Solidarity Forever! Solidarity Never! Labor History Through Song

When labor organizes, it sings. Music has been an integral part of the workers’ struggle since its early days in the Nineteenth Century. The history of organized labor through song is a long story. True to labor’s international ethos, ours is a tale which spans various nations, generations, and language communities. We have a massive corpus of material to sift through in order to take the pulse of the topic at hand. Indeed, making our task hairier still, labor’s is a story whose definite start is hard to ascertain and whose end is nowhere in sight.

In order to respect the essay format, we will strictly hold to some parameters. They are these: We will maintain a general chronological flow whilst using one main song, with some ancillary helpers, to illustrate a various work-related theme as we plod along. In doing so we will maintain both the narrative pace and topical diversity of our story. At the same time, we will ascertain common trends down through the years of struggle.

Further study recommends the 2019 texts by Steven Greenhouse, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, and James Sullivan, Which Side Are You On? 20th Century American History in Protest Songs.

Timeliness

Workplace organizing is back in the news. From the “Fight for $15” movement in America, to France’s Yellow Vest unrest, to Singapore’s protesting bus drivers, the working man is on the march once more. Even monolithic WalMart and sacrosanct Google, implacable foes of unions, have lately felt the pressure of labor. And with the fallout of the late Coronavirus shutdowns, some American economists are predicting a shockingly high 30% unemployment rate.

With this labor revival – I blush with pride from my pedagogical perch – the vanguard has been led largely by teachers. My profession has been shamefully eager, historically, to cooperate with a wide variety of schemes ginned up by every backroom Yaleie and stockjobbing finance bro who toddles along.

Ranging from a mass phrenology photographic campaign in the last century, to loansharking three generations of 18-year-olds and counting, no debasement, no sellout, has been too humiliating for my once-sublime profession. But, moryah, Saul can be Paul as soon as anyone. Even in labor-hostile America, scholars are fast repairing their deserved infamy. Teachers have hit the picket lines from Wisconsin to West Virginia, and from New York to California these last few years.

To Sing

Men sing from passion, or at least they ought. They sing in war “by the rocket’s red glare,” and they sing for women with “their technicolor cheeks.” Overcome by urban steel, men sing in cities “where seven million are screaming for space,” and humbled by nature, men sing with “sunshine on [their] shoulders.” Men sing because they love, and because they care, and because they are alive.

Of course, the obverse is just as true. That Christians in the so-called First World sing of a Sunday with all the gusto of a late-’80s Soviet Party Congress is one of the ominous portents for Western spirituality.

History does not hesitate to support my melodic social observation. Men sing because they care, and they’ve been at it since day one. In the great Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th Centuries, all factions busied themselves between bouts of rioting in scribbling out hymnody. The same was certainly true during the Reformation; Protestants explored the vernacular and Catholics doubled-down on chant. And whilst Tories belted out God Save the King, Enlightenment republicans answered with God Save Great Thomas Paine. Trench-up, and Home Office-down, Axis and Allies vied with each other through two world wars to out-sing the foe, this time with the timely aid of radiophone and loudspeaker.

And so, with labor. It’s a struggle that has all the hope and frustration, all the tease and triumph, of love and war and God. Thus, labor is a cause to which songsters have just as soon thrown in their pens and talents and throats for.

Limitations and Failures

At this early hour in our essay, historical impartiality requires that I address a topic which perhaps has occurred to fair-minded readers: What about anti-labor songs? In a fact that is as damning as it is absolute, there actually is no corollary corpus of anti-union songs. Nothing at’ll, so far as I’ve been able to find. There are examples of states co-opting various musical styles for their ends, particularly rock in Europe and country music in America. But as far as organic specimens go, we search in vain.

Never, after an afternoon of beating the skulls of miners or longshoremen, did the police of William Martin Murphy or Allan Pinkerton strike up a chorus of celebration and steeled resolve. They were the baddies, after all. Much less have the spoilers of our day sung, those more recent bureaucrats who delivered the Traffic Controllers’ pink slips in 1981, or General Motors’ ones in 2009, or Ikeas’ today.

An Overview

As mentioned above, labor history is a vast subject. Our main selections in this essay and the topics they raise are as follows. We start with the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution. We witness the transformation of a historic loafing worker into a mythological reformer through songs like, The Triumph of General Ludd.

Then we look at the musical celebration of labor itself through Greenland Whale Fishery, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, and The Fireman’s Song. Next we have There Is Power In The Union, where we consider labor’s tensions with religion. In Banks of Marble we look at transatlantic connections between labor struggles on different continents. Which Side Are You On? gives us an insight into masculine archetypes in workers’ music. And in Solidarity Forever we dissect a fine specimen of hope, reinvention, and continuity in song. The Internationale and the Left’s decision – and ultimate split – in 1917 follows.

We then see the use of existing hymnody by the Catholic Worker Movement. In The Ballad of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire we feel the perennial anxiety of workplace safety, and the biting regret of warnings not heeded. Rounding out our time together and bringing our exploration up to the present day, we have David Rovics’ piece Living On the Streets of LA. It shines a light on the trials of atomized and indigent workers in the modern gig economy. In addition to these main pieces, about a dozen auxiliary works will illuminate our analysis.

From Marx to Uber, but with fall more soul and pizzazz than either Nineteenth Century theoreticians or Twenty-First Century apps conjure, we will sing our way through the basics of labor history.

General Ludd

Many moons before former DNC candidate Andrew Yang alerted us to the dangers of automation, workers were wary of their bosses’ late penchant for machines.

In the throes of the First Industrial Revolution some of Britain’s weavers began destroying the new mechanical looms which were occupying ever-more floor space. The contraptions were able year by year to do the specialized work which men developed over a lifetime. Playing out the future in their heads, the men of Nottingham reasoned that workingmen would soon or late be replaced altogether. These wary weavers formed loose associations of economically astute hooligans, and by 1812 they signed their corporate missives “Ned Ludd.”

The actual Ludd is said to have been a lazy or impassioned youth – the sources differ, though teens have been known to be both b’times – who, a generation before the Luddites arose, destroyed his father’s looms. Historians disagree, but he was probably grounded. The noun became an adjective, and England’s Luddites give us a fine jumping off point in our labor saga.

Folk memory is a slippery thing, and proverbially one man’s hero is another man’s villain. Like other far-sung foes of the Crown before him, like Robin Hood and Roddy McCorley, like Jamie MacPherson and Ned Kelly, the historicity of Ludd takes a backseat to common memory. How Ned Ludd morphed from a moody, loafing youth into an anti-automation hero is the stuff of another essay. What matters is that in peoples’ minds he did, and that those people decided to sing about it.

As early as 1850, Ludd was canonized by a street balladeer in The Triumph of General Ludd. Here he is imagined as a full-blown, doctrinaire revolutionary. We sing, “Let the wise and the great lend their aid and advice/ Nor e’er their assistance withdraw/ Till full-fashioned work at the old-fashioned price/ Is established by custom and law.” In a song that was given a studio recording by Chumbawamba (“I Get Knocked Down”) in the late 1980s, Triumph continues with Ned’s manifesto, “Then the trade when this arduous contest is o’er/ Shall raise in full splendor its head/ And colting and cutting and swearing no more/ Shall deprive all his workers of bread.”

Robert Calvert’s 1985 Ned Ludd says, “They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy/ That all he could do was wreck and destroy/ And he turned to his workmates and said,” with Unabomber echoes, we note, “Death to Machines!/ They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.”

Continuing the common memory of Ludd in Britain, General Ludd from the UK band Seize the Day says, “Cause ‘en if we don’t break ’em [i.e., machines], our lives they will take ’em/ Our croft, our cottage, our village as well/ No freedom or laughter for those who come after/ But a servant and master in a factory hell.” Giving a full-blown first-person narrative, the song goes on, “So the door was kicked in, and the frames were all broken/ And the owner was woken and raised the alarm/ And the yeomen came riding, but we were in hiding/ The people providing, to keep us from harm.”

Steeleye Span deserves many honorable mentions for their innovative career, not the least for making a 16-minute epic on everybody’s favorite frame-breakers.

Celebration

A little later on I will address the Church’s musical consideration labor in the May 1st commemoration of St. Joseph the Worker. As Joseph Piper reminds us in his fine essay on leisure, all liturgy is celebratory. Thus, we can say labor is sublimated and celebrated in the Church’s ceremonies. However, grace builds on nature, and there is in labor folk a more basic element of rejoicing which we now turn to.

In work’s daily trials, and flow, and mundane happenings, men have sung. The Creamery Song, Greenland Whale Fishery, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, and the Fireman’s Song are our examples.

In The Creamery Song our familiar morning routines are considered. It says, “Paddy Stokes was the first in at daybreak/ The boiler to stoke and ignite/ There was plenty of steam, the machinery sang/ A day’s work in the dairy began.” But mornings are deadly for distraction, and many an idle minute’s been spent on another cigarette or another cup of coffee. “Then the farmer arrived in his pony and car/ And while waiting they’d have an aul spar/ They’d talk of the games and the state of the land/ Then they’d swing the tanks up on the stand.”

All the energy and physicality of industrialization is captured by Gordon Lightfoot in Canadian Railroad Trilogy. It says, “Look away, said they, across this mighty land/ From the eastern shore to the western strand/ Bring in the workers and bring up the rails/ We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails/ Open ‘er heart let the life blood flow/ Gotta get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow!”

A particular type of man all of us have likely worked for is comically memorialized in Greenland Whale Fishery. The whalers deploy in the verse, “The harpoon struck and the line paid out/ With a single flourish of her tail/ She capsized our boat and we lost five men/ And we did not catch that whale, brave boys.” Tragedy has struck, yes, but it’s not where you might think. The song goes on, “The losin’ of those five jolly men/ It grieved our captain sore/ But the losin’ of that sperm whale fish/ Now it grieved him ten times more, brave boys/ Now it grieved him ten times more.”

Not to rag too heavy on on bosses, but in Ian Campbell’s Fireman’s Song the coal stoker-narrator good-naturedly notes, “The driver sits there like a god/ A decent mate but an idle sod/ Though I’ll be shovelling on me knees/ Still he’ll sit there at his ease.” But no matter. This job has given me physical fitness and dexterity, if nothing else. “The pick and shovel are tools of me trade/ And two strong arms to swing the blade/ Hands with palms as hard as leather/ And nimble feet as light as a feather.”

Going forward, it is important to remember that the element which gives labor organizing its artistic energy is because labor itself is worth celebrating.

Wobblies

No treatment of workers’ history, much less labor music, is complete sans mention of the I.W.W. Their motto was their philosophy. “One big union,” they said, and they meant it. Well did these “Wobblies,” as I.W.W. members were called in the slang of the time, know how to fight fire with fire.

The International Workers of the World was formed in 1905. What differentiated it from contemporary movements like the Knights of Labor or the American Federation of Labor was its belief in a united working class, not one segmented by trade. The dynamic of wage-earners organized across professions would allow for “sympathetic strikes.”

With this tool, if a lone factory went on strike, nearby sympathetic strikes could magnify its power. Should management hire scabs to replace the factory workers, for example, sympathetic action called for other sectors to make that bosses’ life hell.

A sympathetic strike would oblige the truckers which supplied the original factory, the operators of the power plant which kept the factory’s lights on, the groundskeepers who plowed the snow and cleaned the gutters, and so forth and so on, to join the factory hands and bring, not just one location, but potentially an entire town, city, or region, to a standstill.

A couple of years ago I greatly expanded The Ballad of James Larkin. Originally written by Donagh McDonald, son of the poet and 1916 signatory Thomas MacDonagh (“I See His Blood Upon the Rose”), the ‘60s Ballad beat contemporary historians to the punch in linking the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913 to the Easter Rising of 1916.

As regards a sympathetic strike, my expansion goes, “Then Larkin left us, he’d gone to England/ A Fiery Cross for some sympathy/ From Southampton and from London/ Labor joined hands across the sea.” Presaging the chronic weakness of 20th Century labor leadership, the stanza continues, “But union bosses were worse than useless/ And there’d be no general strike/ With ‘friends’ like this, you’d not need foemen/ Dublin’s heroes pushed on alone.”

Joe Hill and Religious Tunes

Joe Hill, originally an immigrant from Sweden, and himself the subject of no shortage of musical memorials in the wake of his famed (and framed) execution in Utah in 1915, was especially adept at co-opting religious hymns for organizing purposes. During Hill’s I.W.W. junkets through the American West, local capitalists routinely hired Salvation Army bands to play music over the speeches of Wobbly organizers like Joe Hill. There was no electronic amplification in those days, none within the budget of traveling Wobblies, at least. The appearance of a brass band playing There Is Power in the Blood or Onward, Christian Soldiers would be enough to put the kibosh on the most earnest speechifying.

Making lemonade of his lemons, Hill set his prolific compositions to tunes commonly used by churches. We recall that religious observance was much higher a century ago, and thus many tunes were generally known by the public. One example of Hill’s use of a religious anthem is The Preacher and The Slave. It employs the tune of In The Sweet By-And-By, and the song directly aims its barbs at the General Booth’s “Sally Army” interrupters. Hill’s song croons, “The Starvation [sic] Army, they play/ And they sing and they clap and they pray/ ‘Til they get all your coin on the drum/ Then they tell you that you’re on the bum.” Preacher is also notable for containing Hill’s famous expression, “Pie in the sky.” Like the memory of Hill himself, the expression would live on long after its initial appearance.

“Pie in the sky,” wasn’t a baseless phrase. Besides some papal encyclicals and the efforts of the Catholic Worker Movement, popular and institutional Christianity was silent on the labor topic. Any Protestant who brought up organizing a century past was also likely to be as soon fuzzy on doctrine, and thus suspect by the pious.

Culpable of guilt by association, observant upper- and middle-class Catholics joined Protestants in an ecumenical wariness of labor issues. However, the majority of American Catholics were poor, and their support of unions brought them into regular conflict with religious leaders.

As for the Orthodox response to the labor topic, of course there were not enough of them in the West to generate a conversation in that quarter. And indeed, set upon by Modernity far more abruptly than the Western Church, Eastern Christians still are nowhere nearer in 2020 to forming a labor theology than they were in Hill’s day.

Another example of the co-opting of pious tunes for labor purposes is Because All Men Are Brothers. With lyrics which would surely startle Johann Sebastian Bach, who notably used the setting for his St. Matthew’s Passion, labor’s rewriting states, “Let every voice be thunder, let every heart beat strong/ Until all tyrants perish our work shall not be done/ Let not our memories fail us, the lost years shall be found/ Let slavery’s chains be broken the whole wide world around.”

Also, from the prolific pen of Joe Hill is the 1913 piece There Is Power In The Union. Ripped from the formerly pious background of its original setting, There Is Power defiantly barks, “If you like sluggers to beat off your head/ Then don’t organize, and unions despise/ If you want nothing before you are dead/ Shake hands with your boss and look wise.”

Occasionally immigrants embody the ethos of a country better than natives. If Europe took our Henry James a century past, they at least had the good manners to trade their talented Joe Hill.

The Gospel of Christ Meets the Gospel of Labor

In juxtaposition to the antipathy or hostility towards labor from bourgeois Christians, the Catholic Worker Movement sought to bridge the gap between secular labor and the Christian tradition. Their Catholic spiritual tradition was an old hand in the ideological use of music.

Founded by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day in 1933, the CWM sought to make the Church a dynamic social force once again. On the back foot since the French Revolution, it was time to be proactive. As Dan McKannan writes in a contemporary Movement publication, “The Catholic Worker [community] is the place in which the American Catholic Church as a whole meets the American Left as a whole.”

Towards that end, I’ve stumbled across a contemporary mini-retreat inspired by Dorothy Day’s life which is suggested by the Movement. The recollection concludes with I Bind My Heart This Tide, a hymn from the turn of the last century. It contains these verses, “I bind my soul this day/ To the neighbor far away/ And the stranger near at hand/ In this town, and in this land.” With a distinct flavor of St. Patrick’s Lorica, it continues, “I bind my heart in thrall/ To the God, the Lord of all/ To God, the poor one’s friend/ And the Christ whom he did send.” It’s a fitting hymn for a day dedicated to the spirituality of one such as Day, herself an Oblate of St. Benedict and those religious’ commitment to “ora et labora.”

The response of the pious from the 19th Century through the foundation of the Catholic Worker Movement gave fuel to the secular Left’s claim that religion was in the keep of the ruling class. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engles succinctly wrote in the 1848 Communist Manifesto, “Communism abolishes all religion.” However, the plucky Catholic Worker Movement had enough sense to snatch the brand from the fire. Seeing labor quickly spinning off into the worldly, secular arena, they used songs too.

Unlike the I.W.W., the CWM tended to use existing Christian hymns to express their social gospel, a message which saw the Corporal and Spiritual Works as concrete marching orders as adamantine as Marx’s Ten Planks. Much like the inclusion of the Memorial feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the CWM uses existing hymns to sanctify the daily concerns of working men with religious iconography. For their efforts Catholics today still grouse about Dorothey Day being a “communist.” No good deed goes unpunished.

Liturgical Music

Much in the vein of the CWM, the institutional Church appointed May 1st the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955. It was a commemoration which had been knocking around since the 19th Century under different titles and ranks. That St. Joseph kept a second liturgical day on the Postconcilior calendar, when many saints lost the one they had, is a testimony to the gravity of the labor issue on the mind of the Church.

On both Joseph’s March 19th major celebration, when his historic and celestial assistance is remembered, and his minor honor on May 1st, when his silent laborings are recalled, the hymn Te Ioseph Celebrant is sung at Vespers. We mightn’t associate Latin liturgical hymnody with folk music, but really it is. It is no harder to sing than any folk piece, and a damn sight easier than many contemporary songs in those horrid missalettes.

When churchmen cease dumbing down the liturgical life of the faithful, once again the Volk can sing the decidedly folk piece Te Ioseph Celebrant. It honors the spiritual ends of labor with the stanza, “Death brings to other saints their rest/ Through toil they win the victor’s place/ Thou happier, like the Angels blest/ Alive, hast seen God face to face.”

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 (USA). 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 image shows, “Protectors of our Industries,” an illustration from Puck Magazine, February, 1883.

Miguel de Unamuno vs. Alejandro Amenábar

After two box office successes, The Sea Inside and The Others, followed by two commercial failures, Agora and Regression, and a series of advertising films, notably for La Loteria Nacional, the Spanish director of Chilean origin, Alejandro Amenábar, returns in cinematographic news with a feature film about the start of the Spanish Civil War. While at War (in French release, Letter to Franco), is a film well put together and remarkably well-served by the performance of the main actor, Karra Elejalde, but whose crippling defect is to claim to be based on works of serious historians when it is pure fiction.

Centered on the figure of Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), an illustrious Basque-Spanish philosopher, linguist, poet and playwright of the Generation of 98, whom some consider to be the most significant Spanish intellectual of the turn of the 20th century, the film strives to show that the rector of the University of Salamanca was unable to understand the military coup of July 18, 1936 correctly, that he lacked foresight, and that he did not understand the real intentions of the insurgents.

According to Amenábar, Unamuno was saved in extremis for posterity, thanks to his late realization and then enormous courage during the critical speech against the national camp given at the Paraninfo (large amphitheater) of the University of Salamanca, in front of Brigadier-General Millán-Astray, the famed founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion, a war cripple (one-eyed, one-armed and lame), and a luminary among university and military officials.

The incident occurred on October 12, 1936, Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza (a day marking “Hispanity”), a holiday that commemorates the discovery of America and the birth of the new cultural identity born from the fusion of indigenous peoples of the New World and peoples of Spain. Miguel de Unamuno was, it should be remembered, the first author to suggest using the word “Hispanity” (Hispanitatem) in an article entitled, “Sobre la argentinidad,” published by La Nación de Buenos Aires, March 11, 1910.

The highlight of the film is obviously the mythical version of the incident when the philosopher and the general met. Amenábar largely, if not almost exclusively, bases his view on the Biography of Miguel de Unamuno that the French Hispanists, Colette and Jean-Claude Rabaté, published in 2009 at Taurus (a publishing house which is part of the Santillana Group, itself close to the newspaper El País, one of the most loyal supporters of the PSOE governments).

From their account of Unamuno’s speech, Amenábar retains, adds or moves a few sentences, no doubt in the name of artistic freedom. According to the two French Hispanists on whose work the film is based, Unamuno declared on this occasion: “We talked about international war in defense of Western Christian civilization; a civilization that I have defended myself on many occasions. But today it is only an ‘uncivil’ war … (between the supporters of fascism and bolshevism, Amenábar here adds).”

Directly referring to the words of one of the speakers, the professor of literature, Francisco Maldonado, Unamuno also said: “I take it personally when it is assumed that the explosion against the Basque and Catalans qualifies as anti -Spain; with such reasoning they could also say the same thing about us… Spain is nothing more than a madhouse.”

Foaming with rage, in particular after Unamuno’s allusion to the Filipino national hero, José Rizal, against whom General Millán-Astray had fought in his youth, the founder of the Spanish Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros) got up, shouting “Long live death! Death to intellectuals!”

And, ever-unflappable, the old philosopher replied at once: “Here, it is the temple of intelligence and I am its high priest. You desecrate this sacred place. You may win because you have the necessary brute force, but you will not win. To convince, you have to persuade, and to persuade you need something you don’t have for the fight: reason and being right… I have said what I came to say!”

This admirable and courageous speech in the film, however, is pure literary invention. Obviously, Amenábar did not bother to read a small footnote included in the book by Rabatés, which says the following: “There is no written or engraved record of this famous exchange. We took the liberty of reconstructing Unamuno’s possible speech from notes scribbled by him.”

The primary source is about thirty words feverishly penciled by the philosopher on the back of an envelope: “international war; western Christian civilization, independence, overcoming and convincing, hatred and compassion, Rice Rizal, concave and convex, struggle, unity, Catalans and Basques, language imperialism, hate intelligence which is critical, which is examination and differentiation, investigative curiosity and not being inquisitive.”

If Amenábar had been more rigorous and better informed, he would have compared the mythical version with the most balanced testimonies of the academic personalities then present. There could also have been a warning before the credits. The personalities present in the audience, such as the writer, José Maria Pemán; the deputy of the Republic, future Minister of Education of Franco, Pedro Sainz Rodríguez; the jurist and political theorist, Eugenio Vegas Latapié; the psychiatrist, José Pérez-López Villamil; and the vice-rector, Esteban Madruga, along with the writers, journalists and historians, well-known throughout Spain, such as, Emilio Salcedo, Ximenéz de Sandoval, Víctor Ruiz de Albéniz, Alfonso Lazo, Luis E. Togores and Guillermo Rocafort, to name a few. All of them stressed the fallacious character of the remarks put in the mouth of Unamuno.

But it is even more regrettable that Amenábar did not deem it useful to refer to the final works of the librarian of the University of Salamanca, Severiano Delgado Cruz, published in 2019, under the title, Arqueología de un mito: el acto del 12 October in el paraninfo de la Universidad de Salamanca. And all the more so since the main Spanish media (including the newspapers ABC and El País in their editions of May 7-8 and May 27, 2018) have largely echoed the filmmaker.

At the end of a long and patient research, Severiano Delgado Cruz was able to clearly affirm that Millán-Astray never said, “Death to the intellectuals” – but rather, “Muera la intelectualidad traidora” (Death to traitorous intellectualism) and that Miguel de Unamuno, who focused his brief speech on compassion, did not answer him in such an indignant and haughty tone.

It was, according to Delgado, a mundane exchange, followed by the usual uproar that accompanied speeches of the 1930s during which people were easily fired up. There was no solemn retort or arms brandished to threaten the rector. “The meeting was dissolved in the midst of shouts and bluster.” Nor were there “the cries of harsh severity” of Francoism, such as, “Arriba España,” (“Spain over all”), “España, grande” (Greater Spain), and “España, libre” (Free Spain). Millán-Astray asked the old professor to go out on Madame Franco’s arm (and not by taking her hand as in the film).

The philosopher and Carmen Polo Franco, accompanied by Mgr Pla y Deniel, Bishop of Salamanca, and three soldiers from the general’s personal guard, then headed for the door. Before getting into the official car, in which Madame Franco was already seated, Unamuno shook hands with Millán-Astray and the two men took leave of one another. (A photo published in El Adelanto de Salamanca dated of October 13, 1936 attests to this fact).

It also appears that Unamuno did not attach any particular importance to this incident because he did not change his routine. As usual, after his meal, he went to the “Casino” for coffee. And it was then that members and adherents of this cultural club – civilians and not soldiers – insulted and booed him.

The legend of the “Paraninfo Incident” came into being, as Delgado demonstrates, in 1941, when Luis Portillo wrote a fictional narrative entitled, “Unamuno’s Last Lecture,” for the London magazine, Horizons. This young teacher from Salamanca, who was employed by the BBC, had worked in Valencia on behalf of the Information Office of the Government of the Spanish Republic.

In his literary recreation, Portillo voluntarily emphasized Millán-Astray’s brutality towards Unamuno, extolling the dignified and courageous attitude of the intellectual, who dared to oppose the infamous military leader. But the myth did not really take hold until later, when Portillo’s account was taken up, uncritically, by historian, Hugh Thomas, in his world-famous book, The Spanish Civil War / La guerre de Espagne (1961).

Unamuno’s enormous international prestige protected him from any repressive or coercive measures. But the brief quarrel was not without consequences. The Municipal Corporation of Salamanca met the same day to propose that his duties as a municipal councillor be terminated. On October 16, the Governing Council of the University of Salamanca asked for his dismissal from the rectorate. General Franco announced his dismissal on October 22.

Ironically, Unamuno had also been successively dismissed from the vice-rectorate for antimonarchism and insults to the king in 1924, then appointed rector by the Republic, then dismissed again by the Popular Front government for joining the national uprising (this was the purge of university professors ordered by the decree of 23 August 1936 by Manuel Azaña) – and then finally he was quickly reappointed by the National Defense Committee, but again dismissed on October 16.

The institutional vacuum having been created around him, Unamuno, whose precarious health became increasingly shaky, then lived on as a recluse, until his death on December 31, 1936, at the age of 72.

At the end of the film, Amenábar suggests that after his acquiescence, even his “redemption,” the old philosopher at last and finally distanced himself from the National Movement, fiercely criticizing the actions of the military and their right-wing civilian supporters. But Amenábar’s expeditious conclusion has nothing to do with historical truth.

The initial enthusiasm of Unamuno for the insurgent camp clearly cooled in the light of information that reached him about the repression exerted in the rear-guard, which was ultimately quite similar to that which occurred in the camp of the Popular Front. Especially since close friends, like Casto Prieto, Republican mayor of Salamanca; José Manso, Socialist deputy; or Atilano Coco, Protestant pastor and mason, had been victims.

But that said, with a spirit that was free, independent, stubborn, rebellious, fond of justice and reason, eager to reconcile progress with the best of tradition, Unamuno continued to oppose, head-on, the government of the Popular Front (and not to the Republic). He criticized very severely the extrajudicial executions of the two camps, the curse of los (h)unos y los (h)otros (the Huns and the [H]others, i.e., both sides), the lack of compassion of the parties of the Right.

But, contrary to what Amenábar suggests, Unamuno supported, justified and legitimized the National uprising until his death. His interviews, letters and other documents after October 12, 1936 leave no room for doubt (see in particular the interviews with Jérôme Tharaud and Katzantzakis on October 20 and 21; then with Norenzo Giusso, on November 21; the letter to his translator, Maria Garelli, on November 21; the interview with Armando Boaventura at the end of December; or, the last lines of El resentimiento tragíco de la vida (the Tragic Bitterness of Life), written three days before his death, which are notes that should not be confused with his famous book, Tragic Sense of Life).

The press favorable to the Popular Front poured out torrents of insults against Unamuno. He was for them the “mad, bilious, cynical, inhuman, mean, impostor, and great traitor,” and even, the “spiritual inspirer of fascism.” The question was nevertheless perfectly clear to the old rector – it was “a struggle between civilization and anarchy… not a war between liberalism and fascism, but between Christian civilization and anarchy. What has to be saved in Spain is Western Christian civilization and national independence.”

Shortly before dying, he described “the red hordes” as “pathological phenomena, criminals and former criminals,” as “ferocious beasts,” who conspired “the barbarity of the Popular Front.” He said, “Franco is a good man and a great general.” He prophesied, “internal or external exile which awaited many intelligent and pure-hearted Spaniards.” And he admitted “his discouragement… I am disgusted with being a man.”

He went on to explain: “In this critical moment of suffering in Spain, I know that I must follow the soldiers. They are the only ones who will bring us order… I have not turned into a Rightist. Pay no attention to what is said. I have not betrayed the cause of freedom. But for the moment, it is absolutely essential that order be restored. After that, I can quickly rise up and get back into the fight for freedom. No, no, I am neither fascist nor Bolshevik. I am a loner.”

There are so many other errors or untruths in While at War, which deserve to be corrected. Here are some of the more egregious:

  1. The red and gold flag of the Spanish monarchy is associated with “fascism,” while the red, yellow and purple flag of the Republic is associated with “democracy.” In reality, in Salamanca, as in most regions of Spain, the insurgents left the barracks waving the tricolor of the Republic (except in Pamplona and Vitoria). The red and yellow flag became the official flag of the National zone only later, under decisive pressure from monarchical, Carlist and Alphonsine circles, and by decree of the National Defense Council of August 29, 1936.
  2. At the start of the film, an officer declares a state of war “with the help of God” which is quite incredible. In the National camp, the combat did not initially have its religious character of a crusade. That only happened after the failed military coup, when civilians mobilized on both sides, and transformed the into a civil war.
  3. Millán-Astray praises a Franco who is supposed to have had the luck to dodge all bullets during the African campaign. That is just ridiculous and grossly ignorant. Franco was seriously injured in the abdomen during a bayonet charge in June 1916. He was picked up from the ground and saved by a Moroccan soldier from corps of “regulars;” and for several days, his death was considered almost certain by his comrades in arms. Astray, who was a hothead and a fanatical patriot, was probably not as uneducated as they say. He wrote the prologue to the Spanish edition of Inazo Nitobé’s Bushido and collected most of the essential samurai precepts to write a code of the legionnaires.
  4. It is not clear if Unamuno gave 5,000 pesetas to finance the coup. The question is not clear.
  5. At Paraninfo, Unamuno was not seated at the far right of the conference table but in the center because he presided over the gathering as rector with Madame Franco and the Catalan bishop on his right and Pla y Deniel to his left.
  6. It was not the daughters of Unamuno who were present in the large amphitheater but his son, Rafael.
  7. The ambiguity of the connection between the Falangists and Unamuno is completely overlooked. The Falangists, rightly or wrongly, believed that the regenerationist theses of Unamuno were close to their own ideas. But the film prefers to emphasize the confrontations between members of the Falange and Unamuno, rather than to show the subtle connections that existed between them. Unamuno severely criticized the “fascism” of the National Trade Unionists or Falangistas and their repressive actions during the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, he always held in high esteem the head and founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was then incarcerated in Alicante (whom he called “a privileged brain; may be the most promising in contemporary Europe,” in a letter to Lisandro de la Torre, August 1936). On February 10, 1935, Unamuno even received José Antonio at his home and went with him to that celebrated Falangist meeting held the same day in Salamanca. Some authors are also of the opinion that the controversies raised by this assistance caused him to be deprived of the Nobel Prize for literature the following year. On December 31, 1936, a young Falangist, Bartolomé Aragon, while visiting the old master, received his last words, his last sigh and who then informed the family of his death. It was also a Falangist intellectual, Victor de la Serna, who organized the funeral vigil at the University’s Paraninfo (because, despite his dismissal, Unamuno was considered by them to have died in the exercise of his office). Finally, during the burial, the coffin was carried by four Falangists.

I understand that these facts are embarrassing for the image of the philosopher that Amenábar wants to give. The filmmaker is convinced that the Spanish Civil War can be reduced to the Democrats’ struggle against fascism, to the people’s struggle against the army, the church and the bank – an interpretation which, after all, is not very different from that of the Komintern of the 1930s. Everyone is of course free to have their opinions.

But was the Spanish Popular Front really democratic? Therein lies the heart of the problem. In truth, in Spain in 1936, no one believed in liberal democracy. And certainly not the Lefts. The revolutionary myth, which was shared by the entire Left, was that of the armed struggle. Liberal democracy was seen by the Bolshevized Socialist Party (whose leader, Largo Caballero, was the “Spanish Lenin” for the socialist youth), by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends – “popular democracy,” or the socialist state. The liberal-Jacobin Left, secularist, dogmatic and sectarian, dominated by the personality of Manuel Azaña, had engaged in the Socialist uprising of October 1934 (against the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux, whose moderate party was supported by the a large number of Freemasons) – and it did not believe in democracy either.

It is not surprising therefore that the most prestigious Spanish intellectuals of the time, liberals and democrats, such as, Gregorio Marañon, José Ortega y Gasset and Ramón Pérez de Ayala, the “founding fathers of the Republic,” who had founded, in 1931, the “Agrupación al servicio de la República” (a group of intellectuals who defended the Republic), rallied, like Unamuno, to the cause of the National camp.

In conclusion, being a supporter of a politically correct globalism, representative of a technically successful cinema but always more predictable and more conformist, Amenábar declared, during the presentation of his film, that he also wanted to refer to the present and call the attention of the viewers to the dangers of the resurgence of extremism, fascism and populism.

I bet that Miguel de Unamuno, both Basque and Spanish, a Christian philosopher, a liberal, democrat and a man with a big heart, would have called for more measure, nuance, rationality and mutual respect. He could thus have given Amenábar a few lines from his Tragic Sense of Life: “Every individual in a people who conspires to break the spiritual unity and continuity of that people tends to destroy it and to destroy himself as a part of that people… for me the becoming other than I am, the breaking of the unity and continuity of my life, is to cease to be he who I am—that is to say, it is simply to cease to be. And that—no! Anything rather than that!”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Don Miguel de Unamuno (with a View of Salamanca), by J. Solana, painted ca. 1935-1936.

Under cover of Anti-Francoism, They Are Revising History

For the past fifteen years or so, the use of history for political ends has become the indelible mark of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the cryptocommunist far Left (today united under the acronym, Podemos Izquierda Unida). The same talking-points are always mentioned by the political authorities and the mainstream media: the Francoist repression” (or White Repression), and the repression of the Left during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. On the other hand, a careful examination reveals the repression of the Right by the Left. But for the Left – it is said – only “mourning” was done under the dictatorship.

Over the years, the memorialist ideology of the Spanish Left has steadily grown. History, which bizarrely, is said to be dominated by the Right, has become suspect. It has been replaced by “historical and democratic memory.” Based on individual and subjective memories, it is not concerned with explaining and understanding, but with selecting, condemning and denouncing.

Forgiveness and Dialogue – All That Is Finished

In the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship, from 1976 to 1982, two principles animated “the spirit of democratic transition:” Reciprocal forgiveness and dialogue between government and opposition. It was not a question of forgetting the past, but of overcoming it and looking resolutely to the future. There was then, as the authorities are pleased to say today, “no voluntary amnesia,” nor “a pact of silence.”

On the contrary, the democratic transition was based on a perfect awareness of the failures of the past and on the will to overcome them. It was not a question of imposing silence on historians and journalists, but of letting them debate, and refusing to allow politicians to take up the subject for their partisan struggles. There was therefore no oversight; but, on the contrary, a particular attention was paid to history, which led to an impressive number of publications, the likes of which doubtless had never been seen.

But from the 1990s onwards, and in particular after the 1993 election campaign, the attitude of the Socialist Party changed. A neo-Socialist and post-Marxist cultural tidal wave soon overwhelmed Spain. The Manichean history of the first years of Franco’s regime, which was believed to be permanently buried with him, has resurfaced, but in another form. With José Luis Zapatero’s Historical Memory Law of 2007, new impetus was given to the arguments of the “Memoria histórica” and a real atmosphere of pre-civil war gradually settled upon the country.

Memorial Amnesia

In December 2008, the Socialist parliamentary group presented to Parliament a new bill to reform and amplify the 2007 law. In its first draft, this bill provided for a Truth Commission (sic!), composed of eleven designated members by Parliament to tell the historical truth. It also provided for fines of up to 150,000 euros, prison terms for up to 4 years, destruction of published works and the dismissal of teachers found guilty for up to ten years. Luckily, this undemocratic monstrosity has been overhauled and to-date it is a new, “softer” draft that is waiting to be examined and voted on by parliamentarians.

Contrary to what the title of a Parisian evening newspaper recently asserted, it is not the ban on the cult of Franco that divides Spain, but the definition or the meaning that the new memorial bill gives to “the apology of Francoism.” It is indeed peculiar and disturbing to see parties of the Left, which have become amnesiac, presenting a supposedly democratic bill which is basically only a step towards the establishment of a kind of soft Sovietism. It is mind-boggling to see left-wing parties claiming to be part of the Second Republic and democracy also forgetting or camouflaging their own historical memory.

The Crimes Of The Left

How can we forget that portion of the Left’s responsibility in the origin of the Civil War, when the revolutionary myth of armed struggle was shared by all the Left?

How can we forget that liberal democracy was seen, by the Bolshevized Socialist Party, by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends: “Popular democracy” or the socialist state?

How can we forget the use of massive political violence by the Socialist Party during the October 1934 putsch, or coup d’état against the Liberal-Centrist government of the radical, Alejandro Lerroux, whose party was fueled by Freemasons?

How can we forget that during the elections of the Popular Front, in February 1936, 50 seats on the Right were invalidated and systematically granted to the Left, so that it could have a majority?

How can we forget that the President of the Republic, Niceto Alcalá Zamora, considered too conservative, was dismissed “in violation of the constitution,” after a real “parliamentary coup d’état,” according to his own words?

How can we forget the terror on the street (more than 300 dead in three months), the marginalization and exclusion of the parliamentary opposition in June?

Abuses In Both Camps

How can we forget that the atrocities and extrajudicial executions were as terrible and numerous in one camp as in the other? How can we forget that the founding fathers of the Republic, the intellectuals Marañon, Perez de Ayala, Ortega y Gasset, or even Unamuno – the evil that happened him, according to Alejandro Amenábar – the true liberals and democrats of the time, opposed the Popular Front and chose the National camp?

Why spread the idea that, since the beginning of the establishment of democracy, the Spaniards have been unable to overcome the past, that the Transition has been cowardice, and that the Right continues, for the most part, to be Francoist?

Why delegitimize the democratization of Spain and undermine the 1978 Constitution? Why not finally let the dead bury the dead permanently? In 1547, after having captured the city of Wittenberg, Charles V visited the tomb of the man who had been his harshest enemy, Martin Luther. Some advisers suggested that he burn the remains of the “heretic.” Magnanimously the emperor replied: “He found his judge. I make war on the living, not on the dead.”

The 1978 Constitution Flouted

The Civil War historian cannot subscribe to a litany of hate, revenge and demolition. He knows very well that we must not confuse the origins and antecedents of the Civil War with the coup d’état of July 18, 1936, nor the Civil War with Franco’s dictatorship; that all these are very different facts; and that, as such, they can be judged and interpreted in very different ways.

By confusing everything, mixing everything up, we condemn ourselves to not understanding anything. Suitably, article 16 of the 1978 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, ideological freedom and freedom of worship and religious belief, without any other possible restrictions than those derived from the maintenance of public order, protected by law.

Hopefully, parliamentarians will remember it when examining and voting on this new bill, which is so anti-democratic and obscurantist, so radically incompatible with what the “values of the European Union” are or should be.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

The image shows a child’s drawing, at the back of which is this inscription in the child’s own hand: “his scene shows a bombing in my town, Port-Bou. María Dolores Sanz, age 13.” Drawing ca. 1936-1938.



How The West Was Lost

A few weeks ago, I watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Quentin Tarantino’s movie delivered to me what I have been seeking. Namely, the exact point America careened off the path to flourishing, abandoning our long, mostly successful search for ever-increasing excellence and achievement. It was 1969.

As the shadows lengthen and the darkness spreads, perhaps it does not matter when twilight fell. But why twilight fell does matter, and much of the answer can be found in the pages of Amity Shlaes’s new book, Great Society, which narrates the decade’s massive expansion of government, and of elite power, all in the service of the Left, that we were told was certain to give us Utopia, but instead destroyed our civilization.

That America was being destroyed was not completely obvious at the time. In fact, America sixty years ago could absorb a lot of abuse—until the early 1970s America still seemed mostly on track, just more colorful around the edges, as shown in Tarantino’s movie.

In it, the older America, of a sense of duty and a desire for achievement, tempered by human foibles, is contrasted with the new America, of thieving, murderous hippies, emancipated from unchosen bonds by the social changes imposed on us during the 1960s, and acting badly, as men and women always do when so emancipated. A society composed of such cannot succeed or accomplish anything at all, something known to wise men throughout all ages, but which we were made to forget, to our harm and sorrow.

The movie ends differently than real life—in real life, the hippies won, and as a result we have accomplished nothing of any importance since 1969. Do not forget—it has been fifty-one years since 1969, when we landed men on the Moon, and 1969 was sixty-six years after men first flew. Compare the eras, and weep, for we now know that 1969 was our apogee, and that ever since, we have blindly stumbled along a crooked path that leads nowhere.

But in failure lies opportunity. I think that if we play it right, the 1960s will merely have been a detour off the path. We can now return to the straight path—but only if we have the will to make hard choices, to sell the present, for a time, to pay for our future. As the Wuhan virus spreads through our hollowed-out society, perhaps, indeed, now is the time. We will see.

That the 1960s spelled the effective end of America is not, to the perceptive, news. For fifty years, our ruling class has used their control of education and tele-visual media to indoctrinate our children and hoodwink our adults by painting an utterly false picture of the 1960s.

The party line has been that the decade was a shining time for America, when we overthrew old verities and emancipated everyone in society, resulting in a coruscating new dawn of liberty for America. And by unfortunate coincidence, our elites had, and gladly used, a peerless tool to silence objections, because it was in the 1960s that African Americans, the sole American group worthy of any type of emancipation or the subject of any relevant and unjust oppression in American history, actually got the civil rights promised them in 1865.

This allowed any objection to any aspect of the Left edifice built in the 1960s to be cast as racism and ignored—which it still is today, hugely reinforced by new, malicious Left doctrines such as intersectionality, thereby creating the very real risk of racial conflict in any American rebirth. I do not have a solution for that, yet.

On to the book. Shlaes is known as a historian of the early twentieth century. Her biography of Calvin Coolidge and her history of the Great Depression (The Forgotten Man) are modern classics. This is straight history, with no ideological overlay. Shlaes is not really here to criticize the 1960s, or their most visible manifestation, the so-called Great Society. Yes, the hubris of the men at the nation’s helm is on pristine display, but Shlaes presents the facts almost without comment, letting the reader draw his own conclusions.

The author organizes her chapters by short periods, months or years. She also pulls through certain themes, among them the television series Bonanza, which first aired at the turn of the decade, and went off the air a few years into the 1970s. Bonanza, reruns of which I watched with my grandfather as a child, was an optimistic show, reflecting an optimistic America—one where anything could be accomplished with hard work and the right attitude, most of all knowing and doing one’s duty.

In 1960, Americans correctly perceived themselves as strong and the federal government, which had vastly less reach than today and directly touched the average American’s life nearly not at all, as a partner in continuing that strength. Big business, labor, and the government openly cooperated to everyone’s perceived benefit.

True, there was always some tension about how the pie got distributed, with intermittent conflicts between labor and management, and fears in many quarters that socialism was lurking just around the corner. In 1960 through 1962, there were some rumblings of economic discontent, and, almost unnoticed, the pernicious adoption by President Kennedy of an executive order allowing government employees to unionize. But there was little to suggest new problems ahead.

Trouble was being brewed by the Left, though. Of course, the Left had long been striving to get a grip on America, but had never managed to dominate even the most obvious areas, such as factory workers. The unions were, in fact, mostly ferociously anti-Communist, and a key part of the necessary and heroic suppression by Americans of Communism during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

Realizing this, the traditional American hard Left had switched to dominating the culture, the institutions, and morphed into the New Left. Shlaes acknowledges this was a multi-decade program of the Left: “The ‘long march through the institutions’ that Antonio Gramsci sketched out and Rudi Dutschke demanded had succeeded.” (In America, this was the project of the infamous Frankfurt School). In effect, therefore, this book is a history of how the New Left took power, and ruined America.

Shlaes focuses on the Port Huron meeting of June 1962, which sowed the seeds of much of the rest of the decade. Port Huron was a meeting of well-to-do young New Left activists, organized and paid for by the United Auto Workers, naively eager to enlist young people in the goal of helping keep the pie properly divided.

Politics was nothing new for the great union leaders, such as Walter Reuther, but what the UAW and its elders did not realize is that the young leftists they recruited believed pies grew on trees, and anyway were less interested in pies, and more interested in destruction of the American system and its replacement by something entirely new.

The older American Left, exemplified by Reuther, wanted social democracy in the European mold. The New Left wanted, as the ideological Left has always wanted since the 1700s, a complete reworking of society to achieve a new, Utopian paradise of justice and equality. But Reuther and his compatriots could not see this.

The degeneration heralded by the New Left did not manifest itself into sudden existence, it had long been in preparation, and had multiple parents, not just the Frankfurt School.

It began in earnest sixty years before, among the Progressives who rejected America and demanded its replacement by a technocracy. Such men took advantage of, in sequence, crises to implement their vision—first World War I, then the Depression, then World War II. To the observant, by the 1960s signs of the rot created by the Left were all around, from the destruction of classical architecture to the perversions of higher education William F. Buckley called out in God and Man at Yale.

The clear-eyed among us, such as Ronald Reagan, warned us, but even then, the elite rained contempt on Reagan and his message, thereby strengthening those actively seeking to undermine America.

Why the Left has the will and ability to execute such a strategy over a century and the Right has, so far, not, is a topic for another time. But that reality is on full display in this history, beginning with the Presidency of John Kennedy. It was those young Port Huron-type leftists, along with their slightly older leaders, such as Michael Harrington, who in 1961 quickly began to strongly influence the direction of America.

Kennedy surrounded himself with men who were open to left-wing goals, and insufferably utopian, though most were still not wholly of the New Left. (Shlaes narrates how an obsessive topic of discussion among Kennedy’s White House staff, immediately after Kennedy’s inauguration, was wondering how they would spend their time in the last two years of Kennedy’s term, after they had solved all the nation’s problems during the first two years).

But when Kennedy was shot, and Johnson came to power, it immediately became clear that Johnson wanted nothing more than huge federal programs, in the mold of the New Deal, only bigger and better, to cement his legacy—programs that the Left, with its infrastructure in waiting, could and did easily use for their own purposes.

Shlaes deftly sketches Johnson’s tools—his solid Democratic majorities in Congress, his own political abilities, the manufactured sense of emergency used to circumvent democratic checks (always a favorite tool of the Left). We go through 1964, with a cast of characters once famous who have now left the stage—everyone from Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Sargent Shriver.

Right off the bat Johnson and the men who advised him rammed through massive “anti-poverty” legislation based on New Left principles. In November, Johnson was elected to the Presidency in his own right by a landslide. This cemented Johnson’s desire and ability to execute the now-named Great Society, which meant fountains of cash distributed at all levels (along with many other pernicious non-monetary changes, such as huge increases in legal immigration).

One level was the federal government, where massive new programs sprouted like weeds. But a second level was handouts of tax dollars to states, most of all to large cities, where poverty and Democrats were concentrated. Shlaes goes into great detail about these various programs, everything from the massive new housing developments to Head Start.

Some of the mayors, especially Republican mayors, resented that the price of free money from Washington was toeing the line that Washington set, but they had no real choice, and Johnson’s compliant Congress changed the laws whenever necessary to ensure that local control was a mere fiction.

And a side effect of money sluicing down from, and controlled from, above was more erosion of America’s intermediary institutions, a bulwark against leftist domination, but already in decline due to government expansion of previous decades.

These Great Society programs all had as a primary goal the funding of the Left as an institution, and were the beginning of the massive self-sustaining ecosystem of the modern Left, where to this day enormous sums flow from government, business, and private individuals and entities to fund a galaxy of leftist pressure groups.

In 1965, for example, Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago was handed money for a “community action program” to hire one thousand full-time “community action representatives” at a salary of $4,070 each (about $35,000 today). Such “representatives” were instructed from Washington, in the form of a 262-page book that encouraged organizing the poor to protest to demand handouts, using the techniques pioneered by Saul Alinsky. (In later years, an ambitious young man, growing up in Hawaii, would move to Chicago and slot himself directly into this by-then long-existing ecosystem, ultimately leveraging it to make himself President).

This funding and support from well-connected elders has always been lacking on the Right, which is a problem the Right must solve in order to achieve any of its goals.

Shlaes also touches on the importance of the radical leftist judiciary in cementing the Great Society, creating law out of whole cloth that fit with the ideology being implemented. Such decisions included Goldberg v. Kelly, deeming government handouts a property right; Reynolds v. Sims, rewriting the Constitution to ensure states with big cities were ruled by those cities; and many other Supreme Court decisions.

And on a lower level, thousands of suits were brought by the government-funded Legal Services Corporation, created to serve the poor in their minor disputes such as divorces and property, but weaponized to instead frustrate any legislative choice that did not conform to the goals of the Left, and still used for that purpose (joined today by nearly all the top law firms in America).

Such domination of the judiciary by the Left, on display most recently in the practice of federal district judges immediately blocking any action by Donald Trump not approved by the Left by issuing illegitimate nationwide injunctions, is another major problem blocking future Right victories.

Only by crushing such Left judicial opposition, and restoring the federal judiciary to its proper extremely modest role, or by having Right judges finally use their power in the same way as Left judges have for sixty years, can the Right win.

Meanwhile, Tom Hayden and other firebrands of the New Left were moving even further leftward, unhappy that the Great Society was not radical enough. In 1965 and 1966, openly supporting Communism in North Vietnam became the new chic, and Hayden and his compatriots traveled to North Vietnam, receiving the usual Potemkin village treatment and eagerly believing the lies they were fed. (Later, Hayden and his wife Jane Fonda would name their son after a Vietnamese Communist assassin who had tried to kill Robert McNamara by bombing a bridge over which his motorcade was to pass).

This drove a wedge between the leftists in the White House and the even more radical set outside it, but also ensured that further movement Left continued, as the younger generation of leftists replaced the older.

Soon enough, no surprise, it became evident that the desired and expected Utopian results, by whatever measure, were not forthcoming. The poor were worse off and violence among the poor swept the nation. This frustrated Johnson and all the men surrounding him, so he turned to housing, in 1966 and 1967.

The result, in an explicit attempt to achieve “human flourishing,” was disaster, with the building of massive Le Corbusier-inspired tower blocks of public housing that immediately become festering hellholes, such as Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, which Shlaes profiles up to its demolition in 1972. Meant as a Utopian solution that would prevent rioting by the dissatisfied poor, such housing instead exacerbated the Great Society’s destruction of black communities.

And such housing, long a pet project of the Left in its desire to remake human nature and create “scientific” solutions to intractable problems, would have been even more widespread and destructive, were it not for the efforts of people like Jane Jacobs. (Nowadays, bizarrely, we are often told that such public housing projects were the acts of racist conservatives, in an act of historical mendacity that would be breathtaking were it not the norm for Left “history”).

Among all this, Shlaes covers the rise of inflation and the move away from the gold standard, along with other economic matters, as the socialism of the Great Society inevitably led to stagflation. She narrates Johnson’s choice not to run again, and how the cultivation of the New Left in the early 1960s resulted in the takeover of the Democratic party by the New Left at the end of the 1960s.

She talks about the sclerosis in the once-peerless American auto industry (and other heavy industries), and the effect this had on the labor/management cooperation found earlier in the decade. Wound in between are what are now commonplace government behaviors, then new: massively underestimating the costs of government programs; using word salads and names as propaganda; ignoring regulatory costs on society; failing to perform, or care in any way about, cost-benefit analysis. We are used to it all now, just as a man living next to an open sewer becomes inured to the stench, but Shlaes does a good job narrating how it all came into existence.

It is particularly interesting that Shlaes discusses a document written by Moynihan, 1962’s “Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture.” In itself, this one-page memo was not particularly objectionable, but its call for “efficient and economical facilities” combined with a call for “contemporary architects” to direct the federal government’s buildings, not vice versa, resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars of ugly federal architecture.

This did not have to be, but was inevitable in context because of the pernicious dominance of architectural Modernism. Shlaes’s mention of this memo is interesting because only a few weeks ago, this now completely obscure document was prominent again, when it was leaked that the Trump administration was considering, after sixty years, revising this document to call for a return to classical architecture.

The usual suspects shrieked “fascism!”, and nothing has been done yet, but I certainly hope it will—though it needs to be part of a much larger and comprehensive rework of the federal government, of which new architecture will be a key demonstrative element.

By the time Nixon took over in 1969, the cracks were starting to show, but Nixon eagerly continued Johnson’s policies, and often expanded them. In part this was because he didn’t much care for domestic policy (Shlaes quotes him after his 1962 gubernatorial loss, “At least I’ll never have to talk about crap like dope addiction again”); in part this was simply adherence to leftist pieties that had already addicted the mainstream of the Republican party. (George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, features frequently in this book as an eager toady to the Left, just like his son is today).

Nixon, in fact, tried to expand the Great Society to include a universal basic income, and fell just short, because Vietnam and the fact the Left had hated Nixon for decades for his anti-Communism precluded the lockstep forced cooperation that had allowed the early Great Society to be rammed through by Johnson—not to mention the economy was not doing well, and the feeling of shared prosperity had already, not coincidentally, begun to disappear.

Shlaes ends with the beginning of stagflation and the end of the gold standard, with, shades of Donald Trump, Nixon agitating against the Federal Reserve’s unwillingness to loosen the money supply to help his re-election. Of course, one immediate result of the Great Society was economic catastrophe in the 1970s.

Shlaes nods to this, although it is outside the scope of the book proper. That was, ultimately, however, the least important effect of the Great Society. Its most important effect was to encourage the undeserving to believe they are being unjustly denied what belongs to them, while rejecting that any person has any duty that counterbalances freedom. This fragmented our society, and thereby destroyed the unity and purpose that made it possible for America to accomplish great things.

All this is a sad history, but instructive. A basic principle of mine, and of Foundationalism, is that a well-run government should have limited ends and unlimited means. Because elites love power, and rotten elites love power dearly for what it can give them that they cannot earn, expansion of government in practice means expansion of ends.

So it was with us, but worse, since our elites combined love of power with a noxious and wholly destructive ideology. The answer is not incremental changes; it is to defenestrate our entire ruling class and strip the Left permanently of its money and power, by almost any means necessary; then to rebuild a virtuous society that takes advantage of America’s unique history and place in the world, and what I believe is still a unique attitude among many of its people.

With a new ruling class organically arising from the most talented and dedicated, combined with a complete restructuring of education, the termination of any unearned benefit (especially one based on any immutable characteristic), the sharp restriction of the franchise to those with an actual stake in society, and other radical changes, we may have a chance. I have been saying for some time that history will return. 2020 is looking like the year; let’s take advantage of it, for as Lenin said, “Timing is all.”

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows the Woodstock concert poster, from 1969, by Arnold Skolnik.

How Not To Fix The World

Almost always one reads a book of future-looking political theory long before or long after its substance has been proven or disproven. It is quite another experience to observe theory offered just yesterday, as it morphs today into reality. So, it is with The Decadent Society, released in February, a month ago. It sharply identifies our problems, and speaks abstractly of possible futures for both America and the rest of the world, in which our problems are solved, or not.

But all changed futures require a mechanism of change, that in February we were lacking. Now, the Wuhan coronavirus, and, much more importantly, its knock-on effects, have delivered a possible mechanism, and a changed future rises in the shadows. History has, perhaps, returned.

That’s not to say this book is very good. It’s not. I mean, it’s not bad, and the author, Ross Douthat, a prominent conservative, is an excellent writer, but he says nothing that I and many others have not been saying for years; and he is trapped within the rusty confines of High Conservatism, itself decadent under his own definition.

Moreover, iron bars may not make a cage (as the Cavalier poet, Richard Lovelace, a distant collateral ancestor of mine, said). But being the only conservative employee of the New York Times, whether Douthat admits it to himself or not, makes for house arrest, where the author makes sure his thought stays within a narrow band. Still, Douthat is a smart man, and his analysis is a starting place for bolder lines of thought.

Douthat uses Jacques Barzun’s classic definition of decadence, which is hard to boil down to a single sentence, but Douthat distills it to “economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of prosperity and technological development.”

Decadence in Barzun’s definition is not eye-catching, dissolute behavior or massive inequality. In fact, decadent periods are often periods of considerable activity—just not original or useful activity. “Repetition is more the norm than innovation . . . intellectual life goes in circles.”

As Douthat notes, this definition, by emphasizing economics and observable repetition, allows some degree of quantification and precision, and largely takes out moral elements. That’s not to say that decadent periods don’t often show moral degeneracy; but in this view degeneracy is not the main marker of decadence, and is essentially ignored by Douthat (though, strangely, the cover image is one of gluttony).

To justify his diagnosis of degeneracy, Douthat identifies four symptoms: economic stagnation; human sterility; institutional sclerosis; and cultural repetition. Each of these gets a chapter, taking up half the book total, and then Douthat turns to what might change, and how we might escape decadence.

By “we” Douthat means Western civilization, primarily America and secondarily, Europe; although he nods occasionally to two Asian cultures now advanced because they have adopted elements of Western civilization, Japan and South Korea. As we’ll see, Douthat does a good job showing that “we” are decadent under Barzun’s definition, although it would be a more interesting (and much longer) book if he tied this analysis to other societies in history.

We can see no forward movement, no future, when our society is viewed with a clear eye. Trying to cover all the bases, Douthat looks high and low for a silver lining, arguing that perhaps living like this, eking out the ruin in a nation, isn’t really so bad. It’s better, he says, than submitting to violence and war for their own sake, in the manner of some pre-World War I thinkers. But as we will see, that is a false dichotomy, and it’s pretty clear Douthat thinks so too.

A key element is missing in Douthat’s analysis, however. He ignores how we got here. He doesn’t say it was inevitable; he does not claim there is a cycle in every human society. Instead, he treats the West’s descent to decadence as a passive event, something that somehow happened to us for unspecified, perhaps unknowable, reasons. He ignores the possibility that it was an active event, something that was done to us by specified people for specified reasons. Or, put another way: did we fall, or were we pushed? You won’t find Douthat addressing that question.

Douthat begins with 1969, the apogee of America. That apogee seemed, Douthat accurately points out, like a beginning, the foothills of the much greater mountains that America would soon conquer. It is obvious in retrospect that the rot was far advanced even then, but not surprising that escaped most people at the time. Douthat focuses on the landing of men on the Moon; this focus prefigures that Douthat’s solution for decadence is a renewed outward-looking vision, celebrating, as I have said, the works of Man under the eyes of God.

This is not a history of the space program, however. Douthat’s initial point is that very soon after 1969, we became resigned to the closing of all frontiers. He speaks of the search for “God and gold and glory,” making the interesting claim that the “ideology of exploration and discovery” in the modern, industrialized world offered “a new form of consolation to replace what faith and tribe and family and hierarchy had once supplied.”

In Douthat’s telling, it substituted for the impermanence of the modern world. I am not sure these things are properly contrasted; the great earlier ages of exploration and discovery combined the two very successfully, and most who sought the American frontier were very much about faith and family, and hierarchy too, if uncomfortable with distant overlords. And the space program itself was a perfect example of a hierarchy, one based on competence—just look at photos of astronauts or of Mission Control.

Douthat’s claim has a superficial appeal, but upon a little thought it’s obvious that accomplishing the new does not necessarily result in evanescence, and I suspect a close historical analysis would disprove Douthat’s claim entirely. Regardless, America did not seem decadent in 1969.

Next, we get four chapters on the four symptoms of decadence, beginning with economic stagnation, or more precisely, stagnation of real economic endeavor that actually adds value. Douthat adduces large businesses that turned out to be frauds or hollow shells, such as Theranos and Uber.

His point isn’t that all businesses are frauds; it’s that when a rich society can’t find legitimate and high-return places to invest wealth, the consequence is stagnation, the cessation of forward movement. It becomes “let’s-pretendism.”

The glossy pseudo-success of Silicon Valley today conceals a laundry list of massive defects and problems pointed out by other writers, from Robert Gordon (on the modern failure to truly innovate) to David Graeber (on jobs that are not real) to numerous writers on income stagnation in real terms for the masses and the decline in social mobility (Richard Reeves, and James Bloodworth).
Douthat doesn’t claim there is one single driver of this stagnation. He cites analyses ranging from libertarians through Thomas Piketty (though it doesn’t lend confidence that he keeps citing the very lightweight Tyler Cowen, who for some reason many on the Right view as some kind of guru), and settles on some combination of aging populations, debt overhang, limits to further education, environmental limitations (making here one of his many required obeisance to the gospel of global warming), and, perhaps most of all, the failure of technological innovation.

He points out that, the internet aside, our world is not very different than the world of several decades ago, but that world was vastly different than the world of a few decades before it. This is partially cloaked by the modern ultra-high speed of communication, but that is not a real difference. Nor is there any sign whatsoever, as I am also very fond of pointing out, that any of the marvels we are promised are imminent are indeed actually imminent, from driverless cars to artificial intelligence to life extension. Far more likely that in thirty years nothing much will have changed.

Following is sterility, human sterility. Here Douthat summarizes what any realist knows—that our actual problem is underpopulation, not overpopulation. I covered this in great detail in my review of Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson’s Empty Planet and will not repeat it here; Douthat does a competent job of summarizing the problem and linking it to his overall theme. He clearly points out all the bad things immediately resulting from an aging population, most of all a total lack of the dynamism that is the lifeblood of any society that is going anywhere. And by the end of the chapter, he nods in the direction of the truth—a society that is focused on nothing greater than maximizing individual choice will, given modern birth limiting options, always die, and die quickly.

He does not, however, advert to that this is an active choice, not something that passively happened to us, and the reader begins to sense that Douthat is either hiding or ignoring a key truth that explains his analysis—that we bought into, and allowed ourselves to be controlled by, a destructive ideology.

Next is sclerosis, in essence, the inability of our institutions, primarily our government, to do anything competently. We can all agree this is true, and it’s unnecessary to recount examples. But why is this? Again, Douthat treats it as something that just happened. Douthat ignores that increasing sclerosis is, over time, directly correlated with the expansion of the state demanded by leftist ideology, while at the same time non-governmental institutions have been deliberately reduced to almost complete irrelevance except as arms of the government or tools of leftist programs.

He says nothing about the administrative state, a creation and instrument of the Left. Worst of all, he makes claims that suggest he either has no idea what he is talking about or is bending over backward to protect the Left from its primary responsibility, such as making the bizarre claim, offering no examples because there are no possible examples, “[T]he conservative movement has become comfortable with judicial activism in reverse; with using judicial power aggressively on issues where conservative legislators have either been defeated or (more often) simply fear to tread.”

I wish that were true, but it’s not, even a little. And I have nearly as much contempt for the Republicans in Congress as for Democrats, but as we have seen this week in Nancy Pelosi holding hostage the “relief” bill for the Chinese coronavirus with a laundry list of unrelated leftist demands, and that the Left benefits from legislative sclerosis by its control of the judiciary and the administrative state, institutional sclerosis is a problem that could be largely solved by smashing the power of the Left. The reader begins to realize who the active agent of our decadence is—the modern Left, and its Enlightenment values of unlimited autonomic individualism and coerced equality.

Finally, we discuss cultural repetition. Douthat makes the point often made (he makes almost zero original points in this book, but he does not claim he is making original points), that the world of 2020 is basically indistinguishable from the world of 1990, but that any other thirty-year gap in modern American history shows massive changes, both visually and under the surface.

True enough, but he glosses over that our culture’s descent in the past fifty years is again directly correlated with the rise to total cultural dominance of the Left. From his Acela corridor perch, Douthat, a movie and television buff, can’t see this. (Oddly, he entirely ignores high culture, such as music and architecture, though of course those have also been destroyed by leftist ideology).

Douthat makes farcical statements, such as that among those pioneering “a richer and more daring approach to televised storytelling” is—Lena Dunham. He claims that Princess Leia using a blaster in Star Wars is the same thing as the men clad in female bodies who now dominate all action movies.

He tells us that five percent of the population is “homosexual or transgender”—which is false, and by including the mentally ill “transgender” he signals his burning of incense at the most recently erected progressive altar. He claims, with a straight face, that “the first season of Mad Men” is a “primary source,” apparently not realizing the entire series is slick leftist propaganda.

Winding up, Douthat points out that the culture war is mostly stalemated for the past few decades, since 1975 or so, hence we are repeating our past cultural battles. True enough, but what he fails to point out is that that stalemate has been a setting in amber of total victories by the Left, the only changes in which have been to add fresh victories for the Left.

So, yes, we do have cultural repetition—but that’s because we have calcified Left victories. The obvious answer, as with sclerosis, is that the Left is to blame, and if we destroy the Left, we increase our chances of being able to restore the future.

So, in these four chapters, Douthat proves, adequately enough, that our society is decadent. But it appears stable, or appeared so last month. Douthat next turns to why that is, when decadence is typically seen as leading to instability. He ascribes it to drugs, pornography, and the internet. Yes, political fighting appears vicious, but it is mostly playacting.

This is not the 1930s. Nobody is manning the barricades or fighting in the streets. The likely result, short and medium term, Douthat says, is a Huxley-ite soft despotism, where the government works to make us feel safe, and nobody even dreams, much less dares, great things. Think China without the annoying Chinese cultural attitudes and behaviors, like eating bats. Think, instead, James Poulos’s “pink police state,” a decayed world where the only thing that cannot be tolerated is intolerance, or rocking the boat for others’ desires, whatever those may be.

This is a reasonable vision. But again, Douthat bizarrely claims that this “coercion to freedom,” in Ryszard Legutko’s words, is some kind of organic modern happenstance, not a deliberate program of the Left. He never ascribes any malignity to the leftist program that has been so successful over the past hundred (really, two hundred) years, and wildly successful over the past sixty.

In Douthat’s Stockholm Syndrome-tinged vision, campus repression is merely something colleges “groped their way to . . . out of a kind of commercial necessity,” and campus speech rules are only “mildly repressive.” Right-wing engineers are “occasionally fired for wrongthink,” rather than every major business totally repressing all socially conservative speech. Western Europe’s violent punitive measures against any activity that challenges Left wholesale importation of alien invaders are neutrally “aimed at policing the tensions between natives and new arrivals.”

In Douthat’s fantasy, the pink police state affects everyone equally and in the same way, for both Left and Right are completely equal in the degree and types of censorship and persecution they suffer. This is ludicrous, and everyone paying attention knows it. Yet again—smash the Left, and you may not solve decadence, but life will get a lot better immediately, and there will be a lot more options for renewal.

But what is Douthat’s solution? It’s not the barbarians, given as an answer in C. P. Cavafy’s famous poem, “Waiting for the Barbarians,” where a decadent people are disappointed when the barbarians fail to show up to sack the city, for “They were, those people, a kind of solution.”

Douthat sees no force capable of “overthrowing the liberal order and inheriting the world.” Not Islam; it’s not coherent and it’s decaying on its own (more accurately, it’s been decaying for twelve hundred years). Not Russia; it’s a fake throwback to the Tsars. Not the illiberal democracies of Poland and Hungary; they are not a real alternative, and won’t be unless they remake themselves as “Christian monarchies” (hmmmm . . . .). Not the Chinese; they’re sterile, and going nowhere. Not populist movements in the developed world; they are “disturbances, not transformations.”

Yes, maybe “the right leader, the right crisis, the right combination of man and the moment [will lead] to actual regime change.” More likely, we’ll instead see global “convergence-in-decadence.”

What, then, are the alternatives? Well, there’s unexpected catastrophe, exacerbated by modern technologies. Douthat sets this to the side as unforeseeable, and I don’t think the Chinese coronavirus is such a catastrophe, although it highlights the possibility of such.

There’s economic collapse, leading to a real resurgence of 1930s-style political chaos. There’s global-warming making large sections of the globe uninhabitable. And there’s chaos resulting from all of these together, most of all the unchecked migration of those from the Third World into the rest of the world, leading to Europe becoming “neo-medieval” in order to resist this invasion, while America might resemble late Rome.

All this is rather a hodgepodge, though not inaccurate as far as it goes. Out of the listed problems, of course, you could construct many possible futures. We can generally, agree, though, that most of those futures are bad. I’m not sure they’re necessarily as bad as Douthat thinks—I could construct a future reached after widespread violence, in which the power of the Left, always fragile because based on unreality, is broken, and a competent, clean, outward-looking new society fashioned from the skeleton of the old. In fact, “neo-medieval” sounds pretty good to me. Maybe we should give that a try, not reject it out of hand.

Douthat, too, desires renaissance, the topic of his last chapter. Correctly, Douthat sees little possibility for internal renaissance in the West, without total or near-total collapse first. He does offer an intriguing idea, one I have touched on myself in the past—perhaps a new synthesis of Africa and Europe might lead to a new vibrant culture.

I’d like to think this is possible, but little suggests it is. Robert Cardinal Sarah, Douthat’s exemplar, is mostly a product of European culture, not African culture. No culture of world importance has ever come out of Africa, except perhaps Egypt, and that was four thousand years ago. But maybe that will change; no doubt even introspective Romans did not think it likely that illiterate, uncouth Franks in the dark forests of Gaul would create the greatest civilization the world has ever known.

Other than this, Douthat rejects that science alone will lead to a renaissance, even in the unlikely possibility that unprecedented scientific breakthroughs begin again. There is not going to be a Singularity, although it is possible that, say, Chinese scientists may create superhumans by genetic engineering and unleash the Eugenics Wars of Star Trek’s imagining.

He also rejects the modest post-liberal vision of authors such as Patrick Deneen, correctly recognizing that localism and subsidiarity, if effective in remaking parts of the world, will not be tolerated by their enemies, although he fails to correctly identify that their enemies are our current masters, the Left, and a Right post-liberal government, of unlimited means and limited ends, would likely coexist just fine with such communities, of the Benedict Option type or any other.

Douthat seems unable to contemplate such a realist-based, rightist post-liberal government; his limited vision only allows him to consider a nationalist-type state on the model of Israel, not one that wholly rejects the Enlightenment, which, after all, is the root of the decadence the Left has imposed on us over the past sixty years. He briefly analyzes a religious revival, but, as with catastrophe, drops it as impossible to predict.

And, ultimately, he concludes, rather unsatisfyingly but with some truth, that any renaissance will depend on “a lot of things happening at once”—though, as I do, he comes back again and again to Space as a backbone of any such renaissance. “I suspect that a truly globalized civilization cannot help tending toward decadence so long as it remains earthbound, so long as there is no hope of finding actual new worlds to leap toward, conquer, or explore.”

Let’s try something different. Let’s imagine another twentieth century, at the end of which did not lie today’s decadence, which, contra Douthat, was not in the least inevitable. Alternative history is both fascinating and largely pointless, but what if the West had, a hundred years after the French Revolution, somehow wholly rejected the pernicious Enlightenment vision of destructive ever-greater emancipation?

What if the Enlightenment had never reached its logical end, woke so-called liberal democracy that is really a dying quasi-totalitarianism? We might have lasted longer, and accomplished more. We might have been Venice writ large, expanding already beyond the Earth, firmly grounded in reality, not ideology, and lifting ourselves upward and outward.

That’s not what happened. And we can’t go back. But maybe we can go forward, not simply by magically refocusing on common outward-facing goals, as Douthat would have it, though that is surely needed, but by first cutting out and cauterizing the cancers at the heart of our civilization. The coronavirus has made most of the many asleep realize, at least a little bit, how badly off track we are, by slapping all of us in the face with reality.

Any recognition of reality undermines the power of the Left’s pernicious vision, which relies on a combination of iron exercise of power and the casting of a mass delusion. A little more reality, hard reality, and those who hold the levers of power are likely to be thrown down. We can hope.

And if so, the key is to rebuild on the foundations that made us successful earlier, not the destructive combination of the visions of John Stuart Mill and Maximilien Robespierre that has led us to where we are now. Through the fire, probably, but then onward to new lands.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” by Fritz von Uhde, undated.

The Right-Left Divide: Does It Still Matter?

One of the most debated issues in recent years by European political observers (journalists and political scientists) has been the possibility, or the impossibility, of overcoming the right-left divide. This was particularly the case in the so-called “Latin” European countries of France and Italy, where the “old” dichotomy, established for over a century, seemed to be firmly and lastingly established.

In polls conducted at the end of the year 2000, in these countries, 60–70 percent of citizens stated unequivocally (at least when allowed to do so) that democracy had stopped working properly; that there no longer were substantial differences between right and left governments; and that the divide is no longer really relevant.

I myself contributed to the debate on the permanence or the end of this divide, its transformation or its decline, by publishing Droite/Gauche: pour sortir de l’équivoque. Histoire des idées et des valeurs non conformistes du XIXe au XXIe siècle (Right/Left: Getting Past the Ambiguity. A History of Non-Conformist Ideas and Values from the 19th to the 21st Centuries). What follows is a summary of the important points of this book.

To understand the radical and surprising recent socio-political change happening in European countries (the birth and development of many populist movements in much of the continent, governmental alliance between the League and the 5-Star Movement in Italy; popular rebellions/ insurrections, like the “Red Cap” and the “Yellow Vests” against the self-proclaimed progressive oligarchies or “elites” in France; the emergence of Vox in Spain; Brexit in the United Kingdom, etc.) – it is worth reflecting in depth and more specifically answering a few key questions: What is the Right? What is the Left? What are the arguments for and against the “inevitable” or “accidental” division that articulates the political life of modern representative democracies? Why is the Left-Right dichotomy more and more discredited in public opinion in European countries?

Beyond the multiplicity of definitions of the Right and the Left, two radically different approaches clash one with the other: One is philosophical and the other historical.

The philosophical approach seeks to define the essence, the intimate character of the two phenomena; the historical, empirical and relativistic approach denies that these are isolated absolutes, independent of contingent situations (local and temporal). The first approach leads to strengthening or consolidating of the traditional dichotomy, while the second leads to its criticism, its questioning, or its casting into doubt.

In the background, there is, of course, the triple divide among the major political parties of radical globalization carried out for over thirty years by the dominant oligarchy (political, economic, financial and cultural), whose positions are sometimes alter-globalists, internationalists and crypto-Marxists (Podemos, Syriza or La France insoumise), sometimes anti-globalists.

The latter dividing in their turn between, on the one hand, the liberal-conservatives who pursue the union or the alliance of the rights (like Marion Maréchal Le Pen in France, or the leaders of Vox in Spain), and, on the other hand, the republican and secular tendency “simultaneously of the right and the left” which embodies a line seeking to synthesize identity and sovereigntist aspirations, ideas of fatherland and social justice (like the National Front of yesteryear with Florian Philippot, or the National Rally of Marine Le Pen today).

How is the Left and the Right to be Defined? The Essentialist Point of View: The Divide is Not Over.

The essentialist view has been defended by many authors for more than half a century. From a right-wing position, we can cite, among others, the French Christian Democrat, René Rémond, the Hungarian-American traditionalist, Thomas Molnar, or the Spanish conservative, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora.

More recently, we can cite in France the former adviser to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Patrick Buisson (and his biographer, close collaborator of the philosopher Alain de Benoist, the journalist François Bousquet), the political scientist Guillaume Bernard, or professor of constitutional law, Jean-Louis Harouel. And we include another of the founders of the New Right, the journalist Michel Marmin.

On the Left, we have to mention, among the best known, the Italian Norberto Bobbio, the Englishman Ted Honderich, the Frenchman Jacques Julliard, and the Spaniard, Esperanza Guisán.

The Right, in the most conventional and the most common sense of the term, would be synonymous with stability, authority, hierarchy, conservatism, loyalty to traditions, respect for public order and religious convictions, protection of family and the protection of private property. Conversely, the Left would embody dissatisfaction, demand, movement, a sense of justice, donation and generosity.

Neo-Marxist, neo-social-democratic and sometimes neoliberal propaganda, which claims to be “progressive,” sees in the Right the reaction against the Enlightenment, against Progress, Science, Equality, Humanism (their deities always written in capital letters).

The Right and the Left would, after all, reflect only the eternal conflict between the rich and the poor, the dominant and the dominated, the oppressors and the oppressed. But when the subject is the object of a slightly more serious investigation, we quickly realize that this identification of the political Right with the economic Right, or the Right of conviction with the Right of interest or money (so widespread in the mainstream media) is just one more myth, more ideological smoke, a propaganda lie.

The readers of Vilfredo Pareto, familiar with his famous thesis on the collusion between plutocrats and revolutionaries, know this well. Examples that lend nuance to, or invalidate, the myth abound – from the bourgeois actors and heirs of the French Revolution, to today’s billionaire magnates and financial speculators, like George Soros.

In reality, there has always been in Europe, at least since the end of the 19th-century, an anti-liberal or “illiberal” (as we say today), traditional, social and anti-capitalist Right, which not only affirms its commitment to the national community, but also defends social justice. And there has always been a socialist or socializing Left which defends, at the same time, republicanism, secularism, the fatherland and the nation.

The essentialist point of view always privileges the “idea” over “existence,” reality or facts. It is developed at different, more or less sophisticated, levels of analysis. Let us recall here the oppositions that this view exhibits:

1) First of all, there is the pessimism of the Right against the optimism of the Left. There is the realism and the tragic sense of life against idealism, against sentimentalism, the triumph of good conscience and naïve optimism. According to this premise, there are ultimately two temperaments which always oppose one another. There is always the same antagonism: The reactionaries/conservatives versus the reformist or revolutionary progressives.

2) At a second level of analysis, there are the two metaphysical positions: Transcendence and immanence. On the one hand, there are those who defend God, and on the other, those who deify man.

Here Christian metaphysics and the correct reading of the Gospels are opposed to the great heresies and falsifying utopias of Christianity, to millenarianism, to Gnosticism (the God of evil against the God of good), or even to belief in the religions of politics with their secularized version of apocatastasis. In the background, there is a kind of eternal fight of light against darkness, of good against evil (each one being of course interpreted and defined differently according to whether one belongs to one of the two poles of the Right or Left).

3) Other authors oppose the Right which believes in human nature without change with the Left which believes in infinite perfectibility of man (a man, of course, not soiled by original sin, as Christianity teaches).

There is thus the Right which believes in the natural order, as opposed to the Left which believes in universal reason; the Right which has a holistic vision of society as opposed to the individualist approach of the Left (this radical individualism which appeared with the French Revolution also explains the subsequent collectivist and totalitarian reaction of Marxist socialism).

Therefore, there exists the right-wing organism (that is to say, the society which develops like a tree, with roots and branches, which cannot be changed with impunity, according to everyone’s will) – which would oppose the left-wing mechanism (i.e. the society that operates like a clock, with the possibility of changing and modifying each part, without limits).

4) A fourth difference would be the importance of family and community ethics, defended by the Right, in the face of the obsession of the Left for the liberation from mores and customs.

5) Another frequently cited antinomy is that between, on the one hand, spiritual aristocratism (not to be confused with social or material aristocratism) and the feeling of freedom, typical of the Right, and, on the other hand, the leveling and materialist egalitarianism, characteristic of the Left. In other words, quality versus quantity.

The main idea of the Left, then, becomes the search for equality which in turn becomes its driving force, while the message of the Right becomes the belief in emulation. The Left is thus a kind of slope towards material equality, and the Right a kind of slope towards spiritual aristocracy.

6) Another significant dissimilarity is also of note: The passion for the unity of the Right (with the usual call for the union of the national community) against the spirit or the will to divide the Left (with the reactivation of the class struggle).

7) Two other major principles are often opposed and declared to be irreducible. There is the conflictual or polemological vision of the world, characteristic of the Right, which opposes the dream of the bright future of humanity, the utopia of the “New Man” obsession of the Left.

It is obviously not a question here of the New Man wanted by the Christian God, but of the New Man desired by modern totalitarianisms – in their Marxist-Leninist, National Socialist, and neoliberal, or neo-social-democratic versions, while not forgetting the recent ideological variant of “anthropological justice,” which is itself intensified by bio-ideologies, delusional ideologies, the strangest seeds of which are almost all found in National Socialism, as noted by the Spanish political scientist, Dalmacio Negro Pavón.

8) Last but not least, there is the eternal struggle between the old and the new, the trendy and the old-fashioned, the current and the obsolete, the old and the modern. Some even do not hesitate to see in the defense of language an authentic Right marker. But on this account, the teachers of the public schools of yesteryear (republicans, secularists, socialists, nationalists and other “progressives,” moderates or extremists, reformists or revolutionaries), would only be vulgar reactionaries or rightists who ignored each other.

In short, from the essentialist point of view, there is always a Right and a Left. Some, like Jacques Anisson du Perron, start from the premise or the intangible axiom that “the Right has always existed, since it merged with the political organization of traditional civilizations. In contrast, the Left only appeared in modern times.” Consequently, we would be eternally condemned to live and to know only two opposite conceptions of the world and life, and at a lower level, two morals, two forms of psychology, even two temperaments.

At this point, it is perhaps worth remembering that the Russian mathematician and dissident, Igor Shafarevich said that, from a philosophical point of view, socialism has always existed as a specific tendency of human societies (and that ‘it did not only appear historically in the 19th-century). Nor should we forget that Nicolai Berdyaev said the same thing about nationalism and/or patriotism (which have a lot of common history in their modern forms): Born on the Left, at the beginning of the 19th-century, they moved partially to the Right at the end of the 19th-century.

That said, there is still a key point to emphasize: Most “essentialist” authors insist on the diversity or the plural character of the Right and the Left. They rightly show that there is no Right and Left, but Right and Left, without however reaching a consensus, when it comes to defining or classifying them.

Thus, for example, the liberal René Rémond distinguished three Rights: Traditionalist, liberal and nationalist, and three Lefts: Libertarian, authoritarian and Marxist. But after him other authors (such as the Israeli socialist, Zeev Sternhell) distinguished two Rights: Radical/revolutionary and conservative, and two Lefts: Progressive and revolutionary. Still others (like the conservative, Stéphane Rials) see a single traditional Right and four Lefts: Authoritarian-nationalist, liberal-bourgeois, anarcho-libertarian and social-Marxist.

More recently, authors like, Marc Crapez (specialist in the nationalist Left or “reactionary”) have pointed out the existence of a good dozen tendencies of the Right and the Left and have discredited or withdrawn a lot of value and interest from educational and university classifications.

Criticism of the Left/Right Divide. The Historico-Relativist Point of View

Historically, the Right/Left divide is barely a century, perhaps a century-and-a-half, old. This is the prosaic reality. After the French Revolution and for decades, division or opposition was limited to a question of parliamentary language (the partisans of power occupied the seats on the right and the opposition those on the left). As the Spanish philosopher, Gustavo Bueno, said very well: “In the Cortes of Cadiz [the Constituent Assembly sitting from 1810 to 1814 during the war of independence against France], there was no Right and Left.” The mythical divide is indeed much more recent.


In common opinion, the birth of this divide hardly dates back to the 1870s and 1900s and perhaps even later, to the 1930s. Consequently, the great cyclical conflict between the eternal Right and the immortal Left has hardly been around for a century. In addition, as Julien Freund rightly noted in 1986, it is a divide “essentially European and even localized in the Latin countries, although it was taken up some time ago by the Anglo-Saxon countries.”

For the historian of political ideas, it is relatively easy to show that the values of the Right and the Left are not immutable, that the crossovers or the exchanges of ideas have been and remain constant. The Rights are diverse and plural like the Left, which explains their divides and permanent conflicts.

The Right and the Left are universalists or particularists; internationalists/globalists and supporters of free trade, or patriotic and anti-capitalist; centralists and Jacobins or regionalists, federalists and separatists; Atlanticists, Westernists and Europeanists (supporters of a federal Europe), or nationalists, Europeanists (defenders of a Europe of nations) and/or non-third-worldists; they may or may not be individualists, rationalists, positivists, organicists, mechanists, atheists, agnostics, spiritualists, theists or Christians.

There is no timeless definition of the Right or the Left that applies everywhere and at any time. The Right and the Left can only be defined historically, in relation to the periods and problems that arise at a given moment.

It is easy to show that the main political issues are constantly shifting from left to right and vice versa. I think I showed this in detail in my book, Droite/Gauche, pour sortir de l’équivoque, to which I refer the interested reader. This is the case with imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, anti-Masonism, anti-Christianity, anti-Catholicism, of anti-parliamentarianism, of the criticism of the demo-liberal model, of technocratism and anti-technocratism, of Malthusianism and of Antimalthusianism, of federalism, of centralism, of anti-statism, of regionalism, of separatism, of ecology, human rights criticism and the right to interfere (let us remember the harsh criticisms of the Italian anti-fascist liberal, Benedetto Croce, the socialist Harold Laski or the nationalist Mahatma Gandhi against human rights).

And such is also the case with the denunciation of the Enlightenment, anti-capitalism, the defense of the sovereignty and identity of peoples, immigrationism and anti-immigrationism, national preference, islamophilia and islamophobia, arabophilia and arabophobia, patriotism, nationalism, sovereignism, europhilia and europhobia, russophilia and russophobia, the alliance with the third world, anti-Americanism or American anti-imperialism, etc. All, absolutely all these questions escape the obsessive debate between the Right and the Left.

Many continue to oppose and divide not only between parties, but also within parties. We can therefore better understand why unions or alliances on the Right or on the Left are, and have always been, fragile, volatile, ephemeral or temporary. Added to this is, of course, the weight of the generally oversized ego of political leaders, but also their conflicting interests and career plans, which are poorly masked by the alleged differences on the political lines or the programs to be adopted.

The questioning of the permanent validity of the Left/Right dichotomy is at the same time historical, philosophical and moral. It is by no means the monopoly of an author, an intellectual movement, or a political party. On the contrary, the political sensitivities and opinions of the authors who criticize the Left/Right divide are very diverse.

It is the liberal José Ortega y Gasset who said: “To be on the left or to be on the right is to choose one of the innumerable ways available to man to be a fool; both, in fact, are forms of moral hemiplegia “(La Révolte de masses, Preface for the French Reader, 1930).

It is the liberal Raymond Aron who declared: “We will bring some clarity, in the confrontation of French quarrels, only by rejecting these ambiguous concepts [of Right and Left].”

It is the liberal-conservative Julien Freund who wrote: “The distinction between Left and Right is in the order of a and local; it does not determine essential political categories… Philosophical correctness requires that one exceeds this circumstantial classification… The rivalry between the Right and the Left is not based on a judgment of morality, but it is one of the current forms of the fight for the power.”

It is the national-syndicalist José Antonio Primo de Rivera who invited the rejection of the annealed hatred of the Right and the Left, and who affirms: “To be on the right or to be on the left is always to exclude from the soul the half which it needs to feel. Sometimes, this means the exclusion of everything and to replace that with a caricature of the half” (Ha fenecido el segundo bienio, January 9, 1936).

It is the Marxologist, Costanzo Preve, a representative figure of Italian communism, who stated: “The Right/Left dichotomy is nothing other than an incapacitating residue, or an artificial prosthesis, perpetuated by the ruling class.”

It is the ex-militant soixante-huitard and leftist, Jean Baudrillard, who noted: “If one day political imagination, political requirement and political will may a chance to rebound, it can only be on the basis of the radical abolition of this fossil distinction which has been canceled and fully disowned over the decades, and which no longer holds except by complicity in corruption.”

It is the Greek libertarian socialist, Cornelius Castoriadis, who recognized this: “It has been a long time now that the Left-Right divide, in France as elsewhere, no longer corresponds either to the great problems of our time or to radically opposed political choices.”

In reality, countless authors with very diverse convictions, follow the “skeptical” or critical tradition of the Left/Right divide. Over the years, they have become legion. The names of the traditionalist Donoso Cortés, the liberals José Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Unamuno, the heterodox socialist-Marxist Gustavo Bueno can be cited here as an example.

Among the French, there are Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Maurice Barrès, Charles Péguy, Simone Weil, Daniel-Rops, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Claude Michéa, Christophe Guilluy, Vincent Coussedière, Alain De Benoist, Marcel Gauchet.

Among Americans, there are Christopher Lasch, Paul Piccone and Paul Gottfried.

Among Italians, Costanzo Preve, Augusto del Noce, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marco Tarchi, Marco Revelli and many others.

The majority of political scientists and journalists agree that the neo-social-democrat Left (with its far-left allies) has stopped proclaiming its will to resolve the social question and to bring about social revolution (with the hope for the liberation of the proletariat), and has assumed the principles of the free market and now prefers to invoke societal and anthropological “values” (defense of the “world citizen,” integration of “victimized” minorities, such as, homosexuals, transsexuals, feminists, immigrants, genderism and multiculturalism).

As for the neoliberal Right (which rejects alliances with the traditional and radical Rights), it has abandoned the defense of the nation, morals, religion and family, to deal exclusively and cynically with the economy.

But what can it mean to be simultaneously of the Right and the Left? For Marxists, neo-social-democrat, Social Liberals and Conservative Liberals, denouncing the Right/Left opposition can only be an extremist and cynical attitude. Among them, many are the commentators who see in this criticism of the traditional dichotomy only the resurgence of fascism, if not to say of National Socialism or Nazism. But in reality, this view is invalidated by historical facts.

Fundamentally, to define oneself simultaneously of the Right and the Left is to express the conviction that a political community needs both justice and freedom, progress and conservation, patriotism and internationalism, personalism and solidarity, order and freedom, economic initiative and social guarantees, respect for human rights and the affirmation of the duties of men, equality and merit, fraternity and competitiveness, nothing more and nothing less.

All these concerns can be summed up in a few words: It is about the political will to defend spiritual, religious, patriotic or national values and, simultaneously, to pursue the common good, or to affirm the need for collective solidarity and social justice. This attempt at synthesis is found in the programs of many intellectual movements, which were born and developed in Europe, from the end of the 19th-century to the present day – movements that are radical, revolutionary and extremist, or moderate and reformist, depending on the place and time.

In my book, I refer to the twenty models or examples that are social-traditionalism (and according to the Italian economist Stefano Solari – Donoso Cortés is even the inventor of the Third Way).

These are:

The Left/Right divide was also often questioned by politicians from the center, by representatives of social liberalism, neo-social democracy and neoliberalism.

This is particularly the case with President Emmanuel Macron, or Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and various other political and intellectual figures. Paradoxically, they are also proven representatives of the globalist oligarchy who, as adept connoisseurs of the magic of words, presented – for electoral purposes – a centrist, watered-down and diluted version of the criticism of the Right/Left divide.

They know that this traditional divide is today widely discredited in public opinion and take this into account, at least verbally, to seduce their constituents.

But the policies of these leaders are nevertheless in line with those of social democratic or Christian democrat politicians, who distinguished themselves several decades ago, like Tony Blair, Schroeder or Clinton. The latter then called themselves the “Third Way,” as theorized by the Englishman Anthony Giddens and the North American Amitai Etzioni.

In Spain, Albert Rivera and his party Ciudadanos, who have embarked on the same path, have obtained significant support from the former French Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

We can summarize the success of this strategy and its positive result electorally (although not definitely, as demonstrated by the considerable difficulties faced by President Macron and his government) – by recalling the famous words of young Tancredi, a character in The Leopard: “If we want that everything stays as it is, everything has to change.”

So, what remains of the Left/Right divide and what is the new divide that seeks to replace it? The criticism of the Left/Right dichotomy consists above all in showing that there are neither “eternal values” on the Right, nor “immortal principles” on the Left. In other words, the Right and the Left are the result of certain opinions about facts and ideas, which do not come from an ideal model, an archetype, or an idea in the Platonic sense of the term.

It is not a question of denying that historically the Right/Left divide explains a large part of the political phenomena of the past, but only of denying that it explains them all. It is a question of showing that the allegedly immutable political debate, which opposes two “essentialized” categories (the eternal Right and the immortal Left) has become an artificial prosthesis that only serves to perpetuate the situation of the dominant oligarchy.

The Right/Left divide seems to be nothing more than a mask, which serves to hide another division, now much more decisive: That which opposes rooted peoples to the self-proclaimed elites, who are the very vectors of uprooting; that which opposes the defenders of sovereignty, identity and national cohesion with the partisans of “world governance.” And that which opposes the excluded from globalization and cast into the peripheral areas of the country (people or citizens who obviously have – or will have – their own leaders under the “iron law of the oligarchy”) with the privileged of the system, to the dominant oligarchy, to the globalized or hyperclass ruling class, which lives in the beautiful districts of the big cities, the most developed zones of the country and which, moreover, rubs shoulders, preferably or exclusively, with the privileged elite of globalism in other countries.

Today, there is clearly a new dualism which replaces the old Right/Left opposition (even the essentialist authors, who reject the possibility of an extinction or disappearance of the dichotomy, recognize that it has undergone profound alteration or modification). Populism versus oligarchy, roots against globalization, community and solidarity culture against liberal and progressive culture – reflect the new dividing line. Whatever the self-proclaimed “experts” and other “specialists” in the media say, these are two entirely new ways of interpreting the confronting reality, two rational but irreconcilable ways of viewing where the greatest danger comes from, of choosing our future and our commitment.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows, “Fillette de Concarneau à la miche de pain (Girl from Concarneau with a Loaf of Bread”), by Henri-Jules-Jean Geoffroy, painted in 1886.

Ricardo Duchesne: The Necessity Of A Common Ground

This month, we (TP) are pleased to interview Dr. Ricardo Duchesne (RD), a Canadian scholar, who writes about the importance of Western culture and civilization. Dr. Duchesne recently took “early retirement” from his tenured position at the University of New Brunswick so he could enjoy the opportunity to think critically about current politics and the history of Western Civilization, freed from the anti-intellectual and anti-Western atmosphere prevailing in Canadian universities.

TP: Welcome to the Postil, Dr. Duchesne! Could you give us a little background of your experiences as a professor in Canadian academia leading to your decision to take early retirement? You have been burdened with various baseless yet pernicious labels. Do you think this is simply weaponized language to win rhetorical points, or do you think this is a symptom of something graver – the rise of mass conformity in the West, i.e., the death of freedom?

RD: Like almost everyone in academia, I was a leftist throughout my student days and for about 10 years after I began teaching in 1995. My disengagement with the left was not a two-step transition from left to right.

Over the course of many years, I travelled the entire political spectrum from Soviet Marxism and Third World Communism to Western Marxism and New Left politics, from mainstream liberalism and postmodernism to neo-conservatism, and from these establishment views to the realization (around 2012/13) that the supreme political issue of our times was the forced diversification of all Western nations through mass immigration.

Mind you, through these changes in ideology I have remained attached to Western individualism. I was really bothered by the way leftists (pretending to be liberals) had manipulated the principle of minority rights into a call for the diversification of Western lands through the importation of millions of individuals from diverse cultures and races. I could not accept the claim that a program of diversification implemented from above with little democratic consultation was concomitant with the fulfillment of liberal-democratic ideals.

There is nothing in the philosophy of liberalism that requires one to accept mass immigration. One can be a firm believer in individuals rights in the same vein as one rejects the ideology of diversity. The Western nations that fought in WWII against Nazism had very strong immigration regulations.

I came across the term “cultural Marxism” around 2011-12. This term, it seemed to me, captured the politics of the left quite well in pointing to the fact that contemporary leftists were far less concerned with class economic issues than with the transformation of the culture of the West, the traditional heterosexual family, the “Western-centric” curriculum, the values of the Enlightenment.

The left was no longer identifying the ruling elites in economic terms but primarily in sexual and racial terms. The academic left was far less concerned with improving class relations than with attacking whites as a race and claiming that all cultures were morally and intellectually equivalent.

It was obvious to me that the often-used concept “Dead White Males” was a direct attack on the legacy of Western civilization, the high culture of this civilization, right inside the institutions of “higher learning”. It was an attack with malicious double standards, of which the most unfair standard was the prohibition of any ethnic identity by whites except negatively against its “white privilege” — in the same vein as minorities were celebrated in racial terms as “vibrant” and as progressive “victims” fighting “oppression” by whites.

I had no problem with the left arguing that Nazism was unacceptable because of its racism, but it was obvious to me that we were dealing with a new leftist ideology that would have us believe that any strong admiration for Western history and its achievements was tantamount with racism against those who were from non-Western cultures.

I could see how in academia students were being thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that any positive cultural identity on the part of Europeans was immoral and illiberal. I realized that multiculturalism was about encouraging other races to be proud of their cultures in the same vein as Westerners were expected to show pride in their increasingly multicultural nations, in the celebration of other cultures and races.

As liberalism came to be dominated by cultural Marxists, the use of racial categories became a staple of the left, weaponized to promote the forced diversification of Western nations. Immigrant diversity grew imperceptibly at first in the 1960s/1970s, as other leftist movements, women’s rights, civil rights for blacks and indigenous peoples, environmentalism, and anti-war movements, played the dominant role.

But from the 1990s on, with increasing momentum, immigrant diversity became the established religion it is today. Across the West no one is allowed to question the pathological the idea that INCREASING (without any set limitations) racial diversity through IMMIGRATION is “the greatest strength” of the West.

I think I would have survived in academia if I had restricted myself to the questioning of feminism, and multiculturalism, in the name of assimilation to Western culture by immigrants. I know a few conservatives in academia who vigorously question many aspects of the left.

What is prohibited above all else is any critical thinking about the diversification of the West through immigration. Both the left and the right side of globalism support diversity. When one questions diversity, one is going against the entire establishment.

Since the left successfully linked immigrant diversity with promotion of racial equality, and since globalist neocons agreed with them, anyone who questions immigrant diversity is automatically categorized as a racist who is fighting racial equality, even if you believe, as I do, in minority rights.

Your use of the phrase, “the rise of mass conformity in the West,” is spot on, insofar as it refers to the utter lack of dissident thinking in the West on the question of diversity. The spread of transsexualism undoubtedly poses an immense threat to our civilization, but I think one can survive in academia questioning trans politics, as the success of Jordan Peterson testifies and the success of magazines like Quillette.

TP: In your pivotal book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, you dismantle the arguments of various historians who seek to deny the West its exceptional character. Could you acquaint our readers with some of these arguments and how you have taken them apart?

RD: Denying the exceptional character of the West has come along with the promotion of multiculturalism. There are legitimate scholarly questions about the rise of the West that predate multiculturalism, but it is hard to deny that efforts to downplay the achievements of the West intensified as multiculturalism spread in the 1990s.

Advocates of a multicultural world history openly admit today that it is morally wrong to teach about the exceptional character of the West to a diverse classroom. This is why the teaching of Western civilization, a requirement across most colleges in the United States some decades ago, is now a rarity; and those who still teach Western civ are very careful to portray the West as a civilization “connected to the rest of the world”.

The basic argument of “revisionists” (such as Kenneth Pomeranz, Jack Goldstone, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, David Christian, and multicultural historians generally) is that the West was only different in acquiring the resource-rich lands of the Americas, subjugating African and Asian lands with its gun-powder technologies and aggressive colonialism.

Currently, most of the experts are focused on the comparative economic histories of Asia/China and Europe/England, under the supposition that economic differences are the real issue. Europe/England, they insist, was barely, if at all, ahead of Asia/China before the “great divergence” brought by the Industrial Revolution after 1750s/1820s.

These two major regions were similarly developed in their technologies, markets, state organization, and agrarian productivity, with Asia/China standing slightly ahead until Europe managed to surge ahead in the eighteenth century thanks to colonial empires and readily available coal supplies.

Even someone like Gregory Clark, not a multicultural historian, views all preindustrial societies as equally “Malthusian,” improving productivity very slowly, never achieving sustained improvements in their living standards, because every advance was consumed by higher rates of surviving children. He, and multicultural historians, believe that all preindustrial civilizations were fundamentally alike in their inability to achieve technological changes capable of outpacing population growth. Multicultural historians also believe (but not Clark) that Europe was “lucky” in acquiring colonies to finance a revolution that finally allowed it to escape the Malthusian limitations that prevailed throughout history before the Industrial Revolution.

It was not hard for me to show – which is telling since no one else thought about it — that China was the beneficiary of its own colonial expansion around the same time as Europe colonized the Americas. China extracted masses of resources from territories in the southwest, including the very sizable territory of Manchuria in the north. China acquired vast amounts of American silver through its positive balance of trade with Europe, in addition to American tropical goods.

But the key counter argument I make is that the Industrial Revolution was only one divergence among many others that should be traced back to the ancient Greeks. While it is true that, before the Industrial Revolution, the standard of living in the world’s civilizations barely rose above subsistence, except for a tiny minority at the top (and in this respect all civilizations were alike in their Malthusian limitations), we should not ignore achievements in scientific reflections, democratic politics, arts, music, historical consciousness, military strategies and organization.

As it is, you can’t ignore the role of mechanistic science in the making of steam engines, which were crucial to the industrial take off of the late eighteenth century. James Watt’s steam engine rested on new scientific principles about the connection between heat and motion.

Some revisionists reluctantly acknowledge this connection but they assume that China would have developed this technology if the right economic incentives were in effect, the prices of the factors of production, or cheap access to coal. But this ignores the immense intellectual breakthroughs involved in the rise of modern Galilean and Newtonian science, the many ideas which had to come together before Newton could come up with his mechanistic world view.

There is no question that the Second Industrial Revolution after 1850, associated with chemical industries and electricity, would have been impossible without the periodic table, the science of thermodynamics and electromagnetism, which were totally absent in the non-Western world.

These modern scientific ideas, moreover, presupposed ancient Greek deductive reasoning, geometrical proofs, the logic of Aristotle and the subsequent scientific ideas in Hellenistic times in the fields of mathematics, solid and fluid mechanics, optics, and physiology, as argued in Lucio Russo’s The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had To Be Reborn (2003).

We can’t ignore either the fact that the Hellenistic period was followed by the theory of impetus of medieval times and the introduction of algebraic notation in the early Renaissance, to name a few key ingredients that created the conditions for modern science.

We should mention as well the creation of universities for the first time in history with legal autonomy, proper standards for the acquisition of degrees and with a curriculum heavily infused with logic, mathematics, grammar, theology, and philosophy. In other words, there was continuous development in scientific knowledge, and rationalization, from ancient to medieval to renaissance to modern times, and from this science to the First and the Second Industrial Revolution.

In Uniqueness I also go beyond the science-modern industry connection, to write about the importance of the Greek miracle, Roman rational law, rise of autonomous cities, and a legal system with many types of laws – feudal, manorial, mercantile, urban, canon, and royal law — the European discovery and mapping of the globe, the Enlightenment, and other cultural developments that bespeak of a civilization far more dynamic and creative.

One of the things I talk about lately is the European invention of all the disciplines taught in our universities: history, geography, geology, economics, archaeology, botany, physics, biology, chemistry, paleontology, and many other fields. This fact alone speaks volumes about how different the West was.

TP: Would it be correct to say that self-loathing is now an orthodoxy of Western culture? If so, what do you think is the origin of this self-hatred? Why does the Western mind now choose to denigrate, and even deny, its own existence?

RD: I addressed this question in Uniqueness in terms of how the Western idea of progress was rejected from about the 1960s onwards, replaced with the opposite idea of regression. Marshall Sahlins, Margaret Mead, Marvin Harris, among others, come up with the idea that history had regressed away from the “affluent, egalitarian, and peaceful” world of hunters and gatherers to the American capitalist empire with its pollution, increasing inequalities, and threat of nuclear war.

I attributed this to the rise of a number of interrelated ideological currents, history from below, postmodernism, cultural relativism, feminism, identity politics, and dependency theory. The left came to view the West as the promoter of world inequality, an empire that rose on the backs of Third World peoples, a destroyer of nature with its capitalism, an elitist culture that was dismissive of the contributions of people “from below”, and a believer in metanarratives that excluded the stories of “the Other”.

I explained how these ideologies were rooted in the Western proclivity for continual self-reflection, criticism of its assumptions, re-examination of past ideas. What made the West so creative was turned against the West itself from the 1960s on.

The trust in reason, which brought modern science and the Enlightenment, came under suspicion — reason came to be seen as “one dimensional”, inherently “instrumental”, uncaring of nature and the “knowledges” of Indigenous peoples, and Eurocentric.

With the spread of multiculturalism in the West, it was no longer a matter of identifying the limitations of reason, as the Romantics, Heidegger, and the Existentialists had done; it was a matter of identifying the West as such with “logocentrism” and the creation of binaries that excluded other ways of being, less exploitative ways of life.

In the affluent world of the 1960s, young people bought these naïve ideas, even as the evidence was coming in that hunters and gatherers were the most violent peoples proportionate to their numbers, and news about the far worse environmental pollution in the Soviet Union, China, and non-Western nations, and the suppression of equal rights and persistence of despotic rule.

The self-loathing of Westerners is an extremely strange phenomenon without parallels in human history, and it came precisely at the peak of achievement of this civilization. Today I am inclined to think that this attitude has roots in the peculiar, and contradictory, psychology of whites to see themselves as the moral care takers of humanity at the same time as they see the ways of other humans as more authentic and good-natured.

But we can’t ignore the role certain individuals played in pushing white guilt, in making a whole generation believe that the West cheated its way to greatness, and that the West is now morally obligated to the rest of the world, and that it must perform penance by diversifying itself and replacing its “white supremacist” past.

TP: In your book, Faustian Man in a Multicultural Age, you continue to present the history of Western uniqueness, by way of a frontal attack on academic Marxism. In light of this, could you explain what you mean by the West’s “Faustian soul?”

RD: Unlike Uniqueness, Faustian Man was written after I became aware that immigrant diversity was the main agenda of the left and the establishment right. This book, which was also intended for a wider audience, gets into the ideology of cultural Marxism, and how this term can be effectively used to identify all the major ideological currents of the West.

However, in this book I did not attribute the uniqueness of the West to differences in average IQ between races and ethnic groups. I felt that the term “Faustian man” from Oswald Spengler was a more fruitful way to grasp the intense creativity of the West.

This term refers to a type of man who is always looking for ways to transcend ordinary life, to find the explanations for the nature of things, to subject accepted beliefs to critical reflection. There is a rationalizing tendency in this soul in the way that Max Weber observed since ancient Greek times in polyphonic music, perspective painting, architecture, theology of Christianity, historical documentation, military organization, bureaucratic administration, and modern capitalism.

But Spengler was astute in going beyond Weber’s protestant ethos, and seeing that the driving impetus behind this rationalization was not some calmed intellect peacefully sitting on a chair, or some religious figures coming onto the scene in modern times, but a “soul”, or a psychological energy inside Western man, with origins in the early Middle Ages (though I think the origins go further back in time) to break through the unknown, achieve immortality, strive upwards into the heavens, imagine infinity, and achieve incomparable deeds through al life of arduous endeavours.

I elaborate in Faustian Man how this soul should be traced back to the aristocratic culture of Indo-Europeans in the context of their way of life in the Pontic steppes, their initiation of horse-riding, co-invention of wheel vehicles, dairy diet, and other material attributes, including their unique aristocratic form of rule wherein the ruler was seen as “first among equals” and in which the highest goal in life was performance of heroic deeds for the sake of immortal fame.

It is not that other cultures, such as the Huns and Mongols from the steppes, lacked all these attributes. I try to explain how these cultures came under the influence of more advanced despotic civilizations, losing their aristocratic tendencies; and, it has to be said, we are not talking about absolute differences in kind — the differences that matter in history are differences in degree.

TP: The Central Asian origins of the West is a theme that is also dominant in your thinking, in that you do not shy away from the Indo-European roots of Western man. Are there specific characteristics which led to Indo-European (IE) dominance, from the borders of China, to India, to Ireland, and beyond? In other words, is it possible to define an “Indo-European mind?”

RD: Let me add to what I already said about Indo-Europeans that in Faustian Man I have a chapter which contrasts the historical significance of the Indo-European to the non-Indo-European nomads. I argue that the impact of such nomadic peoples as the Scythians, Sogdians, Turks, and Huns never came close to the deep and lasting changes associated with the “Indo-Europeanization” of the Occident.

While Indo-Europeans were not the only people of the steppes organized as war bands bound together by oaths of loyalty and fraternity, they were more aristocratic and they did retain their aristocratic forms of rule as they moved into higher levels of state organization, and they did thoroughly colonized Europe with their original pastoral package of wheel vehicles, horse-riding, and chariots, combined with the ‘secondary-products revolution.’

In contrast, the relationship between the non-Indo-European nomads with their more advanced sedentary neighbors was one of ‘symbiosis,’ ‘conflict,’ ‘trade,’ and ‘conquest,’ rather than dominion and cultural colonization.

One of the ways I try to get into the Indo-European mind is to read books about their myths and their heroic poetry and songs, such books as West’s Indo-European Poetry and Myth and Watkins’s How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of IE Poetics, going back to a prehistoric oral tradition. Although this subject needs more investigation, one of the points I note is that IE poetry exhibits a keener grasp and rendition of the fundamentally tragic character of life, an aristocratic confidence in the face of destiny, the inevitability of human hardship and hubris, without bitterness, but with a deep joy.

I note as well that Indo-European stories show both collective and individual inspiration, unlike non-Indo-European stories from the steppes, which show characters functioning as collective representations of their communities. In some sagas there is a clear author’s stance, unlike the anonymous non-Indo-European sagas. The individuality, the rights of authorship, the poet’s awareness of himself as creator, is acknowledged in many ancient and medieval sagas.

TP: In your work, you are also a very disciplined critic of multiculturalism. Why do you think the West has created multiculturalism? And why is anti-white racism now another orthodoxy of Western literary and scholarly elite?

RD: Multiculturalism on its own is fine if one is reflecting about the co-existence within the boundaries of a nation state of more than one ethnic group, say, three or four groups long established in the nation. One can accept Pierre Trudeau’s identification of Canada as multicultural in 1971 in light of the multiple European ethnic groups co-existing in Canada, including small Asian, Black, and Indigenous groups.

I have no problem with a multiculturalism that recognizes the cultural presence of long established cultures within the nation state alongside the dominant Anglo/Quebecois cultures, and the right of individual members from other cultures to express their own traditions as long as such recognition does not entail the proliferation of full blown cultures with their own quasi state; although in the case of Quebec and Indigenous peoples this may include granting them some autonomy in their own territories within a federal system.

The problem is that Trudeau was not thinking of Canada as it was then; he was thinking of a future Canada that would open its borders to new cultures in the world. He was thinking about breaking up the domination of both Anglo and Quebecois Canada, delinking the nation-state from these two ethnic groups, turning these cultures into private affairs, individual choices, while pushing multiculturalism as the official culture.

Trudeau, however, never anticipated the way multiculturalism would become an anti-white movement, and he never called for the rise of full-blown cultures, but believed that multiple cultures could express themselves within a Western political culture of equal rights, rule of law, and democracy.

But with his son, Justin, there is now talk of a “post-national” Canada that downplays even its “Western” liberal heritage, or interprets this heritage from a cultural Marxist perspective to mean that Canada should accommodate the cultural ways and political inclinations of other peoples inside the nation, including the “indigenization” of the curriculum in our universities, and the marginalization of “Eurocentrism” in the Arts and Sciences.

As you know, the introduction of multiculturalism in Canada was part of a widespread phenomenon in the West, with some states not identifying themselves as officially multicultural but nevertheless opening their borders to non-Europeans peoples. The common glue that held European immigrants in the past was their Christianity and common historical experiences in Europe.

But once the borders are opened to multiple traditions and religions, multiculturalism inevitably follows. All the talk about Canada being a “mosaic” and the US being a “melting pot” is over – the US is no less a mosaic today than Canada.

Multiculturalism is the order of day at the level of states or municipalities in the US, and across most schools and universities, and in the media. We are just witnessing the beginnings of cultural divisions, the inability of governments to hold their nations together as the cultural landscape is broken apart with the dissolution of common cultural experiences, common historical memories, heroes, and religious beliefs.

Without a common history, religion, and deep culture, beyond mere political liberalism, individuals cannot find a common ground, a sense of collective identity, which is indispensable for humans in their search for meaning, for something beyond their pleasures and daily careers. They become instead mere private consumers without roots, easy to manipulate by corporations – which brings me to how it is that both the left and the right came together in their support of immigrant multiculturalism, but for different reasons.

The globalist right wants mass immigration because it increases shareholder earnings in terms of lower wages, the total market value of goods and services generated from a growing population, real estate development, shopping malls, highways, and dollar stores. It cherishes docile consumers and workers without a strong national identity who can identify with any generic global brand. CEOs love academic ideas about inclusiveness and diversity, a universal-ingroup identity in which humans from all races and sexual orientations become equally attached to their banks, FB pages, Google searches and Twitter accounts.

The globalist left, on the other hand, is obsessed with fulfilling the ideal of equality, which now means fighting “systemic racism”, which it equates with the very existence of white majorities in Western nations. It claims to be fighting for the human rights of everyone, the right of refugees and poor immigrants, to come to Western nations, against “privileged” whites who greedily want these nations all to themselves.

They are global socialists who believe that immigration will balance per capita incomes across the world, releasing population pressures in the Third World, while providing ethnic votes for leftist parties in the West.

The left at least provides ideals for individuals to live for, and this is why it still attracts so many young individuals. The smart right-wing globalists realize this, and this is why they promote leftist ideals, their continuous struggles for the equalization of all things.

But the left is now nihilistic, too individualistic in its pursuit of individual identities, breaking apart all common identities, ethnic, national, sexual, thus leaving individuals stranded alone with anarchic and undisciplined values as the only glue.

So both the right and the left have converged in their agreement that Western nations must be diversified and that whites who question this program are racists who want to reign supreme over other races, even though no nation outside the West is expected to include other races within their nations, and dissident whites don’t want to rule over other races but only to protect their cultural heritages and identities across the West, against mass immigration, which does not preclude some immigration and individual rights for everyone.

TP: Your critique of multiculturalism finds its fullest expression in your book, Canada in Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of Euro-Canadians. In many ways, Canada has enthusiastically embraced the rather eccentric ideas of one scholar, namely, Will Kymlicka, who is very much the “Godfather” of multiculturalism. Why has Canada adopted Kymlicka’s vision as its own, so that it now seeks to become a “post-nation?”

RD: Kymlicka did not originate the idea of multiculturalism. He effectively rode a multicultural wave making the argument that multiculturalism is not inconsistent with a version of liberalism that values community attachments and rejects the libertarian idea that individuals can fulfill their goals as private consumers and producers in the market place.

Humans have a “deep need” to belong to a community; they are inherently social beings who make choices and fulfill themselves as individuals inside a common culture. Kymlicka employed these “communitarian” ideas (well-established within a branch of Western liberal thought) to push the idea that multiculturalism could provide the community ties for immigrants coming to Western societies from different cultural backgrounds.

Anglos in Canada, he began to argue in the 1990s, already had their cultural communities; we should not expect immigrants to assimilate to the “dominant” Anglo culture since immigrants come with their own cultural traditions; instead, we should allow them to retain and cherish their customs, folkways, languages, religious beliefs – so long as these cultural ways were not inconsistent or ran counter to the liberal principle of individual rights.

But when one looks closely at what Kymlicka means by the “dominant” Anglo culture in Canada, he really means a deracinated neutralized sphere consisting of modern economic amenities, infrastructure, legal rules, and liberal political institutions.

He actually calls for Anglos, and, I would argue, Euro-Canadians generally, to forgo their deep cultural traditions, their heritage in Canada, the idea that they were the founders of this nation; for a future Canada that will have a neutral public sphere, bereft of the religious symbols of Euro-Canadians, without special public holidays for Anglos, or public attachments to songs, without an “Eurocentric” anthem, etc. in order to make a new Canada that is fully welcoming towards the cultures of immigrants. Euro-Canadians must set aside their cultural memories and customs, and adopt multiculturalism as their culture, adopt a culture that celebrates the cultures of immigrant minorities.

Because the Quebecois are a minority in Canada, they can affirm their cultural heritage in Quebec, preserve its distinctive character, but the Quebecois too (in Kymlicka’s view) should accommodate immigrants with different cultures, and start educating their children to be multicultural. Indigenous peoples too should be allowed to achieve some territorial autonomy within a loose federal system where they can affirm their unique cultural ways and preserve their heritage.

They add to Canada’s multiculturalism. Immigrant minorities are not expected to create their own autonomous territories but are to be granted group cultural rights in addition to their individual rights, i.e., affirmative hiring, dual citizenship, TV stations, government funding for the preservation and enhancement of their cultures, special loans to establish businesses, and a new curriculum away from the heritage of Euro-Canadians.

Meanwhile, Anglos will enjoy individual rights only, downplay their collective traditions in Canada for the sake of a new multicultural culture. Immigrants, Quebecois, and Indigenous peoples can interpret multiculturalism as a call for them to enhance their particular cultures, whereas Anglos (and Euro-Canadians) can only interpret multiculturalism as a call to embrace the “vibrant” cultures of others.

So, there is a huge double standard in Kymlicka, to the point that he thinks Euro-Canadians should not be allowed to speak out against diversity, speak out in defence of their heritage in Canada, on the grounds that such attitudes are “racist” against minorities. Immigrant minorities should be celebrated for speaking out in defence of their cultures.

Anglos and Euro-Canadians should be condemned for not accepting the creation of a new Canada with many collective immigrant cultures. Kymlicka regularly refers to the majority Anglo culture as a culture of “colonizers,” “racists,” and “conquerors” while using pleasant words such as “pride” and “culturally meaningful lives” when speaking about minority cultures.

Kymlicka says that Canada must “never be allowed” to be “white and Christian again”. Not just Canada, however. He has spent most of his academic career giving talks in Europe promoting the “incredibly successful model of Canadian multiculturalism”, calling upon Europeans to diversify themselves through mass immigration.

He is disingenuous in the way he makes his students believe that he is merely calling for minority rights in Europe, and that multiculturalism is intended only as way of protecting these rights. But it is obvious that his theory of multiculturalism – for which he has received hundreds of thousands of dollars by way of grants and government prizes – was intended as part of a program to diversify all European nations through immigration. Government and corporations pay him handsomely for papers explaining how Europe should be thoroughly diversified.

He argues that it is racist for any European nation to retain its heritage and not accept millions of Africans, Muslims and Asians. He completed his PhD under the Marxist Gerald Cohen, who wrote a highly celebrated book in the 1970s on historical materialism. He regularly uses the cultural Marxist phrase “slow march through the institutions” in reference to the imposition of multicultural norms across Western societies, inside government institutions, private companies, the media and schools.

All the while he claims that his ideas are about the actualization of the ideals of “liberal democracy”. But he is clearly of the view that no one should be allowed to question diversity, that Europeans should not be allowed to defend their heritage, and that only minorities-to-become-majorities have a right to collective cultural identities right inside European nations. He is a cultural Marxist who has enriched himself by promoting the ethnocide of Europeans.

TP: In this book, you carefully examine Canada’s Franco-British heritage. While it is true that Quebecois culture remains resilient, why has Canadian English culture entirely collapsed?

RD: Simply put, the Quebecois have a stronger sense of collective ethnic identity, a sense that being a Quebecois is about speaking a language, having strong Catholic roots, unique customs, foods, songs, memories; whereas Anglo Canadians came to identify their culture as individualistic per se. This does not mean Anglos have no cultural identity; they did in their connections to Britain, and then to their experiences and uniquely developed customs in Canada along with other English-speaking Canadians.

But still, they are of the view that their culture is about “individual liberties”. This left them far more susceptible to leftist attacks against their past historical “crimes” and the need to become more inclusive. But this is happening to the Quebecois as well, certainly the ones in Montreal and among the globalist elites; they now think that speaking the French language is good enough to be a good Quebecois and that an immigrant from a former French colony can be more Quebecois than an English-speaking person with deep family roots in Quebec.

TP: Do you think Canada will continue to exist as a nation?

RD: No. Canada is undergoing the most radical transformation in its history right now, and so is Britain, France, Italy, Australia, United States, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, and other Western nations. The transformation is due to imposition of immigrant diversity.

You can’t have multiple races and cultures in large numbers co-existing within the same nation state without a strong ethnic majority providing some cohesion to the nation. Justin Trudeau was implying as much when he said Canada was a “post-nation”.

Similar statements are being made in other Western nations as they are thoroughly diversified. Donald Trump is a civic nationalism; he values the liberal culture of his country, its achievements and historical memories; he does not like painting the American past in negative terms, and when he says “make America great again” he means “again” not because he wants to return to the past but because he values the past and believes that the leftist attacks on America’s past should not go unchallenged.

You can’t be a great nation without respecting your history, the founding peoples, the accomplishments of your ancestors. But in Canada we don’t have a populist movement; the culture from top to bottom is dominated by the left, and the left now hates national identities of any kind including civic identities based on Western liberal values, never mind a strong cultural identity that cherishes the cultural traditions of Canada in a deep way.

Canada will die as a nation with a unique identity. Separatist regional tendencies should be expected, but it depends how much these regions are diversified, since the Canadian government is implementing a well-orchestrated plan to diversify rural towns beyond the major cities; and, once this happens, all the regions will look alike in their diversity, multiple cultures without any common glue to even be able to create smaller national identities out of the regions.

In other Western nations we will have similar trends, but I do anticipate a counter movement by the native French, Italians, possibly Australians, and perhaps later on the Germans. Not sure about Sweden and Britain, but I can’t believe the British will disappear without a fight. Brace yourself for coming civil wars.

TP: What lies ahead for you personally? Is there another book on the horizon? What are you researching?

RD: As you know, I took early retirement after I experienced an “academic mobbing” (to use the term an expert on work place mobbing used in an article he wrote about my case) at my former university where I had been a professor for 25 years. I have more time to do pure research and get involved in politics.

I am currently writing my fourth book, and it will be about the psychology that brought Western civilization its greatness. I believe that the discovery in ancient Greece of the mind, the realization that humans have a faculty that is uniquely theirs and is the source of our knowledge, and that truth can only emerged out of this faculty in communication with other minds, rather than handed down through blind traditions, enacted by gods, or mysterious forces beyond our comprehension, is a key to Western uniqueness.

Westerners became increasingly conscious of their consciousness, aware that they can affirm themselves as an “I” in contrast to that which is not-I. Their aristocratic attitudes played a big role in nurturing this psychology, which entails a disposition not to submit, to prostrate in front of any authority however much one may rightfully respect worthy authorities; it means not allowing one’s being to be swallowed up by the world around, by nature, the demands of the body, knowing what belongs to the I and what belongs to the not-I.

This is a multifaceted, long drawn out development with roots in the prehistoric world of Indo-Europeans, with increasing levels of self-reflection exhibited throughout Western history. It is a view that does not deny the civilizational decline that accompanies affluent cultures but which looks to the degrees to which humans have attain or expressed themselves consciously as high as possible in the order of nature.

TP: Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts and ideas with our readers. We sincerely appreciate you giving us this opportunity.

The image shows, “The Anger of Achilles,” by Jacques-Louis David; painted in 1819.

Paddy’s Lament: The Irish And Their Music In The American Civil War

Introduction

In this essay we will look at songs concerning the Irish in the American Civil War, in order to come to a deeper grasp of this community in that war. By doing so, we will explore the interaction of the Irish with other minority groups caught up in the conflict, and their common lot with the larger Anglo culture.

We will examine period pieces and modern compositions related to the Irish. These songs are “The Opinions of Paddy Magee,” “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam,” “Irish Volunteer,” “Kelly’s Irish Brigade,” “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” “Two Brothers Masterson,” “Boys That Wore the Green,” “Paddy’s Lamentation,” the equally doleful “Mick Ryan’s Lament,” and “Modern Army O.” Passing references will be made to “I Goes to Fight Mit Sigel” and “List of Generals.”

The Civil War produced a great many musical pieces. I chose the ones in this essay that especially invite distinct topical consideration. Briefly, “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam” looks at Irish soldiers from the North. It also allows us to delve into George McClellan’s persistent popularity with his units, both ethnic and otherwise, throughout the course of the conflict. “Kelly’s Irish Brigade,” examines Irish southerners. In “Two Brothers Masterson” we look at the tensions that immigrants had with Africans. The role Germans and natives played in the war and its music is also considered.

The song “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” permits us to see connections with political movements back in Ireland. “The Irish Volunteer” demonstrates an eagerness to adopt native concerns and politics by new arrivals. “The Boys Who Wore the Green” is a look into the unit and cultural diversity, and chaos, which the 19th-century citizen-soldier model of military organization allowed for. “Paddy’s Lamentation” gives us insight into the disillusion which mid-war Irish were feeling, along with the rest of America.

Finally, “Modern Army O” and “Mick Ryan’s Lament” take us to the postwar world of an America eager to get back to normal. There is, of course, overlap in some of the themes chosen here, and each verse carries much historical meaning. Therefore, these works of popular art allow us to take a survey of topics related to Irishmen in the definitive American experience, the Civil War.

Gratitude and Patriotism

At the top of our list is “The Opinions of Paddy Magee.” The song addresses the proximate reason many Irish came to America in the mid-19th-century: the Great Hunger of 1845-49.

Along with other Anglosphere lands (Britain, of course, but also Canada and Australia) – starving Celts arrived in these United States by the hundreds of thousands at that time. Immediately they were recipients of native hostility.

The 1860s conflict gave refugees like “Opinions’” fictional narrator Paddy a chance to route the libel of divided loyalties, and show his gratitude towards his adopted home. During the real-life outbreak of war, the Catholic archbishop of New York, John Hughes, could not hang flags fast enough from his parishes. With memories of the popular “Know Nothing” Party and the horrific anti-Catholic Philadelphia riots of 1844 not far from mind, our soldier-singer declares:

Whin Ireland was needing, and famine was feeding
And thousands were dying for something to ate,
‘Twas America’s daughters that sent over the waters
The ships that were loaded with corn and whate.
And Irishmen, sure, will forever remember
The vessels that carried the flag of the free.
And the land that befriended, they’ll die to defend it
And that’s the opinions of Paddy Magee.

According to the song, the Civil War allowed these new Americans to repay charity given them a generation before.

Pay

Next at bat we have a pair of songs, “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam” and “The Irish Brigade.” With these pieces we confront the basic question of why Irish immigrants participated so robustly on both sides of the conflict? The Crisis of 1860 and the war it precipitated were many miles removed from the concerns and culture of the Irish.

Whatever theoretical appeal Constitutional liberties like freedom of religion held for Hiberians, the welcome they actually received was not a warm one. Anti-Irish animosity became so desperate that famously during the Mexican War (1846-48) an entire brigade of the Federal army deserted over to the Mexican side!

Like German immigrants two generations later, Irish support for the Union was not a given. One pedestrian, though evergreen, reason immigrants fought in large numbers was for money. The famous $13 per month which Union privates received, even the Confederate’s $11 per month, a holdover from the prewar pay scale, was head and shoulders better than the unstable morsels which urban day laborers took in, to say nothing of the tempestuous lives of rural farmers.

In “We’ll Fight for Uncle Sam,” a Union piece, it contains the line, “Not long ago I came here from the bogs of sweet Kilarney. I used to cry out, ‘Soap Fat!’ because that was my trade, sir; ‘til I ‘listed as corporal in Corcoran’s brigade, sir.” Many of the Irish immigrants of the 1860s had come from rural stock. They had few marketable skills in the crowded cities of the north. If the army didn’t allow for a better life, it at least provided a less indigent one.

Geopolitics:Cotton

It is unwise to consider the Civil War in a vacuum. As comfortable as it is to study as such, as our definitive event, we must recall what Walter McDougal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute says. The War of the Rebellion was not an insular oddity, but, “part of the deepest rhythms of world history.” The trends of centralization, servile abolition, and a “shrinking” technological world were forces America participated in along with the rest of the world.

Both “We’ll Fight” and “Opinions” additionally invite the humble listener into the world of international politics. British support for the Confederacy is warned off with the line, “If John Bull should interfere, he’ll suffer for it truly, for the Irish boys in action will give him balley hooley.” We also hear, “John Bull, ye ould divil. Ye’d better keep civil!”

Through mid-war there was a chance of Britain supporting the Confederacy. This would have possible military advantages, and definite financial advantages. For a country heretofore not permitted to raise funds on the international markets and from major banks, legal recognition amongst the world community was a must.

The hungry textile mills of Europe lustfully weighed on the minds of British MPs as they considered the U.K.’s official reaction to the North American bloodletting. With the nearsightedness characteristic of speculation, the southern economy was a one-trick, cotton pony by the start of the war in 1861. “Guns for Cotton” was the dear hope of Confederate statesmen. Until the Crown could develop its cotton market in India, which eventually came on line by mid-war, this was an equation British statesmen were inclined to consider.

European powers, and others besides, needed cotton from the South for their mills. This commercial concern weighed heavily against ethical reservation concerning slavery. “Scott’s Anaconda,” the blockading of the entire Confederate coastline by the Lincoln administration, put a wrench in the French supply chain for the entirety of the war.

The “Famine du Coton” in Alsace, Normandy, and Brittany matched the supply hardships experienced by the English. The financial angle could have put European powers in the Confederate corner, and this was possibility enough for our Irish songsters to put John Bull – and by extension, Marianne – on alert.

Geopolitics: The Trent Affair

The possibility of English support for the Confederacy was made likelier still with international guffaws by Union leaders. For example, the Trent Affair in November 1861 was when Union sailors boarded British ships to arrest two Confederate agents under the laws of war.

The Lincoln administration was adamantine that the Confederacy was not a nation. Thus, according to their own logic, southern agents were not subject to the rule of international law. The only conclusion left, then, was that Union sailors trespassed on British property, and kidnapped British guests.

Earnestly for them in the moment, and amusingly for us 150 years later, Northern attorneys engaged in great rhetorical gymnastics trying to justify their Administration’s position, while also fending off charges of criminality. This incident, combined with William Seward’s subsequent bluster in the press, brought the relationship between the U.K. and U.S. the closest to war since 1812.

Geopolitics: Slavery

Slavery is a topic which does not enter into any of the immigrant-related songs chosen for this essay, north or south. In fact, even in general works from the war period, forced servitude is only mentioned obliquely. Examples of this include, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Marching Through Georgia,” both Union songs; and “Bonnie Blue Flag,” and Albert Pike’s reworking of “Dixie,” for Confederate examples.

As a slave power, nearly alone in the Western world besides Brazil and Cuba, the Confederate States of America (CSA) did not do themselves any favors when appealing to European nations for legal recognition, much less material assistance. France and Britain were the two biggest candidates for Confederate support. France had abolished slavery in 1794 (albeit briefly resurrected by Napoleon) and the United Kingdom in 1833. In the age of 19th-century mores, whatever the temptation of cotton, the CSA’s “peculiar institution” worked against their international interests.

Irish Confederate Units

The odds against the Confederate cause from the start tended to lend its partisans to associate their enterprise with grand moral and political motives, and historical precedents. “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” attempts to weave the Confederate struggle and its Hibernian involvement into the larger saga of Irish liberation.

When nowhere near technical brigade size, the southern narrator sings, “[Northerners] have called us rebels and traitors, but themselves were called that name of late.” While the song immediately goes on to reference the Rebellion of 1798, we also intuit the songster’s general scorn for Yankees.

Like the British in the American Revolution, an event which was within reaching memory at the time of our topic, invading Yankees were occupying another country as far as southerners were concerned. This certainly is a parallel not lost on the narrator of “Kelly’s Irish Brigade.” He sings, “They dare not call us invaders. ‘Tis but states’ rights and liberty we ask. And Missouri we’ll ever defend her. No matter how hard the task.”

Larger Struggles

We next have “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.” This song allows us to connect the Irish struggle in the Civil War with another fight in another land. It speaks with the voice of an imprisoned Union soldier trying to keep up his spirits despite his condition. As he says, “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching. Cheer up, comrades, they will come!” Just wait, just hope, we’ll be free in time.

Most people today would not associate “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” with the Civil War. The tune was co-opted and popularized a few years after Appomattox for the Irish nationalist cause. Rebranded as “God Save Ireland,” it commemorates the Manchester Martyrs. The Martyrs were three Fenians hanged by the Crown in 1867. The retooled “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” now “God Save Ireland,” became the de facto anthem of Irish Republicans through the War of Independence (1919-21).

Rather than a forlorn, pining captive, though, “God Save Ireland” has its prisoner-singer defiant ‘til the end. One stanza reads, “They met him [the hangman] face to face, with the courage of their race. And they went with souls undaunted to their doom.” When we recall Cathal Brugha’s famous use of “God Save Ireland,” we must remember its connection to an earlier generation and an earlier war.

The Fenians

We turn now to the influences of the Fenians on the Civil War. The Fenian Brotherhood was a group founded simultaneously in America and Ireland in 1858 (on St. Patrick’s Day, of course). The Civil War promised a ready means for these secret revolutionaries to build and drill a corps of fighters to ship back home.

One of the stranger aspects of Celtic participation in the War of the Rebellion, as the United States government still calls the 1860s bloodletting, is that a people dominated by an outside power, as Ireland was by the British, would enthusiastically enlist in significant numbers on the side of a power trying to squash the self-determination of another group of people, the American southerners. This is a curious dynamic we’ll see later with the post-war Irish participation in the western Indian Wars.

In his infamous summons of 75,000 men, a move which initially worsened the Crisis, President Lincoln plainly said his intention was, “To suppress said combinations.” However, practical considerations overruled die-hard revolutionary ideology. The majority of immigrants lived in Northern cities like Boston and New York, as opposed to southern ports like Charlestown and New Orleans.

Additionally, the Union’s chances of victory were more secure from the start. While it took at least two years to come to full strength, once the Federal government brought its organizational and industrial might to bear, their ability to train and arm mass bodies of men recommended Fenian support for the Union. The conflict would provide free quality training which Irish revolutionaries could deploy back in Ireland.

In On Deciding to Fight for the Union, Union Irish Brigade leader, Thomas Francis Meagher said, “We could not hope to succeed in our effort to make Ireland a Republic without the moral and material support of the liberty-loving citizens of these United States.”

This decision can be directly tied to individuals who helped raise Irish units. Meagher (pronounced “mar”) was involved in the Young Irelander uprising of 1848, that “Year of Revolutions.” Transported to Australia after his conviction of treason, Meagher escaped and made his way via Brazil to America.

Another revolutionary was Michael Corcoran. In addition to a revolutionary pedigree as rich as Meagher’s, Corcoran made a name for himself when he was court-martialed for not leading the largely-Irish 69th New York Militia on parade when the Prince of Wales visited America in 1860. The charges were dropped upon the eruption of hostilities. However, “The Boys Who Wore the Green” saucily remembers, “Colonel Corcoran led the 69th on that eventful day [i.e., Bull Run], I wish the Prince of Wales were there to see him in the fray.”

Meagher and Corcoran organized and drilled an expanded 69th New York following the Confederate firing on Ft. Sumpter in April 1861. The unit was altogether green. However, several soldiers had seen service in recent European wars. These included ten officers lately in the service of Pope Pius IX’s own “St. Patrick’s Brigade,” in the Papal States’ luckless fight against Garibaldi.

Narratives

When, how, and why minority groups align their interests and narratives with related groups is a topic well worth its own treatment. By “narrative” I mean a group’s own reading of its revolutionary history, especially in light of similar struggles elsewhere.

Such is also the forging of the Irish nationalist “apostolic succession” narrative. This narrative attempts to link Ireland’s own desperate rebel history. It also includes foreign efforts for the Liberal cause in its understanding. The Fenian narrative in this case includes friendly connections with America’s Revolutionary experiment.

The ancient clan system in Ireland was smashed with the Tudor conquest. The 1745 Battle of Culloden in neighboring Scotland brought this truth home. Suddenly the passing of the clan system went from a suspected abstraction to a bloody, grim reality. Celtic nationalists ultimately retrenched and settled upon the most cutting-edge political philosophy of the day to rally around: republicanism.

America’s two wars with Britain, as well as the explosion of the French Revolution on the Continent, gave added inspiration to independence-minded Hiberians for their own liberty. However ill-served rebels like Robert Emmet were by the republican National Assembly, the international republican experience provided garrisoned Ireland an example to imitate.

Indeed, during the heady days before his imprisonment for sedition in 1848, Thomas Meagher advocated physical force republicanism against the pacifistic position of Daniel O’Connell’s supporters. He specifically used the American example as justification. Ireland’s revolutionary past merged with the American saga as theoretical examples which expats like Corcoran and Meagher were keen to develop and fuse for the ends of their Irish story.

Other Ethnic Groups

Next, we consider the role of race, the Irish, and the Civil War. In introducing this theme, we recall that Irishmen were not the only subgroup to be caught up in the majority-Anglo Civil War. Indians, blacks, and Germans all richly participated as well.

Native Americans, however, come from a vastly different musical tradition than the various European ethnicities which participated in the war (including the majority Anglo one). Additionally, they made a different use of martial music. Thus, we have no corpus of native Civil War music.

Another possible field of study is German participation in the war. They were closer to the Irish military and musical experiences. The Germans were also a community numerically as robust as the Irish. However, the language barrier meant that few period songs were written, and less survive for our perusal.

There is one delightful exception to this Saxon dearth: “I Goes To Fight Mit Sigel.” Reasonably concerned with his martial alcohol access, our patriot-narrator explains, “Dere’s only von ting vot I fear, Ven pattling for de Eagle. I vont get not no lager bier, Ven I goes to fight mit Sigel!”

Franz Sigel’s command of the largely-German XI of the Army of the Potomac is also noted, along with Irish commanders, in the 1864 song “List of General.”

African-American Interactions

When it comes to Irish interactions with African-Americans, “Two Brothers Masterson” does not blush. The 19th-century was not a politically correct era. Perhaps this allows us a truer picture of the times. “Masterson” is set to the tune of the “Croppy Boy,” and it follows an equally doleful trajectory.
At this point you ought to be noticing a cross-over of music in the later development folk. Both America and Ireland equally influenced the other’s music.

Twice in “Masterson” we note the unhappy interaction of American blacks and Irish. The singer states, “With savage blacks [the brothers] did not agree.” When put upon to help hang his sibling, Patrick refuses. Sensing a need, a nearby, “wild black sergeant proposed to do the deed.”

This artistic animosity can be traced to the actual competition both groups faced for northern jobs during this period. Indeed, we remember that during the New York draft riots in 1863 African-Americans were especially targeted by the rioters, and a great many of those rioters came from the Irish community centered around New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen district.

Chaos

In “The Boys That Wore the Green” we get a taste of the chaos of those early days of the Rebellion. The song memorializes the motley units which found themselves at the First Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861. The peacocking and bluster which both sides liberally engaged in, from well before Lincoln’s election the previous autumn, quickly drained away as the grim reality of protracted battle loomed.

After a solid start on the morning of July 21st, the Rebels rallied and broke the Union ranks. It’s a debacle commemorated in the fourth stanza of “Boys.” The singer talks about the capture and recapture of the 69th’s battle flag, declaring, “The colors of the 69th, I say it without shame, Were taken in the struggle to swell the victor’s fame.” Politely omitted is the fact that Michael Corcoran was wounded and also captured in the battle. He was paroled and went on to organize Corcoran’s Legion, another majority-Irish unit.

The rearguard fight the Irish Brigade made at Bull Run with the 11th New York Zouaves is mentioned in the fifth stanza. It states, “In that hour of peril, the flying mass to screen, Stood the gallant New York firemen, with the boys that wore the green.”

After several verses lauding the mutual assistance each unit gave the other during the Civil War’s seminal battle, the song finishes, “Farewell, my gallant countrymen, who fell that fatal day. Farewell, ye noble firemen, now mouldering in the clay. Whilst blooms the leafy shamrock, whilst runs the old machine, Your deeds will live bold Red Shirts, and Boys that Wore the Green!” And indeed, each unit had cause to be nostalgic. By mid-war both, due to attrition and maturation, regiments were drastically different from their early-war selves.

Militia Model

At Bull Run, the citizen-solider model favored in America well into the 20th Century was sorely tried. If the Confederate national army wasn’t itself in its birth pangs on “that eventful day,” however, things would have been worse for the north. The rebel inability to consolidate and counter-attack is the biggest “what if” of the entire conflict.

The organizational militia model in force, during those well-sung early days of the fight, allowed for a small perpetual corps of men, mostly alumni of the military academies, to be the nucleus around which a much larger mass of militia could form. Those militia units were called in the Federal parlance of the time, “Volunteers.” True to their forebears in the American Revolution, these Volunteers were led by officers chosen either for quality, charisma, or graft.

While the militia system provided against an ancient Cesarean takeover, or a modern Military Industrial Complex, it made for chronically messy military starts. The United States would know this well into the 20th-century. In any case, the behavior of the 69th at Bull Run was something the men could be proud of.

It was a legacy they would have an opportunity to build upon, a year and a half later at Antietam. As the late Connecticut author, Thomas Craughwell, wrote, “The Irish Brigade turned the tide at Antietam. By driving off the Confederates, it all but ensured a Union victory. The Irish had been building a reputation as tenacious fighters; at Antietam they cinched it.”

Unit Diversity

Not all of early-war messiness was bad or incompetent. It occasionally allowed for local flare. Ethnic regiments such as Irish, German, and Indian units are examples of this diversity. Likewise was the “Zouave” phenomena. Inspired by French soldiers, these light infantry units were recruited from the fire brigades of New York City by the early-martyred Elmer Ellsworth.

Clothed in their distinctive red and blue embroidered uniform, the 11th New York was one early group to buttress the defenses of Washington, following weeks of anxious waiting and rumors, during the Secession Crisis in the spring of 1861. Both their unusual accoutrements and their baptism of fire at Bull Run guaranteed the mutual affection of both regiments in “The Boys Who Wore the Green.”

Little Mac

Lastly, “The Boys Who Wore the Green,” along with “We’ll Fight for Uncle Sam” and “List of Generals,” raises the specter of “Little Mac.” George McClellan was the Army of the Potomac’s sometimes-commander. Notoriously reluctant to engage with a southern opponent who was two or three times his size, Abraham Lincoln once humorously said, McClellan had a case of, “the slows.”

Nevertheless, “Little Mac,” as his troops affectionately called him, was an excellent organizer. Units always had the supplies they requested, and after defeats like the Second Bull Run, McClellan was able to rebuild the army and boost its confidence.

While their affection wasn’t able to take Little Mac to the White House in 1864, it was able to live on in songs with verses like, “Once again, the stars and stripes, Will to the breeze be swellin’. If Uncle Abe will give us back Our darlin’ boy McClellan;” and, “Of one more [general] I’ll be telling, and who should be restored straightway. To put an end to this rebellion: Little Mac, he knows the way!”

Burnout

The gay, baggy pants and striped shirts of the Zouaves went by the wayside in “Paddy’s Lamentation.” Thanks to Sinead O’Connor, this is the only piece in our Civil War selection with popular play. The song describes the wariness Irishmen were feeling by mid-war.

This song also reflects the greater mood of America. Similar to the narrator of “Masterson,” our pleading singer advises, “To America I’ll have ye’s not be going. There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar. And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin.” Like many ethnic songs, “Paddy’s Lamentation” has “Easter eggs” in it which betray its North American composition. “Dear old Dublin” was far removed for most 19th-century Irish immigrants. Hiberians who came to America, mostly came from the west of Ireland.

In any case, all the men who were inclined to go in for Meagher’s transatlantic revolutionary schemes had done so by the war’s second year. After that, the motives were less idealistic. Cap-stoning this sentiment was the death of Michael Corcoran in 1863 in a riding accident in Fairfax, Virginia.

As Craughwell writes, “[Corcoran’s] death came as a shock to the Irish Brigade, whose men had loved and revered Corcoran since 1860 when he refused to march the 69th Regiment in a parade honoring the Prince of Wales.” Either money or the force of law stocked the ranks of the Irish Brigade after the initial idealism died down.

Manifest Destiny Resumed

Finally, we close with two postwar pieces: “Mick Ryan’s Lament” and “Regular Army O.” The one doleful, the other comical, both songs take us from the eastern seaboard to the Wild West, with the downsized U.S. military. With the Rebellion over, the American government returned to its pre-war hobby: westward expansion. Our refugee-cum-trooper, Mick Ryan, sings, “I swear I did not see the irony,

“When I rode with the Seventh Cavalry. I thought that we fought for the land of the free, When we rode from Fort Lincoln that morning.” In other words, the expat from Erin was used in his turn to dispossess Indians from their homes. This ultimately led to his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, commanded by former Civil War hero, George Armstrong Custer.

In “Modern Army O,” we’re introduced to a man who, making no idealistic motivational pretense, “had the choice of going to the army or to jail.” Compelled to endure longer and longer marches on less and less grub, our modern soldier throws off the whole army and skedaddles to Mexico.

In both songs we are confronted with one of the curses of war: addiction to fighting. As long-standing the battlegrounds of today attest, places like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Syria, after a while a country’s young men have no stock and trade but war.

That was the condition many veterans found themselves in, in 1865. Decidedly less ideological or reverential than earlier pieces, the song shows an increased assimilation of Irishmen by the later part of the 19th-century, due in part to their military service. As Craughwell writes, “The courage and sacrifice of the Irish Brigade during the Civil War helped diminish prevalent anti-Irish prejudice in America.”

Conclusion

Our selections have featured both early-war, red-blooded martial anthems, burned-out ballads from later in the conflict, and ironic and irreverent postwar choices.

The songs were written from historic moments of patriotism, and contemporary meditations on the hardships of history. They permit us to dive into aspects of the American Civil War which standard study does not allow for. We come closer to our subject. We laugh and cry and bleed and gripe along with the soldiers, who fought the war – and we sing with them, too.

John Coleman is the founder of Apocatastasis: An Institute for the Humanities, an alternative college and high school in New Milford, Connecticut (USA). 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 image shows, “July 27, 1861: New York’s 69th (Irish) Regiment return from 1st Battle of Bull Run” by Louis Lang, and painted in 1862-1863.

Human Rights – Not All That Universal

The intellectual hegemony that the proponents of the human rights ideology claim to exert has made us somewhat forget that it was vigorously contested in 1948.

In the opinion of a good number of political commentators, the moralization and ideologization of human rights has led to formidable abuses. Contrary to the international diplomatic tradition of negotiation and dialogue, the concept of human rights is nowadays widely used to exclude, ostracize, or humiliate adversaries.

Since the 1990s, nothing has proven more dangerous to stability and world peace than the Manichaean precept of, “human rights or chaos.” A key element of the new globalist Bible (along with individualism, consumerism and multiculturalism), human rights have become a sort of Trojan horse for Western military interventionism.

This risk had been anticipated by the most prestigious intellectuals in the immediate post-war period. Gandhi, Harold Laski, Benedetto Croce, Emmanuel Mounier and many other thinkers from all walks of life, were severe, or at least reserved, when drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948. They did not question the uniqueness of human nature, but challenged the unreal or Utopian nature of the universality of human rights. A critical attitude, widespread at the time, is today ignored or overlooked by the mainstream media.

The profusion of texts published on the occasion of the preparation of the Universal Charter, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations – in Paris, at the Palais de Chaillot – on December 10, 1948, deserves an in-depth analysis. We will limit ourselves here to recalling the main philosophical and legal objections, which were made during the drafting project, before presenting a choice of edifying reflections and testimonies.

The first step is to destroy a myth. The French Revolution was not the “founding event” of democratic modernity on a planetary level; it was only a case in point. It takes gross ignorance or bad faith to identify the ideas of democracy, liberalism and human rights with those of 1789.

The liberal economist, Wilhelm Röpke, wrote precisely on this subject: “Democratic and liberal history can claim dates that are much more convincing than 1789.” To be convinced, in addition to evoking the role and place of local assemblies in the Middle Ages, we can list a host of dates that have been forgotten or passed over in silence.

We can indeed evoke the Cortes of Leon of 1188, the Catalan Cortes of 1192 (in the Iberian Peninsula); the Magna Carta of 1215 (in England); the Golden Bull of 1222 (in Hungary); the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291, the general Swedish code of King Magnus Erikson (around 1350); the Dutch Federation of 1579; the Petition of Right of 1628 (in England), the Mayflower Compact (of the Pilgrim Fathers of America) of 1620; the Bill of Rights of 1689 (in England); the Declaration of independence of 1776 (in the United States of America); the Constitution of the United States of 1789 with its famous amendments; the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848 and 1874, and so on. Unlike the French Revolution of 1789, these dates do not mark breaks, but stages of a slow and progressive evolution.

A brief historical reminder helps to break a second myth. A certain French chauvinism leads to claim that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is directly inspired, on the initiative of René Cassin, by the Declaration of Human and Citizen Rights of 1789. A similar reading leads the Americans to claim the model of their own Declaration and the “motherhood” of Eleanor Roosevelt.

The reality is much more complex because the contributions are multiple. The history of this text teaches us that very many personalities from countries as different as Australia, Canada, Chile, China, the United States, France, India, Lebanon, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the USSR actively participated in its design. Among the eighteen members, who made up the Human Rights Commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, eight were on the Drafting Committee responsible for drafting the preliminary text.

Among them, the Canadian John P. Humphrey, the Chilean Hernán Santa Cruz, the Chinese Peng Chung Chang, the French René Cassin, the Indian Hansa Mehta, the Lebanese Charles Malik, and the Filipino Carlos Rómulo.

Debates in the Commission and in the Committee saw deep philosophical and ideological differences when the Cold War began. The rights of women and ethnic minorities, freedom of religion, the right to property, the importance of individual rights, the place that should be given to economic and social rights, the freedom to contest, the concepts of duty and of responsibility, and finally, the role of the State – all proved to be formidable stumbling blocks. In the compromise, finally adopted in 1948, it was the western, liberal and individualist conceptions which prevailed.

As the past few decades have shown, human rights are written in history and vary in time and space. Several international declarations have been adopted, emphasizing the relative and evolving nature of each. This was the case with the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950 and the Additional Protocol of 1953. In 1966, two international covenants supplemented and corrected the Declaration of 1948, introducing the rights of peoples, minorities, women, the concept of duty and the concept of cultural heritage of humanity.

Then, there were the Pacts and the Program of Action of the World Conferences in Vienna (1993) and Durban (2001), the Declarations of UNESCO (notably the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity of 2001), and the International Labor Organization (ILO), without forgetting the charters adopted at the regional level (Africa, Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Arab and Muslim world). Thus, a declaration of human rights in Islam, under the influence of sharia, was adopted in 1990 in Cairo by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

All of these texts have tried to take greater account of the diversity of cultures. All have rewritten, amended and outgrown the 1948 Universal Declaration, which can no longer be viewed as the sole reference.

Human rights are a concept according to which all human beings have universal and inalienable rights, whatever their nationality, ethnicity or religion. These rights, which aim to protect the dignity of the individual, are enforceable in all circumstances against society and the State.

But the origin, validity and content of human rights are a constant subject of debate. The most diverse personalities and authors, such as, Bentham, Burke, Marx, or the popes who preceded John XXIII and Paul VI, to name but a few, underscored these rights’ specious, impracticable, contradictory, ethnocentric and Utopian character.

Legions of historians, theologians and philosophers of law have criticized their alleged universality and their ideological character. They have shown that, under the guise of granting infinite satisfaction to all, the system works exclusively for the benefit of the few.

Theologians regard these rights as a political instrument in the hands of the powerful. Marxists denounce class rights within them. Historians and geopoliticians commonly see them as a political weapon, a means for powerful nations to maintain their domination or the status quo. Jurists often argue that the law presupposes a relationship between men, an objective factor external to the person, while human rights derive only from man himself, from his nature.

Many, finally, denounce the erroneous vision of an individual barricaded in his sovereignty, when the person must be considered within the framework of a social group (family, ethnicity, nation, religion) strongly bound by social duties and ethical norms.

On a metaphysical and religious level, it has been possible to criticize human rights for being based only on man, instead of being founded first on the rights of God. This is how we usually oppose the American Declaration (1776), which intended to transcribe and proclaim the rights conferred by the creator and legislator God, to the French Declaration (1789), which founds human rights on human will and ignores God.

For sociologists, the ideology of human rights considers the sovereign individual, locked in his citadel of inalienable rights and more important than his community of belonging, as the ultimate goal of political association. Faced with the “natural” aspiration of men to obtain universal, absolute and abstract “rights,” cultural traditions are secondary, incidental, even illegitimate.

Moreover, these rights generally refer to the satisfaction of quantifiable needs. Finally, the ideology of human rights considers that a world organization, conceived as a last resort, is always preferable to sovereign nations. All these principles implicitly assume the existence of a universal reason common to all men, a reason which, because of its universality, must prevail over the cultural and historical specificities of peoples.

Law historian and philosopher, Michel Villey, notes that “respect for the human person is not the invention of Kant or even of Christianity. There was no more exalted virtue in Rome than humanitas, which is both the duty to perfect human nature in oneself and to respect it in others.” Christian revelation undoubtedly exalts human dignity more, but the expression “human rights” remains absent in Christian literature.

The Spanish thinkers of the School of Salamanca (1483-1617), at the origin of the great concepts of modern public international law, ignore it and prefer to draw from the natural law of duties, obligations borne by individuals, rather than rights.

All of them extol the community values of solidarity and cooperation between human beings and against the individualist values of selfishness and competition. “Catholicism is not the cradle of human rights,” insists Villey. The papacy, until John XXIII, remained constant in its attitude of hostility to human rights. In fact, “human rights originate in a deviated Christian theology… They are the product of modern philosophy, hatched in the 17th century,” with Hobbes and Locke playing the founding roles here.

Michel Villey, therefore, points out that “Each of the alleged human rights is the negation of other human rights, and practiced separately generates injustices.” And again, “We have never seen in history that human rights were exercised for the benefit of all. The problem with human rights is that no one can participate, except to the detriment of certain men.”

For his part, the Spanish philosopher, Raimon Panikkar, specialist in the comparative history of religions, stresses that “human rights are a Western intellectual construction.” He further adds that “It is clear that the Declaration (of 1948) was constructed according to the prevailing historical currents of Western thought over the past three centuries, and in accordance with a certain philosophical anthropology, or a certain individualist humanism, which helped provide a rationale.”

The political scientist, specialist in ethnic and linguistic minorities, Joseph Yacoub, also notes that human rights are eminently culturally dependent and that they are dependent on political manipulation and instrumentalization: “Human rights actually vary from place to place and from time to time. The underlying values, freedom, equality, tolerance, non-discrimination, etc., are historically relative and evolving.”

France has known a succession of declarations since 1789. The Constitution of the United States, the oldest in force, has been amended twenty-seven times. The 1948 Universal Declaration was supplemented by a series of subsequent texts. The various nations, conglomerates of nations and international organizations of Africa, Asia and America have adapted human rights to their worldviews, thus demonstrating that the human person is perceived and protected distinctly according to civilizations and cultures.

It is often unknown that a good number of intellectuals, in particular French, such as Emmanuel Mounier, Jacques Maritain, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, or Georges Gurvitch, in their time, severely criticized the excess of individualism and rationalism of rights human, their lack of reference to duties and obligations, their ignorance of the rights of natural communities born outside the State (the family, the nation, the economic and working communities, the international community), and finally, their silence on social and economic rights.

In 1947, UNESCO carried out an inquiry into “the theoretical problems raised by the drafting of an International Declaration of Human Rights.” A questionnaire was sent to various personalities from the member nations of the organization and a document was published on June 15, 1948, under the title, A Collective Approach to the Problems of Human Rights, preceded by a preface by Jacques Maritain. This “manuscript” contains the answers of Gandhi, Harold Laski, Teilhard de Chardin, Benedetto Croce, Aldous Huxley, Salvador de Madariaga, Emmanuel Mounier, Richard P. McKeon, E.H. Carr, Luc Somerhausen, and many others.

Among the responses published, many would today bring their authors the wrath of the censors of social welfare. Let us see what they say.

Mahatma Gandhi sneeringly objected: “I learned from my mother, illiterate but very wise, that all the rights worthy of being deserved and preserved are those which come from accomplished duty… One could show that any other right is only a usurpation for which it is not worth fighting for.”

The English historian of international relations, Edward Hallett Carr, said for his part that “No declaration of rights which does not also include a declaration of the corresponding obligations can have real meaning.”

Socialist theorist Harold Joseph Laski, former president of the British Labor Party (1945–1946), warned: “Any attempt by the United Nations to draw up a Declaration of Human Rights, based on individualist conceptions, would inevitably be doomed to failure… In fact, if a declaration of this kind does not take into account the important ideological differences which exist between political societies and their effects on individual and collective behavior, there will be nothing to gain and much to lose by formulating it… We do not have the right to awaken the hope of humanity, if we are not able to create the conditions without which this hope cannot be realized.”

The anti-fascist philosopher Benedetto Croce, founder of the Italian Liberal Party, was even more severe: “I do not even see how it could be possible to formulate a declaration which constitutes a compromise and that would not thus be meaningless or arbitrary. It may be that you and your colleagues, when you set to work, discover the futility and impossibility of this work, and even if I may say it, the danger of making readers smile at the naivety of men who have designed and formulated such a declaration.”

The Belgian lawyer, J. Haesaert, drove the point home: “The lawyers know very well that the laws are impotent without mores… In short, the essential is not the law, but the common conduct to which it is the adminicle… It is to prepare for new disappointments in seeking slogans rather than educating people: the spirit of good neighborliness would advantageously replace the most eloquent declarations of the world, and propagating it is a matter more of the educator than the lawyer.”

Cautious, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin declared that “the human races are not equal but different and complementary like the children of the same family.”

The Unitarian political scientist Quincy Wright, a professor at the University of Chicago, noted that human nature is the product of a particular culture. Consequently, “human rights must be stated taking into account their relativity.”

Censor of rationalism and individualism, Emanuel Mounier, suggested a “rectified draft declaration of human and community rights,” based on an investigation by the journal, Esprit, published in May 1945.

Philosopher Filmer Stuart C. Northrop, a professor at Yale University, warned: “A bill of rights for all countries cannot be based solely on the values and traditional ideological claims of one or the other.”

The Chinese philosopher, Chung-Shu Lo, developed the Confucian concept of human rights: “Man must fulfill his duties towards others rather than claiming rights. This is the moral foundation of social and political relations in China. The notion of mutual obligations is the essential teaching of Confucianism.”

The English journalist and novelist, Aldous Huxley, insisted on the importance of the economic rights of the most underprivileged.

The Bengali Muslim poet, philosopher and politician, Humayun Kabir, emphasized that “the Western conception of human rights has a fundamental flaw. Whatever these rights are, in theory, they are very often recognized, in practice, only by Europeans, and sometimes even by certain Europeans only.”

Indian thinker S.V. Puntambekar, professor at the University of Nagpur, warned: “Thinking only of liberties by neglecting the virtues which are their corollaries, would lead to an imbalance of life and to stagnation or even to degradation of personality as well as chaos and social conflicts.”

Neurophysiologist Ralph W. Gerard, President of the American Physiological Society, provided the biologist’s perspective: “Human rights and duties cannot be absolute, but always relate to the environment.” They are “a function of culture. Any doctrine which sees in man only the individual or the unit within the group, is necessarily false. The duality of man, both individual and element of society is inevitable.” Life evolves, and as a result “any declaration of rights will become imperfect at some point, and can only lose its value.”

The Australian anthropologist, Adolphus Peter Elkin, professor at the University of Sidney, points out: “Out of society, the individual would have no rights.” On the other hand, “all human rights are also relative, because they have for their origin and as a condition the necessities of common life, which shapes and nourishes personal life.”

In his preface to this survey, Jacques Maritain justified belief in human rights, but only as a “common ideology limited to the practical order.” He emphasized that “for peoples to agree on how to effectively enforce human rights, they should have in common… at least a practical conception of man and of life, a shared philosophy of life.”

And Maritain was forced to develop an absurd theory that in the area of human rights action precedes thought. Instead of trying to justify and define human rights, he said, “put them into practice and protect them.” As early as 1942, Maritain had published in New York a harsh criticism of the individualism of human rights, in which he said, “We ended up treating the individual as a god, and we gave him all the rights so that we might see him with absolute and unlimited rights of a god.”

In 1952, UNESCO published the famous brochure by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Race and History, which the latter finalized, almost twenty years later, with his conference, Race and Culture (1971), delivered at the headquarters of the same organization. On this double occasion, the famous anthropologist also manifested a singularly critical attitude towards the Western conception of human nature, “universalist and ethnocentric,” which is at the heart of the declaration of human rights.

There are so many texts, comments, reflections and arguments that are today “politically incorrect,” that the mainstream media has, for the long term or temporarily (?), swept under the rug.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Flachsscheuer in Laren (Flax Barn in Laren),” by Max Liebermann, painted in 1887.

The Many Myths Of The Spanish Inquisition

To 21st Century sensibilities, to speak of Holy and Inquisition in the same phrase would seem a contradiction. Never has a subject seen so much ink-slinging — or whitewashing — as the Holy Inquisition. The modern mentality has a natural difficulty in understanding an institution like the Inquisition because the inquisitorial process was not predicated on liberal doctrines such as freedom of thought, which became central in Western culture in the 18th Century.

The modern mind has difficulty in grasping religious belief as something objective, outside the realm of free private judgment. Nor does the modern mind see the Catholic Church as a perfect and sovereign society where orthodoxy should be maintained at any cost.

Religious intolerance is not a unique product of the Middle Ages: everywhere and always in the past men believed nothing disturbed commonweal and public peace so much as religious dissensions and conflicts.

By the Middle Ages, it had become accepted that the gravest kind of crisis was that which threatened the unity and security of the Latin Church, and not to proceed against the heretics with every means at the disposal of Christian society was not only foolish, but a betrayal of Christ Himself. The modern concept of the secular State, neutral toward all religions, would have shocked the medieval mind.

Modern men experience difficulty in understanding this institution because they have lost sight of three facts. First of all, they have ceased to grasp religious belief as something objective, as a gift of God, and therefore outside the realm of free private judgment.

Second, they no longer see in the Church a perfect and sovereign society, based substantially on a pure and authentic Revelation, whose first and most important duty must naturally be to retain unsullied this original deposit of faith. That orthodoxy should be maintained at any cost seemed self-evident to the medieval mind. Heresy, since it affected the soul, was a crime more dangerous than murder, since the eternal life of the soul was worth much more than the mortal life of the flesh.

Finally, modern man has lost sight of a society in which the Church and the State constitute a closely-knit polity. The spiritual authority was inseparably intertwined with the secular in much the same way as the soul is united with the body. To divide the two into separate, watertight compartments would have been unthinkable. The State could not be indifferent about the spiritual welfare of its subjects without being guilty of treason to its first Sovereign, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Before the religious revolution of the 16th Century, these views were common to all Christians.

As William Thomas Walsh points out in Characters of the Inquisition, the positive suppression of heresy by ecclesiastical and civil authorities in Christian society is as old as monotheism itself. (In the name of religion, Moses put to death far more people than Torquemada ever did). Yet the Inquisition per se, as a distinct ecclesiastical tribunal, is of much later origin.

Historically, it operated as a phase in the growth of ecclesiastical legislation that adapted certain elements of Roman legal procedure. In its own time, it certainly would not have been understood as it is presented today. For, as Edward Peters points out so well in his landmark study, Inquisition, “the Inquisition” was an “invention” of the religious disputes and political conflicts of the 16th Century. It was later adapted to the causes of religious toleration and philosophical and political enlightenment in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

This process, which was always anti-Catholic and usually anti-Spanish, became universalized. Thus, eventually the Inquisition became representative of all repressive religions that opposed freedom of conscience, political liberty, and philosophical enlightenment.

Myth #1: The medieval Inquisition was a suppressive, all encompassing, and all-powerful, centralized organ of repression maintained by the Catholic Church.

Reality: Except in fiction, the Inquisition as a single all-powerful, horrific tribunal, “whose agents worked everywhere to thwart religious truth, intellectual freedom, and political liberty until it was overthrown sometime in the enlightened 19th Century” simply did not exist.

The myth of the Inquisition was actually shaped in the hands of “anti-Hispanic and religious reformers in the 16th Century.” It was an image assembled from a body of legends and myths, which took shape in the context of the intense religious persecution of the 16th Century.

Spain, the greatest power in Europe, who had assumed the role of defender of Catholicism, was the object of propaganda that decried “the Inquisition” as the most dangerous and characteristic of Catholic weapons against Protestantism. Later, critics of any type of religious persecution would adopt the term.

In fact, there was not one monolithic Inquisition, but three distinct inquisitions.

The Inquisition of the Middle Ages began in 1184 in southern France in response to Catharist heresy, and dissolved at the end of the 14th Century as Catharism died out. Modern studies show conclusively that there is no clear evidence that people in medieval Europe conceived of the Inquisition as a centralized organ of government. The Popes of the times had no intention of establishing a permanent tribunal. For example, not until 1367 does the title inquisitor hereticae pravitatis even appear when the Dominican Alberic was sent to Lombardy.

Pope Gregory IX did not establish the Inquisition as a distinct and separate tribunal, but appointed permanent judges who executed doctrinal functions in the name of the Pope. Where they sat, there was the Inquisition. One of the most damaging legends that was spun through the centuries is the image of an omniscient, omnipotent tribunal whose fingers reached into every corner of the land. The small number of inquisitors and their limited scope far belie the exaggerated rhetoric. At the end of the 13th Century, there were two inquisitors for the whole of Languedoc (one of the hotbeds of the Albigensian heresy), two for Provence and four to six for the rest of France.

As for the accusation that the Inquisition was an omnipresent body throughout Christendom, the Inquisition did not even exist in northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, or England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

The vast majority of cases in the 13th Century were directed against the Albigensian heretics in southern France. It was not even established in Venice until 1289 and the archives of that city show that the death penalty was inflicted by the secular power on only six occasions in totu.

El Santo Oficio de la Santa Inquisition, better known as the Spanish Inquisition, started in 1478 as a State institution appointed to discover heresy, deviations from the true Faith. But Ferdinand and Isabella also instituted it to protect the conversos, or New Christians, who had become victims of popular indignation, prejudices, fears and greed. It is important to note that the Inquisition had authority only over baptized Christians, and that the unbaptized were completely free of its disciplinary measures unless they violated natural law.

Finally, The Holy Office at Rome was begun in 1542, the least active and most benign of the three variations. A recent study by John Tedeschi, The Prosecution of Heresy, deals with the Roman Inquisition and the procedures it followed after its reconstitution in the mid-16th Century in its struggle to preserve the faith and to eradicate heresy.

The value of Tedeschi’s study is that it overturns long-standing assumptions about the corruption, inhumane coercion, and injustice of the Roman Inquisition of the Renaissance, assumptions that Tedeschi admitted he harbored when he began his extensive work in the documents. What he “very gradually” began to find was that the Inquisition was not a “drumhead court, a chamber of horrors, or a judicial labyrinth from which escape was impossible.”

Tedeschi points out that the inquisitorial process included the provision of a defense attorney. Further, the accused was given right to counsel and even received a notarized copy of the entire trial (with the names of prosecution witnesses deleted) so that he might make a response. In contrast, in the secular courts of the time, the defense attorney was still playing only a ceremonial role, the felon was denied the right to counsel (until 1836), and evidence against the accused was only read in court, where he had to make the defense on the spot.

Tedeschi concluded that the Roman Inquisition did dispense legal justice in terms of the jurisprudence of early modern Europe and even goes so far as to say, “it may not be an exaggeration to claim, in fact, that in several respects the Holy Office was a pioneer in judicial reform”.

Myth #2: The Inquisition was born from the bigotry, cruelty and intolerance of the medieval world, dominated by the Catholic Church.

Reality: The Inquisition found its beginnings in a calm, measured, and deliberate attempt to set up a juridical instrument of conformity that would eliminate the caprice, anger, and bigotry of the mobs. Further, the medieval inquisitors were combating a social, and not just theological, danger.

At the end of the 12th Century, the Inquisition was established in southern France in response to the Albigensian heresy, which found particular strength in the cities of Lombardy and Languedoc. It is important to point out the social dangers presented to all society by this group, which was not just a prototype of modern Protestant fundamentalism, the popular view of our day.

The term Albigensian derives from the town of Albi in southern France, a center of Cathar activity. The Cathars (the name refers to the designation of its adherents as cathaaroi, Greek for the “pure ones”) held that two deities, one material and evil, the other immaterial and good, struggled for the souls of man. All material creation was evil and it was man’s duty to escape from it and reject those who recognized it as good.

The God of the Old Testament, who created the world, which is evil, was repudiated. It was the New Testament, as interpreted by the Cathars, that acted as guide for man to free his spiritual soul from evil matter, the body.

A 13th Century authority, Rainier Sacconi, summarized the belief of the Cathars thus: “The general beliefs of all the Cathars are as follows:
The devil made this world and everything in it. Also, that all the sacraments of the Church, namely baptism of actual water and the other sacraments, are of no avail for salvation and that they are not the true sacraments of Christ and His church but are deceptive and diabolical and belong to the Church of the wicked… Also a common belief to all Cathars is that carnal matrimony has always been a mortal sin and that in the future life one incurs no heavier a penalty for adultery or incest than for legitimate marriage, nor indeed among them should anyone be more severely punished on this account. Also, Cathars deny the future resurrection of the body. Also, they believe that to eat meat, eggs, or cheese, even in pressing need, is a mortal sin; this for the reason that they are begotten by coition. Also, that taking an oath is in no case permissible, this consequently, is a mortal sin. Also, that secular authorities commit mortal sin in punishing malefactors of heretics. Also that no one can attain salvation except in their sect.”

The Cathars thus held that the Mass was idolatry, the Eucharist was a fraud, marriage evil, and the Redemption ridiculous. Before death, adherents received the consolamentum, the only sacrament permit-ted and this permitted the soul to be free from matter and return to God. For this reason, suicide by strangulation or starvation was not only permitted, but could even be laudable.

To preach that marriage was evil, that all oaths were forbidden, that religious suicide was good, that man had no free will and therefore could not be held responsible for his actions, that civil authority had no right to punish criminals or defend the country by arms, struck at the very root of medieval society. For example, the simple refusal to take oaths would have undermined the whole fabric of feudal legal structures, in which the spoken word carried equal or greater weight than the written.

Even Charles Henry Lea, a Protestant amateur historian of the Inquisition who so strongly opposed the Catholic Church, had to admit: “The cause of orthodoxy was the cause of progress and civilization. Had Catharism become dominant, or even had it been allowed to exist on equal terms, its influence could not have failed to become disastrous.”

In response to the severity and frequent brutality with which the northern French waged the Albigensian Crusade, in which many heretics were killed without formal trial or hearing, Pope Innocent III set in motion a process of investigation to expose the secret sects.

Another problem confronting the papacy was the willingness on the part of the laity to take the most severe steps against heresy without much concern for the heretics’ conversion and salvation. The real father of the medieval institution is considered to be Pope Gregory IX, friend of both St. Francis and St Dominic. He would call upon the newfound mendicant orders to assume the dangerous, arduous, and unwanted task of inquisitors.

What Pope Gregory IX instituted was an extraordinary court to investigate and adjudicate persons accused of heresy. The unprecedented growth of the Albigensians in southern France surely played into his decision.

In northern France as well, the Church was facing sporadic mob violence that often fell on the innocent. The practice of putting heretics to death by burning at the stake was assuming the force of an established custom. The Pope was also concerned about the reports coming from Germany about a sect known as the Luciferians, a secret society with fixed rituals that profaned the Sacred Host.

On the secular plane, the Pope was facing a formidable power, Emperor Frederick II, the supposedly “modern” and “liberal” Hohenstaufen, a ruler utterly indifferent to the spiritual welfare of the Church and continually at loggerheads with the Papacy. A Christian ruler in name only, Frederick II was heavily influenced by astrologers and Muslim customs (he kept a harem); he ruined two crusades, and was excommunicated twice.

As early as March 1224, he ordered that any heretic convicted in Lombardy be burned alive (the ancient Roman penalty for high treason) or as a lesser penalty, their tongues torn out. Pope Gregory, fearful that Frederick was committing to flames men who were not heretics but merely his own personal enemies, sought to find a more measured way to deal with the problem.

In 1233 Pope Gregory IX responded with his own solution: to replace the lynch law with a regular legal process headed by the mendicant Dominicans and Franciscans. They would be examiners and judges specially trained for the detection and conversion of heretics, protected from avarice and bribery by the vow of poverty, and devoted to justice.

The first point, therefore, to be noted in connection with the mendicant Inquisition is that it came into being in response to a defined need. In the matter of heresy, it introduced law, system, and even justice where there had been limitless scope for the gratification of political jealousy, personal animosity, and popular hatred.

When we find one historian describing the introduction of the Inquisition as a “step for-ward in juristic theory,” we must understand him in that sense. Inquisitio means investigation, and this was the Pope’s concern: a real investigation, a judicial procedure, instead of outright lynching, instead of acts motivated by irrational mob emotions and private vengeance.

The second point is that the mendicant orders were charged with the task of preserving the integrity of the Faith as well as the security of society. The failure to stem the tide of this heresy would have allowed a collapse of Western Christendom. One of the most thoroughly successful tribunals in all history, it succeeded in extirpating the anti-social poison of the Albigenses and thus preserved the moral unity of Eu-rope for another three hundred years.

Myth #3: The hideous procedures of the Inquisition were unjust, cruel, inhumane, and barbaric. The Inquisition roasted their victims’ feet over fire, bricked them up into walls to languish for all eternity, smashed their joints with hammers, and flayed them on wheels.

Reality: Despite the compelling Gothic fictions, the evidence leads us to a wholly different conclusion. The procedures of the Inquisition are well known through a whole series of papal bulls and other authoritative documents, but mainly through such formularies and manuals as were prepared by St. Raymond Peñaforte (c1180-1275), the great Spanish canonist, and Bernard Gui (1261-1331), one of the most celebrated inquisitors of the early 14th Century. The Inquisitors were certainly interrogators, but they were theological experts who followed the rules and instructions meticulously, and were dismissed and punished when they showed too little regard for justice.

When, for example, in 1223 Robert of Bourger gleefully announced his aim to burn heretics, not to convert them, he was immediately suspended and imprisoned for life by Gregory IX.

The inquisitorial procedures were surprisingly just and even lenient. In contrast with other tribunals throughout Europe at the time, they appear as almost enlightened. The process began with a summons of the faithful to the church where the inquisitor preached a solemn sermon, the Edit de foi.

All heretics were urged to come forward and confess their errors. This period was known as the “time of grace,” which usually lasted between 15-30 days, during which time all transgressors had nothing to fear, since they were promised readmittance to the communion of the faithful with a suitable penance after confession of guilt.

Bernard Gui stated that this time of grace was a most salutary and valuable institution and that many persons were reconciled thereby. For the principal aim of the process was to draw the heretic back into the grace of God; only by persistent stubbornness would he be cut off from the Church and abandoned to the scantier mercy of the State.

The Inquisition was first and foremost a penitential and proselytizing office, not a penal tribunal. Unless this is clearly recognized, the Inquisition appears as an unintelligible and meaningless monstrosity. In theory, it was a sinner, and not a criminal, who stood be-fore the Inquisitor. If the lost sheep returned to the fold, the Inquisitor counted himself successful. If not, the heretic died in open rebellion against God, and, as far as the Inquisitor was concerned, his mission was a complete failure.

During this time of grace, the faithful were commanded to provide full information to the Inquisitor concerning any heretics known to them. If he thought there were sufficient grounds to proceed against a person, a warrant was dispatched to him ordering his appearance before an Inquisitor on a specified date, always accompanied by a full written statement of evidence held by the Inquisitor against him.

Finally, a formal order of arrest could be issued. If the accused failed to appear, which rarely occurred, he would become an excommunicate and a proscribed man, that is, he could not be sheltered or fed by anyone under pain of anathema.

Although the names of witnesses against the accused were suppressed, the accused was given an opportunity to protect himself from false accusations by giving the Inquisitor a detailed list of the names of personal enemies. With this, he could conclusively invalidate certain testimony against him. He also had the power to appeal to a higher authority, even the Papacy if need be. A final advantage of the accused was that false witnesses were punished without mercy.

For example, Bernard Gui describes a father who falsely accused his son of heresy. The son’s innocence quickly came to light, and the father was apprehended and sentenced to prison for life.

In 1264 Urban IV further added that the Inquisitor should submit the evidence against the accused to a body of periti or boni viri and await their judgment before proceeding to sentencing. Acting more or less in the capacity of jurymen, this group could number 30, 50, or even 80. This served to lessen the enormous personal responsibility of the Inquisitor.

Again, it is important to emphasize that this was an ecclesiastical court, which neither claimed nor exercised any jurisdiction over those outside the household of faith, that is, the professing infidel or the Jew. Only those who had been converted to Christianity and had subsequently reverted to their former religion came under the jurisdiction of the medieval Inquisition.

Torture was first authorized by Innocent IV in the bull Ad extirpanda of May 15, 1252, with limits that it could not cause the loss of a limb or imperil life, could only be applied once, and then only if the accused seemed already virtually convicted of heresy by manifold and certain proofs.

Certain objective studies carried out by recent scholars have argued that torture was practically unknown in the medieval inquisitorial process. The register of Bernard Gui, the inquisitor of Toulouse for six years who examined more than 600 heretics, shows only one instance of where torture was used. Further, in the 930 sentences recorded between 1307 and 1323 (and it is worthwhile to note that meticulous records were kept by paid notaries chosen from civil courts), the majority of the accused were sentenced to imprisonment, the wearing of crosses, and penances. Only 42 were abandoned to the secular arm and burned.

Legends about the brutality of the Inquisition in regard to the numbers of persons sentenced to prison and of those abandoned to the secular power to be burned at the stake have been exaggerated through the years. Working carefully from extant registers and available documents,

Professor Yves Dossat estimated that in the diocese of Toulouse 5,000 people were investigated during the years 1245-1246. Of these, 945 were judged guilty of heresy or heretical involvement. Although 105 persons were sentenced to prison, 840 received lesser penances. After painstaking analysis of all the available data, Dossat concluded that in the mid-13th Century, only one out of every hundred heretics sentenced by the Inquisition was abandoned to the secular power for execution, and only ten to twelve percent even received prison sentences.

Further, the Inquisitors often reduced sentences to lesser penances and commuted others. The large numbers of burnings detailed in various histories are generally unauthenticated, or are the deliberate invention of anti- Catholic propagandists of later centuries. From the growing evidence, it seems safe to assert that the general integrity of the Holy Office was maintained at an extraordinarily high level, much higher than that of contemporary secular courts or later.

Myth #4: It was the Spanish Inquisition that exceeded all barbarousness, terrorizing all of society with its tyrannical and cruel practices.

Reality: On November 6, 1994, the London BBC aired an amazing testimony to the falsity of these claims in a documentary titled “The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition.” In it, historians admitted that “this image is false. It is a distortion disseminated 400 years ago and accepted ever since. Each case that came before the Spanish Inquisition in its 300-year history had its own file.” Now, those files are being gathered together and studied properly for the first time. Prof. Henry Kamen, an expert in the field, admitted candidly that the files are detailed, exhaustive, and bring to light a very different version of the Spanish Inquisition.

Protestant antipathies nourished this propaganda campaign against the Catholic Church and the powerful leader of the Hapsburg dynasty who commanded the most powerful armies in Europe, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Their fears intensified especially after the battle of Mulburg in 1547, where Charles’ enemies were virtually annihilated. Philip II‘s succession to the Spanish throne and his own dedicated opposition to Protestantism fanned such fears.

As Philip wrote to his ambassador in Rome in 1566, “You may assure His Holiness that rather than suffer the least damage to religion and the service of God, I would lose all my states and a hundred lives if I had them. For I do not propose nor desire to be ruler of heretics.”

Yet while the Spanish often triumphed in the field of battle, they were abject losers in the propaganda war. They made no defense against the legend of Spanish cruelty and barbarism created so that Europe would sympathize with the Protestant revolt in Netherlands.

Defaming the Inquisition came to be the most natural choice of weapon to achieve this end. Many pamphlets and brochures, too numerous and horrendous to enumerate here, have been written since the 16th Century.

It suffices to mention only a few: The Apologie of William of Orange, written by the French Huguenot Pierre Loyseleur de Villiers in 1581, enshrined all the anti-Inquisition propaganda of the past forty years into a political document that “validated” the Dutch Revolt. In 1567, Renaldo González Montano published his Sanctae Inquisitionis Hispanicae Artes aliquot detectae ac palam traductae, which was soon translated into all the major languages of Western Europe and widely circulated. It contributed decisively to what became known as the “Black Legend” that associated the Inquisition with the horrors of the torture chamber.

Such accounts were enlarged upon by other Protestant writers, such as the Rev. Ingram Cobain in the 19th Century, who described one of its fictitious items of torture: a beautiful full-size doll that cut up the victim with a thousand knives when he was forced to embrace. The myth had been created and would assume proportions bordering on the ridiculous in the literature, travelers’ reports, masonic narratives, satires (Voltaire, Zaupser), plays and operas (Schiller, Verdi), histories (Victor Hugo) and gothic novels of later centuries.

Concerning torture, Prof. Kamen recently said, “In fact, the Inquisition used torture very infrequently. In Valencia, I found that out of 7,000 cases only two percent suffered any form of torture at all and usually for no more than 15 minutes . . . I found no one suffering torture more than twice.”

Prof. Jaime Contreras agreed: “We find when comparing the Spanish Inquisition with other tribunals that the Spanish Inquisition used torture much less. And if we compare the Spanish Inquisition with tribunals in other countries, we find that the Spanish Inquisition has a virtually clean record in respect to torture.”

During this same period in the rest of Europe, hideous physical cruelty was commonplace. In England, transgressors were executed for damaging shrubs in public gardens, poaching deer, stealing a woman’s handkerchief and attempting suicide. In France, those who stole sheep were disemboweled. During the reign of Henry VIII, the recognized punishment for a poisoner was to be boiled alive in a cauldron.

As late as 1837, 437 persons were executed in England in one year for various crimes, and until passage of the Reform Bill, death was the recognized penalty for forgery, coining, horse thieving, burglary, arson, robbery and interference with the postal service, and sacrilege. It is clear that in indicting the Spanish Inquisition upon specific charges of physical cruelty and callous brutality, we must proceed with some circumspection.

The myth of unlimited power and control exercised by the Spanish Inquisition has also been found to be groundless. In 16th- Century Spain, the Inquisition was divided into twenty tribunals, each covering thou-sands of square miles. Yet each tribunal had no more than two or three inquisitors and a handful of administrative clerks.

Prof. Kamen has noted: “These Inquisitors had no power to control society in the way historians have imagined they had. They had no power. They had no function; they had no tools to do the job. We, enforcing that image, have given them the tools that never existed.”

In reality, the Inquisition’s limited contact with the population comprised part of the reason it did not at-tract the hostility of Spaniards. Outside major cities, towns might see an inquisitor once every ten years or even once in a century. One reason people supported the Inquisition was precisely because it was seldom seen, and even less often heard.

amen also records that at every period in its history, there are records of strong criticism and bitter opposition. Yet based on the exploitation of inquisitorial documents first by Llorente, and then by Henry Charles Lea, scholars have made the error of studying the Inquisition in isolation from all other dimensions of Spanish culture and society, as though it had played a central role in the religion, politics, culture, and economy and as though no opposition or criticism was permitted.

Menendez y Pelayo‘s satire on those who have blamed the tribunal for all the ills of Spain underscores this view: “Why was there no industry in Spain? Because of the Inquisition. Why are we Spaniards lazy? Because of the Inquisition. Why are there bullfights in Spain? Because of the Inquisition. Why do Spaniards take a siesta? Because of the Inquisition.”

The Inquisition cannot be blamed for the “decadence of Spanish learning and literature,” states Peters in his acclaimed objective study Inquisition, despite the claims of Protestant historian Charles Lea or Catholic historian Lord Acton. “After the thunderclap of the 1559 Index,” he states, “which was directed mainly against vernacular piety, no attacks were mounted against Spanish literature and not one in a hundred Spanish writers came into conflict with the Inquisition. Indeed, long after the measures of 1558-59 Spain continued to have an active intellectual life based on a world experience vaster than that of any other European nation.”

A final and most important myth remains to be examined.

Myth #5: Man is more free and happy when the State or Nation does not make public profession of any one true religion. Therefore, true progress lies in separation of Church and State.

Reality: This is the crux of the question. The most dynamic element, the most essential matter is found in the attitude of the human spirit in relation to the questions of religion and philosophy. To fully under-stand the response, it is necessary to assume several presuppositions.

The Catholic concept of history is based on the fact that the Ten Commandments are fundamental norms of human behavior that correspond to natural law.

To aid man in his weakness, to guide and direct him and to preserve him from his own tendency toward evil and error resulting from original sin, Jesus Christ gave the Church an infallible Magisterium to teach and guide the nations. The adhesion of man to the Magisterium of the Church is the fruit of faith. Without faith, man cannot durably know and entirely practice the Commandments.

Therefore, as man elevates himself in the order of grace by the practice of virtue inspired by grace, he elaborates a culture, a political, social, and economic order in consonance with the basic and unchanging principles of natural law.

These institutions and this culture so formed in its ensemble can be called Christian Civilization. Further, nations and peoples can only attain a perfect civilization, a civilization in complete harmony with the natural law in the framework of a Christian civilization and through correspondence to grace and the truths of the Faith.

For this, man must give his firm recognition to the Catholic Church as the one true Church of God and to its authentic universal Magisterium as infallible. Therefore, man must know, profess, and practice the Catholic faith.

Historically, one must ask when this Christian civilization existed. The answer may shock and even irritate many. There was a time when a large portion of humanity knew this ideal of perfection, knew and tended toward it with fervor and sincerity.

This period, sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Christianity, is the epoch of the 12th and 13th Centuries, when the influence of the Church in Europe was at its zenith.

Christian principles then dominated social relations more fully than at any other period before or since, and the Christian State then approached most nearly its full development. Leo XIII referred to this period in his encyclical Immortale Dei (1885) in these terms: “There was a time when the philosophy of the Gospel ruled the States. In this epoch the influence of Christian Wisdom and its Divine Wisdom penetrated the laws, institutions and customs of the people, all the categories, all the relations of civil society. The religion instituted by Jesus Christ, solidly established in all dignity due it, flourished everywhere, due to the favor of Princes and the legitimate protection of the magistrates. In this time, the Priesthood and Empire were linked with a happy concord and the friendly exchange of good offices. Organized in this way, civil society gave fruits superior to all expectations and its memory persists and will continue to persist, and no artifice of its enemies will be able to corrupt and obscure it.”

A portrayal of Catholic society implies above all else an exact idea of what the relationship between the Church and temporal society should be. The State in principle has the obligation to profess officially the truth of the Catholic faith, and, as a consequence to prohibit the functioning and proselytizing of heretics.

For not only the Church, but all of temporal society was created for the salvation of our souls, as St. Thomas Aquinas shows conclusively in De Regimine Principum. In it, St. Thomas shows us how absolutely all things created by God were created for the salvation of our souls and must be means that serve positively for our sanctification. Men themselves were created for the salvation of one another. This is why they live together in society. Thus, temporal as well as spiritual society should assist in the primary purpose of man’s existence, the salvation of his eternal soul.

This exposition of society implies an understanding of the hierarchy of values, wherein spiritual values have a greater worth than material ones. For example, in the Summa Theologica (II, II, ii, 3), St. Thomas notes that if it is just to condemn counterfeiters to death, then surely it is necessary to put to death those who had committed the far worse crime of counterfeiting the Faith. For eternal salvation must be regard-ed as greater than temporal property, and the welfare of all must be regarded as greater than the welfare of the individual.

These affirmations have consequences painful for the liberal spirit of our days. For, if the State proclaims that one single religion is the true one, it has an obligation in principle to prohibit the diffusion of sects of a heretical character. It is understood that in Catholic society the highest purpose of the State lies in recognizing the Catholic Church, in defending her, in applying her laws, in serving her. In a Catholic society, the Pope has an indirect authority over all that touches on the interests of the Church.

In this way, the Pope is elevated above all the temporal powers. When a head of State is heretical, the Pope has the right to depose him, as in the case of Henry IV of France, the legitimate pretender to the French throne. In other words, a heretic does not have the right to govern a Catholic country.

As Father Denis Fahey points out in The Kingship of Christ, in the Middle Ages the State fulfilled its obligation of professing that religion which God Himself had established and through which He wanted to be adored and worshipped — the Catholic religion. When Catholics answer the objections of non-Catholics to the Inquisition, they sometimes seem to lose sight of the formal principle of order animating the civilization of the Middle Ages.

If a State proclaims a religion as being the true religion, it has an obligation as a matter of principle to prohibit the diffusion of heresy and heretical sects. This obligation is a most painful one for the liberal mentality to accept. Heresy was considered a crime because the State recognized the Catholic religion for what it objectively is, the one true Religion established by God, and not a simple temporary arrangement, here today, gone tomorrow.

In presenting the principles of the social Kingship of Christ, Father Denis Fahey says: “The truth is that the State then grasped the formal principle of ordered social organization in the actual world and that the Inquisition was set up to defend the hold of the world on order against the fomenters of disorder. . . That same principle is meant by God to mold the new matter and the new circumstances of all succeeding ages. Socially organized, man in the world redeemed by Our Lord is not as God wants him to be unless he accepts the supernatural, supra-national Catholic Church. The modern world has turned aside from order and is suffering for its apostasy and disorder. This great truth needs to be proclaimed unequivocally, so that the interior life with which we celebrate the feast of the Kingship of Christ may be deepened. It is infinitely better to go down struggling for the integral truth than to win a seeming victory by whittling it down.”

Blackening the name of the Holy Inquisition has obviously found root in this widespread tendency, even among princes of the Church, to “whittle down” these principles of the Catholic social order. While, at base, the problem of the Holy Inquisition must be examined at the philosophical level, there is also no doubt that through the centuries “the Inquisition” has assumed a monstrous dimension out of proportion to the facts.

The pens of Protestant propagandists during the Reformation began the myth-making process by depicting the Inquisition as just another example of the evils of Rome. In their works the tribunal was presented as the supreme instrument of intolerance.

Wherever Catholicism triumphed, they claimed, not only religious but civil liberty was extinguished. The Reformation, according to this interpretation, brought about the liberation of the human spirit from the fetters of darkness and superstition. Propaganda along these lines proved strikingly effective.

However, as the scholars of the last decade have begun to examine the archives, their studies are showing that the interests of truth demand that the Inquisition be reduced to its proper dimensions. Its significance can be grossly exaggerated if we rely on the largely fictitious images presented by the propagandists and philosophes of the Enlightenment and age of Romanticism and liberalism that followed.

These writers, who even included Lord Acton, falsely assumed the Inquisition was part and parcel of a special philosophy of blatant intolerance and cruelty. In reality, it evolved as a product of the society it served. In sum, for those objective Catholic minds who are militant against the errors of liberalism and modernism of our own age and who look with admiration on the spirit and institutions of the Age of Faith, there can still remain a healthful admiration for the Holy Inquisition.

Marian Horvat holds a PhD in medieval history.

The image shows, “A Scene from the Inquisition,” by Francisco de Goya, painted ca. 1808-1812.