in Delaware State. Similar to his October 2018 incident, when a gun of his was found in a dumpster and the FBI attempted to obtain Hunter’s possibly incriminating paperwork, the press went to bat for him. But Hunter was the “bagman,” as Rudy Giuliani said. And this ought to have been investigated.

It was a wash. Most outlets ignored the story; some followed it for a while and let it slip away. Only the New York Post stuck with it. Of course, their doggedness meant nothing because the FBI didn’t investigate, and less law enforcement agencies stonewalled. In its own way, the “conservative” media showed its hand with the Biden story too. On an errand of faux investigative journalism, Tucker Carlson played footsie with the story, vowing to get to the bottom of things. For three weeks he ranted and raved about the story only to give up when his paymasters at Fox told him to stop. It was only at this point when Carlson informed Americans he and Hunter were good friends.

The media is not only propagandistic, it’s also sloppy. It forgets its own trade basics like avoiding conflicts of interest. As Carlson slunk away from the Hunter Biden story, he defended his cowardice by saying, “It was wrong to kick a man when he was down.” This was obfuscation. The laptop scandal was appropriate to pursue because Hunter Biden’s actions weren’t examples of personal flaws, they weren’t lurid sex stories best left in the National Enquirer. Based on the adjective-heavy, heavily veiled comments of Rudy Giuliani and John Paul MacIsaac (the Delaware computer shop owner who received Hunter’s laptop), the photos alleged to be on Biden’s computer largely involved child sexual abuse.

On the heels of Jeffery Epstein’s industrial compromise ring, on the heels of Miles Guo’s revelations of the color-coding of compromised politicians (with those sexually compromised being classed as “yellow”), and considering Joseph Biden’s repeated bragging of his relationships with CCP men like Xi Jinping, the Hunter Biden allegations were ripe for investigation. Since then, in a Stalinisticly-ironic, rub-it-in-your-face move by the cathedral, Hunter Biden, the beneficiary of several miraculous media cover-ups over the years, is now assisting in journalism classes at Tulane University.

The Foreground

The events recounted above comprise the main background of the Steal. Now we turn to the operation itself. Focused especially in the foreground of the 2020 Coup are three events and four. They stand out as especial tipping points in specific areas. They are: Trump’s January 21st, 2020 Davos speech regarding the international order; Mark Esper’s June 1st countermand of Trump’s troop deployment to Washington; and shortly afterwards, the third incident of note, this time in the spiritual realm, was Trump’s holding up of the Holy Bible in front of St. John’s Church. The moment he did that the die was cast against him.

Davos

In January of 2020 Donald Trump attended the meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Along with dozens of heads of state, NGO leaders, and capitalists, Trump conferenced on a diverse array of financial topics, and none too soon. The repos markets had been tottering since the fall. On January 21, Trump spoke to the assembled guests of the WEF. He railed about socialism, he extolled the virtues of American individualism, and he vowed to put nationalism first.

In a room filled with the likes of Klaus Schwab, people who were putting the finishing touches on their Great Reset theories, people who had on their hands a scheme of great potential in the still-distant-though-known Coronavirus, this was too much. For the remainder of his time there, Trump was literally shunned. In the social nooks which offset the main panels, in the kaffeeklatsches and social hours of Davos, Trump found himself standing alone. This event signifies the collapse of Trump legitimacy on the international stage.

Countermand

In June of 2020, came the next institutional shoe to drop. Washington, D.C. joined many American cities that spring in being the focus of racial protests. On the basis of extensive rioting, Donald Trump called in various units of the National Guard to restore order. That very day they were sent home in the midst of continued rioting. What happened? Trump was overwritten.

You see, only two men have the authority to order soldiers in or out of the District of Columbia, the President and the Secretary of Defense. The President made his will known by deploying troops. This leaves the Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper as the only one who could have contradicted the President. This event signifies the collapse of Trump’s authority over the military.

Apre Moi Le Deluge

The third incident was very much the first drop of a deluge to come: FoxNews’ John Roberts’ gaslighting of Kayleigh McEnany on October 1st. There were many tense, unedifying, and childish examples of conduct from both Trump and the press corp over their four years of interacting. With the riots falling back to a simmer, and with the Vote in just one month, on October 1st, McEnany was asked if Trump opposed racism. She responded in the negative, citing some words of his. In a sane world this ought to have been the end of the matter. Fox persisted, asking for more evidence. To this McEnany gave two or three examples. Fox kept asking and asking. Text does not do this queer interaction justice. You ought to watch it to understand how bizarre the exchange was.

More than anything else, the media was responsible for the Harris-Biden (sic) installation, and Fox’s fox Roberts test-ran their gaslighting weapon par excellence. This event signifies the media’s shifting from being hostile to being inimical towards Trump. What would unfold over the next three months would be payback for Trump’s four year of exposing their lies. And lest we forget, come the night of the Vote, it was Fox News which called the election for Biden.

The Rat

The above events are three Rubicon moments in Trump’s deposition, but there is a fourth. The final pylon to fail was Jared Kushner. In December, at the height of the Steal, Kushner who busy in the Middle East grandstanding for Zion with his Abraham Accords. There was no loyalty to the man, no devotion; Kushner ought never to have been allowed within a mile of the White House. Many of Trump’s worst hires and fires came on Kushner’s recommendation. This man was the finest example of the personnel failures which plagued the Trump Administration.

Because he was always in campaign mode, because was too busy skewering the MSM, Trump never had time, or interest, to choose solid men. Instead, he deferred to social climbers like his son-in-law. With rare exceptions such as Kayleigh McEnany, the people Trump had working for him were social climbers. They were either grandstanders in the moment, like Kushner or Pompeo, or they were trimming their sails for their post-Trump careers, like Mark Milley. In any case, Jared Kushner’s effeminate self-promotion, when his boss and father-in-law was in need of all hands-on deck, signifies the collapse of Trump’s inner circle.

The Steal

As to the DNC heist of November 2020 itself, that is a topic beyond the scope of this outline. Like the Fall of Troy, around which both The Iliad and The Odyssey revolve, but which is never directly described, I leave our late national blot silently brooding over every word of this essay, but never dissect it head on. For specifics on this matter, I direct your attention to Michael Lindell’s three features on this topic, Absolute Proof, Absolute Interference, and Scientific Proof. All are also available for free on his website.

And, as this essay goes to press, the ongoing audits in Arizona and Georgia give hope that the truth will out.

Pushback

With each electoral safety bulwark failing, as fall turned into winter, confidence in increasingly archaic schemes and legalities rose. The first hope to fail was in the realm of citizen protests and journalism. Getting the message out in the media, filing affidavits, and making the record were the orders of the day. There was plenty of work to do, as thousands of Americans came forward to document electoral errata. This course climaxed, sputtered, and failed on November 25.

On the day before Thanksgiving, a most poorly timed event, the Trump, team headed by Rudy Giuliani, gathered hundreds of men in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to testify to the many instances of voter fraud witnessed throughout the county. However, one month into The Steal, the MSM realized that if they could mock the charge of voter fraud in se, if they could preface what mentions they couldn’t ignore outright with “unfounded” or “not widespread,” or “lies,” there was nothing, absolutely nothing, which could stop their narrative from winning the day. An unlettered and deracinated American public could only sit and ingest what it was told.

More than anything else, Joseph Biden’s installation was the work of the media. There was a constellation of fellow-travelers and allies, but 2020 was predominantly a battle of perception; and that perception was ironclad by the press. It was the apotheosis of Edward Bernays’ work and Madison Avenue’s century of note-taking. Needless to say, despite hundreds of sworn testimonies, the Gettysburg event fizzled. Thousands of filings were thrown out of nationwide Bar Association courts in the following weeks.

The coup had works in the open, but it also did works in secret. On November 21, one of those quiet efforts leaked out. That day a story appeared in various sources about Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration. It told of how Trump finally released funds for the Biden Transition Team to use because she was being threatened to do so. She wrote to the Biden Team,

I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision. To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination. I did, however, receive threats online, by phone, and by mail directed at my safety, my family, my staff, and even my pets in an effort to coerce me into making this determination prematurely. Even in the face of thousands of threats, I always remained committed to upholding the law.

For the peace of a harried bureaucrat ,Trump gave permission to release money to the spoilers. Like at the dummy Tulsa rally that spring, the MSM spun an abuse for their ends. Trump was conceding the election, so the story went. Score one for gaslighting.

The next hope to fail was the Presidential Election on December 14. Before detailing the Election vis. Trump, I must pause and clarify the official process whereby a man enters the Federal Executive office in America. There are three events of increasing gravity which are prescribed for this. Funnily enough, as their importance grows, their public awareness diminishes. Most American believe things begin and end on one day in November. In fact there are three stages a man must successfully go through to be President. These are the Presidential Vote (November), the Presidential Election (December), and the Presidential Confirmation (January). Things are not made easy by the fact that people refer interchangeably to the Vote as the Election, by which they mean the early November event.

What follows is a generalization, which I detailed in my recent series on “We, The People.” Briefly, the Vote recommends to the state Electors whom they should select for that state’s slate of electors to choose. It must be absolutely understood that the Vote is simply a suggestion, it does not oblige the Electors’ decisions whatsoever. However, typically, they do follow these suggestions. After the Election, there follows the Confirmation. This January event is the final chance to troubleshoot any procedural objections. It was in the context of the Confirmation that the riot of January 6th happened.

The point is that the media’s gaslighting and the putzing about of the Trump team throughout November were annoying but they were not particularly alarming because we who were watching things assumed all would be righted in the Election. The Electors are the People in “We, the People;” they are the Patricians; they are the archons; they are the owners of the country. Whatever the weirdness or objectionability of their system, we who took the time to learn the system assumed they were the adults in the room. You can rig a voting machine, you can’t rig a Person. We assumed they were of tougher mettle than the party pukes who stalk around polling stations with sacks of money and brass knuckles. After all the Electors are effectively those with the greatest material share in the country; they are the biggest landholders and businessmen throughout the 50 states. Trump did many things poorly, but he did well for America’s moneymen. The assumption was they would back him. We assumed wrong.

You know, six months on, having thought about this some, I don’t think the Electors needed to be as threatened or bribed to vote for Biden as I once did. Like with so much else, we didn’t realize how far down the rot was. So the Election came and the Election went, and Biden was elected that December. Michigan’s Republican delegation made a stink, showing up at the State House and being locked out, and there was some talk down in Georgia of the same; but it came to nothing. When the media and the offices of state decide to stonewall there is nothing lawful men can do.

After such serious official collapses, the tone of Trump supporters changed. A lot gave up hope; but some of the well-read remembered that there was a third stage to the choice of an Executive, the Confirmation. If few Americans know the difference between the Vote and the Election, fewer still are aware of the Confirmation. This is Congress’s opportunity to review the preceding two stages, and to voice any concerns over any irregularities raised. It is around this least conventionally “political” of the three stages, this emergency valve, where attention turned as Christmas approached.

As the MSM couldn’t altogether ignore the discontent throughout the country, they were forced to acknowledge it. It was at this time, late December, that some voices arose on the national scene, who threw in their lot with the Trump defense. They were grandstanders in retrospect, trimmers some, useless men with big mouths others, but around the likes of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Pence, hope began to grow that various emergency procedures might be implemented on January 6.

To Stir The Pot

Even if Trump showed more than a half-hearted desire to beat back the Steal, which he never did, there was no hope that the right would out, following the Election. We will return to the specific hopes and theories which Americans began placing in the sixth of January, the date of the Confirmation, in a little bit. I wish now to address the role of intelligence agencies in the coup. Americans, whose political system excels in overthrowing governments, who live in a decade of such overthrows, seem strangely ambivalent to the possibility of those self-same agencies doing as much in America.

What was the situation by late December? The Vote was stolen in plain sight. Neither the Electors nor the courts were interested in hearing out thousands of Americans who reported seeing funny business at that event. The media was in high psyops mode, and each day they dialed up their efforts. Trump’s defense was split and sloppy, and Trump himself was lukewarm when he wasn’t silent. As outraged Americans began planning their third and biggest rally, two things appeared on the scene. The first was talk of a civil war, the second was QAnon. Both were manifest works of the Deep State, and in both instances conservatives walked into a trap.

Ideas of civil strife gripping America were deliberately seeded during the opening months of 2020. The Atlantic gave over their entire December 2019 issue to the topic. Their “How To Stop A Civil War” publication was a textbook case of seeding a narrative. No one was talking of such before The Atlantic brought it up. One year, one overblown sickness, and one rent-a-mob summer later, and the talk was reintroduced.

The Protect Democracy Project ran workshops in June and October of 2020. In it, hundreds former and present bureaucrats from the Military Industrial Complex war-gamed the possibility of unrest accompanying the fall’s electoral process. These scenarios went under the heading of the Transition Integrity Project. The participants found there to be a high chance of civil unrest following the vote. If this sort of thing sounds familiar, if there’s something George Soros-esque about an outfit called “Protect Democracy,” the exercises it holds, and their pipeline to the press, it’s because it is run by Ian Bassin, a former member of the Obama White House and a man who pose-by-pose is a carbon copy of Barry Soetero. You see, Larry Sinclair’s boyfriend and his epigones never left D.C. From the moment Trump was elected, Obama and the Deep State and the Never Trumpers were at work for 2020. The point is, worked into the mix of COVID and electoral tension, the possibility of catastrophic violence was introduced. It is to the discredit of the late, great “alternative media” that they took the Protect Democracy bait. Nobody bothered to check to see who Protect Democracy was. It was a juicy story, so the alt press ran with it.

The next spoiler which came along was QAnon. The epitome of controlled opposition from the same sorts who built up ISIS, when the Q operation was through, Trump supporters seemed madder than an outhouse rat. As each hope failed, the Q people would double down—“trust the plan,” and schedule the next knock-out blow to the Deep State. For example, on the day of Harris’ inauguration, Q types were insisting the fencing around the Capitol was to keep the lawmakers in (because they were all surreptitiously under arrest); the military was going to arrest Biden and conduct a new election, and Trump would be back in office come mid-March. As of my May 2021 composition of this writing, in all seriousness I have been assured Donald Trump will be restored on August 15th. Hope springs eternal, or from Langley.

Fissures Forming

As these structural failings were happening, as the Vote’s steal went unchallenged throughout the states, as the MSM railroaded the perception that Biden’s win was unchallenged by all but madmen, as the Electors certified November’s crime, the response on the part of Donald Trump was jerky, erratic, and imprecise.

Firstly, it seems that a similar steal was affected in 2016. It is more speculative than 2020, but from what reports we have, the same kind of voter spikes happened, and they happened in the same states no less. In fact, the bizarre behavior of what’s called, rightly or wrongly, the “institutional left” during the four years of the Trump Administration only makes sense if they were expecting to have won only to have the prize snatched from under their noses at the last minute. What else explains their genuine hatred for a man who was pretty much a milquetoast, albeit loudmouth, conservative?

Background and questions aside, when Trump’s term finally organized a response, it was sloppy from the word go. At their first press conference within a week of the Vote, and a number of times in the following weeks, they were unwilling to provide any evidence of voter fraud. This incompetence is unbelievable, given that anyone could tune in half the radio shows in the county which were featuring men who saw paper shredding trucks at polling booths, vote minders boarding up windows, and clerks changing ballot rules at the last minute. The defense only went downhill from there. Soon Sydney Powell, and her meatier charges of overseas electoral tampering, was shown the door. And indeed, before all was said and done, Rudy Giuliani’s slowly dripping hair dye was the truest summary of Trump’s defense, and indeed of American conservatism.

Prester John

By late December, there began to be a discernible irrationality amongst Trump supporters. As the Book of Ecclesiastes says, oppression makes a wise man mad (7:7). As the ordinary channels of redress buckled under the bribes and bullies and caresses of the DNC and their confederates, those who saw what was happening began to place their hopes in increasingly far-flung hopes whereby the Trump Administration would come out on top.

This tendency is actually a regular feature through history. During the Crusades, as the situation of besieged Outremer darkened, the Christians of Europe began to place their hopes in “Prester John.” A confusion of Marco Polo’s far-flung observations and Eastern lacunae, John was supposed to be a mighty Ethiopian priest-king who was coming to the rescue of his Palestinian co-religionists at any moment. Alas, Fr. John never made the rounds. Close on the historical heels of fantasies about Trump’s survival were things like the 1890s Indians Ghost Dance and Hitler’s hopeless breakouts around Berlin during the Second World War. As in history, so with Trump’s supporters. The more the spoilers succeeded, the greater became the hopes of the MAGA train.

It is easy to mock this tendency. However, concerning the stolen election, recall that in the late fall of 2020, the alternatives to fantastical hopes were to resign oneself to (1) sitting by as a lawless clique seized power, and (2) observing that fellow Americans were either largely in agreement with such criminality (unlikely) or too apathetic to care (likely).

Questions

Whatever the case may be, if a 2016 steal was the case, as it appears to have been the case, why didn’t Trump’s men provide against it? Why did they not shore up the other routes beyond the Vote? Forget about the courts, the media, the Election, and the Confirmation, they did not even seem to do much to avoid in 2020 the kind of hanky-panky Vote fraud which happened in 2016.

Surely, they must have known the DNC et al. were going to deploy in 2020 fossers not only against the Vote, like they did with Hilary Clinton, but also against every subsequent route of redress? I have no answer to this question, beyond a speculation that Trump & Co. were depending on an incontrovertibly high popular vote to win the day, support so plain upon tables that any DNC sliminess in the courts, the Election, etc. would be risible.

There is another option I can’t pretend hasn’t crossed my mind. Worse by far than incompetence—that perhaps Trump threw the election. Perhaps it was all theater; perhaps the MAGA movement was itself controlled opposition all along. After all, what did the Trump train do for Red State America? He didn’t stop the Agenda. Everything he attempted to implement was rolled back within hours, within days of Harris’ (sic) installation, and the most ideologically solid conservatives, and few there be, are well on their way to being classified as terrorists by the Bar Association system. Was Trump a Pied Piper?

I hesitate to choose this explanation because while there was plenty of theater from both Trump and his adversaries, there were too many examples of disrespect and anger between them which jumped the script. Nancy Pelosi tearing up Trump’s speech during the State of the Union,=; Jim Acosta’s behavior in press conferences; the cruel mockery of Sarah Sanders’ appearance; and the lockstep coordination of Silicon Valley and America’s internal spy agencies following the January 6th riot were all events which exceeded, far exceeded, the type of Wrestlemania “antagonisms” which accent typical politics.

The third option is that Trump realized the enormity of what the DNC did, and he realized that neither the Republican Party nor the feckless men who worked in his Administration (his own hires, let it be said) were going to support him, and he lost heart by late November.

Of these three options, I believe Trump’s anemic response to the coup is explained to some degree by options one and three.

The messaging and execution of Trump’s legal defense was erratic and factional. It was a microcosm of the erratic staffing of his four years in office. Divisions formed early within Trump’s defense. When things coalesced by late December(!), Rudy Giuliani led the official team. The guts of their objection revolved around mail-in ballot fraud.

Sidney Powell had been cut loose by then. Soon to be joined by Lin Wood, this lesser group focused on the errata surrounding the voting machines, and the interference of American intelligence overseas in the Vote. It would not be until the eleventh hour of January 15, when Mike Lindell of My Pillow fame, clawed his way past grudging White House aides, when what was left of the Trump Administration backed objections to the graver findings from November (as compared to the child’s play about gerrymandering Guiliani was pursuing). Again we must ask why Donald Trump, who ran a nation with a long history of staging coups, did not anticipate such a thing happening to him?

Behind The Scenes

Then on December 18th, the previous four years of bad advice, distracted hiring, and self-serving hacks erupted in one disastrous meeting. For the remaining month of Trump’s presidency, there would effectively be no administration in any meaningful sense. That day there was a collision between the MAGA men, as we might call them, those who generally believed in Trump as a unifier of the conservative spectrum and who proximately acknowledged the Steal, and the trimmers, those who came from the Swamp, remained in the Swamp, and who will die in the Swamp. Additionally, that December day, there was a collision between the two wings of Trump’s election defense, as represented by Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell. Something of the chaos of that event leaked out. As reported by Business Insider:

You’re quitting! You’re a quitter! You’re not fighting!” [Michael] Flynn said of [Eric] Herschmann before turning to Trump and adding, “Sir, we need fighters.”
According to Axios, Herschmann responded, “Why the f— do you keep standing up and screaming at me?”
He added: “If you want to come over here, come over here. If not, sit your ass down.”

After the Allies opened their 1918 Hundred Days’ offensive, German general Erich Ludendorff reported to Kaiser Wilhelm that the war was unwinnable. He called it Germany’s “Black Day.” After the December 18th meeting, there was no hope of staunching the Steal. Everything after is postscript: The Confirmation, the riot, the reshuffling of the Defense and Homeland Security heads, the second impeachment, America.

As Things Stand

Donald Trump spent four years trying to recreate a set-piece reenactment of 2016, while his opponents spent their time perfecting their 2020 plan. The spoilers provided against every possible route of redress, while Trump was grandstanding and getting into Twitter fights. Trump was surrounded by the lowest, most useless sorts of men, all of them his own choices. The list of such men starts with Michael Pence.

By the time of the heated pre-Christmas meeting, Trump had brushed-off two massive rallies of his most devoted supporters, including many hundreds of men willing to testify to the crimes of November. Instead, Trump chose to spend his time campaigning for the likes of Kelly Loeffler, a woman who, 24 hours after Trump had his arm around her on a rally stage in Georgia, did not have the guts or gratitude to raise a stink about the offense done to him. His official defense team was limp-wristed and confused. In those three months, from the Vote to Harris’ White Entry, Donald Trump never knew where to exert his energy.

Where Things Stand

In the meta-look, one term or two, Donald Trump was a sandcastle at tide’s rise. And he was merely a sandcastle at one part of a very long beach, the political section, itself not even the most important part. In the vaunted “first hundred days” of the Harris Administration, we’ve seen enough to see where things are going. The wars are back on, the bailouts are back, the cultural manipulation moves apace. The Swamp stinks worse than it did before. The conservative movement as we knew it, something which orbited around the GOP and the Church and talk radio, is dead. It was betrayed by the aforementioned, and other false friends besides.

What remains of structural conservativism busies itself creating home pages on a hundred alt social media sites, pages soon to be deleted, and moving en masse to “Red States,” a clueless rehash of Libertarian fads from 20 years ago. Individuals of that persuasion content themselves with daily rosaries, social media reposts, and doubling down on the paranoia and anti-intellectualism which first threw them in the hole they’re in now. And so it goes. An Agenda which has marshalled ambivalence for its ends, and a resistance which doesn’t know its nose from its elbow.


John Coleman co-hosts Christian History & Ideas, and is the founder of Apocatastasis: An Institute for the Humanities, an alternative college and high school in New Milford, Connecticut. Apocatastasis is a school focused on studying the Western humanities in an integrated fashion, while at the same time adjusting to the changing educational field. Information about the college can be found at their website.


The featured image shows, Death and the Masks,” by James Ensor; painted in 1897.

Between Chaos And Decline: Rebirth

Towards Political Optimism

It is common, when one is a young man entering a career, especially in literary or artistic studies, to be charmed by despair and to have a taste for ruins. The image of the poètes maudits is cultivated. We let ourselves be seduced by the disillusioned dandyism. We succumb to the temptation of the black flag inclined on the skull of pessimism. The beauty of ruins attracts. The vestiges are a curious dizziness. We go for the last of the Mohicans; We live as Dance Prince Salina in The Leopard. We cherish chaos, and we love despair. “Siamo tutti sull’olorlo della disperazione,” says the writer Jep Gambardella in la Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) by Paolo Sorrentino. The darkness becomes a luxury and cynicism a refinement on a terrace in Rome.

The attraction to such giddiness is the residue of a tired and insipid romanticism. The ruins of Heidelberg Castle astonish with their melancholy; The gloom of stones nips at the most sensitive rope of the heart. The pianist Waltraut Laurence plays Chopin nocturnes. It is a postcard décor for the student of Sumerian, who is also a fencer, dressed in Canali, making love in the moonlight. The beauty of decadence has sumptuousness, it is true. Despair is made for poetry and not for politics. Léo Ferré and his ridiculous, surrealist verses please the babes at the Sorbonne; Baudelaire, alive in the heart of a high school student, mixes death with grace, darkness with sad and cold beauty supreme. A desperate guy who does not commit suicide is, on the other hand, an impostor. Cesare Pavese, he went to the very end, and those who did not join him, while they sing hymns with Subutex and odes with Prozac, can only be small versions of depression. But then again, none of this ever makes it into politics.

Too often, the nationalists, taken in the broad sense, from conservatives to monarchists, from sovereigntists to traditional Catholics, have integrated defeat and decadence into their software. Through sheer compliancy, they value failure. They affect to lose in order to say that they were right; prefer to give up in order to say they are victims and being persecuted, feeding controversy rather than taking responsibility. The logic of annuity and cynicism of some is buttressed by the pessimistic romanticism of others. Those who denounce the decadence of postmodernity, often have nothing to propose and are engaged in the terrible parody of a fight. We play the reactionaries. Cioran had already understood everything: “The doctrine of the Fall makes a powerful appeal to reactionaries of whatever stripe; the most hardened and the most lucid among them know, moreover, what recourse it offers for the glamour of revolutionary optimism. Is it not the invariability of human nature to devote oneself without remedy for collapse and corruption?”

The romantic sighs, modern man sneers. The first loves what falls, the other that which brings about the fall. The one loves Vezelay, the other sees a spectacle in the fire of the Notre-Dame. The sneer, in postmodernity, is the devil that laughs, that no one condemns. We worship those who complain, sulk, and grumble. But we are harmless – our side likes a less festive, less brilliant decadence – that’s all. We go, like vanities, in the pursuit of deconstruction. We are the scrubs on duty. We play refractory Gauls, right-wing Mélenchonians. But how many really want a victory? The question deserves to be asked from the Menhir to certain cadres of major political parties. “You, jihadis, we will win because we are the most dead,” said Philippe Muray. The West is now producing magnificent losers wearing Bermuda shorts.

It is a vague idea of decadence peculiar to Spengler that a philosopher like Michel Onfray has spread outside his borders. He deserves credit for having supported the yellow vests and denounced Maastrichtian Europe. But this habit of never making the horrific qualitative leap; this almost complacent way of justifying decadence and decline as a fatal fact is unbearable. Is the horizon on fire? After me the flood! Are the suburbs on fire? Let’s stay stylish! Notre-Dame lies in ruin? Let’s drink good wine! This too easy posture is of the petty bourgeoisie. When we are looking at the storm on the mainland, it is fine to prophecy with detachment. But when you are in the eye of the storm, living in, what Christophe Guilluy calls, “peripheral France,” when you are masked and employed, and when you suffer the consequences of a happy globalization, supported by bad, liberal and Europeanist policies, social dumping and the appalling conditions of an alienating wage-earner as well as the consequences of uncontrolled demography, massive immigration and the problem of assimilation – the great disestablishment and the great replacement – in short, accepting to be scattered like a puzzle in the pleasure of bon vivant epicureanism – is total nonsense.

At the historical and anthropological level, let us not be fooled either. Civilizations are born, grow and disappear. In his sermon on the fall of Rome, Saint Augustine explains very well, in the aftermath of the sack of the Eternal City in 410, that the world is made up of this kind of movement – appearance and disappearance. The Phoenicians have disappeared. Sparta the great is a field of pebbles. The Venice of the Doges no longer exists. Even though it is a given of history, admitting the end, crossing your arms, taking a nap in the time of battle, letting go, is a sign of defeat. Because she imagined herself decadent in a kind of enlightened catastrophism, Rome guarded against decadence; the moment she felt herself falter, she straightened up – and that at many points in her history.

The decadence of the elites was a factor in the French Revolution. As Chateaubriand aptly put it, the nobility, by the yardstick of 1789, had reached the “age of vanities.” The aristocracy of the second half of the eighteenth century ended up largely autistic, admittedly refined, but it only played its role in a subdued manner. The Castaners and the Schiappas were already there, just in more powder, in frock coats and taffeta dresses. The urban bourgeoisie, organized, born out of entrepreneurship, investing power with the urgent idea of borrowing and reforming, had triumphed. The revolution was the replacement of a dominant class by another dominant class, formed, united, structured. Necker’s heir was Giscard. One was finance minister, the other a financier who became king of France. We are still there.

The Fall fascinates. Falling certainly pleases, but getting up less so. We must fight. To stave off decline, we need to come up with a Renaissance vision of our nation: putting life, spirit and muscle back where it’s needed. Atheists will speak of rebirth, the brothers in the faith of resurrection, one in the other, whether we believe in Heaven or we do not believe in it, the idea remains the same: to get out of this long winter.

Christians speak of the virtue of hope; Antonio Gramsci is “pessimistic in intelligence, optimist in will.” And Charles Maurras added, “All despair in politics is absolute nonsense. In war, the partisans of defeat are shot. To be pessimistic is to give up. The first idea of organizational empiricism, as Maurras thought, is a positive dynamic “to take advantage of the joys of the past with a view to the future that every well-born mind wishes for its country.” Whether you are a Catholic or an atheist, from Action Française or close to Alain de Benoist, you have to survive the nihilism that plagues both the left and the right. The question for Christians is simple: Christ resurrected; He put death to death. If, in fact, in Augustine, the decline of a civilization is part of a divine plan, Christianity should not be denied the light that emerges from darkness, the truth of lies. The Church, the one that did not reform, has kept a sense of tradition.

No doubt, on the other side, we saw Nietzsche as a nihilist. Julien Rochedy has explained the opposite, in his current book, Nietzsche l’actuel (Nietzsche Today). Who announces the death of God? A fool, looking for a man in a square, with his lantern, at noon. With the death of God comes the fall of values and disaster; man must come to the death of God and build a new system of values. Nietzsche saw it all: money replacing God; Cohn Bendit and his clique, constituting their own morality, hideous to ordinary people; the freeloaders in Lacoste; generalized barbarism and the vegan cotton swabs, their green hair puffed up with resentment. Civilization produced men who were held back only by themselves; the barbarism was of men who let off steam. Nowadays, civilization has become poisonous, vaccinated, masked, confined, in this time of Covid.

One would say of the nationalist that he is nostalgic; that he sees, soured and bitter, France in the rear-view mirror of centuries. He is backward-looking. Make no mistake: it is in the perpetuation of a heritage that he establishes his hope. To defend is to think that the thing being defended is fixed, soon to be mortal. Defense pushes towards sanctuarization; it enacts, by the very word itself, the proper end of what it thinks it is defending. A patriot, whether he is a believer or not, is not on the ramparts; he takes possession of his kingdom. Our role is not to hold onto Minas Tirith, while waiting to take catapult fire; but, on the contrary, to mount horses like the Rohirim against Sauron’s armies.

To exemplify requires vitality and horizon. When we exemplify, we perpetuate, we incarnate, we fully dress the traditions. These traditions are no more because they are already inhabited, dressed. There is no point in stirring the remains of the ashes; it is necessary to perpetuate the sacred fire. An exemplary Catholic, participates in masses, in services, does his Lent. It is up to the French to exemplify their history, to serve their language, to sing their own songs and to live. Mohammedans are in Ramadan; God bless them! Let’s do our penances. Those who criticize a possible invasion, deplore a country which is no longer Christian and which is no longer theirs, are the first to pig out on Good Friday, to make absolutely no effort, not even to want to get out of the baptism in which they were once plunged. They behave like being violently anti-clerical for no reason, and subscribe to all progressivism. They are the first to say that the Church is rich, too rich, but never criticize a financier who has just taken office at the Elysee Palace. In the first case, it is unacceptable to have finely embroidered silk chasubles from Gammarelli; on the other, the personal enrichment of a powdered petty investor does not bother anyone. However, let us remember this sentence from André Suarès: “Whether he likes it or not, the Frenchman has the Gospel in his blood. It is only through involvement that tradition, and therefore the Church, can remain. Open the churches, sing the Te Deum, read Raban’s Veni Creator Spiritus, put manly abbots in office. They will come back!

Optimism in politics also stems from faith in youth. It is often judged torn between crass consumerism, the accelerated cretinization of social networks, its exalted leftism, or its way of conceiving nations as hotels. Yet Attali’s speech has aged terribly because reality has proved him wrong. Leftism, which has become an exacting orthodoxy, irritates even those who like to barbecue to block off college because vegans have put their twigs in there.

At the back, outside the parties, there are many of us. The youth are more and more won over to our ideas. Whether on the side of YouTubers, intellectuals and journalists, nationalists work a lot, produce a lot, innovate, militate, debate in the public square. Let’s pay tribute to the forces at the back. A whole young generation is doing the popularization work necessary to understand sovereignist and nationalist ideas, and seeks to give the love of France to young people: Simon Bavastro in Nice; Valek in Montpellier; Papacito in Toulouse; Greg Toussaint, Baptiste Marchais also in the center of France. We also have our media. We cannot go through all the Web TVs, magazines, newspapers which, (and La Nef is one of them), promote our ideas. Let us just mention TV Libertés, Sud Radio, Elements, France soir, Présents, Eurolibertés, Boulevard Voltaire, Radio Courtoisie, RT France and many others. A multitude of intellectuals occupy the area of sovereignist or conservative ideas. Let us just mention economists like Jacques Sapir, Olivier Delamarche, Pierre Jovanovic; historians like Professor Bernard Lugan or Thierry Lentz and Emmanuel de Waresquiel; jurists and legal professionals, such as, Pierre Yves Rougeyron, Damien Viguier, Regis de Castelnau or Gregor Puppinck; but also philosophers and sociologists, such, as Olivier Rey, Alain Bessonnet, Pierre Magnard and Matthieu Bock-Côté. Together, they are the prized who have never stopped laboring away; some of them use social media to disseminate their ideas. We must also mention Charles Gave of the l’Institut des libertés, Cercle Richelieu, Cercle Prudhon, Cercle Aristote, Action Française, the Apollon Institute of Jean Messiha, for example. At the back, we have the intelligence, the youth, the information and the means to oppose deconstruction, and to build on solid foundations a thought, an identity, a national work. When such real people protest about a burnt church, the dissolution of Génération identitaire, they do not disguise themselves; they do not fool around; they do not put on a spectacle, unlike what the leftists do. We see solid men and elegant women. But all that is missing among the political establishment.

So, what is to be done? Что делать? Hot question! First of all, be who we are – shamelessly. Then do as the Captain of the Hussars Lugan: go where the cannon-ball strikes. Then, exemplify our traditions, reinvest in our history, pass on and seek to inherit. Let us regain our respect and our self-esteem. They have gouged out the eyes and tore off the hands of real people. Now they mask real people, confine them, jab them. In both cases, they never cease to insult, with appalling class contempt; these “eaters of fries,” these people who “smoke cigarettes and run on diesel.” They adulate the people, as long as they don’t see their dirty faces, as Jules Renard used to say.

We will have to return to the collective. We are far too divided to be able to rule. All that will come after we stop fighting among ourselves, putting up obstacles for each other, and tearing each other apart. The great evil of nationalists is to consider that the other is not simply that but that he is a traitor. The anti-racists peck at each other; they will devour each other; the revolution eats its children. We will see the Seine carrying the corpses of enemies. Let the Corbaques feast. And then let us feast on their downfall!

If we don’t want to be a piece of the puzzle of a big parody, we have to build something now – on every level. We will not engage in any real politics if we do not first win back our sovereignty by defiance, and take back our independence from Brussels, Germany, and technocracy. We must also break with technocracy, and with the worn-out urgency of having to make liberal reforms, as if the key to politics were only through reform, reducing spending, paying a parasitic debt. Historical stuttering, at least its threat, is the last bulwark, the last mental bunker, which remains for those in power. United, allied, determined, we will be able to achieve the rebirth of our country. At the very end, will come this dilemma: revolution or election? Political vanguard or faith in democracy? But then, again, before we get to this point, let’s get up, sing together, rebuild, and then go for it. Then, the laurel will bloom again!


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


The featured image shows, “Château Gaillard, Les Andelys, France,” by Herbert Edwin Pelham Hughes-Stanton; painted in 1907.

Fascism: History And Chimeric Reality

Everything about fascism and its opposite has been said for almost a century. Innumerable are the authors of studies, articles, books and documentaries, more or less serious or fanciful, devoted to the history of the fascist phenomenon and its historical significance. Singularly fewer, on the other hand, are interested in the controversies over the meaning of the word, “fascism” and its opposite, “anti-fascism,” and over the proper use of it. The immense merit of American political scientist Paul Gottfried is that he is one of the very few, if not the only one, to deal with all of these aspects. In this lies the interest and the importance of the vast and fascinating synthesis which he has published in Fascisme, histoire d’un concept (2021), a French translation of Fascism, The Career of a Concept (2017) , a study which the author has recently brought to completion with Antifascism. The Course of a Crusade (2021)]. In his Introduction to the French version, American historian Stanley Payne, a great scholar on the subject, aptly writes: “No other book in the recent scholarly literature treats these problems so comprehensively.” To take the measure of this glowing review, a brief perspective is here useful.

To hear what many politicians, writers and journalists have been telling us for decades, fascism should be a perpetually present, lurking danger, a monster, a hydra which can constantly rise from its ashes, despite all efforts to remove it. In the politico-media vocabulary, the term “fascist” is used constantly to denounce, abuse, denigrate, stigmatize the adversary, whose ideas or person we are supposed to hate. “Fascist” is synonymous with violent, fanatic, intolerant, perverse, macho, homophobic, reactionary, colonialist and racist. Fascism is always assimilated or amalgamated with Nazism; it therefore embodies absolute evil, the figure of the devil, the demon of the Bible in a sort of modernist or updated version. The word fascist has become an “empty signifier,” a truncated, trivialized portmanteau word; but nevertheless, because of its pejorative connotation and negative charge, there is not a single disparaging adjective that can compete with it. No leading or secondary political figure can escape the charge of fascism. Over the years, the most diverse regimes, social categories, cultural and religious communities, political parties and trade unions have all or almost all been denounced as fascists. The most contradictory philosophies and ideas have all, or nearly all, been similarly pilloried.

Fascists are therefore, or would have been, according to modern master-censors, jealous guardians of political correctness: Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Charlemagne, Dante, Isabella the Catholic, Philip II, Hegel, Nietzsche, Roosevelt, Churchill, Franco, Gandhi, Mao, Trotsky, Stalin, Tito, Solzhenitsyn, Erdogan, Netanyahu, Putin, Obama, Trump, Biden, Merkel, Orban, Kim-Jong-un, Xi Jinping. Or, to stick to France alone, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Pétain, de Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac, Sarkozy, Macron, Mélenchon, Le Pen, Zemmour, Onfray, Houellebecq and many others. Fascist would be, or would have been, Germany and Italy of course, but also Spain, Portugal, Cuba, the USSR, China, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, France, Chile, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc. Fascists would also be businessmen, bourgeois, bobos, workers, Catholics, priests, Jews, anti-Semites, Zionists, Islamophobes, Islamophiles, Islamo-leftists, sovereignists, populists, nationalists, globalists, feminists, chauvinists, homosexuals, pederasts, puritans, “pornocrats,” police officers. And I’ll pass over the rest and the best. Ultimately, we should all be, to varying degrees, hopelessly fascists! Tutti fascisti! Fascists All! That was the caustic title of the short political essay published long ago by Italian film critic, Claudio Quarantotto. Fascism has never been so topical. The great vanquished of the political-military history of the twentieth century, fascism seems to have become the absolute and omnipotent winner of Western political-cultural life at the turn of the twenty-first century.

More seriously or more rigorously, since the “march on Rome” of the Mussolini fascists in 1922 (at least, if one accepts to put aside the recent ideological drifts of American and European universities), academic circles have never ceased to try to formulate explanatory theories of the phenomenon. To this day, and despite the incongruous assertions of Roger Griffin and his followers, the debate remains open because there is no consensus. On the contrary, a whole series of interpretations, for the most part initially advanced in the 1920s and 1930s, occupy the field. Some combine and overlap; others, for the most part, contradict and exclude each other.

According to the tastes and convictions of exegetes, fascism is sometimes perceived as the violent and dictatorial instrument of bourgeois capitalism, the “armed wing of capital,” as the Comintern affirmed, in the year 1923. Sometimes, fascism is seen as the effect of irrational, extremist and violent nihilism, a consequence of the moral crisis and the corruption of morals. Sometimes, fascism is regarded as the deleterious result of capitalism and sexual repression, the outgrowth of an authoritarian and repressive society, with its inevitable neurotic and pathological impulses, as the ideologists of the Frankfurt School claimed in the 1930s.

The list of analyses, interpretations and explanations of the phenomenon does not stop there. About twenty specialists, internationally recognized as such, whose tedious enumeration I will spare the reader, identify other factors or characteristics which they deem more essential. The fascist phenomenon is, according to them, the product of the advent of the masses on the political scene; or, the expression of the exclusive radicalism of the middle classes; or, the response to a situation of distress in the face of a movement of social destruction, producing aversion to chaos among the most homogeneous social actors; or, the contemporary form of Bonapartism, independent of a specific class domination; or, the outlet for homosexuality; or, the product of late and atypical development processes; or, resistance to modernization; or, the prototype of the “developmentalist” and modernizing revolution; or, a form of populist and revolutionary ultra-nationalism; or, again, a “political religion,” the typical manifestation of 20th century totalitarianism, a collectivist and police-system specific to modernity, embodying the triumph of violence and terror, with the archetypal models of the Soviet-Communist and Nazi tyrannies, which have more in common with each other than with any other authoritarian form of government.

Let me stress, for the sake of being more complete, but without being exhaustive, that specialists also oppose the right, left or “right and left” nature of the phenomenon – some see fascism as the product of a revisionism of the left, socialist, statist, secularist, anti-traditional and anti-Christian. Others see it as a right-wing revolution, neither reactionary nor opportunist, based on the myth of renewal and regeneration. Still others see it as a revolutionary movement “neither on the right nor on the left;” or simultaneously on the right and the left, born from the synthesis of “revisionist” socialism, revolutionary syndicalism and a new community nationalism, organic and social.

However, fascism as a sociopolitical model of a general and transnational character (or if one prefers the categorization of “generic fascism”) raises more questions than it answers. How can one define fascism without sinking into interpretation-schematization or the reductionist cliché? Historians respond that defining “fascism” is above all about writing history, with the national characteristics linked to political, economic, social and cultural events of countries under consideration. There is not, according to these historians, a model of “one-size-fits-all fascism,” nor a universally valid definition. But on the other hand, one can note the existence of a basic minimal conception, common to the political movements and regimes which appeared in Europe at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of a cultural, economic and social crisis. A point of view a priori convincing but one which raises many questions.

The imperfect similarities which these historians point out constitute indeed a veritable jumble of ideas, values and principles; and there is of course no agreement on their comparative importance, frequency and significance. According to the convictions of the authors, there should be, at the heart of loose fascism, a mystical conception of life and politics; an irrational and voluntarist or idealistic or even spiritualist way of thinking; a cyclical view of history or a palingenesic view of history; the rejection of Marxist materialism; contempt for individualism, parliamentary democracy and the bourgeoisie, in the name of the organic, structured and hierarchical community; racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of others; the cult of the providential and charismatic leader; the call for a new elite, based on the virtue of example; the aspiration to a more mobile society; the desire to create a new ruling class from the middle classes and the working class; the exaltation of youth; the mobilization and integration of the masses through propaganda and the one party; realistic politics (Realpolitik) opposed to utopian politics (Phantasiepolitik); political-cultural imperialism; the heroic justification for war; the desire to reconcile technical modernity and the triumph of traditional values; the fusion of ideals common to traditionalism, nationalism, elitist liberalism, revolutionary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism; the assertion of the primacy of political sovereignty at the expense of any form of economism; the defense of the private economy but nevertheless the extension of public initiative; finally, and in order not to lengthen this list excessively, the will to transform society and the individual in a direction that has never yet been experienced or realized. In the end, a real intellectual patchwork that leaves one speechless.

In the face of these disagreements, many writers have come to deny that one can define a “generic fascist” phenomenon. Others take a less radical position, but nonetheless express the greatest doubt about its usefulness (see in particular: Gregor, Bracher, Allardyce, Muñoz Alonso, Fernández de la Mora, Arendt and De Felice, to name a few).

In reality, specialists of fascism fail to overcome the obstacle represented by the profound differences that exist between supposedly “fascist” movements or regimes, not only between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, but also between these two models and the other “nationalist-socialisms” that appeared in the years 1920-1940. To stick to the “state totalitarianism” of Italian fascism, and the “racial totalitarianism” of German National Socialism (and not to mention the “class totalitarianism” of the anticlerical and anti-religious Soviet-Communists), there is an immeasurable difference in the horror (the thesis of Emilio Gentile on “the Italian way of totalitarianism” has moreover been severely criticized by the disciples of Renzo de Felice). Before coming to power, between 1919 and 1922, the Italian fascists inflicted between 600 and 700 casualties among left and far-left activists, but also suffered roughly the same number of deaths in their own ranks. From 1922 to 1940, the Mussolini regime executed nine people (the majority of them Slovenian terrorists), and seventeen others in 1943 (date of the start of the civil war which claimed 50,000 victims, according to Claudio Pavone).

The number of political prisoners in fascist Italy never exceeded 2000. Italian fascism never had the intention or the possibility of developing a genuinely totalitarian system, based on the control of all state institutions and society, nor a fortiori a concentration camp system like those of National Socialist Germany and the USSR. The number of crimes, murders and executions, committed in the name of the “salvation” of Aryan humanity by National Socialist Germany or of the “happiness” of the proletariat, even of all humanity by the USSR and the other communist countries remains a subject of debate among historians; but in any case it is without comparison with that of the victims of fascist Italy (According to the methods, the criteria and the sources, the estimates vary by twice as much: They are from 8 to 15 million for National Socialist Germany, from 20 to 40 million for the USSR and from 60 to 120 million for all the Communist countries). Thus, with Italian fascism there is a difference, not only of degree but of nature.

All of these questions about the similarities and dissimilarities of the Nazi-German and Fascist-Italian models and many more are asked, examined and judiciously discussed by the author of Fascisme, histoire d’une concept (Fascism, History of a Concept). Free and independent of spirit, Paul Gottfried takes seriously the academic tradition of rigor and probity. In this he honors his profession, when a good number of his peers now wallow in ideology and intolerance. Gottfried is not one of those who claim to have the exclusive right to rational or “scientific” arguments, nor to have a monopoly on legitimate speech. He respects his opponents; presents their theses honestly; discusses their content, and presents his conclusions, always avoiding admonishment. If he accepts the categorization of “generic fascism,” he emphasizes, as other authors have done before him (such as Nolte, Arendt, Sternhell, de Felice, Payne, Del Noce or Gregor, to name but a few) that there are fundamental differences between German National Socialism on the one hand and Italian fascism and other “fascisms” on the other.

More seriously or more rigorously, since the “march on Rome” of the Mussolini fascists in 1922 (at least, if one accepts to put aside the recent ideological drifts of American and European universities), academic circles have never ceased to try to formulate explanatory theories of the phenomenon. To this day, and despite the incongruous assertions of Roger Griffin and his followers, the debate remains open because there is no consensus. On the contrary, a whole series of interpretations, for the most part initially advanced in the 1920s and 1930s, occupy the field. Some combine and overlap; others, for the most part, contradict and exclude each other.

According to the tastes and convictions of exegetes, fascism is sometimes perceived as the violent and dictatorial instrument of bourgeois capitalism, the “armed wing of capital,” as the Comintern affirmed, in the year 1923. Sometimes, fascism is seen as the effect of irrational, extremist and violent nihilism, a consequence of the moral crisis and the corruption of morals. Sometimes, fascism is regarded as the deleterious result of capitalism and sexual repression, the outgrowth of an authoritarian and repressive society, with its inevitable neurotic and pathological impulses, as the ideologists of the Frankfurt School claimed in the 1930s. The array of analyses, interpretations and explanations of the phenomenon does not stop there, however. About twenty specialists, internationally recognized as such, whose tedious enumeration I will spare the reader, identify other factors or characteristics which they deem more essential. The fascist phenomenon is, according to them, the product of the advent of the masses on the political scene; or, the expression of the exclusive radicalism of the middle classes; or, the response to a situation of distress in the face of a movement of social destruction, producing aversion to chaos among the most homogeneous social actors; or, the contemporary form of Bonapartism, independent of a specific class domination; or, the outlet for homosexuality; or, the product of late and atypical development processes; or, resistance to modernization; or, the prototype of the “developmentalist” and modernizing revolution; or, a form of populist and revolutionary ultra-nationalism; or, again, a “political religion,” the typical manifestation of 20th century totalitarianism, a collectivist and police-system specific to modernity, embodying the triumph of violence and terror, with the archetypal models of the Soviet-Communist and Nazi tyrannies, which have more in common with each other than with any other authoritarian form of government.

Let me stress, for the sake of being more complete, but without being exhaustive, that specialists also oppose the right, left or “right and left” nature of the phenomenon – some see fascism as the product of a revisionism of the left, socialist, statist, secularist, anti-traditional and anti-Christian. Others see it as a right-wing revolution, neither reactionary nor opportunist, based on the myth of renewal and regeneration. Still others see it as a revolutionary movement “neither on the right nor on the left;” or simultaneously on the right and the left, born from the synthesis of “revisionist” socialism, revolutionary syndicalism and a new community nationalism, organic and social.

However, fascism as a sociopolitical model of a general and transnational character (or if one prefers the categorization of “generic fascism”) raises more questions than it answers. How can one define fascism without sinking into interpretation-schematization or the reductionist cliché? Historians respond that defining “fascism” is above all about writing history, with the national characteristics linked to political, economic, social and cultural events of countries under consideration. There is not, according to these historians, a model of “one-size-fits-all fascism,” nor a universally valid definition. But on the other hand, one can note the existence of a basic minimal conception, common to the political movements and regimes which appeared in Europe at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of a cultural, economic and social crisis. A point of view a priori convincing, but one which raises many questions.

The imperfect similarities which these historians point out constitute indeed a veritable jumble of ideas, values and principles; and there is of course no agreement on their comparative importance, frequency and significance. According to the convictions of the authors, there should be, at the heart of loose fascism, a mystical conception of life and politics; an irrational and voluntarist or idealistic or even spiritualist way of thinking; a cyclical view of history or a palingenesic view of history; the rejection of Marxist materialism; contempt for individualism, parliamentary democracy and the bourgeoisie, in the name of the organic, structured and hierarchical community; racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of others; the cult of the providential and charismatic leader; the call for a new elite, based on the virtue of example; the aspiration to a more mobile society; the desire to create a new ruling class from the middle classes and the working class; the exaltation of youth; the mobilization and integration of the masses through propaganda and the one party; realistic politics (Realpolitik) opposed to utopian politics (Phantasiepolitik); political-cultural imperialism; the heroic justification for war; the desire to reconcile technical modernity and the triumph of traditional values; the fusion of ideals common to traditionalism, nationalism, elitist liberalism, revolutionary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism; the assertion of the primacy of political sovereignty at the expense of any form of economism; the defense of the private economy but nevertheless the extension of public initiative; finally, and in order not to lengthen this list excessively, the will to transform society and the individual in a direction that has never yet been experienced or realized. In the end, a real intellectual patchwork that leaves one speechless.

In the face of these disagreements, many writers have come to deny that one can define a “generic fascist” phenomenon. Others take a less radical position, but nonetheless express the greatest doubt about its usefulness (see in particular: Gregor, Bracher, Allardyce, Muñoz Alonso, Fernández de la Mora, Arendt and De Felice, to name a few).

In reality, specialists of fascism fail to overcome the obstacle represented by the profound differences that exist between supposedly “fascist” movements or regimes, not only between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, but also between these two models and the other “nationalist-socialisms” that appeared in the years 1920-1940. To stick to the “state totalitarianism” of Italian fascism, and the “racial totalitarianism” of German National Socialism (and not to mention the “class totalitarianism” of the anticlerical and anti-religious Soviet-Communists), there is an immeasurable difference in the horror (the thesis of Emilio Gentile on “the Italian way of totalitarianism” has moreover been severely criticized by the disciples of Renzo de Felice). Before coming to power, between 1919 and 1922, the Italian fascists inflicted between 600 and 700 casualties among left and far-left activists, but also suffered roughly the same number of deaths in their own ranks. From 1922 to 1940, the Mussolini regime executed nine people (the majority of them Slovenian terrorists), and seventeen others in 1943 (date of the start of the civil war which claimed 50,000 victims, according to Claudio Pavone).

The number of political prisoners in fascist Italy never exceeded 2000. Italian fascism never had the intention or the possibility of developing a genuinely totalitarian system, based on the control of all state institutions and society, nor a fortiori a concentration camp system like those of National Socialist Germany and the USSR. The number of crimes, murders and executions, committed in the name of the “salvation” of Aryan humanity by National Socialist Germany or of the “happiness” of the proletariat, even of all humanity by the USSR and the other communist countries remains a subject of debate among historians; but in any case it is without comparison with that of the victims of fascist Italy (According to the methods, the criteria and the sources, the estimates vary by twice as much: They are from 8 to 15 million for National Socialist Germany, from 20 to 40 million for the USSR and from 60 to 120 million for all the Communist countries). Thus, with Italian fascism there is a difference, not only of degree but of nature.

All of these questions about the similarities and dissimilarities of the Nazi-German and Fascist-Italian models and many more are asked, examined and judiciously discussed by the author of Fascisme, histoire d’une concept (Fascism, History of a Concept). Free and independent of spirit, Paul Gottfried takes seriously the academic tradition of rigor and probity. In this he honors his profession, when a good number of his peers now wallow in ideology and intolerance. Gottfried is not one of those who claim to have the exclusive right to rational or “scientific” arguments, nor to have a monopoly on legitimate speech. He respects his opponents; presents their theses honestly; discusses their content, and presents his conclusions, always avoiding admonishment. If he accepts the categorization of “generic fascism,” he emphasizes, as other authors have done before him (such as Nolte, Arendt, Sternhell, de Felice, Payne, Del Noce or Gregor, to name but a few) that there are fundamental differences between German National Socialism on the one hand and Italian fascism and other “fascisms” on the other.

That said, Gottfried prefers to reserve the term “fascism” for movements other than Nazism (which was a “borderline case,” marked by the totalizing and exterminating character of its dictatorship, and significantly opposed to any form of organic democracy) – and in the framework of “generic fascism” he distinguishes between and “Latin fascism” of Catholic countries from “North European fascism” of Protestant countries. He also agrees that the fascist phenomenon is revolutionary in nature and historically linked to interwar Europe. Furthermore, he also agrees that the traditional, nationalist and conservative rights of the authoritarian governments of Franco, Salazar or Dollfuss cannot be amalgamated with the only true model of “generic fascism” that is Italian fascism. On the other hand, considering that the dividing line between right and left rests on the principles of egalitarianism and hierarchy and on the acceptance or rejection of the myth of progress, Gottfried resolutely classifies fascism on the right, and opposes thus frontally authors who, like in his Preface to the French translation, Stanley Payne, believe that fascism constitutes, on the contrary, the only type of revolutionism beyond the classic forms of the left and the right.

One can however doubt that the categorization of “Latin fascism,” used by Paul Gottfried, is really of a nature to shed more light on the rather muddled question of “generic fascism.” For my part, I believe I know the life and political thought of José Antonio Primo de Rivera quite well, as well as the entire bibliography of his movement, the Spanish Phalange. The majority of specialists see in José Antonio the model of “Spanish fascism.” Defined as fascist, José Antonio is therefore necessarily anti-democratic, putschist, ultranationalist, imperialist, a warmonger, totalitarian, apologist of violence and dictatorship. The problem is that these opinions, accusations and value judgments are all questionable and easily overturned by the facts, life and writings of José Antonio. Let us pass over the annoyance and the legitimate sarcasm that the severity and the injustice of these judgments do not fail to arouse in Hispanic countries, when such judgments come from foreign authors who make sure to be much more careful, balanced and measured when the time comes to assess the immeasurably greater violence committed in the name of so-called peaceful democracy inside or outside the borders of their own countries.

But let us underline two points, often overlooked by those who approach the study of so-called “Spanish fascism.” It should first be remembered that over the past two centuries, both the Right and the Left have for the most part embraced their own forms of anti-democracy, authoritarianism, nationalism, imperialism, violence, warmongering, elitism, hierarchy, identity politics or particularism. It should then be noted that the José-Antonian Phalangist movement (1933-1936) has only very distant links with the Traditionalist Phalange movement, born of the merger of all the right-wing parties under the aegis of Franco, in 1937, and all the more so with the Caudillo regime from 1937 to 1975.

For the comparison with “Latin fascism,” let us stick here only with the Phalange of José Antonio. In reality, beyond the “revolutionary” or very reformist character of the economic and social program of the Spanish Phalange of the JONS, the elements which differentiate the José-Antonian ideal from fascism(s) are numerous: the conception of the subordinate state to moral principles and to the transcendent end of man, the sense of human dignity, consideration for the individual and social life, respect for freedom, the affirmation of man’s eternal value, and the Catholic inspiration of political philosophy and the structure of society. And this is not nothing. Anti-capitalist and anti-socialist-Marxist, José Antonio undoubtedly was. But was he anti-democratic? It is debatable: “The aspiration for a free and peaceful democratic life will always be the goal of political science beyond all fashions,” he said. Violence was not a postulate of its ideal, nor a condition of its objective, but a pragmatic necessity to avoid being annihilated (the José-Antonian Phalange suffered about fifteen fatal attacks the day after its foundation; after eight months of waiting, it launched into reprisals, leaving some sixty victims among its adversaries, a figure roughly equal to the total of its own losses. But throughout the duration of the Second Spanish Republic and until the outbreak of the Civil War there were nearly 2,500 dead).

José Antonio wanted to be a patriot much more than a nationalist. “We are not nationalists,” he said, “because being a nationalist is nonsense; it is to base the deepest springs of the nation on a physical factor, on a simple physical circumstance. We are not nationalists because nationalism is the individualism of peoples.” We do not find the slightest territorial claim in his Complete Works either. According to him, the Spanish Empire in the 20th century could only be spiritual and cultural in nature. One would look in vain for anti-Semitic or racist overtones in his remarks. No doubt he clumsily used the term totalitarian or totalitarian state five times, but he did so clearly to signify his desire to create a “state for all,” “without divisions,” “integrating all Spaniards,” and “An instrument at the service of national unity.” Equally surprising is his point of view on fascism expressed in his 1936 declaration: “Fascism is fundamentally wrong: it is right in sensing that it is a religious phenomenon, but it wants to replace religion with idolatry;” and “it leads to the absorption of the individual into the collective.” As for his Catholic convictions, they cannot be questioned. We find the ultimate and clear manifestation of this in the will he wrote on November 18, 1936, the day after a parody of a trial, two days before his execution: “I forgive with all my heart all those, without exception, who may have harmed or offended me, and I ask all those to forgive me to whom I may owe the reparation of some wrong, be it great or small.”

One can of course think that there exists between the agnostic Mussolini, the secularist Giovanni Gentile (official philosopher of fascism), the neo-pagan Julius Evola, the Romanian orthodox, very anti-Semitic, Codreanu, and the Catholic, national-syndicalist, José Antonio, a kind of lowest common denominator. But the link that would constitute “Latin fascism” is at the very least tenuous and questionable. The comparison of the young leader of the Phalange with the non-conformists or French personalists of the 1930s, or with the founder of Fianna Fail, President of the Irish Republic, Éamon de Valera, however seems much more convincing. It is telling that, somewhat embarrassed by the José Antonio case, most historians resort to a series of euphemisms. Joséantonian fascism would be, they say, “intellectual,” “rational,” “moderate,” “civilized.” “idealist,” “naïve,” or “poetic”. Perhaps! But these attributes are not among the commonly accepted characteristics of fascism.

With this reservation on “Latin fascism” made, I cannot say enough how much Gottfried’s book deserves to be read. Having appreciated the English version in its time, I was fortunate to be associated with the French edition project. In his beautiful Introduction for the French-speaking public, Stanley Payne writes: “Paul Gottfried’s book is the best and most comprehensive interpretive study of fascism that has emerged in the last decade of this century.” Allow me to correct just a few words to say in a way that I believe is even more precise: “which has been in existence for a quarter of a century.”

Note: A word on the Franco-French polemics around the “French origins” of fascism. According to the thesis developed over more than forty years ago, by the Israeli historian, Zeev Sternhell (who was a Zionist-socialist in his youth and then a social-democratic activist influenced by Habermas), France was the laboratory of proto-fascism and of fascism at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It then had a real “fascist impregnation” in the 1930s, which finally led to the Vichy regime, the perfect realization of fascism. Obsessed with a view of the history of binary ideas pitting the heirs of the Enlightenment against their opponents, Sternhell exaggeratedly magnified the influence of a few political-cultural movements and a handful of famous intellectual figures. Contrary to what he suggests, there is a considerable difference between nationalist and authoritarian movements, which advocate state reform in the sense of strengthening the executive, and a fascist organization which pursues its revolutionary overthrow, or which aspires to a profound upheaval of social structures. Raymond Aron, Michel Winock, Serge Berstein and many other historians and political scientists, have demonstrated the amalgamations and the Manichean character of Sternhell’s work, which, despite very stimulating early intuitions, is more of a form of anti-fascist activism than a rigorous history of ideas.


Arnaud Imatz is a French historian and political scientist, and a great connoisseur of Spain. His notable publications include José Antonio et la Phalange espagnole and La Guerre d’Espagne revisitée. His lates book is Droite/gauche, pour sortir de l’équivoque.

This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The featured image shows a poster for the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI), by Gino Boccasile, ca. 1944.

Marxism, Revisionism, Liberalism: A Conversation With Piotr Nowak

We are so very delighted to presented this interesting and wide-ranging conversation with Piotr Nowak, who is Professor of Philosophy at the Bialystok University in Poland. He translated works of such writers as Hannah Arendt, W. H. Auden, Leo Strauss, Alexander Kojève, Allan Bloom, Boris Pasternak, Vasyli Rozanov, Andrei Bely, Pavel Florensky, Jacob Taubes, Semyon Frank. He is the deputy editor‐in‐chief of the philosophical quarterly Kronos (in Polish), and the annual Kronos. Philosophical Journal (in English). He is also a member of the Board of the Count August Cieszkowski Foundation. He is the author of the following monographs: Ontology of Success: An Essay on the Philosophy of Alexandre Kojève (Gdańsk 2006), The Prince’s Signature: Reflections on Strength and Weakness (Warsaw 2013), The Ancients and Shakespeare on Time: Some Remarks on the War of Generations (Amsterdam–New York 2014; in English), Troglodyte Breeding: Comments on Higher Education and the Mental Culture of Contemporary Man (Warsaw 2014), I Die Therefore I Am (Warsaw 2016), The Box with Pandora Within (Warsaw 2016). His most recent book is Violence and Words. Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt (Warsaw 2018), for which he was awarded the 2019 Daedalus’ Wings Literary Prize founded by the National Library of Poland. He is also the host of two TV programs and a visiting professor at Warsaw University.

In this discussion with Zbigniew Janowski, Professor Nowak provides us with a profound analysis of modernity and the kind of society that we are sleepwalking into, where we have become prisoners of democracy.


Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): I would like to focus our conversation on the topic of “revisionism.” We know this term from the history of socialism or Communism. Marxist revisionism was an important stage in the life of socialist philosophers, socialism itself, and Communism’s slow demise. It started after the so-called “October Thaw,” in 1956, and continued throughout the 1960s. It was an attempt to “revise” Marxist socialism after Stalin’s death in such a way as to make it look “human.” That is how the famous expression “Socialism with a human face” came about.

It is 2021, Communism is gone. However, over the last 20 or so years, Liberalism has evolved into what is sometimes called “soft-totalitarianism.” To be sure, this is not a system that operates on the basis of broken bones, mass-purges, imprisonment, or the existence of gulags, as socialism did; but, if we leave aside the free-market economy, today’s Liberalism became an ideology which controls as many aspects of human life as Communism, or even more. The first thing is the control of speech and our behavior.

Piotr Nowak (PN): Recently, I have reread the memoirs of Barbara Skarga, entitled, After the Liberation (1944-1956). Skarga, who later became a prominent philosopher in Poland, was an officer in the Home Army during the war. She was captured by the NKVD (Soviet secret police, responsible for purges and murders) when she was 24. She was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in Siberia. She returned to Poland at a time when former Stalinists were trying to assume a “human face.”

Piotr Nowak. Photo Credit: Bartek Syta.

For years I have been reading Gulag literature with my students, among them Skarga’s book, but also Shalamov, Ginzburg, Herling-Grudziński’s A World Apart. Over time, I noticed a decline of interest in reading these books among students. It is exotic for young people today, but not for me. Unlike them, I know well – fortunately not from personal experience – what the totalitarian regime was like, what Siberia was and what a penal colony in Asiatic Russia was. On the other hand, I know from experience what authoritarianism, martial law, and military rule are. So, I quite dread using the term “totalitarianism” – in a reckless way. In the end, it seems reserved, to paraphrase Karl Jaspers, for liminal situations in history, such as Kołyma or Auschwitz.

At the same time, I accept your important disclaimer that “totalitarianism” (here the quotation marks are indispensable) exists in hard and soft versions. In my mind, the difference seems to be quite significant. Today, political opponents are not murdered in Warsaw and Berlin; rather, they are denied recognition. However, from a certain point of view – and you got me here – it is one and the same thing. Please note that Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, the protagonist of Gogol’s The Overcoat, does not die from the cold, from the lack of a coat, but precisely from being denied recognition.

ZJ: Can you explain when and in what circumstances Revisionism under Communism came into being.

PN: It’s hard to say exactly. It was certainly not immediately after Stalin’s death, in 1953, but some three or four years later. In addition to Soviet Marxism, which appeared immediately after the war, the hitherto unknown in Poland, and even more so in the Soviet Union, Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 were discovered. At the same time, such prominent figures of Marxist thought as Gramsci, Lukacs, and later also Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno, had “arrived” in Poland too. Suddenly, it turned out that there was plenty to choose from; and the stuff was even an interesting read!

Besides, after the war, ideology was important in shaping social practice. If someone shared leftist values, it was difficult for him to question them. We need to remember that at that time the whole world accepted the Manichaean view of reality. This was the case not just in Europe but even in America. Communism was regarded as an angelic regime, maybe a bit degenerated and fallen, but angelic nonetheless. Such a view was partly because of the fact that it largely defeated fascism – undoubtedly the work of Satan. That is how people reasoned after the war all over the world. And this belief is still cultivated in some places in Italy and, above all, at the French universities.

In Poland, leftist sympathies proved to be strong for yet another reason. It is here that the Germans created the hell of Auschwitz. The very name of this place – apart from the association with the terrible suffering of millions of human beings – reminded us of the collapse of the old, pre-war, “fascist” moral order. In a place such as Auschwitz or Warsaw, 90% of which was razed to the ground, the mere thought of moral behavior, of old values, such as, honor, good birth, responsibility for others became questionable, or even impossible. The most important values on which humanity was founded turned out to be fleeting and completely obsolete. Hence, calls for the restitution of the old status quo appeared impossible to the majority of the population. For this reason, it was necessary to fill in the empty space, replace the old values with the new – victorious – ones. And that is what the communists did.

The hunger for meaning was sated quite quickly by giving people hope for a better tomorrow, without poverty and without fascists. This prospect turned out to be tempting and easy to accept, especially by those who were not victims. The joyful May 1st parade (International Workers’ Day), was celebrated each year. Its goal was to suppress the screams of the tortured victims, the slaughtered soldiers of the anti-communist underground, or the tormented Home Army soldiers. It was supposed to drown out the lamentations of the former landowners, robbed and dispossessed of their family estates by the communists. It was a politics of redirecting people’s attention to the radiant – communist – future.

Back then no one wanted to talk about Manichaeism seen from a different angle, that would make you see the face of the devil not only in Fascism, but also in Communism. The Red Army defeated the German Fascists and brought its own understanding of history. History is written by the victor, and the victor was Communism.

The opposition did not come right away; it was only later, around 1957, along with the Khrushchev Thaw. In the literary realm, there was a break too. In 1955, the poet Adam Ważyk wrote, “A Poem for Adults” which describes the madness of the situation, as in the following last two stanzas:

I went home,
like a man who had gone out to buy medicine,
and returned twenty years later.
My wife asked: Where were you?
The children asked: Where were you?
I was silent, trembling like a mouse.

The trouble with “madness” is that madness isolates and cannot become a collective state of mind. While someone can shout on his own behalf that he is crazy, his shouts can’t be repeated in pluralis majestatis, unless the term is used metaphorically, to the tune of: “The whole nation lost its mind to walk hand in hand with the communists.”

There is a book by Jacek Trznadel about the entanglement of Polish intellectuals in Communism, which stands in stark contrast to Miłosz’s The Captive Mind. According to Miłosz, it was the “Hegelian bite” – the intoxication of the great minds with ideology. Trznadel, on the other hand, argues that the mainsprings of ideological commitment and conformist behavior of intellectuals were fear and greed for influence and money, but also the hatred of the “ancien regime.”

As far as Revisionism is concerned, the most important attempt was undertaken, in 1956, by the young Leszek Kolakowski in Światopogląd i życie codzienne (Worldview and Daily Life, and which was published in German under the title, Der Mensch ohne Alternative. Von der Möglichkeit und Unmöglichkeit Marxist zu sein).

ZJ: One could say that post 1956 Revisionism was an attempt to create what came to be called “Socialism with a human face.” If pre 1956 reality was oppressive and brutal (“Stalinist”), it had nothing to do with Marxism; rather, it had everything to do with the actions and decisions of the corrupt State apparatchiks, who distorted Marx’s message. This was a way of absolving Marx’s philosophy of responsibility for the practice of socialism, which found expression in the famous slogan, “Socialism Yes. Distortions No.” After each upheaval, in each communist country, roughly every decade, we had a new Polit-bureau, composed of the new communists who would dispose of the old bastards who were guilty of abuses and responsible for “distortions.” But Marxism, so the argument went, was innocent.

PN: To all those who are able to spot a “human face” in socialism, I have a suggestion – try to find it! Leszek Kołakowski – probably the most outstanding Marxist revisionist of the second half of the twentieth century – ends his essay, Karl Marx and the Classic Definition of Truth, by paraphrasing Thomas Mann: “In the whole universe, man cannot find a well deep enough to not discover, looking into it, his own face down at the bottom.” The thing is, sometimes that face – a human face – happens to be a vulgar mug. Kołakowski writes about it in another essay, The Marxist Roots of Stalinism (republished in his collection of essays, My Correct Views on Everything), which, in my opinion, should be a mandatory reading at contemporary French and American universities.

We were told many times, and some still seem to believe it, that there was nothing Marxist in Stalinism. However, as Kołakowski argues in his essay, even if Stalinism was one of the many incarnations of Marxism, it was a legitimate one. If so, we must assume that even behind the face of a well-bred graduate of the École Normale Supérieure, we may find the face of a butcher.

ZJ: You have mentioned Kolakowski’s influential collection of essays which appeared in England as Marxism and Beyond and, in America as, Toward a Marxist Humanism. I would also add the issue of TriQuarterly: A Leszek Kołakowski Reader, with several essays written in the same period. These books contain most of his important Revisionist writings, which were quite influential among Western Marxists, especially in the UK and North America. Interesting as they are, as part of Marxist historiography, they did not save Marxism. The history of several decades –1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, which led to the collapse of Communism – was to demonstrate that.
Here is something I would like you to comment on – could one say that Revisionism was a failed attempt to breath new life into a world-view that was bound to breed economic inefficiency, oppressiveness, lack of freedom in the private realm and cultural poverty.

PN: Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say. It was bound to fail. Communism is a poisoned fruit. A fruit beautiful at times, occasionally even tasty and tempting, but fundamentally poisoned.

ZJ: But only a handful of intellectuals quickly realized that. That is, as you put it, the socialist idea was a poisoned fruit. Here two people, who realized relatively early what it was, stand out – Raymond Aron, the author of The Opium of the Intellectuals, and Czesław Milosz, the author of The Captive Mind. Kołakowski was another, but his realization came a decade later (he was also younger than Aron and Miłosz). You referred to his The Marxist Roots of Stalinism. But there is another important but less known piece by him where he seems to argue that absolving the old Marx by pointing to the “humanist” young Marx will not do. (He wrote this in “Althuser’s Marx,” for The Socialist Register, 1971; reprinted in The Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on Philosophers). Which is another way of saying, Revisionism was a waste of time.

Over the last five years or so, given what I experienced at American universities, I decided to teach a class on totalitarianism. I would regularly assign Orwell’s 1984. A friend of mine told me, forget about Orwell, make them read Miłosz, it is by far the best analysis of Communism. What Miłosz realized with full force was that Communism required faith to operate successfully. He called it a New Faith. As soon as people lost faith in the possibility of building “a just” (socialist) society, Communism started cracking. One could write a history of Communism through the prism of those cracks: 1956, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1981. The final nail in the coffin came in 1981 – the imposition of martial law in Poland. After that, only a few people retained faith, and eight years later, in 1989, Communism was buried in Eastern Europe. Do you agree with Miłosz that Communism required faith? And if, so, why did so many people – some very intelligent ones, like Kolakowski — “converted” into it? At the beginning of our conversation you answered this question to some extent; historical circumstances after WWII certainly helped.

PN: Different things require different commitment, including faith. Communists believe in a better tomorrow; and therefore they believe in progress. The title of the Czech communist Julius Fucik’s book about a country where “tomorrow is already yesterday” conveys this idea quite well. This faith is contagious even today. The blind rush, headlong, ever onwards, always ends up in a nosedive. This attitude is perfectly reflected in Alfred Kubin’s 1902 painting The Man. It shows a human figure rushing downward from who knows where, going ever faster and faster. The problem is that there is no stopping this motion. As the knowledge of it dawns on her, the terror grows. Left-wing thinkers do not take this into account at all. For them, progress means not only technological advancement, but also a moral one; the improvement of humanity. They are convinced that in order to eradicate evil it is enough to correct poorly functioning social institutions and persistently strive to advocate for justice.

Both the Scriptures and Thomas Hobbes hold a different view: there is an evil in man that resists reforms. Man is terrible; he has done so much evil throughout history that there is no redemption for him in this world. We have to struggle with evil in us. Communism is the embodiment of evil, one of its many forms; perhaps it is the most demonic and bloody of evils. It harnesses beautiful words only to vulgarize and destroy them. Values, such as, hope, love, brotherhood and peace – all of them have fallen prey to the communist practice of vulgarizing them. In their hands, words changed meaning. Peace is a state of war, freedom becomes enslavement, and so on. We find it in Orwell!

As far as Miłosz is concerned, a lot has been written about him. Mark Lilla did a good job adapting him in writing his The Reckless Mind, for use at American universities (incidentally, I helped him with the Polish translation of this interesting book). Miłosz, on the other hand, translated Aron’s The Opium of the Intellectuals back in the 1950s. These are not only bibliographical details. They show how ideas circulated then and how they circulate today, and their mutual influence. Certainly, the problems of Communism did not concern only this part of the European continent.
Kołakowski, on the other hand, interests and inspires me not when he reaches “belief” in a better tomorrow, but when he abandons it and becomes a Christian. You say he was intelligent. Certainly not when he wrote that the Catholic Church was responsible for the death camps (Szkice o filozofii katolickiej [Essays on Catholic Philosophy], p. 57). He acquired wisdom and intelligence with age, especially when he recovered from “the beautiful disease of leftism.”

ZJ: Several points in your explanation as to why Communism was such a powerful force can be applied to Liberalism as well. It is also based on the idea of a better future, equality and justice. Contemporary politics revolves almost exclusively around these two notions. They are the axis of contemporary social policies, and it is there, in my opinion, where the problem of coercive nature of Liberalism lies. To be against “social justice” is to be, very much like the communists saw it, “The enemy of the people,” who deserve no place in society. Not to join the “social justice” crusade is tantamount to displaying anti-social behavior, very much like not participating in a May 1st parade, or in various social activities under Communism, which could get you in trouble. Those who dare to do it are castigated, scorned, looked down upon, eliminated, made to look like social pariahs. Elimination is not a physical one, but a social one; being fired from a job, from a university post, being “accused,” etc. Would you agree?

PN: Today’s Liberalism does not have much in common with classical Liberalism. If Locke and Mill’s Liberalism was conceived in such a way that it could support freedom – not only economic, but also academic, spiritual – then the Liberalism we are dealing with today has become hard-headed, moralizing, and schematic. Classical Liberalism fortified people, while the contemporary one wants to tell them how to live; wants to transform and reform them; bring everyone down to the same level; fashion them into one mould, contrived by who knows whom.

ZJ: By whom? By social activists! It is the fastest growing “profession.” They are experts in raising “social consciousness” about “social justice.” They are the producers of slogans calling on expanding equity and dismantling whatever is left of hierarchy (the so-called “power structure,” as we say in America).

PN: You are probably right. Liberals are not interested in the common good, but, as you say, in “social justice.” The res publica, the State, the nation do not exist in their minds. In consequence, they are nothing but a convenient instrument in the hands of the rich, a bargaining chip for people of influence. Such a weak State can’t make decisions or settle disputes. Conformist behavior is rewarded. Ordinary people are intimidated on a massive scale (“next we come for you”), reprimanded or intimidated. Adults are treated like children.

Are the people who influence and shape reality today still liberals? I don’t know for sure. I know that they dominate and willingly refer to liberal philosophy as a kind of legitimization for their ever-bolder actions. They are followers of progress and infinite improvement, which command people to part with everything they have learned at home, which they have acquired through tradition. Old and worn-down values are replaced by new ones.

ZJ: You ask whether they are liberal? I would say, very much so. If you really want to know, observe the actions (or the silence) of those who claim to be so-called classical liberals. They will say to you (in private), “I don’t agree with this or that; I don’t support this or that policy;” they will even be sincerely appalled by some things the radicals do, but have you seen them vote against the liberal radicals, or raise a voice of protest against the dumbest proposals in local politics, or oppose destructive changes in university curricula? You soon see which side they are on. They invariably support the same policies that the radicals do.

In their outer actions they are as radical as the true radicals; in their hearts they are most likely cowards. They use the term classical Liberalism to find absolution, to distance themselves from the wrongs done by their ideological affiliates. The so-called classical Liberalism exists in their imagination, just like true socialism existed in the heads of those who believed that the socialism in the countries of real socialism had nothing to do with Marx’s socialism.

PN: Those who experienced Communism know that the same thing happened half a century ago and earlier among the communists who created Homo Sovieticus, the new Soviet man, in Central and Eastern Europe. In that sense, Martin Heidegger did not err in equating – as he did in his Letter on Humanism – the degenerated, hurtling rudderless Liberalism with Communism. I remember that back in the time of the communist Polish People’s Republic, when I read this text for the first time, I did not understand this kind of association at all. Today I understand it. Both ideologies adhere to two common values: egalitarianism and the complete economization of community life.

Ford, Soros, and Stalin go along with lesser acolytes through the jungle of the 20th and 21st centuries practically side by side, causing untold catastrophes and destruction. Entire villages and cities disappear from the economic map of their countries. In schools and universities, propaganda centers are created, where courses in tolerance, adaptation, sexual harassment, gender identity and the oppressive nature of the modern family are organized. At other training courses – known once as “the reforging of souls” – you can learn how to eat European meringue and what equality is and why it has become the most important value in all areas of social and political life. Thanks to the newest ideological trends, deeply humanistic values, still so close to Mill, recur as their own caricature, a farce. Because this is how past events come back to us: history – said Marx – always returns as a farce.

ZJ: Historical circumstances – economic crises of the 1920s and 1930s, the rise of Fascism, WWII, and other events – made Socialism attractive to many people. Stalin’s death and the year 1956 made Revisionism necessary, at least for Marxists who wanted to save it. It was an attempt to save Socialism’s face; to make it look human! However, contrary to their hopes, Revisionism was not tolerated for long. Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, even insisted that Gomulka, the First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party, organize an international trial of the Revisionists, Kołakowski being the main culprit. In Khrushchev’s mind, or those who advised him, Revisionism was dangerous for the maintenance of power, unity of the Party, but above all, its ideological legitimacy. When Kołakowski was fired from the Party’s ranks and his university post, the official document stated that he “fashioned the minds of the youth with ideology which was contrary to the development of the country.” Whether the communists understood Marx and Kołakowski’s reading of him, is irrelevant; but they suspected that philosophers’ reading of Marx could be dangerous. Insofar as the communist state was based on Marx’s ideas, interpretation of Marx was crucial. It was not just the Communist apparatchiks who were concerned but philosophers such as Jurgen Habermas who supposedly remarked, in the 1970s, that Kołakowski is a disaster for the European Left.

I bring this up to show that reading and interpretation of philosophical texts matters; and it was the reading of Marx which contributed to the demise of Marxist ideology, and people’s loss of faith in the system. Ultimately the system collapsed because the faith in it had been undermined by intellectuals.

As I said, and you seem to agree with me on this point, if Liberalism is becoming, or has become, totalitarian, its eventual demise – if it follows the trajectory of Communism – can be accomplished only if Liberalism finds critics among its own believers, who will come to the inevitable conclusion, as did the Marxist Revisionists, that the system is fundamentally flawed, that “distortions” are not distortions but fundamental features of the ideology. Are there any Liberal Revisionists, not just critics of Liberalism who never claimed to be Liberal? Mark Lilla, whose writings you know, seems to find Liberalism more and more disappointing; but he is far from breaking away from it.

PN: This argument about corrupting the youth is as old as philosophy itself, stretching all the way back to the trial and death of Socrates. We will not come up with anything new here. Politicians will always accuse philosophers of anything and everything, not only corrupting the youth, since they cannot bear the thought of free people, independent from their decisions.

You say that something in Kołakowski’s thought did not sit well with Habermas. That is just fine. There is a problem with German philosophy in general. The thing is that World War II seriously thinned out the Germans; and the Germans killed off the Jews. Meanwhile, for centuries both have provided us with intellectual fuel. War put an end to that. The defeat of the Third Reich has driven all German philosophy to the grave. German philosophy ceased to exist. With one exception – Martin Heidegger, the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. The French took this opportunity to devise a hokum called postmodernism, talking about which here is a waste of time. We will do well not to refer to either the Germans or the postmodernists in a conversation about Marx, revisionism or Liberalism.

Of course, as everywhere, there are brilliant exceptions. In France, they include – to limit this listing to the living – Rémi Brague, Alain Besançon, who was a gauchist in the 1950s, and Pierre Manent, a French Straussian. That latter said in an interview with Benedicte Delorme-Montini something along the lines of, “if you aspire to understand modern politics, you must have a certain understanding of the United States; therefore you must have a little love for them … A minimum of sympathy and recognition for American achievements is a basic prerequisite of understanding politics even a little bit.” I will add from myself that it is good not only to love and understand them, but also visit and be interested in them.

In my mind the US is entwined – as is the case with of millions of Poles who are Americanophiles – with a childish dream of freedom. Growing up under Communism, we dreamed of the States as if it was Arcadia. Liberalism was also an Arcadian myth for me, a positive myth. In order to be able to revise the ideas on which a political system was founded, one must grow organically in it. Nobody can be a substitute for the British or the Americans in this. The “revisionist” impulse must come from them.
Mark Lilla is not entirely convincing in his writings. At first, I was amazed by his book on intellectuals because it was really well-written. Later, as I read his other books and essays he has written for The New York Review of Books, I realized that he was a literarily gifted opportunist who woke up one day and realized – like everyone in his social circle – that there is no God. Eureka! His The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West came from such a discovery. I stopped reading him after that book.

Today, when the history of ideas in the West has receded several decades in relation to, for example, the late works of Martin Heidegger, the humanistic thought of the young Kołakowski has a chance for a renaissance. It fits quite well with the anticlerical antipathies of such authors as Mark Lilla, Stephen Greenblatt, Noah Harari, Christopher Hitchens, Giovanni Vattimo, Richard Dawkins, taken in concert with all the Frenchmen who fell out of Alain Badiou’s back pocket. These thinkers, like pack-donkeys, gradually and painstakingly reach the ideas developed by Kołakowski in the 1950s and 1960s, which he abandoned in his further philosophical work, and which brought such dazzling gems as The Presence of Myth or Metaphysical Horror.

ZJ: What was it about Lilla’s book or books that drew your attention? Did you see him as a Liberal Revisionist?

PN: No, Lilla’s books do not have that potential. I only skimmed through the latest ones. They adulate the liberal system in all its pathological layers, and if they undertake criticism, it is a predictable and authorized one. But the Americans had ingenious “revisionists.” They have forgotten about them. I am preparing an issue of Kronos magazine about Allan Bloom. So, I am re-reading his essays, such as those collected in Giants and Dwarfs. I doubt their “revisionist” power is remembered.

ZJ: Unlike Marxism, Liberalism does not seem to have the venerated “founding fathers,” to whose writings we can go back to. Juxtapose young Marx to late Marx; only to realize that the theory was flawed from the beginning. There is no body of writings like the Federalist Papers in the US, the Constitution, which we need to know how to read in order to get politics right. Perhaps that is why there is little chance that Liberalism will collapse the way socialism did because the theory contained in the writings of the founders turned out to be simply wrong.

PN: You have published two volumes of John Stuart Mill’s minor writings. You do not spare him harsh words. You are right. Something went wrong. We need to investigate what happened and when. But, let’s leave it to the Anglos. Personally, I would start by weakening John Rawls’s position in the American humanities. I suggest we should reread Bloom’s critique of Rawls, which he published in 1975, in American Political Science Review (69 [2]). I know of no more convincing criticism of his philosophy.

ZJ: I would disagree with you saying, let’s leave it to the Anglos, for several reasons. Liberal ideology enveloped not just the US, Canada, the UK. It is doing the same in Continental Europe, including the former socialist countries, and parts of Asia, South America. Liberal language of rights, justice and equality is everywhere the same. Rawls and company are not just an American problem; they are a problem for everyone. It does not matter whether a critique of Rawls comes from America or Scotland or England, so long as someone formulates it. There are others who wrote critically about Rawls: Roger Scruton and John Gray. The latter wrote a good book in the early 1990s called, Liberalisms (plural). It is worth rereading today.

Secondly, for critique of Rawls to be effective, one needs to undermine that which underlies Rawls project, that is egalitarianism. His whole theory of justice is based on the premise of the equality of outcome, and unless we go after equality, show how detrimental it is to man’s private life and social organization, we will always have another Rawls, another theory of justice. What is needed is a serious historical work, which shows how the egalitarian world came about. No one who read Peter Laslett’s The World We Have Lost: England Before the Industrial Age (1965) would give credence to Marx and Engels’ philosophy of history. As Laslett shows, in his line-by-line commentary to The Communist Manifesto, it was based on an erroneous interpretation of history. Jonathan Clark is doing similar revisionist work, and everybody who is interested in the subject of Liberalism should read his Revolution and Rebellion and The Language of Liberty.

Be that as it may, here is what I would like to ask: unlike Western Europeans and North Americans who lived through the entire time under the roof of liberal democracy, Eastern Europeans did not; their experience between 1945, the end of WWII, and 1989, the end of Communism, was different. We were inoculated against ideological thinking. Are Poles, for example, better equipped to formulate such arguments and thus can better offer their Western friends a piece of advice?

PN: I do not think so. For this I blame the stupid, naive, childish and probably unrequited love of Poles for the United States. For millions of Poles, Anglo-Liberalism (please do not confuse it with the economic doctrine of Jeffrey Sachs and Leszek Balcerowicz) will always be associated with freedom that was still there in the 1980s.

ZJ: As for my decision to put out Mill’s minor writings, I wanted to find out who is responsible for the social, moral and political chaos today. Not the chaos and demoralization created by socialism, but the chaos in the formerly admired liberal democracies. Mill appeared to me to be the best candidate. As I was preparing my first volume of his writings, I started realizing that he is to Liberalism what Marx is to Socialism. Just like Marx was not the first socialist, nor was Mill the first Liberal. But they both gave full expression to two traditions that existed before them. They codified them and made them into coherent systems.

When you read those minor writings (the second volume is scheduled to appear in the Fall) you no longer see Mill as the serious philosopher (as per, On Liberty, Utilitarianism, or Considerations on Representative Government, but an angry social activist, a propagandist, polemicist, who, like Marx wants to change the world.

What you are struck by is his dislike of the old hierarchical order – the aristocracy, the Anglican Church, religion, the State and, finally, his love of equality. This is what motivated his philosophy of Liberalism. To be sure, he was less radical than Marx and Engels, but his vision of the future of the world is similar: it is a world in which equality reigns supreme. This is what he says on the last two pages of his Utilitarianism, which sounds very much like Marx/Engels’ Communist Manifesto. And equality, like classless society in Marx, is what drives the liberal world today. I consider it to be a dangerous state of mind, which will not stop before it destroys all social institutions. Socialism did it then. Liberalism is doing it now.

PN: You suggested I read Mill, for which I would like to thank you separately. I took his minor writings seriously, and my colleagues in the editorial staff of Kronos magazine found them interesting as well. We decided to translate a considerable portion of them and devote the issue to Mill. I hope that it will contribute to the debate you care so deeply about here, in Poland.

It is true, there is a lot in them about equality – a noble idea in general, which our times have so exaggerated and vulgarized. For example, mentally ill and dysfunctional people are considered not to be different from healthy people. They are “just different.” The result is that we undermine the category of mental health, and thus we can’t cure them. We are not allowed to talk of disease; we use the language of “different sensitivity.” Less and less attention is being paid to crime victims.

At the same time, huge public funds are being committed to the resocialization of criminals, who often see themselves as victims of the social system, unable to take responsibility for what they have done. My daughter wanted to pursue this topic professionally – she graduated from forensic psychology at one of the English universities – but was successfully dissuaded from doing that. There are topics that may not be discussed in today’s academia! And that is utterly unprecedented! Wasn’t that what the right to freedom of expression was about, especially in academic matters? Was it not also postulated by Mill in On Liberty? The same Mill, who called for the liberalization of the law in relation to criminals.

Today the majority has been cornered by the minority. Nay! By numerous minorities who demand the same rights as the majority. Western democracies are on the brink of a civil war.

ZJ: You expressed concerns not just about American universities but also referred to the French ones, the intellectual scene there, and the French romance with Marxism. To be sure, Poles, unlike the French, may not find reading Marxist literature palatable, but in their general outlook, their thinking about the State as a provider of all kinds of goods and services, the power of centralized government, are, in my opinion, not different from that of the French. The Americans too. Whether it is the French egalité or Marx’s classless society, the Poles and other Europeans are true believers in equality. I would even go further: I would say that post-socialist countries may be in a worse situation than the Western European countries because we have had a state-sponsored egalitarian (Marxist) ideology for 45 years. We may have shaken off the Marxist new-speak, but not necessarily the belief in equality which socialism engrained in us. It is what Liberalism is doing now in the countries which by Marxist standards were class societies.
The alternative to equality of any kind and provenance would be a society based on hierarchy, merit, and privilege. All three were the primary object of Mill’s attack. Except for Sir Roger Scruton and Jonathan Clark, I do not know of anyone who would dare to defend it. Say to the Poles that you are a partisan of hierarchy and inequality based on merit, and you are likely to be socially decapitated, just like in the US. I believe you experienced it as well.

PN: I prefer not to talk about personal experiences, which will not teach anyone anything who refuses to understand the problems of the liberal societies we live in. On the other hand, people like us – you and I – understand the danger all too well. All I can say is that we are coming awfully close to communist reality in various fields, where people were destroyed for even being suspected of having views contrary to the existing ideology. Unless we wake up from our progressive dream, totalitarianism will always be with us.

As for your question about the Poles, let me give you an example. Poles have always shed their blood. You know the slogan “For your freedom and ours.” Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the commander of the Polish Army during the 1794 uprising against Russia, was one of the Polish generals who came to America to fight in the war of independence. He designed the defenses of West Point during the revolutionary war, and, later, suggested to Jefferson that Americans establish a military school for officers. There is a monument of Kosciuszko at West Point and on the square in front of the White House. Now he did not go to America because he was a partisan of equality! He just could not bear the thought that there are people who live in bondage. When he was returning to Poland, he left Jefferson his American estate to sell and use all the money from the sale – well over a million dollars in today’s money – to free as many Blacks as possible. I was tempted to find out how many people could be freed for it and it turned out to be about a hundred!

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Nowak, for such an interesting and invigorating conversation.


The featured image shows, “The Fair at Kawaria Zabrzydowska, Poland,” by Wojciech Weiss, painted ca. 1913.

Mary, Queen Of Families: The Forgotten Apparition Of Le Ghiaie di Bonate

Last summer, during a brief break in the pandemic, I was sitting at a family dinner, close to my aunt, Emma (90 years old), and casually the conversation turned to St. John Paull II and the Holy Virgin’s apparition at Fatima.

All of a sudden my aunt Emma said, “Well, I was present at a Virgin apparition when I was young…”

“Sorry auntie, you were what?”

“Yes, I was present at two of the 13 apparitions that took place at Le Ghiaie di Bonate. I remember very well. It was spring 1944, because the war was still raging in our region, and it was very difficult to get there.”

“But auntie you never told us anything like that before!”

“When you grow old, you have very little concern about daily life in the present, and remembrance of old times comes back very easily and strong.”

And she briefly recounted to the amazed party her experience.
The apparition site was some 15 miles north of our home and the word spread instantly, despite censorship and harsh war-time. She and her friends first went on a small horse-cart from the farm, along adjacent country roads. But they did not get too far because all the roads were clogged with people; and so they had to walk the last 4 miles, thus ending up very far from the place where the seer was receiving the apparition.

Adelaide Roncalli in ecstasy at Le Ghiaie di Bonate, with doctors surrounding her.

Then she went a second time, two days later, and this time she and her friends rode their bicycles at night, so they could reach the apparition site. They made their way to the precise spot where my aunt could see the event from a very short distance.

Adelaide Roncalli among the faithful at Le Ghiaie di Bonate.

The seer was seven-year-old Adelaide Roncalli, a blonde girl of humble origins, who wore a white ribbon in her hair. She was standing on a podium and after some minutes she went into a trance glancing at a remote point. And thus she stood, despite the doctors crowding around her tiny body, piercing her arms and cheeks and monitoring her blood pressure and heart beat.

After few minutes, the seer came around and briefly released a short summary of the message received from the Holy Virgin to the surrounding crowd and then she was taken away by the police force that was in charge of her security.

Here aunt Emma finished her story; and she could not tell me what happened afterwards, and why this apparition has had so little recognition from the official Church.

I had driven tens of times through the village of Bonate and had seen the brown tourism road sign, showing the way to the “Site of the 1944 Apparitions.” (Yes, the road sign actually does say, “Site of the 1944 Apparitions,” but no mention of any sanctuary of the Virgin). And so now, the surprising revelation by aunt Emma ignited my desire to learn more about this event.

My research was not easy because most of the publications were written and published by local authors for use only by the supporters of the apparition. However, thanks to the help of my many Christian friends around Lombardy, I could put together enough details to arrive at a reasonable understanding of the events of that fateful May in 1944.

Most, if not all, Marian apparitions are marked by common features: One or more seer; very often young, but certainly always very simple persons, a message entrusted to the seer for universal revelation and miracles. Le Ghiaie was by no means less in this “standard.”

The Seer

Adelaide Roncalli (her grandfather was a relative of Angelo Roncalli, better known today as, St. John XXIII) was a country girl of seven at the time of the apparition. On May 13, she was playing with her siblings in the field close to her parents’ farm at Le Ghiaie (literally, “The Gravels” because it is located by the side of the Brembo river) when her aunt, Annunciata, asked her to gather some wildflowers to adorn the small Madonna altar at the farmhouse.

While Adelaide was picking some elder flowers she suddenly stood still, as if lost to the world. Her siblings immediately ran home yelling, “Come quickly, Adelaide is standing dead!” But her parents did not do anything.

Adelaide Roncalli on her first Communion.

Adelaide then recovered, eagerly walked home and told her siblings, “Do not tell anybody, but I have just seen the Holy Virgin.” Her younger sister, Palmina, however, told their parents about what had happened. They did not believe Adelaide and punished her. But the news spread like wildfire.

The Holy Virgin appeared to this very young girl, speaking in plain Bergamasco accent, over two successive periods: From 13 to 21 of May and, after one week of announced hiatus, from 28 to 31 of May. Most of the times, she was accompanied by St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, and a large part of the message received by Adelaide concerned the challenging time the Christian family was facing and on the importance of a faithful and honest life of the spouses as the key to a happy and virtuous life. The Holy Virgin also gave Adelaide some news about the war and the current times and predicted for her a troubled life, but for which She would compensate with eternal life in Paradise.

Poor Adelaide dearly paid for her visions of the celestial Mother. Due to the immense resonance of the Le Ghiaie facts, she was separated from her family and put into a religious boarding school for more than one year.

A priest (we will not disclose his name for mercy’s sake) entrusted by the bishop of Bergamo to stay close to the girl and prepare the evidences for the oncoming trial, exerted all possible psychological and moral pressure on the girl and literally dictated to her the terrible abjure memo that the child finally wrote and signed: “I am a liar I did not see the Holy Virgin and I made up the story myself.” Based on this forced confession, in 1948 the diocesan court of Bergamo ruled that there was no evidence of supernatural intervention at Le Ghiaie and forbade any type of Marian cult.

Adelaide spent the successive ten years wandering from one religious boarding school to another to keep her away from Le Ghiaie. Then at age 15, she entered the Sacramentine cloister as the Virgin had promised her. But after a few years of persistent gossip, and because she was held suspect when not in open hostility by the official Church and the other sisters, Adelaide was forced to quit the habit and returned to a secular life. She became a nurse, married, had children, lived in anonymity in Milan, and died in 2014. She disappeared from public life; and only in the late 1980s did she release a notarized declaration, in which she stated once and for all that she genuinely had had the apparitions of the Holy Virgin, in May 1944.

The Message

The apparitions occurred over 13 meetings, in which the Holy Virgin spoke of several subjects to Adelaide, including the then terrible war-conditions in Italy, fear for the life of the Holy Father who, at that time was made almost a prisoner in Rome by the German army. But without question the focus of the messages was on a few, core themes: Family, repentance and sanctification of suffering.

All the scholars that have studied the texts of the revelations to Adelaide are unanimous in understanding the three themes as being tightly interlinked, since the sins (THOSE SINS, as the Virgin told the seven-year-old girl) committed by mothers and fathers bring disruption to the family and open the door to sorrows and disgrace. Hence repentance from sins, a return to the sanctity of the family, and incessant prayer to restore disordered family life. It is also very notable that the last apparition of the first cycle (May 21) was purely a speechless vision which many analysts interpret as a fine theological sermon on the Christian family.

This was the vision: Adelaide saw the Holy Family sitting in a temple, together with some praying animals (a donkey, a dog, a sheep and a horse). All of sudden the horse left the temple through the wide-open door and began stomping a beautiful white lily field nearby. St. Joseph went for the horse and brought him back to the temple where he joined the praying group again. The horse is the father who is free (the temple is open) to destroy marital fidelity (the white lily): only the perseverance of prayer and the Christian life can sustain and keep the ordered life of the family. And yes, of course, according to the diocesan court this was the invention of a seven-year-old girl!

Well, you do not need to be an educated theologian to appreciate that the family-focused message of Le Ghiaie came right at the beginning of probably the very first period in the history of humanity when the destruction of the traditional family became a priority: Sexual revolution, divorce, abortion, homosexuality and its derivatives. It is to be remembered that the seer of Fatima, Lucia dos Santos, predicted that the last fight of the devil for the domination of the earth would be against the family.

The Miracles

As in all Marian events, the most glorious miracle of all generated by the apparition was the grand awakening of the people’s faith. Just from May to July of 1944, a multitude estimated at 3 million (3 million!) flooded the crumbled roads and the precarious railroads of North Italy to Le Ghiaie, to pray at the place where Adelaide saw the Holy Virgin. The pilgrims asked for the safe return of sons and husbands from Russia, for the end of the civil war, for healing of diseases; but most of all they prayed for the conversion of their households.

We have positive evidence of all this because a lot of visitors wrote their prayers on small slips of paper and left them at the apparition spot. A few thousand of them were happily preserved by Don Cesare Vitali, then the parish priest of Le Ghiaie, and lately studied by Ermenegilda Poli who confirmed that two appeals to the Virgin predominate: Bring back my husband/son from the war and convert my father/husband/son to the true religion. The endless processions marched day and night to the tempo of rosary and Marian chants and it is recorded in the newspapers that the bystanders at café terraces stood up and took their hats off at the passage of the pilgrims.

Spring 1944 was a severe war-time period for the North of Italy, with daily air raids, aimed at destroying the heavy war industry, as well as the morale of the population by massive bombing of cities. Nothing happened to Le Ghiaie, nor to any of the pilgrims heading there, though once back home they had to suffer the raids of allied aircrafts. Several times airplanes were seen and heard above the crowd gathered to attend the apparitions, but no harm came to the people.

According to Mons. Vittorio Bonomelli, a priest who acted as allied intelligence during most of the war, the news of the apparition quickly spread among the allied forces and particular attention and instructions were given to the pilots operating in the sector. He also disclosed that the apparitions of the Virgin saved the city of Bergamo from a massive bombing the allied HQ had already planned, one of the few cities in North Italy to be spared from a common and terrible fate.

Miracles are frequently, if not always, associated with healing from chronic disease or deformity, and Le Ghiaie was no exception to the rule of Marian apparition. During the two cycles of apparitions and for the first months afterwards unexpected and inexplicable healings happened at a very frequent pace: paralytics stood up and left their wheelchairs or crutches; children with impaired hearing returned to hear, totally or partially blinds recovered the sight and a lot of other healings occurred to youngsters, adults and elders alike. Many of the priests that were present at the time reported this incredible season of grace in their diary with the word of Matthew 11, 4-5 “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Among the tens of reported and evidenced graces during the first period of Le Ghiaie, I wish to single out the story of Bianca Nicoletti, a young girl of five, suffering of Pott’s disease, a tuberculosis of the spine, leading to the degeneration of the intervertebral joints and very often of the vertebrae. In 1944 there was very little chance to cure the disease; and the doctors of Udine treated the young girl with a cast back brace for her entire upper body, in the hope of a possible surgery when (and if) the girl turned 12.

In July 1944, her mother heard about the apparitions of the Virgin to Adelaide and decided to go there. Udine is approximately 200 miles from Le Ghiaie and mother and girl alone did the entire journey, travelling by railroad, in freight wagons when necessary. The girl could not walk, and the mother literally carried her for all the journey. And when the railroads were stopped because of the wreckage caused by air raids, they went by stealing passage on the few trucks that dared to defy the allied road bombing and strafing.

It took them some days, but eventually they made it to Le Ghiaie where, during a prayer session, the girl asked her mother to put her on the ground. The cast simply burst and she started walking, recovered forever. A lot of people witnessed the miracle, and all their records were collected, together with the incredible results of the new specialized medical examination back at home. The Holy Virgin had promised Adelaide that the pains of the infirm would always be compensated, if asked through prayers, perseverance and repentance of sins. The mother of Bianca is the perfect example of true devotion that leads to redemption.

Many observers see Le Ghiaie as the completion of the revelation of Fatima; and as at Fatima, thousands of people had the opportunity to appreciate the “sun dance” on May 21, at the occasion of the last apparition of the first cycle; and these people then left accurate records of the miracle of the sun, when it spun around fast, opaque white in color, which did not hurt the eyes to look at, and which radiated a light of many colors. The phenomenon was visible for ten minutes in many different places around Bergamo and was positively confirmed by the media of the time.

The Present

Despite the large quantity of evidence and the endless stream of pilgrims in the first ten years after the apparitions, the church is still denying the event and remains anchored to the extorted confession of a persecuted seven-year-old girl: “I am liar.” As a matter of fact, a lot of eminent churchmen were fully convinced of the truth of Le Ghiaie di Bonate, among them Pope St. John XXIII (who wrote a letter, stating that the confession of Adelaide was invalid from a canonical perspective). There was Blessed Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, who sent Father Agostino Gemelli, a physician and psychologist and founder of the Catholic University of Milan, to examine Adelaide whom he found perfectly normal and unable to make up this story. And there was Pope St. John Paul II, who introduced in 1986, in the Litany of Loreto, the invocation to the Queen of Families.

All bishops of Bergamo, from the time of the event up to now, are firm believers of Le Ghiaie, though none of them had enough courage to start a revision of the 1948 trial. Nowadays, at Le Ghiaie, there is still the old, small chapel that was built before 1948, surrounded by a little gallery and a lot of trees and greenery. Recently in 2019, the bishop of Bergamo, Francesco Beschi, authorized the cult of Mary Queen of Families at the small chapel, where flocks of believers still come to implore the Mother of the Family.

Le Ghiaie di Bonate chapel today.

At the end of this incredible story, I guess the readers will share the same simple questions that haunt all believers of Le Ghiaie: Why such a perseverance in rejecting the evidence? Why deprive the People of God of the comforting company and motherly care of the Holy Virgin? I am sure there might be hundreds of good answers, starting with the current preference of the Church for pastoral issues rather than supernatural events, or of smelling “the smoke of Satan in the temple of God,” as prophetically announced by Pope St. Paul VI. But I am not a theologian nor a cleric scholar. I am a believer and can suggest a couple of insights.

Sometimes the devil’s advocate wins the lawsuit, and in the case of Le Ghiaie this is particularly evident and true, when you look at the dramatic disruption that the family has endured over the last 50 years. The Virgin came to warn us about a terrible incumbent danger; but we simply shrugged our shoulders and went the easy way the devil had planned for us.

The faithful at Le Ghiaie di Bonate chapel.

No matter how powerful and formidable the intervention of heaven is, without man’s cooperation, nothing can be achieved on earth in virtue of the supreme liberty God has awarded to us. And this brings to my mind the Gospel of Luke (16, 19-31) when the dead and condemned rich man asks Lazarus to go back to his brothers and warn them, and Abraham replies, “If they did not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Note: Most of this essay was outlined and meditated upon, on May 13, the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin to Adelaide, while I was walking alone the 15 miles from my home to Le Ghiaie, to thank Our Lady Queen of the Families, for the unexpectedly fast and complete recovery of a very close friend of mine who had been struck by a life-threatening case of Covid.

Completed on May 26, Feast of Our Lady of the Fountain at Caravaggio.


Maurizio Mandelli is a businessman by trade and enthusiastic amateur scholar of local history and the arts. He has published two books (War of the Spanish Succession in Lombardy and The Italian Campaign of Napoleon III). He is a regular contributor to local magazines on religion, ethics, society, history and the arts.


The featured image shows, Our Lady of Le Ghiaie di Bonate. The painting of the Virgin in a red robe, with two grey doves in her hands, was made under the instruction of Adelaide herself.

Freemasonry In France: A Brief History

Masonic history has been (and still is) the area of predilection for inducements or hasty generalizations, made more hazardous by passionate allegiances, including the eternal conspiracy theory. Conspirators are definitely everywhere. The alleged Freemason plot comes to us from Abbé Barruel whose work consisted of asserting (more than truly establishing) that the French Revolution had been a process organized for decades in lodges and clubs, especially Jacobin, in order to allow the liberal bourgeoisie to seize power.

There is some basis to this intuition, but it must be examined through the small end of the telescope, if only to give some solid arguments to this entirely sensible idea which deserves to have its rational character and historical foundations demonstrated.

Freemasonry was introduced in France in 1725. The founders were three Catholic Jacobites with flowery names, exiles from their own country – Derwentwater, MacLeane and O’Héguerty.

At its beginnings in France, the movement was an almost exclusively Parisian even and even an event of the “Left Bank,” and was born and developed in the district dominated by the Maurist abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, that cosmopolitan district, where lived most of the foreigners to the capital. The meeting of the first Saint-Thomas Lodge took place at an English caterer’s, in the rue des Boucheries, in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; and the first known members were mostly emigrants.

The history of the beginnings of French masonry quickly becomes that of its divisions. Ideological diversification took place within this Parisian setting, around 1732. Very quickly, personalities from London set up Anglican rite lodges: the history of French masonry would be played out for a few years on this original duality.

After 1732, there arose ateliers, under the great lodge of England, whose spirit contrasted with that of the first Masonic houses of Jacobite origin. From its first beginnings, French Freemasonry encountered politics. The reason is not difficult to understand. Founded and animated by Jacobites, the first Saint-Thomas Lodge (the lodge of the grand master), could not but be suspect by the Grand Lodge of London, for it sought to create a rival masonry on the continent. Hence the recognition granted in 1732 by the Grand Lodge of England to Saint Thomas No. 2, which included the Duke of Picquigny, governor of Picardy; M. Chauvelin, State Councilor and former Intendant of Amiens; the poet Gresset, the marquises of Locmaria and Armentières; Mr. Davy de La Fautrière, adviser to parliament and former member of the Club de l’Entresol, who rubbed shoulders with a silversmith named Le Breton. If the left bank provided shelter for the first assizes of the order, soon enough, it became customary to hold meetings either on the right bank, in the hotels of Soissons and Gèvres – famous gaming houses in Paris – or outside the city walls, in some cabaret in the suburbs, at La Courtille or at the Quai de la Râpée.

Worried about the growth of predominantly Jacobite masonry and which therefore was hostile to the Hanoverian monarchy, the Grand Lodge of London created rival lodges. At the end of 1735 or 1736, a third lodge (of Louis d’Argent) was born in rue de Bussy, where the British Ambassador, Montesquieu, the Count of Saint-Florentin, Secretary of State, the Duke of Kingston met. It had for master the Duke of Aumont and for Worshipful Master, a painter and restorer of paintings, by the name of Collins, of English origin, who organized the new rite. A little later, in 1736, the lodge of Coustos-Villeroy was born (which had links with the Protestant bank) whose northern note was strongly marked – it included Germans and Scandinavians who outnumbered the French. Its most active and influential member was an English subject, Goustaud or Coustos, a goldsmith by trade, descendant of French Huguenots who had emigrated after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Paris therefore had four lodges at the end of 1736.

In 1737, Freemasonry, which had enjoyed rapid favor, particularly in high society, established itself in Lorraine with the new court, which gathered there around King Stanislas in 1737. Without being strictly certain, the affiliation of the king is infinitely probable and this Masonic affiliation coexisted without apparent inconvenience with the spirit of the Enlightenment and a religiosity with very emotional forms. You could call it syncretism.

There was thus very early a double current among the freemasons of France: the “Gallican” current, Catholic and anti-Hanoverian, and the “Anglican” current, of a democratic and Protestant tendency. This reformed and liberal tendency ended up supplanting the Catholic and Jacobite elements which, however, survived in the provinces, in particular at the court of Lunéville, thanks to the tenacious actions of three persons: Dominique O’Héguerty, Louis de Tressan and the abbot, François-Vincent-Marc de Beauvau-Craon, Primate of Lorraine.

Many of these noble-lineage Masons, often flanked by an enterprising commoner who was the real animator, did not go beyond snobbery. The Goustaud-Villeroy lodge maintained that the order was not an order of chivalry, but of society; and that although several lords and princes were happy to be in it, any man of probity could be admitted without wearing the “sword.”

The nobility was found more in the Scottish rite, with its glorification of the Christian knight, according to a very hierarchical ceremonial, and with all its traditions and its outlook. This explains the permanence of the two Masonic obedience. One according to the Jacobite rite, esoteric and chivalrous, refuge of an aristocracy still attached to its past splendor. The other, the Hanoverian rite, rationalist, liberal and anti-Roman, welcoming to the big bourgeoisie admiring the Enlightenment. The first developed in societies that remained both seigneurial and Catholic, such as that of Lorraine; the second, naturally, found its chosen ground in Paris.

How did they develop in the rest of France? It is up to historians to respond to that; and this is undoubtedly enlightening in the French regions and the differences in resistance.

These associations were then secret, in the sense of being unofficial and private. To the notion of association, the Masonic practice of the time added those of leisure, pleasure, agreement and spontaneous sociality (outside the State and traditional hierarchies) – all notions that cut across and transcended orders and classes. Put into practice, they had every chance of attracting everybody; and there were many, including those forms of sociability which fulfilled more or less avowed and expected egalitarian aspirations. Relations were based on the principle of equality between men as individuals; and the internal hierarchy of lodges was independent of the hierarchies of the surrounding society. According to historian Ran Halévy, Masonic lodges were thus at the origins of democratic sociability. We can certainly believe that.

It was not until 1737 that the existence of Freemasonry was revealed to a still small public, and at the same time as the political orientation of the movement was revealed. Before that date, the police gazettes made no mention of it. No more than that of London, the French government, could not ignore the activity of the lodges. Its attitude was quite embarrassed. The all-powerful Cardinal de Fleury, who narrowly prevented Louis XV’s initiation into the mysteries of the order, very much warned against Freemasonry. He was behind the police searches carried out in 1737, which brought to light rather suddenly the existence and activity of the Parisian lodges. The police confined themselves to harassment – they bothered a few accomplices, innkeepers who had hosted lodges, but they were careful not to prosecute influential Masons or dignitaries, which would have raised a considerable scandal, affecting the entourage of the king. It was difficult to question or arrest princes, dukes and peers, knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit, a Minister of State (Marshal d’Estrées), two Secretaries of State, not to mention magistrates, ecclesiastics, and so on.

On the eve of the Revolution, there were 650 lodges and some 35,000 affiliates, if not more. It was this new, predominantly Protestant Freemasonry that undoubtedly played a major role in the genesis of the Revolution. The revolutionary principle was at work there, all the more effective as it was more involuntary, implicit and discreet. From discretion to secrecy, there is only one step. The Grand Lodge was regulator until 1773. It was then that the Grand Orient took over. It emphasized the revolutionary trait, and therefore enforced it.

French freemasonry after 1773 was more clearly in contradiction with what remained of order in society – for instance that which traditionally embodied this order, in particular, the Church, which was often reproached for its tendency to recognize the authority of Caesar, and thus alienating the law of Jesus.

Faced with the event called “Revolution,” the “fourth estate,” that of the pen, was divided into two, regardless of rank, status, or fortune. But besides the means available to those who held state power, the fight of the Friends of the King was not fought on an equal footing and it was valued above all by the quality of a thought that asserted itself. It ended in a bloodbath. Those who left in time survived.

But it was easier to guillotine than extract the idea whose line of development (or survival) we can readily follow – from the Friends of the King to ultracism and legitimism, from legitimism to the moral order, from traditionalism to Action française. The continuity of such a current of though tests, in a way, the assertion of the Masonic conspiracy dear to Father Barruel, who had glimpsed a relationship that he was unable to explain and that serial history has begun to shed light on.

“Church of the Republic,” “Missionary of liberalism,” “School of equality” – all would gradually assert themselves as a true society within society.

There is hardly any chance that this history will find today the historical light which is necessary to understand how we went from a seemingly innocent association to a secret society, to a Church of the Republic, whose avowed aim today is to build a counter-Christianity – and therefore to destroy Catholicism.


Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows the initiation of an apprentice Freemason, a colored engraving from ca. 1805, based on a French one of 1745.

We Have Two Memories

In the past, when ancient history was still being taught a little (in 6th grade, the part on great civilizations), our children learned of the worth of Egypt and Babylonia in the history of human adventure. Ancient Greece weighed heavily in these programs. The grand dame. We owe her a lot, not everything, but a lot. Little was known about Indian civilization. Their jumble of gods, it is true, would doubtless have panicked the schoolchildren: the teachers even more. Besides, with the two great ancestral lands alone, there was plenty to do, even before Sumer and the Epic of Gilgamesh were extolled. Above all, whether it is conscious or not matters little, this teaching around these various deities was accompanied by a questioning of the origin of civilizations: how they are born, how they die. With India, we must add: how they endure.

Having emerged and developed at the same time as the old ancestral lands of Mesopotamia and Egypt, this ancient civilization does not belong like them to a bygone past: the Indian adventure continues before our eyes. This durability, it owes to tradition. The literary texts on which all Indian conceptions are based were composed at a very ancient time, and transmitted orally for a surprisingly long period before being written. If alterations occurred, they manifested themselves very slowly; distorting an initial theme with flourishes, but retaining for millennia the trace of the initial theme. Buddhist texts also participate in this strange mania for an endlessly modulated motif, which explains a literature of overwhelming abundance, terribly repetitive and, let’s face it, deadly boring.

Our civilizations marked by writing have forgotten that before writing, we spoke. Philosophers would say in their learned (or curious) language that there is ontological pre-decision of speech over writing. Whether at the level of the individual, or at the level of an emerging society, all civilization has first of all an oral language, which it can fix in writing (or choose not to), grammar and tutti quanti. The birth of writing, we know thanks to Jean Bottero, is trivial, for accounting purposes – we need to calculate, record stocks, write a contract; it’s commercial recording. And then comes poetry, the ardent desire to constitute a romance of the people, the land, the kings. An ardent desire to last, therefore, to transmit. Because we have two memories, as the geneticist Pierre Grasset said. Culture must reprogram itself; hence the importance of this cultural memory, which increasingly depends on the written word.

But the written part of the transmission is analogously, as in the theater, the text. We transmit through practices, uses, doings, and know-how; and then also, in addition, through writing – which matters. Don’t get me wrong. But it is not the main thing.

We had a great orientalist university tradition, and in particular an Indianist tradition, which brought India into our episteme (with a lot of myopias and a few mirages). We also have had an anthropological tradition of Africanists who made known the gesture of the Dogons of Mali and the techniques of orality, of this African palaver which we must be careful not to speak ill of: it is a dimension of the “phatic” language. as much as instrumental.

Why is it so difficult for us to admit that the Gospels could have been spoken and recited? How come it is so difficult for us to admit that the Gospels could have been composed perfectly in Aramaic by Aramaeans, even though they are said to be crude people, except John? Simple people do not speak the language of culture; they do not speak Greek or Latin. How is it that it is impossible for us to come back to the question of these gospels supposedly written in Greek, despite the work of Jean Carmignac, Claude Tresmontant, and more recently, those of Pierre Perrier, Joseph Alichoran and Jean -François Froger? The work of Pierre Perrier in particular has made it possible to unearth this tradition of orality which comes to us from early Christianity. This obviously calls into question some dogmas that come from centuries of Protestant exegesis, from that critical historicism which is nothing but an apostasy shrouded in academic scientificity.

Coming from a Jewish religion, born in an eastern land, where Aramaic had been spoken for centuries, and where Hebrew was undoubtedly still spoken, Christ did not incarnate as a kind of an uneducated Aramaic man, among Aramaeans even more uneducated than he, from whom he chose men precisely for their ignorance, the supposed guarantor of an equally supposed humility, as certain ignorant priests tell us on Sundays in their astonishing homilies.

The language is not there first of all because men want to talk to each other and sign marriage or sales contracts. The language is there because there is speech; that is to say, the ultimate human fact. Language is there for man to enter the world of meaning and knowledge, starting with the knowledge of his own nature.

The Apostles were undoubtedly imperfect men; and their first imperfection was that they did not always fully understand what Rabbi Yeshuah was explaining to them, which from time to time made him nervous or at least insistent: “Do you understand what I am telling you?” Apparently, they did not fully understand these stories of the temple being His body; at least not until the Helper in charge of the rest of the company arrived.

Vedic India has transmitted for millennia texts it held to be sacred, the Vedas. A caste of Brahmins (people specialized in the management of the sacred word), assumed or arrogated to themselves the charge of the transmission of this revealed knowledge, transmitted orally; then fixed in writing, in Sanskrit say the specialists. On this point, we can believe them.

Thus, oral transmission did constitute a sort of monopoly of Indian and African civilizations, while the Christianized European world became incapable for all eternity of any memorization of texts considered important, so important that we too have specialists who are in charge of this sacred deposit and whose transmission comes from the Apostles. Yes, we too have a certain sense of Transmission.

Eastern Christians have the gospel in their hearts, memorized from childhood, through supporting each other with tonic-postural techniques and gestures linked to the bi-lateralization of the human body. The whole Bible is actually written in an oral style, intended to support this effort at memorization, something modern translations fail to capture and even carefully redact. In his time, Marcel Jousse had the intuition of these memorial gestures and had attempted a new anthropology. If it didn’t get the impact it deserved, it’s not just because of an unnecessarily complex formulation of these brilliant hunches. This is because the Himalayas of prejudice against our sacred texts, the legacy of two centuries of largely Protestant historicist exegesis, has continued to wreak havoc.

Eastern Christians knew the Gospel by heart, rooted in their very corporeality, with the language associated with it, the tongue of Christ. The ferocious hatred which persists against this heroic people, the last vestige of the divine Presence incarnate, through the spoken language and the kept traditions, invites us to take seriously the question of the Prince of this world. And their heroism makes the poverty of our lived and internalized Christianity all the more pathetic.

Our Christian children – those few that actually still go to catechism – have catechism books which begin with the great cycle of evolution from the primate cousin to the modern man, with the different stages that show how he gradually came to stand straight. How we were able to print this lamentable diagram on the first page – that should leave us speechless. And furious.

The question of evolution is obviously an intriguing affair. And it is arguably one of the most formidable questions about the chasm between the text of Genesis and the scientific fiction which accounts for our supposed evolution. The respective cemeteries of the history of science and that of philosophy are full of scientific fictions.

Children should be told that when faced with the question of the “historical” origin of man, we do not have and doubtless never will have a clear answer; and that it matters little to know that there is a very old skeleton that the stupid media hastens to proclaim “the first man.” A day will come when an even older skeleton will be found that will be claimed to be the prototype of humanity.

The answer that Genesis gives are the principles of intelligibility of our human nature that does not depend on time, since it comes from a creator God. Or that doesn’t just depend on the weather. Our horizon is not Covid 19, nor biological death that we wave before our eyes with great reinforcements of anxiety-provoking speeches. Our horizon is participation in Eternity – when history and creation will have entered into the fullness of what we call the “times.” Then we will see history as it really is – not an endless march of empires, a frightening succession of wars, of kingships, of dynasties, of destruction, of competing economies, of stories of pandemics, of techniques, great men and forgotten peoples – but like the march of Love, silent and yet royal.

Thomas Aquinas said that time is coextensive with Eternity. That’s a difficult concept. In the past, certain words, certain formulas were given to meditate in the night of intelligence – there, where a new light sparkles – that of the Helper who is waiting that we might enter it, during this dark night of our immortal soul – that we may hear and see what human language cannot teach us when it has become too poor or too arrogant. And that maybe which it wasn’t meant to teach us.

We have two memories, the cultural memory and the memory of Eternity. The one, singled out in one or more languages, in a country or a region, in a genealogy. It is precious and it is fragile. The other. carried by the history of Israel, and extended by 2000 years of Christianity and ecclesial history, in a Revelation that it is up to Christians to transmit, by way of all their living flesh, in all the languages of the world, because He who is its object is the living Word, the source of all living words.


Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows, “Over Eternal Quiet,” by Isaac Levitan, painted in 1894.

For the Birds and the Rest of Us

Whether your only experience with birds is that of chasing away pigeons stubbornly trying to nest on your balcony, or whether you spent your last pre-Covid vacation trudging through tropical forest in search of the elusive Pinto’s Spinetail, Richard Pope’s Flight from Grace: A Cultural History of Humans and Birds (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021) is a must read. Passionately engaged, wide-ranging, eye-opening, witty, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, the book asks the readers to consider the relationship of humans and birds throughout the millennia, ultimately posing a sobering question: is humanity willing to do anything to stop the extinction of birds that is occurring at a shocking and ever-accelerating rate.

Pope, a distinguished scholar of Russian literature and culture, poet, writer, and a dedicated bird-watcher, brings a scholarly rigour but also a delightful sense of humour and a decidedly fresh perspective to an examination of how humanity thought of birds from the time that humans could think.
His account of the fraught human-bird relationship begins with prehistoric art, images of birds found in caves so deep in the earth that getting there is a terrifying and hazardous journey even today. It is in these caves, or as Pope memorably describes them, these “vast, hidden power sites deep underground in the forbidden realm of powerful spirits…ideal spots for vision quests, rituals, and magic…[like] geodes—plain and unprepossessing on the outside but repositories of stunning beauty inside” (13). that we find images of birds.

Most of these bird images—some painted and some scratched into the cave surface—yield little information to a non-birder. Pope, on the other hand, encountering a 30,000-year-old etching of what is, to the non-initiated, a vaguely-owlish looking bird on the wall of the French Chauvet Cave, teases out a wealth of insights: the etching is most likely that of the Eurasian eagle-owl, “a top predator of impressive size and fierceness, perhaps the largest owl in the world” that frequently inhabits caves; the parallel markings on the body are actually indicative of a back view, with wings folded and “its full face twisted at 180 degree angle to look straight at us over its back” (18). Owls, in case you didn’t know, are among the very few creatures to be able to rotate their faces fully—“something else that makes owls unique and magical…Owls see all” (18). It is inconceivable, Pope argues, that the Owl of Chauvet was drawn only for aesthetic satisfaction; instead, “The owl, in the most sacrosanct part of the cave, was a bird deity with power and capabilities” (19).

Beginning with the Paleolithic owl deity, Pope takes the reader on a dynamic six-chapter tour through time and space, with chapters dedicated to the sacred birds of Mesopotamia and Egypt; Peru; and those of Greece and the Judeo-Christian world. Altogether, it is an impressive demonstration of how an early worship of bird deities morphed into the bird goddesses of the Neolithic era, and then—as humans became more anthropocentric in their outlook—into anthropomorphic gods whose sacred status was reinforced by an addition of wings or who had bird avatars: from the owl deity to the owl of Athena. Here again, Pope’s avian lens allows him to re-examine and challenge well-established conventions. For example, in Homer’s epics, Athena is described as glaukoopis; for those of us who need to brush up on our Classical Greek, Pope helpfully explains that glaukos, when applied to eyes, usually means green or blue, which is how her eyes are rendered in most translations. But another meaning of glaukos (gleaming) is connected to glauks (owl), because that is how the owl’s huge eyes appear to the observer. In Athena’s case, Pope posits, the word really means “owl-eyed, in reference to her knowing glare and that of the bird she once was” (119).

Owls were not the only birds to be deified. Vultures (associated with the cult of the dead), ibises, eagles, doves, and a host of other birds were worshipped for one reason or another, and their images, statues, figurines, and objects associated with them were documented at countless archeological sites all over the world. But why this worship of birds? What is it that makes birds so special and exciting to humans? Pope points to two main factors: flight and song, and devotes two thoroughly documented and lavishly-illustrated chapters to each of these in the second part of his book.

Flight is almost solely associated with birds and, Pope contends, is one of the main reasons for seeing birds as sacred: “flight is miraculous and godlike…and wings are its agent and symbol,” which is why severed avian wings abound in Paleolithic sites (136). From winged ancient goddesses like Ishtar, to winged Greek gods and winged magical creatures, such as Pegasus, wings have always been perceived as the sign of divinity. Drawing on his expertise of working with medieval texts, Pope shows how wings were assigned to angels in Christian iconography from fourth-century onward as a way of visually identifying them as divine (halos were already taken for saints). Pope quotes John Chrystostom, a fourth-century Christian theologian, who explains that angels are shown flying “not because angels have wings…[but to show] the loftiness of their nature. The wings, then, reveal the lofty natures of the powers above” (142). Humans, as ancient myths suggest, and Renaissance-era sketches confirm, have always longed to replicate bird flight, a mark of divinity, and failed to achieve it until recent times, although as Pope points out, flight by plane “is a mere surrogate for real, unassisted flight, and is entirely lacking in magic” (136).

Besides envying the birds their flight, humans have been enthralled by their song. Because of the association of birds with the divine, it was assumed since ancient times that bird song carried arcane knowledge (hence, Roman augurs who specialized in interpreting the will of the gods through birdsong). It is birdsong, Pope contends, that “tightly links humans and birds to each other and both of them to the divine” (164). According to neurobiologists, he writes, humans are closer to songbirds than to their closest relative, the great apes, when it comes to speech acquisition; humans and birds also share a surprising number of neurological similarities. Over and above that, humans and birds share the sheer joy of making music (it turns out that avian brains flood with pleasurable dopamine when they sing), something that poets knew all along, Pope shows, by citing lines about birdsong from the poems of Shelley, Frost, Keats, and other poets.

Indeed, one the many delights of the book is Pope’s readiness to support and further his claims not only by mining various archeological, anthropological, zoological, neurobiological, ecological, and historical sources, but also by finding illustrations in sources as diverse as the Qur’an, Dante, Schopenhauer, Mozart, Lucretius, the Venerable Bede, Marx, J.K. Rowling, and—taking advantage of his superb knowledge of Russian literature and culture—Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, Russian icons, Russian medieval tales, and so forth. There is also a plethora of photographs of various bird-related artifacts, some of them little known and stunningly beautiful, and of birds themselves, as well as paintings by El Greco, Chagall, and others. The book itself, in fact, is an object of beauty, with the jacket, by the award-winning jacket designer David Drummond, showing a detail from a Georgian-era portrait, where a bright yellow bird perches trustingly on a shoulder of a young woman, and with the light-blue front and sunny-yellow back flaps evoking bird plumage, but also the skies and the sunshine of the birds’ higher element. Pope would have undoubtedly pointed out here (as he does in the book) that we share our sense of aesthetics with the birds.

All this beauty makes the ugly picture that Pope unfolds for us in the ultimate section of the book, titled “Our Betrayal of Birds,” even more shocking. Pope’s central thesis is that as humans moved toward anthropocentrism from the Neolithic era onward, and developed modes of thinking which encouraged homo sapiens to see himself as separate from and towering above all the other species on the planet, our attitude toward all other creatures who share the planet with us became shamelessly predatory. Focussing on the Western Civilization, Pope argues that Judaism and Christianity, in particular, promoted a worldview in which man was created in an image of a non-animistic god, and completely separated from his fellow creatures, and that the rise of science during the Age of Reason drove “the last nail into the coffin of animistic thought” (219) with dire consequences for our fellow creatures.

Taking among his examples the lines from Genesis 9:2-3, about God telling Noah that all beasts, fowl, fishes, and other creatures are delivered into his hand, Pope makes the case that Judaism and Christianity convinced followers that all non-human life forms are to be used as humans see fit. One could, of course, counter this argument by pointing, for example, to the prohibition in Deuteronomy against plowing with a donkey and an ox tethered together, as God’s directive that mankind should take care of animals and their needs. Nonetheless, the evidence that Pope marshals of the appalling ways humans have actually been treating their fellow beings, namely birds, over the last two millennia is both disturbing and undeniable. That birds should be treated this way, creatures whom we have once worshipped and who still obsess us (Pope writes that almost 1 in 4 North Americans is a bird enthusiast), is particularly outrageous.

We have killed birds for their meat, their feathers (as part of our fashion industry and our cultural practices—ceremonial headdresses made out of eagle plumes, birds of paradise feathers, and the like), their habitats (forests cleared for farmland and golf courses), the damage they do to crops (forgetting that they also kill insects that wipe out our crops), for science (no matter how inane the experiment and how obscure its purpose), for exercise (hunting), for fun (that’s how the great auk became extinct), on purpose and inadvertently (the bird population of the island of Guan was wiped out after the unintentional introduction of the brown tree snake). Pope pulls no punches: we are all culpable, from industries and large corporations, to small-time farmers, to denizens of tall buildings (bright lights confuse and kill migrating birds), to backyard gardeners (depriving birds of food by dousing our plantings with herbicides and insecticides), to cat owners (free-roaming cats kill “between 1.3 billion and 4 billion” birds a year [202]). We, humans, homo sapiens, the species, are responsible for the decline of bird populations throughout the world and for the extinction of 190 species of birds in the last 500 years alone (currently, 1,200 species are under threat of extinction). No wonder Pope chose as an epigraph for his concluding chapter the words of the embittered prophet Jeremiah: “Destruction upon destruction is cried…all the birds of the heavens were fled.”

But Pope’s book is not a dirge—it is a call to action. Any student of Russian literature will recognize the title of his last chapter, “What is to be Done?” as the title of the 1863 radical novel written by Nikolai Chernyshevsky with a prescription of how to take Russia to a radiant future—a novel frequently called a revolutionary’s handbook. Pope is also advocating for a revolution—a revolution in how we think about birds and nature itself. We, humans, are not that different from birds, nor are we separate from nature, and the decisions that we make in our everyday life must take into consideration our larger home and all of our fellow residents, feathered and not. Ultimately, we must become “better stewards of the earth” (240).

Unlike the utopist Chernyshevsky, however, Pope cannot be accused of naivety: “Because of our propensity for violence, our greed, and our selfishness,” he writes, “it is unlikely that we humans will act collectively and soon to halt the degradation of our biosphere…Most people simply do not care and are quite unwilling to make any sacrifice for nature if it entails any degree of discomfort for themselves” (245). All the same, Pope points out, if we are too corrupt as a society to act collectively, we can still act individually—in fact, we must, even in the face of failure: “Make no mistake about it,” he writes, “the issue is one of morality.” To that end, Pope provides a 13-point practical list of what each one of us can do to “slow down and even prevent some of this degradation [of the biosphere], helping birds and other animals to survive and giving our own lives more meaning through ethical conduct and a closeness to our environment” (239).

Essentially, Pope proposes that each one of us becomes a dissident within our criminally indifferent society, no matter how hopeless it might seem. Citing Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s position on the “ontological existence of evil and its unstoppable nature,” Pope comes to the same conclusion: “We may not be able to stop [the desecration of nature], but we can refuse to abet it” (233). Is it a foolish act when seen in the context of the seemingly inexorable degeneration of our biosphere and our individual helplessness? Perhaps. But Pope leaves us with this thought: “True folly is to assume that we will not damage ourselves severely if we sit back and just watch as others recklessly damage the planet” (248). A world without birds is a horrible prospect. Let’s hope it never comes to pass.


Maria Bloshteyn, PhD, researches Russia and the West and is the author of The Making of a Counter-Culture Icon: Henry Miller’s Dostoevsky. She is also a literary translator and has published Alexander Galich’s Dress Rehearsal: A Story in Four Acts and Five Chapters, and Anton Chekhov’s The Prank.  Her various translations have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. Her most recent book is Russia Is Burning. Poems of the Great Patriotic War.


The featured image shows, “Young woman with parrot,” by Frédéric-Pierre Tschaggeny, painted in 1872.

Jean Doresse And The Gnostics

The Chenoboskion-Nag Hammadi manuscripts are leather-bound codices (papyri, that is), dating from the middle of the 4th century AD, and found in 1947, northwest of Luxor, by Egyptian peasants, and since then kept at the Coptic Museum of Cairo. These compromise twelve papyrus codices, plus the remains of a thirteenth, totaling nearly 1,300 pages and over fifty Coptic texts, most of them completely unknown. Only one of these codices was acquired by the Coptic Museum in Cairo, as early as October 1946; it was not until 1975 that the entire collection was assembled there.

The result of a fortuitous find, the discovery of Nag Hammadi early aroused the attention of both antique dealers in Egypt and the authorities of the Coptic Museum. It was not one of those theatrical finds, which officials, journalists and the curious flock to. As with the Desert Scrolls of Judah (commonly referred to as “the Qumran”), almost all episodes of this discovery were suppressed, and almost all details of the history and actual content of the manuscripts have long remained unknown to this day.

Be that as it may, a whole apocalyptic and Gnostic literature then emerged from the earth. The direct sources that were so sorely lacking in research were finally found.

The first Europeans to have knowledge of the discovery were French personalities or scientists. This discovery involved several things: the search for the manuscripts dispersed by the peasants who had exhumed them; field investigations to find out the location of the find; the first readings of the pages less damaged by time; the identification of the writings that came to light there and the first inventory. All of this was the work of Jean Doresse (1917-2007), the main witness to the first stages of this major event in the history of research.

After auditing the lectures of Henri Charles Puech (in the section of religious sciences of l’École pratique des Hautes Études), Doresse joined the CNRS in 1941 and became a research grant holder in October 1944. In September 1947, he found himself in Egypt, in order to carry out, as “excavator for the Louvre museum,” the first of five missions, financed by the Archaeological Excavations Commission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October 1947 (he was thirty years old), he informed C.H. Puech of the existence of a papyrus volume,140 pages long and containing Gnostic writings in Coptic Sahidic (the current Codex III). Thus began an exchange of correspondence (which lasted until 1970) between the young researcher, who had privileged access to the manuscripts, and the recognized scholar who, although unable to read or translate the writings, was nevertheless best able to interpret them.

A scientific committee made up of various personalities was then created with a view to publication. It consisted of Doresse, of course, along with Togo Mina, curator of the Cairo Museum at the time of the discovery and who first recognized the importance of these manuscripts, Canon Drioton, renowned Egyptologist and director of the Antiquities Department of Egypt until 1952, Charles Henri Puech, arguably the best specialist in Gnosis and Manichaeism, and Walter Till, the specialist in the Berlin Codex. But bad luck of “an evil sort” (to use Doresse’s own words) would plague what concerned the acquisition and publication of these ancient documents. Two years in to the work, Togo Mina died in 1949; he was always hounded by the thought that these manuscripts would disappear from Egypt, and he thus made Doresse promise to protect them from the inevitable greed.

In 1958, Doresse published, Les livres secrets des gnostiques d’Egypte (The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics), the result of archaeological adventure with multiple twists and turns; the book went through several editions. According to Doresse, “the style [of the book] reflects the fever of the time when the characters involved in this find were still alive.” He presented the 44 unpublished Gnostic treatises, narrated the adventures of their discovery, the vicissitudes of their purchase by the Coptic Museum, and then he explained the unfortunate delays in their publication – revolutions and wars are not favorable times for archaeologists.

After gathering all the information provided by the heresiologists and quickly pinpointing the gist of the already known Gnostic treatises, he proposed a provisional classification of them into four categories: prophetic revelations; pseudepigraphic writings taking on the aspect of Christian writings; gospels of a Christianized gnosis; and finally, those treatises more or less close to hermetic writings. He summarized the content of each treatise, by first trying to identify it, often successfully, by way of the information provided by Irenaeus Epiphanes and the Philosophumena.

Doresse also spoke, in a veiled manner, in the introductions to each of the new editions, of the harmful consequences of this discovery for his own existence and his career. The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics was planned as a trilogy, the first volume of which was then titled, Introduction aux écrits gnostiques coptes découverts à Khénoboskion (Introduction to the Coptic Gnostic Writings Discovered at Chenoboskion), and published in Paris, in 1958. Two other volumes were planned. Doresse then outlined the main features of a Gnostic doctrine by taking up a suggestive study by Henri Charles Puech, la Gnose et le Temps (Gnosis and Time). From the start, Doresse understood that these texts from Chenoboskion, much more numerous and evocative than those of Qumran, had greater historical significance.

Like the Qumran manuscripts, they relate to an age which, for the development of human consciousness, remains the greatest. This is the moment when the individual found himself most intensely placed before the problems of personal destiny and the destiny of empires and civilizations, which he regarded as definitely established. The central moment for these ages is the Cross. We know this today, but that age was the first to say it – we were in the presence of a veritable library that attested to the existence of a Gnostic Church which maintained links with groups located in other regions.

Very quickly, Doresse formulated the hypothesis that in all likelihood these were documents from the library of the monastery of Saint Pachomius, hidden there at the end of the 4th century, after the prohibition on Gnostic literature by Athanasius of Alexandria, and by the decrees of Emperor Theodosius I.

The Gospel Of Thomas

Such a discovery was not without consequences. Gnostic studies were soon drawn into an ever-expanding whirlwind that was difficult to curb. The eye of the storm was the Gospel of Thomas.

The more or less Christian apocrypha, used by the sectarians of Chenoboskion, was then given the authority of well-known apostles: James, Thomas, Philip, Matthias, John and Peter. The content of these texts is often trivial, not fundamentally contradicting that of the canonical Gospels, but distorting Christian doctrine and deviating from it. In general, the Gnostics of Chenoboskion wanted to introduce into their doctrine a false Christianity by hatching so-called Gospels put under the names of the Apostles, or even by placing certain revelations in the mouth of the Savior. Basilides had also fabricated a compilation of this kind.

Among these adulterated Gospels, the Gospel of Thomas made a lot of noise and gave rise to many rumors, not always of good quality. Many newspapers of the time argued, on the strength of false, distorted, or misinterpreted news, that this was nothing less than a “fifth Gospel;” that it revealed “unknown facts” about the life of Christ; or that it seemed “almost certainly” translated from Aramaic.

C.H. Puech then pointed out, rather fittingly, that to speak of a “fifth Gospel” did not make much sense. If we believe this to be so, then we would have to exclude the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) whose authority and authenticity has been determined by the Church. Or, we would have to recognize all works of the evangelical type as “gospels,” whether or not they were canonical; and we would then be dealing with an abundance of extra-canonical texts. And in that case, why give only a fifth place to the Gospel according to Thomas, or reserve that spot just for him, rather than any other work of the same sort?

This Gospel of Thomas is, in fact, nothing more than a collection of one hundred and fourteen logia; but it is the largest collection ever transmitted of the “Sayings of Jesus,” or “Words” attributed to Jesus. After a short preamble of four and a half lines, (and which already contains the first logion), the text is just made up of a series of sentences or words independent of each other, mechanically juxtaposed, outside of any systematic narrative-frame, and most often introduced by the stereotypical formula: “Jesus said.” An exordium which itself seems fictitious (no doubt added afterwards) specifies that these are the secret words that Jesus the Living said and that Didyma Jude Thomas wrote. It is written in Sahidic Coptic, and dates possibly from the second half of the 3rd century or, according to other specialists, from the 5th century.

Complete and written with admirable care, the Gospel of Thomas is the second of seven writings in the collection, where it appears between the long version of John’s Apokryphon and another apocryphal piece, the Gospel According to Philip. It is “apocryphal;” in other words, an esoteric text, or which takes itself as such, and which claims to record hidden, secret words, namely, words of Jesus. It is also a pseudepigraphic work since, despite its title and its preamble, both obviously fictitious, the writing cannot be traced back to the apostle, Didymus Judas Thomas. Far from uncovering unknown aspects of the life of Jesus, it presents no historical or narrative character; nor does it contain any account. And, if it relates some act of Christ, it is in an exception and merely schematic. Apart from the few lines at the beginning, it is exclusively made up of a series of words attributed to Jesus and placed end to end. Not a single one of these Words has any chance of going back to an Aramaic prototype.

Indirect sources knew of the existence of this gospel, but what is said is very vague or confusing. According to a tradition reported in the Pistis Sophia, Jesus would have, after his resurrection, entrusted to Thomas, as well as to Philip and to Matthew (or rather, as Theodor Zahn conjectures, to Matthias), the charge of relating all his actions and to record all his words. The three apostles, or disciples, would be the three witnesses whose testimony, according to Deuteronomy 19:15, and the Gospel of Matthew, would be necessary for the establishment of the truth. Thus transformed, at the whim of the Gnostics, into those of essential intermediaries, if not exclusive guarantors, of the authentic transmission of the integral and hidden teaching of Christ, their names – one could imagine – must have served to legitimize the fundamentals of the Gospels.

The introductory lines of the Gospel of Thomas can also be read, exactly reproduced in Greek, on the back of a papyrus of the 3rd century, unearthed in 1903, namely, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus No. 654. The papyri of Nag Hammadi, in fact, have made it possible to complete and rectify the Oxyrhynchus texts.

But are both the 3rd century papyrus and the Gospel of Thomas inspired by the same tradition? This is the first important question. Another is even more crucial – are all the words of Jesus collected in this Gospel, or, at least, some of them, “authentic?” Can they be traced back to Christ himself? Origen asked himself this; and with regard to one of the Sayings in this collection, Saint Jerome had to admit that there could be “gold in this mud.”

Although refusing all canonical authority to the apocrypha because of the falsehood that abounds in them (propter multa falsa), Augustine recognized that we sometimes find “some truth” in there. Puech’s response is cautious. If there are strong reasons to be assured of the inauthenticity of many of these new Sayings, all that we can do about those ones that give us pause is to establish, by more or less fragile criteria, that it is not impossible to suppose them to come from the tradition – written or oral – of contemporary Christian communities or close to the apostolic age. But, from that to concluding that they go back to Jesus Himself is leap into the unknown, the unverifiable. The Christian Church is founded primarily on authority, as was the Synagogue. The truth is what was taught by the founder and which is binding on the believer. Hence the need to know what Jesus said and what his immediate disciples heard.

However, a good number of Manichean texts exhumed, either in Central Asia or in Fayum, cite Words of Jesus which are found exactly, or with some variations, in the Nag Hamadi Library. In particular, we have only to compare the beginning of the Letter of Foundation (Epistola Fundamenti) of Mani, and the prologue to the Gospel according to Thomas, as it is restored to us, to be convinced that the founder of Manichaeism knew the same writing and was inspired by it on occasion.

But to work on a text, you need a translation, and the translation of the Gospel of Thomas was slow to appear. Years passed and the editorial work still had not borne fruit. In 1959, Jean Doresse then published L’Evangile selon Thomas (The Gospel According to Thomas), Volume II of work that began with Les livres secrets des gnostiques d’Egypt (The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics). This scholarly work of his provided researchers with a working text. Three other editions were published at the same time as the French edition: English, German and Dutch.

But by publishing this work, Doresse pulled the rug out from under Puech. The following year, Puech published a so-called “critical” edition with three other researchers, all well-known scholars. They were in such a hurry to publish that they did not wait to include with the text and its translation the critical commentary which they were preparing or claimed they were preparing. The stakes were indeed high as to which would be the preferred scholarly reference edition, cited in prestigious journals, along with the name of the editor or editors.

By this time, however, Jean Doresse had already moved on from all this, having understood that it was all needlessly contentious, and had begun work on Ethiopia.

International Greed And The End Of Certain French Research

The first editorial project was not brought to a halt by Togo Mina’s death in 1949, as Professor James M. Robinson claimed. Rather, the project was hijacked by international passions, in particular Anglo-Saxon, which also put an end to French research that had remained of Christian and Catholic inspiration.

In the early 1960s, the Director General of UNESCO, the Frenchman, René Maheu, concluded an agreement with Saroite Okasha, the Minister of Culture, and the National Council of the United Arab Republic, to publish a complete edition, edited by an international committee, chosen by Egypt and UNESCO. But when it became known that several of the selected texts were already the subject of a publication project, the UNESCO endeavor was reduced to a facsimile edition which, in turn, remained more or less dormant.

Progress was not made until 1966, with the first International Colloquium on the Origins of Gnosticism, organized in Messina, at the initiative of Professor Bianchi, and which came at the end of three years of preparation. At the Colloquium, held from April 13 to 18, 1966, sixty-four topics, all mimeographed and distributed three months earlier to all registered participants, were discussed at length.

During one week and in general assembly, ten areas of research were reviewed: the current state of Gnostic texts; the definition of Gnosticism; Gnosticism and Iran; Gnosticism and Mesopotamia; Gnosticism and Egypt; Gnosticism and Qumran; Gnosticism and Judaism; Gnosticism and Christianity; Gnosticism and Hellenism; Gnosticism and Buddhism. The result was a document, which was first submitted for discussion and then went to approval by the participants. Then it was published in Italian, French, English and German, with a series of proposals concerning the scientific use of the terms, “gnosis” and “Gnosticism:”

“Gnosticism” – a term of modern creation – defines a movement of thought centered on the notion of “knowledge” (in Greek, gnôsis) which developed in the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. On the other hand, the term “gnosis” – whose use is attested since the 2nd century indicates universal tendencies of thought which has in common the notion of knowledge, from which, for example, also derive movements as diverse as the Kabbalah, Manichaeism or Mandaeism.

While relevant, this distinction is not widely accepted today. A pity, as it does reflect the historical reality of the great constructions restored by the Apologists; and it does make it possible to account for gnosis as an anthropological phenomenon – the same leaven making bread of different shapes, often bewildering, baked with adulterated flour, and in general, largely inedible.

The Colloquium, at least, gave occasion for direct contact with the vestiges of Egyptian monasticism: an immense religious domain, extending over twenty kilometers in length and which contains the ruins of a set of more than seven hundred monasteries and hermitages erected from the 4th to the 9th century. The delegates spent a day in Wadi Natrun and visited three of the four Coptic monasteries that remain in the Nitrian Desert. They were delighted that the monastery of Saint Macarius, reduced to six old monks by 1969, had then more than forty. What now remains, however, is a long way from the fifty convents, most of which founded in the 4th century, which covered the site, and attested to the flowering of Christianity, as well as to the destructive power of Islam.

In 1970, UNESCO and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture founded the International Committee for the Nag Hammadi Codices and appointed Professor James M. Robinson, an expert in religious sciences as secretary, which made it easy for him to supervise the project, in collaboration with the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont (California). The Facsimile Edition of the Nag-Hammadi Codices was then published by Brill, and Harper and Row, in 12 volumes, between 1972 and 1984. Robinson then edited the American edition of these texts, completed in 1995. He was then closely associated, as editor general, with the publication of another collection of manuscripts of great importance for the study of Judaism and Christian origins, that of the so-called “Qumran” texts.

In 1987 a new English edition was published by the scholar Bentley Layton (Harvard University), entitled, The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations. The volume included new translations of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, and also extracts from heresiarch authors and other Gnostic texts.

UNESCO Takes Over

In 1973, a new project took shape, a French one, this time. Professor Jacques-É. Ménard made numerous visits to the theological faculty of the University of Laval, at the invitation of Professor Hervé Gagné. It was only a matter of translating and editing the texts of Nag Hammadi into French. He considers the Gospels to be a matter of literature. Administrative responsibility for the first Quebec team was entrusted to Hervé Gagné, and Jacques-É. Ménard was appointed as the first principal researcher and scientific director of the project (he did also form and lead a team in Strasbourg). Michel Roberge was appointed as the second principal researcher, with the task of leading the Quebec team. The list of company employees varied over the years, among them Louis Painchaud, Anne Pasquier, Paul-Hubert Poirier and Michel Roberge.

This joint project between France and Canada aimed to produce, in separate booklets, critical editions of each of the Coptic texts of Nag Hammadi and Berolinensis Gnosticus 8502, accompanied by original French translations, followed by commentaries, indexes and a general index to the entire collection. The delays were chronic, and in the opinion of the Quebec team the French contribution did not match their commitments. In France, Jean-Pierre Mahé, director of studies in the section of philological and historical sciences of the l’École pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, Annie Mahé, as well as Bernard Barc, of the Jean-Moulin University of Lyon were early collaborators. As well, there were Einar Thomassen from the University of Bergen, Jean-Marie Sevrin, from the Catholic University of Louvain, and John D. Turner from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Despite the delays, an international network was set up, with French, as well as Belgian, Swiss, German, Italian, Norwegian and American, researchers. More than ten Quebec researchers and as many foreign researchers, historians of religions, biblists, philologists, Hebrew scholars, linguists, or specialists in ancient Christian literature, contributed directly to the three sections of the collection, Coptic Library of Nag Hammadi, published jointly by the Presses de l’Université Laval and Peeters of Louvain.

As well, a team of German academics, located in the former GDR, and composed of Alexander Bohlig and Martin Krause, as well as New Testament specialists, Gesine Schenke, Hans-Martin Schenke and Hans-Gebhard Bethge, prepared a German translation of the texts, which appeared in 2001, under the aegis of the Humboldt University in Berlin. From 1977, Laval University worked on a French edition of these texts under the editorship of Louis Painchaud, in a collection intended for scholars, namely, le Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi (The Coptic Library of Nag Hammadi). It was not until 2007 that the Pléiade edition appeared, by Gallimard, under the editorship Jean-Pierre Mahé and Paul-Hubert Poirier.

But in 2008, there was a new publication, in French, in the form of small pamphlets authored by Professor James Robinson, in the Jardin des livres collection. The back cover blurb was oddly sensational:

In 1945, manuscripts (revolutionary for Christianity) resurfaced in Egypt, in Nag Hammadi. But since their discovery, a sort of veil has covered their content since only specialists and enthusiasts know them. However, their importance is capital, because they complete the four Gospels of Mark, John, Matthew and Luke. It took the film Stigmata and the book The Da Vinci Code for the world to discover the presence of Mary Magdalene with Christ. the Jardin des livres collection is very proud to finally publish the work of Professor James Robinson, the great world specialist.

The world was supposedly “discovering” the presence of Mary Magdalene with Christ… The world had been aware of the presence of Mary Magdalene for two thousand years already. The nature of this presence, of course, varies depending on whether it is discovered under a Christian or a Gnostic propensity.

Each booklet was preceded by a long introduction by Professor Robinson, who described, with great precision, the conditions of the discovery (which Doresse never described with such precision), and Robinson gave the framework of the research. Then more sensationalism, to say the least:

And it was precisely through the exclusion of these texts and others of the same kind that the Jewish and Christian canons were formed. The second reason is that these texts were probably considered sacred by their ancient users, on par with the canonical Scriptures, if not more so. The third, which we tend to forget, is that these texts come back to life in contemporary religious culture. The Bible and the texts of Nag Hammadi are inseparable like the inverse and the reverse of the same tradition…

This is how the idea arose that Christianity was in a way a “gnosis” which gained succeed, with the corollary that the Catholic Church carefully concealed the evidence by preventing access by the faithful to these marvelous texts which contain hidden splendors.

But undoubtedly more seriously, this orientation of research has buried real perspectives opened by Doresse and Puech on the links between Gnosticism and Manichaeism.

Gnosticism And Manichaeism

By the discovery of the Chenosbokion manuscripts, the image of founders and their great Revelations was entirely shaken: they were no longer named Valentinus and Basilides (Alexandrian Gnostics that the heresiological Fathers had fought), but Nicotheus, Zoroaster and Zostrianos, Seth and Adam. Unlike the two Hellenized Alexandrians, the men who claimed to confer on these texts a status of great revelation most often concealed themselves under prestigious names, while the others taught under their own name, and no doubt wanted to be founders of schools.

We must therefore admit two successive moments in the history of Gnosis and Gnosticisms, and which perhaps have no close links: a pre-Gnosis which did not know Christianity and is supported by great names of “initiates” (and called to a great future), and a Gnosis, which was later more closely linked to Christianity and less discreet because it assumed itself as a clear rival. Pre-Gnosis, which perhaps preceded Christianity, preferred to remain discrete and in the shadows. While this pre-Gnosis was dying out in Egypt, when Pachomius launched Coptic monasticism, the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms took off in Eurasia, where they would meet Manichaeism and perhaps even Mani or his first disciples. The Acts of Archelaus (a work dating from the first quarter of the 4th century) is one of the main Christian works directed against the Manicheans, in which the author evokes a controversy that opposed Mani himself with the bishop of Kashqar in Mesopotamia. After the presentation of these discussions, the bishop recounts the life of Mani as well as that of his writings and we find in this part of the text a very precise passage on the Persian doctrines to which Mani would have resorted, as did also the Gnostic Basilides, one of whose works the bishop quotes.

Essentially, most of the Chenoboskion manuscripts do not belong to the Gnostic currents known to the Apologetic Fathers but to a current called “Sethiianism,” named after one of the alleged editors:

What forms the primitive basis of the doctrine of our Gnostics of Chenoboslion seems to be this set of revelations of Zoroaster and Seth, initially independent of Christianity, which may have arisen from daring speculations on the Old Testament.

These Gnostics had taken, it seems, something from a very particular literature of which only scraps now remain: writings composed in Greek and placed under the names of the Magi Zoroaster, Ostanes, Hystaspes, writings inspired by Iranian beliefs. From this literature arose a number of increasingly confused traditions, where Zoroaster, on occasion, changed faces to identify with the prophet Seth, son of Adam, while his descendant Saoshyant, became a figure of Jesus. This would explain why the Gnostics put some of their now lost writings under the names of Zoroaster and Zostianos, as well as of Seth and Adam.

It should also be remembered that we do not know much for sure about this mythical Zoroaster and the religion he founded, except that it is a Mazdaism reformed by a great religious genius (between a mage and prophet) about whom little has been written but much fantasized. As for Manichaeism, it is the sect founded by Mani (215-276), and which took an impressive rise in all of Eurasia. Mani claimed to be at the same time Buddha, Jesus and Zoroaster. An astonishing religious personality, he drew his doctrine from the few teachings of Baptist sects then active in Mesopotamia, (including the Elcesaites, in which he was educated, and is regarded as a Gnostic sect), as well as from Iranian mythical elements, and all blended with a very large part, the most important, of Gnosis which he knew directly.

Doresse summed up this complex story as follows: one day Manichaeism (the doctrine of Mani) came; he assimilated the main elements of expiring Gnosticism thus continuing them; he then transmitted them with his own doctrines in the Middle Ages.

At the end of the second century, with its more or less hidden multiform sects, Gnosis contaminated the entire Mediterranean world. Manichaeism appeared at the time when the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms disappeared, or more exactly spread into Eurasia where they disappeared. In reality, they undoubtedly disappeared less than melted into Manichaeism, attesting to this trait which is peculiar to it, as to Buddhism; a formidable lability, a capacity to penetrate into any apparently foreign body and to find its place there. We know that Mani claimed to be the Buddha, Jesus and Zoroaster. He thus assumed in his modest person the totality of religious history in order to bring it to the fulfillment it calls for.

When and how, then, were Christian elements, some authentic, others fictitious and fabricated, added to the oldest writings? Because it was from such a meeting that gnosis was authentically and definitively born, and without doubt, it should be pointed out, the Alexandrian Gnosticisms of the 2nd century (Basilides, Valentinus, Isidore, Marcion). There are better questions to ask. Is the Gnostic current of Chenoboskion rooted directly in Christianity already established in the manner of the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms (Basilides, Valentinus, Isidore), which founded a community after their excommunication from the Church? Is it transplanted directly into a composite, syncretistic soil? Is it related to currents of Judaism or to a specific rabbinical current, which we now know to have developed what is called “gnosis?” So-called primitive Christianity, in other words, apostolic, was already quite consistent, but it had given rise to all kinds of comments, questions, and also counterfeits. These Gnostics were able to draw inspiration either from these counterfeits or from apostolic Christianity which they then transformed substantially for their own ends, by mixing in Iranized or Egyptianized apocalypses.

The literature of these Lower Egyptian Gnostics includes great apocalypses presented as though composed in earliest times and kept under the care of fantastical powers in holy and mysterious places. The setting often presents Christian or Judeo-Christian characteristics: the Temple forecourt, the Mount of Olives. Not only that but also a geography from Iranian traditions.

Did this prepare for the advent of Manichaeism? This was the hypothesis made by Paul Monceaux in 1913. It was fair, but it was formulated at a time when only indirect sources were available (the notices of the Fathers). The hypothesis fell into the oblivion of university research, the cellars of which are deep. Puech and Doresse gave it new vigor. It was, however, buried again, thus neutralizing all research on the links between Gnosticisms and Manichaeism and their development throughout Eurasia.

Alongside this hypothesis, was the idea of a Eurasian inculturation of Christianity, parallel to the first Hellenistic inculturation which also saw itself buried for the benefit of extravagances nourished by literature and cinematographic fictions.

Gnosis: The Archetype Of Excessive Noesis

According to the historian of religions Mircéa Eliade, one of the great common denominators of all religions (or invariants), is a nostalgia for origins.

All… Except Christianity.

Gnosis claims to achieve an archetype of noetic plenitude, founded among other things on the idea of unity: it is a question of going beyond – most often by abolishing – the bipolarities and dualisms in which man finds himself a prisoner, or in which he thinks he is a prisoner; the first of these dualisms is that of spirit and matter. Gnosis implies nostalgia for a primordial Time, for a first origin where the soul is generally conceived as a divine spark which has fallen into matter and which has retained the memory of this divine origin.

This idea originated in the foothills of the Himalayas, and it gave birth to the doctrines of ensomatosis. Of all the symbol-religious systems, gnosis is the one that most often has recourse to those doctrines, thanks to which man projects himself and his destiny on to the screen of a mythical time where he relives endlessly his fall into matter and his ascent to imagined celestial origins. Hence the pervasiveness of the ideas of the circle, of paradise, of the pleroma, of hierogamy by which the pneumatic joins its ontological and transcendental “I.” It is understandable that Neo-Platonism played a preponderant role in Gnostic doctrines. We can better understand the mistrust of Christian theology, Byzantine as well as Latin, for Platonic philosophy.

Even though it is based on erratic and misleading thought, “gnosis” nonetheless responds to a powerful human need: the desire for heaven. The major idea is that of an ascent to a Primordial Unity, which implies a soul journey through which man rediscovers his soul, therefore himself. All ascension literature proceeds from this chimerical aspiration.

In fact, Christianity is the best antidote to this illusion of an archetype of noetic fullness. It frees us from images of the circle, of the obsession with origins, and when it postulates the immortality of the soul, it cannot be a divine particle, but a participating rational breath. If we admit that gnosis is knowledge, we must bring to light the fundamental Gnostic intuition which constitutes the ultimate hinge of this senseless quest, and it is of the noetic type.

However, our noetics has a complex philosophical history, since it inherited jointly, but not in the same proportions, nor at the same historical moment, from Aristotle and Plato. It was not until Thomas Aquinas that the idea of the substantial union of soul and body, and therefore of a soul (“form of the body,” animating principle, understood as an entelechy) was developed and formulated precisely, as being endowed with all that is necessary to live; that is to say to know God. But obviously the equipment is damaged by sin and it must be restored. When, in the quarrel with Averroes, Thomas Aquinas “bursts the Avicennian ceiling,” as Etienne Gilson rightly put it, he understood that the doctrine of Averroes, inherited from Avicennian gnosis, contained a Gnostic ferment.

Conclusion

Saint Irenaeus had seen with ironic perspicacity the nature of this spiritual charlatanism: “Nothing hinders any other, in dealing with the same subject, to affix names after such a fashion as the following: There is a certain Proarche, royal, surpassing all thought, a power existing before every other substance, and extended into space in every direction. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus.”

Of all the elements of which Gnosticism is composed, none seems very original. The metaphysics is Neo-Platonism, with images and musings from the East, memories of Syria or Babylon. The moral is that of the Gospel, but often misguided, with Stoic formulas and tints of cynicism. The theories and rites of salvation, except for a few features which come from the Greek mysteries, are adventurous developments of conceptions which can be traced from Saint Paul to Origen. As for the mythology of Gnosticism, it is made up especially of borrowings from the old religions of the East, and marks a return to polytheism. Progress, if you will, but progress in reverse. And it is probably this mixture of Christianity and paganism, of religion and philosophy, East and West, which brought success to the Gnostic sects.
Gnostic pride has remained proverbial. Tertullian relates that they frowned in a mysterious manner when they said of their doctrine: “Hoc altum est” (This is profound).

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows folio 32 of Nag Hammadi Codex II, with the ending of the Apocryphon of John, and the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas, ca. 4rth century.

Saint Augustine, First Archbishop Of Canterbury

Together with St. Gregory the Dialogist (Gregory the Great, according to the Western tradition), the Pope of Rome, St. Augustine (also Austin) is venerated as “the Apostle of the English”. He was most probably born in Sicily in the mid-sixth century and became a friend of the future Pope Gregory. In his youth St. Augustine led the monastic life at St. Andrew’s monastery in Rome, which had been founded by St. Gregory, and later became its prior (the abbot’s assistant; with St. Gregory as its abbot). St. Gregory praised Augustine for his brilliant knowledge of the Scriptures and excellent administrative abilities.

Around the year 596 St. Gregory sent Augustine at the head of the mission of forty Italian monks to England. The history of this crucial mission of English and even European history is well-documented and, specifically, described by Venerable Bede in his History of the English Church and People. The prehistory of this mission is also remarkable. Once St. Gregory happened to visit a slave market in Rome where he spotted three young male slaves with fair hair from northern England. He asked the slave trader who they were and where they came from. The latter answered that they were Angles and brought from Deira (then a kingdom in northern England). The future Pope with all his heart wished that these Angles would became like angels and come from the wrath of God (“de ira” in Latin) to eternal bliss.

So, when the time came, St. Gregory decided to fulfil his great ambition: to re-establish Orthodox Christianity in the now English land (we use here the word “re-establish” knowing that Christianity had existed in Britain during the Roman occupation perhaps from the first century till 410—when the Roman legions withdrew from Britain—but soon after almost completely and rapidly disappeared until the Augustinian mission; while in Wales, Dumnonia,1 Ireland, and Scotland, inhabited by Celtic peoples, a developed Church and monastic life was already flourishing by that time).

On their journey to Albion the missionaries stopped in Gaul, present-day France, where, it is said, St. Augustine performed his first miracle in Anjou: through his prayers a well with miraculous properties gushed forth there. The companions first stopped at the famous Lerins monastery in southern Gaul. Monks in Gaul told the missionaries about the life and customs of the Angles, especially that they were for the most part ferocious and cruel heathen. The fellow-missionaries of Augustine were scared and rather hesitant to go ahead, so it was decided to send St. Augustine back to Rome and ask the Pope Gregory what they should do further. The Pope encouraged Augustine, blessed him to go back, and commanded other brethren not to lose heart, but to go forward without any hesitation. He promised to pray hard for the success of their mission.

In spring 597 the Italian monks, accompanied by a number of Frankish priest-interpreters, arrived on the shores of Kent in the south-easternmost corner of England. According to tradition, they landed in or very near Ebbsfleet in Kent, on the Isle of Thanet which then was separated from the mainland England by a small river or channel, but now is part of the mainland (a memorial cross still stands on the site to commemorate the arrival of the missionaries). At that time Kent was the most influential of all the early English kingdoms and it had mostly been settled by the Germanic tribe of Jutes.

From the year 562 Kent had been ruled by the pagan Ethelbert (later to become St. Ethelbert). Fortunately, his spouse, Queen Bertha—a Frankish princess—was a Christian. Kent had permanent trade links with Gaul and communication with the continent and the Christian world, unlike other local kingdoms. Born in Gaul, Bertha had agreed to marry Ethelbert on condition that she was allowed to practice her Christian faith in England and to take her confessor, the priest Liudhard (+ c. 603) with her. Not only did Ethelbert consent to this condition, but even provided her with a small and ancient church of St. Martin of Tours in Canterbury (though it has since been rebuilt, this very ancient church, which is about 1700 years old, survives to this day).

King Ethelbert knew about the Christian faith and thus received St. Augustine very kindly, but at the same time with caution. He did not invite the saint to his palace, but preferred to talk with him “under an oak tree”, obviously hoping in this way to protect himself from “Christian magic”. The royal residence of the Kentish king was situated in Canterbury, which then was called Durovernum. Tradition tells that the first official meeting between the King and Augustine took place in Richborough near Ramsgate on the Isle of Thanet. Augustine was accompanied by his monks: all of them sang beautiful Christian hymns, and welcomed the king with a large silver cross and a large icon of Christ the Savior.

Ethelbert was impressed by the look of the monks and by their speech. There St. Augustine preached his first sermon to Ethelbert through an interpreter, and a chapel was later built there to commemorate the event. St. Ethelbert was more interested in Christ, though confessed he was not yet prepared to embrace the new faith. However, he allowed Augustine and all his brethren to be accommodated in Canterbury (the capital of Kent), to preach Christianity among his subjects freely, and provided them with the church of St. Martin.

According to tradition, on Pentecost Sunday of the same year, 5972, King Ethelbert was baptized at St. Martin’s church, together with many representatives of his nobility. Soon afterwards some 10,000 people of Kent voluntarily resolved to follow their ruler and be illumined by holy baptism. The mass baptism took place in the small River Swale in Kent. It was the first mass conversion to Orthodoxy in the English part of post-Roman Britain. This remarkable event was accompanied by numerous healings and miracles. It is noteworthy that neither Augustine nor King Ethelbert forced any of them to accept baptism—it was the voluntary decision of the people. Among those baptized were Jutes, Angles and Saxons. The monks began to live in Canterbury near the present-day Staplegate, to fast, pray, keep vigil, imitate Christ in their life, to go out to the people and preach the Good News to them. Soon further miracles followed. It was evident that the abundant grace of God had descended on this corner of the future England.

Meanwhile, in the following year of 598, St. Augustine travelled to Gaul for a short time where he was consecrated archbishop. Thus, he became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the English Church. The city of Canterbury ever since has been considered to be the English ecclesiastical capital. On account of his success in his mission in Kent and partly in neighbouring parts of England, St Augustine has been regarded as the enlightener of the Angles, and he shares this title with St. Gregory.

Among the monks who came with Augustine to England there were several other saints: St. Laurence, the second Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 619); St. Honorius, the fifth Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 653); St. Peter, the first Abbot of Canterbury (+ 607); and, probably, St. James (d. late seventh century), an illustrious deacon in York. In the year 601 new missionaries were sent from Rome by St. Gregory, some of whom later became saints as well: the future St. Mellitus, third Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 624); St. Justus, the fourth Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 627); and St. Paulinus, the first Bishop of York (+644). They brought relics, liturgical books, church vessels and vestments from Rome.

St. Augustine founded his Cathedral in Canterbury and dedicated it to Christ the Savior. It was said that an earlier church had existed on the same site, perhaps from Roman times. The present Canterbury Cathedral, the main Cathedral of the Church of England, is the successor of the Cathedral founded by St. Augustine. It is known that the archbishop began building a monastery in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul near the walls of Canterbury, which was completed after his repose. That was the first monastery in England. In Canterbury St. Augustine also built a school where many Christians of that period came to study, and produced many future saints and Church figures. A generation after St. Augustine’s repose this school had already sent missionaries to help enlighten the Kingdom of the East Angles.

St. Peter, mentioned above, became the monastery’s first abbot; but he unfortunately drowned during his journey to Gaul in 607 near Ambleteuse, not far from Boulogne, where his relics are still venerated. Among old Christian churches restored by Augustine in Canterbury let us mention the church of St. Pancras (an early Orthodox boy-martyr in Rome, some of whose relics were later translated to England, where, for example, one of London’s railway stations is called St. Pancras in his honor to this day). Of this once splendid church only ruins survive today.

St. Augustine also founded the diocese of Rochester in the kingdom of Kent. The first bishop of Rochester was St. Justus, who was afterwards raised to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury. The first Cathedral at Rochester was dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle. One of his subsequent bishops in the seventh century was St. Ithamar, the first English-born bishop, from whose relics miracles were reported. The present Norman Cathedral in the port town of Rochester on the River Medway’s estuary is dedicated to Christ and the Mother of God. It is possible that under St. Augustine a fine church dedicated to St. Sophia, the Wisdom of God, was established in Reculver in Kent. Ruins of this church can be seen to this day.

By the end of his life St. Augustine had founded another diocese—in London, in the Kingdom of the East Saxons, which was at that time also under the control of Kent as St. Ethelbert was recognized as the supreme ruler of all the English lands situated to the south of the river Humber. In all his labors to spread Christianity and establish the Church throughout Kent, St. Augustine was helped by king Ethelbert. The holy king along with his wife Bertha were highly praised by St. Gregory from Rome, who in one of his letters even compared them to Sts. Constantine and Helen, Equal-to-the-Apostles.

During his ministry in England St. Augustine corresponded regularly with Pope Gregory. Their correspondence, all of which is considered by the majority of researchers to be authentic, survives to this day. Both hierarchs discussed numerous liturgical, pastoral and ritual matters, and methods of missionary work. On the Pope’s advice it was decided to bring the English people to the true faith gradually and not to force anybody to embrace Orthodoxy. All the idols were removed from pagan temples, but the temples themselves were not demolished – they were converted into Christian churches. The missionaries acted little by little.

In order to make the English people give up their old pagan habits, new Christian festivals were established, and the days of their celebration often coincided with the former heathen ones. However, the local customs and traditions which had nothing to do with paganism were not abolished, but were instead preserved and transformed in the light of the Christian life, so that the English people might cultivate their own distinctive Christian culture. The English Church thus was developed after the model of the Roman Orthodox Church but with local customs in mind.

It was recorded that during one of his journeys across the country St. Augustine healed a dumb girl by prayer in Chilham in Kent, and through his prayers, in the settlement of Cerne Abbas in Dorset a stream gushed forth which had healing powers. St. Augustine tried to reconcile the native British people—Britons3 who had a relatively developed Church life—with Angles and Saxons who had come to England from the continent. But despite his efforts, the Britons still regarded Angles as their invaders and enemies—they did not wish to reconcile themselves with them or communicate with them, although the Angles began to come to Christ in numbers. They also refused to recognize St. Augustine as their bishop. It was only closer to the end of the seventh century that the great archpastor, the Greek Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, succeeded in reconciling and bringing together these two peoples—the British and the English.

Augustine’s mission played a huge role in the conversion of Angles and Saxons to Christianity, though the same can be said of that of St. Aidan, the Celtic monk from Ireland who organized a very successful mission from northeastern England some three decades after St. Augustine. The role of both these saints in introducing and spreading Orthodoxy in seventh-century England cannot be overestimated—they lived in somewhat different yet complementary traditions, in the same pure Orthodox spirit. The existence of these two different types of post-Roman Christianity in England enriched the Church and made it more diverse.

St. Augustine lived in England for only seven or eight years but by the end of his life could see the formation of the early English Church with his own eyes. Shortly before his repose, the Savior Himself appeared in a vision to St. Augustine. The holy archbishop passed away soon after his beloved teacher St. Gregory, either in 604 or 605, and was buried at the monastery he had built in Canterbury. It is known that he performed miracles in his lifetime. In the year 747 the official veneration of St. Augustine was confirmed by an English Church Synod in Clovesho.

Miracles continued especially in 1091 after his relics were translated to the new Norman church of the Canterbury monastery (it was at that time that the learned monk Goscelin wrote his famous Life of St. Augustine in two parts, and an account of the translation of his relics). There they were kept until the Reformation, when most of the relics were destroyed. However, small portions of them survived and later were translated to Chilham church in Kent where, unfortunately, they were destroyed as well. A tiny portion of St. Augustine’s relics is kept at the Orthodox Church of St. John of Shanghai in Colchester (Essex) and another small part of a bone was not ago acquired by St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Ramsgate (Kent) which also houses a relic of St. Laurence of Canterbury.

Many Catholic and Anglican parish churches are dedicated to St. Augustine of Canterbury in England, though more are dedicated to Blessed Augustine of Hippo. Only two of the eight ancient manuscripts brought to England by the Italian missionaries 1400 years ago still survive. One of them is a fragment of the Rule of St. Benedict from the early seventh century, which is kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Oxford also has a mid-seventh-century Gospel book associated with St. Augustine), and another is the illumined “St. Augustine’s Gospel” from the early seventh century, which well may have belonged to the saint himself (this is kept at the library of the Corpus Christi College, Cambridge). This Gospel is used at the enthronements of the Archbishops of Canterbury to this day (and each time is taken to Canterbury on this occasion).

There are ancient depictions of St. Augustine on a fourteenth-century stained glass window at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, at Canterbury Cathedral (c. 1470), on the miniatures of “the Breviaries of the Duke of Bedford” (1424) as well as on fourteenth-century frescoes at St. Gregory’s Church in Rome. For their contribution to spreading Orthodoxy in England and great support of the Augustine’s mission both King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha were venerated as saints after their repose in 616 and c. 603 (or 612) respectively, though no information on the official feast day of St. Bertha survives. Although after St. Augustine’s death a number of pagan reactions occurred in various parts of southern England, his mission revitalized life in the country and began the long process of its re-Christianization. This mission brought spirituality, learning, art, literature, music, and medicine to the English people who had been in isolation and regress for around two centuries before Augustine.

Let us now talk about the holy sites in Canterbury associated with St. Augustine.

The little church of St. Martin of Tours is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world still in use. A part of it dates back to the late Roman period. Though most of it was rebuilt, part of its construction still includes Roman brickwork. A section of a wall on the south side of its sanctuary is purely Roman. The doorway dates to the Saxon era. The church was obviously enlarged with time (because the number of the faithful townsfolk increased) as the original church was tiny even in comparison with the present structure. It was used as St. Bertha’s private chapel—her confessor, St. Liudhard, served here; after the arrival of Augustine it was restored, and the hierarch himself worshipped here before his main cathedral was completed. Both Sts. Ethelbert (who was baptized here) and Bertha are commemorated in this church: St. Ethelbert is depicted in stained glass which shows his baptism, and St. Bertha in a statue on the Roman wall.

The church font’s upper part is mainly from the twelfth century, while its lower part is much older, and it is quite possible that it was used for the king’s baptism. A curious find was made in St. Martin’s churchyard in the 1840s. A Saxon gold coin, or medal, which was probably used as a medallion, was found here in a woman’s grave. The name of St. Liudhard was inscribed on one side of the coin and a patriarchal cross is depicted on the other side. Thus the existence of St. Liudhard was confirmed for those academics who by that time had begun to doubt it. Now the unique relic is housed at the World Museum in the city of Liverpool.

The ruins of Canterbury Abbey, founded by St. Augustine, is another precious gem. They are located not far from the Cathedral and are now attached to Canterbury’s Kings School. Some consider this school to be the heir of the great school opened by Augustine himself. That school grew into one of the most important in the whole country. It was developed especially under St. Theodore of Canterbury and the Holy Abbot Hadrian of Canterbury (he was a Berber from Africa who ruled the monastery for over forty years until his repose in c.710). For a long time this monastery was the burial site of the abbots and Archbishops of Canterbury and Kings of Kent. It had a huge library and a scriptorium for copying manuscripts. The monastery, originally dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul, was rededicated in the tenth century by St. Dunstan in honor of its founder, St. Augustine.

The medieval monastery was so large that it could be compared with the present huge Canterbury Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 and gradually ruined—after over 900 years of permanent monastic life, education and learning on this site. Now the ruins are cared for by English Heritage. Large-scale excavation work was carried out here recently and there is a museum/visitors’ center nearby that tells the story of this site—indeed one of the most significant sites in English history. Remains of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul and that of St. Pancras can be distinguished among the ruins. Big bronze statues of Sts. Ethelbert and Bertha stand by the ruins. This is a very holy place also because more early saints were buried here even than at the Cathedral. Lately English Heritage has put markers (some of them symbolic) on the supposed graves of the early saints on the territory of the abbey. (Who knows, maybe the relics of some still lie in the ground under them).

The names of the saints buried at the St. Augustine’s abbey are: St. Augustine (first Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Laurence (second Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Mellitus (third Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Justus (fourth Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Honorius (fifth Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Deusdedit (Frithona in baptism: the first English-born and sixth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 664), St. Theodore of Tarsus (eighth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 690), St. Berhtwald (ninth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 731), St. Tatwine (tenth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 734), St. Nothelm (eleventh Archbishop of Canterbury; + 739), St. Jambert (fourteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 792), St. Hadrian of Canterbury, St. Ethelbert of Kent, St. Bertha of Kent, St. Mildred of Minster on Thanet (d. early eighth century; some of her relics were translated here in the first half of the eleventh century to rescue them from the pagan Danes), St. Mildgyth (St. Mildred’s sister, late seventh century).

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Canterbury, the current edifice of which is mainly from the twelfth century and built of Caen stone, is one of the most visited buildings in England, and the historic heart of the English land. The first Cathedral was built by St. Augustine by the year 602. Not long ago part of the Saxon building was discovered under the nave of the present Cathedral. The earliest part of the Cathedral is the crypt—some of it is from the eleventh century. The Cathedral has very many memorials and artefacts, though most of its treasures were barbarously destroyed during the Reformation initiated by Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. The Cathedral precincts are entered through the impressive Christ Church gates with the splendid figure of Christ above you. The west towers of the Cathedral along with the famous Bell Harry Tower are magnificent. The beautiful huge West Window of the Cathedral is reputedly the oldest surviving stained glass in England (dating to the 1170s).

The twelfth-century murals inside St. Gabriel’s Chapel depict scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The high altar at the end of the Cathedral choir is dedicated to St. Thomas Becket who was murdered in 1170 by knights of King Henry II (the latter then tried to atone for his sin, walking to the Cathedral as a simple pilgrim, praying for his forgiveness at Becket’s tomb and even allowing the Canterbury brethren to whip him). On both sides of the high altar are markers showing the sites of the former shrines of Sts. Dunstan and Alphege, great Orthodox Archbishops of Canterbury. Many sites within the Cathedral are still dedicated to the memory of Thomas Becket, who is venerated by the Catholic Church—his shrine at this Cathedral attracted millions of pilgrims in the Middle Ages, as he was the most venerated Catholic saint of England and one of the most venerated post-schism saints in the whole of Western Europe. Though his shrine and major relics were destroyed during the Reformation, a tiny portion of his relics still survives at the Catholic Church of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury to this day.

Among other treasures of the Cathedral are thirteenth-century stained glass windows with images of various saints (for example, a twelfth-century image of St. Paul the Apostle with a snake), depictions from the life of Christ and, notably, the thirteenth-century Purbeck “St. Augustine’s Chair” on which each Archbishop of Canterbury is officially enthroned. There is also a remarkable chapel dedicated to all the modern martyrs of major Christian denominations, called “the Corona Chapel”. Here is the list of the saints buried within Canterbury Cathedral (nobody knows whether the relics of any of them still rest concealed there or not, though the Lord may reveal it one day):

St. Cuthbert (twelfth Archbishop of Canterbury; +760), St. Bregwin (thirteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; +764), St. Ethelhard (fifteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; +805), St. Plegmund (twentieth Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.923), St. Athelm, or Athelhelm (twenty-first Archbishop of Canterbury; + c. 927), St. Odo, or Oda the Good, or Severe (twenty-third Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.958), St. Dunstan (twenty-sixth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 988), St. Aelfric (twenty-ninth Archbishop of Canterbury; not to be confused with the learned abbot, scholar and spiritual writer Aelfric of Eynsham; +1005), St. Alphege the Martyr (thirtieth Archbishop of Canterbury; +1012), St. Aethelnoth the Good (thirty-second Archbishop of Canterbury; +1038), St. Eadsige (thirty-third Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.1050), St. Swithin of Winchester (his head relic rested here; +862), St. Wulganus (an eighth century British missionary who enlightened the Atrebati in Gaul and lived as hermit in Arras; a portion of his relics rested here).

As we can see, twenty-two early (and Orthodox) Archbishops of Canterbury were canonized—and St. Augustine is at the head of them. During the Second World War Canterbury was heavily damaged by Luftwaffe bombs but the cathedral was rescued by the city residents and, of course, through intercession of St. Augustine. As we know, a similar miraculous event happened in Durham in 1943: St. Cuthbert whose relics rest there saved the city of Durham and its cathedral from Luftwaffe bombs by hiding them in thick fog!

The Way of St. Augustine” is a pilgrimage trail from Ramsgate to Canterbury embracing some 20 miles and covering places associated with St. Augustine. It begins from the Catholic church-shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate and passes, among other places, through the village of Cliffsend (according to one version, it was here that the saint first landed in England; the Saxon leaders Hengist and Horsa also landed here in 449 A.D. to settle in England), St. Augustine’s cross, Minster-on-Thanet, and Fordwich near Canterbury (claiming to be the smallest English town; it has the old St. Mary’s church which houses a tomb believed to be the one that once contained St. Augustine’s relics).

Holy Hierarch Augustine, pray to God for us!


Dmitry Lapa writes about Orthodox history and faith. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Orthodox Christianity.


The featured image shows, “St Augustine at Ebbsfleet,” by Frank Brangwyn, painted in 1920.